KOMMERSANT
Kommersant ("The Businessman") was founded in 1989 as the first business newspaper in the Russia. Originally a weekly, Kommersant is now a daily newspaper with strong political and business coverage. It has been owned since 2006 by Alisher Usmanov, the director of a subsidiary of Gazprom.
Society

In Russia, Brands Advertising Diversity Are Under Attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple.

MOSCOW — "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi. What was the offending ad? Yobidoyobi published an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man.

Shortly after, Yobidoyobi's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. According to Zimen, the accusations began to appear after the founder of the far-right Male State movement, Vladislav Pozdnyakov, called on his Telegram digital channel to "leave feedback" about the company, as well as place orders and not pay for them.

"This is all very strange, considering that we didn't even try to 'promote the agenda,' but simply made very standard visuals for social media," Zimen wrote.

Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. (It came with a PG-18 warning, given a 2013 law penalizing "the propaganda of homosexuality among minors.") The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized. VkusVill wrote the representation "hurt the feelings of a large number" of buyers, employees, partners and suppliers. VkusVill added that the publication showed "the lack of professionalism of individual employees."

Photo: VkusVill Natural Products via Facebook

Even after that, VkusVill still received a large number of negative comments on social media. For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked.

"We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule.

Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights. The Russian court even abolished criminal liability for domestic violence. From these recent free speech cases, it's clear that not only members of LGBTQ communities, but also representatives of non-Slavic races and non-Christians are considered a threat to families in Russia.

Geopolitics
Vladimir Soloviev

Sandu Sweep: Moldova Reformist Revolution May Actually Happen

Last year's election of reformist president Maia Sandu was the first step. But now the anti-graft, pro-Europe forces are about to dominate the Parliament. But what will it look like on the ground?

CHISINAU — Moldovan President Maia Sandu and her Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) are confident that they can turn this week's parliamentary election victory into real reform. Yet for some political players, including former president Igor Dodon, this itself is reason to worry about their fate.

On July 11 it was clear that the results from the parliamentary elections in Moldova held the potential to be truly historic for the Eastern European country. The gap between PAS and all other participants in this parliamentary race was getting larger with every passing hour of ballot counting. According to the preliminary data, the PAS could count as many as 63 seats out of 101, the Communists and Socialists 32, and the Shor Party on 6.

PAS is four seats short of a constitutional majority that would allow it to change the basic laws of the country.

The fight against the pervasive corruption in Moldova is at the top of the agenda

A Kommersant source close to PAS says that there is a debate within the party about whether the country needs major constitutional amendments. And although this isn't the first item on the agenda now, there are several places where the necessary votes from the other parties could be added. The bloc of communists and socialists is in many respects an artificial construction. The former presidents Vladimir Voronin and Igor Dodon do not like each other, to put it mildly. If the "red bloc" between the two parties doesn't survive, the ten Communists in Parliament will become an independent group and could be seen by PAS as a reserve of additional votes, should they be needed.

The fight against the pervasive corruption in Moldova is at the top of the agenda of the victorious PAS and President Sandu, who was elected last year on a reformist platform. The biggest problems are in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, courts and prosecutors.

Igor Grosu's supporters celebrate his victory in Moldovan parliamentary elections in Chisinau — Photo: Diego Herrera/SOPA Images/ ZUMA Wire

Prosecutor General Alexander Stoianoglo, who took office in 2019, called corruption "a threat to national security" and complained that it is difficult to fight. He did not spare even his subordinates. "Prosecutors do not want to investigate cases against prosecutors, and if they take them, these cases fall apart," Stoianoglo told Kommersant.

Natalia Gavrilița, deputy chairman of the PAS and one of Sandu's closest associates, says that the ruling party intends to keep its promise to voters and launch a war on corruption. "We will adopt strict laws on political corruption, we will remove the immunity of deputies and the president in corruption cases," she said.

Prosecutor General Alexander Stoianoglo, who took office in 2019, called corruption ‘a threat to national security"

This news could disturb many, including former President Dodon, who has immunity. All of Moldova remembers the video that surfaced last year where the once powerful and now fugitive oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc tries to give a black bag to Dodon, who was president at the time. Dodon doesn't touch it but utters the phrase: "You again with the bags. Give it to Kosta, and tomorrow he will give it to Cornel because tomorrow I have a flight at five o'clock. He has to pay my salary on Monday."

Gavrilița, who many expect will be named prime minister, said she and her colleagues also plan to initiate justice reform that will include the external evaluation of prosecutors and judges. "External experts will be brought in to evaluate their decisions, the quality of decisions, incorruptibility," she explained. "We will look to see if expenditures match revenues. We will cleanse the state and its institutions from corrupt and mafia elements."

Beyond the constitutional and anti-corruption reform, the new government will also focus on economic growth, job creation and pension reform, especially in light of recovery money expected from the European Union.

Igor Botsan, a Moldovan political analyst, believes that the EU can significantly help the country if the new government shows results in the reform of the judicial system and improving the business climate. "Maia Sandu has proved that she is accepted in Europe," Botsan said. "And for Europe, it is very easy to help: Moldova's economy is 0.03% of the EU economy."

Geopolitics
Kirill Krivosheev

As U.S. Pulls Out Of Afghanistan, Moscow Eyes Power Vacuum

To succeed in withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan White House will need the active help of the Central Asian countries. However, with these post-Soviet republics in play, Russia wants a say.

MOSCOWWe've just witnessed several days of speculation that the planned Sep. 11 final withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan might happen even earlier, after the main Bagram airbase was rapidly emptied. But that speculation was dispelled first by President Joe Biden and then by Pentagon press secretary John Kirby, who vowed an "orderly drawdown" over the coming weeks.

