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

    Letter From the Editors: June 30-July 6, 2014

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    Issue #27 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #27 Table of Contents

    Why There Are No Winners in Ukraine; ISIS Blame Game; Is David Cameron Going Rogue?

    The Ukrainian Armed Forces made inroads this week in southeastern Ukraine, driving rebels out of several cities in the region. Many asked for a safe transit corridor as they surrendered, and according to Ukrainian sources, Russia closed several border checkpoints, effectively slamming the door shut in the face of the retreating “volunteers.” Despite these successes, Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko still finds himself in a precarious position, writes Nezavisimaya gazeta – if he holds negotiations with the separatists, he loses the support of nearly half of Ukrainians, who view the breakaway leaders as terrorists. If he decides to impose martial law in the southeast, Donetsk Basin residents will never forgive him and Ukraine will never be whole again.

    Few can save face in the situation, writes slon.ru columnist Tatyana Stanovaya – Germany already lost its credibility as mediator in the process: the failed ceasefire is proof of that. Now, Washington is going to step up its presence in the negotiating process. Putin also miscalculated by thinking that he could prolong the negotiation process indefinitely with the help of Germany, while still continuing to covertly support the rebels in Ukraine. In fact, Vladimir Vladimirovich lost face twice – not only in miscalculating his German gambit, but also by supposedly agreeing to allow OSCE observers into border towns along the Russian borders, something that the separatists saw as a betrayal.

    Even the US is hardly in an enviable position – its failures around the globe are increasingly apparent. According to Shamsudin Mamayev, ISIS’s success in Iraq is a direct result of the failure of the Geneva‑2 talks on Syria, where the US ignored Damascus’s demands. And the Americans’ frustration with their inability to get their way on Syria manifested itself in the mess in Ukraine. How does the US plan to extricate itself from the Iraq-Syria-Ukraine hate triangle, wonders the author?

    British Prime Minister David Cameron found himself in a similar lose-lose situation as he locked horns with EU federalist supporters over the next EU Commission president. Despite Cameron’s protests, federalization supporter Jean-Claude Juncker was elected to head the EU Commission. This was the first time that a candidate did not have the support of all EU members – what a way to go down in history! Now Cameron, who promised Britons greater independence from the EU, is in a tough spot. If he chooses to end the UK’s EU membership, the economic consequences would be dire. If he does nothing, he loses face – and possibly the next election.

    Speaking of economic hardship, citizens of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – all three of which signed association agreements with the EU – may be in for a rude awakening. According to Andrei Adkulov, jubilation over becoming a little bit more European may soon give way to discontent as standards of living are expected to fall. But that’s small potatoes compared to the threat to sovereignty, bemoans the author, since the European Council recently adopted measures that would effectively allow the EU to use all instruments at its disposal (including the European Gendarmerie Force) if a member state is under threat of disaster – natural or man-made.

    Finally, a war of words (or possibly a series of  misunderstandings, depending on how you look at it), erupted in Russian social networks when news agencies quoted Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov as saying that Russians’ funded pension contributions have already been spent – on the Crimea. After the statement went viral and upset Russians started venting on social media, Siluanov was forced to backpedal. But, writes Ekspert’s Aleksandr Privalov, the controversy shows that Russia’s fiscal policy is increasingly losing touch with reality.

    Xenia Grushetsky

    Managing Editor

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

    Letter From the Editors: June 23-29, 2014

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    Issue #26 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #26 Table of Contents

    Surprise, surprise – this week saw more intrigue in eastern Ukraine! The latest turn of events has Kiev attempting to work out a peace deal with separatists amid a unilateral week-long ceasefire that the rebels are pointedly ignoring. Actually, both sides don’t seem all that committed to resolving the conflict, at least not peacefully. Mikhail Vikhrov says President-elect Poroshenko ultimately wants to crush the rebels militarily, and failed peace talks provide just the pretext. And the rebels would like nothing better than for Russia to invade Ukraine on their behalf. Incidentally, the talks were backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who cited them as a reason for asking the Federation Council to rescind his authorization to deploy Russian troops in Ukraine. So does that mean he is more interested than Kiev or the separatists in achieving a speedy resolution of the crisis?

    Not likely, writes Anton Oleinik, who claims Putin is seeking to preserve instability in the neighboring country for his own purposes (much as he is doing in Syria). What is he seeking to gain? Vladimir Frolov contends that, for one thing, the unrest in Ukraine (stemming from the February “fascist coup,” to use the language of Kremlin’s more virulent spin doctors) gets Putin off the hook for mounting domestic problems by feeding into his “enemy at the gate” narrative that gives the president more leeway to take drastic “wartime” measures. Russians are largely buying the mobilization rhetoric and rallying around their hero leader, who, as Frolov sarcastically puts it, in their eyes is “fighting Nazis in Ukraine.”

