The Evolution of Homo Sovieticus to Putin’s Man

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE MOSCOW TIMES)

 

The Evolution of Homo Sovieticus to Putin’s Man

The tumultuous decades have left their mark on Russians’ inner life

Evgeny Tonkonogy

Lev Gudkov remembers sitting in his Moscow office as a young sociologist, surrounded by stacks of letters.

It was 1989, and for the first time after decades of hushed conversation around kitchen tables, Russians had been asked for their opinions on a range of economic and social issues.

The response was so overwhelming that the nearby post office was instructed to stop deliveries so that the team would not be barricaded in, says Gudkov, head of the independent Levada Center polling agency.

After almost 30 years of sociological research, The Moscow Times asked Gudkov to describe Russians’ changing attitudes and beliefs from perestroika up to today.

Soviet Man

Sovyetsky chelovek (Soviet man) is the archetype of a person born in and shaped by a totalitarian regime. Life in repressive conditions has made him crafty and skilled at doublethink. He knows how to bypass the authorities’ demands while simultaneously maintaining informal and corrupt relations with them.

They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work. They pretend to care for us, we pretend to respect them.

Soviet man demonstrates his loyalty to the authorities through collective symbolism and performance. But his real values and interests are in the private sphere — his home and family.

He has few demands: he knows he has little to no power and deeply mistrusts everyone but those closest to him, expecting nothing good from anyone else.

After living through countless restrictions — the traumas of war, collectivization, modernization, miniscule salaries, residence permits — he just wants one thing: to survive.

Russia and the World

In the 1990s Russia was oriented towards the West and Europe, ready to follow their path. Then, 40 percent of Russians thought their country should join the EU and even NATO. Only 13 percent could name any adversaries: Islamists, the CIA, communists, democrats, and the mafia.

Many more, 47 percent, said: Why are you looking for foes when all our problems are caused by us? This inferiority complex was, in a sense, a condition for reform. People said they’d trade their status as an influential nation in return for calm and stability.

For people accustomed to socialism, the 1990s were pure chaos, with hyperinflation, salaries not being paid on time and job insecurity. People lost their sense of self-respect and dignity.

Then Vladimir Putin arrived on the scene and said: “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone has skeletons in their closet. Let’s turn a new page in our history.”

Source: Levada

With that came the conviction that Russia had a right to use force, especially on its borders. Russians’ pride was hurt when former Soviet republics changed alliances. When they had color revolutions or moved to integrate with the West, aggressive feelings spiked, fueled by state propaganda. In November 2013, before the Maidan revolution, around 75 percent of Russians said that Ukraine’s integration into Europe was their own business and that Russia should stay out. Attitudes shifted sharply when media warned against a potential “genocide” of Russians in Donbass and Crimea by Ukrainian “fascists.”

Today in polls, Russians describe the West as coldhearted, lacking in spiritual values, extremely formal and aggressive. Russians no longer believe the Western model is for them — their country has its own “special” path.

Source: Levada

A national inferiority complex and imperial arrogance — these are parts of the same mechanism that allows Russians to come to terms with their lowered status following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But while Putin’s foreign policy enjoys tacit support, it has serious limits. Only around 7 percent of Russians say they’re prepared to make a personal sacrifice to advance the country’s interests abroad. Because people feel they have no decision-making power, they don’t feel responsible for the outcome.

Individual vs. the State

Russians came out of the 1990s with an acquired taste for consumption.

Buffered by the “golden rain” of high oil prices, the market economy finally appeared to be picking up after the 1998 crisis, bringing prosperity.

Under Putin, the state has largely returned to its previous role as a paternalistic caretaker with the redistribution of resources as its main function. “Putin takes care of us” is a frequently-heard response in polls.

Human rights and individual freedoms are just words for the majority of the population. At the same time, attitudes towards repression have softened. Josef Stalin, whose popularity is steadily rising even among those who suffered most under him, is seen as an effective manager who deserves respect. This return to the Soviet concept of governance is most common among the elderly who live in the countryside.

People in cities are more educated, have a broader range of employers other than the state, and have access to several sources of information. But politically active liberal democrats, hardcore conservatives, and communists only make up about 15 percent of the population. The vast majority is completely uninterested in political life. Asked whether they want to be more involved, 85 percent of people say no. Politics, they feel, has nothing to do with them.

Source: Levada

Conservatism

On the one hand, Russians describe their own society as brutish and uncivilized. On the other, they consider themselves to be open and warm, as opposed to the cold, closed, hypocritical people in the West.

Like Snow White’s stepmother, they look in the mirror and ask, “Who is the nicest in the world?” and then answer, “We are!”

