Monday, June 25, 2018

Russians Abroad Truly are a Divided People but Not in the Way Putin Imagines


Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 25 – It has long been a staple of Vladimir Putin’s remarks about his “Russian world” that the Russians are, as a result of the disintegration of the USSR, the largest divided people in the world.  It is certainly true that Russians outside of Russia as “divided” but hardly in the way that the Kremlin leader thinks.

            Instead, they are divided among themselves, with some still looking to Moscow as the focus of their loyalty while others identify with their countries of residence, even to the point of being willing to fight for it against Russia, and still others, while continuing to focus on Russia, taking what actions they can to promote a Russia free from Putin and Putinism.

            Some Russians in the Donbass are part of the first, many more Russians in Ukraine are part of the second, and the Free Russia Forum is just one of the groups that wants to promote a free and democratic Russia. Except for the first – which is a tiny minority of all ethnic Russians abroad – none fit into Putin’s ideas about “a Russian world” or “a divided nation.”

            Two news stories, one about ethnic Russians in Estonia and the other about ethnic Russians in the United States, only underscore that point. The first, which takes the form of a video about the Kaitseliit defense forces in the Baltic republic, features testimony by ethnic Russians who are now Estonian citizens.

            They make clear, as the Newsland portal put its, that “they are ready to fight with the Russian world to the last drop of blood” in defense of their country, Estonia, and NATO (newsland.com/community/4765/content/pochemu-russkie-gotovy-voevat-s-russkim-mirom-do-poslednei-kapli-krovi/6386922).

`           The second, involving Russians in New York city, has attracted some attention in Russia because of the title Novyye izvestiya gave to its report about it: “Russophobia or Simply Rats” (newizv.ru/news/society/15-06-2018/rusofobiya-ili-prosto-krysy-pochemu-v-nyu-yorke-zakryli-russkie-restorany).

            The story involves a dispute between an ethnic Russian restaurant owner whose outlets have been closed down by the New York health department for violations.  In an effort to win sympathy, he declared that this action had nothing to do with violations of the health and safety code but was a manifestation of “everyday Russophobia.”

            But his argument was overwhelmingly rejected by ethnic Russians in New York, who took the lead in reporting the story in the first place and who argued that anyone who lives in a country should obey its laws, especially when they are designed to protect the life and well-being of patrons. 

Trump Not a Cause but a Symptom of Brave New World and as Such Quite Predictable, Lukyanov Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 25 – Fedor Lukyanov, president of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, argues that US President Donald Trump is not the cause by a symptom of fundamental changes in the world and as such is quite predictable, something other governments including Russia’s must take into account.

            In today’s Ogonyek, the influential Russian foreign policy analyst says that up to now, “the world hasn’t learned to correctly ‘read’ the current American president” but must begin to do so in order to deal with a world that is changing far more rapidly and radically now than at anytime in the recent past (kommersant.ru/doc/3661715).

            According to Lukyanov, “Donald Trump dominates in all genres – news, discussions, parodies, social network posts, analytic studies and secret reports. The actions and moves of the US president define the atmosphere of the world and dictate a general agenda” even among those who oppose him.

            “The United States under him has fallen into a kind of isolation as very few support Trump’s course.” But his success in setting the agenda sets America apart and conceals its real power, role and possibilities in the international system,” the Russian analyst and commentator continues.

            Many of his opponents shake their heads and can’t imagine what he will do next, Lukyanov says; but in fact, Trump’s actions now are exactly what he said he would do during his campaign and thus are from that point of view predictable. Moreover, that consistency is “one of the secrets of his success in the eyes of [American] voters.”

            It seems to many of them that “Trump like in general all the so-called populists throughout the world finally has turned to their real problems, to what agitates ordinary citizens” who are worried about the decline of their part of the population and are furious at elites who seem not to care about that.

            “Trump is convinced in his own correctness; in his role, he is a genuine missionary which completely corresponds to the American political tradition.” But his mission is not to extend what his predecessors have done over the last several decades in creating “global American leadership under conditions of neo-liberal globalization.”

            Instead, Lukyanov says, Trump wants to reverse what they did.  But in this, “Trump is not the cause of changes but their result: the American course after the Cold War has exhausted itself politically and economically” and new global competitors, “above all China,” have underscored that fact.

            But, the Moscow analyst points out, “withdrawal from leadership does not mean a rejection of domination.” He cites the argument of MIT’s Barry Posen, a leading American realist foreign policy theorist, that “although the Trump Administration has undermined many of the pillars of liberal international, its course on security issues remains consistently hegemonic.”

            “The reduction of the costs of hegemony, Trump and his supporters want to achieve by the fragmentation of international relations” by protectionism and the reduction of reliance on alliances and international organizations.  Many of them believe that this is “almost the last chance” to save America and the West from losing their historical identities.

            According to Lukyanov, “the paradox of the universal reaction to Trump consists in that his ideology is not alien to the American political tradition. More than that, such approaches have dominated a large part of American history, if one considers the entire period of the existence of the United States.”

            The longtime sense of America as “’a city on the hill,’” Lukyanov points out, can be realized in one of two ways: by actively bringing the truth of America to the world “as has been the case over the last three decades” or by closing oneself off and allowing “’the gleam’” of America to be the guiding light for others.

