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Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #11

Letter From the Editors: March 10-16, 2014

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Issue #11 Letter From the Editors
Issue #11 Table of Contents

The Crimean Supreme Council’s declaration of independence on March 11 was a political shot heard round the world, as the autonomous republic gears up for a March 16 referendum to determine whether its people wish to join Russia. A Kiev court fought back against separatism by issuing a ruling to arrest Crimean prime minister Sergei Aksyonov and parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov. Meanwhile, Crimean Tatars want no part of the referendum, although the newly installed authorities in the autonomous republic are offering unprecedented promises. On the Russian side, economic experts warn of the financial impact of Crimean annexation: Igor Yurgens tallies the losses from threatened Western sanctions, and Natalya Zubarevich explains the consequences of increased subsidies from Russia’s federal budget. Commentator Kirill Rogov says that the resulting long-term isolation of Russia from Europe would make the Crimea a “Trojan horse” for ordinary Russians: As in the Soviet days of “confrontation with the West,” it would lead to economic ruin – a technologically backward country driven by commodities exports.

Aleksandr Rubtsov expresses a strikingly similar opinion in this week’s Russian News section, comparing the country to a nuclear dreadnought that is suddenly reversing direction in a “global regatta” of social and economic progress.

The Digest’s second feature explores perspectives on what repercussions Moscow’s recent actions could have on an international scale. Eduard Lozansky urges the West to engage positively with Russia to avert a repeat of the cold war. Sergei Markov is also concerned about a cold war, but a new kind: geopolitical, rather than ideological. He says the US should stop pushing its own economic agenda in Ukraine, and that both Moscow and Washington should support a neutral Ukraine. Disarmament expert Vladimir Orlov points out that as the West tries to oppose Moscow’s expansionism on the grounds of international law – by invoking the 1994 “Budapest memorandum” in which the US, Great Britain and Russia pledged to uphold the territorial integrity of Ukraine – it finds itself in a bizarre catch‑22: If Western countries support the legitimacy of the new government in Kiev, they implicitly acknowledge that the Ukrainian regime that signed the memorandum is no longer viable – and, therefore, the document itself is no longer valid. This loophole certainly gives the Russian authorities legal support – as if they didn’t already have overwhelming political support!

As evidence of that support, Nezavisimaya gazeta’s Aleksandra Samarina and Aleksei Gorbachov recall the 446‑1 State Duma vote in favor of intervention in the Crimea. At the same time, they see signs that Russia’s nonparliamentary opposition opposes this policy, but is keeping quiet for now in anticipation of the Moscow City Duma elections in September. As if to belie this claim, Novaya gazeta published a strong statement this week by Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, in which he accuses the Russian authorities of trying to destabilize Ukraine by discrediting its fledgling government. In a similar vein, Yulia Latynina cites past examples to show how Putin is fabricating imaginary “fascists” (i.e., the new authorities in Kiev) to justify aggression in Ukraine. Georgy Bovt goes even further, claiming that Putin’s pragmatic concerns are being overridden by his thirst for power and revenge against the West, not to mention his paranoia about NATO expansion.

Speaking of which, a Kommersant source in the US State Department says that it’s “basically a done deal” that the North Atlantic alliance will offer Georgia a Membership Action Plan (the next step toward full accession) if Russia annexes the Crimea.

On the other side of the world, China and Japan are watching the situation closely. Both are wary of rocking the diplomatic boat with Russia, but China in particular does not want to shelve the economic development plans recently worked out with Ukraine.

Stay tuned for further developments!

Laurence Bogoslaw,

Copy Editor


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