Russian Elections of September 9: Initial Conclusions

Russia’s nationwide elections at the level of local government which took place on September 8 attracted extraordinary attention in Western media, given that, at best, they could be viewed as a very preliminary indication of popular sentiment towards the “Putin regime” midway between the presidential election of 2018 and the next Duma (parliamentary) elections of 2021.

In fact, nearly all Western journalistic attention was focused on the race for the Moscow city legislative council because that is where the so-called “non-systemic opposition” led by anti-corruption activist and one-day presidential hopeful Alexei Navalny had chosen to make a stand against the Kremlin by all means fair and foul.

Navalny and others in the various anti-Putin movements denounced the disqualification of candidacies to the Moscow city council from their own midst by the electoral officials on technical grounds of insufficient numbers of signatures of supporters to qualify or of falsified signatures. Whether or not such disqualification of candidates whose normal level of voter support among the general population of Moscow would have been on the order of one or two percent was justified or arbitrary, the confrontation it sparked between the non-systemic opposition and the government escalated from war of words to successive, unauthorized street demonstrations. Tens of thousands came out to protest in Moscow. Moreover, what began as peaceful demonstrations ended on several days in violent clashes with police that assumed significant political dimensions because of the numbers of participants involved and the allegations of excessive use of force by the authorities.

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Shinzo Abe in Cloud Cuckoo Land: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the Chances for a Japanese-Russian Peace Treaty

Sundays in Russia, like Sundays in most of the Western world, are usually not news generating days. However, today Moscow broke that rule and provided Russia-watchers with a couple of very weighty international affairs developments that I will analyze in this article on Japan and in another article later today on what the termination of the INF Treaty will mean for Russian military doctrine, namely reaching for the Holy Grail of a first strike, a decapitating strike capability against the United States in the foreseeable future.

What these two developments today have in common is how the very harsh messages are being delivered: not by the head of state, Vladimir Putin, but by members of his inner circle, his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the knockout blow on Japanese expectations of a peace treaty so long as Shinzo Abe is prime minister, and the head of news on Russian broadcasting, Dmitry Kiselyov, as regards the detailed explanation of Russian plans for arms deployment following the end of the INF Treaty.

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Experts and Activists Offer a Sober Evaluation of the Risks of a Major War Between Russia and the West

The European-Russian Forum, Brussels, 26 November 2018

Most of what we find in the Western mass media, and even in specialized daily digests and periodicals devoted to Russian affairs tends to fall into the extremes of Russia-bashing by the vast majority or pro-Russia cheerleading by tiny fringe groups who otherwise are unhappy with US global hegemony.

By way of example, I point to how Vladimir Putin’s roll-out of Russia’s latest and unrivaled strategic weapons systems in his 1 March 2018 speech to a session of the joint houses of the Russian Parliament were received in the West.

Many commentators insisted soon afterwards that the Mach 20 Avangard and other nuclear armed systems presented in Putin’s video clips were a bluff directed at his home audience for the sake of the forthcoming presidential election, not directed at Washington; that Russia is incapable of such breakthroughs on an industrial scale and poses no consequential military threat. Meanwhile, dissenters from Washington’s unipolar world concept expressed joy at the Russians’ claim to having restored nuclear parity with the United States, validating the Mutually Assured Destruction balance that kept the peace for much of the last half century. On this basis some began clamoring for Putin to adopt a tougher stance in confrontation with the West up to and including clash of arms.

The 12th European-Russia Forum which was just held in the European Parliament, Brussels brought sobering realism to bear on the questions of whether we are headed into war with Russia, whether it can be limited in destructiveness and regional in scope or will quickly escalate to the global level with nuclear exchanges, and appraising what kind of outcomes we may anticipate. Speeches and discussion steered right down the neutral middle on all of these questions, and were unusually illuminating.

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Armistice Day Commemorations, 2018: Turning the ‘Lessons of History’ on Their Head

Today French President Emmanuel Macron officiated at a ceremony before the Arc de Triomphe in Paris marking the 100th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War. While dozens of heads of state from around the world were present, the featured guests were the German Chancellor and the presidents of Turkey, Russia and the United States. They were seated on either side of Macron and were picked up repeatedly by the cameramen who projected their images onto large screens and into the television feed of the French broadcasters.

There is fitting logic for the venue and for the honor roll. We recall that four years ago, the commemoration of the start of The Great War took place in Belgium, where the hostilities on the Western Front began in August 1914. The fighting ended in France with the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918 in a railway car near Compiègne, not far from Paris, where the German army had staged its last, unsuccessful offensive. Hence the role accorded to France from among all combatant states to lead the solemn events this year.

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Thinking Russia Reacts to St. Petersburg Terror Attacks

Russia’s reaction to the terror attacks yesterday in St. Petersburg stands in stark contrast to what we have seen in public behavior in Paris, in Berlin, in Brussels following similar attacks over the past 18 months.

There is some commonality, to be sure: in every case, the head of state visited the scene of the horror to pay respects to the fallen. Vladimir Putin did just that last night, when he lay flowers at the metro station where 14 citizens died and scores more were injured, requiring hospitalization. However, Putin delivered no maudlin speech to the nation and Russian state television coverage was not dominated by images of tearful and shocked citizens lighting candles, reaffirming their faith in a free and open society and denouncing Islamophobia – all of which were the dominant themes of the media in France, Germany and Belgium.

As in the West, days of mourning for the victims were immediately declared.

However, other official reactions were more down to earth and practical. To ease the plight of the millions of residents and visitors to the city center faced with the shutdown of the entire metro system pending security searches to uncover other possible bombs, the city authorities declared that all surface transport including taxis and suburban trains would be offered free of charge for the day.

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