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Putin-Mongering

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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If you spend some time listening to reputable news shows all across the West you will start to notice several recurring ‘interpretations’ that explain all things Russian and Vladimir Putin.

Rather than being enlightening about this complex country and perhaps even more complex leader, a series of increasingly incredulous ‘pop-psychology-analyses’ emerge instead. What follows are just five of the most commonly touted, with subsequent breakdowns for those who wish to read more accurate alternative considerations:

1.Putin fantasizes about returning to the ‘glorious Soviet’ past. Ukraine is just the first step.

Putin has made many comments and started many symbolic initiatives over the last decade that in some ways have reclaimed the accomplishments and history of the Soviet Union. What most in the West miss about this is the internal perception in Russia that the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was not just a historical and political transition to a new stage or new evolution for the state as a whole. Since the dissolution took place within the context of the Cold War and the ideological ‘war’ that was capitalism versus communism, with communism losing, most of the world felt the dissolution was also an ERASING of history. As in, nothing that took place from 1918 to 1991 was worth remembering, commemorating, or observing. Many of the leaders in the initial Yeltsin years at least partially supported this, if not directly then by simple omission. In short, the ways in which Putin has ‘reclaimed’ the partially erased Soviet history is his denial of the Western demand that losing the Cold War means nearly 75 years of history no longer counts for Russia, unless it is to emphasize negative events and incidents done by the Soviet Union. That concept is rejected by Putin, which he considers a sort of emotional Treaty of Versailles put upon Russia unfairly by the West. But there is nothing about Ukraine that connects to this reclamation of history. The concept is actually rather absurd: if the Russian Federation truly wanted to ‘reinstitute’ the Soviet Union in full there are few competent strategic plans that get there by first taking over Eastern Ukraine and causing that country to disintegrate into chaos.

2.Putin is obsessed with getting attention from the United States. This is just his way of acting out.

I like to call this the ‘infantilist theory’ of Russian politics here in the United States. It is littered with the breathless condemnations of so-called experts who have spent little time actually in Russia, have questionable language skills when it comes to Russian, and most certainly have never spent significant time with Putin or anyone within his close circle. Despite these rather daunting limitations, these experts do not hesitate to appear on numerous radio and television talk shows and write countless newspaper and magazine op-ed pieces, giving a detailed and intimate psychological profile of the Russian leader that basically amounts to characterizing the Russian president as a petulant child who is hopelessly needy and demands that the United States recognize him as an ‘unequal equal partner.’ What most in this camp fail to see is that the position of Russia in Ukraine has been largely based on a strategic plan that IGNORES the relevance or power of the United States. If the so-called ‘Ukraine initiative’ was about Russia getting attention from the United States, then Russia seems to be doing an outstanding job of misdirection, feigning total ambivalence on statements, sanctions, and initiatives coming out of Washington DC.

3.Putin demands the rest of the world accords Russia ‘Superpower’ status. Ukraine is his reminder to the rest of the world.

This leans a bit on the logic of the first rumor, in that, how exactly does any initiative in Ukraine signal superpower-status to anyone anywhere? By now even the most hardened Russian critics in the West have admitted that Ukraine basically squandered two decades of political, economic, and geostrategic promise with complete mismanagement and dysfunctional governance. To admit that on the one hand and then try to connect Russian initiatives within Ukraine as a so-called grand plan springboard to being taken more seriously by the global community is inane and lacking in strategic common sense. This is even more ridiculous when one simply looks to other areas of Russian hard power that have monumentally increased under Putin since 2000, whether that be in military restructuring, federal budgetary strengthening, or natural resource development. If Putin was going to lean on something to make the world understand Russia should remain or once again be considered a superpower in the 21st century, it is those areas of real domestic strength that would power the argument. Getting involved with Ukraine after the Maidan revolution has absolutely zero chance of accomplishing that goal. Putin clearly acknowledges this, so it is a mystery why the West won’t as well.

4.Putin is violating international law by interfering with Ukrainian affairs.

