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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #24-25

    Letter From the Editors: June 13-26, 2016



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    Issue #24-25 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #24-25 Table of Contents

    Brexit, Foreign Investment, Russian Elections and NATO: What’s All This Got to Do With Fridges?

     


    This week’s letter starts with a confession: One of the Current Digest’s translators, who shall remain nameless, took a sharp semantic swerve by rendering the Russian kholodilnik (“refrigerator”) as “wallet.” What’s more, our editors (who, for better or worse, cannot remain nameless) liked the idea! Before readers start calling us incompetent – or using less printable epithets – let’s explain the context: Mikhail Khodorkovsky said in an interview with The New Times that “the stability of the proestablishment majority isn’t that strong. And when their refrigerators start talking, people need to understand that they have an alternative.” We changed the fridge phrase to “when their wallets are empty.” This decision was further justified by a later mention of the same household appliance, in which the interviewer talks about needing to survive “until, as you put it, the refrigerator starts shouting over the television.” Entertaining as the image was, we went with the phrase: “until . . . people start voting with their wallets.” These decisions were based on what translation theorists call “textual cohesion”: In other words, our primary concern was not the figurative images for their own sake, but the rhetorical strategy they were meant to accomplish.


    Speaking of a cohesive strategy, do Russia’s antiestablishment forces have one? This week’s lively interviews with Khodorkovsky and fellow oppositionist Aleksei Navalny leave that issue open to question. But when it comes to the Russian establishment, commentators cite a definite trend of rapprochement toward Europe that was observed at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Tatyana Stanovaya cites the government’s “liberal” strategies to increase Russia’s investment appeal; Anastasia Bashkatova argues that having failed in its “pivot to the East,” Russia is now turning again to the West; and Nikita Krichevsky ticks off statistics about new oil and gas contracts signed at the forum. However, Aleksandr Dudchak laments, Moscow’s foreign policy continues to be reactive – overly dependent on whatever steps Europe takes.


    The same can certainly not be said of Great Britain, which voted this week to withdraw from the EU. The results of this historic referendum seem to run contrary to Khodorkovsky’s remarks about economic concerns eventually precipitating changes in the status quo (not just in Russia, but in Europe). In fact, as Geoffrey Smith wrote in Fortune magazine the week before the vote, the tide of public opinion turned despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s doomsday forecasts of economic ruin that a “Brexit” would bring. Thus, the Brits decided not to listen to their wallets (or their fridges). Vladislav Inozemtsev sees a silver lining here: Now that the UK is out of the picture, the EU has a golden opportunity to reinvent itself as a more flexible yet more inclusive association that could expand all the way to Russia’s borders.


    If that idea sets off any alarm bells for Digest readers, then you can imagine how President Putin and his military advisers feel about it. Actually, you don’t have to imagine: Just read Pavel Felgengauer’s account of the Russian Defense Ministry’s paranoia: “[A] hotbed of threat has already emerged . . . and it is not confined to the Baltic. There is also the Donetsk Basin, the Crimea, the Black Sea, the Caucasus . . . and the Arctic, where, as the ice melts, all sorts of unpleasant encounters are bound to start at sea and in the air.” Or check out NG’s account of Putin’s speech at the State Duma, where he proposes to disband NATO. Talk about a chill in international relations! Must be that pesky fridge acting up again.


    Laurence Bogoslaw,

    Copy Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #45

    Letter From the Editors: Nov. 7-13, 2016



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    Issue #45 Letter From the Editors
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    The Shock Felt Round the World: The Trump Victory and Its Reverberations.


    America is definitely the main focus of this week’s news from Russia. In our first feature, Russian commentators give their takes on how Donald Trump achieved his surprising presidential win and what it means for US democracy. Andrei Movchan argues that the sector that won Trump the election was neither the rich nor the poor, but the middle class, led by the small and medium-sized business sector. One observation shared by all of the commentators: The upset of Hillary Clinton, who represents a political dynasty, proved that democracy really does exist in America (although all of the writers acknowledge that Trump’s victory was narrow and that the Electoral College in a few swing states put him over the top).


    Dmitry Oreshkin writes in Novaya gazeta that Trump’s win is part of a “global backlash” exemplified by Brexit, European nationalism and the continuing popularity of Putin in Russia. However, making an implicit contrast with the latter, he concludes: “America has one distinct advantage – it isn’t afraid of making mistakes, since it always has a way of rectifying them through fair elections.”


    Speaking of Russia, how is Trump’s victory likely to affect it? Belying the sanguine tone of the analysts above, Mikhail Fishman writes: “The US political system has failed at its core. The bulwark of liberal democracy is sinking.” He acknowledges that this turn of events is good for Putin (who might “start seeing himself as the first among equals on the global scene”), but laments that it’s bad for Russia: “The hope for change in Russia has just been buried in the voting booths of Florida, Michigan and North Carolina.” Oleg Kashin riffs sarcastically on much the same theme, pointing out similarities between the conservative heartlands of America and Russia (he even uses the term “rednecks” to describe both!). The lesson he draws from Trump’s victory over the liberal Clinton is that the “creative class” – the progressive intellectuals who are numerically in the minority, in both countries – must find a way to connect with the “redneck” majority. He ends on a hopeful note: “The Americans***will likely solve [this problem], and we will look to them and solve it here, too.”


