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Is one Putin things in order?

Luísa Monteiro

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Russia is not widely known for its outstanding abilities in soft power. That could be explained, albeit not justified, for the strong concision characteristic of the communist regime during the Soviet Union years, which resulted in East European countries in general – and Russia specifically – understanding and applying a stricter conduct when it comes to international relations.

Russian Idol

One of the most interesting points of view concerning Russia’s soft power is the one elucidated by Joseph Nye, the scholar who coined the terms and definitions for hard, soft and smart power. He argues that what is intriguing is not the fact of Russia using soft power, but how the country conceives its theory.

Whereas America is as good in causing amazement as it is in using its weapons, Russia still cannot read the American way of life – that is, for itself, an incredible tool of soft power – nor replicate it with facility. What the US have long understood is that it is not about diplomacy only, not about governmental spheres. They realized it was necessary to foment and sell a whole system whereunto culture, education, style and many other aspects of society convert and allure people to consume and admire it. All this enchantment caused by the Stars and Stripes does not undercover, but surely equilibrates the hardness with which it, more frequently than likely, makes use of the sticks.

The Slavic country, for its turn, tends to concentrate its source of culture and welfare transmission in the public administration. On its side, at least, it counts with a former Russian diaspora that results in people craving for identity in the neighbour countries. Also, communication, migratory fluxes and religion end up playing an important part in its relation with fellow nations. In terms of international affairs, it works for the construction of strong union between the ex-Soviet countries, through the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Union, that ideally would counter NATO and the EU.

Russia counts on a vast communication group – RT, the former Russia Today – which is known not only internally, but abroad too. There, investments are high and the speaking languages Russian and English, so the spreading of information is effective, since the group is big in the niche. The pieces of news are diverse and multi biased, in a sense that many ideas are expressed in different ways, also meaning many opinions on a same topic, which sometimes appears dizzying. Besides, the country made it internationally appealing with Rusnet (‘Russia beyond headlines’) and influences the near countries with local transmission, like the First Baltic Channel (FBK), that counts with millions of viewers on the Baltic region, with a flood of articles, not necessarily information. That comes, nonetheless, under the label of freedom of expression – showing us that the media, besides its advances, still has a long way to go.

On the other hand, the country continues to be a dreamland for the several migrants from the near countries. With more work opportunities and a relatively easy procedure to grant citizenship, plenty of workers from Central Asia go to Russia to earn a living (and are undoubtedly an important trump for Russian statesmen when it touches political negotiation).

Those Russian speakers share not only the language, but also culture, beliefs, sometimes religion. That is why traditional values end up having great influence, and politicians found an opportunity in that – a clear example was that the dissemination of the idea that the European politics accepted and stimulated homosexual romantic relationships and that Western behavioursindicated corrupted values kept politically divided and strongly traditional border countries from approaching the European Union, luckily enough for a strong and moralizing Russia that dreams of enhancing its EEU bloc.

The culture is, naturally, another instrument for gathering and working the national sentiment in the peoples spread inside and outside the Russian territory. Designed for this is Rossotrudnichestvo, the State’s agency for soft power. The Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation promotes events in memoir of historical facts that are important for the community in the Commonwealth of Independent States (especially for those people who are abroad, that end up being somewhat enthusiasts and feeling closer to their roots). Ideally, the agency serves the objective of fostering friendly ties and, thus, helping achieve and reinforce Russian economic and cultural development. In April, as a matter of elucidation, the agency supported the St. George Ribbons campaign – a tradition that dates from the XVII century but gained a new meaning with the Russian victory over the Nazi Germany in World War II, exact 70 years ago.

A soft spot for a hard conduct

Diplomacy is not what Russia is widely known for, though. Amid the latest polemics, the annexation of Crimea in late 2014 brought extensive criticism for the Russian action towards Ukraine and, unavoidably, there were parallels between the situation then and in 2008, with South Ossetia.

