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Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #50

Letter From the Editors: Dec. 7-13, 2015



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Issue #50 Letter From the Editors
Issue #50 Table of Contents

When Putin Looks in the Mirror, He Sees Erdogan; Can Russian Truckers Bring Down the Regime?


Friendships in big politics are about as fickle as they are in high school. Case in point – former best friends Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Trade between the two countries was booming, and Russian tourists flocked to Turkish resorts every year. What’s more, according to Konstantin von Eggert, Putin and Erdogan also have very similar personalities. But then Nov. 24 happened, when the Turkish side downed a Russian jet for allegedly violating its airspace. And paradoxically, Putin’s and Erdogan’s similar personalities have become the biggest stumbling block in resolving the matter.


How are the two presidents similar? Both are paternalistic and rely on the average voter as their main support base; both “dislike intellectuals, journalists and the urban middle class”; and both have undertaken ambitious military reforms. In fact, if the confrontation between Putin and Erdogan moves into the military arena, it may effectively end Moscow’s operations in Syria: Turkey controls access to the Bosporus Strait, which is used to bring supplies to the Russian grouping in Syria. In fact, Turkey may already have an excuse for such a drastic move, now that Russia’s “political clown” Vladimir Zhirinovsky has called for a nuclear attack on Turkey.


According to Zhirinovsky, “For the past 90 years, since the time of Lenin, Russia has supported Turkey. This has been a historical mistake.” However, Moscow and Ankara may limit themselves to tough rhetoric and produce bans, since an actual all-out war between the two countries is not what the average voter wants. And just like Putin, Erdogan considers himself a man of the people.


Of course, when it comes to the “average Joe” back home, Putin may have a serious problem on his hands: Truckers protesting new highway fees have become a major thorn in the authorities’ side. This is bad news for Putin, writes Novaya gazeta, since the Russian president’s authority is propped up by two whales – the “spoon-fed oligarchy” and the everyman voters. Now, the former is coming into conflict with the latter, since the tariffs were rolled out by long-time Putin crony Arkady Rotenberg (and are now colloquially referred to as the “Rotenberg tax”). So could it be that the regime’s undoing will be the work of the “common man” – rather than a “fifth column” of pro-Western intellectuals, as Kremlin propaganda would have us believe?


According to political émigré Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Kremlin could indeed have a revolution on its hands. Khodorkovsky believes that the recent wave of political controversies is living proof that the people’s patience is wearing thin. The latest scandal involves the Russian Prosecutor General’s links to the ruthless Tsapok gang – forever etched in the public’s mind after the brutal murders in the village of Kushchevskaya. The investigation, carried out by Aleksei Navalny’s Anticorruption Fund, took the public by storm and went viral on YouTube, writes Nezavisimaya gazeta. And the authorities, who usually pretend Navalny doesn’t exist, were forced to comment on the allegations. Of course, PG Yury Chaika still has his job and has blamed the entire scandal on Hermitage Capital head Bill Browder. So don’t expect things to change overnight, says The Moscow Times.


Finally, another political standoff is heating up in Ukraine: Firebrand Odessa Province Governor Mikhail Saakashvili continued his assault on the Arseny Yatsenyuk government for aiding and abetting corruption. Many experts believe that Saakashvili’s anticorruption grandstanding was timed to coincide with US Vice-President Joe Biden’s visit to Ukraine, because Saakashvili hopes to be appointed Poroshenko’s right-hand man. Given that Saakashvili is currently more popular than the president himself, that tactic may very well pay off.


Xenia Grushetsky,

Managing Editor

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