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

    Letter From the Editors: July 15-21, 2013

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    Issue #29 Letter From the Editors
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    The ‘Finlandization’ of Russia; Navalny Threatens the System; and the Kremlin’s Recurring Nightmare

    Dissident whistleblower Edward Snowden met with journalists and human rights activists this week at Sheremetyevo airport. The former NSA contractor said that he has once again applied for asylum in Russia. As this migraine-sized headache in US-Russian relations continues, analyst Fyodor Lukyanov notes that the US shot itself in the foot on the matter. Had it not cancelled Snowden’s passport (or pulled the audacious move of grounding Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane because of suspicions that Snowden might be on board), the inconvenient leaker could have settled in some South American tropical paradise by now and the whole issue would have died down. Instead, writes Izvestia, the US’s heavy-handedness resembles the cold war policy of “Finlandization” (when Finland was obliged to turn over all Soviet defectors to the USSR).

    Columnist Yulia Latynina suggests a solution of her own – Snowden, who aspires to be the “digital-age Jesus Christ,” should return to the US and face the music. After all, how can this crusader for information transparency request asylum in a country where the FSB illegally wiretaps the opposition? Case in point – the trial of Aleksei Navalny. The blogger and activist was found guilty of embezzling from the KirovLes timber company by the Kirov District Court this week.

    In a ruling that shocked even the most jaded Kremlin critics, Judge Sergei Blinov sentenced Navalny to five years in prison and arrested him right in the courtroom. But in a surprise twist, the prosecution immediately appealed the order to arrest.

    Paradoxically, Blinov did just what was expected of him, writes Sovetskaya Rossia. According to an anonymous source, Judge Blinov was appointed to his post mere months before the start of the trial, supposedly after all of the sitting Kirov District Court judges refused to preside over the case. He was also allegedly instructed by the Kremlin to give Navalny no fewer than five years of hard time. Yet right after the sentence was read, Navalny’s campaign HQ announced that he was dropping out of the Moscow mayoral race. A flurry of activity followed, and less than 24 hours later, the opposition leader was released on his own recognizance – provided that he stays in the race.

    That makes Navalny one of six candidates officially throwing their hats in the ring, along with the Kremlin-backed acting mayor Sergei Sobyanin. As the single day of voting on Sept. 8 draws near, the regime is mainly relying on two tactics to secure victory for its candidates, writes opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov. In races where the pro-Kremlin candidate is strong (Sobyanin, for example, enjoys a 78% approval rating), the regime allows plenty of opposition candidates to run, thereby giving the race greater legitimacy in the eyes of the voters. If the pro-Kremlin candidate is weak, administrative clout and rule-bending are being used to exclude more popular opposition candidates.

    To wrap up the week, Middle East expert Aleksandr Shumilin discusses why Arab monarchies are giving billions of dollars to the anti-Morsi forces in Egypt. Paradoxically, the Persian Gulf countries see the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood as a much greater threat to their stability than some “harbingers of democracy.”

    Finally, the Egyptian “counterrevolution” has once again stoked the Kremlin’s paranoid fears, writes Semyon Novoprudsky. For the Russian authorities, conspiracy theories about foreign-funded revolutions are the stuff of nightmares, while falling economic indicators and other sources of popular discontent get ignored. This clearly demonstrates the regime’s fear of its own people and an inability to let go of power.

    Xenia Grushetsky,

    Managing Editor

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  • Book Review: Shooting Star: China's Military Machine in the 21st Century

    Book Review by Henry Plater Zyberk, Prague Security Studies Institute

    Book review draft submitted to International Affairs, published by Wiley-Blackwell

    Shooting Star: China's Military Machine in the 21st Century. By Mikhail Barabanov, Vasiliy Kashin and Konstantin Makienko, Minneapolis, East View Press, USA, 2012. Index. 176pp. ISBN: 978-1-879944-09-1.

    “Shooting Star” is an exhaustive study of the Chinese defence industry and the arms trade. The fact that this is something of a niche subject may be the reason why the English title of the original Russian publication “The Defence Industry and the Arms Trade of the People’s Republic of China” has been enhanced. The book was written by three experts at the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), a highly respectable Moscow based think-tank. The authors combine their knowledge of China, armaments and international relations to powerful effect, producing an in-depth, unemotional study, packed with useful information and statistics.

    The book is divided into three principal chapters and has a good index and a colour photo section. The first chapter addresses China’s defence industry, describing in considerable detail the bewildering number of Chinese state supervising commissions, administrations and defence corporations. It is particularly good at the air, air defence and shipbuilding industries, but a specific emphasis on aviation engines manufacturing and research and development reflects a theme the Russians know very well because, without Russian engines, much of the Chinese air force would be grounded.

