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Merkel’s Legacy, as Seen From Russia

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Seen from Moscow, Angela Merkel’s long tenure was a period of relative, if not always palatable, predictability in German-Russian relations. The future of the relationship will depend in no small measure on who succeeds her and how skilled that successor is at the art of statecraft. Merkel is leaving behind very big shoes to fill.

Angela Merkel’s sixteen years as German chancellor have shaped Berlin’s place and role in Europe and in the twenty-first-century world at large. Her legacy will live on long after she steps down from the leadership. While firmly embedded within the European Union, Germany has essentially become its sole, though by no means, absolute leader. It is a peaceful champion of a soft European version of liberalism. Vocal support for values does not, however, translate into interventionism. Nor does it prevent Germany from pursuing its business interests or waging a pragmatic foreign policy—within the limits of the EU/NATO framework. Merkel’s leadership was almost always steady and dependable, and her policies were largely predictable. True, neither Germany within the EU nor the EU within the U.S.-led system have achieved strategic autonomy on her watch, but that was hardly Merkel’s objective.

Viewed from Moscow, Merkel’s legacy can be summarized as follows: reconfirmation of Germany’s Atlanticist orientation; achievement of a primus inter pares position within the European Union; and distancing from Russia, while keeping in touch with it.

Atlanticism Reenergized

In 2005, Merkel succeeded Gerhard Schroeder, the Social Democratic leader who took over from Helmut Kohl as a result of the 1998 election. Under Schroeder, newly reunified Germany’s ambition to play a more autonomous role in world affairs reached its peak. In 2003, Berlin, Paris, and Moscow had even formed a new entente, as Russia’s then foreign minister Igor Ivanov called it, to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq and potentially act as a counterweight to Washington. The vision of a greater Europe from the Atlantic to the Pacific based on the marriage between the German/European industry and Russian resources was just about to take shape.

Merkel, a former East German citizen, faced the need to be accepted by Germany’s largely Atlanticist political elite, as well as by Berlin’s principal allies in Washington. Mending strained ties with the United States became a priority for her, and she worked hard on it. Merkel succeeded, and in return, she got American support for Germany’s leading role in Europe, albeit within the general framework of U.S. global leadership. This did not mean Germany blindly following the United States at every turn: in 2008, Merkel refused to accept George W. Bush’s bid to include Ukraine and Georgia in NATO, and in 2010, Germany took no part in the NATO military operation in Libya, even abstaining at the relevant UN Security Council vote alongside China, India, and Russia. At the same time, Merkel did not allow the embarrassing public scandal over U.S. intelligence tapping her cell phone to get out of hand.

During the Donald Trump years, Merkel—who did not get along too well with the forty-fifth U.S. president—rose to become the de facto temporary leader of the liberal West. That unanimous and apparently natural choice of the vast majority of European and American elites was recognition of the national prestige of both Merkel personally and Germany, and of their clear evocation of democratic values and the practice of liberal policies. Merkel’s informal tenure as leader of the West ended with the election of Joe Biden, but with Britain’s departure from the European Union following the 2016 referendum, Germany’s position as Washington’s principal ally within the EU had been elevated even higher. This is the main element of Angela Merkel’s legacy.

Primus Inter Pares

When Merkel first became chancellor, Germany usually worked in tandem with France within the EU. Over time, Berlin rose to a position of preeminence, de facto making Paris its junior associate. During her tenure, Merkel worked with four French presidents: Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande, and Emmanuel Macron. With every change of command at the Élysée Palace, the German chancellor appeared to stand taller. The appointment of her ally Ursula von der Leyen as president of the European Commission was a sign of the influence of both Germany and Merkel.

To achieve that position, Germany had to manage major EU expansion, the debt crisis, and Brexit. Merkel did well on all three. Her only major failure was the immigration crisis of 2015, but once the negative consequences of the massive influx of migrants became apparent, she worked hard to stem the inflow and limit the damage.

