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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
August 12, 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.
Moscow Wants a Bosnia-Style Outcome for Ukraine, Oktisyuk Says

Staunton, VA, August 12, 2016 - Despite its declarations about taking revenge against Kyiv for supposedly sending “diversionists” into Crimea, Moscow is unlikely to launch a major war but instead hopes to use the threat of such a conflict to force Ukraine to agree to a resolution of the conflict that would result in a Bosnia-style outcome, according to Anatoly Oktisyuk.

But the senior analyst at Kyiv’s International Center for Research about the Future says that Moscow’s interest in such a solution inevitably challenges Kyiv to select one of four very different strategies.

As Oktisyuk points out, “the Bosnian war ended more than 20 years ago but Bosnia-Herzegovina is one of the most backward countries of Europe with massive corruption and the deepening erosion of state institutions. Local identities dominate over national ones, there is no consensus or national unity, and that interferes with the country’s development.”

Not surprisingly, he continues, Russia would like to see exactly that outcome for Ukraine because it would leave the country as “a neutral federal state without claims on Crimea and one in which the anti-Russian West and Center would be balanced by a pro-Russian enclave in the Donbass.” 

Indeed, the Kyiv analyst says, “the political component of the 2015 Minsk agreements very much recalls the Dayton format of resolving the conflict in Bosnia in 1995.” The major difference is that there were NATO and then European forces in the former Yugoslavia while there are no such forces in Ukraine. Kyiv has sought so far unsuccessfully to change that. 

“With the help of the Minsk agreements,” Oktisyuk continues, “the Kremlin plans to create in Ukraine a pro-Russian enclave of the DNR and LNR” with its own special local administration and policies oriented toward Moscow. If Kyiv does what Moscow wants, Ukraine will get these regions back in forms that will harm Kyiv. 

It is clear, he argues, that “Russia in any case will work to promote the federalization of Ukraine if not in the current circumstances then after several electoral cycles when a new pragmatic government, like Georgia after Saakashvili, will appear in the country.” 

The Ukrainian government has made Russia’s task easier, he suggests, by failing to articulate a clear policy of national unity. Efforts to promote one oriented toward the east or toward the west have failed in the past. And now Ukraine would have to come up with one while Russian forces are on its territory. 

The Minsk accords are “dangerous for Ukraine” for all those reasons, but Kyiv can’t simply walk away from them without being accused by the West as well as Moscow of not keeping its promises. Consequently, Oktisyuk says, “Ukraine needs to decide what to do with the Donbass and Crimea as soon as possible.” 

Moscow’s latest actions do not necessarily point to one or the other of these, he suggests, but the Kremlin’s moves do make the choice clearer and more immediate.

There are four stark choices, he suggests:

· First, Kyiv could “agree to the Kremlin’s conditions, federalize the country, reject the possibility of NATO membership and pursue a mutually profitable foreign policy on the multi-vector principles.”

· Second, it could “construct ‘a Ukrainian Israel,’ give up the territories in revolt and await better times for their return.” In the meantime, it would pursue the construction of “a successful country, a powerful army and a competitive economy.”

Third, it could “live under the conditions of ‘no war, no peace,’ in which corruption would continue and the country would march in place. Such a scenario,” Oktisyuk says, “sooner or later would lead either to the first or the fourth variant.”

Or fourth, Kyiv could attempt “to resolve the conflict by military means, which could end either with a complete castrophe or the formation of a new state idea and mythology.”

Moscow’s latest actions do not necessarily point to one or the other of these, he suggests, but the Kremlin’s moves do make the choice clearer and more immediate.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Like Hitler, Putin Believes West Won’t Live Up to Its Commitments, Piontkovsky Says

Staunton, VA, August 12, 2016 -  Like Hitler, Vladimir Putin believes that the West will not live up to its commitments, Andrey Piontkovsky says, a view that some in Western governments are unwittingly encouraging by continuing to send senior officials to Moscow to seek agreement with him much as Neville Chamberlain did with the Nazi leader by going to Munich.

