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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #12

    Letter From the Editors: March 17-23, 2014

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    Issue #12 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #12 Table of Contents

    Crimeans effectively woke up the morning of March 17 in a different country after casting ballots the day before in what many residents of the Crimea and Russia saw as a vote to right a historical wrong, and many Ukrainians and members of the international community viewed as a gross violation of international law. Could Russia’s annexation of the Crimea be the first stage of a gathering of Russian lands under the Russian flag? Will Transnistria be next in line? (Incidentally, that region of Moldova has asked Russia to include it in new annexation legislation the State Duma is drafting for the Crimea.) What about southeastern Ukraine? The immediate consequences and further implications of the Crimean referendum on secession from Ukraine and accession to the Russian Federation are analyzed in this issue’s first set of featured articles.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an address to the Federal Assembly, lauded and defended Crimeans’ decision and justified Russia’s response, while deriding the West for double standards, skewed interpretations of international law, ideological self-righteousness and strong-arm tactics against other countries, especially Russia. Commentators Aleksandra Samarina and Ivan Rodin characterize Putin’s address as a mobilization speech: a call to arms to defend Russia’s rights and dignity, and to protect it against external and internal enemies, the so-called fifth column. Could Putin be stoking the besieged fortress syndrome?

    As if to help us answer that rhetorical question, the Russian government last week utilized a recently enacted Internet censorship law to block the Web sites of several “fifth columnists”: radio station Ekho Moskvy, independent online publications Ej.ru and Grani.ru, and Kasparov.ru, the homepage of opposition leader Garri Kasparov. The so-called “Lugovoi Law” authorizes the Russian government to block Web sites if they promote unsanctioned antigovernment activity. While not as technologically advanced as the “great firewall of China,” commentator Viktor Davydov wonders whether Russia’s new approach to Internet censorship is designed with an eye to the Chinese philosophy and methodology.

    And while Ukraine has been the focus of much attention lately, it is not the only region of geopolitical interest to Russia at the moment. Polar ice melt in the Arctic is revealing new money-making ventures, as well as latent territorial conflicts. The Arctic is also attracting the interest of some unlikely actors – China, for example. What allure might the Arctic hold for Beijing, and what could this mean for its relations with Moscow?

    Matthew Larson,

    Translator/Copy Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #11

    Letter From the Editors: March 10-16, 2014

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    Issue #11 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #11 Table of Contents

    The Crimean Supreme Council’s declaration of independence on March 11 was a political shot heard round the world, as the autonomous republic gears up for a March 16 referendum to determine whether its people wish to join Russia. A Kiev court fought back against separatism by issuing a ruling to arrest Crimean prime minister Sergei Aksyonov and parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov. Meanwhile, Crimean Tatars want no part of the referendum, although the newly installed authorities in the autonomous republic are offering unprecedented promises. On the Russian side, economic experts warn of the financial impact of Crimean annexation: Igor Yurgens tallies the losses from threatened Western sanctions, and Natalya Zubarevich explains the consequences of increased subsidies from Russia’s federal budget. Commentator Kirill Rogov says that the resulting long-term isolation of Russia from Europe would make the Crimea a “Trojan horse” for ordinary Russians: As in the Soviet days of “confrontation with the West,” it would lead to economic ruin – a technologically backward country driven by commodities exports.

    Aleksandr Rubtsov expresses a strikingly similar opinion in this week’s Russian News section, comparing the country to a nuclear dreadnought that is suddenly reversing direction in a “global regatta” of social and economic progress.

    The Digest’s second feature explores perspectives on what repercussions Moscow’s recent actions could have on an international scale. Eduard Lozansky urges the West to engage positively with Russia to avert a repeat of the cold war. Sergei Markov is also concerned about a cold war, but a new kind: geopolitical, rather than ideological. He says the US should stop pushing its own economic agenda in Ukraine, and that both Moscow and Washington should support a neutral Ukraine. Disarmament expert Vladimir Orlov points out that as the West tries to oppose Moscow’s expansionism on the grounds of international law – by invoking the 1994 “Budapest memorandum” in which the US, Great Britain and Russia pledged to uphold the territorial integrity of Ukraine – it finds itself in a bizarre catch‑22: If Western countries support the legitimacy of the new government in Kiev, they implicitly acknowledge that the Ukrainian regime that signed the memorandum is no longer viable – and, therefore, the document itself is no longer valid. This loophole certainly gives the Russian authorities legal support – as if they didn’t already have overwhelming political support!

    As evidence of that support, Nezavisimaya gazeta’s Aleksandra Samarina and Aleksei Gorbachov recall the 446‑1 State Duma vote in favor of intervention in the Crimea. At the same time, they see signs that Russia’s nonparliamentary opposition opposes this policy, but is keeping quiet for now in anticipation of the Moscow City Duma elections in September. As if to belie this claim, Novaya gazeta published a strong statement this week by Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, in which he accuses the Russian authorities of trying to destabilize Ukraine by discrediting its fledgling government. In a similar vein, Yulia Latynina cites past examples to show how Putin is fabricating imaginary “fascists” (i.e., the new authorities in Kiev) to justify aggression in Ukraine. Georgy Bovt goes even further, claiming that Putin’s pragmatic concerns are being overridden by his thirst for power and revenge against the West, not to mention his paranoia about NATO expansion.