In preparation for the end of the operation, Washington has needed to coordinate with the post-Soviet republics that border Afghanistan, namely Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. On July 1, the foreign ministers of these countries, Abdulaziz Kamilov and Sirodjiddin Mukhriddin met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The official reports from these meetings contain lengthy statements about "the importance of bilateral relations' as well as "efforts to achieve sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan." Meanwhile, Bloomberg and Reuters news agencies have both quoted State Department sources saying that Washington made a very concrete request: the United States asked Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, along with nearby Kazakhstan, to offer haven to some 9,000 Afghans who cooperated with NATO and may now be in danger. It would be a temporary asylum, while these people awaited approval for American visas.

"The security situation in Afghanistan is roughly the same as at the start of the operation in 2001"

"If it is decided to accept a certain number of Afghan citizens, Tajikistan will be the most prepared for this, and discontent will be minimal," - Rustam Azizi, a Tajik political scientist and expert on religious extremism, told Kommersant. "Until now, our country has been a transit point for Afghans. They used to get their documents through the UN Refugee Department and go on their way. And the memory of the civil war is still fresh for us, when our citizens were displaced in the north of Afghanistan and there were many more than 9,000 of them."

"The drawdown process in Afghanistan shows that NATO troops failed to improve the security situation. It is roughly the same as at the start of the operation in 2001," said Stanislav Pritchin, senior research fellow of the Center for Post-Soviet Studies. "It is obvious that the Americans and their allies did not even have such a purpose."

The withdrawal of international coalition troops is accompanied by a powerful offensive by Taliban fighters in the north of the country, which reaches along the border with the post-Soviet Central Asian republics. According to the Afghan TV channel Tolo News, because of the fighting the Friendship bridge was closed between Termez, Uzbekistan and Hairatan, Afghanistan. However, Hairatan itself is still held by government forces.

Soldiers practice an exercise lead by a joint Russian-Tajik force near the border with Afghanistan — Photo: Kalandarov Nozim/TASS/ ZUMA Press

The situation on the border with Tajikistan, which runs through inaccessible mountainous terrain, is even worse. On July 3, another group of Afghan soldiers, the largest thus far — more than 300 men — retreated into Tajik territory after a fight with the Taliban. The State National Security Committee of Tajikistan claims that the border guards control the situation, but the Taliban have managed to capture the border commandant's office in Gorno-Badakhshan, where Tajik and Afghan settlements are separated only by the Panj River.

These developments inevitably attracted the attention of Moscow and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the main post-Soviet military alliance. "The situation is of serious concern," said CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas. "There is a clear understanding of the need to help Tajikistan specifically in ensuring the security of the Tajik-Afghan border."

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, spoke about Afghanistan last Friday, mentioning not the Taliban but another group banned in Russia, the Islamic State (ISIS). He placed some blame on both Afghan officials and the Western pullout. "Given the irresponsible behavior of some officials in Kabul and the hasty withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan without any possibility to report on the fulfillment of any tasks, ISIS is actively mastering the territories, primarily in the north of Afghanistan, right on the borders of the countries that are our allies."

The Afghans were left with their own ambitions to retain power at all costs.

Zamir Kabulov, director of the Second Asia Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, developed this idea in an interview with Sputnik Afghanistan, saying that "at first they (the Afghan authorities) relied on a change of power in the White House and, accordingly, a change in Washington's decision to withdraw troops. When this did not happen, they were left with their own ambitions to retain power at all costs'.

Kabul did not pay attention to these remarks. On the contrary, the Afghan Foreign Ministry issued a statement thanking Moscow for "demonstrating goodwill toward a peaceful resolution of the crisis through constructive peace negotiations."

Another notable development was the recent Moscow meeting between Hamdullah Mokhib, national security advisor to the President of Afghanistan, and Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, Nikolai Patrushev. The report of the talks was as restrained as possible. It was announced that they "discussed the security situation in Afghanistan against the background of the withdrawal of Western military contingents and the worsening of the military-political situation in the north of the country".

Arkady Dubnov, an expert on Central Asia and Afghanistan, said it was important for Patrushev to understand whether the rule of President Ashraf Ghani is stable. "I do not think that Moscow is ready to assure Ghani of support after the Americans leave, because this would strike at its relations with the Taliban," Dubnov explained. "Here, one has to clearly understand that for the Taliban the figure of Ghani is absolutely unacceptable in any sort of coalition government, and the fact that Ghani himself is trying to stay afloat irritates Moscow."

One insider put it this way: the longer Ghani clings to power, the worse the bloodshed in Afghanistan will be — and the smaller the influence of Moscow on the future power in Kabul.

Geopolitics
Sergey Lavrov

Lavrov To The West: Your Hegemony Is Over, Your Rules Don't Apply

In Moscow daily Kommersant, a long and fiery response from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the U.S. and European tactics during and after this month's Putin-Biden summit.

MOSCOW — The frank and generally constructive conversation at the June 16 summit between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joseph Biden in Geneva resulted in an agreement to begin a substantive dialogue on strategic stability ... But almost immediately after the end of the summit, U.S. officials — including participants of the Geneva meeting — began to assertively return to their former attitude: "pointing out," "clearly warning" and making myriad demands on Moscow. Moreover, all these warnings were accompanied by threats: if Moscow didn't accept the rules of the game outlined for it in Geneva within several months, then it would be exposed to the new pressures.

Washington's instantly voiced backlash in the wake of the talks is quite indicative, especially since the European capitals, having caught the mood of big brother, immediately began to actively echo it — and with pleasure. The gist of their statements: They are ready to normalize relations with Moscow, but Moscow should change its behavior first.

