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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #22

    Letter From the Editors: May 26-June 1, 2014



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    Issue #22 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #22 Table of Contents

    Turn, Turn, Turn: The Season of a New President for Ukraine, New Strategic Directions for Russia


    As we look back over this week’s news, we see a persistent theme of allegiances. In the May 25 Ukrainian presidential election, a clear majority declared allegiance to billionaire Pyotr Poroshenko. Or did they? Polina Khimshiashvili and Aleksei Nikolsky from Vedomosti report that many polling stations in eastern Ukraine did not even open on election day, and that barely one-third of those who did vote there favored Poroshenko. The new president’s own allegiances are a bit of a mystery as yet: While clearly welcomed by the West (US President Obama congratulated him on his victory even before all the votes were counted), Poroshenko in his first postelection press conference took pains to emphasize that he intends to grant a lot of autonomy to local governments (including those in separatist Donetsk and Lugansk Provinces) and to establish dialogue with Russia even after the bitterly disputed annexation of the Crimea.


    Meanwhile, Russia’s allegiance seems to be turning decisively toward China. Dmitry Minin, writing in the Strategic Culture Foundation Online Journal (a source that makes its Current Digest debut in this issue!), argues that the new agreement that Vladimir Putin signed with Xi Jinping during his visit to Beijing in effect creates a military and political alliance between the two countries. In other words, it’s not all about gas and oil, as some have claimed.


    However, Fyodor Lukyanov cautions that Moscow should not put all of its eggs in the Beijing basket. True, United Europe has moved past its climax at the turn of the 21st century into an era of internal division and global insignificance. And yet Russia needs it now more than ever, like a beacon in a time of instability.


    In response, we could imagine Putin saying: Forget Europe – Eurasia is where it’s at! Indeed, a landmark treaty creating the Eurasian Economic Union was signed May 29 by founding members Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Viktoria Panfilova quotes Putin as saying there is much broader interest as well. “No wonder the world’s key economic players are showing great interest in this alliance. Every time I go somewhere and talk to somebody, they all want to know how to establish relations with the future Eurasian Union.”


    As for the Russian home front, Putin’s wide-ranging aspirations may be compromising long-standing allegiances between him and the rich and powerful cronies who brought him to power. Stanislav Belkovsky makes cogent arguments that conditions in Russia are ripe for a “palace coup,” as the Russian president’s latest empire-building ambitions expose his loyal elite to a new round of sanctions from the West and risk dragging the country into a recession. The big question is: If we have to disavow our allegiance to Putin, then who will be our next leader?


    Lost and Found in Translation. Belkovsky’s colorful commentary on Putin’s betrayal of the elite offered some opportunity to reflect on when an idiom is translatable and when it’s not. We decided that the expression vynosit sor is izby [literally, “carry trash out of the hut”] could be replaced with the more culturally familiar “air dirty laundry in public.” On the other hand, we felt we had to preserve verbatim the tongue-in-cheek editorial remark that Belkovsky makes to assure readers that he’s not advocating revolution: “We’re just fixing the primus stove.” Educated Russian readers recognize this phrase from Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “Master and Margarita” as a disingenuous protestation of innocence. What character said it, and in what context? Turn to the Russian Federation section to find out!


    Laurence Bogoslaw,

    Copy Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #19-20

    Letter From the Editors: May 4-17, 2015



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    Issue #19-20 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #19-20 Table of Contents

    Victory Day 2015: More Than the Usual Pomp Amid Not Quite the Usual Circumstances


    Russia marked the May 9 Victory Day holiday with more splendor than usual, significantly upping the amount of military hardware and soldiers participating in the military parade on Moscow’s Red Square. The reason for the extra helping of grandiosity in this year’s pageantry is that 2015 marks 70 years since the defeat of Nazi Germany. Also, the holiday serves as a convenient occasion for the Kremlin to score additional propaganda points by flexing some military muscle at a time when Russia is feeling threatened by the West.


