RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 22, 2014

192239776TODAY: House arrest for Ukrainian star painters; transmission tower in Ukrainian makeover; Foreign Ministry vows it will send aid trucks in; Putin plans to expand influence of Russian media abroad. Avoiding Western food harder than it looks; prices rise; Russia seizes Japanese whaling ship. 

A Russian court has ordered that the four Muscovites who hung the Ukrainian flag from a Moscow tower should be placed under house arrest.  Two Russian daredevils have hung the Russian flag from a neighbouring tower in retaliation.  Six workers are being investigated after painting a Moscow transmission tower Ukrainian colours, which they maintain was not done on purpose.  The first trucks from the dispute-loaded Russian aid convoy to Ukraine have cleared customs in the country’s east.  The Foreign Ministry has expressed exasperation at delays to the convoy’s progress.  With opinions on Ukraine causing public divisions, the Moscow Times takes a look at the current state of Russia’s political opposition movement.  This article considers how Putin hopes that Russian media expansion in Europe will ‘illuminate abroad the state policies‘.  Read More »

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 21, 2014

A man takes a "selfie" as he stands with a Ukrainian flag on a Soviet-style star re-touched with blue paint so it resembles the yellow-and-blue national colours of Ukraine, atop the spire of a building in MoscowTODAY: EU criticises Bolotnaya Square sentences; Ukrainian star at top of Moscow tower, work of ‘hooligans’; McDonald’s closures; agricultural sector will require billions amid import ban. VTB feels pain of Ukraine crisis; Ferguson continues to provide Foreign Ministry with ammunition. 

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has expressed disapproval at the ‘disproportionate‘ sentences meted out to Bolotnaya square activists earlier this week, since they ‘curtail the exercise of freedom of expression and of assembly in Russia‘.  Activists have re-painted one of Moscow’s Stalin-era Seven Sisters high-rises with Ukraine colours.  Initially charged with vandalism, the perpetrators of the paint job now face hooliganism charges, which could land them up to seven years in jail.  Russia has shut down four McDonald’s restaurants in Moscow for alleged ‘sanitary violations‘ and will conduct checks at the fast food outlet in two more regions.  Russia’s government has apparently relaxed some of its bans on Western food to support its own agricultural industry; the agriculture minister says billions of dollars will need to be spent to ensure food supplies are ample.  Russia will now look to China and India for meat imports previously sought from the West.   Read More »

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Russia’s ‘Irredentism’

This week Strobe Talbott has an extensive piece in Politico on the background of Vladimir Putin’s worldview. Despite Talbott’s past myopia on Russia, there are some interesting arguments in the long article, including the following issue of “irredentism” as a driving force for Russia’s habit of invading neighboring nations.

The best word for what might be called ethnic geopolitics is, appropriately, a musty Italian one coined in the post-Napoleonic wars of 19th century Europe: irredentism (an Italian word connoting the recovery of “unredeemed” territory and ethnic kinsmen). Throughout the 1990s, that atavistic urge was at the core of the anti-Yeltsin opposition. Yeltsin’s stubborn refusal to countenance irredentism — his affirmation of the existing inter-republic borders — made possible the relatively amicable and orderly self-dismemberment of the USSR. It also facilitated the creation of a NATO-sponsored Partnership for Peace as well as other institutional arrangements that were meant to bring countries of the former Soviet bloc, including Russia and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), into an inclusive, integrated, post-Cold War, pan-European, and, to some degree, pan-Eurasian security structure. This wasn’t a Western demand or aspiration that was imposed on post-Soviet leaders. It was an aspiration of their own that we in the West responded to and supported.

Had Yeltsin and his counterparts in the other republics set off irredentist free-for-all in the post-Soviet space, stretching across 11 times zones with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons in the mix, it might have triggered a world-threatening cataclysm. On a more specific and less apocalyptic level, it would have been impossible to persuade Ukraine to turn over its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal to Russia, especially if Yeltsin’s opponents had succeeded in their demand that Ukraine surrender Crimea as well. It wasn’t hard to imagine what that scenario looked like: Throughout the 1990s, the world had, in Yugoslavia, an ongoing reminder of the violent fate that the USSR avoided.

