May 13, 2015
Russia Daily Brief for May 13, 2015
This is the 38th edition of the Daily Brief. To view other editions, click on the Daily Brief tab above the title.
The two authors, public opinion specialists, note that May 9 transformed itself from a day of remembrance into a day of pride, and has become Russia’s most important holiday, of equal importance to birthday celebrations, as far as ordinary Russians are concerned. It is also viewed as a bridge between the past and the present, and helps locate the current Russian state as a worthy successor to the earlier heroic era. However, the holiday has that resonance only because the current Russian state is in fact worthy of that level of respect. If it were not, the May 9 celebration on the Red Square would have been perceived as a divorced from reality farce.
This is something of a habit the two officials have developed, as Kerry and Lavrov have presented each other with vegetables before. Lavrov arrived at the talks in the classic Pobyeda [Victory] car.
Alas, no comments on the substantive aspect of the talks, though Lavrov characterized them as “wonderful”. But we’ll find out soon enough, if not necessarily through press releases.
Yuriy Solozobov, a Russian political scientist with the National Strategy Institute, believes the main purpose behind Kerry’s trip to Sochi to meet with Lavrov and Putin is to ultimately transform Normandy-4 into Normandy-5 with US participation in the group. Moreover, Kerry’s willingness to meet with Putin on his home turf may have been motivated by the growing concern about the rapidly expanding alliance with China, which the Western sanctions on Russia have only facilitated.
Experts are deciphering the meaning of Sochi talks
Sergey Sudakov, a political scientist specializing in the United States, believes that Kerry is no longer working for the Obama administration, but rather on behalf of the next administration which is likely to wish to put the whole unpleasantness behind them. The US is heavily engaged around the world, not the least in the Middle East whose problems have long exceeded US ability to manage them, therefore antagonism with Russia is the last thing the US (excepting the non-trivial “party of war”) wants at this point. Therefore the purpose of Kerry’s visit is to make peace, not issue threats. Time will tell if he succeeded. Kerry even brought with him…Matthew Lee of Associated Press who has acquired a degree of fame thanks to his verbal battles with Jen Psaki, which may be viewed as a gesture of good will.
The story confirms what other stories have already hinted at, namely that it was Kerry (and, by extension, Obama) who were the supplicants, not Lavrov and Putin. US leadership seems to be finally moving toward re-establishing normal relations with Russia, although much work remains to be done. The mistrust toward US intentions that the US actions in support of the Kiev Maidan have planted will not be easily dispelled.
This is the third year in a row in which Putin dedicates a week in May to the matters concerning military preparedness, defense orders, and the military-industrial complex. It’s just that this year the discussions “coincided” with the Kerry meetings.
However, the drop would be temporary at most, since the current Russian government preference is for a “weak” ruble which has the effect of pricing many imported products out of Russia’s markets, and thus fostering import substitution. Russian Central Bank recent statements indicate it doesn’t want to see the ruble to strengthen past the $50 mark, and that it might even prefer it to be closer to $60.
Data to that effect, comparing Q1 2014 and Q1 2015 was published by the European Tourism Commission. This, too, is what import substitution looks like, and Crimea’s good showing last year as a tourist destination owes a great deal to the ruble devaluation.
“It is the fullest report demonstrating the scale of Russian involvement in Ukraine’s affairs”
There seems to be nothing new in the report–it’s simply the usual collection of allegations that are circulating through social media, especially Ukrainian ones, and it’s not even clear that Nemtsov was participating in its writing in any way as there are several co-authors. My take on it is that he became the report’s “honorary author” to give the report higher profile and to try to establish a motive for the theory that Putin had him assassinated. I doubt it will have much resonance in Russia (14 publishers refused to accept the order), but I expect the Western media will give it prominent play.
Thus while the RPR-Parnas reports whose authorship is attributed to Boris Nemtsov is supposed to contain “irrefutable proofs”, in actuality it’s little more than a collection of rumor and innuendo. It cites only unnamed sources in support of its thesis that regular Russian Army formations are fighting on the Donbass, and the estimates of the cost of the war to the Russian Federation are not based on any tangible data either.