One of the most successful movie franchises in history, The Pirates of the Caribbean, is actually a fantastic teaching tool for this accusation. In the very first film, when Elizabeth was taken aboard the Black Pearl to face the dreaded Captain Barbosa, she was dismayed to learn he was not going to follow the so-called holy Pirate’s Code. To which, rather bemusedly, Captain Barbosa explained that the Pirate’s Code was not so much a code as a set of guidelines. And guidelines are to be followed pretty much as one sees fit…or sees not to, as the case may be. This is an absolutely spot-on description of how international law measures up against actual strategic foreign policy and global affairs: states would like to follow international law, may even prefer to follow it, and for the most part do follow it. UNTIL, that is, international law comes in direct opposition to national interest and foreign policy priorities. At which time international law can pretty much be told to go hang. Now, the part of this that always gives the United States consternation (or is it political indigestion?), is when Russia is adamant that the chief model for this semi-respectful, semi-dismissive attitude toward international law is none other than the US. If you want to stop a dinner party dead in its tracks in Washington, casually mention how Putin feels absolutely certain that his actions in Ukraine are a perfect mirror to how the United States has conducted its business in other areas, like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, just to name a few. Only Putin believes his ‘interference’ in Ukraine is FAR more justified and explainable than American ‘interference’ in those aforementioned countries. In short, international law is a grab-bag of mysterious and contradictory interpretations based on power and priority. Russia simply admits it more readily, and more publicly, than the United States.

5.Putin has put hundreds, if not thousands, of intelligence agents into Eastern Ukraine and they are causing all of the unrest.

This last one is disheartening simply because it is an avoidance of political and military reality on the ground in Ukraine and as a result could be influential in the continuing violence and bloodshed. There is no doubt that Russia has an intelligence presence inside of Ukraine. Russia has always had one. So has the United States. The US also has an intelligence presence inside of Russia, some of it with permission, some of it without. But to take this basic principle of intelligence reality all around the world (for example, China has intelligence agents in Taiwan, Japan has agents in China, India has them in Pakistan, and Pakistan in India, and the United States basically has agents everywhere) and distort it so that it is the chief culprit of events spiraling out of control in Eastern Ukraine is irresponsible. Dissembling of this sort removes most of the focus from the Ukrainian authorities who are struggling to regain control across their territory, sometimes wisely, sometimes foolishly, sometimes peacefully, and sometimes violently. It also eliminates the existence of actual pro-Russian factions within Ukraine that no longer wish to be part of it. The West is dominated by stories of pro-Russian groups engaging in violence in Ukraine and within a day those pro-Russian factions are magically ‘littered with Russian agents and/or provocateurs,’ ie, there is no legitimate anti-Ukrainian authority movement, there is only Russian intelligence forces manipulating events on the ground to the detriment of Ukrainian territorial integrity. This is overstatement at best, political fabrication at worst, as the West has made it clear it does not want to see any disintegration of Ukraine. What’s not being said is how that position is not so much based on the desire for peace and tranquility as it is based on the fact that any dissolution of Ukraine will undoubtedly end up benefiting Russia. And that has been silently acknowledged as the least optimal outcome to the West.

Russia is not perfect. Russia is not blameless. No country is. But when reputable news sources and so-called experts with decades of experience examining Russia all seem to cater to the same storyboard, and that storyboard seems a bit far-fetched if not actually fantastical, then it is time to signal the call for a new generation of leaders and experts who are willing to examine not just from old prejudices but from cold-hearted objective foreign policy reality. In that crucible no one is absolved but no one is also unfairly prejudged. Right now the future of Russian-American relations depends on the emergence of these new voices.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

Russia

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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Russian-Japanese dialogue in the context of amendments to the Constitution

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As Russia discusses amendments to the Constitution, an issue of particular concern has been the amendment that prohibits the alienation of Russian territories. The amendment will likely be put to vote on April 22. It is not surprising that it has evoked interest abroad, especially in Japan, where they still expect to regain control of the so-called “northern territories”. Unlike a great number of categorical alarmist comments in the Japanese press on this issue, Sankei Shimbun writes: “The amendment includes the wording “except for cases of demarcation or re-demarcation of borders with neighboring states”. Thus, negotiations on the Japanese “northern territories” can be considered not in conflict with the new Constitution. “

Are there grounds for such an interpretation of the amendment in question? “Any moves aimed at alienating territories, as well as calls for such actions, are not permitted,” – the presidential amendment says, specifying that it is not indeed about delimitation, demarcation, or re-demarcation of the state border.

Japan, claiming the southern islands of the Kuril Ridge, cites the Soviet-Japanese Declaration of October 19, 1956 “On ending the state of war between the two states and restoring diplomatic and consular relations”, according to which the USSR pledged to transfer the Shikotan and Habomai Islands. The Declaration, ratified by the parliaments of the two countries, has not been abolished. Another presidential amendment to the Constitution of the Russian Federation stipulates that Russia is the legal successor of the USSR in its territory and as a member of international organizations and international treaties.

However, the Tokyo Declaration indicated that the de facto transfer of these islands to Japan would be executed after the signing of a peace treaty between the USSR and Japan. In addition, the Soviet Union was also far from happy about the presence of American military bases on Japanese territory.