After the protests of 2011, religious conservatism was presented as a counterpoint to demand for reform and political opposition. Being Russian has become synonymous with being an Orthodox Christian.

As with most ideologies, this belief is superficial. Orthodox crosses and icons in cars and homes are more elements of superstition than deep religious feeling.

The number of people who describe themselves as religious has increased from 16 percent several decades ago to 77 percent today. But 40 percent out of those “religious people” say they don’t believe in God. Many have never even heard of the pillars of Christian dogma.

Source: Levada

Soviet Man 2017

Sovyetsky chelovek has somewhat changed. He’s been fed, he’s changed his clothes, he’s bought a car and owns a home. But he still feels insecure and vulnerable. And he’s just as aggressive towards his neighbor because there are no institutions that have laid down rules that people follow.

Today the average Russian expects a minimum living standard — work, a home, and some social rights. Private property is valued, but no one expects any guarantees. People know that the government can take away everything they have at any moment and for any reason.

In polls, people say the government represents the interests of the security services, oligarchs and bureaucracy — but not the interests of ordinary people. And they believe this cannot be changed. So, in Soviet fashion, they adapt and make deals with the authorities. Corruption is perceived as both serious and commonplace.

The theory that Russians are somehow not prepared for a liberal democracy is false. Russians today simply reflect and respond to their circumstances. In a different situation they’d behave differently.

Now there is no desire for change. The idealism and romanticism of the perestroika era has evaporated.

The young people who participated in Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption protests are an exception to this rule. But the narrative that a new generation will bring change is a false one. Today, Russia’s Soviet-era institutions stamp out any idealism. It will take more than one generation to change that.

Foreigners Can Now Fight in Russia’s Overseas Military Campaigns

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE MOSCOW TIMES)

Foreigners Can Now Fight in Russia’s Overseas Military Campaigns

Oct 9, 2017 — 13:55
— Update: 13:55

Simonov Nikita / Moskva News Agency

Foreign citizens can now be deployed in Russia’s military operations abroad, according to a new decree signed by President Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

Foreigners have been allowed to enlist in the Russian army and Interior Ministry troops under a January 2015 decree.

Russia’s new decree, published on Monday, allows foreign nationals to take part in combat operations outside Russian borders.

The law’s previous iteration was ostensibly aimed at legalizing the status of former Soviet republics already serving in the Russian military.

The 2015 policy came into force five years after it was proposed to provide legal status to locals serving on Russian bases in Armenia and Tajikistan.

The latest decree also authorizes foreign deployment under contracts of up to one year with reserve soldiers and conscripts who have less than a month left in service.

King Salman Stresses That Science And Knowledge Promote Coexistence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Moscow – Asharq Al-Awsat

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz stressed that science and knowledge are the basis for the renaissance of nations.

Tthey factor in through the formation of educated generations leading communities, promotion of tolerance and coexistence among peoples, and preservation of achievements of civilization.

In a speech delivered after receiving an honorary doctorate from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), King Salman said that education and knowledge are the key promoting tolerance and coexistence.

“I am honored today to be with the scientists and scholars of the Russian Federation and I would like to express appreciation to the institute for granting me this doctorate,” he said.

“We proudly commend the efforts of our Islamic nation in different scientific fields. In the Kingdom, we give a lot of importance toward raising new generations capable of facing today’s challenges. I call on universities and scientific institutes in the two countries to communicate and cooperate in order to serve the Russian and Saudi people, and the whole world.”

MGIMO granted the king the doctorate in honor of his role in promoting peace and stability, and strengthening Saudi-Russian relations.

The celebration was attended by the king’s Saudi delegation, and Russian academics and officials presided over by the institute’s rector, Anatoly Torkunov, and Russian Minister of Education Olga Vasileva.

The institute is one of the most important educational institutes in Russia, and is internationally known in the diplomatic and international relations fields. In 1944, it was founded on the basis of the recently established School of International Relations of the Lomonosov Moscow State University.

In 2016, MGIMO signed a cooperation agreement with the Prince Saud Al-Faisal Institute for Diplomatic Studies at the Saudi Foreign Ministry.

The Guinness Book of World Records acknowledged MGIMO for the number of languages it teaches — 53.

Since its establishment, the institute has graduated more than 40,000 students in all fields, including 5,500 foreign students and some well-known politicians and journalists.

The institute was dubbed the “Harvard of Russia” by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger because it educates so many of Russia’s political, economic and intellectual elite. It has the lowest acceptance rate and highest test scores of any university in Russia.

Russians and Saudis hold key talks on oil and Middle East

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS-SHINE)

 

Russians and Saudis hold key talks on oil and Middle East

RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin hosted Saudi Arabia’s King Salman for talks at the Kremlin yesterday, cementing a relationship that is crucial for determining world oil prices and could be pivotal for resolving conflicts in the Middle East.

King Salman, the first sitting Saudi monarch to visit Russia, led a delegation to Moscow that agreed joint investment deals worth several billion dollars, providing much-needed investment for a Russian economy battered by low oil prices and Western sanctions.

On the political front, there was no sign of any substantial breakthrough on the issues that divide Moscow and Riyadh, including the fact that they back rival sides in Syria’s civil war.

However, there was no sign of any public discord either.

Briefing the media on the talks between Putin and King Salman, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov focused on the common ground between the two countries.

Lavrov said the two leaders had agreed on the importance of fighting terror, of finding peaceful solutions to conflicts in the Middle East, and on the principle of territorial integrity.

In a concrete expression of how ties are deepening, Saudi Arabia said it had signed a memorandum of understanding on the purchase of S-400 air defense systems from Russia’s state arms exporter.

The two leaders had a “friendly and substantial discussion based on a desire by Moscow and Riyadh to consistently grow mutually beneficial partnerships in all spheres,” Lavrov said at a briefing alongside his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir.

“We believe that new horizons have opened up for the development of our relations that we could not previously have imagined,” the Saudi foreign minister said. “Relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia have reached an historical moment,” said Jubeir.

Russia’s military intervention in the Syria conflict has brought about an acknowledgement in Arab capitals that it now has real clout in the Middle East.

Moscow and Riyadh worked together to secure a deal between OPEC and other oil producers to cut output until the end of March 2018, in an effort to push up world prices.

Russia: President Putin’s Birthday, Some Celebrate Some Demonstrate

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE MOSCOW TIMES)

 

To coincide with President Vladimir Putin’s birthday on Saturday, Russian opposition leader and presidential hopeful Alexei Navalny’s campaign has called for nationwide demonstrations.

Navalny was recently sentenced to 20 days behind bars ahead of a campaign event in Nizhny Novgorod.

Protests are planned in 80 Russian cities, from Belgorod, near the Ukrainian border in western Russia, to Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains and Irkutsk, one of Siberia’s largest cities.

Events will be held throughout the day — at 2 p.m. in Moscow and 6 p.m. in St. Petersburg, Putin’s hometown. Moscow Times staff will be reporting from both rallies.

Here are the highlights so far:

12 p.m. — Protests have already been held in several Far Eastern cities, including in Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, and Ulan-Ude. Attendance was low, with only dozens of people attending, according to media reports.

, Привокзальная: фотосессия с плакатами. Школьник, которого в лицее гнобили за значки, тоже здесь. 

— In several cities, including in Krasnodar and Smolensk, regional coordinators of the Navalny campaign have been detained and sentenced to several days behind bars for organizing unsanctioned protest rallies, the police monitoring website OVD-Info reports. Other campaign employees, including several lawyers, have also been detained.

В российских городах сегодня пройдут акции в поддержку Алексея Навального pic.twitter.com/UmD5qzVidS

— Ahead of Saturday’s demonstrations, an unidentified source told the Interfax news agency that police in St. Petersburg had been instructed to “act very harshly,” against protesters. On Saturday, photos showed there were renovation works going on at the planned protest site.

Sudden renovation works at the Field of Mars in St. Petersburg, where a rally in ‘s support is ssupposed to take place today https://twitter.com/BukvaCe/status/916560258662879232 

— Some media also report protesters have been detained. The reports have not been confirmed so far.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Protest arrests already being reported by @tvrain. According 2 pro-opposition channel, this old lady ws carried away by 4 officers in Samara

13:39 p.m. — Ahead of the Moscow protest, there is a moderate police presence in the city center. Around 5 law enforcement vans have lined up on Moscow’s Revolution Square, a Moscow Times reporter on the scene reports.

Members of volunteer ‘druzhinniki’ brigades have come out to reinforce police on Pushkin Square.

Around 7 volunteer ‘druzhinniki’ with orange armbands join police ahead of @navalny rally on Pushkin Square: http://bit.ly/2hUL6Oa 

14:00 p.m. — Several hundred people have gathered at Moscow’s Pushkin Square, a low turnout compared to earlier protests.

— A retired man, who asked to be identified only as Sergei, tells The Moscow Times: “I came here to see how the youth will behave.

But what can we expect? They will all be detained. The authorities won’t allow Navalny to do anything, they’ve put him behind bars now.