The loss of the Progress M-27M supply vehicle following an April launch was due to a small explosion aboard the Soyuz launch vehicle which caused it to deposit in an orbit too high to allow it to dock with the International Space Station. The detonation occurred within the third stage of the Soyuz during the last seconds of its burn, and the force of the explosion was sufficient to propel the ship into the higher orbit.
The law was introduced by Just Russia party deputy Aleksandr Tarnavskiy, and was passed after only one reading. The law also establishes a list of undesirable NGOs, forbids them to operate in the Russian Federation, and threatens to fine Russian businesses for interacting with them, including outside of Russia.
Crimeans are experiencing long wait times when trying to see specialists, due to a shortage of cadres and the widespread practice of showing up without first obtaining an appointment.
John Tefft’s statement to the RBK TV channel made a specific reference to Ukraine and LPR/DPR but, interestingly, not Crimea. I suspect the US fear here is that Ukraine is so weak, it could easily collapse in the event of another round of fighting on the Donbass. Kerry’s statements issued after his talks with Putin and Lavrov and Sochi contained a similar reference to Minsk-2 implementation as a condition for lifting sanctions, with no mention of Crimea.
JP Morgan initially predicted Russia’s economy would shrink by 4% in 2015, but now it is revising that estimate due not only an increase in oil prices, but also to very effective Russian Central Bank policies. While the ruble devaluation hurt the financial sector, the other sectors of the economy coped with sanctions without much trouble, so much so that Russia’s surplus in 2015 is likely to increase to $70 billion (not clear if the article is referring to trade or budget surplus).
Poland did not become the second Texas, and other EU countries are in no better condition to attempt to exploit shale gas. There are many obstacles, including EU’s bureaucracy, but also “objective” reasons like the differences between US and European geology which make US fracking technologies relatively useless in European conditions. The war in Ukraine took its toll on the investors, as did the dramatic drop in energy prices, the repetition of which would wipe out any European fracking projects.
Thanks to some pretty heroic work by both the local administration and the Russian military to tap the peninsula’s own water resources, Crimea is now fully self-sufficient in drinking water even though the situation looked pretty dire as late as January of this year. Still, the overall water supply is still not at the same level as when the Dnepr river was being supplied via a canal from Ukraine, which is forcing Crimea’s farmers to orient themselves away from rice cultivation toward other, more traditional and less water-demanding crops.
DPR has an office in Finland which is staffed by, among others, volunteers from Finland’s ruling party. It’s still not much, but given that the DPR Finland office is engaged in organizing humanitarian aid, up to and including military uniforms, it suggests that official Finland is at the very least turning a blind eye on DPR’s activities there.
There was another round of fighting in the vicinity of towns of Maryinka and Aleksandrovka, and the Trudovskaya coal mine. There are reports of small arms fire and “something heavier”.
Appearing before the press after his discussions with Lavrov and Putin, Kerry discouraged Poroshenko from attempting to retake Donetsk Airport, saying it would be
f***ing insane a “destructive step”. Poroshenko made a reference to retaking the airport when introducing a documentary on the fighting for the airport.
Rada allows to take Russians prisoner
The updated law on the martial law does not refer specifically to Russian citizens, only to the government’s legal ability to arrest, detain, or intern citizens on its territory who do not have Ukrainian citizenship under conditions of martial law. Some experts wonder whether the interest in constantly updating the martial law legislation is not in fact preparation for an actual introduction of martial law in the country, possibly as a means of dealing with major social unrest.
Whether they, you know, work in actual combat is another question. These are all recent designs that are being rushed into service for obvious enough reasons, but one has to remember that even a few months ago Poroshenko was bragging about how many armored vehicles the UAF was getting. If this is the most that he can brag about, it really isn’t very much.
The article refers to the Vienna court testimony by Dmitriy Firtash which allege his sponsorship of both Poroshenko’s and Klichko’s political careers. In and of themselves these revelations will not bring down Poroshenko’s regime, but they are a useful argument in the hands of opposition to Poroshenko, both on the left and, especially, on the nationalistic right, since they confirm Poroshenko’s image as yet another oligarch in charge of Ukraine.
The state-owned corporation suffered major financial losses due to the significant reduction in cargo and passenger traffic in Ukraine. The years of unchecked corruption and mismanagement did not help either.
In an interview with Le Monde, Yatsenyuk also said that while Ukraine was grateful for the assistance it received from the West, the West ought to remember that it owes its freedom to Ukraine. Translation: we need more money.