The sense is that this chorus in support of the star performer was prepared in advance, and it was precisely this preparation that was laid out in a series of high-level Western events immediately before the US-Russia talks: the G7 summits in Cornwall and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels as well as Biden's meeting with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

These meetings were carefully prepared in a way that leaves no doubt: the West wanted to make it clear to everyone that it is more united than ever and will only do what it thinks is right on the international stage, while forcing others — above all, Russia and China — to follow the course that it sets. The documents of Cornwall and Brussels enshrined the promotion of the concept of rules-based world order in opposition to the universal principles of international law, enshrined primarily in the UN Charter.

Putin and Biden shake hands at the Geneva summit — Photo: Sergei Bobylev/TASS/ZUMA

A series of summits of G7, NATO, and the U.S.-EU has marked, according to their participants, the return of the U.S. to Europe and the restoration of consolidation in the Old World under the new administration in Washington. Most NATO and EU members welcomed this U-turn with relief, accompanied by enthusiastic comments. The ideological basis for the reunification of the Western family was the declaration of liberal values as the guiding star of human development. Washington and Brussels, without false modesty, called themselves the anchor of democracy, peace, and security in opposition to authoritarianism in all its forms, declaring in particular the intention to strengthen the use of sanctions in the interests of supporting democracy around the world.

The new Atlantic Charter (new Anglo-American Atlantic Charter approved by Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the margins of the G7 summit on June 10) was also conceived as a kind of starting point for building a world order, but exclusively by Western rules. Its wording is ideologically charged with deepening the divide between liberal democracies and all other states, designed to legitimize an order based on rules. The new charter contains no reference to the UN or the OSCE, firmly fixing the commitment of the collective West to commitments within NATO as, in fact, the only legitimate decision-making center (this is how former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen characterized the importance of the North Atlantic Alliance back in 2014).

Russia and China are identified as bearers of authoritarianism, the main obstacle to the implementation of the course announced at the June summits. Two groups of claims are put forward, on both the domestic and international fronts. Beijing is accused of too assertive promotion of its economic interests (the One Belt, One Road project), building up its military and its technological power to increase its influence. Russia is accused of aggressive policies in many regions, posing as such Moscow's policy of countering ultra-radical and neo-Nazi tendencies in the policies of neighboring countries, which suppress the rights of Russians and other national minorities, uproot the Russian language, education and culture. Nor do we like the fact that Moscow is standing up for countries that have fallen victim to Western adventures and have been attacked by international terrorism with the threat of losing their statehood, as was the case in Syria.

They demand Moscow and Beijing (and everyone else) follow Western recipes on human rights, civil society...

Still, the main pathos of the announced Western approaches is focused on the internal structure of non-democratic countries, and the determination to change them according to its standards, seeking such changes in the organization of society that would correspond to the vision of democracy promoted by Washington and Brussels. Hence their demands for Moscow and Beijing (and everyone else) to follow Western recipes on human rights, civil society, opposition, mass media, functioning of state structures, and the interaction between the branches of power.

Sensible politicians in Europe and the U.S. understand the impasse of such an uncompromising course. So far, not in public, they are beginning to reason pragmatically, admitting that there is more than one civilization in the world, that Russia, China and other major powers have their own thousand-year history, their own traditions, their own values, their own way of life. It is futile to ask whose values are better or worse, we should simply acknowledge that there are other forms of social organization as compared to those in the West, accept them as a given, respect them. There are problems with human rights everywhere, but it's time to abandon the position of one's own superiority: we in the West will deal with them ourselves because we are democracies, while you are not yet mature enough; you need help, which is what we will do.

Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov before a press conference — Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS/ZUMA

The collective historical West, which has dominated everyone for 500 years, cannot help but face the truth that this era is irrevocably passing, even as it tries to hold onto what's slipping away, to artificially slow down the objective process of forming a multipolar world.

Introducing its concept of a rule-based world order, the West pursues the aim of leading the discussion of the key topics to the formats it finds convenient, where dissenters are not invited.

Narrow-group platforms and appeals are assembled to agree on recipes for subsequent imposition on everyone else. Examples include a call for security in cyberspace, a call for respect for international humanitarian law, a partnership for freedom of information.

At the same time, for each such format of like-minded people, the European Union creates its own mechanism of horizontal sanctions, also, naturally, without any regard to the UN Charter.

The West justifies the reckless expansion of NATO eastward to the Russian borders. When we refer to the assurances given to the Soviet Union that this will not happen, the answer is: well, these were just verbal promises, no documents were signed.

Rule-based order is the epitome of a double standard. When it is convenient, the absolute rule is the right of peoples to self-determination. This includes the Falklands 12,000 kilometers away from Britain, remote former colonial possessions that Paris and London retain despite many UN and International Court decisions, which no one is going to liberate, and the independent Kosovo, in violation of a UN Security Council resolution. When the principle of self-determination contradicts the geopolitical interests of the West, as in the case of the free will of the residents of Crimea in favor of common destiny with Russia, they forget about it and angrily condemn the free choice of people and punish them with sanctions.

Attempts by sane politicians to protect children from aggressive LGBT propaganda are met with militant protests.

The concept of rules also manifests itself in an attack not only on international law but also on human nature itself. In schools in several Western countries, children are taught as part of the curriculum that Jesus Christ was bisexual. Attempts by sane politicians to protect children from aggressive LGBT propaganda are met with militant protests in enlightened Europe. There is an attack on the foundations of all world religions, on the genetic code of key civilizations of the planet. The U.S. has led blatant state intervention in the affairs of the church, openly seeking to split the world orthodoxy, the values of which are seen as a powerful spiritual obstacle to the liberal concept of unlimited permissiveness.

Neither NATO nor the EU intend to change their policy of subjugating other regions of the world and proclaiming a self-appointed global messianic mission. The North Atlantic alliance is actively joining the U.S. strategic turn toward the Indo-Pacific (with the open goal of containing China), which undermines the central role of ASEAN in the open architecture of Asia-Pacific cooperation that has been built up for decades.