At present, what obstructs progress on the islands and the peace treaty is Japan’s unwillingness to take into account Russia’s strategic concerns about the status of the four islands of the South Kuril Ridge. In particular, Russia would like to receive guarantees about the neutral status of these territories and the non-deployment of US military bases on them.

The main thing is that while considering the issue of concluding a Peace Treaty with Japan, Russia insists that Japan recognize the results of World War II – something it has refused to do for many years. This approach is regrettably deeply rooted in the minds of the Japanese establishment and expert community. The abovementioned newspaper, for example, cites the opinion of Professor Sindzo Hakamada of Niigata University that “if Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes part in the celebration of Victory Day this year, it will mean acknowledgment of a blatant distortion of history by Russia and its uncompromising policy towards Japan.

From the Russian point of view, such statements are characteristic of the position of Japan. History, by the way, remembers cases when Tokyo changed this position depending on the political situation. A. Koshkin writes that in the spring of 1945, amid fears that the Soviet Union could participate in the war against Japan on the side of the Allied Powers, the Japanese leadership began to develop plans to “interest” the Soviet government by the concessions which Tokyo could make in exchange for Moscow’s neutrality and consent to mediate in armistice negotiations, including the abandoning of claims on Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands.

Some Japanese experts, for example, M. Sato, believe that even after the amendments are made, there are two ways to resolve this problem so that the transfer of Habomai and Shikotan does not contradict the Russian Constitution. “The first way: to confirm that the transfer of Japanese islands to the USSR was recorded in the Yalta agreement of February 1945 and that in accordance with the San Francisco Peace Treaty, the Kuril Islands, which Japan turned down, do not include Habomai and Shikotan. The transfer of Habomai and Shikotan is not an act of alienation of territories, but the result of demarcation of borders, so this will not run counter to the Constitution of Russia. The second way: since the Soviet-Japanese declaration is an international agreement signed long before the approval of the Russian Constitution, the provisions of the Fundamental Law of Russia should not apply to it.

In any case, the presidential amendment that delimitation, demarcation and re-marking of the state border do not fall under the alienation of territories is fairly substantial. There have been similar situations in the past, for example, how would the Russian leadership act when considering the demarcation of the Russian-Chinese border in 2005 or the Russian-Norwegian border in 2010?

However, in the case of Japan, the formality – when and if the presidential amendment is adopted – is less important than content. The Russian-Japanese dialogue on a Peace Treaty is still possible and may end to the benefit of both parties if they manage to accept the terms of the Tokyo Declaration taking into account the new realities. In my opinion, this is what the presidential amendment to the Russian Constitution is all about.

From our partner International Affairs

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Coronavirus: A blessing in disguise

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Last week, many universities and colleges in Europe and other countries canceled classes and moved to online instruction amid coronavirus fears as the authorities are trying to check the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Paradoxically, such measures can prove beneficial to the world’s leading universities that practice online training and have developed platforms for this, above all in Russia, where the oldest educational institutions have long been using digital technology in teaching.

St. Petersburg State University (SPbU), the alma mater of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, is among the institutions, which are best prepared to go on-line, and a large number of dedicated courses developed by the university can already be found on federal educational platforms such as https://openedu.ru/. The issue of digital education featured prominently on the agenda of the 4thInternational Labor Forum held in St. Petersburg in February – the last major international event held by the university before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking at the forum, the university’s rector, Nikolay Kropachev, described SPbU as being at the forefront of the development of online courses and distance learning.

Nikolay Kropachev also said that the university had come a long way in promoting international cooperation, and was among the first to protect foreign students from being subjected to irrational and ill-advised measures related to the spread of coronavirus. In February, after many Russian politicians proposed isolating all students from Southeast Asia, Nikolay Kropachev appealed to common sense, questioning the need to place in quarantine for several months students who have not been in their home country since their last vacation.

Now that the entire university has gone on a kind of “antiviral” vacation, St. Petersburg State University is working out an algorithm of distance learning, including by foreign students, who come for a year or two studying in English and other languages. Thus, even if the coronavirus epidemic lingers on, students will not lose a semester or two and will be able to fully communicate with their tutors via a computer screen. Also, everyone is welcome to come aboard and join the training process. For more details, go to the University website.

Note: St. Petersburg State University is a complex of early 18th century buildings – the city’s oldest stone structures, which housed the ministries of Russia’s first emperor, Peter the Great. Nikolay Kropachev wants to move some of the classrooms out to create in their place several museums dedicated to Russian history and Russia’s greatest scientists. Just like other Russian universities, SPbU now has chance to check the effectiveness of its achievements in the field of distance learning. “A blessing in disguise” as the Russian proverb has it. 

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