Posts Tagged ‘Putin’
The recent escalation in Syria, with the US attacking for the first time directly the Syrian territory, has taken many by surprise and confusion. To some commentators, is the sign of the unpredictability of Donald Trump, for others the continuous with a policy always directed to the change of regimes, for others more is the sign of end of Assad regime.
What is more striking, however, is the parallelism with the Iraqi War and its build up, as well as the confirmation of the “emotional diplomacy”, which affects mainly the West and its allies. There are no easy responses, or solutions, although an objective analysis requires to try to see the events with all eyes and minds in Washington, Moscow, Damascus, London, Bruxelles, Tehran, Beijing and Pyongyang.
All started with an attack, still not proven or completely investigated, on which a likely chemical substance (or more than one) has been used against the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in north-western Syria. On one side, the US and its allies accused the Damascus regime, on the other, Moscow and its allies talked about “involuntary chemical use” or accuses rebel fighting groups.
The bottom line in this terrible story, where more than 80 people have been killed, is that no one has a shred of proof or started a formal investigation to establish the exact causes. On this it is like going back to the initial stages on the Syrian war, when the western countries were taking every single excuse to put foot on Syrian ground. At the same time it is a deja vu of the Iraqi WMD fiasco, when not only proof was nonexistent but even fabricated.
Nevertheless, we cannot deny that Syria is home to a huge chemical arsenal, that under the US-Russia agreement should have been secured and stocked for dismantling. This amount, not known, added to the security on the ground difficult to establish, surely jeopardized any attempt to clear the area: Damascus has still chemical weapons? Yes. Have the rebels access to weapons following occupation of some areas? Yes. Has ISIL access to chemical weapons? Yes.
Under these conditions, it could be true that Damascus used prohibited substances, as well as it is likely that rebels bombarded the wrong area or ISIL used them against civilians. International Law and diplomacy have for decades worked on the same assumption of civil and penal justice: innocence until proven in court. A golden rule, followed most of the time, to avoid bloodshed and major conflicts, a necessity to give peace and mediation a chance. However, history teaches us that “incidents” have been used to justify military actions, incidents that could be see and proven: Tonkin incident, the Afghan “communist” conversion to open soviet invasion, etc.
The problem is that in recent years too many “incidents” have been unproven action by belligerents, and used to justify quick military solutions that proved disastrous in their consequences. One of the main pillars has been the “emotional diplomacy”, where after a deplorable action by warring parts, another country acts moved by sentiments, by “humanitarian” scopes. Like a child with a tantrum, bombs dropped as apples from a tree shaken by a storm, causing more death, destruction, and especially no solution. Or at least not a lasting solution, but a piloted result to benefit the Samaritan intervening.
This is the calculation made in Washington, Moscow, Tehran, Damascus, Ankara when they continuously switch their policies and alliances, not in the interest of Syrian people, nor for global peace, but for geopolitical equilibrium (Moscow) and change of regime policy (US) to destabilize Russia, China, Iran.
Therefore, can we even try to make some sense in all this? The US accuses Assad of war crimes, probably true but still unproven, for a simple reason: change the regime. This was the pillar of American policy with Bush and with Obama found in the so-called Arab Spring the lever to tilt regimes in Middle East that were unfriendly, historically. They instigated revolution in Egypt for then backtracking and supporting General Al Sisi in the repressions and coup that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Democracy has its strange ways of work. In Libya they accomplished the ousting of Gaddafi (thanks to a Russian/Chinese diplomatic suicide at the UN), while in Iran failed from the start. Syria was to be their final step, but the Russian strong opposition and support denied the change. It is not surprising that any attack made by Syrian forces receives wider coverage on Western medias than the thousands of people killed by terrorist groups and rebels armed with American weapons in Syria and Iraq. Nor is news the silent and censored war in Yemen, where not only chemical weapons have been used and thousands have been killed by Saudi’s aerial bombardment on civilians. Skepticism is the least, then grows when you read that 59 tomahawk missiles have been fired against a military base and that just 2 days later was again ready to use! Either all those missile failed the objectives or they bomb the wrong place.
Russia is defending Assad and his regime, under a status quo paradigm: losing Syria, will wipe out Russian presence from eastern Mediterranean, closing the Black Sea Fleet in a prison with the key held by the erratic Turkish President Erdogan. Russia support Syria to strengthen border control against terrorism, as many foreign fighters are from the Caucasus, and Russia already experienced first hand the change of regime policy with the “coloured revolutions” that engulfed Eastern Europe. However, Russia is not the sparring partner anymore, Yeltsin’s years have been forgotten like a day after being drunk. Russia, regretted the Libyan error, and since then responded tit for tat: Ukraine and Crimea are just a warning. Russia accuses the US of fabricating news and arming rebel and terrorist groups (whether directly or not, it is still not proven), and closing an eye or two when they make their massacres. Russia accused the US of interfering in the peace process that Moscow was silently building with Turkey and Iran.
A key to understand the Syrian puzzle is Turkey, and the actions of the two powers is a reflection of Ankara unpredictable policies. Erdogan at first was a fierce critic of Assad, threatening invasion to support Turkmen (covertly to wipe out Kurds and PKK), and conducting a strong anti-Russian campaign. Unfortunately for the US, Turkey made a big mistake by shooting down a Russian fighter jet, plunging its economy into disaster and becoming soon a central stage for terror attacks: ISIS ones following the western sponsored policy of open frontiers, and PKK ones taking advantage of Turkish foolishness in lowering their security. Timely and precise came the attempted coup against Erdogan, again with multifaceted interpretations: a US sponsored coup (Gulen supporters) to block a Russian rapprochement or a backfired coup that was used by Erdogan to increase his control, cut the ties with the US and change the foreign policy into a Russian backed solution of the Syrian crisis? Now this chemical incident once again saw Turkey siding with the US, but on the other they still seat at the table with Russian and Iranians to try in solving the conflict.
Many say Trump could be too impetuous on decisions, or even dangerous for world peace, but looking closely he has just reconditioned a well used machine that in the last two decades has made of the Read the rest of this entry »
Politics is a science and often is described as an art, but generally cannot escape the harsh and crude judgement that reality and history, through facts, expose in front of us.
We can debate on how we arrive to certain conclusions and how a fact unfolded, but that will not change the fact itself in being established. Exactly like maths, the result is not under question and two plus two is four, no question about.
The equation Ob stays to Ne as Pu stays to Ua is a scientific proof that politics can run along double standards and even hypocrisy but also that will not change the crude reality of the actual situation, whether we like or not. We can still refuse to accept the result but that does not change the fact.
What the equation stands for? It stands for the actual international scenario, where in face of the double standards, censorship and propaganda from the west and the east, there is a convergence of result and responsibilities. Obama stays at Netanyahu as Putin stays at Ukraine. This is a crude and real fact, both part of the equation explain the same result: power, nationalism, strategic interest. In one word forget humanitarian concerns.
Gaza and Ukraine are the face of the same medal but Western and Russian propaganda are trying to demonstrate the contrary. Everything has been said about the Ukrainian crisis, but the latest developments following the Malaysian plane disaster are the example of how to use a tragedy for strategic interests. No one really is thinking of the victims, but only how to exploit this to further escalate a tension with Russia. The whole archetype of the western democracy and judicial system is the presumption of innocence until a free trial and evidence is found. But what about the Ukrainian disaster? Official accusations to Russia are moved everyday by US and UK governments based on supposition, ideas, satellite images never shown, telephone interception never verified. On the other side, Russia is playing the same game, claiming Ukrainian responsibility but also without bringing a shred of proof. Although, it is legitimate to speculate and even advance hypothesis to the causes of the disaster and, based on facts, hazard an explanation, from speculation to actually build sanctions and international condemnation is a big jump ahead.
Going back to our initial question then, what makes different Ukraine from Israel? Where are the same indignation and disgust for the civilians killed in indiscriminate Israeli raids? If the same amount or even a 1/3 of all victims were caused by Putin or Yanukovich, we were probably already sending troops to fight in Ukraine. What makes this unhappy child, that is Israel, being continually immune from criticism and repercussions?
The support that Israel receives, not only militarily but also on a diplomatic level is such that if Netanyahu is responsible of war crimes, then are also his sponsors such US and UK. Exactly like they consider Putin the mastermind behind Ukraine, then you cannot deny Obama and US administration responsibility for the total impunity on how Israel conducts its criminal war in Palestine, Gaza, including past wars.