I worked at a factory for 40 years but my pension is 15,000 rubles ($260).”

— The crowd size has gradually grown, with some Russian media estimating around 500 people have come to Pushkin Square in Moscow. Protesters chant: “Happy birthday, Putin!”, “Free Navalny!,” “Russia without Putin!” and “Navalny is our president!”

15:00 p.m. — The OVD-Info police monitoring website reports that at least 40 people have been detained ahead of and during the Navalny protests in Samara, Izhevsk, Saratov, Pskov, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. In Yekaterinburg, at least 24 people have been detained, according to the Mayor Yevgeny Roizman, who also attended the rally.

Some media report arrests have also begun in Moscow.

Natasha (21): “We are all tired of the economic problems, we are fed up with all the lying and corruption” http://bit.ly/2hUL6Oa 

— St. Petersburg authorities reiterate a warning that attending an illegal rally could lead to arrest, urging residents and visitors to stay away.  A Moscow Times reporter on the site says police have begun patrolling the area ahead of the protest, scheduled for 6 p.m.

There also appears to be construction work going on at the Field of Mars protest site.

Francesca Visser/ For MT

16:00 p.m. — The Interfax news agency cites Moscow police as saying the rally in Moscow has gathered around 700 people, including journalists. As some marched towards the Kremlin, law enforcement closed off Red Square, amid pouring rain.

The rain stops, the crowd stays. Van-mounted police loudspeakers now demanding they disperse. Roads around protest operating normally pic.twitter.com/H4aPUdDNLl

Sorry, tourists – police and riot forces close off Red Square as protestors march down to city centre pic.twitter.com/FfQctIMQEB

View image on Twitter

In St. Petersburg, a Moscow Times reporter counts roughly ten riot police buses and several dozen police cars on standby just behind the Cathedral of Spilled Blood, ahead of the 6.p.m. rally.

— According to new figures from the OVD-Info police monitoring site, around 104 people have been detained in 22 Russian cities — at least 18 people in Yekaterinburg, 12 in Tula, 11 in Saratov, 10 in Samara and 8 in Nizhny Tagil. More people were detained at rallies in Kaliningrad, Krasnodar, Perm, St. Petersburg, Pskov, Rostov on Don, Saransk, Sochi, Stavropol, Tver, Tyumen, Yakutsk and Yuzhno Sakhalinsk, as well as Moscow.

In Yekaterinburg, a protester was pictured lying on the ground unconscious surrounded by police, reportedly after being beaten.

In Yekaterinburg someone appears to have lost consciousness, reason unclear. Ppl chant: Release him!

16:45 p.m. — The protest in Moscow is still going strong. Crowds sing the national anthem and the song “Everything is going according to plan,” about the perestroika era.

"Happy birthday, you little thief," this poster reads.

“Happy birthday, you little thief,” this poster reads. Ksenia Churmanova / For MT

17:30 p.m. — In St. Petersburg, Putin’s hometown, people have begun gathering at the Field of Mars protest location. Ahead of the events, city authorities have warned of detentions.

— Updated figures from the OVD-Info police monitoring website say that 124 people have been detained across 23 Russian cities. Most detentions were carried out in Lipetsk and Yekaterinburg.

— Some of those attending the rallies are teenagers. “I’m not a supporter of either Navalny or Putin,” Alexander, a 15-year-old at the Field of Mars protest site in St. Petersburg told The Moscow Times. “I’m simply here to watch. I know it’s dangerous to be here but it doesn’t matter, I’ll be careful.”

— ” I am here because I am against Putin and his gang,” Valentina Stefanovna, 70, tells The Moscow Times. ” I don’t really like Navalny but I am against what is going on with our government and I am against Putin. I stand for our constitution and I want to see changes in the government.”

Valentina Stefanovna, 70

Valentina Stefanovna, 70 Francesca Visser / For MT

A small group of protesters holding Catalonian flags have appeared on the Field of Mars site, saying they are protesting Spanish police violence.

At @navalny protest site a group of people are protesting against “medieval Spanish police violence” in Catalonia http://bit.ly/2hUL6Oa 

— 18:10 p.m. In Moscow, most protesters have gone home.

The streets have cleared

The streets have cleared Ksenia Churmanova/ For MT

Riot police stands in line by the Kremlin, though most protesters have gone home.

Riot police stands in line by the Kremlin, though most protesters have gone home. Ksenia Churmanova/ For MT

— A loudspeaker announcement is offering free tickets for a screening of the film “Krym,” set in Crimea, a Moscow Times journalist reports from St. Petersburg. Several hundred have begun chanting: “Putin is a thief!” and “Free Navalny!”

Several hundred people have gathered on the Field of Mars site in St. Petersburg

Several hundred people have gathered on the Field of Mars site in St. Petersburg Francesca Visser/ For MT

— Media reports police have begun detaining protesters in St. Petersburg, using force.

21:30 p.m. — The latest figures from OVD-Info say in total 271 people across 26 cities have been detained. Most protesters were detained in St. Petersburg, where riot police detained 62 people, often using force.

With that report, we’re ending today’s live blog. For the news story click here.

Tit-for-tat May See U.S. Media Outlets Banned in Russia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE MOSCOW TIMES)

 

Oct 6, 2017 — 19:03
— Update: 19:20

stevepb / Pixabay

Russian prosecutors are considering a retaliatory response following Washington’s request that the RT America news channel register as a foreign agent.

The Prosecutor General’s Office is studying the possibility of labeling U.S. media outlets “undesirable,” the Interfax news agency reported Friday, citing an unidentified source knowledgeable of the situation.

Amid concerns over Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, the U.S. Justice Department has requested that the Kremlin-backed RT adhere to a 1930s foreign agent registration law.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said that “every step toward the Russian media will have a corresponding response.”

The Russian authorities are considering blacklisting U.S. media at the Federation Council committee on state sovereignty’s task force session, according to Interfax.

“This could affect all American media operating in Russia,” Interfax reported, citing an unidentified source. The outlets being considered for the “undesirable” label were not disclosed.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that reciprocal actions cannot be ruled out, but noted that he had no information regarding U.S. outlets being labeled “undesirable,” state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported.

The Interfax report comes a week after Russia’s state media censor Roskomnadzor warned CNN International over alleged media law violations.

Read TIME’s Original Report on the Sputnik 1 Launch 60 Yrs Ago Today

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM SCIENCE)

 

Read TIME’s Original Report on the Sputnik 1 Launch

Oct 03, 2017

The Soviets called it sputnik, meaning simply “satellite” or “fellow traveler.” But to American space-watchers of 60 years ago, the satellite that launched on Oct. 4, 1957 had many meanings: defeat and discovery, but also the promise of the space race that was to come.

The launch — the anniversary of which coincides with the beginning of World Space Week — came as a surprise to scientists and officials in the U.S., though they quickly downplayed their shock that the USSR had the ability to get a heavy satellite into orbit, a feat the U.S. had not yet accomplished. The following week’s issue of TIME explained how the news broke:

Hurtling unseen, hundreds of miles from the earth, a polished metal sphere the size of a beach ball passed over the world’s continents and oceans one day last week. As it circled the globe for the first time, traveling at 18.000 m.p.h., the U.S. was blissfully unaware that a new era in history had begun, opening a bright new chapter in mankind’s conquest of the natural environment and a grim new chapter in the cold war.

The news came in a broadcast by Moscow radio, and it got to Washington in an ironic way. At the Soviet embassy on 16th Street that evening, some 50 scientists of 13 nations, members of the International Geophysical Year rocket and satellite conference, were gathered at a cocktail party. After the vodka, Scotch and bourbon started to flow, New York Times Reporter Walter Sullivan got an urgent phone call from his paper, hurried back to whisper in the ear of a U.S. scientist. A moment later Physicist Lloyd Berkner rapped on the hors d’oeuvre table until the hubbub quieted. “I wish to make an announcement,” he said. “I am informed by the New York Times that a satellite is in orbit at an elevation of 900 kilometers [559 miles]. I wish to congratulate our Soviet colleagues on their achievement.”

As the science section added, that achievement was quite remarkable: sputnik was heavier than expected — more than eight times heavier than the satellite the comparable U.S. project had been looking at — which meant that Soviet rocket capabilities were impressive. The satellite also flew higher than the American scientists had thought possible.

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Scientists turned on their gear to track sputnik as radio stations and amateur astronomers alike sought the telltale sound it emitted — a sound TIME called “those chilling beeps,” acknowledging that the remarkable scientific achievement was also hard proof of Communist success in a Cold War world in which scientific advancement was seen as a proxy for military might.

However, as TIME noted, at least some people saw sputnik as a good sign for the U.S., realizing that it was just the kick the nation needed to commit seriously to space exploration. The reason for the Soviet success was not superior thinking, they felt, but rather that the U.S. had not yet decided to commit to the cause. As the space race got into gear, those people could hardly have known just how right they were.