    The curious phenomenon of honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend their homeland by proudly parading instruments of war has struck more than one Russian commentator as a bit peculiar. Aleksandr Rubtsov warns that “celebration of victory must not turn into a celebration of war, just as showcasing defense capabilities must not turn into a demonstration of militant aggression and pure parabellum.” He believes the Kremlin has co-opted the solemn commemoration of the tragedy of World War II by using over-the-top patriotic messaging to further its own self-serving ideology and agenda. Mikhail Zygar presents a detailed analysis of that messaging by parsing Vladimir Putin’s Victory Day speeches over the years. He observes that Putin uses nuanced narratives of the victory over fascism to frame whatever concerns him in the present day, be it the threat of international terrorism, the overreach of a superpower in a unipolar world, the need to update the global security architecture or the resurgence of “fascism” in certain places (e.g., in Ukraine).


    While in the past the Red Square military parade has been a source of national pride by drawing large numbers of influential world leaders to Moscow, this year’s gathering featured only a handful of rather minor global leaders willing to associate with the beleaguered Vladimir Putin, in light of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and activities in Ukraine. The standout guest this year was China’s Xi Jinping, who in addition to reviewing the military parade also struck deals with Putin and other post-Soviet republic leaders during his visit to the region. Some analysts – Kirill Benediktov, for one – see the emerging Sino-Russian relationship as promising for Russia, while others, such as Georgy Kunadze, are wary of Russia becoming China’s junior partner. Yulia Latynina goes so far as to say: “China is not Russia’s ally. It’s the main beneficiary of the Russian authorities’ self-destructive policies.” Whatever the nature of China-Russia ties, something is definitely kindling between the two regional powers.


    Relations with Russia and the West, on the contrary, are fizzling out. US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Russian president in Sochi but found little common ground during their four-hour meeting. Putin also failed to make substantive headway on differences with the West during talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow. Vladimir Frolov predicts the same storyline will continue for the foreseeable future. This is especially true as long as there is destabilization in Ukraine, which is what Russia is seeking to maintain to its advantage, according to Sergei Taran.


    We can only hope that Putin does not share Othello’s tragic flaw, and that a modicum of common sense will prevail over fanciful suspicions about the post-Soviet space’s faithfulness to Russia fueled by cunning Iagos among Russia’s siloviki who want to paint the West as a villain. Otherwise, Russia’s leader might find himself echoing Shakespeare’s tragic hero: Farewell, pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war! Putin’s occupation’s gone.


    Matthew Larson,

    Translator/Copy Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #31

    Letter From the Editors: July 29-August 4, 2013


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    Issue #31 Letter From the Editors
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    Everyone enjoys a good, decisive victory, and Russians are certainly no exception. In Leonid Radzikhovsky’s view, that may explain why so many Russians – who, in his view, have little appreciation for half measures – were disappointed in the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on Russia’s handling of the Yukos case: They were hoping for a smackdown that would have left one side or the other – the Russian government or Khodorkovsky/Lebedev – with at least a black eye, if not down for the count. Instead, both sides came away more or less equally bruised from what was, by many accounts, a fairly balanced verdict.


    Russia is gearing up for another contest that is just around the corner: the Sept. 8 regional elections, which will pit establishment heavyweights against tenacious underdogs. Nikolai Petrov believes the “orchestrated” fight in the Moscow mayoral election will give Russians just enough feeling that they have skin in the political game to prevent them from taking to the streets. According to Igor Bunin, those in power have had to scramble to add a few more plays to their playbook in the political season that’s soon drawing to a close. He believes that by altering the rules of the game and reshuffling some of the key players, the establishment may have managed to stay in the game a bit longer. Time will tell.


    It turns out that Russia may have won the match with the US in its drawn-out head-to-head over Edward Snowden. Commentator Eduard Limonov believes Russia may have even picked up some more fans among the international community when it beat the US at its own game by granting the NSA leaker political asylum. Vasily Kashin contends that the US actually “won” by letting Russia “win.” Now the “foreign intelligence collaborator” will languish in exile in Russia, where he will soon be forgotten by those who might otherwise idolize him.


    For their part, commentators Sergei Kazyonnov and Vladimir Kumachov want to see an end to the rivalry between the US and Russia. They have had enough of the bickering between the US and Russian presidents, and urge the two leaders to pragmatically and responsibly sort out their differences.


    China, another country that for various reasons has many international players on edge, poses a perplexing problem for Russia. While some commentators are wary of the moves China is making (will Beijing’s increasing assertiveness lead to aggression?), Yevgeny Bazhanov feels China and Russia are better suited as teammates than opponents on the geopolitical playing field.


