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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #42

    Letter From the Editors: Oct. 17-23, 2016



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    Issue #42 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #42 Table of Contents

    Taking the High Ground: This Week’s Lip Service, Laughs and Lectures From Russia.


    The “high ground” seems to be a running motif in this week’s Digest coverage: The Russian leadership has managed to stare down, tease and even lecture the political movers and shakers of other countries without drawing unwelcome attention to its own vulnerabilities.


    The most geopolitically grand gesture is that Putin attended the first “Normandy Four” meeting of 2016 in Berlin, thus showing that (1) he’s not an international pariah and (2) he’s in solidarity with the West in paying lip service to the Minsk agreements for settling the protracted conflict in the Donetsk Basin. At this point, implementing those accords puts more burden on Ukraine than Russia, as Tatyana Stanovaya points out: Kiev has a mountain of political and legislative work to do – for example, reforming the Ukrainian Constitution and working out a procedure for elections in the separatist regions – while Moscow has the luxury of simply waiting for it to hoe that row.


    Meanwhile, the Russian media are in a feeding frenzy over allegations that the US election is being rigged. Alex Gorka notes (with a mixture of incredulity and glee) that these allegations come from Republican hopeful Donald Trump in particular: “Just think about it – the leader of a major political party believes that the US voting system is flawed! The candidate has said that some people voted despite being ineligible, some cast ballots many times and some impersonated dead voters.” This last item likely elicits laughter from Russian readers, who are well acquainted with the analogous scam in Nikolai Gogol’s 1842 novel “Dead Souls.” In addition, there must be a certain Schadenfreude with respect to recent history: Recalling the mass protests and claims of fraud that swept Russia after the 2011 State Duma elections, we can imagine that Trump’s allegations about the US system must be music to the Kremlin’s ears.


    Even more rife than speculations about anti-Trump factors in the election are stories in both the Russian and American media that Putin is pushing for a Trump victory. This idea gathered steam during the summer, when Russian hackers released e-mails that compromised Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s reputation. Adding fuel to that fire this week is Konstantin Kosachov, chairman of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, who excoriates Clinton’s campaign article (published in Time magazine Oct. 13) titled “Why America Is Exceptional.” Kosachov labels the article “propaganda,” calls it “a culture shock” for the rest of the world, and even takes on a moralistic tone, making a thinly veiled reference to Nazi Germany: “[T]here have been no maxims of this kind and at this level probably since the 1930s and 1940s. We remember very well where talk about the ‘exceptionalism’ of one particular nation led the world at that time, and what price it had to pay.”


    Another Russian legislator who took the moral high ground this week was newly elected Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin (formerly Putin’s aide), when he responded publicly to an invitation from PACE president Pedro Agramunt to resume work with the European parliament (from which Russia resigned last year after being stripped of its voting rights). While Volodin acknowledged the need for dialogue, he pointed out that Russia has no business participating in PACE without the right to vote: “Parliament is a place for discussion – a place for dialogue, for expressing viewpoints.” He added: “I mean, look at how the Russian parliament is structured. We have factions that don’t hold a majority, but participate in discussions on all issues.” The irony of this statement cannot be lost on informed Russian readers, who undoubtedly recall the infamous remark by Volodin’s predecessor, Boris Gryzlov: “The Duma is no place for discussion!”


    Honoring the Russian custom of using proverbs to sum up a situation, there are two that come to mind here: “Turnabout is fair play” and “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” We leave it up to you to choose which is more fitting!


    Laurence Bogoslaw,

    Copy Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #41

    Letter From the Editors: Oct. 10-16, 2016



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    Issue #41 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #41 Table of Contents

    Cold War 2.0 to the Rescue – or How to Travel Back in Time Without Really Trying.


    Although Paris must be lovely in October, President Vladimir Putin is not about to stroll down the Champs-Élysées anytime soon – the French side canceled the Russian president’s visit this week. According to the Russian president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, this was due to the fact that the visit’s agenda was reduced to a minimum. One event that ended up on the chopping block was the opening of a Russian spiritual and cultural center in Paris, which French President François Hollande was supposed to dedicate together with Putin. What forced this move? Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, believes Paris was acting hurt because Moscow had vetoed the French side’s draft resolution on Syria in the UN Security Council.


    The timing for the visit couldn’t have been worse, writes columnist Tatyana Stanovaya: “In the spring, when François Hollande invited Putin to Paris, Moscow was perceived as a player that was putting the rest of the world in the hot seat with its unrelenting battle against ISIS. . . . But during September-October, the defender against the terrorist threat turned into a bloody monster obliterating an entire city [of Aleppo].”


    Surprisingly, it’s perennial Kremlin critic Yulia Latynina who comes to Putin’s rescue on this point. She points out that Moscow and Damascus aren’t bombing Aleppo – they are bombing rebel-held east Aleppo. Meanwhile, the rebel forces are shelling the much more populous west Aleppo. Why does the city’s western part have a much greater population (with the resulting greater civilian casualties)? Because most people in west Aleppo are internally displaced refugees fleeing the rebel forces. In Latynina’s opinion, the so-called moderate Syrian opposition is a myth – they are just Islamists in sheep’s clothing. Meanwhile, the Syrian population is forced to flee from the rebels to government-controlled territory. “Imagine that you are an opponent of the Kremlin regime. And so one fine day, you look out the window to see that Moscow has been seized by foreign jihadists. . . . Who would you be with in this situation?”