Back in that year, Georgia had some deep separatist issues with South Ossetia, a part of the population from a different ethnicity that wanted to join North Ossetia, an autonomic republic inside the Russian Federation. It has never been proven that Russia really fomented the insurgents against Georgia, nonetheless history does not lie about what happened later and its aftermaths – Russia entered the Georgian territory, supporting South Ossetia and the thousands of Russian citizens that lived there during the process of separation, which culminated in the creation of a new country (recognized by Russia and heavily criticized by the NATO members). Here, even though one must claim the clearness of the use of hard power, it can also be argued that the Russian influence came long before in the region, both culturally and linguistically. Even more than that, in peace missions in Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In Crimea, the situation was partly repeated. Hard power came with militarily intervention (claimed to be necessary to ‘normalize’ the situation in Ukraine), however soft power was already there, alive and kicking. Ethnically, they were Russians; democratically, decided to join another country. It should not be taken as sheer free will, especially because of the non-bellicose impregnation of Russian values in its neighbours; likewise, no sort of coercion through weaponry, vodka or Matrioshkas could result in a spontaneous demonstration of willingness to belong to another country in a plebiscite. It is therefore to believe that a process of ‘conquering’ Crimea has started many years before 2014, be that for the importance of that region to the former Soviet Union, be that for the Russian population deeply dissatisfied with the Ukrainian instability in that moment. It is needless to say, on the other hand, that these measures, too, were not supported by the EU or the USA and they used their own hard power through sanctions and suspension of agreements related to Russia. After more than one year, the international community still believes that the intervention harmed Ukrainian sovereignty.

What can be taken from that is that Russia aims to develop its persuasive politic manoeuvres and has been working hard towards it. Maybe in a more sinuous, Spartan way, that shows some points of improvement, but also gives the country the chance of analysing how much it is different from the West and in which points it really wants to be that distinct.

Luísa Monteiro is a bachelor in Social Communication and is currently taking a Master's degree in Communication and Politics at PUC São Paulo. Her researches are closely linked to the studies of internet as a democratic agora and her latest academic production correlates the (offline) social movements and their exposure on the net.

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Russia

Alexander’s Dugin’s Neo Eurasianism in Putin’s Russia

Punsara Amarasinghe

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The sheer vacuum created in the ideological realm of Russia after it deviated from Communist ideology in the backdrop of Perestroika became a prime factor in Russia’s melancholy during its time of troubles in the ’90s. It was by no means an exaggeration that every epoch in modern Russian history was illuminated by some kind of ideology and it constrained people to move on regardless of the realities that they were surrounded. However, the ideological anarchy that existed in Yeltsin era in Russia was followed by his hobnobbing with the Western liberal democracy which eventually resulted in utter failure. The rise of the lesser-known kooky character named “Alexander Dugin” was mainly bolstered by this socio-political and economic discontents of Russia in the ’90s.

Dugin’s penchant for mysticism, traditionalism and more importantly his antipathy on the US-led Liberal order made him the guru of the neo-right-wing brigade in Russia. Especially, Dugin was responsible for reviving a principle propounded by Sir Halfeld Mackinder on the importance of geopolitics. Mackinder was plucked from obscurity to fame as Dugin clung to the idea of “Geopolitics “as his cardinal thesis for Post-Soviet Russian space.  Dugin’s publication of his major work in 1997 called The Foundation of Geopolitics “sprang out of Mackinder’s idea and this work created a heavy brainstorm in Russian intelligentsia that paved the path for Dugin to become the new prophet for Russian right-wing ideology. The reasons impacted on the popularity was essentially attributed to Russia was envisaging in the late ’90s in limbo and the book arrived in Moscow when Russian elites were in an ambivalent position about Yeltsin’s dream on Western Liberal democracy. The basic argument Dugin narrated in “The Foundation of Geopolitics “was an appealing one. He argued that that geography, not economics is the pivotal cause of world power and Russia by its intrinsic physical location providing a prime global role. The US was illustrated as the biggest villain which persisted in its “ Atlanticism “ over continental Europe. Dugin argued that Eurasian empire will be constructed on denying the common enemy the USA and its liberal values. In writing his classic work that Dugin insisted on the grave necessity of keeping a rapport with common allies like Iran against the common enemy. Yet, in Eurasian project Dugin clung to the idea of preserving the ethnic and cultural diversity of Eurasian civilization. Quoting the words of new right-wing ideologist Jean Francis Thiriart’s famous saying “The main mistake of Hitler was that he tried to make Europe German. Instead, he should have tried to make it European”, Dugin affirmed that Eurasianism would not be an imperial force.

The rigour of Dugin’s influence in Russia has seen a steeping increase under Putin’s rule and mainly his classic text “The Foundation of Geopolitics “has become a canonical reading for senior officers in Russian military indicating the depth of Dugin’s rapport with the state apparatus. Dugin is known for his intellectual fascination with Heidegger and Julius Evola, especially he has revered Evola for being a true traditionalist in Europe who rejected the decadent concepts like liberalism and pacifism. In establishing the international Eurasianist movement Dugin vowed to expand his campaign against America’s Atlanticism beyond Ruski Mir and the growing popularity of Dugin outside Russia as a public intellectual reveals the power of his ideas.

