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 Kremlin fuelled antisemitism at home. Then it blew up

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

Vladimir Putin had been instigating antisemitism in Russia long before the lynch mob stormed the airport in Dagestan’s capital Makhachkala, Aleksandar Đokić writes.

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Islamophobia and antisemitism have been on the rise worldwide since the beginning of the Hamas-Israel conflict. 

Both stem from two general kinds of racism: the grassroots one, which tends to originate in parts of society at the base level, and the top-down one, which is spread from those in power and their exponents.

As such, top-down racism is unthinkable in our day and age, as it would go against the basic moral principles of contemporary democratic societies.

On the other end of the political spectrum, autocratic leaders more often than not intentionally instrumentalise historical divisions in their societies — including ethnic, religious, racial or class ones. 

Dictators strive to profit from tensions in society in order to prevent various societal groups from uniting against their rule. Autocrats tend to know when and exactly how to stir and agitate certain social groups when they believe it’s necessary. 

Yet, sometimes these actions spiral out of control and produce unwanted results. That was the case with the recent anti-Jewish riot — labelled by some as a pogrom — at the Dagestan international airport.

Debating Zelenskyy’s heritage to back talk of ‘Ukrainian Nazis’

Ever since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin has not shied away from stirring up anger and contempt against those of Jewish background or Jewish identity in general. 

The dominant discourse spread by Moscow’s power circles has been marked by a key talking point that can be summarised as “the Anglo-Saxons (meaning, the West) have installed a Jewish puppet — who’s not even Jewish in a fundamental sense — in Kyiv to cover up the contemporary Ukrainian Nazism.” 

This toxic notion has been thoroughly debunked, yet, this is almost exactly what Russia’s Vladimir Putin said on 5 September, just two months before the antisemitic lynch mob stormed the airport in Dagestan’s capital Makhachkala. 

“Western curators put at the head of contemporary Ukraine a person — an ethnic Jew, with Jewish roots, with Jewish origins. And thus, in my opinion, they seem to cover up a certain anti-human essence, which is the foundation, the basis of the modern Ukrainian state,” Putin said.

With the Kremlin’s supposed “denazification” of Ukraine as the ideological basis for the legitimisation of its invasion of a neighbouring country, Putin has in fact repeatedly questioned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Jewish identity while also using it against him.

“I have had many Jewish friends since childhood. They all say, ‘Zelenskyy is not Jewish, he is a disgrace to the Jewish people’ … Zelenskyy is a man of Jewish blood. Yet with his actions, he covers up these neo-Nazi monsters,” Putin said earlier in June.

Licence to kill

On 22 October, a week before the Dagestan’s international airport rampage, a well-known state propagandist, Dmitry Kiselev, said on state TV that “antisemitism is a cultural norm for hundreds of millions of Muslims, passed on from one generation to another. And no amount of political correctness can do anything about it.”

This statement is indeed both Islamophobic and antisemitic. However, the same Russian state TV channels have, like the Kremlin, papered over their latent Islamophobia by taking a clear pro-Hamas position and placing tradition at the cornerstone of politics. This is why these kinds of messages were easily interpreted by some in the Northern Caucasus — a traditionally Muslim-majority region — as a way to legitimise hate and declare an open hunt on Jewish people. 

It is also clear why the instigators believed there would be no pushback from the authorities, and why they ended up being treated much more leniently than Russian anti-war protesters, for example. Why would a country, which supports Hamas and claims that antisemitism is “tradition”, persecute them if they embarked on an antisemitic campaign? And isn’t this undertaking essentially just a fervent display of support for the state?

Besides official ties of the Russian leadership with Hamas, the mainstream media discourse in Russia has been clearly anti-Israel ever since Hamas’ militants organised and conducted a massacre of Israeli civilians on 7 October. 

There wasn’t a single statement denouncing Hamas as an extremist or terrorist organisation in the Russian state media — only calls for an independent Palestinian state and accusations against Israel of cynically murdering Palestinian civilians.

Setting things on fire and blaming the US

All of this is quite the opposite of responsible Western leaders, intellectuals and media pundits who always make it clear that the Hamas militants committed a horrible act of violence while voicing their legitimate concern for the protection of the Palestinian civil population. 

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This is the only way to combat antisemitism and send a clear message to society: terrorism is not acceptable under any circumstance, and any violent act or hate speech incident against Jewish citizens in the democratic world will be severely persecuted in accordance with the law. 

This, of course, doesn’t mean that protests in support of Palestine and Palestinians are or should be stigmatised. In fact, it means that there simply has to be a clear dividing line between propagating Hamas’ terrorism and supporting Palestinians.

Such a clear line was never drawn in Russian media. Instead, the Russian state sent a direct, malignant signal inciting its already highly antisemitic and intolerant society: “Jews are Nazis in Ukraine, and they are now intentionally killing Palestinian children”. 

So if you were just a regular consumer of mainstream TV content in Russia, you would end up believing that taking the fight to nominally Jewish passengers of a flight from Tel Aviv that had landed in Makhachkala is a patriotic act in every possible sense.

In the end, Putin blamed the US for an easily anticipated explosion of antisemitism in Russia. “It is necessary to know and understand where the root of evil is, that spider who is attempting to wrap the entire planet, the entire world, into its web,” he said after the Dagestan riot.

