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Current Digest of the Russian Press: Letter From the Editors #37

Letter From the Editors: September 9-15, 2013

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Issue #37 Letter From the Editors
Issue #37 Table of Contents

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. . . . [W]e must not forget that God created us equal.” – Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin addressed these words to “the American people and their political leaders” in an op-ed published in The New York Times on Sept. 11, 2013. The piece as a whole was an appeal to the US not to use force against Syria in response to the use of toxic gas, but rather to get on board with Russia’s proposal that Damascus hand over its chemical weapons. The irony of this gesture toward America was not lost on many political pundits: For example, Mikhail Minakov argues that the post-Soviet world has come to imagine the West as its moral and political conscience – and yet here is the leader of Russia lecturing the West on the dangers of war.

Nonetheless, Moscow’s proposal to Damascus was a bold and effective diplomatic move. Fyodor Lukyanov frames it as a win-win for everyone: The US saves face by not having to back up its threat of force, or back down from it; Syria gets to make a gesture of goodwill; and Russia gets to be the country that saved the world from a major war.

This is an “exceptional” situation for Moscow (we hope the Russian president will pardon the expression). This week also saw an exceptional situation in Moscow: On Sept. 8, voters had an opportunity to choose between at least two mayoral candidates who had a fighting chance – incumbent Sergei Sobyanin and oppositionist Aleksei Navalny. Navalny lost, as expected, but (as Sergei Rusev put it) the elections were fair and the sky didn’t fall. Strong showings by opposition candidates in other cities on the “single day of voting” embolden some to say that the majority United Russia party is losing its edge for good. Vladislav Inozemtsev even calls for a new opposition platform, which he calls “non-united Russia.” Even so, there are suspicions that the ruling elite have more resources in reserve to use in future elections. For example, Konstantin Simonov maintains that United Russia pulled its punches in the regional elections, but “from now on, the authorities are going to bring their best game.”

On the international scene, one country that’s not pulling punches is China. Recently elected President Xi Jinping just completed a triumphant round of visits to Central Asia, where he signed a series of partnership agreements that will result in new oil field development, pipelines, railroads and other projects. This proactive foreign policy – some commentators even call it aggressive – decisively pulls together the tentative and fragmentary inroads that China had been making in the region, writes Aleksandr Knyazev. By contrast, he calls Russia’s policy “unfocused.”

We could draw a parallel here to Moscow’s treatment of Belarus this week. Witness the confusing push and pull between fuel and energy minister Arkady Dvorkovich and Rosneft head Igor Sechin: The former announced a cutback in oil supplies to Minsk, then the latter almost immediately contradicted him.

Partnership relations between big and small countries can be challenging. As Putin says, we are all created equal, but (to quote George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”) some of us are more equal than others.

Laurence Bogoslaw

Copy Editor

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