The Real Russia. Today. ‘Great powers don’t bluff’

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Russia vs. the West: (opinion) Alexander Iskandaryan weighs Russia’s fading regional power, (opinion) Dmitri Trenin thinks Putin could get away with bluffing, and NATO is a threat but not like you think, and (opinion) Alexander Kramarenko says clarity on Putin and 2024 is a foreign policy priority for Russia — also, Zelensky has pissed off the White House, and a ‘clueless’ Russian DJ finds himself caught in a U.S. extradition storyIn other news: a blackout across the Stans, and the Navalnys land on more lists

Russia vs. the West

💪 (Opinion) Russia is stronger than most former imperial centers, but the region is still slipping away

In an essay for the Valdai Discussion Club, Caucasus Institute director Alexander Iskandaryan argues that the post-Soviet space is a unique post-imperial region because one country (the Russian Federation) still unites the states within it. Unlike in other collapsed empires where the center becomes weaker than the periphery or is merely separated by oceans, Russia continues to “create a specific situation” within the former USSR with its superior population, territorial, economic, and military potential, says Iskandaryan. At the same time, he says this Russia-centered “geopolitical community” is fading as cultures and political regimes grow apart and other powers (Poland, Romania, Turkey, and China) exert their own influence. Soon, Iskandaryan worries, the peoples of the region won’t even celebrate New Year’s in the same way.

💪 (Opinion) Great powers don’t bluff, but really great powers can still get away with it

In an interview with Kommersant’s Elena Chernenko, Carnegie Moscow Center director Dmitri Trenin reiterated that he believes a full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine is unlikely, though he acknowledged that the situation remains volatile and ultimately unpredictable. By escalating tensions with the West to a boiling point, says Trenin, Moscow has already (1) successfully demonstrated the seriousness of its intentions and (2) compelled the U.S. to discuss strategic issues that Washington previously ignored outright, including missile deployments and limits on military exercises.

Trenin says he doubts that American decision-makers realize that the key to resolving the current crisis in Ukraine is pressuring the leadership in Kyiv to implement its obligations under the Minsk agreements. The West’s strategy, he says, is apparently to maximize pressure on Russia as soon as the end of Putin’s presidency begins. These long-term plans seek a more “compliant” Russia while Washington confronts China. Russia’s options in this conflict, says Trenin, range from “continued integration with the Western world” and “finding a certain balance of interests” to a separate “Russian project” wherein Moscow turns increasingly to the likes of China, Iran, and Venezuela.

In Ukraine, Trenin says Putin might recognize the self-declared separatist republics’ independence and even absorb Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He says the occupation of Ukraine is unlikely and would disappoint a “small but influential part of the Russian elite.” The most probable “military-technical response” to the West’s refusal to grant Moscow’s demands, Trenin says, is the deployment of certain weapons systems to places they aren’t yet deployed.

Given the unfeasibility of its ultimatum to the West, the Kremlin now risks its reputation at home and especially abroad if it deescalates without getting what it demanded. “Great powers don’t bluff,” says Trenin, though he adds that the Putin administration could nevertheless survive the damage both domestically and internationally.

Asked about how NATO supposedly endangers Russia, Trenin said he believes the threat “is geopolitical and geocultural, not military,” explaining that NATO “seizes all spheres of life” in its members, transforming nations’ political and ideological foundations. So long as Ukraine remains outside the alliance, the country or at least parts of it can still find meaning in “Slavdom” and the connections that unite the Russian world as Moscow understands it. Trenin also points out, however, that Russia’s military high command apparently views NATO as a genuine military threat, and that matters.

Whatever the result of today’s tensions between Russia and the West, there will be winners and losers. To prevent a repeat in another 20–30 years, it will be important that both sides are integrated into the post-conflict security system on terms that remain acceptable. When it won the Cold War, the West miscalculated that Russia would never again be significant internationally. As a major crisis looms and the sun sets on Western global domination, a bit of humility would go a long way.

🗳️ (Opinion) Clarity about Putin’s plans in 2024 are a foreign policy priority for Russia

In a wandering essay ostensibly about the today’s parallels to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Russian International Affairs Council adviser Alexander Kramarenko argues that Moscow has already received from the West what it wanted, albeit in the form of declarations: the right of sovereign states to decide their own national defense policies and foreign alliances. Kramarenko says the West’s policies on Russia today are based on “waiting out” Putin and avoiding any concessions in the meantime. As a result, it’s in Russia’s foreign policy interests to establish clarity on Putin’s plans in 2024, to “convince the Western elites that they’ve got nothing to hope for and must adopt pragmatic, non-ideological policies on Moscow.”

😡 Zelensky on bad terms with Biden (Three sources in the White House and on Capitol Hill told Julia Ioffe that “the Ukrainian president is by turns annoying, infuriating, and downright counterproductive.” Zelensky has reportedly angered the Biden administration by criticizing his rhetoric publicly on Twitter, where he also praised political rival Senator Ted Cruz. “There’s a sense that Zelensky isn’t very good at navigating American politics and is stepping on all the wrong feet,” writes Ioffe.)

🎧 Russian DJ Denis Kaznacheev was charged with laundering $310 million. Then, unexpectedly, the U.S. authorities withdrew their extradition request. (7-min read)

In early January, the American authorities withdrew a request to extradite Berlin-based Russian DJ Denis Kaznacheev. The U.S. had charged him with laundering hundreds of millions of dollars. As a result, a Berlin court placed Kaznacheev in pre-trial detention before releasing him on bail, while making it clear that Germany would not challenge his extradition stateside. In recent months, new details of the case have emerged: Kaznacheev was accused of running WebKazna — a money laundering service on the dark web, — supposedly naming the illegal business after himself. People close to the DJ think he was framed by a family friend. Meduza looks into how the story unfolded.

In other news

💡 Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan begin to restore power after sweeping blackout (3-min read)

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have begun to restore power following a major blackout that hit the three Central Asian countries on Tuesday, January 25. The outages were caused by accident that affected the countries’ interconnected power grid. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have blamed each other for triggering blackout. The three countries have started to restore power separately, though they plan to return to the integrated system later on. Authorities in Uzbekistan are also urging the population to ignore rumors circulating on social media that electricity won’t be restored for several days.

👮 Russia puts Alexey Navalny and key associates on ‘terrorist and extremist’ list (the designation makes fundraising virtually impossible inside Russia)

👮 Navalny’s brother is added to federal wanted list in Russia (parole officers recently asked to transfer him to prison over a suspended sentence related to violations of pandemic restrictions)

Yours, Meduza


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