Berlin’s single leadership had to be accepted by its European partners, including those who were historically fearful of Berlin’s diktat. Particularly important in this regard were Germany’s eastern neighbors, Poland and the Baltic states, which were historically allergic to anything that might look like a reborn German Reich or any form of German-Russian collusion. To get their backing, Berlin had to take account of those countries’ special interests. It should be added, though, that German business gained much from the expansion of the EU to integrate Eastern European countries.

Distancing From Russia

Angela Merkel was the first German chancellor to speak Russian fluently, but this did not lead to a closer relationship with Moscow. In fact, the relationship grew markedly more distant, for several reasons. One was the reaffirmation of Germany’s Atlanticist credentials, even at a time when Russia’s relations with the United States were rapidly deteriorating. In 2007, Merkel was in the room in Munich when Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his famous speech in which he lashed out at U.S. global hegemony.

Another reason already alluded to was the enlargement of the European Union from 2004 to include a dozen former communist countries. This changed both the complexion of the EU and the balance within it. Many of the new entrants had had painful relations with the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire, or had even been part of the Russian realm in the past, and were still reeling from it. Berlin, which aspired to lead the expanding European Union, could not afford to ignore those sentiments. The EU’s enlargement also turned Eastern European countries into important trading partners and investment opportunities for Germany: far more so than the Russian Federation, which had long dominated Germany’s eastern trade.

Finally, as the Cold War receded into the past, the division of Germany and Berlin was overcome, and the country’s physical security was assured, German society started to pay more attention to other issues, primarily environmental and climate-related, and social and political values, including human and minority rights. To the post–Cold War generation of German politicians, Russia was no longer the country that held the key to German reunification; nor were its forces a huge presence in East Germany; nor was it viewed as a land of economic opportunity in the east. Rather, post-Soviet Russia stood for a failing attempt at democratization, a grossly inefficient and primitive oligarchical economy, and an increasingly authoritarian regime led by a former KGB operative who used to work in East Germany.

Angela Merkel’s personal relationship with Vladimir Putin was apparently decorous throughout, but never overly close. There was certainly no warmth there, unlike between Putin and Schroeder, or even Boris Yeltsin and Helmut Kohl. However, the German-Russian relationship initially moved forward with economic projects, political consultations, and high-level societal fora like the German-Russian Petersburg Dialogue. There was a moment in mid-2011 when Merkel publicly expressed her preference for Putin’s chosen interim successor, President Dmitry Medvedev. Like then U.S. president Barack Obama, the German chancellor saw Medvedev, in contrast to Putin, as a modernizer and a much more convenient partner for the West.

At that time, Merkel and her then vice chancellor and foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier were promoting a modernization partnership with Russia in the hope that modernization would not be limited to technology and the economy—in line with Putin’s idea of a Greater Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok, which he laid out before the German business community during a 2010 visit—but would also transform the Russian political system and society according to the Western model. In that respect, Berlin’s expectations turned out to be wishful thinking. Major disappointment set in as Putin decided to run for the Russian presidency again.

The last seven-plus years of Merkel’s involvement with the Kremlin were marked and marred by the Ukraine crisis, Crimea, and the armed conflict in Donbas. As a result, the post–Cold War German-Russian partnership degenerated into a transactional relationship with increasing mutual criticism and decreasing trust. In Putin’s eyes, Berlin’s connivance with Paris and Warsaw over what the Kremlin regarded as the Maidan coup in Kyiv that toppled the elected president amounted to a massive breach of trust. In turn, Russia’s forceful reaction to the developments in Ukraine stunned Merkel and her colleagues. In vain did Putin appeal to German gratitude for Moscow having turned the key on reunification; Merkel, reflecting the views of not only the German political class, but also much of the public, saw Russia’s actions as changing borders by force and thus upsetting the post–Cold War order in Europe. Merkel took the lead in imposing rafts of EU sanctions on Russia.