Read the full article in Politico here.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 20, 2014

Shukhov tower. Image shot 2006. Exact date unknown.TODAY: Deportation ruling upheld for U.S. NGO worker; Udaltsov ends hunger strike; activists unmask owners of fake diplomas; Foreign Ministry makes most of U.S. problems in Ferguson.  Putin to meet with Poroshenko next week; military exercises in Astrakhan; Shukhov Tower reprieve.

U.S. citizen and NGO consultant Jennifer Gaspar faces deportation after a St. Petersburg court upheld a verdict from the migration authorities which labelled her a threat to national security; the case, critics say, is motivated by her husband’s work as a human rights lawyer.  Imprisoned opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov has ended his nearly one-month hunger-strike, amid growing concerns for his health.  The Moscow Times reports on the work of Dissernet, an organisation which exposes high-ranking degree holders who bought their dissertations on the black market.  Migrant laborers in Moscow are gearing up for a mega rally this fall to call for an end to their ‘slavery‘.   The Russian Foreign Ministry’s human rights, democracy and rule of law commissioner, Konstantin Dolgov, has used the troubles in Ferguson, Missouri to indicate that the U.S. should tend to its own affairs rather than intervening in the ‘internal affairs of other countries‘.   Read More »

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Historical Memory in Thailand and Guatemala

red-shirts-thailand-victims-iccMy latest op/ed in Foreign Policy Journal explores some of the similarities between Thailand and Guatemala’s experience with coups, and the subsequent struggle to achieve historical memory.

The topic of historical memory has long been a core theme among many Red Shirt groups, and it’s a issue of vital importance to many countries which have experienced tragedy and civil war. But specifically, the comparative case with Guatemala that has struck my attention for its similarity to Thailand in recent days while reading the excellent book “Paper Cadavers” by the Canadian academic Kirsten Weld.

On the surface, there is very little that connects the tiny Central American republic of 15 million to the Southeast Asian juggernaut of 67 million people, with completely different societies, economies, and political systems. But what Guatemala and Thailand share is fascinating: a common history of repeated, violent military coups and heavy U.S. involvement as a result of the Cold War, creating a lingering distortion in each nation’s political culture.

Read More »

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 19, 2014

Russia says no ceasefire but Kiev’s objections to relief convoy droppedTODAY: Dozens killed as Ukrainian refugees hit by rocket attack; responsibility lies with rebels, says Kiev; talks do not yield ceasefire; rock star riles Kremlin with Ukraine stance. Russia Today launches searing poster campaign; Statoil-Rosneft cooperation continues despite sanctions.

Dozens of civilians, including children, were killed yesterday when a convoy carrying refugees was hit by rocket fire near the eastern city of Luhansk.  Pro-Russian rebels and government forces blamed each other for the attack, which occurred between the towns of Svitlivka and Khrashchuvate.  Fifteen bodies have so far been recovered from the wreckage.  Talks in Berlin between the two countries’ foreign minsters have failed to yield a ceasefire.  Nonetheless, ‘behind the rattling sabres, the Russians appear to have stepped up their efforts to reach some diplomatic resolution‘, says analyst Mark Galeotti.  Could a resolution depend on military advances for leverage?  Rock star Andrei Makarevich of Time Machine has been branded an enemy of Russia after performing for IDP children in Donetsk Oblast and openly criticising the Kremlin’s policies in Ukraine.  Crimea’s political integration into Russia should be sealed with local and parliamentary elections taking place in September, says the Crimean Ministers’ Council.

Read More »

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 18, 2014

Russian mechanics work on an Arctic Trucks all-terrain vehicle, based on the Lexus LX570 car, at an assembly shop of the Arctic Trucks Russia plant in KrasnoyarskTODAY: Ukraine peace talks underway in Berlin; agreement apparently reached on aid convoy; Ukrainian jet shot down.  More Bolotnaya suspects found guilty; Siberian independence rallies thwarted by police; Kremlin to consider ban on import of Western cars. 

Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers are currently in Berlin along with German counterpart Frank-Walter-Steinmeier and France’s Laurent Fabius for talks over ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.  ‘Some progress‘ was noted by the German Foreign Minister.  ‘Five hours of most difficult talks. But we’d need several five-hour [talks] to see any progress‘, tweeted Ukraine’s top diplomat Pavlo Klimkin.  Significantly, the foreign ministers did reach an agreement on the delivery of humanitarian aid, approved by the Red Cross, to southeastern Ukraine.  This comes after a turbulent weekend; on Sunday pro-Russia rebels shot down a Ukrainian MiG-29  fighter jet and at least ten civilians were killed and another eight wounded in the Ukrainian army’s shelling of Donetsk.  On Friday, Ukraine claimed to have destroyed a column of Russian military vehicles in the east.  In a Youtube video Alexander Zakharchenko, Prime Minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, announced he had 1,200 fighters ‘trained in Russia‘ under his command as well as 30 tanks.  These claims have been denied by the Kremlin.  Ideas propagated by a leading Russian nationalist, ‘have become to an extent practically the principal line of Russian foreign policy‘. Read More »

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 15, 2014

TODAY: Kremlin cancels live feed of Putin’s ‘peace-minded’ Crimea speech; disputed convoys heading for eastern Ukraine as violence intensifies in Donetsk; Rosneft seeks loan, struggles with sanctions; Ukraine restricts Russian airlines; import ban to be made official in October.

The Kremlin unexpectedly canceled the live feed of President Vladimir Putin’s much-hyped speech in Crimea yesterday; and the video of the speech released afterwards contained no audio.  The speech saw Putin adopting a softer tone than usual, vowing to halt violence in eastern Ukraine and generally demonstrating ‘a more peace-minded stance’.  The Moscow Times says the speech had a ‘reconciliatory’ tone, and that it argued against excessive confrontation with the West.  Russia’s disputed humanitarian convoy is now ‘heading straight for rebel held areas’ in Ukraine, after apparently pausing last night to let a number of military vehicles across the border into Ukraine. Donetsk ‘is starting to resemble a war zone’; gas and electricity infrastructures have been devastated, and the U.N. says the region’s death toll has nearly doubled in the past two weeks to over 2,000.  The hacking of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s Twitter account is under investigation, after a series of satirical tweets were posted, including one announcing his resignation due to embarrassment. Read More »

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 14, 2014

TODAY: Impasse over ‘humanitarian’ convoy; Moscow authorities plan raids to monitor import ban; Putin begins Crimea visit amidst support for Crimea and Ukraine policies; Japan protests Kuril military exercises; Usmanov is top donor.

It is still unclear how Ukraine will deal with the 280 repainted military trucks attempting to bring Russian humanitarian aid across its borders, though as of last night the convoy had not turned back and was thought to be halted at a military base in Voronezh.  This report says it is still on its way to Rostov, with a further group rumored to be heading for Kharkiv. It is expected that Russia’s suspension of alcoholic drinks from Ukraine will not affect domestic prices.  Naftogaz says planned Ukrainian sanctions will not necessarily be targeted at Gazprom.  Moscow authorities will test the new produce import ban with target raids on supermarkets.  The ban was not followed by other CIS customs union countries, notes the Moscow Times – proof that the union is far from being ‘a genuine economic alliance’.  Vera Kichanova writes about the new, harsher laws threatening ordinary citizens who protest against the government.

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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – August 13, 2014

Putin_phoneTODAY: Ukraine refuses entry to Russian aid; Red Cross states it has not certified the vehicles; missing Russian photographer found, under arrest; Egyptian President lands in Sochi; Japan outcry over war games on Kurils; Usmanov sells stake in USM; Putin phone.

Amid fears of a Russian presence in separatist-held territory, Ukraine has said it will not allow the 280 Russian trucks reportedly carrying aid for the war-torn east to enter its territory, arguing that any such cargo should be handed over on the border.  Despite the aid mission supposedly being a joint effort with the International Red Cross, the organisation has said it has not certified the convoy and has no information on what the trucks were carrying or where they were going.  ‘Russian bloggers quickly pointed out that the automobiles appeared to be repainted versions of green Russian military trucks’.  Moscow’s previous humanitarian missions do not set a hopeful precedent.  Ukraine’s Interior Ministry has announced that Andrei Stenin, the Russian photographer who has been missing in Ukraine since August 5, has been arrested on suspicion of aiding terrorists‘, prompting outcry from Russia’s human rights council.  Could the Kremlin and the West reconcile their differences over Ukraine in the fight against radical Islam?  Read More »

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