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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #32

    Letter From the Editors: Aug. 3-9, 2015

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    Issue #32 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #32 Table of Contents

    Can’t We All Just Get on the Same Page Already?

    This week’s featured articles just go to show how hard it is to find common ground sometimes. Coordinating public opinion, state policy, and establishment and separatist views on the conflict in Ukraine, and reaching a consensus on how to deal with ISIS and end the civil war in Syria are proving to be almost impossible tasks.

    The Ukrainian public, government and separatists all seem to be on different pages. Although the public largely supports the Minsk agreements and disapproves of a military solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the “party of war” in the Ukrainian government takes a more militant stance, seeking to forcefully exert Ukraine’s sovereignty over the self-proclaimed republics. Ukraine’s so-called war cabinet recently convened a closed-door meeting amid speculation that the Minsk agreements are on the verge of collapse. Could this signal the start of another bloody chapter in the Ukraine conflict?

    Meanwhile, political analyst Vladimir Malinkovich says Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko is playing both sides of the fence – pushing for decentralization as a solution to the conflict while at the same time trying to appease the hawks in his government. The columnist writes that this is leading to double standards: Poroshenko says one thing to one group and something else to another, leaving many people confused about what page he is on.

    Meanwhile, the sides to the Ukraine conflict continue to move the bookmark around with regard to the Minsk agreements. The few agreements that are reached are inevitably interpreted differently by Kiev and the separatists, leaving a negotiated peace settlement even more elusive. Needless to say, a lot of page coordination needs to be done on many different levels in Ukraine.

    The same is true of participants in the discussion of what to do about ISIS and the Syrian civil war. The seismic shifts taking place in the Middle East as a result of the recently negotiated nuclear deal with Iran and changing political landscape in Turkey present new twists in the Syrian plot. Seeking to make sense of the new environment in the region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met this week with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Arab officials in Doha, Qatar, where they discussed in particular the Syrian civil war and the growing ISIS threat.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin would like to see boots on the ground in Syria as part of a broad regional coalition comprising, paradoxically, Syrian President Bashar Assad loyalists and oppositionists. The proposal is not getting much traction in the region. Russia and the US still don’t see eye to eye on Assad’s future (although there are hints that the Kremlin may be willing to see someone other than Assad in power) or on military aid to fighters in the region (even though Russia may be signaling willingness to negotiate with Assad’s opponents). At about the same time as Russia revealed its action plan for Syria, the US announced that it will respond with military force to any attack on the moderate opposition in Syria, a policy that certainly wasn’t well received in Moscow. And so the saga continues: Despite repeated attempts to get others to takes its proposals seriously, it seems Moscow will be on its own page for some time to come.

    Matthew Larson,

    Translator/Copy Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #31

    Letter From the Editors: July 27-Aug. 2, 2015

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    Issue #31 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #31 Table of Contents

    It’s Not Whether You Win or Lose, It’s the Compulsion to Play the Game


    This twisted take on a familiar sports expression might describe the position of the Russian opposition as regional elections draw near. Several major nonestablishment forces – Aleksei Navalny’s Party of Progress, as well as the Republican Party of Russia and the People’s Freedom Party – have formed the impressive-sounding Democratic Coalition, but the group has faced repeated obstacles to getting on the ballot in many cities – from invalidated signatures to confiscated papers to criminal charges. But do these tactics signify real antipathy on the part of the Russian authorities, or (as Gleb Pavlovsky contends) are such moves part of a game among local elites vying to show off reactionary antics for the Kremlin?

    Or is this an even bigger game, one rigged at the very top? Oleg Kashin cautions readers not to misinterpret the federal authorities’ attitude toward dissenters: “If they wanted to stifle the opposition, they would do it. If they were scared, they would have started shooting long ago. In any case, there’s no such animal in Russian politics that we could unreservedly call an opposition. There are only people who for some reason take part in a series of predictable defeats.” Even so, he says, it’s better to think of Navalny & Co. as naïve dimwits than Kremlin collaborators.

    Speaking of collaboration: That’s just what some dissident Belarussian politicians are being accused of – by their fellow oppositionists. Unlike their Russian counterparts, they have not formed a like-minded coalition. In the absence of that leverage, some opposition leaders are urging colleagues to withdraw from the race, as their participation in it would help legitimize the ruling authorities. NG’s Anton Khodasevich comments: “Judging by the most recent statements, the confrontation could create a permanent rift in the camp of President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s opponents.” He quotes some especially biting remarks from firebrand journalist Irina Khalip: “[Longtime dissident] Anatoly Lebedko is dragging dead bodies from the crypt to help Aleksandr Lukashenko gain legitimacy and to get the world to recognize***the results of an ‘election,’ ” Apparently, she and others don’t want any part in a game with a predetermined outcome.

    In the international arena, Leonid Radzikhovsky also invokes the image of a game when analyzing mutual recriminations being made by Russian and American senior officials: Moscow says American policy is bent on regime change, while Washington says that Russia is the main threat to US national security. All of this rhetoric kindles an attitude of war – but, Radzikhovsky argues, that’s where the fun comes in. “Actually, freaking out about war***is more about getting a kick, a rush, than anything else. Deep down, everyone understands that no matter how much you scare yourself and others, this is nothing more than psychological games. That’s why we get such a thrill out of them.”

    Could that also be the impulse behind Russia’s new amendments to its Naval Doctrine? Suddenly, Moscow is emphasizing the importance of “blue water operations” – i.e., naval activity on the high seas, far away from home. According to military expert Maksim Shepovalenko, the Russian Navy’s balanced global posture is being replaced by a biased one that is “assertive in the West [Atlantic Ocean] and in the North, and cooperative in the East and the South,” allowing for greater coordination with the Chinese and Indian Navies. Meanwhile, it just so happens that the US recently revised its own Naval Doctrine to concentrate up to 60% of its forward-deployed warships and aircraft in the “Indo-Asia-Pacific Region.” At the same time, NATO continues efforts to expand eastward. And let’s not forget China, either: Shortly after the publication of Washington’s Naval Doctrine, Beijing published a white paper this spring expressing concern about increased US presence in the East China Sea and South China Sea. We can’t help wondering: If this is all a game, who will make the next move, and what will it be?

    Laurence Bogoslaw,

    Copy Editor

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