Following the Russian Federation’s military campaigns in Georgia in 2008 and the hostile situation in Crimea in 2014 Dugin became an advocate for Kremlin’s military machinery and Putin’s chauvinist foreign policy. In particular, his harsh remarks on Eastern Ukraine got the world attention as legitimized Russia’s military intervention there and called it “Russian Spring “. His obsession on annexing Russia dates back to Georgian invasion and Dugin was known to travel to disputed South Ossetia to encourage the separatist movement there. However, regardless of his partiality towards Putin at outset, he started to critique Putin in the post-Crimean period. Mainly Dugin went on to criticize President Putin’s affinity with the liberals and the businessmen with western influence, which Dugin regarded as a weakening action of Russia’s nationalist revival under liberal’s inherent inclination to hobnobbing with the West. Dugin’s newest publication “Putin Vs Putin” is a sentimental plea to the Russian president to change his stances.

Today Dugin stands as a stalwart in Russian nationalism and it is an indispensable fact that his Neo Eurasian project has consolidated many forces against the US and its liberal values. Taking Moscow as an idea standing for the Orthodox creed based on Filofi’s 16th century “Third Rome Doctrine “, the alternative suggested by Alexander Dugin invokes the Eurasian nations to drift away from the Atlaantists led by the US and its market civilization. Dugin lampooned it as “The world of the sea, beginning with Carthage and ending with the US, embodies the pole of merchant regime “. Nevertheless, many scholars have argued that Dugin’s sway over Putin is highly overstated. In fact, there is no plausible evidence to show a direct link between Putin and Dugin, but the palpable ideological similarities shown by both of them regarding specific issues denote that Dugin has left some influence over Vladimir Putin’s mind. Especially Russian president flare for reviving the traditional Russian family values and his ardour on Orthodoxy are rooted in Dugin’s ideas. It becomes more than a conjuncture by analyzing 2020 Russian constitutional reforms, wherein president Putin has proposed to include the marriage as purely a heterosexual union between man, which was exactly akin to Dugin’s position on Russian family and his vehement criticism on homosexuality. It is true that depiction of Alexander Dugin’s portrayal as influencer reminding of Rasputin is a hyperbolic attempt. But, it is evident that his Neo Eurasian project has become an appealing trajectory for Kremlin in shaping Russia’s new geopolitical order.  

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Humanitarian Aid vs Sanctions

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On the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia seeks lifting sanctions. It is already clear to everyone that unprecedented world crisis is approaching, which will affect the economies of all countries without exception. Strict quarantine measures, border closures were introduced, amid destroying supply chains and the oil war which resulted in a sharp drop in consumption and the collapse of the world market. The situation for the Russian resource-based economy, to be honest, is not the best. Therefore, it is quite natural that Russia, in face of a great economic storm, is desperately trying to improve its position and is looking for allies to fight sanctions.

Russia has called on the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to facilitate lifting of “sanctions that impede the fight against the coronavirus spread.” It has China, Iran, Cuba, Syria, Nicaragua, Venezuela and the DPRK as allies. Although formally the request concerned lifting of the restrictions on food, medicine and equipment supplies, it is quite obvious that such a precedent will make the path for Russia to get rid of the imposed restrictions.

Yet at the G-20 summit, Vladimir Putin calls for a moratorium on sanctions during the pandemic period for unimpeded supplies of humanitarian aid, goods of first priority and financial transactions for their procurement. But, despite the humanitarian context of the Russian leader’s statements, their subtext is obviously motivated by the desire to use the situation for their own purposes and to get rid of the sanctions that have plagued Russia for six years now.

Then Moscow is developing a teeming international “humanitarian” activity. First, it sends a military aircraft with humanitarian aid to Italy. However, 80% of this assistance was practically useless as it later turned out (according to La Stampa). The cargo included equipment for disinfection of territories, instead of the necessary masks, tests for coronavirus and lung ventilators. Those specialists arrived turned out to be military virologists rather than medical anesthetists. But it is Russia that ostentatiously came to the aid of Italy, while the closest neighbors were trying to curb the epidemic in their states and did not respond to the appeal of Rome. It doesn’t matter anymore that France and Germany have already donated more protective masks to Italy as humanitarian aid than both China and Russia together, and that Austria, Luxembourg and Germany have now made available their hospitals for patients from the states the most affected by coronavirus. Who knows about this? After all, these states provide real aid, and do not make shows during a pandemic.