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Yet, the responsibility for the hate lies squarely on Putin and Russia. Russian propaganda has been demonising Ukrainians for almost a decade. Now it’s the turn of Russia’s Jewish population to be stigmatised, just like it was many times through history. And if Putin keeps having it his way, in the end, there will be no one left to hate.

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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Wartime Ukrainian football is having one of its most riveting seasons

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

Amidst Russia’s continued full-scale invasion of Ukraine, having two underdogs — FC Kryvbas and Polissya Zhytomyr — sit at the top of the Ukrainian football league is a welcome surprise, Andrew Todos and David Kirichenko write.

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Amid Russia’s continued full-scale invasion, Ukrainian football is pressing on in its second season in wartime conditions. 

This year, a major surprise is unfolding, and few could’ve ever predicted the league standings as less-resourced clubs are currently leading the league. Ukrainian football fans can expect an unpredictable season, with the potential end of the dominance of Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk.

The war abruptly halted the 2021/22 season, leaving Shakhtar Donetsk just shy of a title they were on the verge of winning. 

During the 2022/23 season, Dnipro-1 nearly clinched the championship but faltered at the end of it, allowing Shakhtar to claim the trophy again.

Now the league gave us another shocker: FC Kryvbas are at the forefront, with newly-promoted Polissya Zhytomyr in close pursuit.

Kryvyi Rih’s team’s thunderous rise

But first, a quick flashback to the 1992 season — the first-ever league competition in a newly independent Ukraine.

Tavriya Simferopol won the title, marking the first and last time a team other than Dynamo or Shakhtar took gold. Despite their efforts, clubs like FC Metalist Kharkiv and FC Dnipro made valiant attempts to win the league, but always fell a step too short from glory.

Hailing from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih, FC Kryvbas, a team that was once a regular top-tier competitor, met an unexpected downfall in 2013. 

However, in 2020, under Zelenskyy’s vision of revitalising football in overlooked Ukrainian cities, the club was resurrected. 

With local mine owner, Kostyantyn Karamanyts steering the ship, the rechristened Hirnyk-Kryvyi Rih — now Kryvbas — made a thunderous return to the top flight, finishing 7th in their comeback season under the guidance of one of Ukraine’s master tacticians, Yuriy Vernydub.

When war broke out in 2022, Vernydub swapped his coaching tracksuit for a soldier’s armour, joining an artillery brigade on the frontlines. 

His commitment to both his nation and the sport eventually saw him juggle his military duties with managing Kryvbas, a feat that now sees them leading the Ukrainian Premier League this campaign.

Sport is not shielded from war

Credit for Kryvbas’ impressive run goes beyond Vernydub’s tactical brilliance. The squad’s harmony, built around a blend of homegrown talent and international flair, has reaped dividends. 

Players like Danylo Beskorovaynyi, Maksym Zaderaka, and the dazzling Cameroonian, Yvan Dibango, have turned heads with their exemplary performances.

Off the pitch, Kryvbas’s PR team has captured the imagination of fans beyond Ukrainian borders, with viral content celebrating their on-field exploits, commemorating their fallen fans from the front and creatively raising money for the war effort.

On 31 July, Kryvyi Rih was hit by a Russian missile strike, killing three people including a four-year-old child, and injuring another 33. The football club published a social media post reminding its fans around the world that Russia was recognised by the EU “as a state sponsor of terrorism and as a state which uses means of terrorism.”

The post concluded with this line: “31/07/23. We’ll never forgive. We hate you all.” In Ukraine, sport is not shielded from war just as normal civilians aren’t. People and sports simply adapt to the wartime conditions.

Zhytomyr and Odesa have hot competitors, too

Close on Kryvbas’ heels, FC Polissya Zhytomyr’s journey is equally remarkable. Spearheaded by billionaire Hennadiy Butkevych, they’ve risen from obscurity to challenge the might of Dynamo and Shakhtar. 

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Under the guidance of a 1990’s Dynamo Kyiv star, Yuriy Kalitvinstev, Polissya are showing they’re more than just a brief sensation. 

Butkevych is deeply committed to his project, and the club even boasts heavyweight boxing champion Oleksandr Usyk on their roster. Although he hasn’t featured for Polissya just yet, his debut may come about at some stage after the annual winter break and the fighter’s upcoming bout with Tyson Fury.

Another team catching attention is Chornomorets Odesa. Currently amongst the top 5 places, their re-emergence in recent years is attributed to new leadership and the comeback of renowned coach, Roman Hryhorchuk. 

Under Hryhorchuk, the team once soared in the Europa League during the early 2010s. 

Now, they boast an exciting blend of local talent and international players. However, a cloud hangs over the club as co-owner Borys Kaufman faces legal troubles, and its implications on the team remain uncertain.

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Meanwhile, star-studded teams are struggling

Last year’s runners-up Dnipro-1 have experienced a resurgence of their own after a disappointing start to the championship. 

They failed to make it past the qualifying rounds of all three UEFA competitions and saw star striker Artem Dovbyk leave to play for La Liga’s Girona. 

However, ever since seasoned Ukrainian coach Yuriy Maksymov’s arrival in September which coincided with the club’s return to the city of Dnipro after a year of living in Uzhhorod; the club remain unbeaten in the league and have bolted back up into the European spots.