The EU, in turn, develops programs for the development of neighboring (and not very) geopolitical spaces without much consultation on their content with the invited countries. This is the nature of the Eastern Partnership and Brussels' recently approved program for Central Asia. Such approaches are fundamentally at odds with the way integration associations with Russian participation (CIS, CSTO, EurAsEC, SCO) which develop relations with external partners exclusively on a parity mutually agreed basis.

As for the West's approach to Russia, it is high time to understand that your hopes of having one-sided rules have been finally drowned out. All the formulas from Western capitals about their readiness to normalize relations with Moscow, if it repents and changes its behavior, have lost any sense — and the fact that many continue to put forward unilateral demands to us by inertia does not do credit to their ability to adequately assess what is happening.

Judging by the practical actions of the West in recent years (including the hysterical reaction to Moscow's defense of Russian rights after the bloody coup d'etat in Ukraine in 2014 supported by the United States, NATO and the EU), they thought that all this was not very serious: Russia had declared its principles, so be it. We need to put more pressure on the interests of the elites, increase personal, financial, and other sectoral sanctions, and Moscow will come to its senses and realize that without a change in behavior (that is, without obedience to the West) it will experience deeper and deeper difficulties in its development.

And even when we clearly said that we perceive this policy of the U.S. and Europe as a new reality and therefore will build our work in the economy and other spheres, based on the unacceptability of dependence on unreliable partners, they still continued to believe that Moscow will eventually change its mind and make the concessions required of it for the sake of material benefits.

I will stress once again what President Vladimir Putin has said many times: there were no unilateral concessions at the end of the 1990s, and there never will be any. If you want to cooperate and regain your lost profits and your business reputation, you should negotiate with each other in order to find fair solutions and compromises.

This world view is firmly rooted in the minds of the Russian people.

It is fundamentally important for the West to understand that this world view is firmly rooted in the minds of the Russian people and reflects the views of the overwhelming majority of Russian citizens. Those irreconcilable opponents of the Russian authorities, on whom the West relies and who see all of Russia's problems in anti-Westernism, demanding unilateral concessions in order to lift sanctions and obtain some hypothetical material benefits, represent an absolutely marginal segment of our society. At the June 16 press conference in Geneva, Vladimir Putin clearly explained what the West's support of such marginal circles is aimed at.

They are going against the historical continuity of a people that has always, especially in difficult times, been known for its maturity, sense of self-respect, dignity and national pride, ability to think independently while being open to the rest of the world on equal terms for mutual benefit. It is these qualities of the Russians after the confusion and vacillation of the 1990s that have become the foundational concept of Russia's foreign policy in the 21st century. They are able to assess the actions of their leadership themselves, without prompting from abroad.

Geopolitics
Andrey Kolesnikov

And The Oscar Goes To ... Vladimir Putin

In a recent government meeting, the Russian strongman once again showed off his trademark flare for political theater, promising, among other things, to leave his foreign foes toothless.

MOSCOW — In a conference call last week with government officials, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrapped things up on a characteristic note: with a promise to "knock out the teeth" of the country's foreign enemies.

But that was toward the end. Earlier, he was far more restrained — notably calm, in fact — as he discussed what he sees as attempts to distort the military history of the Soviet people.

"All sorts of Russophobes and unscrupulous politicians are trying to bash our history, to push through ideas of revising the outcome of World War II, to justify Nazi criminals," he said.

Ukraine has chosen a perverse version of the struggle with its own past.

"We cannot allow such actions to occur without a worthy response," the Russian leader added. "As I said before, we will certainly base our efforts on facts and do everything we can to ensure the continuity of historical memory in our society, so that future generations, decades and centuries from now, will preserve the truth about the war and a holy, grateful attitude to its heroes and to their ancestors!"

Also in the meeting was Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who keep mostly quiet but did, eventually, lament what he called "a sharp deterioration of the international situation, the erosion of international law, open Russophobia, and the information war against Russia have complicated military memorial activities abroad."

"We believe that the discovery of more and more evidence of the liberation mission and the feats of the Soviet people largely prevents attempts to rewrite the results of the war," he added diplomatically.

That's when a far more fired up Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, stepped in.

"It's difficult to imagine that in a state governed by the rule of law the destruction of monuments can be approved at the official level and even be considered a kind of patriotism," he said. "The most vivid example of this approach is Poland, where the authorities invented the concept of so-called symbolic monuments, subject to decommunization!"

It turns out that some 449 Soviet memorials have already been destroyed in Poland, and all intergovernmental agreements in this regard have been rudely violated. On this issue, one could see how pensive Vladimir Putin had become — and that was Bogdanov turned his attention to Ukraine.

Putin_strategic_defense_meeting_Russia

Russia's President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of top Russian Defence Ministry officials and the heads of Russia's military industrial sector enterprises, in May 2021. — Photo: Sergei Ilyin/TASS/ZUMA

"Ukraine has chosen a perverse version of the struggle with its own past," the deputy foreign minister said. "There, everything connected in one way or another with our country, namely with Russia, and not only with the Soviet Union, becomes a victim of the anti-Soviet inquisition! Thus, within the framework of decommunization borrowed from the Poles, the monument to Generalissimo Alexander Suvorov was dismantled in Kyiv!"

Finally, Elena Tsunaeva, executive secretary for the organization Search Movement for Russia, asked for a word. "As soon as the country gets stronger, there are attempts to restrain its development," she said. "It's the fear of a strengthening Russia..."

That, as it turned out, what just the cue needed for Vladimir Putin to break his silence.

"As one of our emperors said, everyone is afraid of our enormity," he said. "Even after the Soviet Union ceased to exist... And this is nothing else than historical Russia, only it was called differently, and the ideological content of the state was, of course, different, but from a geopolitical point of view, it is historical Russia... Indeed, the potential is enormous, the territory remains the largest in the world."