So, an objective analysis is still possible? Can we escape the brainwashing of our media, like the BBC putting Ukraine plane disaster on top of the news whilst Gaza is discussed like an appendix, an unfortunate situation to try to play down, to ignore the civilian dead by their fault because being there and not because of a military attack from Israel?
Israel has the right to defend itself. How many times we heard this sentence, and it has been as long as the dispute itself. Of course we know that every country has a right to defence but Israel is a state that signed international conventions, including for human rights, and cannot use this as a pretext to bombard indiscriminately all the Gaza strip. The IDF is now fighting these endless wars for over 50 years, and still they pretend to tell us that they do not know that due to Gaza’s high population density civilian victims are likely to happen. Hamas is a terrorist organisation, although now trying to transform itself in a political group, and its launch of missiles indiscriminately against innocent Israeli civilians is a crime, but this does not justify Israel to kill in the same way innocent people. Hospitals, schools, UN buildings, houses are these all Hamas nests? Even if Hamas is using human shields as Israel claims, and they are aware of, does this legitimate you to kill innocents anyway? Hamas is a terrorist group, but for a state to be classed as terrorist is ten times worst and this what Israel has become.
The unhappy child, like North Korea is for China with its tantrums, is the best way to expose the western double standards.
What about the Ukrainian plane disaster? Let’s start from the basics assumptions.
Ukrainian responsibility can be considered in two ways: a fighter jet shoot down the plane or a surface to air missile hit MH17. An objective analysis will says: If a fighter jet shoots down a civilian plane by mistake, then it means that it was trying to hit another plane, but rebels for what we know do not have an air force. Same apply to the missile theory, if they shot down the plane than the target could only have been another fighter jet, but rebel do not have an air force. Therefore this opens a further speculation: was it in response of a violation of the Ukrainian air space by Russian planes?
Rebels responsibility, once established that they do not have an air force, can only be considered under the use of surface to air missiles such the famous BUK. This also means that they were likely trying to shoot down a Ukrainian fighter jet, and clearly making a huge mistake.
Thus this opens other questions? How the rebels managed to obtain such sophisticated system, was from Russia or was stolen from Ukrainian hardware? If a Ukrainian fighter jet was flying nearer MH17, why this was happening? Why civilian flights have been allowed over Eastern Ukraine air space and over a conflict zone? It has been said that above 10,000 km flights would have been considered safe, but nobody was aware of any BUK missile deployed in the area? Where was the intelligence from US when they were able to spot three tanks entering from the Russian border but failed to spot a BUK missile system being deployed or supplied by Russia?
At last Russia, can it be held responsible? Obviously, but first should be established whether a BUK missile system has been supplied to rebels, or a fighter jest crossed over Ukraine airspace or they have fired themselves against the civilian plane.
Nevertheless, all the above are only speculations and may be total rubbish, unless actual proof is given, but from speculation to actually start officially accusing someone is again a big jump into the unknown.
To go back to our equation then Putin still stays at Ukraine, because exactly like the US, Russia uses strategic interest and goals to weaken the enemy presence and the plane incident, like the Gaza war, are at the eyes of the masters unfortunate episodes that they try to cover as much as they can or to explain differences. Their luck is that media are biased in Washington and London as in Moscow and they brainwash easily their audience; their misfortune is that where media freedom is blinded by nationalistic views, everyone using their own judgement can escape the mainstream media and search for the truth or the fact independently.
Unfortunately for all of us, and especially for the Gaza and the plane victims, big powers do not have long memory and focus, exactly like a child they have a short time span focus and so they easily change their attention as soon as a new front is open: that happened to Mali, Iraq and Isis, North Korea, Central African Republic, Nigeria and Boko Haram, Kenya, Al Shabab, etc.
Maths is not an opinion is a fact, war crimes are also facts, but justice unfortunately is becoming a mere opinion.
The Ukrainian crisis, as we have seen already, has a domestic and an international dimension, both being the reason of the unrest and probably of its solution. While western and eastern Ukraine uses nationalism and ethnic factors to justify their struggle, the West and Russia act in a common ground of a “fake paternalism” that in reality covers the strategic and geopolitical interests behind their actions.
Especially Russia has been a sort of a puzzle recently towards the Ukrainian crisis: from triumphant action in securing a deal with Yanukovich in December 2013, to his demise in February this year; from the military action and annexation to Crimea to the stall and sometimes undecipherable position towards eastern Ukraine.
What really Russia wants from Ukraine? Is it real the threat of military intervention or it is a bluff, a sort of soviet-era blackmailing?
Moscow intervention is due to western historic blindness
The reasons of the Russian involvement in Ukraine are deeply rooted in history and especially in the last twenty years of international politics. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia assisted to the downfall of every single partner or satellite country, assisted to the failing of the state and its institutions, and especially was subjected to the West “revenge and punishment”. Russia in the 90s was a derelict state, anarchy was widespread, internationally was the “pet” of Washington, who used all its economic might to keep Russia under the leash. The US were free to move in the world scenario without any control, and if Russia was less concerned about the Iraqi invasion, the Balkans wars and Somalia turmoil, everything started to change for the bad to worse very soon. Washington’s plan to build a missile shield, officially against Iran and North Korea but in reality against Russia, increased nationalism in the Baltic States, Poland, Romania and Czech Republic, all countries that happily offered to assist the US. Russia started to realize that behind the friendly and paternalistic face there was a design to put Russia in a cage from where it will not be able to resurface again, a revival of the cordon sanitaire used against bolshevism in the last century.
But many can argue, if Russia was is such derelict conditions, then why the Americans were so keen to waste time and resources in this strategy? The reason is because the US knew that Yeltsin would not have been able to hold power for long and the strategy was to keep weak an adversary already wounded, before it was too late. Unfortunately for the US, the Chechen terrorism helped Russia in finding the key man to turn around its destiny: Vladimir Putin.
His ruthless conduct in the Chechen War was his business card to the West, that surely understood that the new Kremlin course would be a bumpy one, but at the same time underestimated Putin’s capacity to hold power for long and especially to rebuild Russia’s self esteem. During the ‘war on terror years’ and the Bush preventive war strategy, Russia still played a submissive role: western sponsored UN resolutions were voted in favor or abstained, a criticism was shout but not too loud. The US continued to look at Russia as an ex superpower, something to keep an eye on but not to be worried too much.
This therefore started to build in the West that sort of over confidence that any action against Russia, even the sensible ones, will not generate greater consequences. In this project aimed at destroying Russia’s vital space in the east, were used the “revolutions” or change of regime piloted to overthrow pro-Russian governments and replace them with pro-western ones. The main pillars of this strategy were: the missiles shield in Poland and Romania, the Ukrainian revolutions and Georgia.
In reality while the US and its allies continued to see Russia as a “pet”, they did not realize that Putin was already rebuilding its military might, the economy was growing at faster rate and the country was in the verge of an economic boom. Russia had to digest some hard situations but the turning point was in 2008, not for Obama election but instead for two important events that changed Russian politics for ever: Kosovo independence and Georgia action in Abkhazia and Ossetia.
2008: Back to the future, when soviet praxis meet Putin’s modernism.
The unilateral independence of Kosovo from Serbia enraged the Kremlin, denouncing a violation of international law and designed to split countries with ethnic or religious differences, like Russia. Russia for the first time appeared not only angry by words but took decisive steps blocking any recognition to the new state. However, we were far from any real action. This to Washington seemed the “ usual dog that barks but never bites” and therefore came the next step: Georgia.
The imprudent and suicidal action of president Saakashvili to retake Abkhazia and Ossetia by force, with the benediction of the West, changed the course. The Russian blitzkrieg, not only destroyed the Georgian army, but even put at risk the existence of the country itself as the Russian troops were marching on Tbilisi. The shock for Georgia and the West was unprecedented: Russia was at war and no one knew how to stop, suddenly the pet became again the big bear of soviet times, irascible, intractable, and aggressive.