    The second chapter examines China’s armament imports and military technical cooperation, particularly emphasising China’s cooperation with the USSR and Russia. The description of Russo – Chinese armaments deals, a one-way street beginning in Moscow and ending in China’s armaments corporations, is most interesting. The deals are very well documented and several interesting tables illuminate the discussion of suppliers, dates of contracts signed, units delivered, value of contracts and author’s notes. Russian arms exports to China show several important characteristics. First, orders are usually very large, allowing Beijing to negotiate good commercial terms. Second, China buys tried-and-tested, but relatively dated military equipment both to minimise technological risks, and because Moscow still restricts the export of most modern technologies. Third, China does not accept foreign (non-Russian) technologies in the imported Russian military hardware. Fourth, the Chinese insist on tight delivery deadlines.

    The reasons for Russian arms sales to China have evolved significantly: during the 1950s, they were driven by ideology. Forty years later, however, it was because the Russian armament industry was fighting for its survival. Equally, at the time, Beijing was forced to rely on Russia, not just because the Chinese were familiar with the Russian defence industry, but because of the June 1989 EU imposed arms embargo, after the Tiananmen Square events.

    If the Russian arms industry survived the 1990s largely thanks to Chinese (and Indian) orders, however, the Chinese industry is today becoming a competent re-producer – not always legally – of Russian military hardware and an increasingly challenging competitor on the arms market. China has begun to reduce the purchases of weapons platforms and look for critical components and technologies to import. It also, once again, is becoming a major armament exporter and a major competitor to many Russian arms producers. Nonetheless, although it is aware of future military risks and potential international repercussions, Russia continues to sell arms to China. The rapid growth of Chinese military capability appears to worry Washington and Tokyo more than it does Moscow.

    The chapter also includes two modest sections about the Chinese military and technological imports from Israel and several European countries, mainly France, Italy and the United Kingdom. Individual EU member states still export military hardware to China, albeit on much smaller scale and without combat systems. But this is important. During the EU-China summit in September 2012, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao urged EU leaders to end the arms embargo on China. This may happen in the very near future. Moscow, Washington and Tokyo suspect that the Europeans would not be reluctant to sell sophisticated weapons and advanced technology to Beijing. Given the present economic crisis, the temptation may prove too big for some European countries, especially if military contracts were to be linked to lucrative commercial deals. The less visible and less controversial Chinese imports are sophisticated machine tools.

    The final chapter is probably the most detailed assessment on the subject written in recent years. A brief and useful historical introduction to China’s arms export is followed by a long descriptive list of countries buying Chinese weapons, ending with a long description of the Chinese weapons available for export. China is aiming at two types of armament markets: the poorer countries of Africa, South and South East Asia, and Latin America, where it competes not only with Russia but some other former Soviet republics and non-Soviet Warsaw Pact members. Although Russia is still the most attractive supplier for both groups of importers, the improving Chinese defence technology and Beijing’s lack of concern about the pressure from the US, EU and Israel may make it an increasingly attractive arms supplier.

    For non-experts, this is a heavy but interesting read. But for those who watch Russia, and those who consider the ascendance of the Chinese military and international security, and for those interested in the international armaments trade, the book is, simply, a must.

    Henry Plater Zyberk, Prague Security Studies Institute

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #28

    Letter From the Editors: July 8-14, 2013

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    “Are you coming or going?”

    “I don’t know. Both.”

    That exchange from “The Terminal” just about sums up the situation of Edward Snowden, who, like Tom Hanks’s character in Steven Spielberg’s 2004 movie, has found himself stranded in an airport terminal with no country to call home. Perhaps even more intriguing than the young NSA whistleblower’s revelations about US intelligence service activities is the diplomatic fallout stemming from the US’s efforts to haul him in. Will the Snowden affair expose underlying geopolitical fault lines in traditional interstate relations and alliances?

    Ironically, Snowden may end up hanging his hat in Russia, where the sort of government overreach he apparently finds so morally unconscionable thrives. As if to showcase the extent of that overreach, Russian authorities arrested on bribery charges one of Russia’s few popularly elected opposition figures, Yaroslavl Mayor and Civic Platform party member Yevgeny Urlashov. He joins a list of more than 100 Russian mayors who have been dismissed or convicted of a crime in what many see as overt, Soviet-inspired political persecution – complete with show trials. Is Putin systematically purging Russia’s political system in order to preserve it (as Sergei Markov opines) or to prevail over it?