    This week, it was more than just sinister games of West and East that riled the Russian president. Vladimir Putin is crying foul over a particularly odious form of rule-bending that recently garnered attention in Russia after a police officer was viciously beaten by Dagestani workers in a Moscow market who were defending one of their own from arrest. The officer’s comrades calmly stood by and watched because – and every Russian knows this, according to Putin – market vendors pay the cops to turn a blind eye to their loose interpretation of Russia’s laws. Maksim Glikin opines that the informal rules of the marketplace are the only law that migrant merchants respect. Recent survey data show many Russians increasingly associate immigrants with crime, but maybe it is the criminality of the supposed crime-stoppers that is the real issue.


    The Russian president is not the only one vexed by cheap shots. Putin is the one playing dirty pool in the eyes of Ukrainian political observers. During a visit to that country, the Russian president pandered to Ukrainians’ sense of spiritual and historical oneness with Russia to pitch Eurasian (read: Russian) integration as a more attractive alternative to European integration. And, to top it off, he cut short a meeting with the Ukrainian president to spend time with a close friend and pro-Russian lobbyist, Viktor Medvedchuk. That perhaps should come as no surprise: Yekaterina Yuryeva writes that Putin has always gone out of his way for his pals, no matter how morally unscrupulous some of them may be.


    Matthew Larson,

    Translator/Copy Editor

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  • New Issue Highlights

    Current Digest of the Russian Press #19-20 (May 5-18, 2014)


    Chinese Companies to Link Crimean Peninsula With Russian Mainland.


    The Russian Transportation Ministry is working on a deal with China Railway Construction to build a passageway between Krasnodar Territory and the Crimea. Find out why Russia also expects to reap political dividends from the project.


    Crimean Tatar Leader Banned From Crimea, Sparking Protests.


    Demonstrators blocked highways across the Crimea after the local authorities banned controversial Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev from entering the peninsula. With the Crimean prosecutor threatening legal action, will the protests further destabilize the region?



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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #36

    Letter From the Editors:Sept. 5-11, 2016



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    Issue #36 Letter From the Editors
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    Continental Drift


    Do you ever get the feeling, to quote Kipling, that “we’re all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding”? Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that the seas of misunderstanding separating the “island nations” of the world have grown choppier of late and that those islands are drifting further apart – perhaps giving new, geopolitical meaning to the term “continental drift.”


    This week, the Group of 20 convened in China in what was essentially a forum for political grandstanding rather than a venue for hashing out global economic issues, according to Fyodor Lukyanov. More fascinating than the G-20 agenda itself were the bilateral and multilateral meetings on the summit sidelines that did and did not take place. Unlike the G-20 meeting two years ago, when Vladimir Putin was derided and publicly ostracized, the summit in Hangzhou featured Putin in a more positive role. The Russian president held talks with several world leaders, including US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Theresa May. But the meetings were not without incident or frostiness. May either forgot about or blew off the traditional handshake and photo op prior to their meeting. Was this a misunderstanding, as the Russian side portrayed it, or a deliberate snub, as some British commentators suggest? And Putin’s conversation with Barack Obama (candid, blunt and businesslike, according to Obama) also seemed to be misunderstood by the two sides. Putin left the meeting believing that the only thing left to do was resolve some technical issues with regard to Syria, while Obama said that there was still a “gap of trust” separating the US and Russia. That gap will likely widen further after Russia and China hold joint naval drills next week in some of the most hotly contested waters – the South China Sea.


    Another gap – also formed by mistrust and misunderstanding – is the chasm separating the sides to the Ukraine conflict. The Ukrainian government continues to maintain that Russia is an aggressor. Moscow denies this allegation, and asserts that the fighters in the region are disgruntled Ukrainian citizens of Russian descent who have taken up arms they happened to come across and learned to use. The other misunderstanding concerns the purpose and goal of the Minsk agreements. While Kiev believes they are designed to gradually dismantle the self-proclaimed people’s republics, the separatist leaders believe they are designed to legitimize their existence. This sea of misunderstanding continues to grow more boisterous.


