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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #16

    Letter From the Editors: April 14-20, 2014

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    Issue #16 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #16 Table of Contents

    Geneva Talks Lost in Translation; Sugar-Coating Russia’s Bitter Economic Pill

    As chaos continues to sweep southeast Ukraine, Western leaders met with representatives of Russia and Ukraine in Geneva, the city that has come to signify fruitless negotiations of late. In an eerie parallel to the Syria talks, which many experts have called a dead end, the negotiations on Ukraine also failed to reach a breakthrough. However, on paper, the parties managed to release a joint statement that calls for the disarmament of armed groups, the liberation of occupied government buildings and greater autonomy for Ukraine’s provinces. Of course, Kiev and Donetsk were quick to interpret this coup of diplomacy each in its own way – Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andrei Deshchitsa stated in Kiev that the document’s demand for occupiers to leave illegally seized buildings does not apply to the protesters in Kiev (yes, the rallies are still going strong!), ruffling feathers in Donetsk. Representatives of southeast Ukraine’s self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic also accused Kiev of violating the agreement by continuing to persecute pro-Russian activists of the “Donetsk resistance,” writes Kommersant.

    So what now? Who are the winners and losers of the much-anticipated Geneva talks? Are there any to speak of? According to Vedomosti, the real winner is US Secretary of State John Kerry – not only did he manage to avoid taking on too many obligations, he also cornered Russia, which officially represents the “Donetsk resistance” in these talks. The world is watching, and if Moscow can’t get the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine to comply with the talks, it would appear either weak or unwilling to use its purported influence with the resistance.

    And the resistance does not show any sign of backing down – more government buildings were captured in the town of Slavyansk, forcing official Kiev to declare an antiterrorist operation in the east. At the same time, Ukrainians across the country, including the restive southeast, are getting fed up with the government’s inability to stop the unrest, writes Nezavisimaya gazeta. Even in Donetsk, people are forming militias to keep out the “little green men,” as the uninvited (and unidentified) guests stirring up trouble in the region have been dubbed.

    Political analyst Vladimir Fesenko believes one way to relieve tension would be to hold a nationwide referendum at the same time as the May 25 presidential election. This would include addressing the issue of federalization. Of course, even if the central authorities do decide they are ready for a compromise, who would they negotiate with, the expert wonders? Southeastern Ukraine’s protests are frustratingly scattered and disorganized, lacking a central figure.

    If there is a silver lining in the Ukrainian crisis – and that’s a big if – it’s that NATO has gotten a new lease on life. According to Aleksandr Golts, the identity crisis the alliance went through following the breakup of the Warsaw Pact has been resolved for the time being.

    One crisis that has yet to be addressed is the dire state of the Russian economy. Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev blamed the decline in investment on Russia’s measly economic growth rate – notching just under 1%. Accounting Office head Tatyana Golikova had even more bad news – many of Russia’s regions are behind in implementing President Putin’s famous May decrees (which called for, among other things, increased social spending and steady economic growth of 5% to 8% per year). The only silver lining Golikova offered: Some regions are actually ahead of schedule in implementing the May decrees. But will that be enough?

    Xenia Grushetsky

    Managing Editor

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  • New Issue Highlights

    Current Digest of the Russian Press #16 (April 14-20, 2014)

    Westinghouse to Supply Ukraine With Nuclear Fuel for Russian-Made Reactors.

    New Kiev authorities extended Westinghouse’s contract to supply fuel to the country’s Russian-made reactors until 2020. But are safety concerns the last thing on everyone’s minds?

    $5 Billion Deal With China Bolsters Russia’s Eastern Vector.

    In an effort to move its new Great Silk Road project forward, Beijing has signed an agreement investing $5 billion to develop Russia’s Far East in exchange for cargo transit. Will access to Russia’s Northern Sea Route revolutionize China’s trade exports?