    Russian government overreach also found expression this week in (at least) two other incidents: A Moscow court convicted William Browder and Sergei Magnitsky – the former in absentia, and the latter posthumously – of tax evasion. And the Prosecutor General’s Office reported to the Federation Council on the results of the government’s massive audit earlier this year of Russia’s “foreign agents” – domestic NGOs. Prosecutor General Yury Chaika found pervasive instances of foreign funding amounting to a total of 30.8 billion rubles over the period of November 2012 to April 2013. (He came close to vindicating Putin’s statement – preposterous in the view of many experts – that Russian NGOs had received $1 billion in foreign funding in the first four months of 2013!)

    Complementing (underlying?) these incidents of government overreach is a nascent official policy line that Igor Bunin and Aleksei Makarkin term “nonpaternalistic conservatism” – conservative sociopolitical thinking coupled with a desire to dismantle the paternalistic welfare spending left over from the former Soviet social system.

    Are the government’s policies and actions designed to impact the upcoming regional elections, and will they have the desired effect? Despite new polling data suggesting a shift in antigovernment sentiments from Moscow to the provinces, regime politicians in the capital are doing their best to use the Sept. 8 regional elections to shore up legitimacy – and they are doing so by welcoming certain opposition figures to compete against them, believing that opposition icons, such as Aleksei Navalny, don’t stand a chance against them. But just how much should they be willing to bet on that?

    Russia is at a tipping point. Political analyst Georgy Bovt believes Russians are at risk of soon losing all faith in democratic processes, and according to Semyon Novoprudsky, the opposition ought to realize by now that elections in Putin’s Russia will not bring regime change. Those two assessments don’t bode well for the ruling elite. The Russian people are pressing them with that question posed earlier: “Are you coming or going?” And “both” is not a viable answer.

    Matthew Larson,

    Copy Editor/Translator

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  • Russia, Georgia War 5 Years Later

    Save 50% on Countdown to War in Georgia

    It's been five years since Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war and even today relations between the two countries remain at an impasse. In recent weeks, Moscow has said it will restore diplomatic ties with Georgia if Tbilisi admits it started the war, while Tbilisi has made it clear that it's willing to give a little, but won’t budge on its demand that Abkhazia and South Ossetia be returned to Georgian control.

    Clearly there is no love lost between these two countries, but what got things so heated that an all-out war broke out in August 2008? What was so special about the two virtually unknown republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Why did Putin and Medvedev enjoy tremendous support from throughout Russia for their actions in Georgia?

    Countdown to War in Georgia: Russia's Foreign Policy and Media Coverage of the Conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia sheds light on these important questions by providing in-depth coverage of Russian perspectives on this long-developing crisis. Covering the period from 1989 to late August 2008, this book includes articles from some of the most widely read newspapers and foreign policy and security publications in the Russian Federation today, all translated into English.

    To mark the fifth anniversary of the war, we are offering an exclusive 50% discount on print copies of Countdown to War in Georgia ($39.98 instead of the regular price of $79.95).

    Don't delay - Countdown to War in Georgia is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in gaining a perspective on these events other than those seen in the Western media, and is also an important tool for understanding Russia's overall policy toward Georgia and the West.

    Contact books@eastview.com to place your order. Orders must be placed by September 30, 2013. Please mention code "GEORGIA5" when placing your order.

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #27

    Letter From the Editors: July 1-7, 2013

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    If you listen hard, you might catch the motif of “solidarity” in this week’s reportage from Russia. Granted, the motif is largely drowned out by the more loudly blaring notes of frustration. For example, Sen. Charles Schumer is dismayed at Russia’s offer of asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden: “Allies are supposed to treat each other in decent ways.” Kirill Benediktov speculates that Internet transparency á la Snowden and his comrade-in-arms Julian Assange may find a new haven of solidarity – in Latin America, of all places.

    Meanwhile, any sense of solidarity among Russian academics suffered disillusionment as the State Duma rushed through two readings of a “reform” bill before its summer recess. Whereas the official reason for reorganizing the Russian Academy of Sciences is to improve the “effectiveness” of research and scholarship, Academician Aleksandr Rubtsov is certain that the root of the matter is personal: President Putin is bent on reducing the Academy’s autonomy because its members democratically voted down the candidate he put forward for a high position. (How dare they?!)