    Perhaps the area where geopolitical “continental drift” has been most evident is the former Soviet Union. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the formal dissolution of that country. While the countries that were formed after the USSR’s collapse initially sought to maintain close economic, political and military ties, centrifugal forces and those wretched waves of misunderstanding eventually pushed them further apart, writes Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin. He claims that the West viewed the newly formed Commonwealth of Independent States as a new beast rising from the ashes of a vanquished monster (I’m admittedly infusing my paraphrase with a generous dose of hyperbole) and treated it with suspicion, if not contempt – refusing to give it the respect and support that it needed and deserved. But if anything, the CIS prevented what could have been a more violent dissolution of the USSR and helped the fledgling republics – now nations – establish their statehood. The death last week of Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s architect of statehood, creates an intricate game around that country, writes Gevorg Mirzayan – one that restarts the geopolitical games that accompanied the CIS’s formation 25 years ago.


    Perhaps I’m an idealist, but maybe if the nations start shouting something other than “subjective versions of reality” (I won’t go so far as to say lies), the seas of misunderstanding will subside and the nations will stop drifting apart.


    Matthew Larson,

    Translator/Copy Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #33

    Letter From the Editors: August 12-18, 2013


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    Issue #33 Letter From the Editors
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    This week, US President Barack Obama fired two political shots heard around the world. First, he cancelled his one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin scheduled for early September. This was the first such diplomatic slap since 1960, when Eisenhower cancelled a meeting with Khrushchev. But Obama did Eisenhower one better. He insulted the Russian president by saying: “I know the press likes to focus on body language, and he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.” In context, this remark was a preface to a larger point: “But the truth is that when we’re in conversations together, oftentimes it’s very productive.” Nevertheless, the Russian press (and its counterparts across the globe) seized on the “bored kid” remark.


    While the immediate stimulus for these “shots” was Russia’s offer of asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, most commentators agree that relations between the two countries have been strained for many months, in the aftermath of the 2009-2010 “reset.” Igor Ivanov says dialogue between the US and Russia is more crucial than ever, so the nations must “turn the page” to overcome the legacy of the cold war and build a solid foundation for bilateral relations. However, Fyodor Lukyanov suggests that, given Moscow’s indifferent reaction to Washington’s recent arms reduction overtures, the two superpowers are no longer the be-all and end-all of global stability: The seesaw of power is now a triangle, which includes China.


    The seesaw of power in Moscow is taking on quite a different dynamic. Front-running mayoral candidate Sergei Sobyanin refuses to debate publicly with oppositionist Aleksei Navalny; meanwhile, the authorities are persecuting Navalny over foreign campaign funding and raiding his apartment. In Vladimir Pastukhov’s view, now that Navalny has galvanized Russia’s opposition-minded population, he has “won” no matter what. He is like a computer bug that has caused the entire system to crash.


    In other Russian News, the Duma’s anti-gay legislation continues to have international reverberations. Most recently, actor/writer Stephen Fry has called for a boycott of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. This move ties in with observations that Putin is becoming more isolated: Rumors are afoot that the president is preparing to form an elite guard, which Andrei Kolesnikov compares to that of a medieval pope. In the economic realm, Sergei Aleksashenko and Semyon Novoprudsky agree that the Russian cabinet of ministers is painting an overly optimistic picture of economic growth – and even the “retouched” picture doesn’t look too rosy.


    This may be why Moscow is suddenly clamping down on imports from Ukraine (a plethora of products from chocolate to grain to steel) – to prop up Russia’s domestic economy. But experts in both countries see this move as more geopolitical in scope: As Ukraine prepares to sign an association agreement with the European Union, the import ban could be a last-ditch effort to push Ukraine to join the Russia-led Customs Union.


    Russia’s own export future has been threatened by an explosion and fire aboard a submarine that Russia built and sold to the Indian Navy. Konstantin Volkov sees this as a factor leading New Delhi to turn to the West for military technology. Meanwhile, Vasily Kashin reports that Moscow has unwittingly been exporting a less tangible commodity abroad: Chinese media outlets have unleashed a fusillade of propaganda portraying the fall of the USSR as a cautionary tale of the “horrors of democracy.” The scary thing, says Kashin, is that the Chinese commentators didn’t make anything up: They got their statistics of economic instability and demographic decline directly from the Russian media! Moreover, the same facts are being used to support the divergent views of Russian Westernizers and Communists alike. Even the Kremlin is using them to scare the population about the perils of regime change. Apparently, when it comes to spin doctoring, Putin is no slouch.