    With the ceasefire agreement on Syria in shambles, Russia and the West have returned to the familiar logic of cold war confrontation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has admitted that a fundamental change has taken place in Russian-American relations. The military top brass – in this case, Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the US Army – went even further, stating that at this rate, war with Russia is all but inevitable. And while political analyst Rostislav Ishchenko notes that generals are always preparing for a war, preparations for such a possibility are clear as day.


    For instance, Russia has announced it intends to open (and in some cases, reopen) military bases abroad. Some proposed sites are Angola, Vietnam, Argentina, Venezuela, Egypt, Cuba, Nicaragua, Singapore and the Seychelles, a Russian Defense Ministry representative said. While reopening the radar station in Lourdes in Cuba is clearly a way to get back at Washington for bringing NATO to Russia’s backyard (as Moscow sees is), establishing a military base in Vietnam could bring Moscow problems with China, which considers the South China Sea its zone of interests, writes Aleksandr Sharkovsky.


    Given all the saber-rattling going on, whatever happened to the UN, you might ask? In an interview with Novaya gazeta, Soviet and Russian diplomatic doyen Anatoly Adamishin is rather blunt in his assessment: Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, global problems have been solved by Russia/USSR and the US striking a deal. So the UN’s role isn’t diminishing, since it was never all that strong to begin with. Today’s most pressing problems – from the Donetsk Basin to Syria – are no exception. It could be that the world has changed very little since the 1940s. No wonder a “cold war 2.0” seems inevitable.


    Xenia Grushetsky,

    Managing Editor

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  • Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #39-40

    Letter From the Editors: Sept. 26-Oct. 9, 2016



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    Issue #39-40 Letter From the Editors
    Issue #39-40 Table of Contents

    Russia’s Syria Operation Turns One; Moscow Pulls Out of Nuclear Waste Recycling Agreement; Dutch Prosecutors Release Findings of MH17 Investigation.


    Sept. 30, 2016, marks the one-year anniversary of the start of Russia’s military intervention in Syria, and the question analysts are asking now is: What does Russia have to show for it? Not much, says Vladimir Frolov, who points out that while Russia saved the Bashar Assad regime from imminent collapse, it has helped him regain only about 2% of the territory he had lost since 2011. But perhaps more important than what Russia’s air strikes are doing for Assad is the signal they are sending to the West. Frolov suggests that Putin benefits from the current escalation of the conflict in Syria, as it offers the Kremlin a chance to demonstrate its military might and level the playing field between the two former cold war rivals. In essence, Syria is starting to resemble a 1970s-era proxy war between Washington and Moscow, says a Moscow Times source.


    As if to confirm its willingness to raise the stakes in the apparently unfinished rivalry for global superpower status, the Kremlin abruptly introduced a bill to withdraw from the Russian-American Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, prompted by Washington’s actions to change the military-strategic balance, destabilize the Russian economy and violate the rights of Russian citizens (according to an explanatory memo accompanying the bill). Moscow says that to renew the deal, “Washington must cut its military presence in NATO countries, lift sanctions, abolish the so-called Magnitsky [Act] . . . and pay compensation for losses Russia has suffered under the sanctions.” The goal of this blackmail, says Tatyana Stanovaya, is to give US President Barack Obama a “nasty parting shot” before he leaves the White House (and perhaps give Donald Trump a leg up in the US presidential race).


    The PMDA withdrawal announcement coincided with the publication of the findings of the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Office inquiry into the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine. The Joint Investigation Team determined that the Boeing 777 was brought down by a missile fired from a launcher that had been transported from Russia to separatist-held territory, where the fatal missile was launched, and later brought back to Russia. Russian officials were quick to discredit the results of the investigation as biased, tainted and therefore unreliable. Vladimir Frolov writes that by implicating Russia only indirectly, Dutch prosecutors are offering Moscow what amounts to a deal: In exchange for being spared additional censure and more targeted retaliation for the incident, Moscow should condemn the separatists in eastern Ukraine and turn over those responsible for launching the missile. But Moscow doesn’t seem interested. It continues to discredit the work of investigators and blame Ukraine for the incident. At some point, this issue needs to be resolved one way or another, writes Frolov. And by not seeking a compromise, Moscow is signaling that it doesn’t care about the consequences of further international isolation and perhaps even welcomes it as an excuse to become even more belligerent in the standoff with the West.


    Unfortunately, the growing antagonism on both sides in the new cold war threatens the very foundations of global security. To quote Stanovaya: “Both sides are going for broke. Everyone’s patience is running out, and their nerves are stretched to the limit. This is the state in which most strategic mistakes are committed, often at the expense of entire nations and peoples. Russia and the US are both showing the world an example of how nations that aspire to create an international security architecture should not behave.” Let’s hope no mistakes are made.


    Matthew Larson,

    Translator/Copy Editor

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