What is Russia up to in the Western Hemisphere? That’s a question increasingly on the minds of Latin America watchers, who have noticed signs that Moscow is again setting up shop south of the U.S. border.Sponsored Ads
The country getting most of the Kremlin’s attention today appears to be Nicaragua. It’s a nation of six million that ranks as the second-poorest in the hemisphere. But it also has Daniel Ortega and his leftist Sandinista party—a historic ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. After 15 years of anticommunist politics beginning in 1990 under Presidents Violeta Chamorro, Arnoldo Aleman and Enrique Bolanos, Mr. Ortega and the Sandinistas were back in the saddle again by 2006.
Talk of “foreign agents” sounds like something from the Soviet past but this does not mean we are back to the days of the Cold War.
The Russian establishment may demonise the West yet, curiously, it embraces it too. It goes shopping there, it sends its children there to study, its keeps its money there. Is this schizophrenia or hypocrisy?
“When I look at Putin, I really believe that he thinks there are enemies around but everyone else is playing his game,” believes Lilia Shevtsova of the Moscow Carnegie Centre.
“There are so many cynical people around the Kremlin. I don’t believe that they, having their families in the West, being personally integrated into the West with their bank accounts, with their kids in London and Oxford, that they will believe this trash.
“Apparently they have to obey the rules of the game and the rule of the game is to pretend that we in Russia are living in a besieged fortress, otherwise, what is the justification for oppression? We have to have an enemy.”
So, perhaps, Russia today is neither pet kitten nor bear? She is, like her own national symbol, a double headed-eagle: with one head looking east and the other west. One pair of eyes views America and Europe as something positive. The other pair turns away from a West that it views as a threat and a useful scapegoat for Russia’s problems.
Putin’s interview on the Kremlin’s plans for the G8 summit contained nothing but economic platitudes, but he was far less circumspect in the “informal” meeting with Russia Today journalists, elaborating on the “fundamental cultural differences” that complicate relations between “spiritual” Russia and the US, which “began to view itself as an empire” (RIA Novosti, June 14; see EDM, June 13). The Russian president discussed the hidden “catch” in the posture of protector against constructed threats because “an empire cannot afford to display weakness.” But in speaking about the US, Putin was, in fact, spelling out his own worries about Russia. What was really odd about that meandering flow of reflections was the unexpected invocation of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who, in Putin’s opinion, would not have used nuclear weapons against Germany in spring of 1945, if he had them, in contrast to the US, which “dropped the bomb on Japan, a country that was a non-nuclear state and was very close to defeat.” This exercise in alternative history reveals Putin’s deep desire to emulate the brutal effectiveness of Stalin’s leadership (Vedomosti, June 13).
Make no mistake: On the current trajectory, Russia won’t be immune to many of the forces that provoked the so-called colored revolutions in adjacent states and even the misnomered Arab Awakening.
A third Russian revolution is unfolding. The only questions are when will that revolution reach a critical mass and, most importantly, will the forces of autocracy or pluralism carry the day?
In the two decades since, Vladimir Putin has emerged as the Ironman of Russia. In the process, Russia has been described and viewed by many as a kleptocracy ruled by the few who have pillaged national wealth for their own benefits.
Under what Republicans and Democrats alike in the United States see as a government of and by thugs, human rights have been violated; dissidents and members of the media arrested; and opponents of the Kremlin subjected to purges and show trials leading to long prison sentences.
utin has pledged that this is only the beginning. He and his advisers know well that attacks on corruption are popular with the public. They are counting on the campaign to shore up support after the protests and to mobilize Putin’s supporters. What the Kremlin is neglecting, however, is that the campaign could be a double-edged sword that ultimately delegitimizes the regime, as Putin’s own acolytes are swept out while the government’s house is cleaned.Putin faces a critical moment and is at risk of losing his sway over the elites.
FROM GORBACHEV TO PUTIN
The fate of Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in the last years of the Soviet Union should have provided a warning. …
A widening clampdown on groups and individuals critical or independent of Russian President Vladimir Putin has left his opponents asking: “Who’s next?”
Liberal economist Sergei Guriev’s flight from Russia under pressure from state investigators has deepened the sense of alarm as the Kremlin broadens a drive to stifle dissent and quell protests that began in December 2011.
Curbs on demonstrations, criminal cases against protest leaders and tough new funding rules for non-governmental organizations smack of the repression that accompanied stagnation under Soviet ruler Leonid Brezhnev in the 1970s, say critics.
The Kremlin has upped the geopolitical ante by pledging to send a heavy aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean, as reported by Russian news agency Interfax.
The carrier — named the “Admiral Kuznetsov” — is quite the beast, and word of its addition to the area of operations is just the latest in jockeying between the U.S. and Russia.
Russia’s top military officer on Thursday voiced skepticism about deeper nuclear arms cuts, saying they should require parallel reductions in non-nuclear precision weapons.
The statement by chief of Russia’s military General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, appeared to signal the Kremlin’s reluctance to negotiate a new nuclear arms deal with Washington.
In Russia, a decision to go public with Fogle could have been made only at the highest level of political authority. Apparently, Putin gave the go-ahead after his first meeting with Kerry last week in the Kremlin. He evidently decided the Barack Obama administration is an easy pushover, which needs Russian cooperation on Syria and other issues so badly, it will swallow with hardly a whimper the use of a US diplomat as PR fodder together with the deployment of S-300 missiles with Russian crews to Syria. In Moscow, Secretary Kerry, among other things, agreed to sponsor together with Russia an international conference on Syria that would bring together the Syrian rebels and President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. After a meeting in the Kremlin, Kerry told journalists: “A good new relationship with Russia is beginning” (Interfax, May 8). After the Fogle scandal erupted, Russian journalists triumphantly reported on State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell meekly insisting the affair would not spoil relations: “We have a very broad and deep relationship with the Russians across a whole host of issues and we will continue to work on our diplomacy with them directly” (RIA Novosti, May 14).
Since Surkov’s departure from the presidential staff, veterans of the spy and security agencies and other conservatives known as the “siloviki”, or men of power, have gained the upper hand in shaping Putin’s thinking and are behind what the opposition sees as a Soviet-style clampdown on dissent.
Putin has in the past two years been abandoned by, forced out or become distant from the more liberal thinkers who once influenced him, leaving him politically isolated as his popularity wanes and the economy slides towards recession.
“I won’t say that power is slipping from his hands but he is not as strong as he was,” said a source once close to the Kremlin and the government. “At the start of the 2000s, he was a unifying figure. He is no longer that.”