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  • New Issue Highlights

    Current Digest of the Russian Press #15 (April 7-13, 2014)

    Transnistria Pulls Out of Territorial Resolution Talks, Hopes to Join Russia.

    Inspired by the Crimea’s example, Transnistria backed out of talks aimed at resolving its ongoing conflict with Moldova. Instead, the disputed territory announced it wants to join Russia. Will Russia heed the call?

    Russian Airborne Troops Hold Arctic Defense Drills.

    Russia’s Airborne Assault Forces stepped up exercises in the Arctic, conducting search-and-rescue operations and air patrols this week. How far is Russia willing to go to defend its interests in the polar region?

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #15

    Letter From the Editors: April 7-13, 2014

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    Issue #15 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #15 Table of Contents

    The pro-Russia uprising in eastern Ukraine appears to be gaining lots of momentum, but little traction. A self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic this week asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to mobilize Russian troops to protect Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine from the new “fascist” government in Kiev. Pro-Russian activists and self-described people’s militias have seized regional administration buildings in several southeastern provinces and are demanding the federalization of Ukraine, if not the complete independence of southeastern Ukraine from Kiev. Although the separatists are quite vocal about their cause, analyst Vitaly Kulik says the movement is not monolithic and has little political support from local government officials. Nezavisimaya gazeta writes that the pro-Russia movement is asking more than Russia is prepared to give, becoming a liability rather than an asset for the Kremlin. How far is Moscow willing to go to support the pro-Russia cause?

    While there may be signs that Moscow and Washington are taking baby steps toward each other on the Ukrainian issue (Moscow is hinting that it may recognize the results of a May 25 presidential election in Ukraine, and the US is suggesting that federalization might not be such a bad idea for Ukraine), Russia seems to have taken a giant step away from Europe after its PACE delegation walked out of a high-level session. None of the Russian delegation’s draft resolutions were adopted, prompting the slighted Russians – who accuse the West of “cold war” rhetoric and behavior – to threaten to break off all ties with PACE for at least the remainder of the year.

    Sergei Karaganov attributes the new round in the “ongoing” cold war (in his opinion, the cold war did not end with the collapse of the USSR) to the West’s unremitting efforts to impose its will on Russia, which has incurred Moscow’s righteous wrath. Accordingly, what we are witnessing now in Ukraine is the result of a years-long buildup of tension between Russia and the West stemming from conflicting geopolitical interests – specifically, the West’s efforts to coax Ukraine into its fold and Russia’s efforts to reel it into its CIS integration structures.

    If we truly are witnessing a rekindling (or continuation) of the cold war, a front line is certainly the post-Soviet space, where Putin has been seeking greater Russian influence for years. Elkhan Nuriyev posits that the West’s unbalanced and uncoordinated policy there is giving Putin a freer hand to pursue his interests in Russia’s backyard. What exactly are those interests? To recreate – at least psychologically – the boundaries of the Soviet Union? In Nuriyev’s opinion, Russia is using frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space to maintain a state of “managed instability,” allowing it to manipulate regional politics in its favor. A case in point is the frozen conflict in the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, which hopes to follow the Crimea’s example and become part of the Russian Federation.

    While the West may have been keeping a relatively low profile in the CIS, NATO is now citing Russia’s actions in Ukraine as grounds for bolstering its defenses in Eastern Europe and returning to a policy of containing Russia. You can probably guess how that went over in Russia. Hey, maybe that could help Putin rationalize Russia’s military development of the Arctic, where Russian AAF paratroopers this week completed a chilly parachute jump high above the Arctic Circle. Well, if relations with the West get too frigid, Russia always has China to lean on for economic and political support. Or does it?