The Russian commentator now in exile makes this argument in an essay on the portal, drawing on what he suggests are Ekho Moskvy chief editor Aleksei Venediktov’s remarkable statements about Putin’s thinking in an interview given last week to the Polish journal, Nowa Europa Wscodnia.

(Piontkovsky’s commentary is here. Venediktov’s interview appeared in Polish. A Russian translation of the Moscow editor’s remarks can be found here.)

In his interview, Piontkovsky says, Venediktov explained that he sees his task as a journalist not to justify or judge those in power but rather to penetrate, understand and communicate “their internal logic.” That makes his comments about Putin’s intentions even more interesting and valuable because they are really Putin’s rather than Venediktov’s.

Given that, the Russian commentator says, one can conclude that the Kremlin leader has some specific views that the West and Russians as well need to focus on and figure out how they should react.

First, it is now clear from Venediktov’s remarks, that Putin “wants to return to the international arrangements of the Yalta and Potsdam agreements. Such a model makes the world more secure because the powers divide among themselves responsibility and control,” with Moscow having responsibility “for the Donbass and for all Ukraine.”

What is occurring in Ukraine, in this Putinist view, “is creating a disbalance in international relations.”

Second, according to the editor relaying what Putin thinks, Poles do not need “to fear Russian tanks.” If anyone should be concerned about their movements, it should be the Baltic countries because “our main idea is the defense of ‘the Russian world.’” That doesn’t exist in Poland, but it does in Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic countries. 

And third, when his Polish interviewer pointed out that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are members of NATO and thus beneficiaries of the Washington Treaty’s Article 5, “Putin-Venediktov” responded with an updated version of Hitler’s question, “’Are you prepared to die for Danzig?’”

Piontkovsky suggests that Venediktov’s interview represents “an exceptionally concentrated performance of ‘The Triumph of Putin’s Will,’” one that confirms the arguments of others that the Kremlin leader has long been living “in another reality.” And from that interview, the Russian commentator draws three conclusions.

First, he says, “Putin as before is demanding the impossible.” He wants complete control over the entire former Soviet space. That is “impossible not because the West would never agree to that.” Some there, like “the useful bourgeois idiot Trump have agreed.” But it is impossible because the peoples of that region will never agree to such a restoration of Russian dominance.

Second, Venediktov’s words show that Putin’s “insane conception of ‘the Russian world’ hasn’t been discorded by the Kremlin despite its crushing failure in Ukraine,” but only dropped for a time from Moscow’s propaganda arsenal and is ready to be used again this time to justify Russian intervention in the Baltic countries.

And third, according to Piontkovsky, Putin despite all the statements by NATO leaders remains “firmly convinced just as Hitler was in 1939 that the fat, hedonist and decadent West is not ready to die for any Narva” but will yield and seek to force countries on the former Soviet space to yield in the face of Russian nuclear power.

Putin certainly knows that Russian conventional arms are not capable of competing with Western militaries and consequently, as he has said for a long time, he “places his hopes on nuclear weapons considering that his regime has qualities which will allow him to outplay the West in a direct clash of wills and force it to retreat.”
In this, the Russian commentator says, the Kremlin leader “intends to play with the West not nuclear chess but nuclear poker, raising the stakes and hoping that the other side will fold and retreat, surrendering its allies in the process.” And his hopes are based on his willingness to act aggressively and without regard to the loss of human life.

Putin believes this, Piointkovsky continues, because he has seen the way the West has reacted to North Korea which has only a tiny nuclear arsenal and thus believes that as “Krim Put In” with “an enormous nuclear arsenal” he will be able to achieve his goals of reordering the world’s geopolitical arrangements.

Venediktov has thus performed a useful service with his August 4 interview. Now, the West has been “forewarned” about Putin’s intentions to act aggressively a la Hitler and as a leader armed with nuclear weapons. “This is a very serious challenge,” and the West needs to figure out how to respond so as not to allow either a nuclear war or a Putin victory.