    Laurence Bogoslaw,

    Copy Editor

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  • From the Pages of Contemporary International Relations: Sino-Brazilian Ties

    "Deindustrialization" and Sino-Brazilian Ties

     

    By Niu Haibin, Assistant Research Professor and Assistant Director of the Institute for International Strategic Studies, the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.
    Originally published in Contemporary International Relations, No. 4, 2013, pp. 44-57.


    After the global financial crisis broke out in 2008, major industrial economies became concerned about “deindustrialization.”* The important roles that the industrial sector plays in creating jobs and ensuring international competitiveness began to be recognized again. The U.S. launched its policy of “re-industrialization” and Brazil published a plan to develop its industrial sector between 2011 and 2014. China’s industrial sector has rapidly developed. “Deindustrialization” sparked widespread concern because it is connected with the global distribution of technological capability and the future global economic order. It is noteworthy that the U.S., Brazil and some other major economies partly blamed China for the problems that “deindustrialization” has caused and this has had an increasing effect on China’s relations with these countries. It reflects China’s problem as a new manufacturing power. In this article, the author analyzes those political and economic factors associated with “deindustrialization” and makes some suggestions for the Sino-Brazilian strategic partnership. In this way, the author explores some ideas on establishing a new type of big power relations.


    The Economic Aspects of “Deindustrialization” in Sino-Brazilian Relations


    Economic and trade ties have become important factors in the Sino-Brazilian strategic partnership. In the 21st Century, the economic interdependence of the two countries has progressed rapidly. Economic and trade relations are have developed in tandem with economic growth. The 2008 global financial crisis brought the two countries even closer. Both sides have helped each other deal with the crisis. This kind of mutual dependence has strategic value. According to China Customs, trade volume between China and Brazil in 2011 reached US$84.2 billion—that is nearly 4,952 times that in 1974. In 2009, China became Brazil’s top trading partner, replacing the U.S., which had held the position for 80 years. Over 80% of Brazilian exports are sold to China and more than 56% of its trade surplus comes from its trade with China. Brazil is China’s ninth largest trading partner. Clearly Sino-Brazilian trade has bright prospects and there is also a lot of potential for cooperation between the BRICS nations. Because Brazil’s biggest trading partners were previously developed countries, the development of Sino-Brazilian trade is meaningful. This will help the world economy to develop in a balanced and sustainable way. Despite these achievements, we cannot ignore some conflicts in Sino-Brazilian trade related to “deindustrialization” in Brazil. “Deindustrialization” in Brazil has manifested itself in two ways: One is the significant drop in the proportion of GDP made up by its manufacturing industry. The other is the obvious drop in the proportion of external trade made up by manufactured industrial goods. The latter has had a big impact on Sino-Brazilian trade. According to the Brazilian government, the proportion of primary goods in Brazilian exports to China has been rising, and there are now many more Brazilian companies buying Chinese imports than Brazilian companies exporting to China. The ratio was 10:1 in 2010. Although Brazil-China trade had a surplus of US$520 million in 2010, 84% of its exports were primary goods while 98% of Chinese exports were manufactured goods. So it is understandable that, unlike India, which is more concerned with its trade deficit with China, Brail pays more attention to the composition of its trade with China. Brazil is worried about a declining demand for imports brought about by China’s economic slow-down, but it has more deep-seated concerns about the impact of the Sino-Brazilian trade composition on its “deindustrialization.”


    *“Deindustrialization” refers to the weakening of the manufacturing sector in an economic entity with a relatively strong industrial foundation. Both domestic and global factors contribute to this.


    »» Continue reading the full article here »»

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #29

    Letter From the Editors: July 13-19, 2015



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    Right Sector Under the Gun. Russia Under Scrutiny. China Under Suspicion. Kazakhstan Under the Radar.



    A weekend gun battle between Right Sector fighters and police in western Ukraine underscored President Pyotr Poroshenko’s failure to rein in illegal armed groups in Ukraine. While the exact circumstances of the shootout are unclear, its significance for Poroshenko is not. He pulled his main political pillar in the east, Lugansk Province Governor Gennady Moskal, and put him in charge of Transcarpathia Province, where the shootout took place. Tatyana Ivzhenko quotes experts who say the move indicates where Poroshenko feels he needs the most political strength ahead of upcoming local elections.