    Matthew Larson,

    Translator/Copy Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #14

    Letter From the Editors: March 31-April 6, 2014

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    Issue #14 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #14 Table of Contents

    Political Dominoes, Sandboxes and Crumbling Castles: More Than Child’s Play on Eastern Front

    With a fast-track presidential race gearing up in Ukraine, the electoral field is already narrowing: Early favorites Vitaly Klichko and Sergei Tigipko have dropped out, leaving front-runners Yulia Timoshenko (a foregone conclusion, despite her earlier disavowals) and an unlikely newcomer: oligarch-turned-activist Pyotr Poroshenko. According to a much-publicized joint statement by diplomatic leaders John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov, Russia may honor the results of that election. Meanwhile, however, Ukraine has struck back at Russia by suspending military-technical cooperation. Or has it? Ukraine’s acting foreign minister, Andrei Deshchitsa, says military cooperation is not really frozen – that’s just speculation. Yet another wrinkle: Belarus is suddenly unveiling economic cooperation plans with Ukraine. Belarussian experts argue that with military cooperation officially off the table between Russian and Ukraine, Belarus is stepping in to fill the vacuum – possibly even with Russia’s blessing, some say.

    Speaking of military cooperation, now that Russia has annexed the Crimea, top military brass say the deployment of nuclear weapons on the peninsula may be the next step. Experts as diverse as émigré economist Sergei Guriyev, political analyst Aleksei Malashenko and PR specialist Vladimir Frolov foresee dire political and economic consequences of Moscow’s aggressive moves: Western economic sanctions threaten to grow more crippling, and Russia is becoming increasingly isolated. Guriyev says that the sanctions will create an economic pressure cooker among Russia’s elite; he hints that this tension may well have political repercussions as well – even to the point of rebellion against Putin. Boris Kagarlitsky counters this idea by framing the sanctions as a stimulus for Russia’s financial and business sectors to develop the long-ignored domestic economy. In the wake of the cancellation of the G‑8 summit in Sochi, Malashenko portrays the other seven countries as kids in a sandbox, now building their castles without Putin.

    In the meantime, castles are crumbling elsewhere. Sergei Strokan, Boris Makarenko and Sergei Oznobishchev draw telling analogies between the current Ukrainian unrest and the “Arab Spring” of the last few years. The general pattern, they say, goes like this: Popular protest movements gather strength, which is then harnessed by (relatively) well-organized and strongly motivated political forces, often extremists.

    Fyodor Lukyanov observes that the separation of the Crimea might touch off a domino effect in other heterogeneous countries – and the momentum has already started in Transnistria, where some politicians have already said they would like the region to become part of Russia. The only viable alternative, says Lukyanov, is federalization. The question is: If a country composed of markedly different regions decides to “hold on loosely” and give local goverments greater autonomy, does that ultimately hasten its disintegration or make the nation more resilient to change? The game of political “Red Rover” is definitely not child’s play.

    Lost and Found in Translation. In Aleksei Malashenko’s opinion piece, he says it’s not smart for Russia to justify its actions in the Crimea by comparing them to the West’s partition of Yugoslavia. He writes: “Why should Malchish-Kibalchish compare himself to Malchish-Plokhish?” If your reaction to this pearl of wisdom is a befuddled “huh?” then you’ll understand why we spent a while puzzling over this expression. Not even all Russians of the present day understand it: The allusion is to an early Soviet-era tale by Arkady Gaidar, which portrays two boys during the Russian Civil War – one a self-sacrificing Red supporter, the other a traitor. We tried out various contrasting pairs – including “good cop and bad cop” (which we decided was misleading: such cops are generally on the same side) and “Goofus and Gallant” (which we felt was too lighthearted an analogy from a children’s comic strip) – before eventually settling for the elemental pair “hero and villain.”

    Laurence Bogoslaw,

    Copy Editor



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  • New Issue Highlights

    Current Digest of the Russian Press #14 (March 31-April 6, 2014)

    New Slovak President May Complicate Bratislava’s Relations With Russia.

    Amid increasing calls for greater energy independence in Europe, Slovakia has always been a reliable partner for Russia’s energy policy in the region. Find out why the election of Andrej Kiska may change all that.

