Putin’s Russian World

At the annual conference of Russian Federation ambassadors and permanent representatives on July 1 Putin delivered an address “on protecting Russia’s national interests and strengthening the foundations and principles of international relations.”

This year, prompted by events in Ukraine that are being deliberately engineered by Russia itself, Putin’s speech contained some unambiguous pointers to the future direction of Russian foreign policy and military strategy, which are now impelled by considerations of what the propaganda calls “national interest” and “rights to protective intrusion”. From the English translation posted on the official website:

In Ukraine, as you may have seen, at threat were our compatriots, Russian people and people of other nationalities, their language, history, culture and legal rights, guaranteed, by the way, by European conventions. When I speak of Russians and Russian-speaking citizens I am referring to those people who consider themselves part of the broad Russian community, they may not necessarily be ethnic Russians, but they consider themselves Russian people.

What did our partners expect from us as the developments in Ukraine unfolded? We clearly had no right to abandon the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol to the mercy of nationalist and radical militants; we could not allow our access to the Black Sea to be significantly limited; we could not allow NATO forces to eventually come to the land of Crimea and Sevastopol, the land of Russian military glory, and cardinally change the balance of forces in the Black Sea area. This would mean giving up practically everything that Russia had fought for since the times of Peter the Great, or maybe even earlier – historians should know.

I would like to make it clear to all: this country will continue to actively defend the rights of Russians, our compatriots abroad, using the entire range of available means – from political and economic to operations under international humanitarian law and the right of self-defence.

It should be noted that in the translation designed for foreign consumption the phrase “Russian world” (русский мир), with its quasi-imperial overtones, is rendered by the more innocuous term “Russian community”. As Vladimir Socor points out in a recent article for EDM, the “right of self-defence” “translates into Russia’s paramilitary intervention in Ukraine’s east. Moscow rejects all proposals to disarm its proxy forces there, or evacuate them back to Russia, or disavow them, at least verbally”. Socor continues:

This is the boldest application to date of Putin’s concept of compatriots’ “right to self-defence.” Moscow acts as if this is an inherent right in principle and an already acquired right in Ukraine’s east.

The “Russkiy Mir”

In his speech on March 18, Vladimir Putin made it clear that Russia will intervene to “protect” the interests of ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers around the globe, wherever they may live.

This policy is known as the “Russkiy Mir”, or Russian World, and it is the continuation of a project that was launched in 2007, with the establishment of the global Russkiy Mir Foundation:

a Russian soft power initiative created by decree by Vladimir Putin in 2007, as a government-funded organisation aimed at promoting the Russian language, and “forming the Russian World as a global project”, co-operating with the Russian Orthodox Church in promoting values that challenge the Western cultural tradition.

From the President’s Address

“The most recent public opinion surveys conducted here in Russia show that 95 percent of people think that Russia should protect the interests of Russians and members of other ethnic groups living in Crimea – 95 percent of our citizens.”


“If It’s A Revolution…”

The real nature of Vladimir Putin’s attitude towards the new government in Ukraine became clear during his news conference today. Essentially what he appears to be saying is that since the Ukrainian authorities came to power as the result of a revolution, they have no legitimacy – and therefore Russia can do as it likes with what it perceives as a non-state. It can overrun Ukraine’s borders and violate its “non-existent” sovereignty with impunity.

The Two Gentlemen of Russia

On his blog Alexander Goldfarb writes that while he is glad to see an innocent man released from prison, there can be no doubt that Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s plea for clemency was written under pressure:

It says more about Putin than about MBK: not only has Putin kept a man in prison for ten years for nothing, he, the brute, has also forced a confession out of him.

We should not forget that in the relationship between these these two characters there is much that is personal. In their Shakespearean drama the outcome of the plot still lies ahead. In this situation a plea for clemency in no way amounts to a capitulation.

When one man sits on the throne, and the other in a dungeon, everything is clear – one is a tyrant, and the other a martyr. When a prisoner dies in a torture chamber or emerges into freedom with head unbowed, not repenting, everything is also clear: the tyrant has lost his authority and is powerless against the power of the spirit. Both of them understand that.

But a confession extracted by force tells us nothing. The final result depends on how MBK conducts himself in future. If, like Galileo who exclaimed:”And yet it moves!”, he in some form disavows his confession, does not express thanks to Putin and says something, for example, in defence of the Bolotnaya prisoners or the thousands of businessmen who have been jailed by the lawlessness of the Cheka, then his persecutor will be shamed even further.

But if he puts his lips to the hand of the man “who granted him freedom”, gives us to understand, like Orwell’s hero, that the “re-education ” has worked and that now “he loves Big Brother “, then Putin will have something on which to congratulate himself. Then he will really have won.

Update: in a new post written after Khodorkovsky’s Berlin press conference on December 22, Goldfarb adds:

The key passage in MBK’s statement: “I don’t want to take a completely open position on many issues. I have won the right not to say what I do not think. That is worth a great deal.”

He will not sing Putin’s praises. But he has not won the right to say what he thinks of him. Well, one cannot judge him for that, in his position he was entitled to make compromises. But the expectations that he would be a Sakharov or a Mandela have not been realized.

RIA Novosti Liquidated

With the liquidation of the RIA Novosti news agency and the formation of a Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today) agency headed by a virulently pro-Kremlin, anti-Western propagandist, Russia is signaling that its days of “soft” information and news distribution are over. The pretense, and to all appearances it was only ever a pretense – of objectivity and neutrality is finally being removed. As Leonid Ragozin tweeted: “: imagine a fusion of Fox TV & Berlusconi’s entertainment channels run by Goebbels. You get the picture.”

Putin oligarchs buy Hartwall Arena

Via Bloomberg:

Gennady Timchenko and two other billionaire acquaintances of President Vladimir Putin bought a stake in Jokerit ice hockey team, moving the club from Finland’s top league to Russia’s answer to the NHL.

Timchenko, Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg will also buy Hartwall Areena in Helsinki, Jokerit’s home rink and Finland’s largest event venue, with a seating capacity of about 13,500, according to an e-mailed statement from the business partners’ Arena Events Oy venture. The price wasn’t disclosed.

Marina Litvinenko: Cameron struck deal with Putin

In the Guardian, Luke Harding discusses Marina Litvinenko’s reaction to David Cameron’s decision to meet Vladimir Putin in Downing Street on Sunday, in the run-up to next week’s G8 summit. She says it is morally wrong to “appease dictators”:

Marina Litvinenko said she was convinced London and Moscow had struck a pragmatic understanding to bury the Litvinenko affair. She said: “How can you have serious talks about security in Syria with a person who doesn’t want you to provide justice following a polonium terror attack in central London? It was obviously Mr Putin himself who protected Lugovoi from extradition. I believe it is Putin who also decided that Lugovoi should become a Russian MP.”

From Harding’s report it also emerges that the North Caucasus human rights lawyer Olga Chelysheva has been denied entry to the U.K.