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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
August 24, 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.
Ukraine at 25 – a Positive Balance Sheet
Staunton, VA, August 24, 2016 - Anniversaries are always occasions to look back as well as to look forward, and on August 24, 25 years after Ukraine declared its independence, Ukrainians and those concerned about Ukraine are doing just that recalling what has been achieved and what still remains to be done.

In the nature of things, many people focus more on the latter than on the former because they are the steps that need to be taken to overcome current problems or because they do not wish Ukraine well. But the fact is that Ukraine’s balance sheet, domestic and foreign, is far better today than it has ever been since 1991 or than many of its neighbors.

The editors of Kyiv’s Delovaya Stolitsa provide evidence of that by offering a balance sheet comparing where Ukraine has fallen short in the two years since the Maidan and where it has made significant progress.

Among the domestic “failures” in political life during that period, the paper points to half-hearted imposition of lustration. Only 925 officials have been removed from their positions and most of them have soon been given new ones. That pattern, the paper continues, highlights the fact that “the bureaucratic machine of the state has not changed significantly.”

Other domestic failures have been the lack of reform in the court system and the failure to decentralize power away from Kyiv and shortcomings in what is both a domestic and a foreign policy issue, the information war with Russia. Not nearly has been done in that area, Delovaya Stolitsa says.

But the paper continues, there have been some real victories: a real army capable of fighting has been formed, a program for the de-communization of Ukraine has been launched with effect, and the government has provided real support for the Ukrainian language by insisting on the use of Ukrainian in domestic television and radio. 

Moreover, it says, Ukraine has taken real steps forward in fighting corruption, although the battle against that is far from over. And Kyiv has established a new post-Soviet police force in which the citizens of the country can have confidence, a bigger victory than many imagine but one obvious if one compares Ukraine with the situation in its eastern neighbor.

In foreign affairs over the last two years, says Delovaya Stolitsa Ukraine has “essentially changed its status in the international arena.” The US and the EU are paying far more attention to and providing more support for Ukraine than anyone could have imagined three years ago. 

The US is providing more aid than ever before, the paper points out, and European integration is now being discussed not in terms of whether as it was in 2012 but rather when, although given problems in Europe and in Ukraine, those time frames may be longer than Ukrainians would like.

Moreover, Ukraine has become far more active in international structures like the UN and the OSCE, but it has not yet achieved from all what it must: the recognition that part of Ukrainian territory has been occupied by an aggressor and that other countries must not act in ways that prolong that state. 

But what is most worrisome in foreign affairs, the Kyiv paper says, is that that Ukraine continues to react to foreign challenges instead of anticipating and heading them off. Ukrainian leaders must look further into the future in order to see what they must do so that other countries like Russia won’t be able to exploit the situation.

As far as the economy is concerned, Delovaya Stolitsa continues, there have been victories and defeats as well. Among the victories, it points to five developments: independence from Russia’s Gazprom, renegotiation of debts, greater transparency of state purchases, improved trade with Europe, and a better business climate.

But among the shortcomings are these: a failure to get the economy growing under the stress of war, problems with the national currency, the collapse of the banking system, a tax system that oppresses many, and the fact that the billions that were stolen by people in the past have “disappeared forever.”

As far as social policy is concerned, the paper says, it had difficulty coming up with successes because the shortcomings are so obvious given “the lack of a clear state policy in the social sphere,” problems with pensions and especially the unresolved problems of the internally displaced persons as a result of the Russian invasion.

“But over the last two years there were achievements.” Unlike in Russia, pensions have been paid regularly and indexed again. Subsidies for the poor have increased, and the system of social security has begun to be reformed.

And with regard to culture, education and sport, the paper notes, there have been signal achievements amidst some failures. Education has been reformed, the national film industry has taken off, and Jamala won the Eurovision contest which will bring that competition to Ukraine next year. And murals are transforming Ukrainian cities from their gray Soviet pasts. 

Unfortunately, the Ukrainian government has not been able to make the Ukrainian-Russian war of 2014-2016 into a completely recognizable “brand.” Moreover, its athletes did not do well at Euro-2016 or the Rio Olympiad.

If one looks only at the shortcomings and failures, the paper suggests, one might become quite pessimistic about Ukraine’s future; but if one considers its successes and how improbable they seemed only two years ago, one would draw an entirely different conclusion.

On this Ukrainian independence day, the present author would like to suggest that Ukrainians might want to reflect even more broadly about what they have achieved by asking themselves the simple question: would they prefer to have the problems they had 25 years ago when Moscow controlled them and the world did not understand them?

When, that is, as in 1991, many foreign leaders couldn’t even find Ukraine on the map or insisted that the word “the” should be put in front of its name or that “the pursuit of independence is a form of suicidal nationalism”?

Or would they prefer to be hearing what they are from Western leaders today, who are exploring how best to help Ukraine maintain its independence in the face of Russian aggression, who never put “the” in front of Ukraine, and who are sending their congratulations to Kyiv concerning Ukraine’s rejoining the international community?

Such questions answer themselves. And thus, they are the questions that Ukrainians should be asking, not to avoid working on the problems they still face but to have the confidence that they can together with their friends and allies in the West achieve what all too many in both places only a few years ago thought impossible.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Non-Russians Won More than Half of Russia’s Gold Medals at Rio
Stanton, VA, August 24, 2016 - Even though officially they do not form more than a fifth of Russia’s population, members of non-Russian nations won ten of the 19 gold medals the Russian Federation took home from the Rio Olympiad as well as eight (or nine if one counts Cossack Nikita Nagorny as non-Russian)of the 19 silver and three of the 19 bronze the Russian team won.

