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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #42

    Letter From the Editors: Oct. 13-19, 2014

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    Issue #42 Letter From the Editors
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    What Vladimir Lenin Can Teach Us About Social Media

    What are the necessary ingredients for a successful revolution? According to Lenin, it’s the “telegraph, the post and the telephone.” Clearly, even back then, the Bolshevik leader understood that control over information is key to turning the tide in your favor. This week, world leaders stuck to that playbook, with varying degrees of success.

    The Russian side fired some decisive rounds in the information war via a media flurry of activity. President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, presidential administration chief Sergei Ivanov and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev all gave interviews to four separate media outlets. Putin’s remarks included such bon mots as: “Unfortunately, many European nations are losing their immunity to the Nazi virus, an immunity that was acquired during the Nuremberg Trials.” The Russian president went on to lament that the Ukrainian crisis looks particularly troubling in this respect (remember Moscow’s official party line, that fascist forces orchestrated an unconstitutional coup in Kiev last winter).

    By comparison, Prime Minister Medvedev sounded downright conciliatory when he spoke with America’s CNBC. Medvedev’s focus was more on international law and the recent sanctions against Russia, which are going to hurt everyone, not just the country they are directed against, he said.

    But the prize for most bellicose rhetoric goes to Nikolai Patrushev, hands down. Speaking with Rossiiskaya gazeta, the Security Council Secretary called the recent tensions in relations with the West a “second cold war” and accused Western powers of plotting to “redivide the world” while keeping Russia in the periphery of global decision-making. Patrushev then took his theories a step further, saying that Washington is also trying to marginalize European powers that “have moved too close to Moscow.”

    If the above sounds like a page out of a 1970s edition of Pravda, then Novaya gazeta’s interview with Boris Litvinov, chairman of the Donetsk people’s republic Supreme Council, is another wrinkle in time. Litvinov discusses the breakaway republic’s planned government structure, lambasts Pyotr Poroshenko’s recently signed law granting the DPR special status – albeit as part of Ukraine – and outlines the DPR’s ideology (echoing Putin when he called for fighting “fascist ideology in all of its forms and manifestations”). Finally, collectivism is a running thread throughout the interview, conducted in the Supreme Council chairman’s hammer- and-sickle decorated office.

    Not to be outdone, Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko also met with the press just ahead of the Asia-Europe Meeting summit, where he will meet with Vladimir Putin. According to the Ukrainian leader, “It seems we have reached an agreement with the Russians about everything.” He also hinted that next week’s meeting will show how successful those agreements will be. Thus, experts concluded that some sort of private agreement has been reached between Moscow and Kiev.

    According to Aleksei Mukhin, the Milan meeting is strictly pro forma, since Poroshenko is locked in an electoral struggle back home and can’t afford to take any steps that would be perceived as caving in to Russia.

    So it seems that the media war of words is still failing to give any one side the upper hand. Well, what can you expect when “there are no live channels of interaction between the political systems of the European Union and Russia,” says Argumenty i fakty columnist Vyacheslav Kostikov. Despite today’s informational arsenal of “heavy howitzers of global television, the Internet and the capabilities of social networks,” these propaganda salvos are failing to reach their target. One can’t help but wonder, what would Lenin do?

    Xenia Grushetsky

    Managing Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #41

    Letter From the Editors: Oct. 6-12, 2014

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    Issue #41 Letter From the Editors
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    Russian-Western Tensions: It’s All About Shoe Size, People

    The situation in Ukraine continues to be somewhat of a head-scratcher. A shaky ceasefire has curbed most of the major fighting ahead of some important elections in Ukraine and the breakaway regions in the Donetsk Basin. However, Kiev accuses the separatists of violating the ceasefire terms and Moscow of maintaining a destabilizing military presence in the region. Pavel Felgengauer says Russia is in fact withdrawing most of its troops from Ukraine, in order to let the separatist militias experience some crushing defeats – you know, so the separatist leaders understand who’s boss, because Moscow doesn’t necessarily share all of their aspirations. All the Kremlin wants is simply a land route to the Crimea, not a fully independent “Novorossia.” But at what cost?

    In his first interview since being placed under house arrest, Russian oppositionist and one-time Moscow mayoral candidate Aleksei Navalny says Russia has shot itself in the foot by taking the Crimea and making a bitter enemy of one of Russia’s few remaining natural allies. Journalists Konstantin Gaaze and Olga Shamina write that not only did Moscow make a serious geopolitical blunder, but it did so at a very inopportune time – right when Russia’s economy was starting to falter. That makes the self-inflicted wound doubly painful.

    But hey, no sacrifice is too great when enemies are all around and the common cause is clear: revitalizing Russia’s past superpower mojo and putting the arrogant West in its rightful place. (Washington has crossed a line through its unilateral, winner-take-all foreign policy that undermines trust in interstate relations, claims former Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov.) Indeed, a wave of patriotic “nuclear euphoria” is sweeping Russia, writes Aleksandr Golts. However, the military expert comments that the Russian nuclear arsenal is nowhere near as mighty as Russia’s delusional warmongers portray it to be. Leonid Radzikhovsky sees similar miscalculations in Russia’s assessment of its superpower status. To paraphrase the political analyst: Russia is unable to fill the shoes it longs to wear, but is too big for the much smaller shoes the West has picked out for it – and that’s a problem for both sides, but especially for Russia, if it absolutely insists on wearing the oversized shoes.

    The “shoe size” issue has many analysts suggesting that serious changes could be “afoot” in Russia. Gaaze and Shamina believe that Russia’s economic and foreign policy problems require a domestic political breakthrough. Some government officials suggested to The New Times that Putin is about to crack down on the “liberal” government and expand his powers, and that the Kremlin will “dot all the i’s” in that plan next month. Navalny says the situation will continue to deteriorate until Putin is gone. Konstantin Simonov says the West may be engineering such a scenario by pushing the Russian people or elite to turn on Putin. And Boris Mezhuyev contends that Putin is balancing between an increasingly wishy-washy elite and conservative hardliners, and so stepping down would be the worst thing he could do for Russia. Instead, he argues that Putin needs to find a more close-knit circle of trustworthy confidants to secure “the future of a sovereign civilization that rose up against a Western dictatorship.”

    One thing is clear: No one stands to benefit from the current tension in international relations and its potential consequences – that is, except Islamic State fighters, writes Georgy Mirsky. It seems that if Russia and the West could agree on anything these days, it is that the jihadists’ international footprint must grow smaller.

    Matthew Larson,

    Translator/Copy Editor

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