From there his remarks built up toward a crescendo. "We have 146 million people — not much compared to those countries where there are hundreds of millions of citizens, or even more than a billion, but it is still considered a lot," the Russian leader added. "And someone even dares to say publicly that it is allegedly unfair that only one country owns the wealth of such a region as Siberia! It is strange to hear such things, especially in public, but they are sometimes heard!"

And then, finally, the kicker (so to speak): "Everyone wants to bite us or bite something off us, but those who would like to do so should know that we would knock their teeth out so that they couldn't bite," Putin said.

Well, there you have it. With those remarks, all was again as it should be: the Putin we know — not the one who began the meeting with conciliatory remarks, but the fired up, tough talking version — was back!

We have new aviation systems that have no equal in the world.

So too were his reassurances about Russia's military might — despite being outspent by not only the United States, but also Saudi Arabia and Japan. "We're more than all right," he said, taking obvious pleasure in the words. "We have the most modern of all the nuclear arsenals, the most modern nuclear deterrent! We can firmly assert that, the most modern!"

Next up was his favorite topic of all.

"We have a new type of strategic weapon: the Avangard, a hypersonic intercontinental-range surface-to-air missile," Putin boasted. "We, and we alone have it. A hypersonic weapon! We have new aviation systems that have no equal in the world, combat surface and submarine ships, the most modern unmanned aerial vehicles... Thanks to what? Through prudent use of funds earmarked by the state for defense..."

And then, just as quickly as he'd raised the stakes, the president again brought the tone down, speaking calmly, his performance just about finished:

"No matter what we've done. No matter how hard we try to satisfy the appetites of those who are trying to restrain us, restraint will continue, because many of our opponents, so to speak, do not need such a country as Russia. But you and I need it, and our people, the citizens of the Russian Federation, need it," Putin concluded.

Geopolitics

The Latest: Taiwan’s Vaccine Question, Germany’s Second Genocide, Backwards Fugitive

Welcome to Friday, where COVID spikes in Asia, Germany formally recognizes its second 20th-century genocide and a fugitive in New Zealand went the wrong way in a helicopter. Berlin daily Die Welt introduces us to an openly gay Catholic priest, whose Sunday Mass is always full.

• UN to investigate war crimes over Israeli-Hamas conflict: The UN Human Rights Council has voted to investigate violence in the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. The United States worries this decision would threaten the progress of bringing calm to the region.

• Syria's Assad wins fourth term: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad won a fourth term in office with 95% of the votes in an election criticized by Western countries as not free or open. The country has been devastated by a ten-year conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven 11 million people — about half the population — from their homes.

• Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai sentenced: Jailed Hong Kong media tycoon and Beijing critic Jimmy Lai has been sentenced to 14 months in prison over his participation in a pro-democracy rally last year.

• Germany recognizes colonial crimes in Namibia as genocide: Germany has officially recognized that it committed genocide in Namibia, apologizing for its role in slaughter of Herero and Nama tribespeople between 1904-1908.

• COVID-19 spreading in Asia: South Asia has crossed 30 million COVID-19 cases on Friday. Japan says it will consider sharing some of its vaccine doses with Taiwan, which has seen a sudden spike in cases and only has 1% of its population inoculated. In Australia, the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus has forced the city of Melbourne to enter its fourth lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic.

• Nike split with Neymar over sexual assault investigation: U.S. sportswear giant Nike announced that it will stop working with Neymar over his failure to cooperate with an internal investigation of sexual assault charges alleged in 2016 by an employee of the company. Neymar denies the charges, and the investigation was inconclusive.

• New Zealand fugitive rents helicopter to surrender: A fugitive New Zealand resident facing assault charges hired a helicopter to fly to a police station to turn himself in.

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Geopolitics
Sergey Strokan

What The U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan Means For Russia

Russian authorities have more than a few questions to face, including where U.S. forces may relocate after exiting the troubled, central-Asian republic.

-Analysis-

MOSCOW — The May 8 terrorist attack in Kabul that left more than 80 people dead, many of them school girls between the ages of 11 and 15, is a gruesome reminder of the dangers ahead as the United States moves forward with its plan to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11.

It's a scenario, furthermore, that also has direct implications for Russia, which shares a 1,300-kilometer border with the war-torn nation. Russian leader Vladimir Putin has promised to support Afghanistan. Washington, in the meantime, is considering relocating its bases to former Soviet republics, an area of strategic interest to Russia.

The wave of terror sweeping through Afghanistan flies in the face of recent diplomatic efforts.

In Afghanistan itself, right now is a time for mourning — for the many lives lost when a girls' school in a Shiite neighborhood in Kabul was attacked by terrorists on May 8th. As students were leaving the school after class, a car bomb parked next to them exploded and two rockets were launched in quick succession, killing dozens and injuring many more.

The Taliban chose not to claim responsibility for the attack, prompting Afghan society to call on the authorities to step up their fight against the terrorists, who will stop at nothing. The group's statements sound very ambiguous, nevertheless, and contain an implicit threat to the United States, which failed to withdraw its contingent from the country by May 1, as promised by the previous U.S. president, Donald Trump.

A source close to the Taliban told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti on the eve of the attack that its members would cease combat operations in Afghanistan — but only for three days, to coincide with the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr, celebrated last week at the end of the month of Ramadan.

Just after the Kabul attack, Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, in his Eid al-Fitr message, accused Washington of failing to implement agreements reached last February at peace talks between the United States and the Taliban in Doha.

"The U.S. side repeatedly violated the signed agreement and caused enormous human and material damage to civilians," the Taliban leader said, warning of "responsibility for the consequences' if "America fails to fulfill its obligations again."