In reporting this, the Nazaccent portal argues the international composition of the Russian winners “was always our strength,” referring to the past when non-Russians from across the USSR and then across the Russian Federation won far more victories than their share in the population might have suggested.

But at a time when Vladimir Putin constantly talks about “the Russian world” and when many Russians and some in the West accept the Kremlin’s claim that the Russian Federation is a Russian nation state rather than a conglomerate of various peoples, some Russians may no longer see this as a strength but rather as a threat.

However that may be, it is worth noting this ethnic composition of the Russian victories given that the Russian and international media have given far more attention to the total number of medals Russia won and the ranking of that country in terms of medal count behind the US, the UK and China.

Below is a list of the non-Russian athletes who took home medals from the Rio games:


Beslan Murdranov, Kabardinian, Judo
Khasan Khalmurzayev, Ingush, Judo
Davit Chakvetadze, Georgian, wrestling
Abdulrashid Sadulayev, Avar, boxing
Soslan Ramonov, Osetin, wrestling
Yana Yegoryan, Armenian, fencing
Artur Akhmatkhuzin, Tatar, fencing
Aliya Mustafina, “half-Tatar” in her own words, gymnastics
Margarita Mamun, “half Russian, half Bengali” in her own words, gymnastics


Inna Stepanova, Buryat, archery
Tuyana Dashidorzhiyeva, Buryat, archery
Aliya Mustafina, “half-Tatar” in her own words, gymnastics
Natalya Vorobyova, “half-Legin,” boxing
Abiuar Geduyev, Kabardinian, boxing
Mikhail Aloyan, Yezidi, boxing
Aleksey Denisenko, Roma, taekwondo


Timur Safin, Tatar, fencing
Aliya Mustafina, Tatar, gymnastics
Kirill Grigoryan, Armenian, shooting

Nazaccent noted that the non-Russians were welcomed to their homelands with songs and national dress, something that at least some Russian nationalists will see as anything but what the portal describes as “the force of the spirit of Russians and the undefeatable nature of the multi-national people of Russia.”

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russian Liberals and the West Fought the Wrong Enemy in the 1990s, Krasheninnikov Says
Staunton, VA, August 24, 2016 -  Throughout the 1990s, Russian liberals and their Western backers feared that the Communist Party would destroy democracy and completely failed to see that the real threat was emerging from a very different direction: those officers of the security services who fought democracy in Soviet times and wanted to do so again, Fyodor Krasheninnikov says.

In a commentary in Vedomosti on August 24, the Yekaterinburg political analyst points out that “the ‘liberal’ establishment” of the first decade of post-Soviet Russia focused on the communists and other marginal figures as the greatest threat to democracy in Russia.

“Who would then have believed,” Krasheninnikov asks, “that the true restorers of everything bad that was in the Soviet political and economic system would come to power not from below, from some kind of ‘left-wing’ party or movement but from behind the scenes of the ‘democratic’ powers-that-be-themselves?”

Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), “who proudly carried the banner of Soviet revanchism in the years of almost official anti-Sovietism, quickly demonstrated his hopelessness and the lack of prospects of this movement, time and again losing elections to Yeltsin and to his successor,” the Yekaterinburg commentator says.

In fact, Kraasheninnikov continues, it was not the communists but others who were the creators of the new-old ideology that dominates Russia today. The communists and those who shared their views thus have remained “on the sidelines of public policy” and have been forced to adopt the “revanchist” slogans of the ruling party.

If one examines the top leaders of Russia today, “it is impossible not to note that one is speaking about an extremely narrow circle of people. And these are not former party workers nor Soviet bureaucrats without work as instructors” of communist ideology.” Indeed, they are “not bearers of Marxism-Leninism or any other ideology.”

Instead, Krasheninnikov points out, the leaders of Russia today are “the former officers of the Soviet secret police,” those who helped erect the Potemkin village of Soviet democracy, knew the arts of manipulation and information war, and had experience in the suppression of democratic movements.

Few in Russia or the West wanted to talk about the need for lustration in 1991 and even fewer do today, forgetting that it is “hardly a synonym for extra-judicial repression and revenge.” Instead, it is “a limitation of the right to occupy specific political positions for persons immediately connected with the criminal activity of the past regime.”

Consequently, there was no lustration and no restrictions on the serving personnel of Soviet totalitarianism. From this vantage point it is clear that even if such a policy had been adopted and applied in an extremely restricted way, “the history of Russia in the 21st century would have developed in a completely different direction.”

And that underlines “the truth that not communist ideology delivered a blow to the back of Russian democracy but rather Soviet administrative practice and specifically those who were occupied with it directly and at a low level.” Such people, it turns out, “simply didn’t know how to act differently” and when they could “did everything for the return” of the familiar system.

“It is difficult to understand the logic,” he says, “by which the way was opened to the leading posts in post-Soviet Russia for those who for several years before the destruction of the USSR were occupied with the struggle against private initiative and methodically trampled the most elementary human rights while working in the Soviet punitive organs.”

Nevertheless, Krasheninnikov says, “precisely that is what happened: the former guards of Soviet totalitarianism got the chance to make dizzying careers in the new order.” They far more than the communists have been responsible for the turning away from democracy and toward the Soviet past.