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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #5

    Letter From the Editors: Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 2015

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    Issue #5 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #5 Table of Contents

    No Hope for Peace in the Ukrainian East? Is Russia Too Much in Rogue These Days?


    Saturday’s shelling of Mariupol brought a new sense of urgency to the crisis in eastern Ukraine. The attacks left scores dead and wounded, and provoked mutual recrimination from both sides. Lawmakers in Kiev swiftly passed a parliamentary resolution calling Russia an aggressor state and classifying the separatist LPR and DPR as terrorist organizations, asking the rest of the world to do the same.

    Sergei Sokolov says that with the uptick in violence in January, peace is hanging by a thread in the Donetsk Basin. The deteriorating situation also has repercussions for Russia, its economy and its relations with the West, as well as for global peace and prosperity in general, writes Igor Ivanov.

    The economy is perhaps where Russia is feeling hardest hit. As Kremlin propagandists and officials continue to blame Western sanctions for Russia’s flagging economy, Izvestia journalists say the problems actually stem more from Russia’s flawed economic system and the politicians responsible for failing to implement comprehensive reforms. Aleksandr Belousov writes that Kremlin’s defensive strategy is to rally Russians around the state by focusing public attention on overblown security threats, both internal and external, that only the state can address. This deflects criticism of failing domestic policies for which politicians and the state should rightfully be held accountable, and increases public trust in the state. Yulia Latynina says that one consequence of Russia’s lopsided foreign trade balance, exacerbated by Russia’s indebtedness and economic backwardness, is that soon its people will aspire to reach the low economic level of rural Venezuela. She says Russians will soon grow sick and tired of having to “suffer for their greatness” and the politics of their rogue leader, and revolt against the system that has robbed them.

    Aleksandr Golts shares Latynina’s opinion that Russia is becoming a rogue state. He posits that Russia has abandoned its role of representing civilized states in their dealings with rogue states, and has become the friend and ally of the latter. As if to prove that point, the Russian government recently confirmed that Kim Jong Un will attend the May 9 Victory Day Parade in Moscow. It is both curious and telling that the North Korean leader has chosen to make his international diplomatic debut in Russia. Golts argues that like the Iranian Ayatollah and the North Korean dictator, Putin is “prepared to easily sacrifice his citizens’ well-being for the sake of some vaguely defined ‘national interests’ that are nothing but a mixture of national pride and the leader’s own inferiority complex.”

    Even Russia’s traditional allies are increasingly wary of Putin. Belarus is amending its Law on Martial Law to protect its territory – and perhaps more specifically, its president – from a wider range of threats (read: Putin’s “little green men”). And the recent behavior of Russia’s PACE delegation did little to ease the concerns of Europe’s Russia critics. After much hemming and hawing, PACE voted this week to strip Russia of voting and other rights through April 2015. The Russian response: We’re leaving PACE until the end of the year, and might even pull out of the Council of Europe altogether. Will this prompt the West to keep “baiting the Russian bear” (the Kremlin’s narrative), or is this more evidence that Putin is indeed a loose cannon?


    Matthew Larson,

    Translator/Copy Editor


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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #4

    Letter From the Editors: Jan. 19-25, 2015

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    Issue #4 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #4 Table of Contents

    On Sherpas and Surety: We Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends


    Some say that the first person to reach the top of Mount Everest was not renowned New Zealand explorer Edmund Hillary, but his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay. The two men chose to share credit for the feat, but one thing we do know is that Norgay was the more experienced climber. In like manner, Ukraine is now being assisted in its arduous climb to the European Union by Poland – a country that knows how to weather the tough climate of reforms to meet EU standards.

    Another attempt at steering Ukraine toward stabilization was made by US financier George Soros, who visited Kiev Jan. 11 to dish out economic advice; he previously wrote an article persuading Europe to provide more financial assistance. Meanwhile, France and Germany continue their efforts at guiding Ukraine and Russia toward resolving the Donetsk Basin conflict, as terrorist acts continue to spread beyond the separatist regions to Kharkov, Odessa and elsewhere.

    In this issue’s second feature, which takes a deeper look at the inner workings and implications of this conflict, Aleksei Fenenko says that all of these attempts at third-party mediation – including the autumn talks in Minsk with OSCE representatives – have failed, and that Ukraine appears headed for a “frozen conflict.” In a more drastic vein, Fyodor Lukyanov says that geopolitical wrinkles like events in eastern Ukraine are incidental: The real problem is that the respective processes of Ukrainian and Russian self-determination are fundamentally at odds.

    Drawing a different kind of link between the domestic and the geopolitical, economist and Yabloko party founder Grigory Yavlinsky points out that Russia – like its predecessor, the Soviet Union – has consistently made overtures to the West when oil prices are low. “But as soon as oil prices go up, the leadership gets incredibly arrogant and narcissistic – it starts pursuing aggressive and reckless policies, both domestically and internationally, like there’s no tomorrow.” Financial expert Igor Nikolayev reminds us (in a Novaya gazeta interview) that when tomorrow comes, the people will remember their leaders’ past reckless decisions; he agrees with interviewer Aleksei Polukhin that Russia’s current domestic crisis is primarily a crisis of trust.