Unlike other Western leaders, however, Merkel did not respond to the crisis by severing all contact with Moscow in an attempt to “isolate” and thus “punish” Russia. The German chancellor, while being very critical of Russian policies, kept the line of communication to the Kremlin open. In February 2015, Merkel put at stake her own prestige by flying to Minsk for marathon negotiations to broker a ceasefire in Donbas. Since then, much of her interaction with Putin has been devoted to the conflict in Ukraine’s southeast. Her approach could be described as critical dialogue, with both sides trading critical arguments, but also looking for ways and means of managing the standoff.

Germany’s critical public attitude toward Russia was not limited to Ukraine-related issues. Starting with the campaign focusing on the “values gap” with Russia and the thrashing of Germany’s own so-called Putin-Versteher, or Putin-empathizers, the criticism was becoming wider and more scathing. Accusations of Russian media meddling in German politics, of Russia’s involvement in the Bundestag hacking, and the murder of a former Chechen rebel commander in Berlin’s central Tiergarten marked a clear downward trend in the relationship. In 2020, Merkel publicly supported a German military laboratory’s findings that Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, who had been flown from Russia to Germany for emergency medical treatment, had been poisoned with a chemical nerve agent. Merkel herself visited the activist in a Berlin hospital. Symbolically, the Navalny incident closed the book on what had remained of the three-decades-long German-Russian partnership.

The partnership may be in the past, but the relationship continues. In 2021, Merkel passed an important test in defending German interests from U.S. pressure. Despite the strained relations with Russia and vehement criticism from the EU’s eastern flank countries such as Poland and the Baltic states, not to mention hysterics from Ukraine, Merkel succeeded in reaching a deal with U.S. President Joe Biden on allowing the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia under the Baltic Sea. Merkel’s unfailing consistency and stubborn determination under enormous pressure, which eventually led to a positive outcome for Germany, was closely watched and appreciated by the Kremlin. It was also appreciated that before leaving office, she made one last visit to Russia.

Seen from Moscow, Angela Merkel’s long tenure was a period of relative, if not always palatable, predictability in German-Russian relations. Vladimir Putin often disagreed with the German chancellor, but he undoubtedly respected her. For Russian policymakers, Germany remains the European Union’s key member state. Historically, Moscow’s relations with the major powers have heavily depended on its interaction with the leaders of those powers. The future of the relationship will depend in no small measure on who succeeds her and how skilled that successor is at the art of statecraft. Merkel is leaving behind very big shoes to fill.

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Digging Down Into ‘Putin’s Corruption’

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Image source: kremlin.ru

For years, I have been checking-out allegations of such things as ‘Putin’s Palace’ and ‘Putin’s Chef’, and so many other allegations of Putin’s ‘corruption’ (many of which are against friends and members of his Administration instead of against himself, because the allegations against himself fail to provide any documentation that he actually owns what the allegations attribute to him — there is far too much that is mere supposition in the direct accusations against him). 

Therefore, recently, I checked out allegations that are commonly made that Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, is corrupt. 

This twitter string contains loads of allegations that his mistress since about the year 2000 has a daughter from her former marriage who is a multi-millionairess with no apparent cause to be such: “Polina Kovaleva. Polina is a 26-year-old glamorous Russian girl from London. She lives in a huge apartment in Kensington and loves to party, her instagram feed looks like a non-stop holiday.” Here’s that instagram feed, where Polina flaunts her glamour; so, she comes across as a European Kardashian-plus — but how many people use that flaunting to argue that America is corrupt? (There are lots better arguments to make such a case against the U.S. Government.) 

The neoconservative “Vice” site headlined “Inside the Lavish London Lifestyle of Sergey Lavrov’s Stepdaughter: Polina Kovaleva bought a £4.4 million apartment with cash when she was just 21, according to campaigners. She happens to be the stepdaughter of Putin’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.”