According to the Russian commentator, “in the era of Krim Put In, nuclear containment must be personal,” that is, based on the necessity of recognizing what Putin is about and what he is prepared to do rather than assuming that he is a member of the club with whom foreign leaders can negotiate with others who present difficulties.

The constant visits to Moscow of Western diplomatic leaders to seek agreement with Putin are “senseless and tragicomic” because they only serve to convince Putin that he is right, that threats work, and that the West will not stand up but rather be willing to sacrifice almost anything in order to maintain peace in our time.

Of course, Piontkovsky says, the West must talk with the Kremlin leader, but it must do so “very carefully” and in a language he understands rather than assuming that he speaks the same language with the same meaning they do.

Russians also need to draw conclusions from all this, he concludes. They must recognize that once again there country is ruled by “a maniac who is driven by his deviant complexes and who is pursuing absurd foreign policy goals which not only have nothing in common with ensuring the security of the country but also put under threat its very existence.”
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 44

Staunton, VA. August 12, 2016 - The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore.

Consequently, Windows on Eurasia presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 44th such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, once again, one could have put out such a listing every day -- but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1. Putin Losing ‘Sympathy’ of Russians. A new poll shows that Vladimir Putin is losing the sympathy he has enjoyed with Russians, an indication that his political support is softening even if other polls show it to remain at high levels. But the promotion of a Putin cult continues, with tours now being offered to “Putin places” in his native St. Petersburg. And there are reasons to think that his strongman tactics will continue to garner him the backing of many Russians. After all, according to some surveys, one Russian in five thinks even Putin’s regime is too weak.

2. How Bad is the Russian Economy? Russians Again Stealing Power Lines. In the 1990s, some Russians stole power lines to earn money for food. Now that practice is back. Other economic news is equally bleak: Russia is exporting 45 percent less electric power than a year ago, trade with China in which Putin has placed such hopes continues to fall, migrants are bringing more money to the Russian budget than are oil and gas revenues, Russia pumping more oil even though prices have fallen – just as Soviets did in 1987, Moscow can find only 16 percent of money needed to prevent disaster in company towns, foreigners are pulling money out of Russian stock funds at an unprecedented rate, the North Caucasus has sunk into an economic depression, and sales of apartments in new Moscow highrises have stopped because there is no money and no demand.

3. Is Foreign Ministry Spokesman Revealing Everything but the Truth? Some Russians are outraged that Maria Zakharova, Sergey Lavrov’s spokesman, has appeared in a fetching pose in an American fashion magazine, something they suggest does little or nothing to improve Moscow’s image, although it might improve hers given her track record as far as truthfulness is concerned.

4. First Russian Gold Medal Winner at Rio Doesn’t Sing National Anthem. Beslan Murdanov, a judoist from the North Caucasus, infuriated many Russians when he failed to sing the Russian national anthem after winning gold at Rio games. He explained that he simply doesn’t know how to sing but some suspect more is involved. In other sports news, officials in St. Petersburg have changed the construction company responsible for building the delay-plagued facility there so that it may be ready for the 2018 World cup.

5. Another New Crime in Russia: Sitting Too Long on a Public Toilet. Russian officials seem committed to finding new things to criminalize perhaps to display their loyalty to the Kremlin with good and easy to boost anti-crime statistics but also to extract bribes from the population. The latest move in this direction was the detention of a woman for allegedly remaining in a public toilet too long.

6. Two-Thirds of Russia’s HIV Infected Not Receiving Treatment. According to experts, two out of every three of the 1.3 million Russian infected with the HIV virus are not receiving treatment, either because the authorities no longer have sufficient supplies of medicines or because those who suspect they are infected are afraid to apply for them. That failure to treat a disease that could be controlled points to an explosion of full-blown AIDS cases in the future as does the increasing hostility, in the name of the defense of “Russian national values,” against the use of condoms.