Two Years on, the Stakes of Russia’s War in Syria Are Piling (Op-ed)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE MOSCOW TIMES)

 

Two years ago, on Sept. 30, 2015, Russian warplanes launched their first airstrikes in Syria, plunging Russia into a civil war that had already been festering for four years.

Moscow intervened in Syria vowing to fight Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, terrorist groups banned in Russia. Its objective was to transform its relationship with Washington and Brussels by disarming an imminent threat to the West after it had hit Russia with sanctions for the Kremlin’s “adventures in Ukraine.”

Days before the airstrikes began, Putin delivered a speech at the United Nations General Assembly calling for a united front against international terrorism, framing it as the modern equivalent of World War II’s coalition against Hitler.

But two years later, Russia’s hopes of winning concessions in Ukraine for its campaign against Islamic State have come to very little. Putin’s strategic alliance with the United States never materialized.

Russia, however, has met two less lofty goals. One was to rescue the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, Moscow’s longtime ally, from the inevitable defeat at the hands of an armed Sunni rebellion.

Moscow leveraged its ties with Iran, another regime ally, to deploy Shia militias from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight the Syrian rebels. This allowed Moscow to send a modest ground force to Syria — artillery and some special operations forces — without a large footprint.

Russia helped Assad recast the civil war and the popular uprising against his regime as a fight against jihadi terrorists by focusing its airstrikes over the last two years on moderate Syrian rebel groups, while paying little attention to Islamic State.

This rendered the conflict black and white — a binary choice between Assad and jihadists. It allowed Moscow to sell its intervention as support for Syria’s sovereignty against anarchy and terrorism. Russia made clear that it saw the path to stability in the Middle East as helping friendly autocrats suppress popular uprisings with force.

At home, the Kremlin sold its Syrian gambit as a way of defeating terrorism before it reached Russian soil. Russia, after all, needed to prevent Russians and Central Asians who joined Islamic State from returning home to wreck havoc at home soil.

Moscow was also able to use Syria as a lab for its newest weaponry.

By workshopping newly-acquired precision cruise-missile strikes, Russia joined the United States in an exclusive arms club. Showcasing military prowess, while keeping casualties figures low — some 40 Russia servicemen died in Syria — it was able to win public support at home for the intervention.

But perhaps most importantly, the Kremlin’s intervention in Syria has reaffirmed Russia’s status as a global superpower which is capable of projecting force far from its own borders.

Andrei Luzik / Russian Navy Northern Fleet Press Office / TASS

While Moscow may have been offended by former U.S. President Barack Obama’s dismissive description of Russia as a “regional power,” it impressed Arab leaders with its unwavering support for Assad, which was important at a time when U.S. commitment to allies’ security and the stability in the region was in doubt.

Moscow’s backing of Assad ensured it had channels with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, despite their support for Syrian rebels. It was even able to convince the Gulf to wind down its support for the opposition as a Russia-led victory for the regime became inevitable.

Russia’s alliances with Jordan and Egypt proved useful in setting up direct lines to armed opposition groups to reach de-escalation agreements. And even as it fights alongside Shia Iran, Moscow has avoided being drawn into a sectarian proxy war with Sunni Arab states.

Russia’s most stunning diplomatic coup was to change Turkey’s calculus in the war from a proxy adversary into a major partner in securing the decisive victory in Aleppo. Through the Astana process, Russia alongside Turkey wound down fighting with moderate rebels.

Russia’s victory in Syria was helped by Washington’s decision not to immerse itself into Syria and a war by proxy with Russia. Instead, the U.S. focused its military operations on defeating Islamic State in eastern Syria.

Now, with de-escalation in western Syria, regime forces and Russian airpower are turned to defeating Islamic State, which has brought them into contact with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advancing from the northeast as part of their offensive to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State.

The potential for a U.S.-Russia kinetic collision in Syria with unpredictable consequences is escalating. This highlights the looming endgame in Syria and the choices Moscow and Washington will have to make moving forward.

Washington needs to decide whether it wants to stay in Syria for counterinsurgency operations to prevent the re-emergence of Islamic State. It may also decide to block Iran from establishing the “Shia land bridge” from the Iraqi border to the Mediterranean.

But this entails supporting the SDF and helping them control sizeable real estate northeast of the Euphrates river and blocking regime forces and Russia from advancing east.

Moscow needs to decide whether it wants to be dragged into Assad and Iran’s strategy of ensuring a complete military victory in Syria and preventing the opposition from exercising any autonomous self-rule. That could see Russia pulled into a nasty proxy fight with the Americans.

Two years after Russia intervened in Syria, the war may be winding down. But the stakes for Moscow and Washington are stacking.

