Russia is now pretending it knows nothing of its colonial legacy

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Russia has always been one of the largest European colonial powers. Yet, its current leaders are engaging in the historical game of geopolitical opportunism that has been a recurring theme in the nation’s grand strategy, Maxim Trudolyubov writes.

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The ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine in Europe’s eastern fringes, Hamas’ brutal assault on Israel and the ensuing war, and the intermittent clashes between Iran’s proxies and Western forces in the Red Sea beg the question: will these conflicts result in victory, and if so, who will come out on top?

In the West, Ukraine, and even Russia, the anticipation of a victorious outcome is tied to the prevailing understanding of the twentieth century as a master narrative for the future — as a go-to history, which helps to grapple with war and conflict. 

This narrative boils down to defeating one evil in 1945 and another in 1989-1990.

The story of the defeat of evil

In 1945, Germany’s defeat was total. The unconditional victory of the anti-Hitler coalition, which included the United States, the Soviet Union, and China, alongside numerous other countries, followed by initiatives like the Marshall Plan and efforts to prevent new wars, laid the groundwork for the postwar West as well as the postwar Soviet Union.

There was a unanimous agreement on the severity of Nazi crimes, fostering a shared set of values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, allowing people from diverse cultures to find common ground. It paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel — a protected home for the victims of Nazism.

Four decades later, a world divided by the Cold War found unity again. The fall of the Berlin Wall accompanied by a wave of velvet revolutions that witnessed the collapse of communist regimes in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and other Eastern Bloc nations, marked the triumph of the West. 

Many former communist bloc countries joined the European Union. This time Russia was on the losing side, although it did, for a time, become a partner in the restored victorious coalition.

Yet, this historical consciousness often overlooks events that were pivotal for many non-Western countries and cultures. 

The former colonies experienced their unique twentieth century, complete with its own set of heroes and villains. 

In parallel to the Western narrative, the non-Western twentieth century was characterised by the emergence of national consciousness, the struggle for independence from Western colonial powers, and the establishment of their own political systems.

In its essence, it’s a story only tangentially related to, and much less black-and-white than the much-revered Nazi defeat or the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

Non-Western national resurgence

While for many in the West, the postwar decades were a time of recovery, growth, and eventual victory over communism, for many in Asia and Africa it was an era of battles for independence, civil wars, and political strife. 

Moreover, those who were on the “right side of history” in the Western twentieth century were often on the “wrong side” in twentieth-century Asia and Africa.

The British, who were part of the winning coalition of 1945 in leading roles, crushed the rebellion of the Malayan National Liberation Army, a guerrilla force, shortly after the war. In the 1950s, the British brutally dealt with the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya.

Britain’s hasty partition of India in 1947 resulted in significant displacement of people and mass violence. 

From 1946 to 1954, France attempted to maintain control over its colonies in the Indochina peninsula through military means, leading eventually to the Vietnam War that lasted until 1975. The Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962) also witnessed violence and repression by French troops. 

In the late 1940s Indonesian Revolution, Dutch colonial forces engaged in violent clashes with Indonesian nationalists before acknowledging the establishment of an independent Indonesia.

Although China was not technically a colony, its society felt a sense of humiliation due to the concessions it was forced to make in trade and territory to both the UK and Russia. 

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As an example, the Convention of Peking in 1860 compelled China to give up portions of what is now known as the Far East to Russia, specifically the territories of modern Primorsky Krai and southern Khabarovsk Krai.

In short, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and various other societies had their unique series of defeats and triumphs, distinctly different from those of Western nations. 

In fact, these experiences often involved confrontations with or victories over Western powers. 

At those moments in history, the Soviet Union often nominally played on the side of what is now called the Global South as part of its greater Cold War strategy. Yet, a collision of these divergent historical experiences and consciousnesses was bound to occur at some point.

Divergent views of history

It did happen, once and again, over the conflicts and wars in the Middle East. 

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The creation of the State of Israel was the product of a broad international consensus that emerged at a time when the anti-Hitler coalition had not yet disintegrated: both the United States and the Soviet Union voted in favour of establishing the new country.

Western politicians probably also sought to rehabilitate themselves from the fact that their countries had been reluctant in the pre-war and war years to accept Jews fleeing the deadly threat. 

In this context, the emergence of Israel was one of the most important positive events of the Western twentieth century. The efforts of many generations of Jews, a people that had not had their own sovereign state for almost 2,000 years, were crowned with success.

But in the non-Western world, this event appeared in a different light. The creators of the Western twentieth century — the US, the UK, and the Soviet Union — had long been involved in Middle Eastern politics. 

From the perspective of the peoples of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and many others, the policies of the Western powers were pursued in the region primarily for Western — or Soviet — interests.

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The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I was followed by an arbitrary, from this perspective, redistribution of borders and resources in the region. 

The establishment of Israel after World War II and the drawing of the borders of the new country was seen by the inhabitants of the region in this light — as a colonial redrawing of their territories by some outsiders.

In all of that, Russia was hardly the liberator or the supporter of those wronged or oppressed. On the contrary, it sat squarely in the West’s corner.

Could Moscow’s arbitrary game pay off?

The inescapable fact is that Russia stood as one of the largest European colonial powers, especially from the non-Western perspective. This holds true even today. 

Yet, Russia’s current leaders are engaging in the historical game of geopolitical opportunism that has been a recurring theme in the nation’s grand strategy. 

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Following in the footsteps of Stalin, who initially supported the creation of Israel in 1948 but later assumed a quasi-colonial role as a patron of Egypt, Syria, and other Arab nations, Vladimir Putin’s administration presents Moscow as both anti-Western and anti-colonial. 

And, even more cynically, while aligning with China and Iran — nations characterised by their governments’ distinct anti-Western and anti-colonial sentiments — the Kremlin is waging a colonial war of aggression against Ukraine.

While Moscow’s roots lie in Western colonial power, it skillfully projects a contrasting image to appeal to non-Western nations, successfully garnering “positive press” in the Middle East and beyond.

In the Western world, the concept of victory is deeply ingrained in the narrative of a triumphant twentieth century — a worldview in which evil is punished and its victims are rewarded. 

For Russia, a former totalitarian power, there is no such concept, because it was both a winner and a loser within the West’s historical narrative. 

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In the contemporary landscape, there is no compelling reason to expect a definitive victory that neatly assigns everything and everyone to predefined roles. 

The post-war world’s contours remain elusive and undefined. And Moscow wants to capitalise on that as we speak.

Maxim Trudolyubov is a Senior Fellow at the Kennan Institute and the Editor-at-Large of Meduza. He is currently a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna (IWM).

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Navalny is the latest martyr of Russian totalitarianism

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The choice which now has to be made is not whether to appease the Kremlin or go into an open conflict with it. The choice now is either to stop Russia in Ukraine or be forced to fight a resurgent Moscow in defence of Eastern Europe as a whole, Aleksandar Đokić writes.

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As much as the news of Alexei Navalny’s sudden death on Friday came as an intense shock, it’s hard to escape the blood-curdling shadow of its inevitability. 

It’s as if all democratically inclined Russians, and those who study the Russian society, knew all along that Navalny would be taken out of the picture by Vladimir Putin at some point, but at the same time hoped that it, by some miracle, not come to pass. 