Afghanistan_teacher_mourning_school_attack

A teacher placing flowers on the desks of the students killed in the terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 13, 2021. — Photo: Fatmah Ahmed

Last month, on April 14, Joe Biden provided a new date for the supposed final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan: Sept. 11. The Taliban see it as proof that the U.S. broke its agreement, and it no longer feels bound by the Doha obligations to stop the violence.

The wave of terror sweeping through Afghanistan flies in the face of recent diplomatic efforts that were supposed to have culminated in a repeatedly postponed peace conference, in Istanbul. Clearly, attempts to placate the Taliban and discourage them from taking radical action were unsuccessful.

A game changer for the CSTO

The rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan was the primary focus of a May 9 visit to Moscow by the president of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmon, who just took over the presidency of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance of selected post-USSR republics in Eurasia.

"This is now the number one regional issue in view of the U.S. announcement of the withdrawal of troops: They have so far withdrawn roughly half of their soldiers, and immediately after the announcement, the situation inside Afghanistan sharply deteriorated," Rakhmon said. "We have the longest border with Afghanistan, which is almost 60% of the total border of the former Soviet Union."

Vladimir Putin, for his part, called security issues related to the events in Afghanistan "very important" and said that Rakhmon's concerns were justified. Recalling that the 201st Russian military base operates in Tajikistan, Putin said: "We are working on strengthening the base, on strengthening the Tajik armed forces."

The Wall Street Journal, quoting sources in the White House, reported on Monday that after withdrawaing from Afghanistan, the United States might deploy its forces in the Central Asian republics, specifying that no agreement on this matter had been reached yet. Those sources suggest that the best option for Washington would be a military presence in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which both neighbor Afghanistan and from which the U.S. military could react quickly should things further escalate.

The paper's sources agree that these plans would be difficult to implement because of Russia's "large military presence" in the region and China's growing influence. The Wall Street Journal drew attention, however, to a recent trip to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan by U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, calling the visits an attempt to test the ground for further dealings with the two governments.

The Taliban do not intend to give up their plans to seize power in the country by armed force.

Summing up the situation, Andrei Serenko, director of the Analytical Center of the Russian Society of Political Scientists, says that efforts "to turn the "cannibals of jihad" into political vegetarians have failed."

"The Taliban do not intend to give up their plans to seize power in the country by armed force," Serenko adds. "In this situation, the changes in Afghanistan and the region will be a strong test for the CSTO, one of Moscow's chief integration instruments."

The expert explains that during the two decades that U.S. and NATO troops have been stationed in Afghanistan, the CSTO allies were free to engage in training exercises without much fear of attacks by militants. The U.S. withdrawal changes the dynamics, however, and could leave the CSTO as much more of a frontline structure, with unknown consequences.

"For Russia, the change in the situation in Afghanistan due to the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces will be a serious challenge," Serenko says. "First, it will have to fill the geopolitical void that has appeared after the departure of the U.S. military. Second, the elites of post-Soviet Central Asian republics, accustomed for 20 years to living under a Western umbrella that protected the region from terrorist groups, will need to be reassured. Third, it is necessary to respond to the possible appearance of a U.S. military base in Central Asia."

"The United States and Natao have their closest relations with Uzbekistan, which is not a member of the CSTO," he adds. "That is why it is conceivable that an American base may appear there, for instance, under the brand of an international center for combating terrorism."

Conceivable, perhaps, but also illegal, according to the Uzbek Defense Ministry, which points out that the laws of the country prohibit any foreign military bases from being located on its territory.

Geopolitics
Sergey Strokan

Why The UK Is Leading West's 'Propaganda War' Against Russia

London is taking a hardline against Moscow since Trump's departure left Putin increasingly isolated.

-Analysis-

MOSCOW — Seven years after Russia was expelled from the club of Western democracies, the U.K. is calling for another war with Moscow — an information war — creating collective mechanisms to contain the Kremlin's "propaganda and disinformation."

A three-day meeting of the G7 foreign ministers will resume the work of the "club of leading Western democracies," which was suspended in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year's summit, which was to be held in the United States during the final stage of Donald Trump's presidency, suffered an unenviable fate: The face-to-face meeting of world leaders scheduled for June did not take place. The summit at Camp David was disrupted after German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to attend it under the pretext of a pandemic, a move she made amid acute disagreements between Washington and Berlin over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.

Trump, who hoped to make the 2020 summit a symbol of a return to normal life, moved the forum to September. However, even after the forced timeout, the G7 was still not on track.

The disagreements became even more acute after Trump — in the midst of the U.S. presidential race — announced his intention to invite Vladimir Putin to the meeting. This was despite the fact that Russia had been expelled from the club in 2014 in connection with the Ukrainian conflict — and Trump's proposal was greeted with hostility by G7 allies.

Now, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is determined not to make the same mistake. The U.K. will host the upcoming summit, to be held June 11-13 in the resort town of Carbis Bay on the Atlantic coast of the Cornwall Peninsula.

As part of London's post-EU foreign policy strategy, Johnson is trying to assert the U.K."s new ambitions as an independent global power center in relation to the G7. He has two objectives in mind: Firstly, to show that the G7 is not a closed Western "gentlemen's club" disconnected from reality and the rest of the world's centers of power.

Secondly, to demonstrate that the unity of the U.S. and its Western allies, shaken under the Trump era, has been restored and that inviting Russia is out of the question. Moreover, together with the new administration of President Joe Biden, the G7 states must unite to create new mechanisms for containing Moscow.

The main event will not be the fight against COVID-19 or the education of girls, but a new strategy for containing Russia.

For the first task, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell; the foreign ministers of Australia, India, South Korea, and South Africa; and the Secretary General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have been invited to London in addition to the G7 foreign ministries.

