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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
January 30, 2016

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Even If Oil Prices Rise and Sanctions End, Russia’s Economy Will Be in Trouble, Inozemtsev Says

Staunton, VA, January 30, 2016 -- The Putin regime “has made so many mistakes that even if oil prices rise and sanctions are lifted, the crisis will not end, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev. Instead, the director of the Moscow Center for Research on Post-Industrial Society says, the current recession will continue because the Kremlin isn’t focusing on the economy.

And in an interview given to Deutsche Welle that has been picked up by a number of Russian outlets, he predicts that this situation will not change earlier than 2024. As a result, the magic bullets that Putin supporters often point to will not keep the economy from contracting three to four percent a year over that period. 

Moscow’s response to the current crisis stands in marked contrast to its reaction to the events of 2008. Then, Inozemtsev says, “the authorities understood that economics is important, and the reaction of the Russian government was much more active,” including the formation of a broad anti-crisis program.

“Now,” however, “the situation is much worse,” he continues, not so much because of international sanctions but rather because of “the inadequate actions of the Russian government” which has failed to focus on economic issues and “pursues exclusively geopolitical or its own domestic political goals.” It isn’t interested in economic questions.

“Of course,” he acknowledges, the collapse in oil prices has inflicted serious harm on the Russian situation “possibly more than Western sanctions. But in 2008-2009, oil also fell in price. But then the state demonstrated its openness to the return of investors and a desire to restore relations with the West.”

But “the economy’s decline in no way is directly connected with the price of oil,” he says. “In 2011-2013, the rate of economic growth in Russia fell, and the average price of Brent oil was high, approximately US $110 a barrel.” What one sees now is a result of the “incompetent” choices of the Russian government.

If oil suddenly rose to US $60 a barrel and sanctions ended, that would hardly be enough to change the situation. Instead, “the price of oil would have to grow by 20 percent every year.” There is no reason to think that will happen and thus there is no reason to expect economic growth in Russia if the government’s policies continue as they are.

“We are close to the bottom because in recent time so many mistakes have been made in Russian policy,” and because that is so, “international business is hardly likely to return to Russia in its former amount.” As a result, the economy will stagnate until at least 2024 because the current regime is “convinced that it is doing everything right” and won’t change.

Inozemtsev says that he doesn’t share the views of those who think that Putin’s poll numbers are false. In his view, the numbers “quite correctly show the attitudes in society. Under these conditions in 2018, the reelection of the Russian president will occur most likely quite easily.” He adds that he doesn’t see any basis for “any Maidan” in Russia.

Later, however, the situation is likely to change, he suggests, and by 2024, “the sense in society that something isn’t right will be quite widespread.” Then things could change but only then.
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Putin, World’s First Nuclear Terrorist, Must Be Isolated Internationally Yakovenko Says

Staunton, VA, January 30, 2016 -- Like a dose of polonium, the “moral idiotism” of Vladimir Putin has succeeded in infecting all of Russia with a pathology it won’t be able to escape even after his departure and has already “transformed his regime and himself personally into the number-one problem for the entire world,” according to Igor Yakovenko.

And also like polonium, the Moscow commentator argues, Putin’s moral idiotism, his “total indifference to good and evil,” does not kill all at once as cyanide does but develops in such a way that “at first, those surrounding it do not suppose that the infected individual is condemned."

“The poisoning of Russia by Putinism initially passed unnoticed both within the country and among foreign observers,” he says. “First the nervous system, the independent media was destroyed. Then the immune mechanisms of democracy were destroyed … And then a general paralysis occurred” of the country which continued to function only because of high oil prices.

The world didn’t react to the first symptoms when in 2008 “Russia attacked Georgia and seized part of its territory.” Then six years later, it “committed an even more serious international crime: for the first time in post-war history, [Russia] annexed foreign territory” and then “began an aggressive war against Ukraine.”

On Putin’s head rest a growing number of political murders, Yakovenko says; “but having given the order to Lugovoy and Kovtun to point their former colleague Litvinenko with radioactive plutonium, Putin committed a crime after which the world around him began to change.” Indeed, it is likely even Putin “understands this.”

Immediately after the London High Court’s release of its conclusions, the Kremlin announced that Putin wouldn’t be going to the security meeting in Munich in mid-February. The Russian president knows that as long as he is chief of state, the chances of his being arrested there are “equal to zero.”

“But to the extent that Putin doesn’t give any value to law, he is certain that everyone else shares that position. Besides, he cannot fail to understand that after he was declared a nuclear terrorist by the London court, the ‘velvet’ isolation around his person which existed before January 21, 2016, is extremely likely to be replaced by something much more serious.”

Ever more media outlets in the West are demanding that Putin be held accountable for his nuclear terrorism, and it seems impossible to believe that “world leaders will be able to completely ignore such clearly-articulated public opinion,” Yakovenko says. And they will be under more pressure to do so in the coming weeks.