    Coincidentally (or not?), Russia’s most notorious former political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has just published a mission statement for his Open Russia organization that does not take any overt cues from America. In fact, the plan strictly depends on Russia’s domestic trajectory: Specifically, it assumes that the Putin regime will inevitably fall (sooner or later) and that Putin’s successor (no matter who) will fail to move the country forward. This impasse will set the stage for reforms, focused entirely on the domestic scene: a stronger parliament, independent courts and a demonopolized economy, to name a few.


    As for the international scene, Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, head of the Russian Academy of Geopolitical Problems, makes his own predictions in a Rossiiskaya gazeta interview: “The world today is standing on the threshold of changing from a unipolar to a multipolar world order.*** And this clash between the two geopolitical projects is also evident in US society, which clearly manifested itself during the presidential election campaign.” In other words, Trump’s victory means the US will step back from global military dominance (a stance that Ivashov sees as represented by the Hillary Clinton establishment).

    However, says military analyst Aleksandr Kanshin in an interview with Nezavisimaya gazeta, Trump’s victory will not prompt an “immediate U-turn” in US military policy. Will Trump disband NATO, given his strident criticism of the alliance during his campaign? Hard to say, Kanshin responds. “One can only hope that Russian-US relations would finally improve, including when it comes to global security issues.” Paradoxically, from a Russian standpoint, America’s electoral shakeup could make the world more stable. Stranger things have happened.


    Laurence Bogoslaw,

    Copy Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #26

    Letter From the Editors: June 27-July 3, 2016



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    Issue #26 Letter From the Editors
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    Brexit Begins to Sink in; Russian Antiterrorism Legislation Stirs Controversy


    The world is still reeling from Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Assessments in Russia are mixed: Aleksei Mukhin calls the vote a result of Europe’s traditional arrogance toward other countries, while Yulia Latynina calls it a British rebellion against Brussels’s socialist agenda and growing bureaucracy. Aleksei Pushkov says Britons were feeling helpless in the face of a tide of migrants from war-torn Syria and Libya, and feeling trapped by an “establishment system” that had robbed them of their sovereignty. Aleksandr Dudchak says Brexit opponents are certain to somehow blame Russian President Vladimir Putin for the referendum result, but Russian-European relations may nevertheless enter a more pragmatic phase as European politicians sober up. However, he warns that NATO may be strengthened as it comes to be viewed as the sole stable supranational organization in Europe, so Russia must respond appropriately.


    Brexit could also have an unforeseen effect on Turkey’s relations with Russia, which soured last year after a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian warplane at the Turkish-Syrian border. The Turkish side has issued a formal apology, which Kirill Martynov says was partly prompted by the UK referendum, since its associate EU membership prospects are now in doubt because of Brexit. This is forcing the Turkish leadership to extend an olive branch to Russia in order to restore the country’s economic and political ties with an alternative partner. At any rate, Maksim Artemyev says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once seen as the most successful Turkish leader since Ataturk and a regional powerhouse, is now facing a political impasse, confronted with growing terrorism threats and regional isolation on account of his support for moderate Islamists in the region. What does this mean for Russia? According to Vladimir Frolov, it offers Putin a chance to show the world that Russia is an agreeable partner, allowing it to break out of its besieged fortress. It also means Putin can add another victory to his foreign policy trophy case, the analyst writes.


    Putin’s domestic policy trophy case, however, is in need of a few more trophies ahead of the September State Duma elections. The president issued an impassioned plea to members of United Russia – the party he founded in order to, in his words, “strengthen Russia as a state and to consolidate the nation” – at its recent convention, calling on them to listen to the people. “We all want Russia to be a strong, independent, open and prosperous country where each and every person can fulfill themselves, their talents, their potential; where the government and the people hear, support and respect each other; where social harmony, solidarity and national interests are above any disagreements,” Putin told his faithful followers.


    But do those words ring true? The Russian State Duma this week passed a package of “antiterrorist” legislative amendments containing measures that have come under criticism as unconstitutional and authoritarian – not to mention technically and financially burdensome. The Yarovaya-Ozerov bill requires communication and Internet providers to store user text messages, conversations, as well as “images, sounds, and any video and other messages” for up to six months. In addition, communication providers must give the FSB the keys to decode all encrypted messages, and Internet companies must now only use encryption keys certified in Russia. So much for personal privacy. It seems that the Kremlin is bent on prioritizing national interests over individual interests. This is not necessarily a new concept in Russia, but you’d think Putin wouldn’t be so bold as to sugarcoat Russia’s transformation into a police state by telling citizens that Russia strives to be a place where “the government and the people hear, support and respect each other.”


    Matthew Larson,

    Translator/Copy Editor

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