The death of Navalny is not and cannot be treated as an accident. Since no factual and fair investigation can be conducted in the totalitarian Russia of today, the causes of his death will remain a mystery. 

There is no point in believing that even his remains will survive for long after they are laid to rest as they carry important evidence. 

What is true, however, is that, in August 2020, before his imprisonment, Navalny was poisoned by a neurotoxin which left permanent detrimental consequences on his health; he was kept in solitary confinement for most of his prison term, and he complained about the lack of proper medical care. 

Given the facts, his death was premeditated and orchestrated by the Russian machine of repression, even if he was not directly poisoned for the second time (which can still very well be the real cause of his death after all).

A pattern of propaganda reveals a sinister farce

The handling of Navalny’s sudden death by the Russian state propaganda follows the same pattern as in the case of his poisoning. 

There are always two versions of events that transpired — one, it was an accident, and two, it was the work of the “Anglo-Saxon” security services. 

The accidental death is the official version, the narrative which comes from the Russian penitentiary authorities. In the case of Navalny’s poisoning, the official version was that he had a medical condition and was not poisoned at all, which independent medical analysis in Germany later refuted. 

The unofficial version stems from the Russian state media propagandists and state-operated blogs. 

Their narratives coalesce and by the rule of thumb all claim that Russia had no motive to eliminate Navalny so it must have been the “perfidious Anglo-Saxons” who stand to benefit the most. 

Once one analyzes Russian narratives for years, these patterns become obvious and impossible to miss. They can only instill doubt in those outside of Russia who think about Putin’s totalitarian prison camp only in passing.

Make no mistake: The siloviki are in charge in Moscow

The final elimination of Navalny, when he was already exiled to a maximum security prison in the Arctic Circle, sends a clear message that the Kremlin has stopped pretending that it cares one bit whether it’s seen as a civilised country ruled by law or a thuggish concentration camp with neon-lit commercials. 

The great pretence, which lasted in Russia for almost two decades, was founded upon the balance of two wings of its elite — the hawkish siloviki, agents of the security services and high-ranking military officers, and the capable technocrats, disinterested in empire-building as well as in democracy, and concerned only with the continuous functioning of the political and economic system. 

By engaging in a large-scale war he could not quickly win — or win at all — Putin has transferred all the real power to the military-security wing. 

The people like former FSB director Nikolai Patrushev now effectively govern Russia. They have taken over the political sphere, they have captured even the sphere of culture, where blacklists of undesirable actors, directors or performers have already been made and have left, for the time being, only the area of the economy in the hands of the technocrats. 

The siloviki want the West to know that they mean to go all the way, hence the nuclear threats in space, combined by the elimination of Navalny, all taking place during the Munich Security Conference. 

The thugs who now rule Russia are feeling quite confident; they are emboldened by the polling from the United States, which gives Donald Trump a slight advantage over President Joe Biden, and by the fact that much-needed military aid to Ukraine, currently awaiting the approval of the US House of Representatives, has been postponed on the urging of Trump and his allies in the Republican Party. 

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The siloviki believe that victory is within their grasp. Eliminating Navalny is a clear sign of their confidence.

Between a rock and a hard place, the choice has to be made anyway

In the death of Navalny, however, Russia has gained yet another symbol of democratic martyrdom, as much as it lacks democratic opposition leaders. 

Better yet, it lacks an organised and unified liberal opposition. The million-ruble question is: who is next? Who will step up as the leader of the anti-totalitarian movement in Russia? 

The answer right now might as well be no one — at least in the few years of totalitarianism that are still ahead for Russia. Only the tawing process of transition from totalitarianism and back to authoritarianism can provide enough liberties for the opposition to once again start to form. 

That transition — as undemocratic as it will inevitably be — will most likely come from the top, and in order for that to be induced, Putin and the siloviki, who hold all the power in Russia, must hit a wall in Ukraine. 

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This has to be a wall made not only of Ukrainian bravery and sacrifice, but of Western resolve to contain Moscow’s aggression before it engulfs more of Europe, and, eventually, most of the continent. 

The choice which now has to be made, first and foremost by the White House and Brussels, is not whether to appease the Kremlin or go into an open conflict with it.

The choice is either to stop Russia in Ukraine or be forced to fight a resurgent Moscow in defence of Eastern Europe as a whole.

Aleksandar Đokić is a Serbian political scientist and analyst with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. Formerly, he was a lecturer at RUDN University in Moscow.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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The unexpected upside of Russia’s liberal candidate who was not to be

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Boris Nadezhdin’s role was to be a certified loser. Yet, as hopeless and uninspiring of a candidate he was, he unwittingly gave Russian liberals hope, Aleksandar Đokić writes.

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After a week of what could be described as peak cheap court drama at its finest, the last liberal potential candidate for the Russian presidential election, Boris Nadezhdin, has been finally rejected by the country’s Central Electoral Commission.

In a tense administrative showdown of the opening week of February, Nadezhdin first submitted 104,700 signatures necessary for his candidature to be approved, since he isn’t running as a representative of a parliamentary political party. 

The Central Electoral Commission, the bureaucratic body which formally decides whether aspiring candidates fulfil the criteria to run in the elections or not, then went on to scrap 9,147 of those, or more than the legally allowed 5% of invalid signatures. 

Nadezhdin appealed the decision, but the bureaucrats ultimately rejected his complaint on Thursday.

In the end, there will be just four candidates running for the post of Russia’s supreme leader, all of them representatives of parliamentary parties, which are eligible to run by default. 

All other candidates, except Vladimir Putin himself, had their hopes dashed by the Central Electoral Commission. 

Putin’s official rivals for the 17 March election will be LDPR’s Leonid Slutsky, Nikolay Kharitonov of the Communist Party, and New People’s Vladislav Davankov.

All of them constitute what is known as loyal opposition; in other words, they’re window dressing, as Putin can’t be the only candidate, it’s against the Constitution and the optics are rather bad. 

The message out of the Kremlin to Russians is, the bare bones of democratic pretence must be maintained.

Hardly the leader we need

On the other hand, Boris Nadezhdin himself was not what one would call a leader of the liberal or any kind of opposition by any means at all. 

Over the years, he has repeatedly participated in political talk shows broadcast on Russian federal TV channels, as a handpicked representative of what was supposed to be “liberal opposition”. 

He was on the infamous Vladimir Solovyov’s show more than once, whose rants can only be compared to those of Hans Fritzsche, the Nazi star radio host, later convicted of war crimes by the Nuremberg tribunal. 

Nadezhdin also frequently took part in other federal TV talk shows such as Pyotr Tolstoy’s “Time Will Tell” and was a guest on Yevgeny Popov’s and Olga Skabeeva’s “60 Minutes” program. 

All of the “journalists” mentioned above went on to join Putin’s United Russia party and renounced any semblance of journalist integrity. The democratic world has also sanctioned them in the meantime.

Nadezhdin’s political background is in line with his previous, but more successful colleagues from the ranks of Putin’s technocratic elite of today, such as the influential post-Soviet mainstay Sergey Kiriyenko, known as one of Boris Yeltsin’s former prime ministers. 

Nadezhdin was also a member of Boris Nemtsov’s team at the end of the 1990s when the liberal wing of Russia’s political system had its last hurrah. 