The Georgian war, that took as a pretext the defense of Russian citizens in the two breakaway regions recognized by Moscow, was a clear response to the US for Kosovo. From then the relations between the two countries has deteriorated further: Russia cut the opposition out of power; paid its financial debts and expelled USAID, deemed useless for a rich nation like Russia; rebuilt the military power which display every year in the Victory Day parade in soviet style; restored nationalism and pride; internationally ended the appeasement to Washington. If Russia committed the fatal error to let the US act in Libya, Putin did not thought twice in blocking any attempt to intervention in Syria or fomenting unrest in Iran.
So why the Ukrainian crisis unfolded? The West after the debacle in Syria, where for two years was trying to build a case against Assad to legitimate an armed intervention, i.e. the chemical weapons, saw Russia not only blocking any UN resolution but even reaching successfully a deal, that it is still in place, to control and destroy these dangerous weapons. Russia’s move, is seen as the first major diplomatic success since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and for the first time we saw emerging what in Putin’s mind is the resetting of the world relations under a ‘Yalta restore system’ to superpowers balance.
But everyone knew that the tit for tat politics, used by both countries in the Cold War, was only starting and how to strike at Russia’s very heart of interests? Appeasing the Ukrainian protests was for the West a return to the policy of piloted change of regime and at the same time this would have enraged Russia. However, Washington was wrong in the calculation that Russian reaction could not led to a Georgian style intervention even though, this time, was a surgical intervention. Russia intervened to take what was needed and keep the rest in standby, while the West does not have a case either for intervention of for blocking Russian interference.
Nevertheless, we would be wrong to think of Russia’s actions in a straight line and without the double standards of which Moscow accuse the West. Crimea is not eastern Ukraine and Putin knows that.
Russian double standards: Crimea and the Donbas
Crimea,that was already an autonomous region within Ukraine, since the start of the unrest, voiced preoccupation and signals of a shift towards Russia. Its major Russian population and especially the naval base that Russia kept from soviet times, were all reasons for the Kremlin to do not waste a lifetime opportunity. Putin considered Crimea under a strategic and geopolitical factor masked by nationalism and rhetoric to facilitate a return to the mother land.
Putin used nationalism to obtain internal approval, but the reality is that Russia could not afford to lose the Black Sea fleet: it is needed to access and control the eastern Mediterranean (Syria), keep under control NATO states. If under a military point of view there was nothing that Kiev could have done to prevent a takeover, and a war that Russia probably would have fought for real, even on historical side there were few reasons to oppose a change. Crimea has always been Russian since 1783, although Tartar population lived in the peninsula until 1944. The Czars fight to control the peninsula and the access to the sea was vital. Even under the Soviet Union, Crimea was until 1954 a region depending from Russia SSR, although being an autonomous region. The main change occurred in the WWII when, following the Nazis invasion, some Ukrainians assisted the Germans, and in Crimea some Tartars fought against the Russians. At war over, Stalin revenge was devastating: he deported the entire population of Tartars in Siberia, and the peninsula was reshaped under Russian predominance and held with an iron grip. However, in 1954, the soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Ukrainian, in the prologue to the famous de-stalinisation transferred Crimea to the Ukraine SSR, seen by many in the Soviet Union as a sort of compensation, justified under administrative advantages represented by geographical and common economic structure with Ukraine. Russia always maintained its naval base, and the situation remained unchanged until our times. The Tartars were allowed to return in Crimea only in 1991.
Ukraine and the West, although ventilated anger and still do not recognize Russian annexation, know that in fact this is now a fait accompli and regard Crimea as something non defendable; even ex US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and ex Soviet president Mikhail Gorbacev, who are far from being considered Putin’s supporters, condemned US negation of history and Russia’s right to Crimea. Nevertheless, this exposes also Moscow hypocrisy: what about Kosovo then? Six years ago they furiously denounced a violation of international law by allowing a unilateral referendum, and now the same happened in Crimea but with sides switched. Has Moscow changed line? Not really, the Kremlin still regards any unilateral action as dangerous to a country national unity, especially in a country like Russia, but the gain from Crimea and the potential loss of a strategic base were far more important than this pillar of Russian policy and for one time have been overlooked. This can be demonstrated by the total different approach towards eastern Ukraine.
When the eastern regions declared unilaterally an independence referendum, Moscow was silent and on more than one occasion even invited the rebels to refrain as there were no suitable conditions to hold a poll due to military engagement, although in reality the situation was not that dissimilar from Crimea. Moscow, following Crimea annexation, threatened military intervention in the east, as did in Georgia, to defend Russian citizens, but in reality nothing happened, although we have had already many episodes that could have been taken as a pretext: the Odessa fire, an assassination attempt of pro Russian mayor in Kharkhiv, the recent assault to the Russian embassy in Kiev. Nonetheless the Russian tanks are still on the other side of the border, except for old fashion ones that supposedly crossed and joined the rebels. This demonstrates that Russia is playing a different game in Ukraine: is doing exactly what Washington has been doing is Syria by arming rebels, fomenting unrest in the population, giving logistic support. In other words, no direct intervention, but a low intensity conflict by creating a situation where the rebels are strong enough to resist government forces and at the same time not that strong to alter the balance leading to an armed intervention from the west.
Russia in other words is keeping Ukraine at a leash as the US have done with Russia in the 90s. Economic sanctions towards Kiev will bite hard, gas supply halted recently will damage even further an economy at collapse. Russia also know that the government in Kiev is helpless, does not have a clear policy and an intervention will be considered only if a reckless action will happen: the recent embassy incident was a demonstration of how dangerous is the game Kiev is playing and led even the US to angrily criticize the government for inaction in protecting Russian diplomats.
Russia is not willing to go to war, due to economic consequences, on a military side although Russian forces are superior, it will not be easy against the Ukrainian army that has hardware from Russian industry, nationalism will increase the risk of an all out war with the possibility of a repetition of the afghan campaign. Russia at the same time does not want to take control of an economy in tatters, although the Donbas is the industrial powerhouse of Ukraine. Moscow still hope that will be able to settle with Ukraine for a federation with eastern regions obtaining a large form of autonomy, and a country that may join NATO and the EU, but keeping the east neutral or free from NATO bases.
How likely is this succeed will depend on many factors, but surely not from western sanctions as Russia is not concerned about that, at least until the West will not start to open the eyes and see Russia for what it is, a superpower back in business. While the West thought to have closed the front door to Russian expansionism, on the other simply forgot the back garden door, where Russian new czars take their afternoon tea with their Chinese partners, who also are US antagonists in the Pacific. The result is old ideological enemies signing multibillion dollars deals that dwarf western sanctions and give to Russia a long term investment in an area now cut off completely to western businesses.
Ukraine is fighting for its unity, and most likely survival, but whether the current military action is an anti-terror operation or a war, a fact is clear: Ukraine is heading towards disaster unless a diplomatic and peaceful solution will be found. The problem for Ukraine is that the new Kiev government and the Eastern rebellious regions are not alone in this dispute and their “external sponsors” are to be considered the main reason for the bitter turning of events. While the West, namely the EU and US, and Russia at a different time, and for different reasons, intervened in Ukraine politics for their own geo-political interests, on the other they simply got stuck in front of their stubbornness and hypocrisy by reaching a point of no return.
The Ukraine crisis unfolded few months ago when protests against former president Viktor Yanukovich culminated in what Moscow called a “western sponsored coup” and the Western powers a “democratic change”. The Maidan protests, aimed against Yanukovich’s decision to withdraw from an association agreement with the EU and signing instead a deal with Russia, were soon taken as a pretext from the West to fuel a change of regime as already seen in other areas: Iraq, Libya and the failed attempt in Syria. Nevertheless, this reckless action did not take into account Russia’s vital space and a likely reaction that culminated with the Crimean annexation.
Yanukovich’s government, elected and legitimate, was overthrown by mass protests made mostly by common citizens although no one can deny the presence of armed groups linked to the far right movements with clear xenophobic tendencies such Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) or the Maidan Self Defence Forces. While the West stepped up its anti-Russian propaganda, it did not realise the danger in fuelling an already fertile ground for hatred between the two souls of Ukraine, West and East. By denigrating and openly taking side against the legitimate government in Kiev and supporting what was increasingly becoming an armed insurrection and not a peaceful democratic rally, western interference reinforced the extremist groups providing them with a sort of legitimacy. In few words, the same script adopted in Syria where for long time they supported an armed insurrection refusing to admit that the only taking advantage were terrorist groups linked to Al Qaida or of other Islamist tendencies. While the West ignored this warning (to be honest not that far in the past to be forgotten), it may be worth to mention that even in the 2012 Football Euro Cup for example many in the EU expressed concerns at hooliganism and racist behaviour in Ukraine, especially in UK.