Meanwhile, Shakhtar have been in the midst of an uncharacteristic bumpy period. After a change in leadership from Croatian coach Igor Jovičević to Dutchman Patrick Van Leeuwen, the club experienced instability. 

Despite Van Leeuwen’s departure after only 12 games, there’s hope in the form of new coach Marino Pušić who was only appointed on 24 October.

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It is worth keeping in mind that the current league table may not provide the clearest picture of real standings due to varying match counts — a byproduct of European competition schedules. 

For instance, while Dynamo Kyiv is currently seventh, they have played three games less than leader Kryvbas. Yet, given their recent form and a significant injury to star player Andriy Yarmolenko, nothing is guaranteed. 

Long-time manager, Mircea Lucescu, faces mounting pressure after the team’s European struggles that have reared themselves domestically now too.

Two underdogs at the top a welcome distraction from war

Nonetheless, the war continually casts a shadow over football in Ukraine, where the lines between football, politics, and war are indelibly blurred.

There are frequent disruptions in matches because of air raid alerts, coupled with the absence of fans in stadiums, standing as sombre markers of the times. 

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As a football spokesperson from FC Karpaty Lviv illustrated, “When the air raid siren goes off, the match is stopped and everyone on the pitch and off the pitch goes to the bomb shelter. We cannot host our supporters in the stadium because our bomb shelter doesn’t have the capacity to host thousands of people.”

Personal tragedies have also struck some players; Dynamo Kyiv’s Oleksandr Tymchyk and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Dmytro Riznyk have both lost brothers serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. 

According to a survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 78% of Ukrainians have close relatives or friends who have been injured or killed by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Each time Ukraine’s footballers play, they represent more than just a game. They show their country’s strength and unity against Russia’s barbaric war. 

Their heart on the field mirrors the courage of the Ukrainian people and continuing to play sports in wartime shows that Ukrainians simply refuse to let the Kremlin disrupt the normal functioning of society.

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Most intriguingly, amidst all the chaos and instability, having two underdogs leading Ukrainian football is a welcomed surprise and will continue to make for an interesting season.

Andrew Todos is a British-Ukrainian freelance sports journalist and broadcaster. He is the founder of the leading English language resource on Ukrainian football, Zorya Londonsk, and is a co-host of the “Ukraine + Football” podcast. David Kirichenko is a freelance journalist and an associate research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank.

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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Embezzlement investigation in Ukraine, Kremlin forces on the offensive

The latest developments from the Ukraine war.

Ukrainian officers investigated after deadly Russian strike

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Ukraine on Monday launched a criminal investigation into military officers who organised an award ceremony for troops that was hit by a Russian missile strike. 

Nineteen soldiers were killed in the blast, one of the deadliest single attacks reported by Ukrainian forces since the war began.

Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation said will hold military officials accountable for the Rocket Forces and Artillery Day event held on Friday near the front line in Zaporizhzhia, where Russian reconnaissance drones could easily spot the crowded gathering.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lamented that the deaths of the men in the 128th Separate Mountain-Assault Brigade of Zakarpattia was a “tragedy that could’ve been avoided.” 

The carnage sparked a wave of criticism among Ukrainians on social media for planning the event so close to the battlefield. 

Ukraine investigates two defense officials for embezzlement

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office announced on Monday that it had officially notified two defence officials that they were being investigated for embezzling several million euros. 

The latest corruption case surrounds the purchase of poor-quality bulletproof vests, amid the Russian invasion grinding into its second winter. 

The two men, who are in custody, face up to 12 years in prison. They are unnamed. 

They are alleged to have ordered shoddy protective equipment from abroad, pre-paying for it in full and without respecting “the planned quality control procedure”, the State Investigation Bureau, an anti-corruption body, detailed in early October.

“As a result, the Ukrainian armed forces received poor quality bulletproof vests which cannot be used in combat without endangering lives,” it added, estimating the fraud was worth more than six million euros.

According to the Bureau of Investigation, this case is a new episode in a global embezzlement scandal worth more than 36 million euros, relating to contracts for supplying ammunition to the Ukrainian army that was insufficient.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has been rocked by several corruption cases since the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022, even pushing Defense Minister Oleksi Reznikov to resign last September.

The fight against corruption, an endemic evil in Ukraine, is one of the criteria set by Brussels for joining the EU, which has given Kyiv tens of billions of euros in aid since the start of the war.

Russia hits historical museum in Odesa, says Kyiv

Overnight Russian strikes on Odesa between Sunday and Monday have injured at least eight and damaged an art museum, according to Ukrainian officials.

Images released by authorities in the southern Ukrainian city showed debris and shards of glass in the Odesa Museum of Fine Arts, which had some shattered windows.

Walls are cracked and some paintings appear to have been thrown to the ground by the force of the explosion.

Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Djeppar said she was “deeply outraged” by the strike.

“The deliberate destruction of cultural sites is a crime against Ukrainian heritage,” she denounced, demanding “a strong international response and immediate action from UNESCO.”

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The Odessa Museum of Fine Arts, an elegant pink building, was opened in the late 19th century, according to its website.

Most of the works on display had been “evacuated”, said Oleg Kiper, an official with the regional authorities.

Russians try to recapture southern village

The Ukrainian army said on Monday that Russian forces were trying to retake Robotyne, a village in the south whose liberation at the end of August had given Ukraine hope of a breakthrough in its counteroffensive, a hope that has not come to fruition.

