Friday, October 20, 2017

Putin Blames West for All of Russia’s Problems But Refuses to Criticize Trump



Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 20 – Speaking to this year’s Valdai conference, Vladimir Putin delivered a speech blaming the West for all of Russia’s problems and indicating that he will take a hard line in response, a speech that some commentators are already comparing to his address to the Munich security conference in 2007 (ura.news/articles/1036272683).

                But there was one notable exception to the Kremlin leader’s comments: He “was not aggressive or pessimistic concerning future Russian-American relations,” Petr Akopov of Moscow’s Vzglyad newspaper says. “More than that, he defended [US President Donald] Trump from attacks and ridicule by experts” (vz.ru/politics/2017/10/19/891685.html).

            The question, the Moscow journalist says, is “Why?”

            Most of Putin’s remarks in his speech concerned the international situation as a whole, but he did sharply criticize the United States for what he said was its “main error in relations with post-Soviet Russia” – the US, he argued, “took our trust in it … for weakness” rather than a desire for cooperation.

            The Kremlin leader said that the situation had deteriorated with the removal of the Russian flag from its closed consulate, something that he suggested could hardly be imagined in Soviet times, even though at least initially he Putin had not responded to American moves against Russian diplomats at the end of 2016 to give time for Trump to “correct” the situation.

            In the discussion period following his remarks, Putin was directly challenged by both Russian and American experts with regard to Trump and his behavior.  And “it was clear,” Akpov says, “that the opinion of Russian and Western experts does not correspond with Putin’s position.”

            “Put in simplest terms,” the journalist continues, “the experts intheir questions commented on how poor and weak Trump is compared to the strong and good Putin,” a view the Kremlin leader does not accept and demonstrated that he has not changed his view that the US president wants to work with Russia.

            “Trump doesn’t need any advice,” Putin said. “In order to be elected even without experience of administrative work requires having a definite talent to pass through the crucible of elections; and he has done this. He won honestly.”

            “In fact,” the Vzglyad journalist says, “there was nothing surprising in the fact that Putin did not say anything bad about Trump and even defended him from the not very wise or even negatively inclined experts.” That is “because Trump’s position toward Russia in fact hasn’t changed. He now like a year ago is inclined ‘to come to an understanding with Putin.’”

            That the US president has not been able to do so, Akopov says, is “his misfortune” brought about by the opposition of the American political establishment “but not his fault. And in the Kremlin, this is very well understood.” Putin himself told the Valdai audience that “Trump simply isn’t being allowed to do what he wants.

            “Now we are working with a president whom the American people elected,” Putin said. But his unpredictability [reflects] the very great resistance [to him] inside the country which practically has not allowed him to achieve even one of his pre-election platforms and plans.” Trump is not the source of his “unpredictability,” the Kremlin leader continued.

            According to Akopov, “one can disagree with Trump, Putin said (having in mind the domestic American situation), but one must not show a lack of respect” for what Trump wants to do but can’t because of opposition to him in the US. Cooperation with the US is possible when Trump can act on his own ideas.

            “The last comment,” the Russian journalist said, “concerns not Trump personally but the US as such. And in relations with Donald Trump, soon will be made the next step: Three weeks from now, Putin will meet with him in Danang, Vietnam, at the summit of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.”

            At this, their second meeting, “the two presidents will have something to discuss, although the main thing which agitates both is the issue of when at long last Donald Tuump will be able to fully enter into the fulfillment of his presidential obligations” rather than being held back by others.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Moscow Faces Enormous Obstacles in Restoring Kaliningrad as a Military Outpost



Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 19 – The presence of NATO forces in the Baltic Sea region has sparked discussions about the need to restore Russia’s military capacity in Kaliningrad, but “to restore what Russia itself for decades has destroyed will require enormous efforts,” possibly more than Moscow can currently afford, according to Andrey Rezchikov.

            In Moscow’s Vzglyad today, the Russian analyst says that Western officials have long talked about Russia’s “militarization of Kaliningrad,” talk that reached a crescendo during the recent Zapad-2017 exercises and that has been used to justify the presence of NATO forces in the region (vz.ru/politics/2017/10/19/139608.html).