7. Russians Upset by False Report that Moscow has Blocked Access to ‘Protocols of Elders of Zion.’ Russians turned to the Internet to complain about the decision of Russian officials to block access to sites featuring the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The rumors proved untrue. Russian officials have blocked access to many sites, including those promoting democracy; but they haven’t blocked those carrying this infamous work.

8. Three Russians in Four Favor Limiting Religious Freedom to Combat Terrorism.A new poll shows that Russians are quite prepared to sacrifice religious freedom if the authorities tell them that that is the only way to combat the spread of radicalism and terrorism.

9. Yabloko Party Criticism of Islam Prompts Ingush Officials to Defend It. Religion has entered the Duma campaign but in a somewhat unexpected way. The liberal Yabloko Party has criticized Islamic leaders for failing to condemn terrorism. That has prompted officials in the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia to come to the defense of Islam far more than they ever have in the past (

10. ‘I’m Siberian’ Brand Denounced as Separatism. Russian officials have accused those who sell or display the “I’m a Siberian” brand of promoting separatism, something that the latter absolutely deny. They argue that they are doing no more than Russians elsewhere who want to boost the status of their regions. But this could lead to serious consequences: SOVA reports an ethnic Russian was found guilty in 2015 of promoting separatism in the Komi Republic.

11. Some Extremists Escape Punishment by Paying Off Officials. Russian police and siloviki have long profited from Russian laws against this or that phenomenon, extracting bribes from those against whom they might bring charges in order to ignore what the latter have done. This week, a case was opened in Samara against officers responsible for fighting extremism who agreed to look the other way after being paid off .

12. Another Russian Official with a Geography Problem. A senior Russian official visiting Kazan referred to Tatarstan three times as Kazakhstan, to the amusement and anger of many Tatars who are definitely not Kazakhs.

13. ‘Pokemon Raped Me,’ Moscow Woman Says. The Pokemon Go craze continues to sweep through Russia with millions of people now playing the game. For some, it has had some bad consequences, including arrests for trespass and the like. But perhaps the worst case, if true, is a report by one resident of the Russian capital that she had been “raped by Pokemon”.

And six more from countries near Russia:

1. ‘If You Think It’s Hard to Be a Russian in Kyrgyzstan, Try Being a Kyrgyz in Russia!’ Infuriated by a rising tide of Russian articles complaining about how Russians are mistreated in their country, some Kyrgyz have responded by pointing out just how difficult life is for Kyrgyz who live and work in the Russian Federation.

2. Central Asian Governments Putting Internet Access Out of Reach by Price. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have found a way to restrict the access of their populations to the Internet that is less likely to be criticized by Western governments and rights activists: they have raised the price of Internet access to the point that most of their citizens can’t afford it.

3. A New and Welcome Form of Friendship of the Peoples. In Soviet times, it was sometimes said that friendship of the peoples meant that representatives of two or more nationalities would come together to beat up a third. Now, in Kazakhstan, there is a new form: Kazakhs have come to the aid of a Ukrainian being beaten up by Russians.

4. Kazakhs Say They Too Were Victims of a Terror Famine. Angering some in Russia, Kazakhs are now insisting that like the Ukrainians, they were victims of a terror famine, and they are demanding that Moscow recognize and apologize for that action as well as for the tsarist government’s brutal suppression of the 1916 risings.

5. Russian Occupiers Tell Crimean Imams Even Their Traditional Prayers May Be Illegal. The Russian occupation has told leaders of the Muslim communities on the Ukrainian peninsula that even the prayers they have long offered may be declared illegal, an indication that the Russian authorities there are imposing a system of controls over religious life that increasingly recalls one of the worst features of the Soviet system.

6. For Lukashenka, No Polls Means No Problem. The government of Alyaksandr Lukashenka is moving to close down the last independent sociological service in Belarus apparently on the principle that if there are no polls, there is no public opinion and thus no problem from the population for the regime.