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.
The Stakes Of A Ukrainian-Russian Drone Arms Race
Geopolitics
Anna Akage

The Stakes Of A Ukrainian-Russian Drone Arms Race

A recent unmanned attack could heighten tensions in the conflict zone and have broader geopolitical consequences.

Last week Vladimir Putin complained that even without accepting Kyiv into its ranks, NATO could place missiles in Ukraine near Russia's borders. Russian media was quick to help prove Putin's point, writing about Washington's current military aid to Kyiv, Ukraine's talks with London on obtaining British Brimstone missiles and Turkish drones in Donbas, which has been a disputed site of conflict since 2014.

Just days later, the Ukrainian military for the first time used the Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 drone in Donbas. The incident Tuesday could seriously change the situation in the conflict zone and have consequences for both Russian-Ukrainian and Russian-Turkish relations.

Turkey enters the conflict 

Russian daily Kommersant writes that the main threat now is the military friendship between Ukraine and Turkey. "We have a really special and good relationship with Turkey, but in this case, unfortunately, our fears are confirmed that the supply of such weapons to the Ukrainian military could potentially destabilize the situation on the line of contact," says Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Russian president.

Information about the use of the drone appeared almost simultaneously with the report that the Ukrainian military occupied the village on the line of contact, which means a full-fledged aggravation of the conflict.

Natalia Nikonorova is the minister of foreign affairs of the Donetsk People's Republic, a self-proclaimed quasi-state in eastern Ukrainian. She tells Kommersant that the use of unmanned aerial vehicles — whatever their production and whatever country supplied them to Ukrainian armed forces — was absolutely unacceptable, adding they were an acute factor in destabilizing the situation.

Representatives of Germany, which is involved in resolving the violence in eastern Ukraine, say that drones "are used by both sides of the conflict."

A Russian drone carrying a package

Ogorodnik Andrei/TASS/ZUMA

A technological arms race?

Russian expert Vasily Kashin believes that the use of drones in Ukraine "will necessitate a radical strengthening of the air defenses of both Ukraine and the Donetsk People's Republic. The balance will require either radical rearmament of the republic's air defense forces or direct participation in their air defense against the Russian armed forces."

But the evidence on the ground might be more mixed: The Ukrainian magazine Livy Bereg took a closer look at the number of Russian drones. Originally, Russia was far ahead of Ukraine in military technological progress. Almost simultaneously, the two countries purchased a tactical drone in Israel. However, while Ukrainian procurement was gathering dust in warehouses, the Russians had already established production by 2011. But then Moscow unexpectedly fell behind.

New information about Russia's unmanned aerial vehicles appeared during the forum "Army-2021." In particular, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that by the end of 2021 the number of drones in the Russian army will exceed 2,000 units. It is unlikely that Shoigu's statement is anything but banal propaganda.

What is known for sure is that Russian drones designed or developed for the military are man-operated and do not contain elements of artificial intelligence. Despite having publicly announced ambitious plans to create strike drones, Russia has not completed them. Thus, in December 2020, Putin ordered the Russian Defense Ministry to speed up work on the Hunter drone, which was to become the main opponent to the Ukrainian drone Bayraktar TB2 of Turkish production. But in February 2021, Russia had to admit that flight tests for Hunter will not end before 2023 and its serial production will begin no earlier than 2024.

The drone competition is a reminder that even as peace talks between Ukraine and Russia continue to stall, the local arms race isn't slowing down.

"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow
Geopolitics
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

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Photo of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Paris in December 2019
Geopolitics
Anna Akage

Russia And Ukraine, The Meaning Of A Bad Status Quo

Despite being parties of one conflict and neighbors and comrades of the same historical events, it is now obvious that Russia and Ukraine — or at least their very different leaders, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky — are living in opposing realities.

-Analysis-

The best we can say about the recent visits of U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland to Moscow with top European officials Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel to Kyiv was that these high-level meetings ensured the status quo in the longstanding Russia-Ukraine conflict.

But that is a status quo measured in dead negotiations in the Normandy Format over the simmering war on the border and the status of Crimea. It is status quo of the shared disapproval of the situation, and the clarity of the opposing directions chosen by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

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Microplastics In Lake Baikal, World’s Largest Freshwater Lake At Risk
Green Or Gone
Anna Geroeva

Microplastics In Lake Baikal, World’s Largest Freshwater Lake At Risk

Fishing nets, industry and other human-caused dumping are poisoning Russia's Lake Baikal, the world's largest, deepest (and oldest) lake. Bigger than all the North American Great Lakes combined, it's at risk after 25 million years of life.

MOSCOW — The vast and ancient Lake Baikal in Russia has a rich history, providing a home for thousands of plants and animal species and sustaining the nearby Buryat tribes going back millennia. It's the world's deepest and oldest lake, and has survived for some 25-30 million years. But its depths bury a dark secret: a growing layer of microplastic pollution that threatens the health of Lake Baikal.

A new study looking at microplastics was conducted in the southeastern coast of the lake and the Small Sea in Southern Siberia. These places are not the most populated on the Baikal shore; no more than several hundred people live there permanently. But the water sampling areas were chosen not by chance: all of them are touristic areas, so they are considered to have a significant human impact.

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Russia University Attack: School Shootings Spread Beyond The U.S.
Society
Bertrand Hauger

Russia University Attack: School Shootings Spread Beyond The U.S.

After a gunman kills at least six and wounds dozens at Perm State University in Russia, we take a look around the world at other countries that have faced similar shooting sprees on school grounds outside of the United States.