The G7 meeting will demonstrate how "global Britain" unites the world's largest economies to face common challenges, promises UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who set out ambitious plans to tackle vaccine distribution, education, hunger and climate change.

Still Raab made it clear that the the main event will not be the fight against COVID-19 or the education of girls, but rather a new strategy for containing Russia, which is being developed by London. This control is not only political and diplomatic, but also about economics and communication. Apparently, this initiative is designed to become a new means of consolidation of the G7 and help its members quickly forget about the return of Putin.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and other G7 leaders at Lancaster House in Central London — Photo: Andrew Parsons/Avalon/ZUMA Press

The foreign secretary has urged allies to take the Russian information threat seriously. "Pro-Russian trolls are posting comments on Ukraine and other areas, both to influence opinion here but to be played back in the Russian media," Raab told The Sunday Times. At London's initiative, the G7 foreign ministers will consider creating collective rapid response mechanisms to contain Russian "propaganda and disinformation."

The Foreign Office said last Saturday that the BBC World Service, which broadcasts in 42 languages, will receive an additional £8 million ($11 million) in 2021-2022 to combat disinformation and fake news and expand its overseas audience. Britain's plan to counter "Russian propaganda" also calls for support for independent media, particularly in Russia's neighboring countries.

Still, it's not clear if the G7 will rally behind London's information war with Russia. Unlike Raab, new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made it clear that Washington is more concerned with a different aspect of containing Russia: the future of the NordStream 2 gas pipeline project, which the U.S. administration believes may still be curtailed.

The BBC World Service will receive an additional £8 million to combat fake news

Despite the fact that this very issue became a bone of contention within the G7 a year ago, leading to Merkel"s no-show for Trump's invitation to the Camp David summit, Biden's Secretary of state Antony Blinken intends to raise the issue again during his meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova chose not to cite Raab, Blinken, Vladimir Putin or Sergei Lavrov, but turned instead to the authority of the early Christian monk and hermit Anthony the Great.

"On the bright holiday of Easter, I allow myself to respond by quoting the Venerable Anthony the Great, who said: "There will come a time when nine sick people will come to a healthy one and say: you are sick because you are not like us," Zakharova posted on Facebook, "It makes you wonder why the countries sick as hell with propaganda, which have used it more than once to justify armed invasion and overthrow of governments (this is how Britain and the US acted in Iraq, inventing the story about chemical weapons), blame our country for their own sins."

Geopolitics
Anna Akage

Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan: Perils Of A Diplomatic Triangle

Russia's foreign minister visited Pakistan for the first time in nine years — just in time for the deadline for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan. It points to an important change of actors in one of the deadliest conflict zones in the world.

On April 6, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Pakistan to lead conversations on Afghan peace, military supplies and cooperation in the nuclear sector. It was the first visit by a Russian official to the country since 2012.

"We can confirm that Russia is willing to continue to assist in strengthening the anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan, including supplying them with appropriate equipment," Lavrov said at a press conference, as Russian daily Kommersant reports. According to Lavrov, Russia and Pakistan will continue practicing regular joint tactical exercises to combat terrorism and piracy together.

Lavrov's counterpart, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, described Russia as a stabilizing presence at both regional and international levels. These two foreign ministers agreed to assist Afghanistan in its fight against internal terror factions. Their motivation is simple: The increasing influence of terrorists in both northern and eastern Afghanistan is a matter of significant concern to both countries.

When the Americans leave, the Russians arrive.

It should be noted that this official visit came just before the May 1 deadline for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan as the part of Washington-Taliban agreement signed in 2020. This is now unlikely to proceed as anticipated.

"We look forward to an early finding of a constructive solution in order to end the civil war in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan through agreements on the creation of an inclusive government with the Taliban's participation," said Lavrov, quoted by Pakistan's The News International.

U.S. Marines near Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, Afghanistan — Photo: Sgt. Joseph Scanlan/Planet Pix/ZUMA

Qureshi also briefed his Russian counterpart about the situation in Indian-held Kashmir and expressed hopes for Russian assistance in the region of Jammu and Kashmir.

This is not the first time that, after numerous political and military failures on the part of the U.S. government, Russia has stepped in to both offer a helping hand and strengthen relationships. For the first time since 2001, Pakistan is not a foreign-policy priority for the new U.S. administration. For over two decades, Pakistan has been a focus of the War on Terror — but not this year. Biden's administration will be focused on managing its relationships with great powers like China and dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, including its subsequent economic challenges. And when the Americans leave, the Russians arrive.

This is not the first time that Russia has stepped in to offer a helping hand.

According to Lavrov, the two countries are also discussing the possibility of working together on the use of nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes outside of the energy sector, such as the fields of medicine and industry. According to him, this concerns cooperation between Rosatom, a Russian state corporation headquartered in Moscow that specializes in nuclear energy, and the Pakistan Nuclear Energy Commission.

With this blossoming friendship between Russia and Pakistan, change of some kind looks unavoidable for the region.

Geopolitics
Alexander Demchenko

Minsk Or Normandy? Russia Prefers Impasse With Ukraine Instead

In order to circumvent French and German mediation, the Kremlin is leaking secrets to the press as a defacto policy of stalling in its seven-year-long conflict with Ukraine.

-Analysis-

KYIV — Due to their sensitive nature, international negotiations come with certain requirements: first, don't disclose their details; and secondly, what has not been signed and agreed upon is not fit for implementation.

The Russian newspaper Kommersant has published details of what should have been confidential communications among the so-called Normandy Format negotiating countries (Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France) regarding new approaches to finding a peaceful settlement of the contested region of Donbas.