A more neutral site, the Moscow Times, bannered “Russian Foreign Minister’s Secret Mistress Wields Ministry Influence, Owns Elite Property – iStories”, and presented evidence that Polina’s wealth comes not so much from anything having to do with her stepfather Lavrov but from her mother, his mistress, Svetlana Polyakova, who was born in 1971 and who met Lavrove in around the year 2000.

Very little information is public about Polyakova. But, the neoconservative The Daily Beast site headlined “Top Russian Diplomat’s Secret Life With Millionaire Mistress Exposed: Sergey Lavrov, ‘the face of Russian diplomacy,’ has reportedly been living large while on ‘official trips’ to more than 20 countries with his ultra-rich mistress.” That report opened:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reportedly bankrolled his mistress’s travel abroad with him on official diplomatic trips to almost two dozen countries around the world, according to a new bombshell report from Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny’s team. The report, entitled “Yachts, bribes and a mistress. What Minister Lavrov is hiding,” details a plethora of luxury digs and yachts enjoyed by the couple, including a yacht owned by the notorious oligarch Oleg Deripaska, which has been graced by the likes of Belarusian model Anastasia Vashukevich, better known by her pseudonym Nastya Rybka.

Navalny is a far-right-wing rabidly anti-Muslim Russian politician who has never had higher than 3% approval-rating in Russian national polls but whom U.S.-and-allied propaganda describe as “Putin’s main political opponent”, and as Russia’s leading anti-corruption activist. His ‘anti-corruption’ organization got caught trying to get UK’s MI6 intelligence agency to fund it. (The video that was shown in that linked-to news-report was removed from youtube and from the “Wayback Machine” Web-archive, so that that ‘archive’ is no longer a reliable archiving service, but what the video showed — I saw it while it was online — was devastating against Navalny, and the U.S.-and-allied regimes don’t deny its authenticity, but only block their publics from seeing and hearing it.)

The opening item in the present article — “This twitter string contains loads of allegations that his mistress since about the year 2000 has a daughter from her former marriage who is a multi-millionairess with no apparent cause to be such:” — comes from Navalny’s organization.

Then, The Daily Beast headlined “Britain Calls Out Russia’s Top Diplomat for Secret Family”, and reported:

In its list of the 65 new individuals and organizations targeted for “aiding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” the British Foreign Office appears to have made a point to call out Lavrov’s “secret family” in London, with its inclusion of Polina Kovalev, whom it describes as his stepdaughter.

Kovalev’s inclusion on the list appears to confirm exhaustive reporting by Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny’s team that Lavrov, 71, has been living a “double life” for nearly two decades. One that includes a “secret wife,” identified by Navalny’s allies as Svetlana Polyakova, an actress and a restaurateur with sway in Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

Britain’s neoconservative Daily Mail headlined:

REVEALED: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took secret millionaire mistress abroad more than 60 times on ‘diplomatic missions’ and bankrolled her luxury lifestyle

Russia Foreign Minister Lavrov bankrolled mistress Svetlana Polyakova’s lifestyle

He has taken her abroad on ‘diplomatic’ missions more than 60 times since 2014

She also appeared publicly with Putin and was cleared to be in ‘elite’ entourage 

Details unearthed in an investigation were published by Kremlin critic Navalny 

The U.S.-and-allied billionaires’ OCCRP.org, or “Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project,” is also on this case. The OCCRP is funded by billionaires and Governments such as Soros (Open Society Fdtn.), Rockefeller, Ford Fdtn., Denmark, U.S. Government, Bay&PaulFdtns./CIA, etc. Their article “Russian Foreign Minister Has a Longtime Female Companion With Over $13 Million in Unexplained Assets” reported:

For years, a source close to a foreign ministry official told reporters, she has had a very close relationship with Lavrov. Reporters found that, in addition to accompanying him around the Church of St. Sergius, she has travelled with him to Sochi and St. Petersburg. She has even appeared in cell phone address books under his last name.