We think of school shootings as a uniquely American malady. Statistics seem to overwhelmingly support this view: a 2018 CNN report estimated that the U.S. had 57 times as many school shootings as the other G7 nations combined, with an average of one attack a week. And though the past two years have seen a drop in massacres on school grounds, as the pandemic forced the education world to move online, a recent Washington Post article notes that as classrooms reopen, gun violence is again soaring at the nation's primary and secondary schools. According to the Everytown for Gun Safety nonprofit, there were at least 43 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, resulting in 12 deaths and 19 injuries nationally since the beginning of the year.

Still, the rest of the world is not immune to the phenomenon, as we are reminded by the developing story in Russia (where a gunman, said to be a former student, opened fire at a university in the city of Perm, killing at least eight people). Is this global spread of these senseless shootings associated with the influence of American culture, media coverage and social media, inspiring copycats to commit similar crimes? Are school shootings linkable to places with lax gun-control laws? While research on this phenomenon continues, we take a look at places around the world that have grappled with comparable tragedies in recent years.

RUSSIA

Memorial in honor of the victims of the May 11, 2021 Kazan school shooting — Photo: Yegor Aleyev/TASS/ZUMA

Where: Gymnasia No. 175 in Kazan, east of Moscow

When: May 11, 2021

Casualties: 9

Earlier this year, Russia already mourned the killing of seven children and two adults, when Ilnaz Galyaviev, a 19-year-old former student, opened fire and detonated an explosive device at a school in Kazan before being apprehended by police forces. According to Russian daily Kommersant, the shooter was motivated by a desire to demonstrate his "superiority," having posted on the Telegram platform on the morning of the attack: "Today I will kill a huge amount of biowaste." On May 12, he pleaded guilty to multiple murder. Although this type of attack is relatively rare in Russia, owing to strict gun ownership regulations, the shooting prompted President Vladimir Putin to order a revision of the country's gun control laws.

BRAZIL

Entrance to the Professor Raul Brasil State School in Suzano — Photo: Julien Pereira/Fotoarena/ZUMA

Where: Professor Raul Brasil State School in Suzano, near São Paulo

When: March 13, 2019

Casualties: 10, including the two perpetrators

Using a short-frame revolver, a composite bow, crossbow, hatchet and molotov cocktail, 17-year-old Guilherme Taucci Monteiro and 25-year-old Luiz Henrique de Castro, both former students at the Suzano school, killed five students and two school employees before committing suicide. As reported by O Globo daily, prior to the attack, the duo had also killed Monteiro's uncle. According to Reuters, the pair had been inspired by the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in the U.S. state of Colorado, in which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 fellow students and one teacher.

CANADA

Flowers in front of the La Loche community school on Feb. 2, 2016 — Photo: Kayoty

Where: La Loche Community School in Canada's Sakatchewan province

When: January 22, 2016

Casualties: 4

Canada has a lot of guns — an estimated 35 per 100 residents, according to Bloomberg numbers, but the U.S.'s northern neighbor also has a lot of rules and regulations in place, including a strict gun-license process. Still, the country is no stranger to shootings on school grounds, the deadliest of which happened at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989 when a man who failed to qualify for entry at the university opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, targeting female students. All 14 of the victims killed were women. More recently, western Canada was left in shock after a 17-year-old identified as Randan Dakota Fontaine, went on a shooting spree in La Loche — killing two people at their home, before targeting the La Loche Community School where he killed a teacher and an educational assistant. He was later apprehended and placed in custody. According to the Toronto Star, Fontaine had been bullied at school for his appearance. The Saskatoon Star Phoenix also reported on the following exchange on social media before the shooter entered the school grounds: "Just killed 2 ppl. Bout to shoot up the school."

CHINA

Still from CCTV footage of the Chenpeng Village Primary School attack — Source: CNN

Where: Chenpeng Village Primary School

When: December 14, 2012

Casualties: 24 injured

Gun control laws in China rank among the strictest in the world, making firearms extremely hard to come by — which leads perpetrators to turn to other weapons. In the past two decades, the country has been struggling to stem a spate of mass stabbings and knife attacks targeting schools.

In 2012, 36-year-old Min Yongjun stabbed 24 people with a kitchen knife, including 23 children and an elderly woman, at the Chenpeng Village Primary School in the Henan Province, according to the South China Morning Post.

The Chenpeng school attack was followed, only hours later, by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in the U.S., drawing comparisons between the two — particularly when it comes to the disparity in casualties in light of the two countries' respective stance on gun control: All victims in the Chenpeng attack survived, while the deadliest mass shooting at an elementary school in U.S. history left 28 dead.

As the New York Times noted, analysts have blamed the epidemic of stabbings in China on mental health problems caused by a rapidly changing society, in a country where the stigma surrounding mental illnesses is still strong, and mental health care is harder to access in small villages. In June, British medical journal BMC Psychiatry estimated that 91% of China's 173 million Chinese adults suffering from mental problems never received professional help.

In Russia, Brands Advertising Diversity Are Under Attack
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.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu speaks to the press during parliamentary elections
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."

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

Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov at the New Knowledge Forum at the Moscow Digital Business Spac
Russia
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.

Activists wear masks to look like Russian President Vladimir Putin during a protest for the INF treaty in Germany, in 2019.
Russia
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.

Military groups are conducting disinfection missions in Taipei, Taiwan.
BBC

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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Hundreds of people gathered at the scene where an attack claimed over 50 lives at a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 9, 2021.
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.