Nemtsov was assassinated late into Putin’s era, refusing to submit to autocratic rule, like many of his peers did. 

Nadezhdin went on to change several mainstream liberal parties in Russia while Putin was already in power. 

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He worked with Putin’s former Minister of Finance Alexey Kudrin and took part in the primaries of Putin’s United Russia party in 2015 but was defeated. Then, in 2021, he unsuccessfully ran in the parliamentary elections as the representative of the Just Russia party, which was by then an openly alt-right political organisation completely loyal to Putin.

Supporting the platform, not the face on the posters

In essence, Nadezhdin as a political figure bears no importance. Putin’s administration could’ve picked anyone out of several other characters ready to perfectly fill his shoes as representatives of the loyal liberal opposition. 

What matters for Russian society and bears mentioning is the effect which Nadezhin’s failed candidacy achieved — an effect which even Nadezhdin himself couldn’t have hoped for.

In another twist of cynical irony, his last name happens to contain the word “hope”. And all of a sudden, traces of hope appeared, albeit briefly.

For the first time since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian liberal public dared to show its collective face on the streets of the big cities. 

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Long queues of people who wanted to give their signatures and show support for his candidacy could be seen as early as the beginning of this year.

This was mainly achieved by the real liberal opposition, such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Alexey Navalny’s associates, unexpectedly standing behind his candidacy. 

From then on, it didn’t matter in the slightest whether Nadezhdin was coopted by Putin’s administration or not; he still ran on the anti-war and pro-democracy platform and the large number of people supporting him did so because of the issues and not out of affection for him as a political leader. 

Maybe hope does die last after all

What came to be was the next best thing to protest in Russia’s middle-class circles. 

For the first time, in the middle of totalitarian Russia, liberals took to the streets, stood next to each other, likely conversed on political issues and no force could scare them away. This is a big deal for Russia’s atomised big-city segment of society.

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Liberal support for Nadezhdin grew so much, that he was realistically seen as a runner-up in the coming elections, an outcome Putin’s administration did not want to see happening. 

Nadezhdin’s role was to be a certified loser, garnering no more than 1-2% of votes, thus demonstrating to fragmented and disenchanted Russian liberals that they were isolated and few in numbers. 

The snowball effect of grassroots support for Nadezhdin annihilated the premise of Putin’s team, so when the first independent polling results came out, giving Nadezhdin a projected share of no less than 10%, it was clear that his project was to be cancelled and his candidacy refused. 

By then, however, it was already too late to erase the positive social effect Nadezhdin’s candidacy had caused. 

The decision of the Russian liberal opposition turned out to be the right one, for a change. 

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Nadezhdin had achieved what they could not. He brought Russian liberals out of their kitchens, where serious matters in Russian society are commonly discussed, and into the open. 

And as hopeless and uninspiring of a candidate as he was, he unwittingly gave Russian liberals hope.

Aleksandar Đokić is a Serbian political scientist and analyst with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. He was formerly a lecturer at RUDN University in Moscow.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Russia’s three wars have made peace with Putin impossible

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Putin’s regime is an existential threat to European civilization. If Russia wins in Ukraine, it will not stop, just as Hitler did not stop when he captured the Sudetenland. Putin will go further and won’t rest until he destroys the Western world, Leonid Gozman writes.

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Hopes for Kyiv’s relatively quick victory have not materialised and the war between Russia and Ukraine has dragged on — though this is certainly not the fault of the Ukrainians. 

The war is becoming polarising and demands for negotiations and compromise are increasingly frequent.

Those hoping for a compromise with Vladimir Putin do not fully understand the nature of his regime or him as a person.

Compromise with Putin is impossible, and any peace agreement will not lead to peace, but rather to a temporary ceasefire that Putin will use to build up his forces for a new attack.

No peace with someone who wants you dead

Putin started this war not to resolve a specific issue — there were no unsolvable contradictions between Russia and Ukraine — but to destroy Ukraine as a subject of politics, language, and culture. 

He repeatedly stated that there was never such a thing as Ukraine to begin with, that it was “invented” by Vladimir Lenin, that Russians and Ukrainians are one people, and that the Ukrainian language does not exist. 

He believes it. In Putin’s mind, destroying Ukraine is not at all aggression, but a return to a normal order. 

That is why Ukrainians can’t agree with Putin — or as Golda Meir said, “You cannot negotiate peace with someone who has come to kill you.”

Since it would be politically inviable to openly declare the destruction of Ukraine as the goal of the invasion, the Russian authorities constantly changed their war aims.

They first aimed to ensure the right to speak Russian in Donbas — which no one encroached on — then destroy biological laboratories designed to make Russian women infertile, allegedly created in Ukraine with the help of the United States. 

After came “denazification” and finally, in Dmitry Medvedev’s words, the fight against Satan. 

Putin finds your lack of gratitude disturbing

It is true: today, Russian propaganda does not talk about the goals of the war at all. For Russia, war is no longer the means, but a natural state.

The war with Ukraine is only one of three that Putin’s regime wages. The second one, no less important, is the war for the revival of the Empire. 

While the Kremlin has been preparing for it for a long time, it entered the active phase in 2008, when Russia captured 20% of Georgia’s territory. 

Putin, of course, does not seek to occupy all the countries formerly part of the Russian Empire, but he does demand special rights and control over their foreign policy. 

Russia takes every opportunity to destabilise its neighbours, from utilising the Russian diaspora to bribing politicians and organsing coups. 

Putin will never give up his “rights” to the Empire. He believes that any territory where Russian soldiers shed blood should be part of Russia or its sphere of influence, and people living there should be eternally grateful to Russia. 

The lack of gratitude angers and makes Putin even more aggressive.

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Risking global war to gain global respect

However, the main war for Putin is the one with the West, where Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and threats to Poland are just episodes. 

According to the Russian leadership, the West (or “Anglo-Saxons”) has always humiliated Russia, seeking to conquer or slow down Russia’s development. 

The motive of humiliation or lack of respect is fundamentally important to Putin. And, even when Russia did not yet exist, this was not so much of an inter-country struggle but a spiritual confrontation between the world’s good, embodied by Russia and the Russians, and evil, that is the West. 

Now, just as before, so the story goes, the West hates Russia, seeking to undermine its unity and destroy the country as a whole, and is ready to risk a global war for this.

The idea of a global confrontation with European civilization did not emerge immediately after Putin became president. 

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Putin began as a Westerniser and perceived integration of Russia into the “First World” as his mission. 

That did not work out, but Putin also did not strive to join the modern West, but rather the West of the Yalta Conference times, when the great powers could divide the planet among themselves. 

And since returning to the past turned out to be unattainable, Putin, while remaining in G8, began to pursue an anti-Western policy, hoping to lead the world’s anti-American sentiment. 

But that did not work out either: neither China, Turkey, nor Iran accepted him as the leader. That was the time when the wars began: Putin decided to gain global respect and recognition with military force.

The reign of failure and indifference

Putin needs this war for both domestic and psychological reasons. 

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His reign has been plagued by failures: the demographic situation is worsening, the technological gap is increasing, the quality of life is falling, and it is not possible to solve any of Russia’s most pressing problems. 

Contrary to popular belief, there is no support for his policies or him personally. 