Polyakova also has substantial assets that a mere “employee of the Foreign Ministry” would almost certainly not be able to afford. Property records show that she and her family own real estate in Russia and Great Britain worth about 1 billion rubles ($13.6 million).

Polyakova and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment. …

Until 2012, business records show, she was a co-owner of Consul, a restaurant located inside the foreign ministry’s diplomatic academy in central Moscow.

The restaurant received state contracts to provide meals for students, teachers, and visiting foreign diplomats. But according to financial records, the business was not especially profitable. Between 2015 and 2020, its total revenue was only 120 million rubles ($1.6 million).

Polyakova had several other companies listed as restaurant businesses, but they didn’t bring in high revenues either, according to their financial reports

A few sites mention that Svetlana Polyakova is a “restaurateur,” and so I looked to find details about “those other companies.” All that I could find was her position at McDonald’s, as follows:

Irish Times headlined on 19 November 2014 “McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow reopens after being shut” and reported:

McDonald’s largest restaurant in Russia reopened after local officials shuttered the location for three months, an optimistic sign for a company trying to return to business as usual in the country.

The outlet, situated in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, resumed business today, said Svetlana Polyakova, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s Russia.

The “Ad Forum” site shows her as “Advertising Manager at McDonald’s”. The Roscongress Building Trust describes her as “Chief Executive Officer, Charitable Foundation ‘House of Ronald McDonald’; Public Relations Director, McDonald’s Russia”, and says:

Svetlana started as an entry-level employee at McDonald’s in 1989 alongside studying at the School of Education of the Maurice Thorez Institute of Foreign Languages. In 1991, she taught at the Training Department. In 1993, she became a manager of the Marketing Department, and in 1997 she proceeded as a manager of the Public Relations Department.

In 2001, Svetlana was appointed the head of the company’s public relations department. In 2002, she received the highest corporate award of McDonald’s Corporation. For several years in a row, Svetlana was among the 1000 best managers, according to a study by the Managers Association of Russia and the Kommersant Publishing House. From the first days with the company, Svetlana was deeply involved in philanthropy assisting charitable and children support organizations.

In 2002, Svetlana became the General Director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities. For nearly 25 years, the non-profit organization has been implementing programmes aimed at supporting families in need. Under the Svetlana’s leadership, the Ronald McDonald House managed to raise about 1 billion roubles, which helped more than 250,000 Russian children and families. The Foundation implements several important programmes, such as Family Rooms in hospitals, a health and fitness training seminars for specialists working with children with disabilities, two inclusive playgrounds in Sochi and Moscow.

In 2013, with Svetlana’s close involvement, the first and so far the only family hotel in Russia Ronald McDonald House Kazan was opened for parents whose children are undergoing long-term treatment at the Children’s Republican Clinical Hospital of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan. Ronald MacDonald House has become a real home away from home for more than 9,000 parents and children.

For the implementation of this project, the Ronald McDonald House Organization became a three-time winner of the republic’s contest Philanthropist of the Year and received the diploma of the Best Social Project of Russia in 2018.

My Google seach for “Svetlana Polyakova” and “divorce” produced: 

Svetlana Polyakova – The Irish Times

https://www.irishtimes.com › tags › svetlana-polyakova

Svetlana Polyakova · 1. Woman must pay former husband €1.6m as part of divorce settlement, judge rules · 2. ‘This is not easy for me at all’: Gráinne Seoige makes …

and that article is the Irish Times article headlined on 19 November 2014 “McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow reopens after being shut”, but nowhere indicates anything like “Svetlana Polyakova · 1. Woman must pay former husband €1.6m as part of divorce settlement, judge rules · 2. ‘This is not easy for me at all’: Gráinne Seoige makes …”; so, perhaps her divorce settlement has been removed from the Web.

Possibly, she inherited at least her first wealth from her mother. If Svetlana was paying to her former husband, then she was probably wealthier than her husband.

