By William Pomeranz, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: William Pomeranz is the deputy director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are his own.
Anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny received his five-year prison sentence last week, to the surprise of no one. After all, the Russian criminal system has a 99 percent conviction rate once a case goes to trial, and it was highly unlikely that a Russian judge would buck the system at this late date.
So the Russian government has seemingly silenced one of its biggest critics, the man who famously came up with the slogan “the party of crooks and thieves” to describe the country’s governing party, United Russia. Navalny possesses political aspirations as well, and the government evidently thought it best to defeat him in the courts before he gained further political traction at the ballot box.
Yet the phenomenon of a political trial is not new in Russia. It has been around for centuries, as both tsars and commissars relied on courts to give their political orders a fig leaf of justice. The tsarist courts proved more independent, and one can find several prosecutions that went awry and even ended up in acquittals. The Soviet courts made no such mistakes, and the famous show trials of the 1930s lacked even the superficial elements of adversarialness and fairness.
By Olga Oliker, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Olga Oliker is a senior international policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
What’s going on with the U.S.-Russia relationship? It often seems that the United States government takes pains to laud bilateral cooperation, while the Russians seek out every new opportunity to needle the U.S. The United States says it wants further nuclear reductions? The Russians need to think about it. Edward Snowden is sought by U.S. authorities? The Russians may or may not grant him asylum. And then there are the usual disagreements over Iran, the continuing standoff on the question of Syria, and consistent tension regarding U.S. relationships with Russia’s neighbors.
Are U.S. officials deluded about the prospects for cooperation with a country that is fundamentally determined to undermine its goals? No, they are not. In fact, they are pursuing a rational approach towards a state that shares U.S. interests in some key areas, even as it fundamentally disagrees in others.
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is a "free man" biding his time in a Moscow airport, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday. But should Barack Obama have taken the opportunity during a key speech the same day to ask Russia to send Snowden back to the United States? