Tuesday, December 21, 2021
International: Putin says Russia’s back is to the wall in Ukraine, jailed in Belarus and hoping for help on high, NYT says Kremlin is ‘militarizing’ Russian society,’ Biden could cut key exports to Russia and disrupt the economy, the Pentagon denies a chemical-weapons scheme in Ukraine, (opinion) Gerard Toal says ‘defeating policies’ have led both Russia and NATO astray in Ukraine, and (opinion) Steven Pifer says Putin keeps getting Kyiv wrongLaw and order: The life of a Russian political prisoner’s partner on the outside, a court shows mercy to the just-married Doxa editors, and (opinion) historian Alexander Kolpakidi says today’s FSB is more royal guard than Cheka
🛡️ Speaking to expanded meeting of Defense Ministry Board, Putin says Russia has ‘nowhere to retreat’ over Ukraine (“Do they really think we do not see these threats? Or do they think that we will just stand idly watching threats to Russia emerge?” the president said of what the U.S. and NATO are “trying or planning to do in Ukraine.”)
🙏 Facing six years in prison in Belarus, Russian national Sofia Sapega appeals to Lukashenko for clemency (she was arrested in May 2021 alongside her boyfriend, Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Protasevich, after their Ryanair flight was forced to land in Minsk)
🛡️ NYT says the Kremlin is ‘militarizing Russian society’ and ‘preparing Russians for the possibility of a fight’ (Journalists focus on how schools, “patriotic education” spending, the military, the news media, and the Orthodox Church have promoted the idea that enemies surround the country. Sociologist Aleksei Levinson told NYT that Russians wouldn’t welcome the bloody conquest of Ukraine, but they are widely “conditioned” to believe that the use of force in the region is a possibility.
🛃 Washington is reportedly considering export control measures to disrupt Russia’s economy (a Biden administration official told Reuters that the “extraordinary” policy borrows from Trump-era tools used against the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei and could cut Russia’s access to industrial and consumer technologies like smartphones, key aircraft, and automobile components)
☠️ Pentagon denies Russian defense minister’s claims that U.S. military contractors are smuggling chemicals into eastern Ukraine to incite a ‘provocation’ (spokesperson John Kirby said, “Those statements by Minister Shoigu are completely false,” referring to remarks made at the same event where Putin warned that Russia has “nowhere to retreat”)
🕊️ (Opinion) Gerard Toal says ‘self-defeating policies’ and ‘security delusions on all sides’ are to blame for looming military escalation in Ukraine (The Virginia Tech professor of government and international affairs says Moscow’s delusion is believing that its “military force can create genuine security and influence in neighboring states.” Wherever Russia intervenes, it only polarizes and raises interest in joining NATO. The West, meanwhile, expanded NATO rather than disbanding it after the Cold War, which “only redoubled [European] insecurity as Russia rebuilt its power and reacted,” leading to a “self-fulfilling security dilemma” wherein the alliance’s expansion “was justified by the very insecurity it produced.” “NATO does not get to define Russia’s security perception,” argues Toal, who accuses the West of “living solely within one’s benevolent view of oneself.”
🕊️ (Opinion) Steven Pifer says the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin have a ‘flawed understanding’ of Ukraine (The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine accuses Putin of erasing Ukrainian culture by insisting on sameness with Russia and alienating Ukrainians by annexing Crimea and fueling a war in the Donbas. Pressing Kyiv for “humiliating concessions” in the east has only made NATO membership more appealing, as well. If Moscow escalates its war in Ukraine, it will be a tragedy for both sides, says Pifer.)
Law and order
⏳ Two years ago, Dasha Lesnykh’s partner was sent to prison as part of the ‘Moscow Case.’ Photographer Evgeny Feldman captures her life on the outside. (9-min read)
In December 2019, “Moscow Case” defendant Egor Lesnykh proposed to his girlfriend Dasha during his final courtroom remarks. The next day, he was sentenced to three years in prison. Egor was charged with assaulting a police officer at a rally after he tried to protect other protesters from being beaten by members of the National Guard. Today, he’s serving his sentence in an open prison near Volgograd; he’s due to be released in June 2022. Approximately once every two months, Dasha is able to visit Egor in prison. Over the course of several weeks, Meduza photographer Evgeny Feldman snapped photos of Dasha before and after one such visit.
⚖️ Russian court rejects prison officials’ petition to jail Doxa editors who missed curfew because of their own wedding (they were just 18 minutes late after attending a double ceremony, and the judge decided that the prison officials’ request was just too harsh)
👑 (Opinion) Historian Alexander Kolpakidi says today’s FSB has more in common with tsarist royal guard than Soviet Cheka (An expert in Russia’s intelligence community, Kolpakidi paints a grim picture of today’s federal police agencies, arguing that the main purpose of organizations like the FSB has become the protection of the president and oligarchy from the people. He says a “vicious cycle” of regime degradation, popular dissatisfaction, public criticism, and police response now fuels the work of the FSB. Kolpakidi also compares Russia’s contemporary men of violence unfavorably to their more ideologically driven Soviet counterparts, arguing that money and criminal gains are all that matter today in places like the Donbas.)