Putin’s Firebird versus Chinese Dragon

Anna van Densky. OPINION.

The predictions are plentiful at the IV inauguration of the very same Russian ruler. However only few are optimistic ones, the majority is fearing the deepening schism between Russia and the West, the revival of the Cold War modus operandi, and even risk of the accidental eruption of the III World war. But if not following the extreme scenarios, what the EU can expect from the IV mandate of Vladimir Putin? Clearly not much in terms of science, progress or respect of human rights, but highly likely the continuation of stagnation  with the subsequent loss of traditional Russian spheres of influence like Balkans, Caucasus, and Central Asia.

The recent events in Armenia showed the fragility of the only ally in the Caucasus, and the switch of Kazakh alphabet to Latin letters indicated to direction of the development the leadership has chosen, clearly not impressed by Kremlin’s achievements. For traditional allies and neighbours Russia is not an attractive construct: rusting vertical of power, causing corruption at all levels, elite openly preferring to keep their fortunes and families abroad; economy firmly becoming a global supplier of raw materials; and declining population. The latter deserves some special attention, because with the current trends Siberia is rapidly inhabited by Chinese neighbours, hardworking and politically inactive, filling working places of those Russians who leave for the European part of the country, or void of many of extinct villages. The process called by the Siberians themselves as ‘Chinese colonisation‘.

When voting Putin for the fourth time, Russian have chosen for a traditional biologic cycle of political power change, it means that the current model will come to a natural end in 15  year from now, when Putin‘s close cercle reaches the age it would be physically unable to keep a grip on power, and even on their own fading away lives. No one is immortal. But what kind of Russia will the West encounter then?..

Culturally in 15-20 years Russia will be a different place. At present 38 million Chinese live in bordering Heilongjiang province, while in the entire Siberia just 36 million, and lately in the province the Communist party allowed to have a third child to the couples with the higher income. Growing population with growing needs, and limited resources, but remembering Deng Xiaoping advise they keep low profile, while “aiming to do something big.” In social media Russians share posts about Chinese taking over enterprises and territories. Siberians have collected 140 000 signatures under petition to Putin, asking him to stop the commercial destruction of forests, but in vain.

Cornered by the Western sanctions, Kremlin has little choice to turn to the East, selling natural resources, and welcoming Chinese workers to cope with the economic trouble caused by the stance of the West. Above it all the Chinese are so much friendlier to Kremlin, never reminding about Human rights, Freedom of speech, or requesting the liberation of political prisoners. What a stark contract with the West!

However the Chinese factor is not the only one, the other element is rapid spreading of Islam over Russian territory. In case the current trends stay in 20 year from now the country’s population will transform from predominantly Orthodox to Muslim. One more challenge for Europe, desperate to cope with radical Islam and home-grown terrorists.

In his inauguration speech Vladimir Putin compared Russia to Phoenix – magic Firebird, living rebirth. However even a very myopic observer could notice, that after each crisis Russian Firebird comes smaller in size, with further shrinking population. Would it come back as a Firebird after a quarter of a century of Putin‘s uninterrupted rule? Or will it be consumed by the Chinese Dragon? (The President himself has well prepared his children, who learned Chinese language at school:)

To conclude, the fourth inauguration of Vladimir Putin is a turning point, a clear choice for decline and Russia’s disintegration. Subsequently the EU needs to adjust its four road maps with Moscow, conducting its foreign policy having in view the upcoming Russia‘s ethnic, and religious change. Abyssus abyssum invocat! (One abuse leads to another).

Image: Siberia becoming a desert, while the forests are cut out in barbaric way, and sold to Chinese companies. Source: social media.

Siberian forest cut out

#Armenia unexpected break away

Today’s vote at noon in Armenian parliament electing Prime Minister is crucial for the future of Armenians, but also the Caucasus, and the Kremlin, gradually losing influence in the region. While oil-rich Azerbaijan manifests its affiliation with Turkey, and Georgia is open about is ambition to join NATO, Armenians, as the last ally of Russia in the region abruptly, and unexpectedly are breaking away led by an opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan,  who has never been hiding his pro-European stance.

Massive street manifestations are rather startling as a phenomenon for the ex-Soviet Republic, where leaders are not used to democratic accountability. At first glance the current turmoil came as a result of a political miscalculation of a former President Serzh Sargsyanwho ‘mechanically’ applied Kremlin scheme of moving from President’s to Prime Ministers chair to continue his unchallenged rule from a different office interior decorations.

The scenario was clearly not appreciated by Armenians, who considered the manipulation as a fraud: while reforming the country from a presidential to a parliamentary republic, Sargsyan ensured citizens, that he is not going to claim any more mandates.  But later he broke his promise arranging  for himself the Prime Minister’s chair, and fueling the indignation of Armenians, who streamed into the streets, manifesting their protest.

However there is more to indignation of Armenians than discontent with their former President attempt to impose himself in Vladimir Putin‘s style as a tsar or an eternal ruler. There is an entire rejection of outdated Russian authoritarian system, plagued with corruption and nepotism. If in the Soviet era the information flows were under strict control of the Communist party, nowadays it is increasingly difficult to govern neglecting ‘demos‘, who is intensely communicating with each other via smartphones.

In age of Digital revolution, when people can easily find an alternative information via internet, the role of Armenian diaspora in Europe and the USA is not the least factor to contribute public opinion disposition. People to people contacts with friends and family members, sharing experiences of life in democratic societies became an efficient engine of progress, shifting Armenians away from outdated authoritarian rule of heirs of Soviet nomenklatura. 

The experts would say that Russia can not be rapidly removed or replaced or abandoned due to its status in resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh frozen conflict, offering to Armenia military and political guarantees, through Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). And they are right. Pashinyan has already confirmed that in case his party leads the country, no changes will be introduced to its membership in both CSTO (‘Tashkent Treaty’), or Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

However, now it is too early for Pashanyan to reveal his real aims.

Unlike Sargsyan, he did not fight in Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), and does not have any personal affiliation to the region claiming independence. Like many of Armenians of his generation he presumably wishes to move on with the resolution of the conflict, inclining to a compromise to end the stalemate, and isolation of his country in the Caucasus. Subsequently in coming years it will be increasingly difficult for Kremlin to keep the alliance with #Yerevan, in total absence of incentives, relying only on protracting the NK stalemate.

The entire situation with street protests in Armenia is a definite indicator of Russia‘s loss of influence in the region and an absolute decline. It is reminiscent of the other colored revolutions in ex-Soviet Republics, coming as unpleasant surprise to Kremlin inhabitants unable to understand the people’ rejection of their obsolete modus vivendi on the ruins of Soviet Empire in a perimeter protected by ballistic missiles. The very same missiles which did not save their predecessors from collapse.

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.

Navalny conviction means Putin forever

navalny-barred

Barring of Russian politician, and fighter against corruption, Alexei Navalny turns next year presidential elections into a soap a long time before it starts. The powerful opponent of Vladimir Putin is out of the race, so Kremlin can be sure there will be no unpleasant surprises while opening of ballot boxes.

The farce of the politically motivated trial does signal a clear message to Russians, and to the world: the authoritarian is there to stay. In a way Putin beats Leonid Brezhnev record of 18 years: from inauguration on 7th of May 2000 to potential 2024 makes his reign 30% longer that the tzar’s of late Soviet stagnation.
The mechanical removal of Navalny is meaning Russia’s return to its very self, developing from crisis to crisis, with biological renewal of the leadership over lengthy periods of stagnation in between.. “White tzars, red tzars, grey tzars”, – Johan Le Carre’s definition of Russia’s political history can’t be described better in a few words.