Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Kremlin More Interested in What Trump Will Do to America than What He’ll Do for Russia, Pavlova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 24 – Almost all discussions about the relationship between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have focused on what the new US president may do for Russia and why, but Irina Pavlova argues that misses the point because the Kremlin is far more interested I what Trump will do to America than what he will do for Russia.

            In a blog post yesterday, the US-based Russian historian notes that Trump is reported to be extremely popular in the Putin regime but extremely unpopular among those who oppose Putin, a pattern many explain by pointing to similarities in the personality of the two leaders (ivpavlova.blogspot.com/2017/01/blog-post_23.html#more).

            According to Pavlova, such conclusions are based on “superficialities.”  In fact, she says, “Kremlin propagandists hope that Trump will become an American Gorbachev who will lead the US into a crisis and in the end destroy this country.”  She points to Karen Shakhnazarov’s comments on Vladimir Solovyev’s “Sunday Evening” talk show of two days ago.

            But even more open in the expression of such Moscow hopes is commentator Maksim Shevchenko who has declared on Ekho Moskvy that Trump “is a symbol of a deep and insuperable social, political and economic divide in America in particular and the Larger West as a whole” that can only lead to violence (echo.msk.ru/programs/personalno/1911996-echo/).

            His shouting of “long live Trump” is thus not a manifestation of any affection for the US and its new president but rather “an exalted expression of the very same anti-Americanism” the Putin regime has long expressed and cultivated.  Shevchenko adds that he will support anyone in the US who promotes “confrontation” with Trump because that will weaken the US.

            Some obvious if unintended support for Pavlova’s conclusion has just been offered by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and returned head of the Russian party of power, United Russia.  He makes it clear that Moscow isn’t looking at what Trump will do for Russia but rather what Trump will do to the US.

            At the United Russia congress, the Russian premier said the following about Trump’s rise to power and about that of other leaders in the West who some in Moscow expect to end sanctions and work more closely with the Russian government (business-gazeta.ru/article/335109).

            “In general,” Medvedev said, “it is time to turn away from illusions that in relation to our country will be removed any sanctions. It is obvious tha tall that has happened is for the long haul. There is no reason to place one’s hopes on elections abroad or on the coming to power of new foreign leaders.”

            The prime minister’s remarks on this point, Kazan’s “Business-Gazeta” notes today, “were supported by the stormy applause of congress delegates” who have taken the point that they should  not be placing any of their hopes on US President Donald Trump.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Are Russia’s Closed Discussion Clubs Becoming ‘Hybrid’ Think Tanks or Something More?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 23 – Russia lacks the tradition of think tanks found in many Western capitals, but the rise of closed discussion clubs where Russian officials, businessmen and experts can meet to share ideas, test trial balloons and network may give Moscow a “hybrid” form of the Western practice, according to Olesya Gersaimenko.

            But because of the specific features of Russian political life, these closed clubs, the “Kommersant-Vlast” journalist says, may play an even larger role in defining the future in the event of any dramatic change at the top of the country’s power pyramid or even help to promote such changes (kommersant.ru/doc/3195648).

            Gerasimenko begins her long and detailed article with the observation that even as official and street politics in Russia have quieted down, “ever more non-public intellectual clubs, discussion circles and closed seminars ‘for those connect’ are appearing.

            Some of these have been formed by people who graduated from the same institution such as MGIMO and then went to work in various sectors. Others have been put together to discuss and promote specific ideas such as Russian national rebirth. And still others serve as an updated version of the circles of 19th century Russia and the kitchen conversations of Soviet times.

            The Higher School of Economics is the basis for one, and the Skolkovo Business School for another, she writes, noting that their organizers insist that “this is no shadow government or general conspiracy, but it is an informal means of seeking solutions. That is what such clubs are for.”

            Most try to meet once a month, although some lack the money to rent halls that often and others pass into and out of existence too quickly to keep to any schedule.  Some are tightly drawn from one ideological part of the political spectrum, but others are proud of being open to almost everyone so that members can expand their contacts.

            The groups mostly operate off the record and closed to outsiders, not only because they view themselves as “the brains” of society, something that could offend the mass public, but also because their members want to operate “below the radar screen” of those in power lest participation hurt their careers. Consequently information about them is sometimes hard to get.

            A few of these groups have assumed a higher and more public profile such as the Izborsky Cllub or the Stolypin Club, and while it would be wrong to call them “the Decembrists of the 21st century,” it may be appropriate to see them as an updated version of groups under Louis XVIII or kitchen discussions from the Soviet past.

            Many who are interested in politics turn to these closed circles because they do not want to take part in regular political parties. The former are safer and yet provide satisfaction by linking people of like mind together and allowing them to speak with one another more or less openly and without fear.

            But at the same time, Russia’s future politicians may emerge from these clubs when the time is right – that happened when Medvedev became president, some of their leaders say – and these groups may be where those who have been ousted from politics at least for a time may choose to meet with others. That too, Garasimenko says, has happened as well.

Trump is ‘an Existential Enemy of the Baltic Countries,’ Russian Portal Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 23 – According to a Russian portal directed at Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, US President Donald Trump is “an existential enemy of the Baltic countries,” a conclusion that may not be true but that clearly matters to the extent that it informs Moscow’s approach to the three NATO countries in the coming months.

            In a lead article today, the editors of the Rubaltic portal argue that the American leader has shown that he doesn’t need the Baltic countries as “an anti-Russian ‘buffer zone’ in Europe” and that he “does not intend to support America’s allies in the Baltic region” (rubaltic.ru/article/politika-i-obshchestvo/23012017-inauguratsionnaya-rech-trampa/).

            The Rubaltic editors say that all this is clear from a close reading of Trump’s inaugural address, a speech that shows Trump not only does not see the Baltic countries as they see themselves but is the political opposite of what the leaders of those countries have hoped for and worked for since 1991.

            Trump’s statement that the US “does not want to impose our way of life on anyone” represents his rejection of “American global dominance and its messianic course of spreading the liberal values of democracy and human rights throughout the world from South America to Georgia and Ukraine.”

            Moreover, the American president’s words show that “realism, pragmatism and national interests are the theoretical foundations” of his approach and that his focus abroad, indeed the only one he mentioned in his speech, is the fight against Islamist terrorism not for anything or anyone else.

His speech thus is “a mortal threat for the colossal infrastructure which has been created over the last several decades for securing American global domination,” for those who  have promoted “’color revolutions’” and the rights of “feminists, environmental activists, human rights activists, supporters of LGBT rights, vegans and so on.”

Among those who are going to suffer most from Trump’s rise “are Baltic politicians and other American satellites in Europe who have guaranteed the political domination of the US in the Old World,” RuBaltic says.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have made their foreign policy a derivative of the foreign policy of the United States … They have given the best years of their lives to America, but  this … can’t promise that America will come to the aid of the Baltic countries in the case of Russian aggression.”

But Trump is an opponent of other ideas that now predominate in Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius as well, the portal’s editors say. He is in favor of re-industrialization rather than the creation of a post-modern information society of the kind that the Baltic governments have favored in their effort to do away with “’Soviet monster’” factories up to now.

Thus, RuBaltic says, “Donald Trump is an existential enemy of the post-Soviet Baltic region,” an attitude that reflects not a difference of opinion about this or that policy but rather a fundamental divide in world views.

In this situation, all the Baltic elites can do is to pray that Trump doesn’t remain in office for long or is blocked in the realization of his intentions.  But for the moment, they have to come to terms with the fact that as of now he is “the boss,” and they will have to behave like all serfs do in the presence of the master.