In the south, “the enemy tried to regain its positions near Robotyne, without success”, said Andri Kovaliov, spokesperson for the Ukrainian army.

In the east of the country, Moscow’s troops are also “continuing” to attack Avdiivka, an industrial town they have been trying to encircle for several weeks, he added.

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Since June, the Ukrainian army has been conducting a counteroffensive in the east and south, without succeeding in breaking through the Russian lines. In recent weeks, it has been the Russians who have gone on the attack, leading assaults in several areas.

There have been no significant developments on the front since around a year ago, when the Ukrainian army recaptured the town of Kherson.

The lack of movement is such that the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army, Valery Zaloujny, recently declared that the war had “reached a stalemate”.

These were unusually frank statements, but they were firmly rejected by both the Kremlin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Russia tests intercontinental ballistic missile

The Russian military on Sunday reported a successful test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile designed to carry nuclear warheads, which was fired from a submarine. 

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The report comes as tensions are soaring between Russia and the West over the fighting in Ukraine. 

Worsening relations, President Vladimir Putin last week signed a bill revoking Russia’s ratification of a global nuclear test ban in a move that Moscow said was needed to establish parity with the United States.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the Imperator Alexander III strategic missile cruiser fired the Bulava missile from an underwater position in Russia’s northern White Sea. They said it hit a target in the far-eastern region of Kamchatka. 

It wasn’t immediately clear from the statement when the test launch occurred.

The Imperator Alexander III is one of the new Borei-class nuclear submarines that carry 16 Bulava missiles each. They are intended to serve as the core naval component of the nation’s nuclear forces in the coming decades. 

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According to the Defense Ministry, launching a ballistic missile is the final test for the vessel, after which a decision should be made on its induction into the fleet.

The Russian navy currently has three Borei-class submarines in service, one more is finishing tests and three others are under construction, the Defense Ministry said.

Ukrainian missile strike on a shipyard in Crimea damages a Russian ship

The Russian military said a Ukrainian missile strike on a shipyard in annexed Crimea had damaged a Russian ship.

The Russian Defense Ministry said late Saturday that Ukrainian forces fired 15 cruise missiles at the Zaliv shipyard in Kerch, a city in the east of the Crimean Peninsula. 

Air defences shot down 13 missiles but others hit the shipyard and damaged a vessel, a statement from the ministry said.

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The ministry didn’t give details about the ship or the extent of the damage.

The Ukrainian air force commander, Mykola Oleshchuk, said in a statement that at the time of the attack carried out by Ukrainian tactical aviation, “one of the most modern ships of Russia’s Black Sea fleet was at the shipyard – carrier of the Kalibr cruise missiles.” 

He didn’t say directly, however, that this particular ship was damaged by the strike.

The Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, has been a frequent target since Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine 20 months ago. Crimea has served as the key hub supporting the invasion.

Ukraine has increasingly targeted naval facilities in Crimea in recent months.

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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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How much does Russia stand to gain from turmoil in the Middle East?

By David Kirichenko, Journalist, Associate research fellow, Henry Jackson Society

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

With Putin’s good relations with Israel and the Arab world, Russia has a vested interest in continuing to play both sides while the world remains distracted from its failed war in Ukraine. However, the advantage is only temporary, David Kirichenko writes.

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As tensions flare in the Middle East, global attention has swivelled to the region, providing Vladimir Putin with what he desperately needs: the world to lose its interest in his war in Ukraine. 

A long protracted low-intensity war in the Middle East is what Putin is hoping for — not enough to transform into a large regional conflict, yet lasting long enough to have the West divert attention and resources away from Ukraine. 

He wants Washington — and others — to support and supply Israel instead, and as a result, provide a public smokescreen for Russia’s offensive in the Donbas.

And this is exactly what happened: as the world was turning its attention to the carnage in Israel following 7 October, Russian forces launched a sizable counterattack in Avdiivka just two days later.

Russia attempts to take advantage in the Donbas

With Russia almost two years into its failing “special military operation”, the turmoil couldn’t have come at a better time for Putin. 

Control over Avdiivka, located on the northern outskirts of Donetsk — a city partially occupied by Russian forces — has allowed the Ukrainian army to act against the enemy by means of artillery superiority and could serve as a springboard to free the entire urban centre. 

Highlighting Avdiivka’s importance, just last week, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu lauded his troops for “prohibiting Ukrainian advances” near the city of formerly 32,000. 

However, after 20 months of conflict, his omission of any Russian advancements highlights the current predicament of his army, showing Moscow’s desperation.

The Kremlin continues to throw its resources at surrounding Avdiivka, setting up for what looks to be the meatgrinder of a new Bakhmut, with Putin possibly aiming to deplete Ukraine’s ammunition, banking on the possibility of US war funding dwindling. 

As US President Joe Biden attempts to link aid for Ukraine and Israel, nine Republican senators have already urged for separate considerations of aid for the two nations, all ahead of the White House’s push for a $100 billion (€94bn) foreign funding request, which includes funding for Israel and Ukraine.

Western military aid remains essential

Even before the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, about half of US House Republicans recently opposed a relatively small $300 million (€282m) aid package for Ukraine. 

It’s perhaps an early indication of the direction a Trump administration would take on Ukraine as Trump Republicans, especially those on the far-right, have been at the forefront of trying to slash aid meant for Ukrainian military assistance from the proposed budget.

