No new Russian envoy to new NATO headquarters

Russian decision to postpone  the appointment of a new ambassador to NATO announced today marks a new low in rapidly deteriorating relations between the East and the West, but even more it underlines Kremlin assertiveness, and claims of parity,  turning the page of a period when one could label Russia as a “regional power“.

However while looking at new splendid NATO headquarters in Brussels one wonders what it the purpose of the Alliance today? What’s the raison d’être? If it is the revival of the Cold War, what is its aim this time? The Communism has fallen, and there is no official state ideology in Russia to defeat. The authoritarianism, human rights and rule of law issues can hardly be targets of criticism, while NATO ally Turkey’s ‘Sultan’ Erdogan openly, and literally conducts purges against his political opponents, and wages a war against Kurds, describing it the ‘Olive Branch’ operation against Islamic State.

Meanwhile the radicals are not shy about showing faces in Afghanistan. After a decade of military campaign, NATO has withdrawn its troops in 2014 without any definite conclusion, but rapid and widespread rise of Taliban. Nowadays the Islamists are taking grounds, imposing unprecedented levels of violence, and there is hardly a week without news of terrorist attacks, and numerous victims among civilians. Unlike the time of the beginning of the US military mission Jawbreaker (2001)  against Osama Ben Laden in Tora Bora, the radicals are not hiding in the caves, they are claiming  power,  and constructing networks in real and virtual world, controlling two-thirds of Afghan  territory. The airstrikes in defeating the radicals do not help much, but turn against the Kabul and the West the entire population of the provinces for ‘collateral damages’.

However even the rapid progress of Taliban does not motivate NATO to start a coordinated action with Moscow, in spite of the obvious interest of both sides to defeat terrorism,  there are instead allegations of Russians ‘arming Taliban’.

“They say they wouldn’t mind if we gave them weapons, but they don’t need weapons. They say ‘give us money, we’re buying weapons from the stocks of the Afghan army and police’,” Ambassador Zamir Kabulov was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

Ambassador said  that in their talks with the Taliban, the group’s representatives said they buy all their weapons illegally from the Afghan government and police, and asked for financial support for that.

While the West argues with Russia, reducing diplomatic missions and expelling staff, the Taliban actively uses an opportunity to expand, and it will succeed until there is a comprehensive joint NATO-Russia strategy for counter-terrorism. However within the current political situation, the low tight in diplomatic relations does not provide with an effective response to the rapidly growing terrorist threat.

EU Visa-free for Russians

Offering Russians unilateral visa-free to the EU – is one of the major proposals of the Alliance of European Liberals and Democrats announced at a year conference on EU-Russia relations #EURussia, taking place on the third anniversary of Boris Nemtsov assassination.

The move is meant in ‘immediate and unconditional’ support of the civil society, experiencing difficulty of alienation from Europe, while regular Russians increasingly perceive the EU as an antagonistic power, especially after confrontation with the negative consequences of the EU Enlargement policy, leading to conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine.

“The biggest mistake on our behalf towards the West is that we trusted you too much,” President Vladimir Putin said. He underlined that the West, in their turn, made an unforgivable mistake – abused this trust.

Would the visa-free enhance exchanges, people-to-people contacts and heal the profound mistrust Russians feel towards the West? While Donetsk and Lugansk are under siege, and Russian children go to school risking being shot by shelling of Ukrainian army, while so-called ‘Syrian opposition’, supported by European, kills Russian pilots on counter-terrorist missions, – while the bloodshed is going on, it will be rather simplistic to consider that visa-free would restore the harmony. Although had it ever existed in relations between Europe and Russia?..

Children Donbass

Image: citizens’ journalism ‘Killed children of Donbass’

 

 

 

Saint-Petersburg bomb explosion named “incident”

The victims of the bomb explosion in Saint-Petersburg supermarket are ironic about the qualifying of the blast as a “murder attempt in public place”: “Assassinating us for food baskets?!”. The official version is obviously doubtful, taking into consideration the fact of the home-made engine spreading shrapnel or “frag” – fast-moving pieces of metal thrown off by a detonation, leaving 10 people seriously injured, and one in a critical condition. Among wounded is also a pregnant women.

The investigation is led by the National anti-terrorist committee, however the word “terrorism” is avoided in public discourse; the video with major suspect entering the supermarket, and some other images of the interior with damages were published by the anti-terrorist committee as well. The obvious official hypocrisy has political  reasons.

Petersburg media interpreted the approach of the authorities as an attempt to play down the gravity of the situation, damaging New Year celebrations atmosphere in town. The issue is particularly delicate, because the blast happened in the home city of the incumbent and future President of Russia Vladimir Putin, who will be re-elected on 18 March under slogans of “stability” (read “stagnation”). The terrorist act during festivities, committed by an individual of “non-Slavic” appearance, as the investigators stated, is seriously undermining the Disney-land image of happy and stable Russia the clans at power are attempting to project, justifying their choice for continuity of Putin’s unchallenged reign.

The rise of Islamists in Russia is aggravated by open border with the Central Asian countries, influenced by Islamic State radicals, who are constructing a belt from Iraq to Afghanistan, via Central Asian countries, regrouping their forces after the major defeat of the Caliphate in the Middle East.

Russia 1917-2017 from “dictatorship of proletariat” to oligarchy

The rejection of registration to Alexey Navalny did not come as a surprise to him – the authorities fabricated lawsuits against the major critic of Kremlin to find a reason to block his ascendance, regarding him as a dangerous challenger of oligarchy. However the announcement brought to a conclusion a century of Russia’s development: from 1917 seizure of control over the entire Empire by left radicals led by Lenin imposing the “dictatorship of proletariat”  to 2017 Putin’s plutocracy, or “dictatorship of oligarchy” formed at collapse of Soviet Empire the end of last century.