Russia on the other side took this careless action as a pretext and reason to express its concerns for Russian citizens and the Russian speaker population in Eastern Ukraine. While Russia started to build up its war machine, the West and many Ukrainians simply decided to turn blind in front of the evidence: the Maidan protest were not a simple democratic movement , but a clear rebellion and an armed insurrection that many countries, including Russia and the democratic crusaders in Washington and London would not have hesitated to crush at the first sight of weapons within civilians. This led to a brutal repression by Yanukovich, where the (in)famous Berkut and snipers fired against protesters, but also to a response where policemen and security forces were shot dead. Nevertheless amid all this turmoil Yanukovich avoided making that step that would have plunged Ukraine into civil war: call in the army to quell the unrest.
Negotiations were made and even some opposition parties agreed to sit at a table to pave the way for new elections, with Yanukovic granting any sort of concession such amnesty, freeing all arrested and promising greater autonomy for regions. But the deal was sunk by the West pushing the more extreme souls of the Maidan protests to take the lead and provoking further unrest that could have been only resolved by either an army coup or Yanukovich departure. When he decided to leave, at that point it seemed to everyone that the Maidan protests would have been able to close the game and the release of Yulia Timoshenko as the final act of a victorius anti Russian “revolution” in 90s style. It was exactly at this point that the “phase two” of the Ukrainian crisis developed and started with the Kremlin involvement: Yanukovich finds refuge in Russia, Crimea is flooded by special Russian troops, a 40,000 strong army gathered at the border.
Nevertheless, while Crimea was a price willing to be paid in Kiev, and even in the West although the apparent outrage, it was also clear that the Kremlin’s gamble of threatening military invasion in the East played exactly the same side effects generated by western influence in Kiev: exacerbated rather than ease the already irreparable situation in the country. Kiev’s government at this point found itself not struggling for survival but to keep a country united. Attempts to reduce far right movements presence and promise of a new presidential elections were clearly futile in front of a domino effect that, exactly similar to the Maidan protests, saw people rebelling against central government and declaring autonomy, independence or asking Russian annexation.
While the West this time promptly called these rebels “terrorist and agents of Russia”, Russia vested the rebellions as “popular will and democratic expression of an under siege population of Russians from fascists in Kiev”. These words, as mere propaganda may be, had a strong effect in Russia and Ukraine as they were used only during what is known as The Great Patriotic War against the Nazis.
Kiev: new government, new president same confusion on the ground
The new government appeared for many as inept and incapable to deal with the unrest. While it was without any chance and counterproductive oppose Russia’s annexation of Crimea, it was the initial inertia showed during the start of the Eastern rebellion that fuelled a sort of excessive optimism, a thought that a swift solution could be found. While the East was proclaiming itself free with a People’s Republic in Donetsk and hold a referendum not recognised by the international community, in Kiev whilst condemning the fact that an electoral consultation was taking place in a deteriorated security situation, they found nothing better than to do the same by organising presidential election in a country on the verge of collapse. Nevertheless, the point of no return was the decision to call in the army, thus increasing the danger of a civil war, with soldiers refusing to fight and switching sides, military difficulties and an expensive human price to pay that is already showing its bill.
But if the Kiev government decided to do what Yanukovich refused to do, and thus applying the same role of the army as saw in Syria, Libya and Egypt against their own population, it also appear that the government born from the Maidan protests is not followed by the same population strata as demonstrated by the recent presidential elections. If at first Yulia Timoshenko’s freedom was seen by many as the first step for a return to power, the election saw the victory of a man not new in Ukrainian politics, as having cooperated with both Yushenko and Yanukovich, with the West and Russia. Entrepreneur Petro Poroshenko, won an outright victory in Ukraine’s presidential poll of May 2014 with 54% of the votes, he was the only oligarch to have supported the pro-European opposition from the start, though unaffiliated to any of the country’s political parties. He is known as “the chocolate king” for his ownership of Ukraine’s largest confectionery manufacturer, Roshen. Poroshenko was supported by the former boxer Vitaly Klitschko, who gave up his own presidential ambitions to throw his weight behind him, and by fellow tycoon Dmitry Firtash, who has long been on cordial terms with Russia. Ukrainian media interpreted the great support for Poroshenko as a reaction to the opposition’s inability to find common ground during and after the anti-government protests that overthrow former President Viktor Yanukovych and as a signal that the new establishment was distancing itself from extremists.
Poroshenko comes from the mainly Russian-speaking Odessa region in southern Ukraine, although his political stronghold is believed to be in the central Vinnytsya region, where he started his business and political career. He has been elected to parliament several times and has worked with both the pro-European and pro-Russian political camps in Ukraine. He was foreign minister in Ms Tymoshenko’s government from 2009 to 2010, and briefly an economic development and trade minister in 2012 under Yanukovich. He was one of the founders of Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, in 2001. However, later that year he left to lead Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine electoral bloc. He was also one of the main figures of the Orange Revolution that brought Mr Yushchenko and Ms Tymoshenko to power in 2004. This chameleon political careerist, or to be more frankly an interest piloted one, is at the top of a stubbornness government refusing to deal with a fundamental request of autonomy from the East, where the clear anti-Russian stance of some of its supporters and the Western backing are bogging down the country in a fratricidal confrontation with unpredictable consequences. The government is avoiding any discussions on constitutional reforms or for a federation, and its obstinate centralism is favouring paradoxically the disintegration of a united country. On the other, after his victory, Mr Poroshenko promised to forge closer links with the EU and restore peace in restive eastern regions where pro-Russian separatists had severely disrupted voting. He has also pledged to improve relations with Russia. But his first act was an all out military assault on Donetsk and consequent bloodshed.
So the last question is: taking aside the fact that it is without doubt the influence from Washington and the EU, what were the internal reasons for overthrowing Yanukovich?
It has been claimed by many the corruption, but in a country were each president from Kuchma to Yushenko, from Timoshenko to Yanukovich has been accused of stealing or being corrupt, it is very difficult to believe that. Even the claim that Ukraine was a dictatorship is an exaggeration as Yanukovich won legally an election and no constitution or power was suppressed, people were free to move. A powerful element is without any doubt the economy and the silence over this is the reason why both the West and Russia push on nationalist propaganda to mask their responsibilities.
Ukraine is an economy near to collapse, even though has a strong agriculture in the western part, known as the granary of Europe, and a powerful industrial sector in the East. Nevertheless extreme dependence from Russian import / export, gas and energy supply combined with western liberist economy exploiting cheap labor and reduced taxes made Ukraine not a sustainable and independent economy. Ukrainians were frustrated by this rather than the stories created and inflated by the medias. The first protests, when Yanukovich refused to sign with the EU, were genuine only to be then hijacked for strategic and political interests. What Ukrainians also believed, and probably still believe, is that the EU will welcome them in a further enlargement. Whilst Ukrainians are continuously brainwashed by western propaganda of an easy EU access and an economy ready to get back on its feet, a debt is piling up, bankruptcy is just behind the corner; Russia counter measures are already starting with gas payment demands.
The reality is that no one is ready to bail out Ukraine, like Greece, especially after a landslide victory of the anti-EU parties in the recent European parliament elections that put a clear slogan out: no more EU, no more enlargement, no immigration. After the shameful anti Romanian and anti Bulgarian propaganda in the EU of last year, now the new xenophobic and racist parties across Europe are ready to target Ukrainians as the Eldorado that will cash in at next the electoral polls.
Eastern Ukraine: A new symphony in Donbas?
This area the powerhouse of Ukraine, and of the former Soviet Union, is in majority Russian speaker and nevertheless they lived peacefully within Ukraine since the independence.
However, it has never been an easy coexistence between the two areas, and this was reflected in history during the WWII and the constant push and back between presidents towards Russia and the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Eastern Ukraine always supported filo Russian presidents and when Yanukovich won the election, the Party of Regions had in the Donbas region its stronghold. The delicate equilibrium that maintained united a fragile architecture was broken suddenly with the Maidan protests, although some cities in the East at first even participated in the change of power, like Kharkiv or Dnepropetrovsk. Eastern Ukraine at first, even though with less enthusiasm, joined protests against Yanukovich, but in the Donbas region everything started to move in the opposite direction with the raising fear of a new power unbalanced towards the West and hostile to Russia, from which this region heavily depends.