Despite the Israel-Hamas conflict potentially diverting resources, Biden has been trying to assure allies that the US will still continue to fund support for Ukraine.

The US recently deployed its Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to Ukraine, which were used by Ukrainian forces to strike Russian airfields in Berdyansk and Luhansk. 

These strikes, according to Kyiv’s defence ministry, resulted in significant losses for Russia, including nine helicopters, air-defence equipment, and ammunition depots. 

Britain’s defence ministry estimated higher damages, suggesting the possibility of nine helicopters destroyed in Berdyansk alone and an additional five in Luhansk. British intelligence also believes the severity of these strikes might prompt Russia to relocate its bases further from the front lines, complicating its logistics.

The Telegraph reported Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba’s confirmation that the US will continue supplying advanced missiles to Ukraine, putting a lot more pressure on Russian forces. 

ATACMS have the potential to alter the war’s trajectory if given in larger quantities, enabling Ukrainian forces to target previously inaccessible Russian supply lines, air bases, and rail networks in occupied areas. It also serves as a key example of why continued arms donations are essential if Ukraine is to drive the invading forces out of its territory.

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‘A new source of pain undermining world unity’

Sergey Mardan, one of Russia’s best-known propagandists, recently wrote on his Telegram channel that “This mess is beneficial for Russia because the globalist toad will be distracted from [Russia’s war in] Ukraine and will get busy trying to put out the eternal Middle Eastern fire. 

“Iran is our real military ally. Israel is an ally of the US. Therefore, choosing a side is easy,” Mardan concluded, making the Kremlin’s intentions even more clear.

Kyiv also believes that Russia is a major beneficiary of the growing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that “Russia is interested in triggering a war in the Middle East so that a new source of pain and suffering could undermine world unity, increase discord and contradictions, and thus help Russia destroy freedom in Europe.”

Kyrylo Budanov, Head of Defence Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU), claimed that the Russians supplied the Hamas group with infantry armaments that they managed to seize in Ukraine and that Russians taught the Hamas militants how to use FPV-drones against armoured equipment. 

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Will the ammunition shortage become an even bigger problem?

Russian-made weapons, including anti-tank and shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, have found their way into Gaza in the past, most likely through Iran. 

Yet, there still isn’t concrete information that Russia supplied Hamas with weapons. So far, one Israeli official claimed that some of the weapons used by Hamas came from Russia.

Meanwhile, international press initially reported that the US intended to redirect tens of thousands of artillery rounds from Ukraine to Israel. 

However, a US official refuted this claim. Meanwhile, the chair of NATO’s Military Committee, Lieutenant Admiral Rob Bauer, has previously expressed concerns about allied ammunition supplies nearing depletion, and the risk of Ukraine not having the ammunition it desperately needs is indeed real.

Yet, it was DIU’s Budanov who emphasised that “if the situation drags on, then there will definitely be some problems as Ukraine will not be the only state to need armament and ammunition supplies.”

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The impact is already felt on the battlefield. British-supplied artillery guns are facing ammunition shortages, limiting their use. Ukrainian soldiers trained on L119 howitzers report firing them infrequently due to a severe lack of shells. 

This, in turn, was cause for celebration back in Moscow. Russian military analyst Boris Dzherelievsky also believes that a “long war would lead to Minsk III and the surrender of vast swathes of Ukraine, including Odesa and Mykolaiv, to Russia.”

Not all is rosy for Russia, either

However, not everything is rosy for the Kremlin, either. If events continue to escalate tensions into a large-scale war, Russia has its own reasons to be concerned as well: already, Syrian artillery has hit Israel, and Israel has targeted Iranian-backed assets in Syria, including conducting airstrikes on Syrian airports. This only increases the risk of Israel engaging with Russian forces in Syria.

Russia is keen on balancing between its main military ally, Iran, and its close partnership with Israel, as Putin and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu share a friendly relationship. 

Hamas representatives reportedly met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in March, stating that the organisation is running out of patience with Israel. Additional meetings between senior Hamas members and Russia occurred in May and September 2022.

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The Soviet military historically supported Arab armies, particularly Egypt and Syria, in their efforts against Israel, especially during the wars in the 1960s and the 1970s. 

In contrast, contemporary relations between Israel and Russia are characterised by military coordination, particularly in Syria. Israel values its positive relationship with Russia, recognising Moscow’s significant influence in the war-torn neighbouring country.

If Russia was caught red-handed supporting Hamas, it would unravel the close ties between Putin and Netanyahu, which Russia is desperate to maintain.

Benefits are temporary at best

The highly volatile atmosphere is perhaps best illustrated by the recent interview with Amir Weitman, chairman of the Libertarian faction of Israel’s ruling Likud party, who openly threatened Russia on its own propaganda channel RT: “After we win this war, we will make sure Ukraine wins as well and we will make sure Russia will pay for what it has done.” 

If anything, Wietman’s words show that a major reshuffle of sides could well be on the cards, all depending on who Russia chooses to side with — a decision the Kremlin might not be able to stall over forever.

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Russia might benefit temporarily from a renewed Western focus on the Middle East, but a full-scale war between Iran and Israel, potentially involving Syria, would stretch its resources, and with its military largely committed to Ukraine, a war of that size would definitely threaten its position as well as its forces in Syria.