    What is Putin planning to do with his resurgent power and loyalty? According to Sergei Aleksashenko, Russia already is an absolute, unlimited monarchy – Putin’s personal fiefdom where virtually all political, economic and civic institutions are subordinate to him. Putin is likely to continue to lead Russia down that authoritarian path, defending Russia and its honor from enemies – both foreign and domestic – while consolidating his own power.

    Putin, determined to restore Russia’s international prestige and soothe Russians’ wounded national pride, seems to be going about it in a way that is producing the exact opposite result. Under his direction, Russia is returning to the Soviet “my way or the highway” approach to international interaction: Moscow wants either a leading role or no role at all in international institutions, writes Fyodor Lukyanov. Will Russia be able to take a leading role among its partners in Asia, where it has not yet completely lost face? Can it even aspire to relations an equal footing there?

    Of course, the West is fed up with Russia’s bad boy behavior and has leveled a number of targeted sanctions to get Russia to stop flouting international law, but will the sanctions work? Not really, says Vladislav Inozemtsev. He writes that Russia lives in its own economic bubble, where traditional economic carrots and sticks aren’t all that effective. In fact, sanctions will likely only reinforce Russians’ negative impression of the West and their positive impression of their government. Nevertheless, the sanctions might prick Russia’s Achilles heel: the oil and gas sector controlled by Putin’s close pals. The EU got Bulgaria to deep-six Russia’s South Stream pipeline, and the West’s easing relations with Iran could soon make it a viable alternative to Russian gas. The West’s waning appetite for Russian gas is putting a crimp on the Kremlin’s gas weapon, but is Putin about to say “uncle”?

    Matthew Larson,

    Translator/Copy Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #25

    Letter From the Editors: June 16-22, 2014

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    Issue #25 Letter From the Editors
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    New Loops in the Geopolitical Roller Coaster: Air Battles, Gas Wars and the Threat of Global Jihad

    As tension continues to rise in Ukraine and radical Islamists consolidate power in the Middle East, the US comes off looking particularly bad in this week’s news and views from Russia. For example, in the wake of the tragedy in which a Ukrainian military transport plane was shot down by the militia of the self-proclaimed Lugansk people’s republic (which was protecting its airspace, according to a press spokeswoman), Aleksandr Golts faults Washington for not holding Russia accountable for its support of the separatists. Either the West does not have enough evidence, says Golts (despite recent reports of Russian military equipment crossing the border into Ukraine), or it lacks the will to confront the Kremlin openly.

    The breakdown of natural gas negotiations between Kiev and Moscow is also the fault of the US, according to Pyotr Iskenderov, writing in the Strategic Culture Foundation Online Journal. He argues that pushing the two neighboring countries into a deadlock is part of America’s geopolitical game for control over gas transit routes. Iskenderov further argues that the US is trying to corner the market on other types of energy as well, specifically nuclear power: With Moscow’s influence over the energy market in Eastern Europe thwarted for the time being, Westinghouse can move in to fill the gap.

    Even the bloodshed wreaked by ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham) in Mosul, Tikrit and elsewhere can be laid at America’s door, according to some commentators. For example, Georgy Mirsky says that former US president George W. Bush “let the genie out of the bottle” in Iraq, allowing Saddam Hussein’s former allies to radicalize and join with other disenfranchised Sunni fanatics to mount the aggressive campaign we see in the Middle East today. Mirsky urges the US and Russia to join forces to fight the global jihadist movement, which is “possibly the main danger in the present-day world.” Fyodor Lukyanov takes a somewhat different tack: He, too, acknowledges America’s fault for destabilizing Iraq back in 2003; but unlike Mirsky, he portrays it as justification for Putin’s long-standing distrust of the West.

    What about the Far East? Well, Washington has to take some heat for what’s going on there, too. Gevorg Mirzayan, writing in Ekspert (another recent addition to the Current Digest’s coterie of journals) explains Japan’s recent assertiveness on the global stage by pointing the finger at the US: While Japan had gotten used to relying on America to have its back since the aftermath of World War II, it has now seen Washington sell out Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and fail to stand up to Bashar Assad in Syria. Therefore, Tokyo is beginning to view the US as an unreliable protector, and is taking matters into its own hands.

    As for news on the home front, the Kremlin elite are the ones taking most of the flak, as Tatyana Stanovaya chronicles the rise of the “nationalistic-patriotic conservatives” who threaten to eclipse Putin himself. Meanwhile, Mark Galeotti points to the suicide of Maj. Gen. Boris Kolesnikov as a sign of internal struggle within Putin’s security circle. But even so, the US does not completely escape the spotlight: Boris Grozovsky identifies America as a threat to Russia’s energy plans, pointing out that pressure from Sen. John McCain and his colleagues led Bulgaria to abandon participation in South Stream, a pipeline that would have enabled Gazprom to bypass Ukraine and tighten its grip on energy supplies to Europe.

    If you’re not already dizzy from how the world is spinning around us, you’d better hold on to your hats, folks – it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

    Laurence Bogoslaw,

    Copy Editor

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