The date of the divorce is likewise not publicly known.

Perhaps Svetlana is so intelligent and sophisticated a person, that her feedback and recommendations to Lavrov make worthwhile her traveling with him on his diplomatic trips. Nobody doubts that Lavrov has been extremely successful as Russia’s Foreign Minister.

In any case: my attempts to find reason to believe the accusations against Lavrov have been as fruitless as my previous attempts to believe that there is corruption at the top level of Russia’s Government. Maybe there is, but the U.S.-and-allied propaganda-organizations haven’t yet provided any evidence for it. By contrast, the documentation that the top levels of the U.S.-and-allied Governments are drowning in corruption is extremely abundant and conclusive, as I have documented in many articles.

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Fidel Castro’s Political Struggle Unites Havana and Moscow

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Under the auspices of an official state visit to attend the unveiling of  a statue in memory of former leader Fidel Castro in northwestern Moscow, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez unreservedly expressed support for anti-American position taken by Russia, reminded the history of Cuba and the Soviet Union during the Cold War when shared the same stand.

Diaz-Canel Bermudez highlighted the significance of the visit to Moscow. Cuba and Soviet Union had similar experience, both were blockaded. “It takes place at a time when both Russia and Cuba have been subjected to unfair unilateral sanctions and have a common enemy, a common source which is the Yankee empire, which manipulates a large part of humankind,” he said. “We constantly condemn the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation and the sources of the ongoing conflict so that people are not misled and do not blame Russia for this, and we also condemn what Europe is doing, being completely subordinate to US interests.”

Referring to the unveiling of the monument, he described it as a true reflection of Fidel Castro’s personality in the midst of struggle, just like in the midst of struggle today. He denounced the imperialist powers and further praised all efforts of the Russian Federation and, under such complicated circumstances, Russia’s role in orienting the world towards multi-polarity. 

Russia can always rely on Cuba. Moscow and Havana will continue to strengthen cordial bilateral relations and defend the great values of freedom, equality and justice. The principle of continuity, not just a slogan or a motto, but to continue promoting relations with the Russian Federation. Cuban leader thanked Russia for its support for his country and spoke in favor of expanding economic cooperation between the two countries.

President Vladimir Putin noted in his speech that the bilateral relations between Cuba and Russia have been making steady headway in the past three years since the previous meeting in the Kremlin. He pointed to the appreciable developing cooperation between foreign ministries, parliaments and governments. State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin visited Cuba quite recently.

The Russia-Cuba Intergovernmental Commission is working. It held its 19th session. There are plans for cooperation between the governments with many joint projects up to 2030.

Putin stressed that the Soviet Union and Russia have always supported and support the Cuban people in their struggle for independence and sovereignty. “We have always opposed any restrictions, embargoes, blockades and so on. We have always backed Cuba on international platforms. We are seeing that Cuba occupies the same position with respect to our country, to Russia,” he added.

All this is a result of the traditional friendship that was started by Comrade Fidel Castro. Today, Cuba and Russia agreed to have unveiled a monument to him. Indeed, this is a good memory of him, a true work of art. He is so dynamic, always in motion, moving forward. It definitely captures the look of a fighter that he had.

Putin really remembered his personal meetings very well, even the details with him. “He was an impressive man. I remember how during our first meeting in his office when we were freely discussing the current situation during lunch, I was stunned by his attention to detail and his knowledge of the nuances of ongoing events, even if they took place far away from Cuba,” he narrated the story.

“He was aware of and could analyse everything happening in the world. It was very interesting and useful for me to have these meetings with him. Relying on this firm foundation of friendship, we must certainly move forward and enhance our cooperation in the current conditions,” Putin said in conclusion. 

Work on the bronze-made three-meter-monument lasted for six months and took place in the Russian capital. Castro is depicted seated on a rock with a stylized map of Cuba inscribed on it. The image reflects the heroic path of a person who stood up for the rights and freedoms of the Cuban people, according to the Kremlin’s press service fact sheet. 