The International Criminal Court is likely to find equally “unambiguously” that Putin was behind the shooting down of the Malaysian aircraft, an action that cost 298 lives. And one can hope that “Ukraine will be able to organize suits against Russia for the theft of Crimea and the rape of the Donbass.”

“True,” Yakovenko adds, “considering that of all the leaders of the West only two have balls -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Lithuanian President Dalia Gribauskaite -- one can’t hope that the process of isolating the largest and most dangerous international criminal and nuclear terrorist, Vladimir Putin, will occur quickly and decisively.”

What is important, he continues, is that “each politician in the world who after January 21 risks entering into contact with Putin be asked” about Putin’s involvement in nuclear terrorism and about how making contact with him reduces the risks that he will engage in more such actions against others in the future.

“Such questions must be given as well to those American politicians who like Trump assert that he is sure to get along with Putin and to those European politicians who consider it necessary to immediately lift sanctions on the Putin regime and to those Israeli politicians who call for reorienting Israel toward an alliance with Putin’s Russia.”

“Gentlemen, do you have a reliable means of protection against polonium? If so, then you can boldly enter into relations with Mr. Putin. Only don’t forget to take with you as well” other kinds of protection like those on the Malaysian jetliner didn’t have, or that Boris Nemtsov didn’t have available to him, either.

For such criminal activities are an integral part of the Putin regime with which you intend to cooperate.” In addition, there are people like Ramzan Kadyrov who threaten the Russian opposition, and the Russian militants in eastern Ukraine who continue to terrorize that country as well.

Such questions should also be addressed to “the numerous sympathizers of Putin in American and European universities, because Putinism like polonium has poisoned not only Russia but left its poisonous traces in all countries of the world.” Faced with this, “the complete international isolation of Putin is the first step to rid the planet of the threat of Putinism.”

The second and much more difficult step is the de-Putinization of Russia.” Foreigners have a role to play by isolating Putin and thus “destroying the main Putin myth that under him, Russia has again begun to be respected in the world and that with Putin Russia has returned to the club of the world powers.”

And the reverse is true as well, Yakovenko says: “Obama by extending his hand to Putin is doing for the support of the Putin regime in Russia no less than Ramzan Kadyrov and Dmitry Kiselyov.” If the West sent a different signal, Russians would be encouraged to oppose Putin and the results in the upcoming Duma elections would represent a step forward.

At present, the Moscow commentator says, “many analysts are frightened that the regime which will come in place of the Putin one will be even worse. It is possible that that will be the case. But in order that this not happen, there must be cooperation between the healthy forces inside Russia and the wise ones in the world, above all in the West.”

“The West and above all the US must offer Russia something analogous to the Marshal Plan,” Yakovenko concludes. “This is in the interests of the West itself” because it will be far cheaper to help make Russia “a normal country” than to “have on one-eighth of the earth’s surface [an enemy] with an enormous nuclear arsenal.”

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Hague Court Seems Set to Find Moscow Guilty of Ethnic Cleansing in Georgia, Portnikov Says
Staunton, VA, January 30, 2016 -- Having been identified by a British court as involved with the murder by polonium of Aleksandr Litvinenko, Vladimir Putin likely faces something even more devastating: In taking up the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, the International Criminal Court in the Hague seems certain to find Moscow guilty of ethnic cleansing, according to Vitaly Portnikov.

That conclusion will reveal “a completely new face of the Kremlin regime, the Ukrainian commentator says, because it is “one thing to seize other’s territories … and quite another to carry out a banal ethnic cleansing according to the recipes of Adolf Hitler or Slobodan Milosevic."

The Russian-Georgian war of 2008, Portnikov points out, involved ethnic cleansing. “Georgian villages in South Ossetia were burned to the group and many of their residents destroyed. The ‘territorial integrity’ of the Republic South Ossetia which was soon recognized by Moscow and Caracas was secured namely by such an inhuman price.”

In fact, “there is nothing new in this,” he continues. “The war in Abkhazia in the early 1990s was a banal act of ethnic cleansing:a large part of its residents, in the first instance, those of Georgian origin,  out of the republic then were driven.” But there as more recently in the Donbass, Moscow had a kind of cover as this was done by nominally local militias.

“But in South Ossetia, there is no way to conceal what was done,” Portnikov says. There, regular units of the Russian army, whose supreme commander was at the time the harmless executor Dima Medvedev carried out ethnic cleansing.” And it seems clear that the International Criminal Court will so conclude.

That this will change how people view the 2008 war is suggested by what happened to Milosevich when he shifted from using local militias to carry out ethnic cleansing to employing regular army units. The international community was willing to put up with the former, but it wasn’t with the latter.