People are indifferent; they have come to terms with Putin and his actions and do not feel any enthusiasm about it. 

The defeats at the front or what is declared as victories do not provoke a public reaction, and neither did Putin’s ICC arrest warrant or the drone attack on the Kremlin. 

The war with no end allows Putin to suppress discontent — we were attacked, the enemy is on the doorstep — and not think about the failures, instead plunging into the world of illusions completely, where he has been in recent years.

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Peace on Earth can only be achieved if the Putin regime is destroyed

For Putin, peace is impossible. The task of maintaining control over Russia and preserving self-respect is solved only in conditions of war. 

Peace will make the population realise the meaninglessness of their sacrifices and, most importantly, give elites an opportunity to express, in one form or another, their dissatisfaction with Putin’s policies, catastrophic both for them and the country but beneficial to Putin and his entourage. 

The dissatisfaction of the elites has been accumulating for years. Therefore, no matter what the costs are, Putin will continue the war, using any negotiations as a respite. 

This is exactly what Adolf Hitler would have done if, at the end of the war, the anti-Hitler coalition had agreed to a peace agreement with him. 

He could no longer help but fight; a stable peace meant the end of his power. It is the same for Putin. 

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He does not need peace, but only a truce. And peace on Earth, as in 1945, can only be achieved if the regime of Vladimir Putin is destroyed.

Therefore, the supply of Western weapons and financial assistance to Ukraine is not charity, but self-defence. 

The Putin system is an existential threat to European civilization. If Russia wins in Ukraine, it will not stop, just as Hitler did not stop when he captured the Sudetenland. 

Putin will go further and won’t rest until he destroys the Western world.

Leonid Gozman, Ph.D. is a Russian liberal politician, psychologist and political scientist, and a professor at Lomonosov Moscow State University in Moscow until 2020. Now in exile, Gozman was declared a “foreign agent” in 2022, then arrested and spent a month in prison for opposing the war in Ukraine.

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Russian opposition leader Navalny goes missing as Putin seeks re-election

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny did not appear at a scheduled court hearing on Monday and has not been seen or heard from in 15 days. Amid speculation that he has been secretly moved to another prison or is seriously unwell, the UN has raised concerns of an “enforced disappearance” that would coincide with the launch of President Vladimir Putin’s campaign for re-election in March 2024. 

In the Russian region of Vladimir, 100 kilometres east of Moscow, Alexei Navalny was scheduled to appear in court on Monday, if only via video link from the detention centre where he has been held since 2021. 

Judges were to hear seven cases against the opposition leader, who is serving an almost 30-year sentence after being found guilty of crimes including fraud, slander and extremism.  

When he failed to appear in court, the judges decided to push back the hearings “until Navalny’s whereabouts are ‘established’,” his press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, posted on social media platform X.

She said Navalny’s team contacted nearly 200 pre-trial detention centres in Russia hoping to track down the opposition leader, but without success. 

‘Enforced disappearance’

Navalny’s team last heard from him on December 5. Lawyers were refused access to see him in prison on December 6 with no explanation, Yarmysh said. 

But Navalny’s failure to appear even at a court hearing has ratcheted up international fears over his wellbeing.

“I am greatly concerned that the Russian authorities will not disclose Mr. Navalny’s whereabouts and wellbeing for such a prolonged period of time which amounts to enforced disappearance,” said Mariana Katzarova, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Russian Federation, in a December 18 statement.    

Navalny’s disappearance seems conveniently timed. Putin on December 8 announced his candidature for Russia’s presidential election on March 17, 2024, and is widely expected to win. 

Putin oversaw changes to the constitutional in 2021 that allow him to run for two more six-year terms, meaning he could stay in power until 2036. He is already the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who died in 1953.

Navalny has risked his life by positioning himself as Putin’s most vocal critic in an increasingly repressive Russia. He survived being poisoned with novichok – a group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union – in 2020 and spent months recuperating in Germany.

Another Putin critic and leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, died in a private plane crash two months after launching an aborted march on Moscow.

While there are legitimate fears over Navalny’s safety, another likely reason for his disappearance may be more mundane. 

“It is very common for prisoners to disappear for several weeks while being transferred [between prisons],” said Oleg Kozlovsky, Russia specialist at Amnesty International. “The most likely hypothesis is that he has been transferred to a special colony somewhere far from where he was held until now.” 

A 2017 Amnesty International report explains that the size of Russia and the remote location of penal colonies “means that prisoners must be transported over great distances” during transfers, with journeys often taking a month or more.

Prisoners are typically moved between colonies on dedicated trains without being told where they are going, and “in conditions that often amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”, the Amnesty report found.

Carriages are overcrowded and passengers can lack access to sleeping spaces and toilets for the duration of the journey. “Conditions are reportedly worse than in normal cells in pre-trial detention which are worse than in correctional colonies and below international standards,” the rights group wrote.

‘Special regime’

Navalny has been at risk of this type of long-distance transfer since his most recent sentencing on August 4, during which he was found guilty of “extremism”, adding 19 more years to his sentence.

His new sentence also specified a change in detention conditions, moving Navalny from the “strict regime” penal colony in Vladimir to a more secure “special regime” colony, reserved for the most dangerous prisoners.

Under special regime conditions, “there are harsher restrictions on how often you can have contact with [the] outside world, how many calls you are allowed to make and how many packages you can receive”, Kozlovsky said.

“He will also be in stricter isolation and, of course, much further away from Moscow, meaning it’s going to be even tougher for his lawyer and family to see him.”

It will also be much more difficult for Navalny to continue his vocal opposition to Putin. Even from a “strict regime” prison, Navalny was able to communicate with a global audience and mount an opposition to the Russian leader.

In a video released on Navaly’s website on December 7, he urged Russians to vote for any candidate “except Vladimir Putin”.

“The current crackdown on both leading dissidents and grassroots activists is so severe that it would seem logical that the authorities are seeking to restrict Alexei Navalny’s access to the outside world as much as possible,” said Morvan Lallouet, a specialist in contemporary Russia at the University of Kent and co-author of “Navalny: Putin’s Nemesis, Russia’s Future?”

“It is fairly amazing that he has been able to get so much out in today’s Russia,” agreed Stephen Hall, a Russian politics expert at the University of Bath.

“My bet would be that someone in the administration has decided this was a good moment to transfer Navalny and therefore he will be missing for around a month.”

Health concerns 

Navalny’s failure to appear at his court hearing has raised new concerns over his health. He has reportedly been kept in unsanitary conditions and repeatedly confined to isolation cells, which, his team says, has taken a toll on his health.

In a rare show of defiance, more than 200 Russian doctors signed an open letter in January calling on Putin to “stop abusing” Navalny in prison by “deliberately” harming his health.

In early December, Navalny’s team said he collapsed in the solitary cell in which he was being held and needed an IV to recover.

It is possible that his disappearance means that Russian authorities “are trying to hide a deterioration in Navalny’s health”, said Lallouet.

“[But] we are staying optimistic and hoping that he is just being transferred between penal colonies.”

This article was adapted from the original in French



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In today’s Russia, ‘god of war’ Putin is more popular than ever

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Originally, Putin was picked as a future puppet because he fit the bill — the strongman persona was exactly what the doctor had ordered. Then he ended up cutting loose from his patrons, keeping the persona and the power he accrued all for himself, Aleksandar Đokić writes.