The Moscow city legislature approved the idea of such a monument on February 16. The initiative to erect a monument to Fidel Castro came from the leadership of the Russian Defense Ministry. The idea was supported by the Russian Military-Historical Society which held a closed artistic contest with 11 works participating. 

The monument was erected on Moscow’s square named in honor of Castro. Fidel Castro was one of the leaders of Cuba’s revolutionary movement who chaired Cuba’s Council of Ministers from 1959 to 2008. The Cuban politician died in 2016.

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Annexation of Ukrainian oblasts to undermine the Russian Constitution

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Photo Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel

On September 30, 2022, Russia declared its annexation of four Ukrainian oblasts – Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson. Not only none of the oblasts was under complete Russian control at the time of annexation, the unilateral proclamation of “new Russian territories” took place amid Russian military setbacks seen by many as one significant continuing retreat. 

To make the annexation look legitimate, the Kremlin staged “referendums” in all four oblasts. Then, according to the “will of the people” there, the State Duma voted for admitting these four into the Russian Federation, with the Russian Constitutional Court acknowledging in a hasty overnight session on October 2, 2022, that four new treaties with “the newly-acquired territories” fully correspond to the Russian Constitution.

In the Kremlin’s view, this set of obviously illegitimate actions showed its complete legitimacy. It seems to have worked for the internal political agenda as Putin’s Goebbels-style propaganda gurus have used billions of dollars much more effectively than his military aides. At the same time, it has shown the absence of the Rule of Law with its basic presumption that no one – including the most highly placed officials – is above the law. The “legal documents” supporting the annexation prove that Russian authorities live in virtual reality. 

February 21, 2022, Putin acknowledged the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk Republics to use it three days later as a pretext for the military invasion of Ukraine. But the document he signed stated that Russia recognizes the whole territory of Donetsk oblast as the Donetsk Republic, which means that for the Donetsk Republic to become a part of the Russian Federation, all people of Donetsk oblast should have been represented at the staged referendums. Failing to seize the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk oblast by the end of September, the Kremlin couldn’t do it. And neither the Kremlin nor the State Duma or should-be highly-professional judges of the Constitutional Court expressed any care for the fact.

The preamble of the Russian Constitutional Court’s approval of the four treaties states that as a consequence of arbitrary decisions of the Soviet government, the territory of the Ukrainian SSR was primarily comprised of lands with a predominantly Russian population without the will of the people. Moreover, according to the viewpoint of the Russian Constitutional Court, the situation in Ukraine began to deteriorate after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And it became even worse after the government change in Kyiv in 2014.

The Russian Constitutional Court also noted that “admitting belief in good and justice as one of the founding values of the multi-national people of the Russian Federation, and being a social state governed by the Rule of Law, Russia can not ignore massive facts of violations of the right to life and discrimination based on ethnic and linguistic affinity, more so on the territory with the population of which Russia has long-lasting historical, cultural and humane connections.”

This official statement provides legal grounds for the revision of the collapse of the USSR. The Russian Government may use this official legal ruling of the Constitutional Court to acknowledge the void of the Belovezh Accords of December 1991, which declared that the Soviet Union ceases to exist, effectively overturning the will expressed by more than 76% of the Soviet people, who in March 1991 voted for preserving the Soviet Union. 

In 2017 Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Kremlin internal policy team and an architect of the structure of the contemporary internal politics in Russia, declared that “the Russian state functions on principles different from the treaty principle.” His statement justified why the Kremlin did not want to re-sign a treaty between Tatarstan, a subject of the Russian Federation, and the federal center. The treaty that was refused to sign was approved by the Russian Parliament in 2007 to be effective for ten years, and to be re-approved in 2017. And the 2007 Parliament’s approval followed the 1994 Treaty signed by Tatarstan with the Kremlin, after Tatarstan refused to sign a Federative Treaty between the Kremlin and all Russian regions, which became the basis of the Russian Federation and its Constitution of 1993.