The views and opinions expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moscow Times.

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America’s new world order is dead:—China And Russia Are The New World Order?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE JAPAN TIMES)

 

America’s new world order is dead

China and Russia have derailed the post-Cold War movement toward U.S.-led global integration

BY 

BLOOMBERG

American foreign policy has reached a historic inflection point, and here’s the surprise: It has very little to do with the all-consuming presidency and controversies of Donald Trump.

For roughly 25 years after the Cold War, one of the dominant themes of U.S. policy was the effort to globalize the liberal international order that had initially taken hold in the West after World War II. Washington hoped to accomplish this by integrating the system’s potential challengers — namely Russia and China — so deeply into it that they would no longer have any desire to disrupt it. The goal was, by means of economic and diplomatic inducement, to bring all the world’s major powers into a system in which they would be satisfied — and yet the United States and its values would still reign supreme.

This was a heady ambition, one that was based on the idea that Russia and China were heading irreversibly down the path of political and economic liberalization, and that they could eventually be induced to define their interests in a way compatible with America’s own.

Yet that project has now unmistakably reached a dead end. The new goal of U.S. strategy won’t be to integrate rival great powers into a truly global world order, but to defend the existing international system — successful yet incomplete as it is — against their depredations.

This conclusion may be difficult to accept, because it flies in the face of the enormous optimism that characterized the post-Cold War era. As the superpower contest ended, democracy and free markets were spreading like wildfire, walls were falling and geopolitical divisions were disappearing.

Even Russia and China — America’s longtime geopolitical rival and the next great power looming on the horizon — were showing interest in greater cooperation and integration with the U.S.-led international community. It seemed possible that the world was moving toward a single model of political and economic organization, and a single global system under American leadership.

Encouraging this outcome became a chief preoccupation of American policy. The U.S. sought to deepen diplomatic ties with Boris Yeltsin’s Russia and to encourage democratic and free-market reforms there, even as it hedged against potential Russian revanchism and European instability by expanding NATO to include the countries of the former Warsaw Pact.

Similarly, Washington pursued “comprehensive engagement” toward China, focused on integrating Beijing into the global economy and encouraging it to take a more active role in regional and international diplomacy. The theory of the case was that a richer China would eventually become a more democratic China, as the growth of the middle class produced pressures for political reform. America’s integration policy would simultaneously give Beijing an equity stake in the existing, U.S.-led liberal order and thereby deprive Chinese leaders of reasons for challenging it.

As President Bill Clinton’s administration described it, this approach was one of “seizing on the desire of both countries to participate in the global economy and global institutions, insisting that both accept the obligations as well as the benefits of integration.”

This strategy, which was summed up by Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick in 2005 as the “responsible stakeholder” model, reflected an admirable aspiration to permanently leave behind the intense geopolitical and ideological competition of the 20th century. Yet, as has become increasingly clear over the last decade — first in Russia, and now in China — that approach was based on two assumptions that have not withstood the test of reality.

The first was that China and Russia were indeed moving inexorably toward Western-style economic and political liberalism. Russian reform ground to a halt in the late 1990s, amid economic crisis and political chaos. Over the next 15 years, Vladimir Putin gradually re-established a governing model of increasingly undisguised political authoritarianism and ever-closer collusion between the state and major business interests.

In China, economic growth and integration into the global economy did not lead inevitably to political liberalization. The ruling Communist Party instead used dizzying economic growth rates as a way of purchasing legitimacy and buying off dissent. In recent years, the Chinese political system has actually become more authoritarian, as the government has assiduously repressed human rights advocacy and independent political activism, and centralized power to a degree not seen in decades.

The second assumption was that these powers could be induced to define their own interests the way the U.S. wanted them to. The trouble here was that Russia and China were never willing fully to embrace the U.S.-led liberal order, which emphasized liberal ideas that were bound to seem threatening to dictatorial regimes — not to mention the expansion of NATO into Moscow’s former sphere of influence and the persistence of U.S. alliances and military forces all along China’s East Asia periphery. And so, as Beijing and Moscow obtained, or regained, the power to contest that order, they increasingly did so.

Russia has, over the past decade, sought to revise the post-Cold War settlement in Europe by force and intimidation, most notably through the invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. Putin’s government has also worked to undermine key institutions of the liberal order such as NATO and the European Union, and it has aggressively meddled in the elections and domestic political affairs of Western states.

China, for its part, has been happy to reap the benefits of inclusion in the global economy, even as it has increasingly sought to dominate its maritime periphery, coerce and intimidate neighbors from Vietnam to Japan, and weaken U.S. alliances in the Asia-Pacific region.