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As Russia prepares for the presidential election scheduled for March of next year, Vladimir Putin is playing a game of will-he-won’t-he and is yet to announce his bid for reelection.

Yet, the incumbent president’s apparent hesitance is nothing more than a charade, and — bar an earth-shattering act-of-God event — he is set to rule Russia for another six-year term. And, as illogical as it may seem to outside observers, the ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine has only helped solidify his ironclad grasp on power.

In fact, the entirety of Putin’s carefully crafted political image in Russia is based upon the notion that he is an unbreakable masculine god of war, against whose onslaught no opponent can be left standing. 

This is the core of his political persona. His other social disguises are reserved for various echelons of power within Russia, the inner and outer circle, as well as foreign heads of state, be they antagonists or partners (in crime).

This one, however, is what Putin wears specifically for the Russian public, who seem to be willing to back him to the hilt yet again, no questions asked.

A byproduct of times of chaos

The sole fact that Putin didn’t choose to base his political persona on personal charisma, administrative shrewdness or intellectual prowess, was partially determined by the late Boris Yeltsin era in which he managed to backstab his way up the corrupt political ladder. 

It was an era of chaos, not because of liberal and market reforms, but because the reformists themselves stopped halfway with the changes, once they were convinced that political and economic power was firmly within their grasp. 

The changes in Russia at the time were issued by fiat from the very top, and there was no great grassroots opposition political movement for democracy which could force reforms. 

As such, once the political power was distributed and economic wealth acquired, it was not the opponents, but the initial proponents of reforms who stopped them dead in their tracks. 

On the other hand, it was a period not of idealistic democracy in Russia, but of the weakness of the federal centre of power. Liberty, a byproduct of this state of play, was never truly desired; it had to be tolerated.

The Chechen cause turns into an existential threat

The two Chechen Wars gave both Yeltsin and Putin a purpose. As the setup went, Russia was in danger and they would fight to protect it. 

The truth was, however, that during the Soviet era, the Chechen people were subjected to one of the most horrendous state crimes — they were forcefully relocated to Central Asia en masse. 

The elderly and the newborns were crammed inside cattle trains and shipped far to the east. Many of the most fragile social groups lost their lives during the trip itself. 

Only with the decay of central power in Moscow could the Chechens return to their ancestral land. Thus, the Chechen struggle for independence was a logical consequence of Russian rule over the territory once the Soviet Union was gone for good. 

But, the Moscow overlords of the Yeltsin and Putin variety opted to turn the Chechen cause into an existential threat to Russia itself, much like it was done with Ukraine almost two decades later.

This is how, by the very nature of the already set war path, Putin’s political persona was streamlined into the war dictator we know, and loath, today. 

The planned puppet’s strongman persona

There are many speculations — set to remain long after Putin leaves this world — about the apartment bombings in September 1999 blamed on the government in Grozny, which provided justification for the Second Chechen War in the eyes of the Russian public. 

The fact is that the Russian central government already chose war as a cohesive political instrument in order to achieve total control and stifle nascent Russian federalism even before Putin was in the spotlight. 

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And whether or not the terrorist attacks were a setup, Putin was already picked by the Yeltsin clan and the few oligarchs who wielded enough power to make the choice of who the next president of Russia would be, among them Boris Berezovsky (who was later assassinated in Britain) and Yeltsin’s son-in-law, Valentin Yumashev (who remained loyal).

The war path strategy of Yeltsin invigorated once more the heavily battered security apparatus, which terrorized the country during the Soviet era. 

Putin was picked as a future puppet, chosen because he fit the bill — the strongman persona was exactly what the doctor had ordered. 

It wasn’t only Putin who needed a war; the reborn Russian autocracy did, too. Maybe it was set up but the FSB itself or perhaps it was really the rogue Chechen Islamic extremists, not under the control of the Grozny government, who provided the needed casus belli. The difference would not amount to much in the eyes of the Russian public already sold on the narrative, anyway.

The necessity of war as an instrument of rule was already in place. The Second Chechen War shaped Putin’s political image to such an extent that he could never transition beyond it, even if he wanted to. 

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From Chechnya to Transnistria, and then onto Syria

In the end, the narrative was highly effective, and it gave the impoverished Russian masses the feeling of collective power once more.

Together with the terrorist attacks in Russian cities which went on for years as a backdrop to the Chechen Wars, the Kremlin’s spiel also helped rally the people around the tough paternalistic figure Putin had become.

In the meantime, Putin ended up cutting loose from his patrons, keeping the persona and the power he accrued all for himself. 

Then, in 2008, came the Georgian War — a small and quick victory for the Russian forces overshadowing the Georgian army many times over. This was a turning point as it constituted a foreign war, much more direct and bigger than Yeltsin’s meddling in Moldova’s Transnistria years back. 

Russia was formally an empire once more. Further encouraged by stable oil prices, which steadily filled the coffers of the Russian state, Putin was at the peak of his actual popularity — not the hollow one he has today when any alternative is practically outlawed.

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It was the Syrian adventure, much like the 19th-century colonial interventions of European powers in the region, that put Russia back on the global map. Together with the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the military aggression in the Donbas region, it revitalised Russia’s image as a military superpower.

The mask might have cracked, but the war dictator will prevail

During Putin’s late period, his image began to crack, and not only because he was unable to achieve a decisive victory against Ukraine in 2014. 

He was in power for too long, the fast economic growth was over, and the semblance of basic political freedoms was beginning to disappear. Ukraine had become a dual factor for Putin — it was perceived as a threat to the stability of the regime if left unchecked, and yet, it provided a great opportunity to strengthen Putin’s rule if it was quickly overpowered.

A new war, a “great war”, one that would go down in Russia’s history, would mark Putin’s legacy and cement his power within his lifetime.

After nineteen months of war, the victory never came, despite this the regime had found a new way of prolonging its stay in power — a forever war of lower intensity.

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In a way, a war with just enough resources committed to keep it going, but not enough to cause civil unrest. The Western leaders, from their perspective, see this as a containment strategy; denying Russia victory, draining its resources, but not attempting to provide enough resources to defeat it out of fear of what might then follow — a chaotic breakup of Russia, total war, or even nuclear holocaust.

At the same time, Putin, and his inner circle, see all this as an opportunity to bring back totalitarian rule in Russia itself, securing their position for years to come, all the while hoping that Ukraine would eventually crumble under the pressure. 

And Putin the war dictator, albeit battered, will prevail. 

Aleksandar Đokić is a Serbian political scientist and analyst with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. Formerly, he was a lecturer at RUDN University in Moscow.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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The ultimate short guide on living (and surviving) under Putin

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Leave, and if you haven’t yet, make plans to do so. In Russia, all of the previously eroded freedoms are now completely gone, Aleksandar Đokić writes.

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During the Stalinist era, when millions suffered under an arbitrary, totalitarian rule, there were only two useful bits of advice one had to give to those with ties to the Soviet empire. 

One, if you’ve managed to escape the clutches of the Soviet communists, never return. Two, if you’re still trapped there, find a way to make a break for it. 

The machinery of repression, put in place by Vladimir Lenin and greatly expanded by his unsolicited successor Joseph Stalin, protected nobody from its potential grasp. 