When the Maidan protests were increasingly becoming anti Russian and xenophobic, with raising extreme right movements taking the lead with armed groups, Eastern Ukrainians felt the same sense of need for defence and even paranoia that Russia has about an incoming encirclement. This is especially true for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions where Russian speakers are over 50% and it is known as Donbas or Donetsk basin. Carpe diem was the word following Crimea annexation by Russia and, feeling the moment, they truly believed in an insurrection supported by Russia, arriving to overthrow the local governments and declaring a People’s Republic, followed by a non recognised independence referendum. But, exactly as it happened for the Kiev government, the Donbas region at the crucial moment saw its external sponsor vacillating, being unsure how to step back from this mess. As in western Ukraine believe to EU propaganda, in the Donbas people believed too much in Russia’s involvement and soon found themselves alone. After Crimea annexation it seemed that Russia was ready to take on Ukraine, and thunder words from Putin made the Donbas greater confident, as well as Kiev government inaction. But to repeat Crimea was a dream, as it was Russia going to war against Ukraine, at least for now. The Odessa fire, that was for many the possible signal of all out war with Moscow, in reality was the turning point were both Washington and the Kremlin understood that they push too far and began slowly to settle down. The problem is that the Kiev government and the Donbas region instead raised their stakes and a military confrontation is now on the ground, with a clear risk of degenerating into civil war.
There is a movie by a famous soviet director, Dziga Vertov, called Enthusiasm Symphony of the Donbas that in its Stalinist propaganda was aimed at demonstrating the development and the importance of this region as a centre stage for the construction of socialism. If the movie portrayed a happy and hardworking place with a triumphant soundtrack, today the symphony coming from Donbas is very different and sounds more like the thunder of war.
The Ukrainian protests against government’s decision to not sign an EU agreement melted in just few days, but was it really only an internal matter or was just another episode of the saga Putin vs West?
It is now clear that was never at stake the interest of the Ukrainian people but political gains and economic benefits behind the interests of such powers. Ukraine, as Georgia in the past, is a fertile ground to gauge the pressure of the tensions between Russia and the West, and once again, to the dismay of the latter, Putin won.
Ukraine economy is a mess, near to collapse, needed a bail out regardless on whoever will grant it, so why there was this attention to pull Ukraine on either sides? The answer is simply European hypocrisy and Russia’s vital space paranoia.
The EU jumped on the protests claiming that Ukrainian people were behind a popular protest to join the EU, that their will was betrayed and Yanukovich change mind after Russia’s blackmailing. All this may be true, and it is no surprise for a poor country to see people cherishing the idea of free travel to countries better off, as also it is no surprise that Russia used all its weight to sink the agreement. However, what is wrong is that not all Ukraine was behind the protest and that all the country supports an EU access. While the western regions, rich in agriculture in what was the granary of Soviet Union, support strong links with the West, on the other the Eastern areas and the Donbass, the powerhouse of heavy industry always had strong ties with Russia. Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions has its stronghold in eastern Ukraine and it is no surprise that he also had to put an ear on that side.
The problem for Ukraine and the EU is that Russia will never allow in such proximity to lose its control either politically and economically. Russia at the end triumphed, with Kiev’s government accepting a $15 billion bailout, with cheaper gas prices and the promise to accelerate the accession to the Russian version of the EEA, a custom union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Has Ukraine therefore lost? Not really, as said either ways Ukraine was going to receive a bailout, but the problem connected with this is that nothing comes for free and whether EU or Russia, Kiev has now linked itself to a strong dependence, by chosing to do not irritate the strongest side.
Nevertheless, if Ukraine calculations were based on purely economic data and immediate needs, what moved EU, Russia and even US was totally different: balance of power.
The EU jumped into this dispute denouncing Russia’s interference and “acting” with its fake paternalism in a time where the Union has its lowest approval index by the population of state members and where crescent nationalism is advancing in many countries requests for an exit referendum. Nevertheless, the EU cannot be trusted, it uses bail outs to control governments’ policies, it is the most undemocratic organisation and what benefits really could have from Ukraine’s accession? The benefit was to bail out another government and impose IMF/BCE controlling policies to gain the most from a no competitive market which would have been a “colony” for western economies in crisis. Cheap labor would have offered the chance to struggling companies to cut workforce in their home countries to reopen across the borders, and while they present Bruxelles in such pan-European dream on the other we can see Cameron’s UK trying to introduce changes to migrants from Romania and Bulgaria in an attempt to please nationalists of the UK Independence Party. Another reason that would have well suited Bruxelles was to introduce another bigger country which would have altered balance in the EU Parliament, a message to the fellow British partners.
But while on one side the EU showed its hypocrisy, on the other the US got involved only to pinpoint Russia’s rediscovered power and any plan that undermine or limit Putin’s influence it is always welcomed in Washington. Plan for a missile shield are back on the table, Russia’s involvement in Middle East has irritated many governments and after the Snowden affair, US-Russia relations are getting sour quickly enough to foresee a 2014 rich in similar tit for tat actions. Russia, for history, ethnic-religious ties and economic reasons pursued and will always pursue a politic of self-defence and retake control of its vital space. Russia, and the USSR before, always lived in the paranoia of the constant threat of an invasion or isolation to starve the country, and today this is still visible in Putin relentless new strategy to keep at bay any intruder in the eastern side. Whether blackmailing the fragile Ukrainian government, or supporting eastern region ties (basically threatening a dangerous rift), by placing missiles in Kaliningrad, by intervening in Syria and Iran issues turning the table against western plans, Putin is achieving slowly the task of rebuilding a stronger Russia and defend its autonomy of action. But is it all roses for Russia in bailing out such an economy in crisis? Obviously not, but Russia’s strategy has always been to achieve the task with whatever methods and at the end by extending control over economy in Ukraine, Putin reasserted its political control over the area, demonstrating once again the weightless spirit of the EU as international power. Russia nevertheless, by taking on its side Kiev’s fragile economy and offering to cover debts may be pushed into a finance black hole, and Moscow’s economy will have to be strong enough in the next years to make sure that this agreement will not backfire.
The reality is that Ukraine is one of those countries that will always struggle to balance itself, but until you will have a Russia this powerful, inevitably it will fall under a particular sphere of influence. The Russian achievement in Ukraine is the defeat of EU hypocrisy, but it is not a total victory as Western powers will find another way to limit Putin’s attempts to a system restore to Yalta’s configuration. Nevertheless, there is enough in Moscow to cheer and Putin can celebrate by even allowing himself to show total control and confidence in his absolute power by freeing Mikhail Kodorkovsly and granting amnesty to the Pussy Riot members. A lesson to learn, another missed opportunity for the West to understand Russia’s new path with an old map.
The recent US-Russia plan on Syria chemical weapons, approved unanimously at the UN Security Council, has been hailed as a step forward in the resolution of this bloody civil war and at the same time as a milestone of international diplomacy. In reality what represent this plan? Is it really a convergence on a humanitarian and security issue? At a closer look the plan represent a “system restore” to the logic of equilibrium of powers and a return to the superpowers balance since the end of the Cold War.
In restoring this configuration contributed many factors: from military to security reasons, from international diplomacy to national interests, from wrong calculations to crude real politik; however, this could not have happened without the two major powers involvement: US and Russia. If the American duo Obama/Kerry played the card of a military threat and at the same leaving ajar the door for Russian proposals, on the other the duo Putin/Lavrov was the one who forced the system restore.
Russian Rebuilding: A Putin’s Legacy
Since Putin made his appearance in the international scenario in 1999, Russian role has changed dramatically, from the anarchy and passive stance of the Yeltsin years to the aggressive and old soviet rhetoric of recent ones. The Balkans Wars, which culminated with the bombing of Yugoslavia following the Kosovo War, were the last time Russia accepted passively a western influence and action with disregard for Russian interests. Russia was at the time a country rebuilding itself, militarily and economically, relegated in the international scenario to a role of an old and prestigious power but without any real and serious challenge to put forward. Putin reconstructed Russian forces slowly and today is again a powerful military machine, a strong economic state and has a substantial influence in international politics. If the war on terror, that culminated with US invasion in Afghanistan and Iraq, was condemned in part by Putin, on the other offer to him the possibility to liquidate on the same basis the Chechen rebellion, and to keep the US “busy” in other areas. The turning point, when the passive Russia start to show the teeth, has been the 2008 Georgian War, following an ill pondered and miscalculated action by Georgian President Saakashvili that led to the Russian blitzkrieg. That was the first time, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, that Russian military forces were actively engaged in a major military operation.
The signal to the West was clear, however not really understood or undermined by many. Since then Putin’s action has been clearly designed in regaining Russian control of its vital space and avoid western influence: USAID operations in Russia have been closed and today is one of the major financer for different countries, plans for the missile shield in Eastern Europe forgotten. Nevertheless, if Libya was seen as a “mistake” or wrong calculation by Russia in abstaining at the UNSC, in reality Putin/Medvedev did not have, as everybody else, any interest in helping a discredited leader such Gaddafi. This position somewhat mislead the West in thinking that Russia will once again push over on the issue of Syria, that once challenged with western threat of military intervention, Russian voice although critic will never be followed by a real action. Today is well clear that this is not the case.
Putin/Lavrov: Challenge the US by Isolating Other Powers
Syria is not a formal Russian ally, but on the same time is a key area of interest due to; past links during the cold war, when Assad’s father Hafiz, the Lion of Damascus, was clearly armed and supported by the Kremlin; has a naval base in Tartus; with Iran, offer to Russia a strong influence in an area otherwise of strong American support.
It must be noted that Russia, as well as the US and the West, only use the humanitarian issue as a façade and in reality it is national interest and international power balance that seeks. The duo Putin/Lavrov know very well that losing Syria will exclude them from the East Mediterranean, will enhance US superiority and weaken other friendly states such Iran. But on the top of Putin’s agenda there was, and still remains, a point: restore the bilateral and direct control with the US, a return to the superpower balance of the past.
Putin/Lavrov’s actions followed some key events:
- Supported the UN and the necessity to block a rushed military intervention; they denounce openly US, UK and France for their action in violation of international law and in seeking to side-line once again the UN;
- Challenged US claims of Damascus responsibility in the chemical attack, asking for proof which to today are still waited; to ignore rebels responsibilities in similar attacks; to turn blind eyes on Al-Nusra actions in Kurdistan, where the Al-Qaida linked group has been accused of ethnic cleansing;
- UK and France have ben totally ignored and relegated by Putin/Lavrov, as they seek direct dialogue with the US only;
- A strong claim, maybe a bluff or not, to support militarily Syria in the event of a US attack;
- Obama’s strategy, that is more complex than thought, may have helped the Russians with their plan.
The above created the space for Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov as a skilled duo, a ruthless and hardliner the first with a diplomatic and mild character the second, in searching to regain the balance. They skilfully played the event of the G20 in Saint Petersburg to highlight the divisions within the organisation and at the same time to seek direct dialogue with the US by side-lining completely UK and France.
These two European powers, however, are not the only ones left at the window as the Chinese role is also seen differently. If China has been seen as Russian orientated in the UNSC, this was more for internal logic and non-internal interference policy rather than an ally posture. China, as Russia, judges as dangerous the American influence and especially in the Pacific knows that the challenge will soon arise. For China keeping the US at bay is of fundamental importance and, whilst undermining their efforts in other areas of the world, at the same time they are not interested in challenging them in a stronger way. Whether this is a political calculation or a sign that China is not yet a superpower, a fact remain: Putin, when looking to re-establish a sort of Yalta configuration, also look not only to weaken UK and France but also the Chinese, as to maintain a preferential relation with the US seen as the main contender.
At this point we must ask, what about the US? Is Obama really defeated, some even said humiliated? Has the US policy been defeated by the duo Putin/Lavrov? In reality as said there is more than that.
Obama/Kerry Played a Dangerous but Ingenious Strategy
The duo Obama/Kerry, while on one side genuinely condemned the chemical attack actively promoting a strong response, were at the same time well aware of the dangers of a military intervention. Without UN backing, with public opinion still opposed to any other military adventure, NATO allies unsure or still loyal to a UN intervention and especially by the strong Russian reaction they were forced to change their strategy. The Americans, acting as any other Democratic administration, took their time, tried at first to seek a strong alliance that suddenly crumbled in front of the reality of a war with many obscure scenarios rather than secure victory. They had to resist the hawks in the US military establishment pushing for war and the usual arrogance of UK/France acting as they were still leaving in colonial time. In this we may spot not a weakness, but a sapient strategy that the duo Obama/Kerry has played: on one side the put clearly the military strike on the table, on the other rush the Russian to take a position. In other words, by resisting internal pressure for military intervention, they sought to make Russian position untenable in the long term, and pushing them to come out with a solution or show their absence of strategy. This was a risky game as leaving the hot issue in Russian hands could have well ended with their inability to offer a way out, then leaving at the same time the US without any other cards to play other than a military intervention. So, a question arises, were Putin and Lavrov the only masterminds behind this system restore or there was also a convergent US action?
The vote at the UNSC, with all members is favour of the plan, hailed as a triumph of diplomacy signalled most likely the starting point were the two powers will cooperate, openly or secretly, to restore a mutual control to guarantee stability in some areas of the world. Nevertheless, we need to remember that if this is a system restore to a Cold War configuration, the interests on the table still remain the same: political and national pride, security and influence. The problem with this vision is that countries and people will be once again seen by Washington and the Kremlin as checkers in a chessboard, and where often the outcome of their actions will not result in welfare for the population. At the same time it is undeniable that this could avoid major military confrontations, keep down tones and avoid “adventures”, and although small skirmishes and contained conflicts will still happen, this will be part of a strategy to weaken and challenge the adversary. If the above policy is under way, then the spectacular and, for many, unexpected Iranian availability to discuss with the US its nuclear programme could be the result of a strategy expected in Washington and Moscow.
PM Vladimir Putin, and ex Russian president in the past for 2 terms, has won. Is that a news? Obviously not. The Russian Elections were expected to finish in this way well before the 04th of March and the reason is in the Russian politics itself. Mr Putin’s victory was never in doubt, achieved at the first round and with a large majority.
The only uncertainty surrounded the kind of majority, if above 50% and how far beyond, the real strength of the opposition and the transparency of the electoral process. Whilst analyst in the West rushed in unrealistic predictions (Putin in a run off, opposition collecting large votes), in Russia and in the open minded network of many political analysts, everyone knew that Putin would win the election well above the 50%, and that opposition forces were again struggling to collect credit and support beside their bases.
At the end, the election has given a verdict: Putin is the champion in the great land of Russia, that land that stretches from the Baltic to the Pacific, the rural and provincial areas, far from the glamour, progress and wealth that he had created in Moscow or St. Petersburg. These are the strongholds of the opposition, cities of middle class, of new young educated and wealthy sons and daughter of families made rich by Putin in the years of his presidencies. Nevertheless, even the opposition is not united, the big cities are the stronghold of the liberal, new democratic and pro-western parties, whilst the Communists and Nationalists, as Putin, collect support from the vast land. There lays the frailty and weakness of the urban opposition, not a nationwide movement and not able to win support from areas hostile to their programmes.
The Russian election analysis must start from the above points as to ensure objectivity and a real picture is given before judging from our westernised and egoistic point of view.
The Electoral Results
The Central Election Commission declared the official results of the presidential elections as follows: Vladimir Putin 63.64%, Gennady Zyuganov 17.14%, Mikhail Prokhorov 7.94%, Vladimir Zhirinovsky 6.22% and Sergey Mironov 3.85%. Vladimir Putin is President of the Russian Federation for the third time with a landslide victory.
Exit polls showed results similar to the Commission data; according to a Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) survey, about 58.3% of Russians cast their votes for Vladimir Putin, while Gennady Zyuganov got the support of 17.7% of the country’s voters. Mikhail Prokhorov, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Sergey Mironov won 9.2, 8.5 and 4.8 per cent of the votes respectively.
Vladimir Putin and ex-president Dmitry Medvedev appeared in Manezhnaya Square to address the supporters gathered to celebrate the victory telling them “we have won in an open and fair struggle.”