Openly loyal and Kremlin-supporting Chechnya never had any treaty signed with the Kremlin. After two wars there is not even a valid peace treaty between Chechnya and Moscow, let alone a Federative Treaty. May 12, 1997 Aslan Maskhadov, the then President of the Chechen Republic Ichkeriya signed  a peace treaty signed with the Russian President Boris Yeltsin. That peace treaty provided legal grounds for controversies to be resolved only by peaceful means and according to the norms of international law (needless to remind you that Putin violated it three years later). It is interesting that Boris Yeltsin declared that the Treaty “put an end to the war and 400 years of conflict”.

This treaty followed the Khasavyurt Accords of 1996, titled “On principles of the basis of relations between the Russian Federation and the republic of Chechnya”.  Both documents do not clearly define the status of Chechnya within or outside of the framework of the Russian Federation. The documents de-fact treated Chechnya as an independent state, and at the same time the Russian Parliament never ratified the documents, which is obligatory for international treaties and agreements.

This mix of misleading title and content demanded a particular provision of the Russian Constitutional Court stating on December 26, 1996, that the signed Khasavyurt Accords did not regulate any relations between the Russian Federation and one of its subjects, clearly leaving Chechnya outside the existing legal structure of the Russian state. Moreover, the Chechen Republic Ichkeria, whose President signed the treaty, was declared “ceased to exist,” replacing it with the Republic of Chechnya, leaving any documents signed before legally void.

As we see from the legal point of view there are at least two subjects of the Russian Federation that have no legally effective treaties with the central authority.

Most regions signed the Federative Treaty of 1992, which later was transformed into the Russian Constitution. The signing needed to repeat in a new format in 2002. The initial treaty provided for a later re-signing revision of approval only for the regions initially formed as Republics, and usually, these are ethnicity-based regions. But Putin’s negligence of the law when he felt that he had authority, which he already possessed in 2002, let the resignation issue out of his attention scope. In 2017 Tatarstan demanded this attention but only received Kiriyenko’s statement that the Russian Federation was not based on any treaties.

And this is when legal cover for acquisitions of new territories plays a role. In 2014 Moscow signed a treaty with the Republic of Crimea. In September 2022, four “new subjects of the Russian Federation” became its part through treaties. 

Looking at the Russian state legal structure, we see one republic with a treaty not re-signed (Tatarstan) and another that changed its name without signing any legal treaty with Moscow (Chechnya). There are also 18 republics that initially signed the federative treaty. Still, later the Kremlin declared that there was no need to prolong it without talking any supporting legal actions. Finally, there are also three republics with existing treaties whose legitimacy is not recognized internationally (Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk republics), and of course, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.

This context shows the total absence of the Rule of Law in Russia and undermines its Constitution and legal principles of interrelations between the regions and the Kremlin. 

The current mobilization state of Russian politics and economy drives the Kremlin to re-organize its administrative structure based on purely economic effectiveness reasoning. An obvious target for future reforms will be ethnic republics, as now different level Russian media start spreading statistics proving the predominance of Russians in the historically ethic-based republic. A good example is a Krasnodar Krai discussion of why the Maykopsky district of the Republic of Adygea can’t be a part of Krasnodar Krai since 85% of people in the community are Russians, raising a question about Adygea as a whole with 65% of Russians leaving there.

This Kremlin-inspired discussion presents an existential threat to many smaller ethnicities abiding in Russia. Many ethnic people already feel they are being exterminated by the war in Ukraine, with just a handful coming back from hundreds sent to the frontline. And suppose they look closely at the legal grounds of why they live in the Russian Federation to find out their absence. In that case, the centrifugal forces of Russian internal politics, becoming increasingly evident with every war defeat, may become unstoppable.

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