    In a show of international political strength, Tehran and international negotiators this week reached a long-awaited deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Mikhail Zygar says the agreement marks the end of an era during which Russia had a valued and respected place among the world’s “board of directors.” Global trust in Moscow has plummeted since Russia annexed the Crimea. Russia is now a criminal pariah that other respectable nations will not associate themselves with, much less turn to for help resolving global problems. Putin’s land grab essentially torpedoed any chance at realizing the desire he expressed back in 2007 at the Munich Security Conference for Russia to be a respected pole in a multipolar world, the journalist writes.


    As if to reinforce Russia’s retreat from the civilized world, the Russian Constitutional Court ruled that Russia’s Basic Law takes primacy over European Court of Human Rights rulings. Granted, many other European countries have taken similar stances, and the ECHR is not beyond reproach even in the West, but still – this does not earn Russia any points among its detractors.


    While Putin isn’t gaining points among the world community, he doesn’t seem to be losing them at home, even though he arguably should be, given the dismal economic outlook. The Russian president, still riding high on the “Crimea is Ours” wave of Russian patriotism, is seemingly immune to political backlash over the flagging economy, says Sergei Aleksashenko. The economist sees no signs of a recovery in the near future as the Russian government continues to inhibit growth. If Putin is losing points anywhere, it is among Russian soldiers. According to Aleksandr Golts, the Russian Army’s rank and file is demoralized and deserting because of poor treatment and lies about lucrative pay and prestige for volunteering to fight alongside separatists in eastern Ukraine.


    One thing Russians of almost every stripe are disenchanted about is China’s growing influence in Russia. The recently concluded SCO and BRICS summits in Ufa corresponded with the launch of new BRICS financial institutions that Yulia Latynina believes are designed merely to fund China’s rise. She says Moscow is willing to go along with that if it means Beijing will prop up the Putin regime. Apparently, Putin is willing to sell out state interests to protect his personal interests. But not everyone in the Russian political elite sees benefit in being a junior partner in organizations where China is calling the shots, says Aleksandr Knyazev. The NG columnist writes that the SCO’s development trajectory demonstrates that the organization is unwilling and unable to squarely shoulder pressing regional problems: It is too busy pursuing China’s Silk Road agenda and serving as China’s foreign trade ministry to be anything more than a nominal negotiation platform for discussing broader issues.


    As Russia looks eastward, it is largely overlooking Kazakhstan, a regional success story that Vladislav Inozemtsev believes has a lot to teach Russia about forming mutually beneficial international partnerships, instituting effective reforms and fostering sustainable economic development. Something tells me Putin won’t easily accept lessons from Astana.


    Matthew Larson,

    Translator/Copy Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #39

    Letter From the Editors: September 23-29, 2013


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    And the Award Goes to…Pinpointing the Most and Least Decisive Leaders of the Week


    Decisions, decisions – this week, while some struggled with making them, others steamed on ahead, consequences be damned. Outgoing Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, for example, did not pull any punches in his speech at the UN General Assembly. He called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Union project an attempt to resurrect a lost empire, then said that Russia’s days in the Caucasus are numbered, and that Putin will find himself on the trash heap of history sooner rather than later. “It makes me sick when KGB officer Vladimir Putin lectures the world about freedom, values and democracy,” the Georgian leader railed. The speech caused Russia’s entire delegation to walk out in protest, while Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called it Russophobic. Even in his homeland, Mr. Saakashvili’s speech was a bombshell – Georgians worry that their leader’s latest tirade will undo whatever fragile hints for rapprochement with Russia there are, writes Izvestia (although Georgians still agree with a lot of what their president said).


    The Russian government, for its part, remains unwavering in its decision to reform the Russian Academy of Sciences. Yulia Latynina laments that this reform spells the end of one of the world’s oldest and most respected academic institutions, but it looks like there is no turning back.


    In the post-Soviet space, China continues to show Russia how it’s done, in terms of winning influence. While Moscow’s policy for its former zone of influence is a clumsy carrot-and-stick approach (with the stick winning out), Beijing is subscribing to the mantra of “slow and steady wins the race.” This week, it signed a 50-year lease agreement for 3 million hectares of Ukrainian farmland. According to expert Andrei Ostrovsky, this latest move is not about supplying China’s vast population with food – rather, Beijing is once again cleverly using economic leverage to spread its influence in the CIS and even get a better foothold in Europe.