American officials hoped that Moscow and Beijing might eventually become satisfied, status quo powers. Instead, as Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution has written, they are behaving in classic revisionist fashion.

The age of integration is thus over, in the sense that there is no realistic, near-term prospect of bringing either Russia or China into an American-led system. This does not mean, however, that America is destined for war with Russia and China, or even that it should seek fully to isolate either power.

For better or worse, U.S.-China trade remains vital to American prosperity and the health of the global economy; cooperation between Washington and Beijing — and even Washington and Moscow — is important to addressing international diplomatic challenges such as nuclear proliferation and climate change.

What this does mean, however, is that the U.S. needs to become both tougher and less ambitious in its approach to great-power relations and the international system. Less ambitious in the sense that it needs to set aside the notion that the liberal order will become truly global or encompass all the major powers anytime soon. And tougher in the sense of understanding that more strenuous efforts will be required to defend the existing order against the challenge that revisionist power represent.

This will require taking difficult but necessary steps, such as making the military investments needed to shore up U.S. power and deterrence in Eastern Europe and the Western Pacific, and developing capabilities needed to oppose Chinese coercion and Russian political subversion of their neighbors. It will require rallying old and new partners against the threat posed by Russian and Chinese expansionism. Above all, it will mean accepting that great-power relations are entering a period of greater danger and tension, and that a willingness to accept greater costs and risks will be the price of meeting the revisionist challenge and preserving American interests.

In short, the goal of achieving a fully integrated world is no longer achievable today. Successfully defending the existing international order that the U.S. has successfully constructed and led over the years will be challenge — and accomplishment — enough.

Hal Brands is the Henry A. Kissinger distinguished professor at the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs, Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Looks Like ISIS Leader al-Baghdadi Is Still Alive

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

(CNN)The leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, seems to have broken his 11-month silence with a long audio message in which he mocks the United States, calls on jihadis to rally against the Syrian regime and insists that ISIS ‘remains’ despite its rapid loss of territory.

A spokesman with the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence told CNN: “We are aware of the audio tape purported to be of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and are taking steps to examine it. While we have no reason to doubt its authenticity, we do not have verification at this point.”
The speech seems to have been recorded relatively recently, as it references North Korean nuclear threats against Japan and the United States, as well as Syrian peace talks — in which Russia, Turkey and Iran are trying to extend ceasefires across Syria.
The release appears to lay to rest claims by the Russian military that they had almost certainly killed Baghdadi in an airstrike near Raqqa on May 28. US officials say ISIS has largely been forced out of Raqqa as well as Mosul, and Baghdadi may be somewhere in the middle Euphrates River Valley.
That is an area that straddles Syria’s border with Iraq, to which much of the group’s leadership is thought to have relocated earlier this year.
A spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting ISIS said they were not aware of the audio recording. “This is the first I’ve heard about it,” US Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon by teleconference from Baghdad.
Dillon later added “without verifiable evidence of his death we have continued to assume he’s alive.” Dillon said he was “sure our people” are looking at the recording, and if there is any information in the recording as to his location “we may have folks moving in right now.”
In his 46-minute message, Baghdadi urged fighters (“the mujahideen”) to persevere, and to show that the bloodshed in Mosul, Raqqa and elsewhere was not in vain “by clashing the shining swords and shedding filthy blood.”
He appealed for jihadi attacks worldwide, claiming that “America, Europe and Russia are living in a state of terror,” according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks jihadi groups. Baghdadi also rallied Sunni Muslims against the Shia, saying that they would never accept “half-solutions” — especially after all the destruction and the gains they’ve made. This appears to be a reference to Iran’s growing reach across the region.
Scholar Hassan Hassan, who has written a book about the rise of ISIS, said in a tweet that a key theme of Baghdadi’s speech was that he sees ISIS’s fight as a “ceaseless war of attrition to deplete enemies.” In that regard, Baghdadi claims the US decision not to send ground troops to Syria as vindication of ISIS’s strategy. (In fact, the United States has several hundred combat troops in Syria.)
Baghdadi says the US suffers from fatigue and Russia has taken control of the Syria situation. Baghdadi also echoes the message of another ISIS leader, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, who declared that holding territory mattered less than the will to fight. Adnani was killed in 2016.
In his speech, Baghdadi says that the prophet had not told his companions when or how Islam would be victorious, “so that they don’t make victory or defeat dependent upon losing territory or some of the believers being killed.”
Both US and Russian air power, as well as a variety of ground forces, are active in the area, but ISIS still holds some towns on the Euphrates.