                “In reality,” Rezchikov continues, “Russian forces in the region” are far fewer than NATO’s in the same theater and vastly fewer than they were in the early 1990s. At that time, for example, there were 32 submarines in the Baltic Fleet; now, there are “only two” remaining.  There were then 90,000 Russian soldiers; now, there are a total of 11,600. And almost 900 tanks were withdrawn in 2008 alone.

            According to the newspaper’s sources, in the early years of this century, the relationship of forces between NATO and Russia was 21 to 1 in the Western alliance’s favor. By the middle of the first decade, it has become 32 to 1 in favor of NATO.  With the arrival of NATO forces in the region this year, the relationship may be even more lopsided against Russia.

            Moscow failed to consider this possibility and to begin the building up of forces. Now, Rezchikov says, it faces many bottlenecks: there aren’t enough pilots to man the planes Moscow wants to play the primary defense force of the oblast because there aren’t enough being trained, and Lithuania has blocked the introduction of tanks by land. (They can still come by sea.)

            As a result, according to one retired Russian general with whom the journalist spoke, “aviation regiments will be restored only on paper.” In reality, they will be hollow.  Moscow officials and Duma members talk tough about building up defenses, the general says; but they aren’t committing the enormous resources needed according to a long-term plan.

            Unless that changes, Kaliningrad will remain in a militarily weak position for some time to come. 

Putin’s Goal for Russia is ‘One People, One Language, and One Religion,’ Tatar Activist Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 19 – Vladimir Putin and his regime are pursuing a goal for Russia that can best be summed up by the phrase “one people, one language, and one religion,” Fauziya Bayramova says; and that will spend disaster or even death of the non-Russian nations of the country.

            The Putin regime, the Ittifaq Tatar Independence Party founder says, has pursued a multi-move and in some cases indirect campaign to achieve its goal. It has not always succeeded. Moscow tried to promote the idea of a single ethnic Russian nation, but “the people opposed this” (idelreal.org/a/fauziya-bayramova-interview/28802805.html).

            Consequently, she continues, the Kremlin has pursued an indirect approach, “baptism through language,” an approach that involves “language first and then Orthodoxy.”  Putin is not alone in pushing this, Bayramova says.  The Russian Orthodox Church, Russian chauvinists like Mikhalkov and Rogozin and the force structures are all involved.

            Putin is doing this now because he has achieved many of his goals in foreign affairs: he already looks “like a conqueror” to many Russians, even though he may he may restart in campaigns against Ukraine, the Baltic countries and so on in the near future. But now he wants to focus on domestic issues.

            A major “domestic problem” that Putin has to address is that of the nations of the country. “After the elections or even during them national republics will be no more as a result of the amalgamation of regions. But there are and will be nations: We exist!” Putin thus decided to attack via the schools rather than via laws.

            If Putin had used law, Bayramova argues, “international organizations would have complained because that would have affected national minorities” about which they have strong views.  The Kremlin leader is thus being clever, but he has other reasons to be moving in this direction.

            He is confident that he can do what he wants because in the past “the national republics have given him 90 percent of their votes. But it is not the people who have done so but rather the leaders of the regions: They will give however many are required.” And he moved on language to “show” to Russians that he is “the Russian little father tsar.”

            For Putin, the existence of republics is even more of a problem as far as his vision is concerned than is the existence of nations, Bayramova suggests. That is why he and his team began their attack on Tatarstan by going after Tatneft and then Tatfondbank. But now he attacking language, and “no one expected that” because the school year had already begun.

            On the one hand, that has meant that fewer people have been able to mobilize against this move; and on the other, it means that Putin has created a kind of chaos about which outsiders will find it difficult to judge, thus allowing Putin the opportunity to move forward toward his goal more easily.

            The leaders of the republic should be speaking out, Bayramova says. They need to tell the people the truth that “soon the republic can disappear, along with Tatar literature, Tatar culture, and the Tatar nation itself.” They must declare that we won’t be able to save these things only by speaking the languages at home in our kitchens.

            The powers that be in the republic have something to lose, and Moscow can exploit that. They are their children and grandchildren,” the Ittifaq leader says, long ago became Russian speakers. Their own fear is that they will lose their positions or their wealth.  But ordinary Tatars have even more to lose: their language and their nation.

            Consequently, it is critically important to say openly to the federal authorities and the people: “The disappearance of the Tatar language in the schools will lead to the disappearance of the Tatar nation. Do you want this?”