            “The latter means is above all more characteristic of American politics,” the Russian analyst says. Indeed, it is symbolic in a way that “Trump became US president exactly a century after President Woodrow Wilson carried out a revolution in American foreign policy by securing the participation of the country in World War I.”

            “That became the first step to that global leadership, the apotheosis of which arrived at the end of the 20th century,” Lukyanov says.  But the fate of Wilson is instructive: he was rejected by the elites of his time – they voted down US participation in his League of Nations – but his ideas then won out later.

            Whether Trump, “the anti-Wilson,” will have a similar fate is as yet unknown, Lukyanov continues. “The level of domestic conflict in America is unprecedented, and the personal hatred to the occupant of the White House is extremely sharp in the establishment and in intellectual circles.”

            “But just as Wilson opened the gates to a new political reality and ushered in the next political cycle, so too Trump has become a divide which separates the former course from the new one,” Lukyanov argues.

            “It is thus easy to imagine,” he says, that his successors will become “a politician of an entirely different type and image” because society will be tired from Trump’s “extravagance.”  But the next president won’t be able or even want to “destroy that reality which Donald Trump is so decisively creating now.”

            “A different style? Yes; but a different content? Why?”  Trump has done “all the dirty work,” Lukyanov says, and thus has left his successor “in the enviable position of a moderate and consensus builder. But already on new foundations – and in a new world.”

Five Reasons Lukashenka is Now Saying His Country Could be Annexed by a Neighbor


Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 25 – There is an old joke among lawyers that when in a case, the facts are against you, you argue law; when the law is against you, you argue facts; and when both are against you, you raise your voice.  Something similar helps to explain why Alyaksandr Lukashenka has just now stated openly Belarus could disappear from the face of the earth.

            On the one hand, given Vladimir Putin’s aggressiveness, need for ever new foreign policies to distract from his failures at home, and his oft-repeated desire that Russia and Belarus become a genuine “union state,” Lukashenka’s remarks may appear to many as nothing more than stating the obvious.

            But on the other, few leaders are going to state the obvious if it makes them look as desperate as Lukashenka’s suggestion at the end of last week that unless Belarus makes an economic breakthrough, he does not exclude the loss of Belarus’ independence and its annexation by a neighbor, which certainly won’t be Ukraine, Poland or Lithuania.

            And that prompts two questions: why is he doing this and why is he doing it now? There are at least five reasons why Lukashenka may have decided on what can only be described as such a desperate public confession before his own people and the world of weakness and danger (stoletie.ru/lenta/lukashenko_ne_iskluchil_poteru_nezavisimosti_belorussijej_195.htm).

They include the following:

1.      The Belarusian economy is in increasingly bad shape, losing its market share in Russia and increasingly harmed by Russian government tax policies and Moscow’s unwillingness or inability to subsidize him as it has in the past (iarex.ru/news/58475.html, belsat.eu/ru/news/belarus-mozhet-poteryat-20-byudzhetnyh-dohodov-iz-za-nalogovogo-manevra-moskvy/  and belsat.eu/ru/in-focus/belorusskaya-promyshlennost-zarabatyvaet-na-sanktsiyah-protiv-kremlya/).

2.      Lukashenka’s personal relationship with Vladimir Putin is deteriorating even more rapidly, with the two failing to agree on any of the three agenda items at a recent meeting and the Russian leader taking an ever harsher line against Lukashenka (rusmonitor.com/telegram-kanal-nezygar-putin-pokazal-lukashenko-mesto.html).

3.      Putin is pressing for the establishment of a Russian air base in Belarus, something Lukashenka has on occasion said he opposes, undoubtedly recognizing that such a base, were it to open, would end any chances for a rapprochement with the West anytime soon (belaruspartisan.org/politic/429416/).

4.      Lukashenka’s pursuit of closer ties with the West has not been going well. He continues to be criticized and even sanctioned by both the EU and the US for his brutal treatment of his own citizens.  He is no longer “the last dictator in Europe” for them: Putin has certainly claimed that title in the minds of most. But the West can demonize him and his regime and feel good about making equally justifiable condemnations of Putin’s Russia.

5.      Lukashenka faces a newly mobilized opposition as a result of his foolish willingness to allow a restaurant to open on one of the holiest spots in Belarus, the site of the Kuropaty mass graves from Stalinist times.  That has infuriated many who in the past have stayed on the sidelines of protest, promising more problems for Lukashenka in the future.

The Belarusian leader has thus decided to begin talking about the danger that his country could disappear entirely with three distinct audiences in mind:

First of all, the Belarusian people who certainly do not want to become six faceless oblasts in the Western part of the Russian Federation and thus may again turn to him as the lesser of two evils because they may conclude they have no other choice.

Second, the West, which is generally allergic to border changes as its reaction to Putin’s Anschcluss of Crimea shows and which might be expected to decide that backing Belarus and its president is its only choice if the prospect is that Putin might move to seize that country.

And third, Vladimir Putin as well. Clearly, Lukashenka by stating the obvious has sent a message to the Kremlin that he recognizes what Putin wants and that he will do what he has to in his own country and with the West to prevent the Russian leader from eliminating his country and with it his position. 

Lukashenka’s calculation may not work, but at least it makes sense in terms of his interests and at least in part the interests of his own country.