Galeotti & Bowen: Putin’s strategic shift

24 04 2014

Writing in Foreign PolicyMark Galeotti and Andrew S. Bowen provide an analysis of Vladimir Putin’s shift “from realist to ideologue.” They write:

“In Putin’s actions at home as well, the Russian president is eschewing the pragmatism that marked his first administration. Instead of being the arbiter, brokering a consensus among various clans and interests, today’s Putin is increasingly autocratic. His circle of allies and advisors has shrunk to those who only share his exact ideas. Sober technocrats such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu played seemingly no role in the decision-making over Crimea and were expected simply to execute the orders from the top. [. . .]

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Separatist profiles (updated)

24 04 2014

Profiles of the pro-Russian separatists are appearing in the western press. Here are a few of them, along with some related reports.

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Fishman: on the anti-Semitic flyers in Donetsk

23 04 2014

In The Real Truth About Those Anti-Semitic Flyers in Donetsk, historian David Fishman provides an analysis of the flyers as an “act of political theater” consistent with a broader strategy of “playing the ‘Jewish card’.” Fishman is a professor of Jewish history and director of the Moscow-based Project Judaica.

A few quotes:

“With all the focus on the Donetsk incident, the conversation has missed the forest while being distracted by a single tree. During the past month, since the annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin has shifted its rhetoric and tactics in playing the “Jewish card.” It has embraced the language of classical Russian nationalism, going back to tsarist times, and has engaged the dark forces of the Russian ultra-right. That includes using anti-Semitism as an ingredient in the anti-Ukrainian campaign.

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Mitrokhin: Who are the separatists?

18 04 2014

In a piece written for the anti-racist/anti-fascist Searchlight magazine, Bremen University researcher Nikolay Mitrokhin provides at least a partial answer to the question: who are the leaders of the pro-Russian separatist movement in Ukraine?

His analysis broadly concurs with other researchers’ (notably Anton Shekhovtsov’s and Andreas Umland’s) linking of the pro-Russians with the Eurasian Youth Movement and other far-right and (sometimes) neo-fascist groups.

See “Ukraine’s Separatists and Their Dubious Leaders.”


Language and ethnicity in Ukraine

18 04 2014

Claims about language and ethnicity in Ukraine, including confusions between the two — for instance, that parts or all of eastern Ukraine are “majority Russian” — still appear in western media reports. Now that Vladimir Putin has proclaimed all of eastern and southern Ukraine “Novorossiya” (New Russia) — that is, “really” part of Russia and not part of Ukraine — these facts become all the more important to understand.

Here are a few maps to help with that.

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Snyder: Europe and Ukraine

16 04 2014

It’s difficult to provide a well-rounded history of Ukraine, from Kievan Rus onward, in a few dozen paragraphs. Historian Timothy Snyder does this in his newly published piece, “Europe and Ukraine: Past and Future,” which originally appeared in German in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The piece covers the collapse of Kievan Rus, relations with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Cossack state, the emergence of Muscovy and later the Russian empire, the fall of empires and Soviet revolution, the world wars, and so on. Along the way we get oligarchic pluralism (in the Poland commonwealth, and then again in the last two decades), self-determination (led by the Cossacks), the rise of a nationalist elite that “rebel[s] against [its] own biographies and present[s] the subject of history not as the elites but as the masses,” the twists and turns of Soviet policy, Ukraine’s positioning between Stalin’s “internal colonialism” (as Stalin himself called it) and Hitler’s “external colonialism,” the war in all its messiness, the rhetorical “politics of fascism and anti-fascism” — which in a convoluted way have managed to accompany both Stalin’s and Putin’s courting of the European far right — the Brezhnevian cult of the Great Fatherland War, the fall of the Soviet Union and emergence of independent Ukraine, the politics of hydrocarbons, and the future of the European Union.

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Ishchenko: For nuance

15 04 2014

In “Maidan or anti-Maidan? The Ukraine situation requires more nuance,” sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko attempts to carve out a progressive socialist position on the Ukraine conflict, one that would “support progressive wings of both Maidan and anti-Maidan, and try to unite them against the Ukrainian ruling class and against all nationalisms and imperialisms on shared demands for social justice.”

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Russian media bloopers

14 04 2014

Economist Paul Gregory has been keeping track of some very funny Russian media bloopers — funny except for the fact that they are intended to be true and serious.

Here he recounts three stories told by three Russian media outlets — Rossiya 1, NTV, and the National Independent News of Crimea — each about a very different character: an “ordinary citizen” protesting the Ukrainian “neo-Nazi government,” a German EU spy who hired a group of 50 European mercenaries (!), and a pediatric surgeon tending the victims of neo-Nazi gunmen.

The catch is that each is clearly the same guy lying (in both senses of the word) in the same hospital bed. These “news stories” are played by the same actor. The videos are below.

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Wynnyckyj: Russia’s threat to Ukraine

14 04 2014

In “The Permanent Threat to Ukraine’s Existence,” political sociologist Mykhailo Wynnyckyj provides a provocative analysis of the current situation in Ukraine vis-a-vis its Russian neighbor. (Since the Kyiv Post enforces an article limit for non-subscribers, I’ll quote liberally from the article below.)

While Wynnyckyj’s larger argument about Ukraine’s “existential threat” may be overdrawn, he articulates the perspective of a Maidan insider very well.

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Barnes on Russia’s plans

11 04 2014

The London Review of Books’ Hugh Barnes is posting some interesting observations from Donetsk.

Among other things, Barnes writes:

“Most informed sources in Ukraine and Russia believe that the annexation of Crimea was planned and carried out by the siloviki (former KGB and security service officials close to Putin), and not by the foreign policy elite (including the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and defence minister, Sergei Shoigu), whose influence has been waning since Putin veered to the right in the wake of the 2011-12 anti-government protests. [. . .]

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