    Speaking of which, a Kommersant source in the US State Department says that it’s “basically a done deal” that the North Atlantic alliance will offer Georgia a Membership Action Plan (the next step toward full accession) if Russia annexes the Crimea.

    On the other side of the world, China and Japan are watching the situation closely. Both are wary of rocking the diplomatic boat with Russia, but China in particular does not want to shelve the economic development plans recently worked out with Ukraine.

    Stay tuned for further developments!

    Laurence Bogoslaw,

    Copy Editor


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  • New Issue Highlights

    Current Digest of the Russian Press #11 (March 10-16, 2014)

    Russia’s Tensions With West Over Ukraine Present a Unique Opportunity for China.

    As Russia’s relations with the West (and particularly the US) hit their lowest point in decades, Beijing stands to reap some big dividends – if it plays its cards right.

    Crimea Crisis May Put Georgia’s NATO Membership Dream Within Reach.

    Tbilisi was refused the Membership Action Plan in 2008, but as the Crimea Crisis unfolds, will Georgia find its luck changing? Find out why a US State Department source called this first step to joining NATO a “done deal” for Georgia.

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #10

    Letter From the Editors: Feb. 24-March 2, 2014

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    Issue #10 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #10 Table of Contents

    Ramzan Kadyrov Rushes to Ukraine’s Rescue; and Germany’s Unenviable Position

    What do Vladimir Putin, Viktor Yanukovich and Ramzan Kadyrov have in common? Besides a penchant for tightening the screws, the above troika shared their feelings with the press this week. Ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, missing for a week (ever since he disappeared in Kharkov), resurfaced in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, where he gave  a press conference stating that he is still the only legitimate leader of Ukraine. Referring to the new government regime as “fascist thugs,” the exiled leader condemned their Western supporters and called for an end to the violence that has engulfed Ukraine.

    Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, not to be outdone, chimed in with a call to friendship among the peoples – Russian, Chechen and Ukrainian – on the pages of Izvestia. He also harshly condemned Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh for calling on Chechen outlaw Doku Umarov to intensify terrorist attacks against Russia.

    In a press appearance of his own from Novo-Ogaryovo, Vladimir Putin supported Yanukovich, lamented the difficult fate of simple Ukrainians over the past few geopolitically charged centuries, and offered his support to Yanukovich, as reported by Nezavisimaya gazeta. At the same time, Putin struck a conciliatory tone on the Crimea, stating that even though the Russian Federation Council this week authorized him to use force if necessary, that time has not yet come.

    Kiev doesn’t seem to be buying, however – the new government has announced a mass mobilization and training exercises to be held across Ukraine. Some experts, such as Viktor Davydov of the Moscow Times, are already comparing Putin’s appetites to those of Hitler and drawing parallels between the Crimea and the Austrian Anschluss. Yulia Latynina, always one to look on the practical side of things, draws up her own list of pros and cons on annexing the Crimea – and declares the price too high for Russia. Making the disputed peninsula a part of Russia is also going to pose some financial and purely infrastructural costs, writes Kommersant – from bringing pensions in line with the Russian average to figuring out how to bypass Ukraine to get gas and other necessities to the cut-off region.

    Finally, the Crimean crisis has spooked some of Russia’s CIS neighbors. Moldova, for instance, is calling on NATO troops to make sure that Russia doesn’t repeat the Crimean scenario with Transnistria – another long-simmering territorial dispute.

    The EU, on the other hand, is more spooked by the prospect of introducing sanctions against Russia, writes Nezavisimaya gazeta. Germany in particular is going to feel the sting, since Russia happens to be the fourth largest partner for the German machine-building industry. Experts point out that Europe is being pressured into punishing Russia economically by the US – which has very little at stake, unlike the Europeans. Will economic implications triumph over political considerations? It can’t be ruled out. After all, to quote George Carville: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

    Xenia Grushetsky,

    Managing Editor

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  • New Issue Highlights

    Current Digest of the Russian Press #10 (March 3-9, 2014)

    Tatarstan ‘Peacemaker’ Delegation Gets Chilly Reception From Crimean Tatars

    Delegations from Tatarstan have been frequenting the Crimea of late for talks with the local authorities. Find out why the latest Kazan ‘peacemaker’ delegation got a chilly reception on the embattled peninsula.

    Why Germany thinks sanctions against Russia are a bad idea

    As possible EU sanctions against Russia loom, Berlin has the most at stake if they go into effect (for starters, Germany’s trade exports with Russia have doubled since 2009); here’s what else Germany stands to lose.

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