Right Sector began surprise maneuvers on the territory of Dnepropetrovsk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine. Yarosh’s organization stooped to actually “notify” the General Staff of the maneuvers, and went so far as to invite other armed entities to join them. Considering that Minsk-2 obligates Poroshenko to disband volunteer formations such as the Right Sector, this is a most unwelcome development. The Defense Ministry hastened to assure everyone nothing has happened, and that there was never any intent to disarm the Right Sector, a statement that really reads like a capitulation to Yarosh.
The problem happens to be a simple one. Yaresko-headed FinMin wants $15 billion of Ukraine debt forgiven. US creditors don’t want to forgive $15 billion of Ukraine debt. Therefore the creditors’ committee headed by the Frank Templeton Group simply issues press releases instead of discussing the matter with the FinMin. I suspect the problem here is also that US creditors would like to take custody of a sizable chunk of Ukraine’s economy in return for the $15 billion write-off, which so far Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk have not been willing to do. While they want to pursue privatization, they also want to be in receipt of the proceeds.
The passenger train managed to stop before it reached the damaged portion of the rails. No photos of the damaged rails were published with the story, however.
Other Former Soviet Republics
Latvia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Aleksandr Veshnyakov for his interview with the Vesti Segodnya newspaper in which he said that “we are observing deliberate efforts to distort historical facts, with specific political intent: to transform the victor into the aggressor, and to turn Nazi collaborators into heroes, because once that happens, then one can say that the annual Waffen-SS veterans’ marches are marches of heroes…”. Veshnyakov’s statement was prompted by earlier Latvian MFA official’s statements that compared Russia’s foreign policies to that of Nazi Germany.
Latvia’s Minister of Culture Datse Melbarde is disturbed by the fact that the Victory Day celebrations were attended by large numbers of youth who grew up in Latvia’s, not Soviet Union’s schools. In Riga alone, a city with a population of 700 thousand, there were 220 thousand participants in the celebrations. Since Victory Day is officially considered to be a holiday which celebrates the “occupation” of Latvia, the Minister of Culture was left wondering what it is that Latvian schools are teaching. But the problem is much deeper than that. The situation is something of a reversal of the late Cold War, when it was the West’s “soft power”, the perceived superiority of its political institutions and social organization that undermined the Soviet block. Today the shoe is on the other foot, as it is the West that is politically adrift and economically stagnant. So no wonder the young are looking East.
Мы видим настойчивые
попытки исказить исторические факты – разумеется, это делается умышленно
и с конкретными политическими целями: чтобы победителя «превратить» в
агрессора, а нацистских коллаборационистов сделать героями. И тогда уже
можно по-другому пытаться преподносить ежегодные шествия легионеров
Ваффен СС по центру Риги, мол, это маршируют герои… Но убежден, что из
этой затеи ничего не выйдет! Мы знаем правду, живы люди, которые были не
только свидетелями, но и участниками войны. Фальсификаторы истории
потерпят очередное поражение».
Читайте далее: http://svpressa.ru/politic/article/121254/?120515
The Rest of the World
EU mission helicopter crashes in Prishtina, there are casualties
The airport was temporarily closed. The crash occurred even as tensions are rising in the area in connection with the recent battle between Macedonian police and Kosovo Albanian militants.
“There is no more Europe”
Europe is facing several crises all at once, including Kosovo/Macedonia (where violence is almost guaranteed to flare up again, since the EU has done little to resolve the fundamental problems) and Greece (all EU can do is throw money at the problem, which only delays the inevitable Grexit), but it’s Poland that promises to be the biggest problem spot for the EU. Law and Justice Party candidate Andrzej Duda’s first-place showing in the first round of presidential elections has been described as an “earthquake” by the German media, because Duda wants Poland to seek allies to defend its interests against both Russia and Germany (a nice allusion to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact there…) and is in favor of sending Polish troops to fight in Ukraine. Duda’s party objective is to transform Poland into “Israel of Eastern Europe”, namely a heavily subsidized and militarized US outpost to keep the rest of the continent in check. Yes, that will go over well… But it also means that the next round of Polish presidential elections may be the most consequential election to be held anywhere in the EU this year, even more so than the UK one.