Since its creation in 2014, the Normandy Format has managed to ink several deals on prisoner exchange, yet has repeatedly failed to end the war in the eastern Ukrainian territory between Kyiv and pro-Russian insurgents. Ceasefire agreements are constantly broken and there are weekly reports about injured or killed Ukrainian soldiers who remain on the borderline of the occupied territories.

While Germany and France are clearly in the role of mediators, and Ukraine as participant, Russia tries to present itself as a mediator, even while clearly representing the rebel military groups. Yet, neither Ukraine nor European countries acknowledge rebels as lawful representatives of Donbas.

At the same time, there is another forum for trying to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian conflict within the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), dubbed the Minsk Protocol, after the capital of Belarus where the meetings between Russia, Ukraine, and OSCE were held.

Moscow doesn't need any progress on peace.

And while all sides continue to study the current written proposals of France and Germany, it looks increasingly as though the Normandy negotiations are frozen, with the center of conversation shifting to Minsk.

Still, for the past several months, there have been Normandy Four talks at the level of advisors to update the Minsk agreements and implement them in blocks. The Germans and French most likely intended to move contentious issues such as border control, elections, withdrawal of troops into a separate discussion, while trying to resolve other points around humanitarian and economic issues.

Kyiv has been trying to reverse some of the agreements that it had to accept at the time of catastrophic losses on the battlefield. According to the Ukrainian side, it was necessary to first solve the problem of the freeing of territories, the withdrawal of foreign troops from Donbas, and control over the common border with Russia; only after that does Kyiv believe they can move on to holding elections and temporarily introducing a special status of the territories. The Minsk agreements, on the other hand, are exactly the other way around.

At a meeting of the Normandy Four leaders in Paris in November 2019 — Photo: Eliot Blondet/Abaca via ZUMA Press

Here it is worth recalling that in 2016, after the summit of the leaders of the Normandy Format in Berlin, the parties signed a communiqué. There it was proposed to develop a road map for resolving the situation in Donbas, but Russia froze the process and no map was created.

On March 16, 2021, in an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Dmitry Kozak, a Russian negotiator and close ally of President Vladimir Putin, blamed the "very strange confidentiality of the Normandy negotiations' for blocking progress.

"Ukraine is in favor of confidentiality. Germany and France support it in this with references to diplomatic traditions. We are in favor of abandoning this tradition, which is harmful in this case, and for full openness of the negotiations," Kozak said. "If it were possible to change this principle, then you, and through the media and all interested citizens and states, would be able to assess for yourselves whose "creative ideas," "proactive position" or "strong moves' are the real reason for the lack of any progress in resolving the conflict."

In other words, this major Russian power broker was issuing a public warning to all sides of the Normandy Four that Russia would leak information about the talks. Why? Because Moscow does not need any progress on peace. It prefers to constantly hold Ukraine by the gills. It actually likes neither negotiations at the level of the Normandy Format nor the Minsk agreements. That is why it is very likely that the documents that were leaked to Kommersant were sent directly from the Kremlin.

Now, Moscow is pushing Berlin and Paris to freeze the Normandy Format indefinitely. But Russia's attack is also aimed at Ukraine, where public opinion is not necessarily in favor of negotiations. This all makes a long-awaiting peace deal seem even more impossible than before.

Geopolitics
Sergei Strokan

Russia And The U.S.: To Talk Or Not To Talk

Moscow and Washington are attempting to work out how to communicate with each other after Joe Biden insulted Vladimir Putin.

MOSCOW — Russia's ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, is back in Moscow, after having been recalled "for consultations," after U.S. President Joe Biden labeled Vladimir Putin as "a killer" in an television interview.

After his return Sunday, Antonov summed up the situation obliquely: "Russia is interested in relations with the U.S. to the same degree that the U.S. itself is interested."

At the same time, both Biden and Putin have expressed an openness to have direct talks, while the U.S. State Department announced that it's "ready to engage constructively" with Moscow when it corresponds to Washington's interests.

Russian Foreign Ministry's official spokesperson Maria Zakharova made it clear that it is pointless to talk about how long he will be in Russia. "How much time is needed for this? Precisely as much as the consultations themselves will take," she says.

Strange it wasn't Russian hackers...

According to Zakharova, Moscow is looking to determine "ways of straightening out Russian-American ties, which are in a grave state" and how not to let them fall into irreversible degradation." "The new American administration has been in power almost two months, and the symbolic boundary of 100 days is not far off, and this is a good reason to try and assess what's working out for Joe Biden's team, and what isn't," she says, calling on Russia to maintain a balanced approach to relations with the U.S.

The sharp-tongued Zakharova avoided open barbs toward Joe Biden, who has become the object of ridicule on social networks in Russia after stumbling three times Friday on the steps of Air Force One during heavy winds. The Russian Foreign Ministry press secretary permitted herself only a touch of light sarcasm: "Strange that it wasn't ‘Russian hackers'... but just the wind," she writes on Facebook.

Russian Foreign Ministry's official spokesperson Maria Zakharova — Photo: Russian Federation Council

The signals coming from Washington show that the American side has no interest in further escalation. Putin, meanwhile, has opted for a public stance of prudence. "I imagine that it would be interesting both for the people of Russia and the U.S., and also for other countries, taking into account that as the biggest nuclear powers, we have a special responsibility for strategic security on the planet," says Putin, urging Washington "not to put things on the back burner."

Putin said direct talks with Washington could focus on bilateral relations, strategic stability and regional conflicts, though he noted that Moscow would "work with them in those areas in which we ourselves are interested" and "they will have to reckon with this."

By putting the ball in Washington's court and setting an extremely short timeframe, Putin is forcing the Biden administration to react swiftly to Moscow's improvisation. "I'm sure we'll talk at some point," Biden replied when asked if he would agree to Putin's offer. It's worth noting, however, that neither side has mentioned any dates.