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Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #26

Letter From the Editors: June 24-30, 2013

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Issue #26 Letter From the Editors
Issue #26 Table of Contents

All (Not) Quiet on the Economic Front; the Looming Afghan Precipice; and the Logic of Edward Snowden

Former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky marks his 50th birthday this week in Correctional Colony No. 7 in Karelia. His current place of residence didn’t stop Russian and Western politicians, as well as writer Boris Akunin and prominent actor Sergei Yursky, from wishing the embattled oligarch a happy birthday. For his part, Khodorkovsky shared his thoughts on life in prison and the state of Russian politics in an interview with The New Times. Despite what he says is “a critical shortage of mutual trust and ability to self-organize” in society, Khodorkovsky still believes that a brighter political future for Russia is possible.

While Khodorkovsky lost some of his illusions while in prison (like his faith in the Russian justice system), another “renegade” is instead choosing to bank on Russia – Edward Snowden, who continues his sojourn at the Sheremetyevo airport to the delight of journalists. Some Russian politicians, such as Aleksei Pushkov, head of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, are also jumping on the Snowden bandwagon. Pushkov accused the US of persecuting Snowden and called the NSA leaker a political dissident and a human rights activist. But not everyone is as keen to declare Snowden an American Sakharov – The Moscow Times’s Michael Bohm wonders how supposed human rights crusader Snowden can ask for protection from a state where the FSB illegally wiretaps the opposition’s phones and considers home-grown whistleblower Aleksei Navalny a US State Department lackey bent on bringing down the Russian state from within.

To further fight erosion from within, the Duma introduced a bill this week to combat “rehabilitation of Nazism.” Vedomosti argues that canonizing an interpretation of World War II could result in self-censorship in academic circles. The law, writes Vedomosti, is phrased ambiguously and could be used to violate freedom of speech.

Russia got some grim economic news this week, as well. According to economics expert Vladislav Inozemtsev, budget revenues are expected to plateau this year. The Kremlin has taken on too many social obligations, he argues, while its overreliance on megaprojects is not bringing in the expected income. Generally, that’s because such projects breed corruption and fail to boost the employment rate – construction for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vladivostok, for example, relied on migrant workers who sent earnings back home. Private investment, Inozemtsev writes, is the only way to really boost Russia’s stalled economy.

The problem with the Russian economy, echoes columnist Andrei Kolesnikov, is that President Putin is setting contradictory goals for his economic team – increasing revenues without cutting budgetary spending. Meanwhile, 20 of the largest state-controlled corporations, which reported profits of nearly 4 trillion rubles, are bringing in almost no return on investment. So where is all this money going, wonders politician Vladimir Milov. Isn’t it time for the Russian government to take a closer look at its many inefficient state projects?

Speaking of financial black holes, that honor in the international arena goes to Afghanistan this week. In his scathing analysis of the situation in that country, Sovetskaya Rossia’s Sergei Kozhemyakin writes that the Western coalition forces (read: Washington) have no interest in a strong and stable Afghanistan. How else to explain NATO forces destroying thousands of tons of equipment prior to withdrawing when the Afghan Armed Forces are desperately short on such basics as tanks and armored personnel carriers? The author also points to the country’s splintered political system and Kabul’s inability to maintain centralized control as additional destabilization factors that were intentionally created by the West. Meanwhile, a deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan threatens to spill over into the bordering CIS countries. The Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization both held meetings this week to figure out a strategy on the Afghan front. Will their efforts pay off? Only time will tell.

Xenia Grushetsky
Managing Editor

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