For most of the last eight years, those talking about the Russian-Georgian war have been obsessed about who started it. But what is interesting now is that “even if Georgia began it first,” that in no way can “justify the expulsion of Georgian peasants from their native places, the burning of their homes and murder.”

When the International Court releases its findings, the world will have “a completely new picture of the Russian soldier” who is prepared to destroy someone simply because he is an ethnic Georgian and not an ethnic Ossetian. And “we will receive a completely new picture of a Russian general, a new Eichman, who led this ethnic cleansing.”

Finally, Portnikov says, the world will gain “a completely new picture of the Russian president who sent his forces to commit genocide.” And even if that turns out to be “not Putin but Medvedev, this fact “will not have particular importance. In the dock of the Hague court, all these people should sit next to each other.”

Not surprisingly, Russian officialdom has reacted with alarm and anger, announcing that Moscow plans “a review of its relations” with the court given that it had expected greater consideration. Translated from diplomatic language, that means the Russian authorities aren’t going to cooperate in this investigation.

But that too may not matter: if the court finds that officials engaged in the crime of ethnic cleansing, it can issue an order for their arrest and call on governments of the world to arrest at first opportunity those so charged and to dispatch them to the Hague for judgment.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Putin Overplays His Hand with Liza Case in Germany and Loses Friends in Berlin, Mitrokhin Says
Staunton, VA, January 30, 2016 --  In the pursuit of his goal of exacerbating the European refugee crisis, Vladimir Putin has taken actions in Germany including stirring up the Russian German community over the Liza case that have sent Russian-German relations to a new and much lower level, according to Nikolay Mitrokhin, a Russian analyst who lives in Bremen.

This is no small thing to have done, the analyst says, because “Germany had been the last major state of the Western world with which Russia had the illusion of partnership relations.” Now, Berlin is looking at Moscow far more critically than it did and Germans are asking just how far the Putin regime is ready to go.

The cause of all this is quite simple, Mitrokhin says. Liza is a 13-year-old Russian German girl who went missing for 30 hours. When she returned home, she said she had been kidnaped and raped by several Arab-looking men, an inflammatory charge now at a time of massive immigration to Germany from Syria and the Middle East.

The police and her parents dismissed that version and one local newspaper suggested Liza was in love with a 19-year-old German of Turkish origin and had dreamed up the charges she made to hide her activities from her parents. According to Mitrokhin, “this version appears quite likely.”

That is because, he says, “despite the anti-Turkish and anti-Islamic attitudes among Russian Germans, sexual relations and marriages of Russian speakers with Turks, Kurds, and Albanians living in Germany are no rarity.”

Had the case ended there, no one would have paid a lot of attention, but pro-Moscow outlets using social media whipped up the Russian German community, sparked demonstrations in a variety of German cities, and called into question the ability of the German police to protect Germans from Muslims and Turks.

Underlying this conflict, Mitrokhin points out, are “the social problems of the Russian-speaking population of Germany. It now numbers “no fewer than four million people, the largest foreign language community in the country.” Many of those who formed its core were poorly educated and low skilled and thus were in the same social niche as Turks in Germany.

That led to conflicts and suspicions, and the recent case shows that they are something that others can play on, even if many of the Russian Germans have acculturated if not assimilated into German life. Indeed, sociological research shows that the Russian Germans were the most successful large diaspora in Germany.

But precisely because they were successful, they and their problems were largely ignored by the authorities, Mitrokhin says. That neglect especially now when Berlin is focusing on the new influx has rankled many, especially since they continue to view themselves as a distinct group – they identify as Rusaks – and follow Russian media and culture more than German ones.

Russian media have played on this, talking about the new immigrants as being “a crisis of Europe” and about the way in which the Russian Germans have been neglected and otherwise getting a bad deal. Such stories “recall the situation at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Some of Liza’s relatives turned to neo-Nazis from the National Democratic Party of Germany, which has ties with Moscow, or to other radical groups and a social media campaign began to mobilize Russian Germans to engage in public protests and demand their rights against the new migrants.

Their success in mobilizing the Russian Germans with this story has prompted “the German authorities to evaluate this unexpected ‘warning’ and now to guess about its causes.” That is leading ever more of them to view the upsurge in the activity of Russian Germans as being the product of Moscow policies and to questions about Russian intentions.

Whatever the exact facts of the case are – and they remain in dispute – “serious harm has been inflicted on German-Russian relations” and that is leading Berlin to revise its “condescending attitude toward Putin sympathizers and direct agents of the Russian special services in the Russian-language diaspora,” Mitrokh continues.

Moreover, it is prompting discussions about whether Germany needs to expand Russian-language media for its Russian speakers in order to ensure that they are not mobilized against Berlin by Moscow and to fears that “pro-Putin activity among the Russian Germans will not disappear” but must be countered in one way or another.