Hardly had the scandal around this event subsided than a Russian military transport aircraft carrying humanitarian aid on board landed in the USA amid the glare of cameras. Strange thing, all the sanctions for some reason made it possible! It seems as if there is no epidemic in Russia and all problems with protective equipment and medical supplies in local hospitals have been resolved.

A video filming delivery of Russian “humanitarian” aid to the United States immediately circled the globe. Trump is excited, “a very, very large planeload of things, medical equipment, which was very nice.” However, later it turns out that such widely-spread humanitarian aid is not an aid at all — Russia just kindly offered, and the United States purchased so unprocurable protective equipment and ventilators. Just a business. Still, everyone is happy!

Meanwhile, it is obvious that such “goodwill gesture” is in no way selfless. That is just a publicity stunt pursuing the aim to demonstrate to the whole world the humanitarian nature of the Russian politics in such a low-cost (economically and politically) way and to ease the sanctions imposed by the United States for Russia’s interference into the 2016 United States presidential elections.

All these examples demonstrate quite eloquently that Russia does not leave the attempts to put the pressure on EU states in one way or another, seeking a review of sanctions. Russia will keep pretending that it is not an aggressive, but a humanitarian state, which is ready to help everyone, and strongly pushes for the cooperation in fight against the pandemic. Yet whenever possible, Russia will demand easing or lifting of sanctions in exchange for a service.

In this situation it is crucial that the principles of democracy remain inviolable. Moreover, anti-Russian sanctions have nothing to do with the pandemic, since they were introduced for the annexation of Crimea, the war in Donbas, the accident with MH17 flight, which was shot down over Donbas sky by the Russian-supported militants. Therefore, the talks on their lifting are possible only subject to cease of aggressive foreign policy by Russia and restoration of inviolability of the Ukrainian borders.

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Coronavirus: Why Russians Are Lucky to Be Led by Putin

Eric Zuesse

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On Tuesday, March 24th, the following happened:

U.S.A. had the world’s largest number of new coronavirus-19 cases: 10,168. The prior day, there were 33,546 cases; so, this 10,168 new cases were a 30% increase from the day before. 

Russia had 71 new cases, up 19% from the prior day’s 367

Reuters bannered “U.S. has potential of becoming coronavirus epicenter, says WHO” and reported that,

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday it was seeing a “very large acceleration” in coronavirus infections in the United States which had the potential of becoming the new epicenter.

Over the past 24 hours, 85 percent of new cases were from Europe and the United States, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters. Of those, 40 percent were from the United States.

Asked whether the United States could become the new epicentre, Harris said: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential.

Right now, on Wednesday the 25th, the U.S. again has the world’s largest number of new cases reported, 11,074. That’s a 25% increase added to the 43,734 cases total on March 24th. And, within just three more days, America will have the world’s largest total number of cases, if Italy won’t. And after yet another day, the U.S. will almost certainly have the world’s largest total number of cases, because Italy has been adding only around half as many new cases per day as the U.S., though Italy’s total right now is higher than America’s, and is actually the second largest total after only China’s. China will have the world’s third-largest total number of cases by this weekend, the 28th or 29th, and America will be #1 then, not only on the number of new cases, but on the total number of cases, of this infection. That quickly, then, China will become no longer the #1 coronavirus-19 nation, but, instead, #3, behind the #1 U.S., and the #2 Italy. 

America has been in political chaos because each of its two houses of Congress, and both Parties, and the President, have been blocked from agreeing on what to do — all of them were ignoring that this is an existential emergency and thus dealt with it as if it were instead just another way for each to increase its chances of re-election at the expense of the others. Both political Parties, Republicans and Democrats, and Congress and the President, agreed on a “$500 billion fund for corporations” to reduce the negative impact on billionaires’ wealth, but Democrats demanded that limits be placed on executives’ pay, and “included reducing student debt and boosting food stability programs. Some of the ideas would be major sticking points with Republicans: The bill, for example, would invest money ‘to eliminate high-polluting aircraft’ and ‘research into sustainable aviation fuels.’” Democrats also wanted, but Republicans refused, some costly measures to continue workers’ incomes during their plague-induced period of unemployment. Agreement had been reached only on the billionaire-bailouts — protections especially of stock-values. This is the way America’s ‘democracy’ works. Rule by the billionaires is considered to be ‘democracy’. Luxuries are treated as being more important than necessities are. (Billionaires are thought to be superior people, who must be served before anyone else.) Dollars rule, people don’t. And this chaos is the result of that.