    That sort of decisiveness and perseverance is mirrored by Germany, and particularly Chancellor Angela Merkel. Political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov calls Merkel one of the last true leaders in Europe, keeping her country humming like a well-oiled machine while the rest of Europe is caught up in a crisis. He even calls Germany the China of the EU. But as Ms. Merkel stands poised to take over the reins and rebuild the EU, can she accomplish what needs to be done without resurrecting some negative associations about a strong Germany? After all, when it comes to that country’s history in the first half of the 20th century, it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie.


    The trophy for indecisiveness this week goes to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin (they’ll just have to share). While Medvedev can’t seem to decide whether the Russian economy is in crisis or not, Putin seems outright allergic to making any key decisions during a crisis. According to Sergei Aleksashenko, that is reminiscent of the indecisiveness of Soviet leaders in 1989-1991, which eventually resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Can Putin, who called the USSR’s demise the greatest tragedy of the 20th century, finally make the necessary political decisions to avert yet another disaster? Or will he emulate his Soviet role models to the bitter end?


    Xenia Grushetsky,

    Managing Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #37

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



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    With Allies Like These, Who Needs Enemies?


    Why can’t we be friends? That’s the question asked by everyone from the band War to the cat Leopold from an old Russian cartoon series (the Soviets’ answer to “Tom and Jerry”). Of course, sometimes friendships can be one-sided, as may be the case with Russia and China. President Putin was one of the many dignitaries who visited Beijing this week to help commemorate China’s victory over Japan in World War II. There was no shortage of military hardware on display, as Beijing seems to have taken a page out of Moscow’s book on rallying the masses, writes Novaya gazeta commentator Pavel Felgengauer. Putin’s presence at the parade was designed to show support for Russia’s increasingly powerful Asian neighbor, but was that a smart move? According to Dmitry Travin, “an alliance with [China] would resemble an alliance between a rider and a horse – and the one on top would definitely be not us.” Doesn’t sound like a friendship of equals.


    Meanwhile, Sevastopol governor Sergei Menyailo seems to be trying his best to show allegiance to the federal center. In an Izvestia opinion piece, the official attributed most of the current discontent in Russia’s latest territorial addition to (a) inefficiencies and corruption inherited from the peninsula’s Ukrainian past and (b) outside forces working to bring discord to the region. But aside from a few subversives, everything is just fine in the Naval city; even “the Crimean Tatars are largely in solidarity with the rest of the population of the Crimea and view Russia favorably.” Time will tell just how true those words are.


    Kiev also attempted to show unity this week – at least in front of television cameras. Commentators attribute this to President Poroshenko’s attempts to soothe the general public following a series of high-profile quarrels within the government. For instance, when Odessa Province head (and recent transplant from Georgia) Mikhail Saakashvili accused the Yatsenyuk government of continuing to serve the oligarchs at the expense of the public, businessman and former Donetsk Province governor Igor Kolomoisky joined the fray. Meanwhile, a petition to appoint Saakashvili prime minister was posted on the Ukrainian president’s Web site. To smooth things over, the government announced a fast-track increase in social subsidies to over 12 million Ukrainians, while President Poroshenko went on television to state that destabilization only plays into the hands of Ukraine’s enemies. He also reassured the public that the ruling parliamentary coalition remains viable, despite the departure of the Radical Party.


    The Ukrainian president’s standing is strengthening ahead of the regional elections, writes Sergei Zhiltsov. In a lot of ways, this is due to a shift in public sentiment, which once again favors more moderate parties instead of radical forces. Nevertheless, the ceasefire in the Donetsk Basin continues to hang on by a thread, since parties to the conflict once again failed to sign an agreement on withdrawing from the front line tanks and weapons with a caliber greater than 100 millimeters.

    All of the above is the result of the existing system of global order coming apart at the seams, writes Russia’s former foreign minister Igor Ivanov. He attributes this to the fact that world leaders failed to establish a new system following the end of the cold war, as was the case after World War II. In the early 1990s, some politicians failed to grasp the significance of the changes happening around them, while for others, achieving “immediate victories with little effort proved to be an irresistible temptation.” According to Ivanov, crises have historically given rise to new opportunities. There’s no time like the present.


    Xenia Grushetsky,

    Managing Editor


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