Its totalitarian nature was embodied in an overbearing state apparatus that wanted to meddle in almost every aspect of human existence. In other words, it attempted to nationalise even the private aspects of life.

There was no protection of the law and no such thing as independent institutions. Everything was just a paper-mâché scenery for the state-organised terror campaign which did not come to a halt even during World War II. 

Top-down prescribed social behaviour, which would all you an individual citizen to remain out of danger, didn’t exist during this period, either. 

One could be a member of the working class or a peasant, without a clear interest in politics, without being involved in any kind of organised struggle against the regime, and still end up in the Gulag. 

One could be atheist, agnostic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Buddhist, and still find themselves imprisoned. 

One could even be a fervent communist — a card-carrying member of the Party ever since the 1917 October Revolution and the subsequent Civil War — and still lose all his privileges and status.

Echoes of traumas past

Today, if you were to befriend a person living in Russia or of Russian roots, most of them would have stories of repressed family members they could share with you — illustrating the sheer scale of this unique, ever-present and widespread transgenerational social trauma. 

Just a year and a half ago, it seemed that this kind of nightmare would not take hold in Russia again, despite the fact that the oppressive tendencies of the Kremlin never truly went away. 

The root of this belief was found in the fact that even the communist leaders who came after Stalin did not attempt to emulate the totalitarianism of his era. A new one-sided social contract doled out from the top gave way to the gulag after his death: stay out of politics and politics won’t bother you. 

While no state official asked the citizens how free the society they wanted to live in should be, it was certainly a relief compared to the previous system of sheer terror. In some ways, it signified a type of progress, despite the Soviet Union and, later, Russia being light years away from a full-fledged democracy.

What has Putin done to his own country?

Many Russia watchers believed the same type of social contract was set in place in the Putin era prior to February 2022.

With Putin, however, there was never any pretense of a social contract to speak of. It would be more fair to call it a dictate, stipulating unwritten desirable social norms or what the state wanted to see from its citizens. 

Putin’s arrival at the top of Russian politics created a mirage of a free market — as it would later become painfully clear, concepts are seldom really fully implemented in Russia — some free press, a bit of free thought and even free elections, albeit only locally. 

Ambivalence towards dictates is no surprise in modern Russian society. The last time the Russian nation actually chose sides on a massive scale was when the central provinces picked the Bolsheviks over the Whites in a civil war waged some hundred years ago. 

Back then, the biggest part of the Russian nation — other nations and ethnic groups of the empire were unwillingly caught in the whirlwind of war and destruction — opted for what they were promised by Lenin: bread, land and peace. 

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The Bolsheviks didn’t deliver on any of these promises — there were recurring famines that lasted for decades, the land was collectivised, and the rule of terror turned into an eternal war against the population. 

Nonetheless, the Russian nation still believed it had a partial contract with the state — one of justice and equality against feudal autocracy — even though the contract was never completely fulfilled by the Kremlin.

Stalin’s spectre haunting today’s Russia?

In all instances that followed Lenin’s rule, the Russian nation was further made to accept a fait accompli. 

And for the average person, given the history of state-organised violence and repression that marked Russia’s history through many of its iterations, Putin’s dictate didn’t seem all that bad altogether. 

Whether we go by the maxim “power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely” and conclude that Putin and his confidants changed somewhere along the way, or if we pick the hypothesis of the “strategic plan” — the great conflict was always in Putin’s sights, he simply needed decades to prepare for it — the fact remains that the pre-2022 Russia and the one we have today are fundamentally different in nature. 

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Putin’s Russia prior to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine was authoritarian and more so as the years went by. The Russia of today, however, is on the totalitarian path. 

The level and various methods and ways of repression cannot be compared to Stalin’s, but their arbitrary nature is once again haunting the citizens of Russia.

Leave or make plans to do so

The guide about how to survive under the later stages of Putinism would be identical to the one explaining how to make it under Stalin: leave, and if you haven’t yet, make plans to do so. In Russia, all of the previously eroded freedoms are now completely gone anyway. 

Kirill Martynov, the editor-in-chief of the Novaya Gazeta Europe, summed up the current state of Russian political system in one sentence in his comment on the upcoming presidential elections: “Anyone who suggests that the opposition should unite and nominate their own candidate, must keep in mind that such a person is actually being called upon to sacrifice himself.” 

Today, even those with no political ties to any opposition group can still be charged for a random comment left online years ago — the censorship laws in Russia are retroactive. 

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Giving up on any kind of individual social initiative is not enough to not be indicted for treason, “discrediting the army” or being a supporter of “Nazism”. 

Protest, even in its smallest or banal forms, can get you sent to a remote penitentiary, where you’d be forced to serve your time in inhumane conditions together with the worst criminals in the country.

A suitcase and a ticket out are still a much more appealing option.

Aleksandar Đokić is a Serbian political scientist and analyst with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. Formerly, he was a lecturer at RUDN University in Moscow.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Increases in abortion restrictions in Russia spark outrage

The government’s plan to restrict access to abortion as well as emergency contraceptives comes at a time in the conflict with Ukraine where women are increasingly deciding not to have children.

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Women in Russia are facing increasing restrictions on their abortion rights, and although the procedure is still legal and widely available, recent attempts to restrict it have touched a nerve in the increasingly conservative country. 

Although the banning of the procedure is merely a proposal for now, private clinics across the country have already begun to stop providing abortions.

Nationwide, the Health Ministry has drawn up talking points for doctors to discourage women from terminating their pregnancies. New regulations, too, will soon make many emergency contraceptives virtually unavailable and drive up the cost of others.

Russian activists are stepping up their game, urging supporters to make official complaints, circulating online petitions and even staging small protests against the potential change to the law.

Some in the country and internationally say the change is similar to the overturning of the Roe-v-Wade legislation in the United States last year.

“It’s clear that there is a gradual erosion of abortion access and rights in Russia, and this is similar to what has taken place in the US,” Michele Rivkin-Fish, an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told the Associated Press.

Last year’s US Supreme Court decision rescinded a five-decade-old right to abortion almost immediately reshaped American abortion policy, shifting power to states as opposed to central government.

Over the last 16 months, about half of all US states have adopted bans or major restrictions – although not all are currently being enforced due to a variety of legal challenges.

In the Soviet Union – which came to an end in 1991 – abortion laws meant that some women had the procedure multiple times due to difficulties in obtaining contraceptives.

After the USSR’s collapse, government and health experts promoted family planning and birth control, which saw abortion rates fall significantly.

Until Vladimir Putin came to power in the late 1990s, laws allowed women to terminate a pregnancy up to 12 weeks without any conditions. They were also permitted to abort up to 22 weeks for so-called ‘social reasons’, including like divorce, unemployment or income changes.

Early on in his leadership, Putin forged a powerful alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church and chose to promote ‘traditional values’ while seeking to boost population growth.

It’s a position taken by many politicians in Russia.

Earlier this year, health minister Mikhail Murashko condemned women for prioritising education and career over childbearing.

Currently, abortion is only legally allowed between the period of 12 and 22 weeks in instances of rape.

All women seeking the procedure – depending on what stage of pregnancy – must wait at least 48 hours or up to a week between their first appointment and the abortion, in case they reconsider their choice.