Thus, at some point, the Kremlin’s hand might be inevitably forced by the sheer magnitude of the brewing conflict. 

On top of that, US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently labelled China, Russia, and Iran as the new “axis of evil”, signalling that sooner or later, Israel will have to take a hard stance against Russia, too.

We should be aware of the smokescreen

Moscow continues to value its ties with Israel and Arab states, even as it grows closer to Iran. Following the attack on Israel on 7 October, Russia has been quick to cynically position itself as a peace broker in the Middle East, presenting a draft resolution in the UN Security Council, though it failed to gain majority support. 

Putin’s delay in expressing condolences to Netanyahu after the attack and Russia’s pro-Palestinian media stance also reflect the bind he is in.

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However, Moscow’s strategy will still hinge on balancing relations with multiple Middle Eastern players to maximise its benefits, at least for now. 

Nonetheless, Russia has been quick to benefit from the situation by expanding military operations in Ukraine, while being cautious that things can quickly pull Russia in a direction where it doesn’t want to go. 

And we can’t stop paying attention to its actions now and allow Moscow to use other flashpoints as a smokescreen for its own destructive goals.

David Kirichenko is a freelance journalist and an associate research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank.

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 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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In fact, this is why Sweden should ultimately join NATO

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

One does not need to be a master strategist to realise that due to the country’s geographic position, Sweden’s accession to NATO would significantly strengthen the alliance in the entire Baltic Sea region, Dr András Rácz writes.

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On 6 October, Euronews published an op-ed by Dr Gladden Pappin, president of the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, about why Sweden may not join NATO

Some of Dr Pappin’s arguments are indeed worth attention, though certainly not endorsement, while others, unfortunately, require factual corrections.

For one, Russia definitely is a threat.

Dr Pappin, known more as a political philosopher than a security expert, argues that there is not much urgency to get Sweden into the alliance. 

According to him, with its forces bogged down in Ukraine, Russia is not going to launch incursions into NATO territory anytime soon and “claims about Russia’s imperial ambitions seem hardly credible.” 

This assessment is indeed surprising taking into account that Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine is raging in the direct neighbourhood of Hungary, while also claiming the lives of ethnic Hungarian soldiers in the Ukrainian army.

What makes Dr Pappin’s line particularly noteworthy is that it directly contradicts the newest assessment of NATO. 

According to the final communique of the Vilnius Summit, released on 11 July, “the Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.” 

In other words, while all members of the alliance agreed in Vilnius that Russia is the most important threat NATO needs to face, for some reason Dr Pappin tried to convince his readers about the opposite. 

By doing so, he implicitly contradicted even the Hungarian government, which also approved the Vilnius summit communique.

Sweden would make NATO considerably stronger

Another surprising element of Dr Pappin’s article is that according to him, “Sweden’s military contribution to NATO would be rather slender.” 

However, the opposite is true, even according to Hungarian officials. Only a few days after his opinion article, Hungary’s Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Gábor Böröndi gave an interview in which he explicitly stated that the Swedish armed forces are suitably ready for NATO accession, adding that that the question of Sweden’s accession is primarily a political matter.

General Böröndi is certainly right. According to The Military Balance 2023, Sweden’s defence budget was slightly above $8 billion (€7.5bn) in 2022, thus nearly 2,5 times bigger than Hungary’s $2,99bn (€2.8bn).

Sweden has a small, but well-trained, very well-equipped armed force configured for territorial defence. Just to give one example: the country’s air force possesses nearly a hundred JAS-39 Gripen fighters. 

Somewhat ironically, the sole jet fighter operated by the Hungarian Air Force happens to be the same Gripen: approximately a dozen of them were leased from Sweden. Budapest is in the process of extending the lease contract that is about the expire in 2026.

A key element of Dr Pappin’s argument for the delayed accession ratification is that there is a deficit of trust in Budapest vis-à-vis Stockholm, meaning that Sweden shall not join until disagreements are resolved. 

However, had there been a real loss of trust, it is highly unlikely that Hungary would strive to maintain its military technological dependence on Sweden by extending the Gripen lease contract.

Putting cold steel aside, one does not need to be a master strategist to realise that due to the country’s geographic position, Sweden’s accession to NATO would significantly strengthen the alliance in the entire Baltic Sea region. 

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Sweden’s membership would decisively help improve the collective defence provided to our Finnish, Polish and Baltic allies on all levels, ranging from strategic planning to military logistics.

Concerted ambiguity in Hungary’s communication

Dr Pappin’s article appears to be part of a wider Hungarian communication manoeuvre aimed at creating ambiguity about Budapest’s position on Sweden’s accession, thus probably buying it time. 

The Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, presided by him, is an integral part of the Hungarian government. The HIIA is directly subordinated to the Office of the Prime Minister, and so is Dr Pappin. 

Generally speaking, no employee of any government would be allowed to publish opinion pieces on the policies of the given government without prior coordination and approval. 

Hence, the article of Dr Pappin is certainly not independent of the official policy of the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

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Interestingly enough, in terms of content, the article appears to contradict the official Hungarian explanations of why Sweden’s accession has not yet been ratified. 

Earlier, the government claimed that it already endorsed and supported Sweden in joining NATO; it is only the parliament that is unwilling to ratify the accession. 