In a way both are extremes so typical to Russian character, product of a rhythm of development from stagnation to crisis.

With the exclusion of Navalny from elections the pattern of further political development is becoming familiar: the biological change of generations. Its climax reflected in so-called epoch of “ostentatious funerals” of dying out members of Politburo, who were eager to try the crown of the fading Empire even for a few months before the end of their life, prolonged due to professionalism of Kremlin physicians. The political commentators were defining the state of play from the color of the walls behind the  leader addressing the nation, and mostly they were  grey ones from Soviet hospitals. “USSR is governed from hospital ward!” – exclaimed one of the critics of Communist party. Now a well-known scenario is awaiting Russians again.

Accustomed to changes caused by two major factors: biological and organic (hydrocarbons, or simply price of oil and gas – the backbone of Russian economy), or combination of two, as it happened during Gorbachev’s perestroika, Russians are patiently waiting for the end of the cycle, preferring stagnation to revolution. The intense search of truth in a century brought from dictatorship of proletariat to oligarchy, bypassing democracy. With vivid memories over ‘big robbery’ of Russians in the 90s, they are hardly prepared for another experiment, looking forward to a long stretch of stagnation ahead. To the winter of discontent…

 

Tusk squealer’s help to Russian democratic opposition

With his public declaration of being “no fan of Russia”, the president of the European Council Donald Tusk offered a squealer’s help to Russian pro-European democratic opposition at crucial time of upcoming presidential elections, discrediting their giant efforts to convince electorate that Brussels is opponent of Kremlin, but not to people of Russia. Those, who wanted to vote for opposition to Russia’s ruler Vladimir Putin, from now onwards know, that they have no friends in Brussels. The top political body – the EU Council – is chaired by an open russophobe – Donald Tusk. Many could guess previously, but this affidavit put an end to any doubt – a protagonist from Cold war times degrades the relations between Europeans and Russians.

However this ‘affidavit’ of Tusk disaffection to Russia is not only undermining the efforts of the opposition forces in Russia, because it clarifies that pro-European electorate do not have friends among the EU top players, but it also has put an end to the entire EU policy of promotion of European values, and democracy in Russia, entirely dependent on confidence of Russian people that the West wishes them well. After Tusk’s declaration this confidence was abolished: any offer from Brussels from now onwards is a poisonous chalice.

For those who followed Tusk activities from his appointment in an obscure procedure behind closed doors, the affidavit of disaffection to Russia is a finishing touch to his public profile: in opposition to the U.S. President Donald Tump, undermining the government in his native Poland,  and now openly declaring his confrontational attitude to the EU top trading partner, – Tusk demonstrates total absence of a diplomatic fiber. But not only, completely taken by his personal emotional perceptions, Tusk has been unable to raise above mediocre to level of a statesman with sense of responsibility and vision. Generously remunerated loyalty to the EU institutions, wrongly understood as an enmity to the world outside European Quarter, produced squealer’s help of an EU apparatchik, matching the worst examples of dogmatism of Soviet era, he is not able to step out.

 

Moscow reacts with reserve on Washington sanctions

The signing of a law on tougher US sanctions against Russia, North Korea and Iran by President Trump does not change anything de facto in the current situation, the Russian President’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian TASS news agency.

“The very fact of signing the law doesn’t change anything,” he said when a reporter asked him about the impact of the sanctions and a possibility of retaliation from Russia.

“What kind of measures?” Peskov went on. “No new steps. Retaliatory measures have already been taken.”

 

EU-Russia talk – falling on deaf ears

The consultations between Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and EU top diplomat Federica Mogherini were very brief, and hardly resembled the ostentatious format of the strategic partnership, practiced between the EU and Russian in the recent past, before the Maidan revolution in Ukraine. Lavrov did not make a secret of the EU meeting taking place as an addition to his visit to Belgium, however he agreed to accept the invitation, and thanked for it, considering exchange as useful.

However even at a glance at two gloomy and tense officials one could assess the talks as a formal exercise, where none of the parties expected a rapprochement. The long list of issues from the international agenda, cited by Mogherini, just made one think how little left in common between two neighbours, sharing the responsibility for the security and stability of the European continent.

Although Lavrov expressed confidence in returning of the EU-Russia relations to  its ‘normal course’, it is difficult to imagine how this normalisation is possible with the incumbent EU leadership’ hostility towards Kremlin. The comparison of Russian press to Islamic state propaganda in a resolution of the European Parliament marks the lowest of the relations since collapse of the USSR. But high tight is possible: fragile after the departure of the second net contributor in two years time, the EU after Brexit will have no reserves to continue its ‘crusade’ against Kremlin. “Money is a nerve of war’.

Cornered by the US request to contribute to NATO according to the engagement, and cut off the UK fee to the European purse, the EU27 will be pushed to reconsider its strategy towards Moscow unable to maintain the current level of hostility for purely economic reasons. Moreover in the end of the day the heavily  indebted Ukraine does not have the required features to remain an Appel of Discord for long – political instability and endemic corruption make it an unsuitable  partner for the EU, and unreliable client of Siberian gas for Russians. But coming on terms with realities of life is not an easy exercise for the ambitious Brussels bureaucrats, subsequently at the moment Lavrov’s reasoning falls on deaf ears.