    Elsewhere in Russian politics, the authorities seem to be trying to bolster solidarity on a national level by allowing migrants – even temporary ones – to vote in regional elections throughout the nation on Sept. 8. All they need is a Russian residence permit. However, Semyon Novoprudsky interprets a recent Levada Center poll as showing that Russians in general feel just as “separate” from each other as ever – ethnically, geographically and politically.

    Reaching beyond national boundaries, Putin made a bid to fellow gas-exporting countries to show solidarity in keeping prices stable (read: high) to maintain profit margins. This effort met with frustration, too: Qatar, for one, intends to keep prices flexible for the benefit of consumers.

    Perhaps a key ingredient needed for solidarity is a common enemy. For example, Sergei Frolov sees oligarch Roman Abramovich’s abandonment of his political office as a continuation of the trend of “elite flight” in the face of recent legislation prohibiting government officials from owning foreign assets. On the overtly antigovernment front, opposition activists are rallying around longtime human rights advocate Lev Ponomaryov as he fights the eviction of his movement from its Moscow office (performed roughly at the hands of riot police).

    Turning abroad to the Caspian Sea, Col. Vladimir Popov points out two geopolitical blocs forming: Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, for example, are leaning toward alignment with NATO. Guess who’s in solidarity against the alliance? Russia and Iran. Strange bedfellows indeed!

    Laurence Bogoslaw,

    Copy Editor

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  • International Affairs: Table of Contents #4 2013

    Table of Contents: Issue #4, 2013

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

    Letter From the Editors: June 24-30, 2013

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    All (Not) Quiet on the Economic Front; the Looming Afghan Precipice; and the Logic of Edward Snowden

    Former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky marks his 50th birthday this week in Correctional Colony No. 7 in Karelia. His current place of residence didn’t stop Russian and Western politicians, as well as writer Boris Akunin and prominent actor Sergei Yursky, from wishing the embattled oligarch a happy birthday. For his part, Khodorkovsky shared his thoughts on life in prison and the state of Russian politics in an interview with The New Times. Despite what he says is “a critical shortage of mutual trust and ability to self-organize” in society, Khodorkovsky still believes that a brighter political future for Russia is possible.

    While Khodorkovsky lost some of his illusions while in prison (like his faith in the Russian justice system), another “renegade” is instead choosing to bank on Russia – Edward Snowden, who continues his sojourn at the Sheremetyevo airport to the delight of journalists. Some Russian politicians, such as Aleksei Pushkov, head of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, are also jumping on the Snowden bandwagon. Pushkov accused the US of persecuting Snowden and called the NSA leaker a political dissident and a human rights activist. But not everyone is as keen to declare Snowden an American Sakharov – The Moscow Times’s Michael Bohm wonders how supposed human rights crusader Snowden can ask for protection from a state where the FSB illegally wiretaps the opposition’s phones and considers home-grown whistleblower Aleksei Navalny a US State Department lackey bent on bringing down the Russian state from within.

    To further fight erosion from within, the Duma introduced a bill this week to combat “rehabilitation of Nazism.” Vedomosti argues that canonizing an interpretation of World War II could result in self-censorship in academic circles. The law, writes Vedomosti, is phrased ambiguously and could be used to violate freedom of speech.

    Russia got some grim economic news this week, as well. According to economics expert Vladislav Inozemtsev, budget revenues are expected to plateau this year. The Kremlin has taken on too many social obligations, he argues, while its overreliance on megaprojects is not bringing in the expected income. Generally, that’s because such projects breed corruption and fail to boost the employment rate – construction for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vladivostok, for example, relied on migrant workers who sent earnings back home. Private investment, Inozemtsev writes, is the only way to really boost Russia’s stalled economy.

    The problem with the Russian economy, echoes columnist Andrei Kolesnikov, is that President Putin is setting contradictory goals for his economic team – increasing revenues without cutting budgetary spending. Meanwhile, 20 of the largest state-controlled corporations, which reported profits of nearly 4 trillion rubles, are bringing in almost no return on investment. So where is all this money going, wonders politician Vladimir Milov. Isn’t it time for the Russian government to take a closer look at its many inefficient state projects?

    Speaking of financial black holes, that honor in the international arena goes to Afghanistan this week. In his scathing analysis of the situation in that country, Sovetskaya Rossia’s Sergei Kozhemyakin writes that the Western coalition forces (read: Washington) have no interest in a strong and stable Afghanistan. How else to explain NATO forces destroying thousands of tons of equipment prior to withdrawing when the Afghan Armed Forces are desperately short on such basics as tanks and armored personnel carriers? The author also points to the country’s splintered political system and Kabul’s inability to maintain centralized control as additional destabilization factors that were intentionally created by the West. Meanwhile, a deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan threatens to spill over into the bordering CIS countries. The Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization both held meetings this week to figure out a strategy on the Afghan front. Will their efforts pay off? Only time will tell.