However, this article casts some doubt on the credibility of this argument: had the Hungarian government been really in favour of Stockholm’s accession, no government officials would have published critical articles about Sweden’s readiness.

Contradictions aplenty

The Hungarian parliament, which is officially delaying the ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession, is dominated by the constitutional majority of the ruling coalition led by Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party. 

Their parliamentary supermajority has been serving the government with impeccable obedience since 2010: in the Hungarian parliament, it is fairly normal that core numbers of the budget get modified literally overnight or that the parliament amends the constitution in a few days’ time, without any meaningful debate. 

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This parliament is unlikely to suddenly stand up against the government, particularly in a question of such strategic importance as the expansion of NATO.

Still, on the very same day when Dr Pappin’s article came out, an interview came out with Zsolt Németh, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Hungarian parliament, a veteran Fidesz politician and known foreign policy expert. 

Németh, who is as independent of the government as the rest of his parliamentary fraction, argued that Hungary would certainly support Sweden’s accession and the alliance would be stronger with Stockholm joining. 

In other words, two Hungarian officials voiced their opinions directly contradicting each other and did so exactly at the same time. The interview of General Böröndi may well be part of the same communication effort.

Who profits?

While discussing in detail why Sweden is supposedly not ready for NATO, Dr Pappin elegantly avoids even mentioning a key question: who does the Hungarian policy line actually benefit? 

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Németh was more open in his interview: he admitted that Hungary closely coordinates with Turkey on when the Swedish accession should be ratified.

Turkey is certainly benefiting from the Hungarian policy, as Ankara does not need to be alone in delaying Sweden’s accession. 

Turkey has been conducting a tough, but entirely rational, calculated policy: it has set a number of demands both vis-à-vis Sweden and the US. Once Ankara’s requests can be agreed upon, Turkey is highly likely to approve Sweden’s accession.

Meanwhile, there are simply no demands from the Hungarian side. Unlike Ankara, Budapest is not asking for anything at all from Stockholm, focusing solely on making critical remarks. 

This renders it unclear what Hungary would actually gain from delaying Sweden’s accession. It is at least questionable whether paying lip service to Ankara would be worth the damage inflicted upon the credibility of Budapest as a NATO ally.

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Meanwhile, Russia is applauding the delay

Meanwhile, there is another player that certainly does not mind the delayed Swedish NATO accession: Russia. 

Moscow has long been opposed to any enlargement of NATO. From the Kremlin’s perspective, Sweden’s NATO membership would mean that the Baltic Sea became “Lake NATO”, limiting the power of Russia’s Baltic Fleet, as well as of the other assets deployed to Kaliningrad. 

This forces Moscow to adjust its entire military posture in the Baltic Sea region. This is already happening, as Russia is in the process of recreating the old Leningrad Military District. 

As the process is at least cumbersome, Moscow certainly applauds the extra time granted by the delayed Swedish NATO accession. And from this perspective, Hungary is serving not only Turkish but also Russian interests.

Dr András Rácz is a Senior Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).

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We can’t let Russia demoralise Ukraine’s Western backers

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

By stopping an aggressive, revisionist Russia dead in its tracks, the West would achieve continental security, showing the autocracies on the rise that vitality hasn’t been drained from the democratic world, Aleksandar Đokić writes.

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On 3 October, Russian special police arrested and beat up a Russian Orthodox monk, Ilya Sigida, in his temple in the southern Russian town of Slavyansk-on-Kuban in the Krasnodar region. Sigida is not an ordinary monk but also holds the title of aide to the regional archbishop.

However, the Russian state felt confident to assault him because he wrote an article for the site of the bishopric about the way in which Christianity and Christians should view the unpleasant topic of war. The Russian army or its leadership weren’t even mentioned in the piece.

Sigida’s fate is just the latest example of why Russia simply isn’t the traditionalist Mecca it tries to be for the Western alt-right — while at the same time, it’s neither the ideological descendant of the communist superpower, the Soviet Union, with the Kremlin’s actions clearly showing it’s become the polar opposite of its anti-fascist convictions of the past.

Yet, today, the number of those opposing the continued aid to Ukraine keeps growing, especially among the increasingly polarised extremes who see Vladimir Putin as the ultimate truthteller.

In turn, the conviction of the extremes has caused a ripple effect with the more moderate citizens of Europe and the US, and governments throughout the Western world are being made to justify their continued support of Ukraine.

This is why a shift has to be made from a purely emotional narrative at the outset of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 towards more rational geopolitical arguments about why supporting Kyiv actually means ensuring the future of the democratic world as a whole.

‘As long as it takes’ starting to irritate?

After almost 20 months of Russia’s total war against Ukraine, one thing is certain — the conflict is set to march on at least into the next year, with no end in sight. 

While many in the West had high hopes after Ukraine’s swift rout in Kharkiv and less swift, but nonetheless effective, victories in Kherson, the reality of war saw Moscow muster enough manpower not to allow a quick and painless breakthrough of its main defensive lines. 

In political terms, this means that the cost of aiding Ukraine — both in military and economic terms — continues to rise, all amidst a crisis of democracy not seen in the Western world since the 1920s and 1930s. 

The “as long as it takes” catchphrase of US President Joe Biden’s administration is starting to irritate a part of the domestic electorate, a feeling also present throughout Western Europe. 

