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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #49

    Letter From the Editors: Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2015

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    Issue #49 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #49 Table of Contents

    Putin’s Message to the Federal Assembly: Rhetoric vs. Reality.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin used all the “right” words in his annual Message to the Federal Assembly when talking about Russia’s foreign and domestic policies. But how well does his rhetoric measure up to reality?

    Putin struck a largely conciliatory tone when discussing international relations, but he nevertheless lashed out at Turkey for shooting down a Russian bomber flying a combat mission in Syria. The president’s harsh words for Turkey come after the announcement of a series of punitive measures that include sanctions on Turkish goods and workers entering Russia and on Russian tourists traveling to Turkey (ostensibly to ensure “the national security and protection of Russian citizens from criminal actions”), as well as a decision to halt cooperation with Turkey on the Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline project. Even though Putin contends that, with respect to Turkey, Russia’s “actions will be governed, first and foremost, by our responsibility to our nation and our people,” Sergei Aleksashenko says that Russia’s sanctions will actually hurt Russia more than Turkey.

    Despite what Putin said in his address about enhancing Russia’s cooperation with international partners, Russian lawmakers seem eager to free Russia from the requirements of international laws, the very foundation of global relations. Recently passed legislation would give Russia’s Constitutional Court the power to decide if Russia must abide by the rulings of international courts. Also contrary to Putin’s rhetoric regarding greater engagement with other countries was his curt, off-topic speech at an international climate conference in Paris that, according to Tatyana Stanovaya, demonstrated just how much Russia has lost its edge in diplomatic maneuvering amid the recent geopolitical storms involving Russia and the West.

    Yekaterina Kuznetsova says that Russia lacks true allies, and she attributes this to Moscow’s persistent resentment of its perceived mistreatment by other nations. “Our actions on the global arena are reminiscent of the actions of an old man who shuns young people who have a worldview to which he is unaccustomed and do not recognize his unquestionable supremacy,” she writes. She says Russia is unable to function as part of an international coalition because it always sees itself as the “center of the world, not a rank-and-file member of a coalition.” In her opinion, instead of real allies, Russia has a series of imaginary ones that she says will cost it more dearly to retain on the future.

    Although some experts were surprised by Putin’s unusually frank assessment of the dire condition of Russia’s economy, his rhetoric regarding business, and entrepreneurship in his Message also fell short of reality. In his Message, Putin said that greater trust must be built between the government and businesses, that more freedom should be granted to entrepreneurs, and that the government should listen to the people, and treat civil society and the business community as equal partners. However, some in Russia are instead seeing the growth of government at the expense of private businesses, entrepreneurs and civil society. Yekaterina Shulman comments that “the solution to every problem seems to be to create yet another government agency, with new officials and new powers.” The creeping bureaucratic overreach has not gone unnoticed by Russia’s long-haul truckers, who went on strike after a levy was imposed on them for every kilometer they travel.

    Putin’s latest Message to the Federal Assembly seemingly underscores the disconnect between rhetoric and reality that is par for the course in any political system anywhere in the world. But does that have to keep us from wondering whether Putin might ever become an exception to the rule, and that his enormous popular support and extensive executive powers might someday enable him to match noble words with noble actions?

    Matthew Larson,

    Translator/Copy Editor

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