    US Says It Has No Immediate Plans to Admit Georgia, Ukraine Into NATO.

    Despite Ukraine crisis and Georgia’s diligent work to meet NATO membership requirements, US announced the Alliance will not expand to include it at this time. How will this affect Tbilisi’s foreign policy?

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #13

    Letter From the Editors: March 24-30, 2014

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    Issue #13 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #13 Table of Contents

    Eavesdropping on Ukraine’s ‘Orange Princess’ and Russia’s Declaration of Independence

    Scandal in Ukraine usually revolves around leaked tapes of secret conversations. This week was no exception, when an excerpt of a phone call between former PM Yulia Timoshenko and Party of Regions Deputy Nestor Shufrich surfaced online. In it, the “orange princess” says it’s time to “grab our guns and start shooting those damn Russians along with their leader.” Surprisingly, the revelation made few waves in Ukraine. According to expert Konstantin Bondarenko, Ukrainians have grown weary of these leaks, which have happened with tedious frequency since the days of Leonid Kuchma (remember the leaked Melnichenko tapes, used as evidence to implicate the former Ukrainian president in the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze?).

    Yevgeny Shestakov says the recorded conversation may have been leaked by Timoshenko’s supporters in order to take nationalist votes away from right-wingers like the Svoboda party and Right Sector. After all, according to Vladimir Fesenko, Ukraine’s Russian-leaning southeast wasn’t going to vote for her anyway, so no big loss.

    Speaking of which, rallies calling for the return of ousted president Viktor Yanukovich swept across southeastern Ukraine this week. Yanukovich’s latest press conference in Rostov-on-Don, where he implied a swift return to Kiev, may have inspired the crowds. So is Russia done annexing parts of Ukraine, wonders Vladimir Mukhin? Or is it going to forge ahead and annex other restive, pro-Russian regions, as well? Quite possible, since the Kremlin has not yet achieved its desired objectives, he concludes.

    Desired or not, the Kremlin’s Crimean (mis?)adventure has cost Russia membership in the Group of Eight. EU sources differ on the details – French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says Russia was booted from the club, while his aide and German Chancellor Angela Merkel say Russia’s membership was merely suspended. Since the G‑8 has no procedure for stripping a participant of membership, no wonder the other players are left scratching their heads. According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, this latest attempt to punish Russia falls flat. The G‑8 (wait, make that the G‑7) is hardly the privileged club it used to be – its members are increasingly losing political and economic influence to the developing nations in the Group of 20.

    Tokyo, however, decided to err on the side of caution. While it went along with the US-proposed sanctions against Moscow, Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari said he hopes to welcome Russia back to the G‑8 one day. Tokyo also chose to tread carefully regarding sanctions, so as not to do any long-term damage to Russian-Japanese relations, Nezavisimaya gazeta writes.

    Will the sanctions have their desired effect, wonder experts in the second set of features? Russia is the world’s fifth biggest economy, argues Russian State Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Nikonov – it won’t be easy to economically cripple it without serious collateral damage to the global economy. Sanctions are a sign of weakness, writes former Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov. Analyst Fyodor Lukyanov goes further, saying that despite its best efforts, Russia never managed to build a strategic partnership with the US anyway – now, it is acting truly independently for the first time.

    Xenia Grushetsky,

    Managing Editor

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  • New Issue Highlights

    Current Digest of the Russian Press #13 (March 24-30, 2014)

    Ukraine Crisis Gives NATO New Lease on Life.

    With NATO troops slated to leave Afghanistan in 2014, many started calling the Alliance an anachronism. But with the Crimea crisis threatening to spill over into other parts of the CIS, NATO is stepping up collective security measures. A new lease on life for the Alliance?

    Could China Play Role of Mediator in Resolving Crisis in Ukraine?

    During a meeting with US President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated China could play a role in resolving the US-Russia stand-off that emerged in the wake of the Ukraine crisis – does China have what it takes to resolve the Moscow-Washington stand-off?

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