These voices are not prevalent, but they cannot be ignored, in a way that they present great peril, not only to Ukraine but to the prestige and position of the collective West in an increasingly fractured world.

Support for Ukraine reached maturity

Yet, the unprecedented polarisation of American society, coupled with the end of “Pax Americana” — the period of relative peace in the Western hemisphere that saw the US become the dominant political, economic and cultural power — is something that Ukraine’s leadership and all those that support the struggle of its people for freedom from foreign occupation have to contend with. 

And we are now at the stage where the global movement to help Ukraine reaches its maturity. 

It now goes well beyond posting flags next to personal accounts on various social networks; it is not merely a feel-good cause one can carelessly stand behind, nor is it a social fad. 

Aid to Ukraine is a strategic political, economic, military and societal decision, which will shape the future of the Western world alongside Ukraine itself. 

The Ukrainian cause is just, moral, and essential as a legitimising factor for the Western brand of democracy, along with the European Union and NATO. 

After many blunders and dubious interventions in places like the Middle East, the Western world has a perfect opportunity to demonstrate its own values, resolve and strength.

Placing our bets on David vs Goliath

If the West were to allow Ukraine to be left alone against the much more powerful aggressor, it would most probably receive new chances to support a just cause, only this time it would likely be the Baltic states or Poland. 

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In other words, abandoning Ukraine would be like extending an invitation to a resurgent and revisionist Russia to march on further into Eastern Europe. 

Let us not forget that, for Putin’s regime, the die has been already cast and there is no going back. 

If the Kremlin isn’t stopped in the Ukrainian steppes, it will advance towards central Europe, destroying NATO’s reputation every step of the way. The West is invested in this war — a war it most certainly didn’t desire, but a war that brings advantages as well. 

This is why the favourable rational aspect of the Russo-Ukrainian War should be pushed to the front of the debate in Western polities. 

There has been too much emphasis on morality, tapping into the altruistic motives of societies driven most often by self-interest. 

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This moral narrative, while true, has shaped the war through the eyes of the casual nominally powerless Western observer as a hopeless, albeit valiant, struggle of David vs Goliath. But in the real world, it’s difficult to place your bets on David.

Defending the borders of the democratic world

Since Russia’s war in Ukraine is now also a conflict of strategic importance for the West itself, the main legitimising narrative of supporting Kyiv’s war effort and wrecked economy cannot rely mainly on arguments of morality. 

Putting into play rational geopolitical arguments would actually provide an understandable set of strategic goals which the democratic Western world aims to achieve by aiding Ukraine. 

The main and rationally achievable aim has to be the containment of Russia. Its power projection needs to be clipped, its aggression curtailed in such a manner that it will not be able to convince anyone that it represents anything other than a regional power with delusions of grandeur. 

The whole autocratic world is watching and, while the US has lost the stomach for unwise and audacious foreign military interventions after erring greatly in the Middle Eastern theatre, investing in Ukraine is precisely the initiative needed to help stave off the geopolitical sharks that have sensed the scent of blood in the water.

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Not a single US soldier has died in Ukraine, the cause is perfectly just, one anyone can stand behind without later feeling remorse, and it represents being on the right side of history. 

But it’s more than that: this is a genuine opportunity for both the US and a united Europe to prove that they can defend the borders of their democratic world. 

The Ukrainians are willing to fulfil this role, not because they are bellicose fanatics, but because their own survival and their core cultural and national identity are in grave danger. 

Ukrainians are fighting against getting wiped from the face of the Earth and then being reconstructed in the Kremlin’s own image, piecemeal.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians know what is at stake

This is no one’s proxy war. Instead, it is a case of intersected interests. 

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For Russia, it is a battle to protect the regime in the Kremlin, to prolong its lifespan, and a great revanchist leap which would prove to the West once and for all that Russia is mightier even than the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire put together. 

Amidst that, Putin wants to reign until his natural death and to be viewed as a fearsome emperor. 

For Ukraine, it is a matter of survival — both physical and spiritual. Russia would not only murder and repress Ukrainians, it would reconstruct the historic, cultural, national and even religious identity of the remains of the Ukrainian people. 

Ukrainians don’t need Biden or NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to tell them to fight. They know what is at stake. 

For China, this war is an opportunity to tie a weakened Russia closer to itself to further exploit it. Beijing would also like to see a weakened Russia trapped in this conflict forever since it would drain both the Kremlin’s resources and those of the West. 

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The West has an interest to stop an aggressive, revisionist power in its tracks, crippling it for decades, and putting Russia in such a position that it won’t matter who’s in power. It may become democratic, or it may not, but it won’t pose a danger to its neighbours. 

And by achieving this goal, the West would achieve continental security, showing the autocracies on the rise that vitality hasn’t been drained from the democratic world.

Now is the time to explain this to electorates

It falls to the leading political figures and parties of the Western world to explain to their electorates that investing in Ukraine is synonymous with investing in their own future. 

It doesn’t matter if one is on the side of the progressives or the traditionalists in the great values-based divide of today. Aid to Ukraine works to the general advantage of the West as a whole. 

It would really help the debate if the Western traditionalist electorate was more familiar with the ideological eclecticism of Putin’s Russia, which can propagate Joseph Stalin as well as any tsar, and which isn’t above misusing the Torah, the Bible, or the Quran for the gain of its propaganda. 

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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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