    And yet, trust in Putin was affirmed this week quite decisively by leaders of the North Caucasus republics at a meeting in Derbent: They issued a statement expressing unequivocal support for the Russian president’s domestic and foreign policies. Why? Political analyst Natalya Zubarevich says they are trying to save themselves from imminent nationwide spending cuts.

    How is Russia trying to save itself from its own political and economic troubles? By reaching out to countries that are not trying to steer Ukraine toward Europe – or anywhere else, for that matter. For example, according to Fyodor Lukyanov, relations with China are flourishing. And on Jan. 20, reports Viktor Myasnikov, Russia signed a bilateral military cooperation treaty with Iran. We all need friends to point us in the right direction, don’t we?

    Lost and Found in Translation. Continuing the theme of helpful companions, we almost decided in this issue’s first feature to call Warsaw “Kiev’s sherpa to the EU.” This unusual usage was an effort to translate Russian provodnik – which could refer to a number of facilitators in getting from Point A to Point B, from “conduit” and “conductor” to “steward” and even “proponent.” The mountaineer comparison would have been apt, but the trouble was that “sherpa” is already a term of art in the diplomatic world: meaning the personal representative of a head of state who prepares for an international summit. Since Ukraine’s integration into the EU would involve a broader, more multifaceted process, a more general term was called for – so we stayed on the safer side of the mountain with “guide.”

    Laurence Bogoslaw,

    Copy Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #1-3

    Letter From the Editors: Jan. 1-18, 2015

    The French unite in the face of Charlie Hebdo attacks; and are things looking up for Navalny?

    For those hoping that 2015 would be the calm after the storm, expectations did not turn into reality as the clock struck midnight. The brazen attack on the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo, a Paris satirical magazine famous for its controversial religious cartoons, shocked France and the world. The reaction in Russia shows a deepening rift in society, writes the Moscow Times. While many flocked to the French Embassy in Moscow to express their condolences, Russian Orthodox activists also rallied outside the embassy, saying the magazine brought this tragedy upon itself with its disrespect of religious believers. Russia’s Council of Muftis condemned the attack, but suggested the massacre had been prompted by the publication’s “sin of provocation.”

    Surprisingly, this view was somewhat upheld by Novaya gazeta editor in chief Dmitry Muratov, who said in his op-ed piece that by alienating believers, we are essentially playing into the hands of terrorists whose goal is to incite interreligious hatred.

    Columnist Tatyana Stanovaya saw a different phenomenon in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks – namely, French society’s amazing ability to consolidate across political divides to defend shared values. Conversely, tragedies tend to divide rather than unite Russian society, as the sad experience of Beslan and Nord-Ost has demonstrated.

    Continuing a rather negative trend in the new year, the simmering conflict in Ukraine shows no sign of abating, and according to polls conducted by Deloitte, Ukrainians are not optimistic about the coming year: Only 18% of those polled expressed hope that things will improve in 2015, while 48% worried about a worsening economic situation. Just when you thought tensions couldn’t get any higher, 12 people were killed as a result of a passenger bus attack in Donetsk Basin. Both Ukrainian President Poroshenko and the US State Department laid blame squarely at the separatists’ door (although, as the author of the piece notes, Poroshenko was careful not to utter the word “Russia” in his televised address).

    As another round of mobilization looms in Ukraine, the Supreme Rada decided to resort to extreme measures to staunch any possible protests – anyone who speaks out against said mobilization should be considered a “Kremlin agent,” said National Security and Defense Secretary Aleksandr Turchinov.

    Meanwhile, the separatists seem to be a living example of the saying: “With friends like this, who needs enemies?” According to Slon.ru, the death of notorious separatist leader Batman (aka Aleksandr Bednov), who was killed when his car was shelled in an ambush, shows that the Lugansk people’s republic isn’t big enough for the separatist commanders’ egos. The main rift is between the Don Cossacks, led by Hetman Nikolai Kozitsyn, and LPR “people’s governor” Igor Plotnitsky. As Kiev steps up its blockade of the region and Moscow clearly shows no interest in recognizing the LPR’s independence, will Novorossia actually be brought down from within?

    Meanwhile, on the home front, opposition darling Aleksei Navalny and his brother Oleg were sentenced for supposedly defrauding Russia’s branch of Yves Rocher and another company out of millions of rubles. Navalny’s lawyer said that the “scheme” the prosecution describes is nothing but a standard business practice, calling the trial politically motivated. In his closing speech, Navalny told the judges, prosecutors and basically Russia’s entire law-enforcement cartel to stop averting their gaze and look truth in the eye: “The only thing that matters in life is when you do the right thing, when you don’t have to stare at your desk, when you can just look the other person in the eye, when you can look up.” A powerful message, but will it be heard?

    Xenia Grushetsky

    Managing Editor

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