State-issued guidelines ensure they are offered psychological consultations designed to discourage abortions.

Health authorities have also introduced an online ‘motivational questionnaire’ which outlines state support if women continue the pregnancy.

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In one region, clinics refer women to a priest before getting an abortion. Authorities claim the consultation is voluntary, but some women have told the media they had to get a priest to sign off to be given permission to go through with the procedure.

With all those hurdles to jump over, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the number of abortions in Russia has fallen from 4.1 million in 1990 to 517,000 in 2021.

Increased restrictions in a time of war

The anti-abortion push comes as Russian women appear to be in no rush to have more children amid the war in Ukraine as well as economic uncertainty.

There are reports of a significant rise in sales of abortion pills since the beginning of the conflict in 2022 but a recent decree from the Health Ministry has restricted circulation of the medicines.

Mifepristone and misoprostol are used to terminate pregnancies in the first trimester. The decree puts the pills on a registry of controlled substances requiring strict record-keeping and storage making access ever more complicated for women in need.

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The move is also likely to affect the availability of emergency contraceptives – sometimes known as morning-after pills.

Three out of six brands available in Russia contain mifepristone in a low dose, meaning they’ll be severely restricted once the decree takes effect in September 2024. Prices are also likely to shoot up due to the restrictions.

They will require a special prescription and many pharmacies won’t keep them in stock. Needing a prescription could mean women miss the time window in which to take the pills, which could result in an uptick in unwanted pregnancies.

The Health Ministry has not yet commented on whether or not they’ll exclude all morning-after pills in the decree but, if that does happen, Russian women may well be put into a very difficult position.

Changes at the top

Senior lawmakers are currently pushing for an outright, nationwide ban on abortion in private clinics. State statistics reveal that that’s where about 20% of procedures took place in recent years.

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Conservative lawmakers have tried and failed to enact such a ban previously – but the Health Ministry now says it is ready to consider it.

Regional authorities are already succeeding in getting some private clinics to stop offering abortions.

Kaliningrad is mulling a region-wide ban and in Tatarstan officials say about a third of all private clinics no longer provide them.

An online petition against the ban in Kaliningrad has gathered nearly 27,000 signatures.

In seven other regions across Russia, the Health Ministry is using another pilot project: having gynaecologists try to get women to reconsider having an abortion.

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A document given to doctors with a number of stock phrases to use during abortion consultations includes phrases like pregnancy is “a beautiful and natural condition for every woman,” while an abortion is “harmful to your health and a risk of developing complications”.

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The Israel-Hamas war is the latest proof Russia is an agent of chaos

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Russia’s leadership doesn’t even have a stable, non-contradictory set of principles or values it adheres to, and its hodgepodge of narratives shows it is trying to fuel any conflict it can, all with the goal of carving out an empire for itself, Aleksandar Đokić writes.

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It’s not unusual that in times of major crises, analogies are often forced upon us to more easily come to terms with and understand the political reality we live in. 

With the world struck by one shock after another in rapid succession in recent years, it’s also hardly surprising to see some draw parallels with the run-up to World War II.

Yet, the period of time most resembling our own could be compared to the early stages of the Cold War instead.

And this time, Russia, as the only actor on the global geopolitical stage completely hollowed out from any true belief, is an even greater agent of chaos than it ever was in the past.

A menace in a world of partial disorder

The structure of the global order is unwinding, not because democracies in Europe and North America are weaker or less economically influential than they were, but because other regional players have grown in the meantime. 

In parallel, the institutional framework of the global order is outdated yet remains rigid to our contemporary needs due to clashing visions on the global stage, while no clear victor has yet emerged from the fray. 

Some of the major actors outside of the Western democratic world are more rational, desiring economic growth rather than waging wars, and not all of them ascribe to an ideological system that is antagonistic towards the West as a whole.

Russia, unfortunately for the rest of us, is the exact opposite.

It’s putting the concept of state power in front of the well-being of its citizens; framing victory through the lenses of war, instead of economic development; all the while propping its authoritarian regime with an eclectic ideological mashup bound together solely by the belief that Russia is the opposite of the imagined and imaginary West. 

Although other Russias did exist, like the strain of liberal thought in Russian culture going back all the way to the 18th century, we are dealing with a particular version of Russia which is highly minacious in a world of partial disorder.

Flashpoints outlining the Kremlin’s shadow

For the past two years, there have been three flashpoints all involving Russia: its invasion of Ukraine, the latest Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the bloody incursion of the Hamas’ military wing into Israel. 

Russia plays various roles in all three. In Ukraine, it is the invader, in Nagorno-Karabakh it is the (intentionally) failed peacekeeper. 

And as for Israel, it’s a weak partner who colluded with the Iranian regime as well as with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, while acting as a meddling influence on the balance of power in the Middle East. 

Yet, it was Vladimir Putin whom Netanyahu officially spoke to over the phone after the attack, at the same time refusing an offer from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for a state visit to Israel in its time of need. 

It can seem confounding, considering that the USSR armed the forces poised to destroy Israel on both occasions its very existence was at stake — the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War — as a Cold War flex to rattle the US.

But this time, Russia is not the USSR, especially not in terms of ideology, as much as it’s willing to toy with the idea whenever it thinks it’s useful.

Questions over Russia’s involvement in bloodshed

At the same time, Iran has been leading the charge in clamouring for war against Israel now — an aggressive stance most Arab countries have meanwhile given up on because of its futility and great cost. 

Meanwhile, Russia is undisputably buying weapons for its war against Ukraine from Iran while forging a tenuous alliance with Tehran in Syria, where Moscow intervened to keep Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian regime in power by any means necessary. 

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Naturally, questions arose over Russia’s possible role in Hamas’ attack on 7 October.

Recently, it was uncovered that the Palestinian militants partially financed their operations by purchasing cryptocurrency in Russia in the lead-up to last Saturday’s incursion and the resulting atrocities. 

Millions of dollars were funnelled through Garantex, a Moscow-based crypto exchange, to various extremist groups connected to Hamas. 

Beyond that, there is no evidence that the Kremlin actually supplied Hamas or any other extremist group in Palestine with weapons, or that it took part in the planning of any of their operations.

Bullets for Kalashnikovs and conflicting narratives

Moscow, however, does enjoy close political ties to Hamas, seen again just last Saturday when its leadership publically waxed lyrical about Putin, saying it “appreciates Russian President Vladimir Putin’s position … and the fact that he does not accept the blockade of the Gaza Strip.”

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“We also affirm that we welcome Russia’s tireless efforts to stop the systematic and barbaric Zionist aggression against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” they said in a statement. 

In another interview with Russia’s state-owned RT in Arabic, a high-ranking Hamas official stated that “Hamas has a license from Russia to locally produce bullets for Kalashnikovs, that Russia sympathises with Hamas, and that it is pleased with the war because it is easing American pressure on it with regard to the war in Ukraine”.

On their end, Russian officials, state propagandists and organised bots have been peddling various narratives, some contradicting each other. 

The Kremlin officials have blamed the US for Hamas’ attack, while not condemning the militants’ incursion, especially not in such explicit terms. In fact, Putin himself labelled it “a failure of US policy in the Middle East”, while the ever-increasingly toxic former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said it was a part of Washington’s “manic obsession to incite conflicts”.