On March 23rd, the prominent progressive economist James K. Galbraith headlined “What the Government Needs to Do Next” and described in detail what a governmental policy-response would be that would subsidize the public to deal with this crisis, but not subsidize the billionaires (who already have way too much and can well afford to become merely millionaires while not actually suffering at all), and that would be of maximum benefit to the total economy by protecting the assets of the most-vulnerable (who could then continue to shop and work), but his common-sense proposal wasn’t even being considered by the legislators, nor by the President.

Only a few countries had a faster rate of increase in cases than the U.S. did on March 24th, but all of them had far fewer cases: Portugal, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda. For example, Rwanda had the world’s highest percentage-increase from the day before, almost a doubling, but that was 17 new cases, up from a total of 19 on the day before. So, America’s 30% increase was clearly the world’s worst performance, on that single day.

Russia’s performance is perhaps the world’s best.

On March 22nd, CNN headlined “Why does Russia, population 146 million, have fewer coronavirus cases than Luxembourg?” (that’s a country of 628,000 people) and reported that 

Russia’s early response measures —  such as shutting down its 2,600-mile border with China as early as January 30, and setting up quarantine zones — may have contributed to the delay of a full-blown outbreak, some experts say.

Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to criticism over the number of recorded cases.

A strong record on testing

“The director-general of WHO said ‘test, test, test,’” Dr. Melita Vujnovic, the World Health Organization’s representative in Russia, told CNN Thursday. “Well, Russia started that literally at the end of January.”

Vujnovic said Russia also took a broader set of measures in addition to testing.

“Testing and identification of cases, tracing contacts, isolation, these are all measures that WHO proposes and recommends, and they were in place all the time,” she said. “And the social distancing is the second component that really also started relatively early.”

Rospotrebnadzor, Russia’s state consumer watchdog, said Saturday that it had run more than 156,000 coronavirus tests in total. By comparison, according to CDC figures, the United States only picked up the pace in testing at the beginning of March.

On March 20th, the permanently anti-Russian U.S. organization, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (whose “Orwellian” name was perhaps one of the inspirations for George Orwell’s permanent-warfare novel, 1984) headlined “Confronting the Challenges of Coronavirus, Russia Sees Its Worldview Vindicated”, and tried to put as bad a face on Russia’s coronavirus performance as they could, such as by alleging that (alleged) dictatorships were performing no worse than ‘democracies’ at controlling the coronavirus threat:

The state has reasserted itself as the prime actor on the global scene. International institutions like the World Health Organization have become mere statisticians, and even the EU has taken a back seat to the governments of member states.

The world’s democracies are not faring better in the crisis than nondemocracies.

However, back on 27 July 2015, that organization had bannered “How Authentic is Putin’s Approval Rating?” and reviewed more than 15 years of Putin’s approval ratings from the Russian public, and reluctantly concluded that it was and had always been “Authentic,” and almost always high.

Internationally, too, Putin’s leadership of Russia is more highly regarded than is the current U.S. President’s leadership of America.

Back in 2017, the British firm of WIN/Gallup International issued “Gallup International’s 41st Annual Global End of Year Survey Opinion Poll in 55 Countries Across the Globe”, which sampled 1,000 persons in each country in order to determine in each one the percentage of the public who rated “Favorable” and who rated “Unfavorable” each of the following 12 national heads-of-state (listed here in descending order of their net favorability, or “favorable” minus “unfavorable”): Merkel, Macron, Modi, May, Xi, Putin, Saud, Netanyahu, Rouhani, Erdogan, and Trump. (Merkel globally scored highest, Trump lowest.)

Amongst Russians, the score for Putin was 79% Favorable, 11% Unfavorable, for a net score of +68%.

Though Germany’s Merkel had the highest score worldwide, her score in Germany was only 54% Favorable and 44% Unfavorable, for a net of +10.

Macron’s net score in France was -1%.

May’s net in UK was -18%

Rouhani’s in Iran was +37%

Erdogan’s in Turkey was +22%

Modi’s in India was +72% (that’s 84%-12%)

Trump’s in U.S. was -23% (35%-58%) — the worst of all.

The following leaders weren’t surveyed in their own countries: Xi, Netanyahu, and Saud.

So: Putin’s net +68% score amongst his own country’s population was second ony to Modi’s — and, whereas Modi had been in office for only 3 years and had not yet begun his controversial actively anti-Muslim campaign, Putin had led Russia for 17 years, and was a very firmly established high performer in these figures. Here are some of the reasons for this.

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