    Xenia Grushetsky
    Managing Editor

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  • From the Pages of Far Eastern Affairs: China's Military Development

    China’s Military Policy Discussed at the 18th CPC Congress


    By Pavel Kamennov, Ph.D.(Politics), a leading research associate with the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for Far Eastern Studies.
    Originally published in Far Eastern Affairs, No. 2, 2013, pp. 29-46.


    Abstract: The author examines the key areas of China’s military policy and armed forces development from the perspective of the decisions passed at the 18th CPC Congress that met in Beijing in November 2012, in particular, modernization of the military potential, buildup of strong armed forces consistent with the country’s growing international status, the CPC’s full control over the armed forces, pursuit of an “active defense” strategy, and military diplomacy.

    Over the years of reforms and the country’s openness to the outside world, China’s military policy has been aimed at creating conditions for the implementation of its national development strategy to make China by the middle of the 21stcentury (a hundred years since the birth of the People’s Republic of China) a strong, modernized, and united (after the Taiwan problem has been resolved) world power holding a dominating position in East Asia consistent with its political influence and economic and military strength just as high as that of the world’s leading powers. It is assumed that its national strategy will be implemented as part of the country’s growing overall power. Overall power, in turn, suggests the country’s capability to draw on its domestic and world resources in pursuit of its strategy and also to meet and advance its national interests on the global scale.

    The 18th CPC Congress gave the green light to the national defense modernization program passed in 2006 that is broken down into three stages: laying the foundations for reforms until 2010, achieving progress in modernization in all key areas until 2020, and, as a major strategic goal, building up armed forces equipped with information technologies to fight IT-dominated wars. Giving IT and computer-controlled capabilities to the ground forces and the navy and enhancing the armed forces’ combat capabilities by raising the efficiency of cooperation between the branches and arms of the service in joint operations is the principal purpose of the current (second) stage of the program. The end goal of the program is to build up armed forces possessing a strong nuclear deterrent and capable of fighting a modern high-tech war and conducting antiterrorist operations.

    Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, who delivered the official report, called for the country’s defense to be reinforced and its armed forces built up to be consistent with China’s growing international standing.

    Modernization of the country’s defense capabilities is, in accordance with the program, a key component of China’s modernization effort. By 2020, the armed forces are to be mechanized and significant progress is to be made in their IT capabilities. The armed forces have been given the mission of safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity on the mainland and maintaining security at sea, in the world ocean, in airspace, outer space, and in the electronic information environment. Armed forces development will continue to follow the “active defense” strategy that calls for the buildup of a strong modern army capable of responding to sudden changes in the situation and conducting defensive and offensive operations in a local high-tech war.

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  • From the Pages of International Affairs: Sergey Lavrov on Russia's Foreign Policy Concept

    Russia’s Foreign Policy Philosophy


    By Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
    Originally published in International Affairs No. 3, 2013, pp. 1-7.


    On February 12 of this year, Russian President V.V. Putin approved a new Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation. The guidelines for the document, work on which lasted several months, were set by a presidential decree that was signed the day the head of state was inaugurated. The draft concept was discussed with the government agencies that are most actively involved in international activity, and considered in various departments of the Russian presidential administration. The Russian expert community was involved in its preparation, including members of the Foreign Ministry’s scientific Council. We are grateful to all those who have put forward their proposals and considerations, including in the pages of International Affairs.

    The main outcome of those discussions is the understanding that today our country’s independent foreign policy course has essentially no alternative. In other words, we cannot even hypothetically consider the option of Russia’s “attachment” in a subordinate role to some other key player on the international arena. The independence of Russia’s foreign policy is predetermined by its geographic size, unique geopolitical position, age-old historical tradition, and culture and mentality of our people. This course is also a result of the country’s development over the past 20years in new historical conditions, at a time when – through trial and error – a foreign policy concept was formulated that at present responds to Russia’s interests to the maximum degree possible.

    The new Concept preserves the key principles not only of the previous version (2008) but also the basic approaches of a document that V.V. Putin approved in 2000. Those are, above all, pragmatism, openness, a multi-vector approach, and the consistent advancement of Russian national interests but without confrontation. These principles have proven their relevance and effectiveness. Furthermore, they are increasingly acquiring a universal character, i.e., are being adopted in practical politics by a growing number of states.

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