Although many predicted a mass participation, the overall percentage of voters was just over 63.3% suggesting an increase if compared to the December parliamentary election but a drop compared to the previous presidential elections in 2008.
Soon after the closing of the poll stations, observers reported a number of violations during the vote across the country. Results at one polling station in Dagestan, in the North Caucasus, will be annulled due to a video recorded by one of the webcams. It showed several people casting multiple ballots. Vladimir Putin’s campaign headquarters says it will demand the cancellation of results at every polling station where such serious violations are revealed.
These elections marked a wide participation of Russians to the electoral process with common people volunteering as observers, web cams in polling stations, transparent poll boxes. Taking into account the above, not even in the major western democracies you have that kind of participation or commitment in ensuring a fair process. Most of the above measures are illegal in nearly all European Union states.
The overall organization of the election process and the monitoring system has received positive feedback from the majority of Russian and international independent observers. These measures follow allegations of widespread vote violation in a December parliamentary vote leading to a number of mass protests across the country. The authorities tried to satisfy people’s call for fair elections and made the vote as transparent as possible.
The key people
Vladimir Putin is the clear winner in Sunday’s elections, with results showing he was supported by over 60 per cent of voters, meaning he won in the first round. The victory of Putin, that was never in question, will open to a third term in office for the ex PM although this time will not be easier for him to rule unopposed.
Mr Putin, that paradoxically is the creator of the modern Russia as we now know and see it, faces opposition from those sectors that benefited from the revenues and economic boom of the years following his first two terms. That middle class, young educated students, that have nothing less than their similar in the west, are now asking him to leave, stand down, and make space to a new generation of politicians. The result is that the big cities, such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, are now the epicentre of this new movement. Putin support in the capital, for instance, is the lowest in Russia. Putin still scored more than any other candidate in the capital, 48.7 per cent and Moscow is the only region of Russia where less than half of voters supported him. It also has the sixth-lowest turnout, with just 49% of the electorate showing up to polling stations.
Putin still obtain a large support from the rural areas, the provinces, from lower classes, who see in him the results of the recent years of changes, bringing stability to a country that was in the brink of dissolution. Wealth is spreading across the country and those people at the periphery are now starting to see something coming back, although in delay if compared to the big cities.
Mr Putin can still count to a large base of support as shown by the huge participation in the celebrations and the results. The message coming from that is clear: there is no doubt on his victory, even taking into account the frauds allegations, the overall result will still see Putin at the head.
For his supporters, Putin marks the progress Russia made in the last 12 years, and for most of them he is still the better choice out there. It can be argued that many of his supporters can be split in two different categories: those who blindly believe in his leadership and those who see him as the less evil or the less worse. This is the area where the opposition is stuck, as currently there are no credible alternatives.
In reality, the support Putin is receiving, and that ensures this longevity in power, is due to two factors: the machine party-state and the control on key sectors.
The United Russia party is a huge catalyst of power, with collusion with private entrepreneurs and economic sectors. Its control over the administration, the state apparatus is undisputed and the media are often under scrutiny. Putin can also count on a strong support from key sectors such the army, police, secret services and all those centres of power that can guarantee order. All the above were sectors that after the collapse of the Soviet Union were rapidly deteriorating towards a state of anarchy, bringing instability not only in Russia but also in the world.
As said before, obviously it cannot be denied the role of corruption in the Russian system, that guarantee an effective way of control and power. However, what many Russian are starting to ask if this system would change without Putin. The other candidates, does not offer real credentials to believe the corruption system will be dismantled, and there is uncertainty on their ability to protect Russian interests.
At the end most of the anti-Russian propaganda in the western media, as well in Russia, has created the feeling of an influence from external powers that many believe can be blocked only with a strong personality, that is what Putin can offer. No one really wants Russia to go back to the shameful years of Yeltsin, when international derision, poverty and criminality were destroying a country on the path to a Yugoslavian style dissolution.
Of course Putin is conscious that his support is changing and is under question, and cannot ignore the protests, so the main challenge in the next six years will be to see how he will address these issues and be a president of all Russians.
The opposition galaxy
The opposition to Mr Putin is heterogeneous as includes communists, liberals, nationalists and the mass of people who voice their anger on websites and blogs. The problem with the opposition is not only in this different composition, but also in the clear fact that currently do not have the support of all Russians.
If you take aside the communists and the nationalists, that can be defined the only constructive and organised opposition to Putin as well a nationwide counter part, the dispersed groups who find voice on the blogs and internet sites does not have a real organisation, program or nationwide support.
The communists of Zyuganov can be seen as the only organised opposition to Mr Putin and United Russia Party. Mr Zyuganov has led the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), successor to the discredited Soviet-era Communist Party, since 1993 and draws his main support from older people, nostalgic for the Soviet Union.
They have a program, a nationwide structure, they can count on votes in cities as well in the countryside. This is demonstrated by the fact they were able to collect over 17% of votes. However, their force is not enough to bring down Putin and unlikely they will form coalitions with the other souls of the opposition. In addition, they can collect support mainly from workers, old generation, but struggle to get a grip on the younger and modernised people, who simply see them as something evil and relegated to the past. The main problem for Putin is that Communists can take away from him votes from the countryside and from workers and lowers classes dissatisfied with the new generation of people and middle class enriched by Putin. This erosion of consent from the base where Putin is gaining support, could be the only reason the opposition could get some way.
Not to mention, at the end, that if Vladimir Putin is not favourite in the West, just only reflect for a moment about the communists. In a truly and free elections they would probably win, although without a majority, but will plunge Russia into the chaos of instability, and in the West no one would like a party that wants, as Mr Zyuganov said, the “re-Stalinisation” of Russian society, and “increasing the role of the UN, restricting the influence of NATO”.
The other big party are the nationalists concentrated around the figure of Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky, 65, the founder and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). He is considered a showman of Russian politics, blending populist and nationalist rhetoric, anti-Western invective and a confrontational style. Despite his anti-Kremlin rhetoric and frequent outbursts, Zhirinovsky is seen as a Kremlin loyalist and a political survivor. As for the communists, this party would be seen as dangerous to western interests. As Zhirinovsky said “Russia should be a centralised state without regional princelings”, describes Britain as Russia’s “worst enemy of the last few centuries”. He draws support mainly from far right and people disillusioned with immigration and corruption. However, is not likely to enter in coalition with the democrats and anti Putin campaigners, as well the communists. His rhetoric and nationalism are considered to benefit Putin more than the other opposition parties.
Sergei Mikhaylovich Mironov, 58, was until recently a long-term loyal ally of Prime Minister Putin. In 2006, he set up the left-of-centre A Just Russia as an opposition party, although many believe is a sort of soft party to split votes and weaken similar opposition factions by taking away votes from the middle class. In his manifesto, Mr Mironov promises nationalisation of natural resources, social guarantees to pensioners and state-sector employees, and progressive taxation. He is not seen as a credible alternative to Mr Putin, reason why his support did not go over 3.85%.
Mikhail Prokhorov, 46 years old, businessman, is the youngest candidate and, according to Forbes magazine, Russia’s third richest man. Mr Prokhorov’s personal charisma has won him many supporters, including among celebrities, but his main followers are young professionals and the emerging middle class. Does not collect any support from lower and workers classes, as well oligarchs in the key sectors that still see him as inexpert and not able to guide a country as Russia. As an oligarch it is thought Mr Prokhorov will struggle to gain support from ordinary Russians, his fortune, that as for many others, was made after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is surrounded by doubts and being probably the fruit of the greatest robbery of the 20th Century when state’s companies were simply taken away from party officials using money from the central bank and soviet organisations. Mr Prokhorov made his fortune – now estimated at $18bn (£11.5bn; 13.7bn Euros) – in the 1990s by buying Norilsk Nickel. He is the owner of the Onexim Group investment fund, which is primarily interested in gold and nickel mining but also has holdings in finance, media and technology. Among his assets are the New Jersey Nets basketball team and the Russian-language magazine Snob. Since he emerged on the political scene, Mr Prokhorov has had to fight widespread allegations of being a “Kremlin project” created to attract the votes of the discontented middle class. There are already rumours that Mr Putin will try to work with him, although his declaration in favour of the jailed and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky will create more than one obstacle to a friendly relation with United Russia.