The state propagandists supported the same narrative and also added a new one: Russia’s war against Ukraine is much more benign than Israel’s reaction in Gaza. 

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Russian bots, on many social platforms, didn’t hold back from supporting Hamas and accusing Ukraine of supporting the “fascists” in the conflict — meaning, Israel.

Carving an empire in blood devoid of meaning

Yet on a much larger scale, Moscow’s hodgepodge of narratives shows it for what it really is — an agent of chaos, trying to fuel any conflict in the borderlands of the democratic world, all with the goal of apportioning a regional empire for itself. 

Russia’s leadership is not interested in peace and it doesn’t work towards it. 

Its social media bots and online influencers tell us the tale of the lowest common denominator in Russian society — a revanchist, disgruntled anti-Semite who has given up on his own life and wants to see the entire world crumble down to his level. 

The most striking part of it all is that Russia’s leadership doesn’t even have a stable, non-contradictory set of principles or values it adheres to.

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Carving out an empire in blood is immanently meaningless when one lacks a higher cause to aspire to, let alone a coherent narrative. The Kremlin, however, has demonstrated time and again it’s utterly devoid of that, left completely without a vision, and in the end, barren of any semblance of a soul or empathy for others. 

And that is what makes it more dangerous and unpredictable than ever — to its neighbours and to the rest of the world.

Aleksandar Đokić is a Serbian political scientist and analyst with bylines in Novaya Gazeta. He was formerly a lecturer at RUDN University in Moscow.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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The European Union should ban Russian tourist visas

By Mark Temnycky, Journalist, Nonresident Fellow, Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center

Vacations and foreign travel are luxuries, and preventing Russian citizens from going abroad would force them to think twice about their government’s actions, Mark Temnycky writes.

After scaling a mountain on a humid summer day, my cousins and I reached the top of St John Fortress in Kotor. We took a moment to enjoy the view from the summit, nearly 300 metres above the Montenegrin coastal town.

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After catching our breath, we reached into our bag and pulled out a Ukrainian flag. A customary tradition, we always take a photo with it during our annual trips.

We took a second to pose with our flag at the fortress and requested a neighbouring tourist to take our picture. 

But this encounter was different. As we stood for a photo, another group of tourists gave us unpleasant looks.

“Ukrainians,” one of them snarled in Russian, eyes cold with contempt.

We quickly finished taking our photo, packed our flag, and descended down the fortress. As our group continued on our walk, the discomfort among us became palpable as we came across additional Russian tourists who gave us similar stares.

Is everyone in Russia truly brainwashed?

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Following this encounter in Montenegro, I experienced similar events while in Cyprus and Greece. 

During my visits, Russian tourists did not shy away from glaring at me or making judgmental comments about my being Ukrainian.

This is Russia today. Over the past 19 months, many have mislabeled the Russian invasion of Ukraine as “Putin’s war,” blaming the current circumstances on the Russian president.

But the hatred toward Ukrainians goes far beyond Vladimir Putin. According to recent polling data, most Russians support their country’s aggression against Ukraine. 

Survey participants also stated that they want the war to continue. These are not opinions or expressions of a freedom-loving people.

Some might argue that Russian citizens are heavily influenced by Russian propaganda. After all, the Kremlin controls the media and survey centres within Russia. 

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But with a country of 143 million, it is hard to believe every single citizen has been brainwashed.

While Ukraine is burning, Russians head to the beach

Russia’s war has been devastating. Over the past 19 months, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have perished. Numerous cities and villages have been ravaged. 

Ukraine’s agriculture has been destroyed, and some experts believe that it will take over €1 trillion to rebuild the country.

To make matters worse, one-fourth of Ukraine’s population is displaced. The United Nations estimates that “90% of the refugees from Ukraine are women and children”. 

In addition, Ukraine has enforced martial law since the war began in February 2022, meaning men aged 18 to 60 cannot leave the country. 

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In short, these Ukrainian men, women, and children do not have an opportunity to go on vacation or extravagant adventures this summer. 

Instead, they constantly live in fear, trying to avoid the dangers of the ongoing Russian invasion.

While Ukrainians seek safety from these attacks, citizens from the aggressor state have been living in peace. According to a France24 report, 22.5 million Russian citizens travelled abroad in 2022, an increase of 3.4 million from 2021. 

As these tourists visited beach towns and major cities, this came at the expense of millions of Ukrainians who were constantly hiding in bunkers and shelters, ensuring they were away from Russian missile strikes.

There is something morally wrong with this. Why should Russian tourists have the privilege of going on their lavish European adventures while they support the atrocities committed by their country in Ukraine?

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Vacations are a luxury, after all

To be fair, the international community has already implemented harsh sanctions on Russia, such as the removal of several Russian banks from SWIFT, the expulsion of the Russian Federation from international groups such as the G20 and the Council of Europe, and a ban on Russian sports teams from international competitions. But more can be done.

Imposing restrictions on Russian tourist visas would send a powerful message to the Russians. 

To date, millions of citizens have been able to travel freely, presenting a false impression that the situation in Ukraine is normal. 

Instead, Russians should be punished for the actions of their government. 

Vacations and foreign travel are luxuries, and preventing Russian citizens from going abroad would force them to think twice about their government’s actions.

The EU remains divided on welcoming Russian guests

To some degree, the European Union has started to enforce restrictions. Countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, and Poland have stated that they would “bar entry to Russians holding Schengen Area tourist visas”. 

These countries believe that Russians should not be permitted to travel to Europe while the unnecessary and illegal invasion continues. 

They also believe that additional pressures should be imposed on the Russian Federation to end the war.

But there is division within the EU. While those in Eastern Europe support stiffer penalties, the countries of Western Europe have a different attitude. 

According to a Euronews report, Germany, France, Portugal, and Spain believe Europe should not cut itself entirely from Russia. 

These opinions are ill-advised and only signal to the Russians that their government can continue to do as it pleases without harsher penalties.

There is also the issue of money laundering

Aside from the moral dilemma, banning Russian tourist visas would also combat the influx of dirty money in major European capitals. 

For years, European officials called on stricter laws to scrutinize Russian money laundering, tracing Russian money, and even implementing a task force to examine Russia’s financial influence in Europe. 

These efforts have been exhausted, and they are both slow and time-consuming.

Yet, implementing a visa policy that would restrict or ban Russian tourists in Europe would dramatically reduce the flow of Russian cash. 

In addition, European governments should continue to freeze and seize the assets of Russian politicians and oligarchs. 

This would help Europe in its fight against corruption, and it would lead to the continuation of anti-corruption efforts in major European capitals as they eliminate the use of Russian money.

It’s time to show that actions have consequences

The Russian Federation’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has been deadly and catastrophic. 

But as Ukrainians continue to suffer, Russian citizens have reaped the benefits of European travel. It is time for the EU to take a harsher stance on Russian tourist visas. 

Russia should be penalised to the fullest extent for its war in Ukraine, and these punishments should not be eased until the war has ended, Ukraine’s 1991 borders are restored, and the country is rebuilt. 

Only then will the Russians learn from the consequences of their actions.

Vacations and international travel are a luxury, not a right. It is time to teach the Russians this.

Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eurasian affairs and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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