Based on the above how we can judge the opposition rainbow? Mainly, opposition in the west is identified with the pro-western and modern faction, those who find voice on the blogs galaxy and internet websites. This opposition is mainly made of young educated, English-speaking, students, middle classes and entrepreneurs living in the big cities and able to benefit from the economic boom of Putin years in power.
Their strength is however overestimated in the west, and are supported for the simple fact that their position is clearly more flexible and submissive if compared to that of Putin, Zhirinovsky or Zyuganov. Even when in the media are depicting big organisations and huge rallies, in reality from the pictures you can see mainly the flags of the communists and those of the nationalists of Zhirinovsky, the only two real parties in the block.
Their main issue is that do not draw support from the main Russians outside the big cities, and are constantly undermined by the preponderant forces of communists and nationalists. Another weakness in their struggle to transform the opposition in a real revolution, is that middle classes and young modern students, are not getting support from workers, army, soldiers, police officers or any other sector where Mr Putin has his hands. Also, their lifestyle, made of technology and better living if compared to those struggling to make end month in the far borders of the new capitalist Russia, will not generate a real street campaign or revolution. As history teach, street revolutions or regime changes are made by the masses, by uniting different sectors of society. Middle classes, wealthy teenagers, young entrepreneurs do not have the strength to confront police forces or persevere putting at risk their fortunes.
At last, they do not have a clear political manifesto or idea of how to govern a country like Russia. This is clearly shown on the drop of participation to the protests by the above elements whilst the hard-core of the struggle is still made of communists and nationalists, as the only parties able to organise popular movements.
The fraud allegations: The official story or media exaggerations?
Even before the polls closed, complaints over the election were being aired widely. Suspicions of violations in the voting process emerged from multiple sources as the election day progressed. Opposition activists and independent observers said in particular they were concerned about reports of so called “carousel” or merry-go-round voting, where groups of voters turned up to vote more than once at different polling stations. Russian officials denied the allegations and their parallel complaint was that opposition activists were deliberately flagging up rumours and “false information” in an attempt ahead of time to undermine the election result. Opposition activists had always maintained that the most likely moment for vote rigging might come after the polls closed, when votes were counted behind closed doors.
Billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov declared that he would be demanding an official investigation as the situation, he said, had been particularly “dire” in Moscow and St Petersburg.
But the stronger accusations came from the veteran Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov. Usually a placid figure, he was visibly angry; he called Mr Putin “the main threat” to Russia. He claimed the country was run by a mafia-like clique, that had in its pocket the police, the courts and the chairman of the electoral commission in charge of these elections.
The protest that followed saw at least 120 people detained in Russia, including opposition leaders Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov in Moscow. In Moscow, police said at least 14,000 people had attended the approved protest rally on Pushkin Square, a short walk from the Kremlin. Previous protests in the city attracted up to 100,000 people. A number of people refused to leave the square after the rally and riot police began arresting them. Some 50 people were arrested at a separate protest on Moscow’s Lubyanka Square, where the headquarters of the Federal Security Service is located. In St Petersburg, protesters hurled flares and let off signal rockets, Russian media report. About 70 arrests were made at an unapproved rally which numbered about 800 people, police say.
Amid claims of widespread fraud, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) urged Russia to carry out a thorough investigation. In a statement on the OSCE website, monitors said that while all candidates had been able to campaign freely, there had been “serious problems” from the start. “The point of elections is that the outcome should be uncertain,” said Tonino Picula, co-ordinator of the OSCE mission.”This was not the case in Russia. There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt.”
Earlier Golos, a leading Russian independent election watchdog, said it had received more than 3,000 reports of voting fraud. The watchdog said its own exit polls suggested Mr Putin had actually won just over 50% of the vote – a result that would still have elected him in the first round. State TV exit polls had given him about 59% of the vote. Other allegations, including videos purporting to show evidence of voting irregularities, have circulated online. There were reports of “carousel voting”, with voters being bussed between polling stations to cast multiple ballots, and of people being paid to vote for Mr Putin.
This is the official story as known to us through the bombardment of western medias, but how to judge? These elections were promised to be the most fair, and open in Russia history, with webcams at poll stations, transparent poll boxes, international observers, and common people as inspectors or “vigilantes of freedom”.
All the above can suggest an answer: these have been the freest election in Russian history ever. Who say the contrary should remember that Russia was a Tsarist empire until 1917, then had 70 years of communist rule, 10 years of anarchy with Yeltsin and 10 years of Putin power. Russians have never had election of this type, and even in the West and democratic countries, many of the above are illegal: no webcams or mobile phone are permitted in poll stations, poll boxes must be closed and not transparent, only authorised personnel can monitor elections.
Obviously, at the same time, we cannot also say these elections were completely regular; frauds and irregularities happened as documented, but the point is: could these, if prevented, erode Mr Putin margin by over 15% as to bring him to a second consultation? The answer is no. We are talking of millions of votes, that even Putin and United Russia would not be able to obtain without a real dictatorship, such was the Egypt of Mubarak or Assad in Syria.
But let for a moment analyse the main accusations:
“The point of elections is that the outcome should be uncertain,” said Tonino Picula, co-ordinator of the OSCE mission.”This was not the case in Russia. There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt.” Have we forgotten Italy? Mr Berlusconi owns three nationwide private TV stations, controlled state TV whilst in power appointing its directors, controls all national newspapers, not to count all regional TV and press and advertising companies. The last elections in Italy were a farce if compared to this!
The government accusation of the opposition flagging up rumours and “false information” in an attempt ahead of time to undermine the election result, can be considerate legitimate and create one question: why a government already accused to manipulate election in December would do the same when all the eyes of the international community are above them? Would you steal in front of police officers or rob a bank with a police car parked at the front door?
Opposition activists had always maintained that the most likely moment for vote rigging might come after the polls closed, when votes were counted behind closed doors. Unfortunately for them this is how it works in every country in the world. Votes are always counted at closed door and no one is allowed, except authorised personnel to assist.
Billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov declared that he would be demanding an official investigation as the situation, he said, had been particularly “dire” in Moscow and St Petersburg. If the fraud are that big how is then possible that Mr Putin have the lowest support in both cities, and that the affluence is one of the lowest in Russia? When you have such a big prize and you want to make a change, one would expect Moscow and St. Petersburg to have affluence well over 70%. The low turnout has always been one of the main strong points in favour of Putin. Where are gone all the masses willing to topple him down?
What Putin victory will mean for Russia and the West
In Russia, Mr Putin will not have a simple task as in the past, his support is still strong but not unopposed. Although opposition is still weak and fragmented, he cannot ignore the requests for fairness, less corruption, major investment in rural Russia, as well the usual issues related to regional separatism: Dagestan, Chechnya and the entire Caucasus region. It will be also not easy for him to change the constitution as United Russia is now slipping to a majority of less than 2/3 and this will force the party to open dialogue and negotiations with the other political factions.
Russia, nevertheless, will continue to grow and take steps towards a stable economy, although the main issue for Putin is related to the redistribution of wealth. Now that he received support from the areas less privileged, a result is expected from him or next election could really bring down his leadership forever.
Internally, Mr Putin will continue to invest in the modernisation of the army and increase spending in defence. This is an area where not only internal interests and nationalist pride are creating expectations, but it is also the result of the aggressive and neo –imperialistic NATO strategy.
The bad news concerning his re-election are for the West. Mr Putin election will bring a strong, determined and harder policy toward NATO, and its plan to a new hegemony in the world. The plans for the missile shield, humanitarian intervention masking regime changes, anti-Russia propaganda in the media, and aggressive stance in Russian borders are likely to be met with usual hard position from Mr Putin. Likely UN resolutions will be vetoed, gas and energy blackmailing will start again, rise in Russian spending for armed forces will flex muscles and if necessary Georgia style campaign will be taken to block any attempt of limit Russian influence in the east.
The West has acted until now with irresponsibility and issues such as Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Palestine will create cold relations between Russia and United States. Putin will likely continue in Russian strategy to create along with China and the emerging countries a block to oppose western hegemony.
The next six year will bring either stability, if by that we mean a major international control on each power, or instability if the counterparts will slip again to a childish game where soon or later a mistake could lead to a military confrontation, although made by third parties. Old style cold war.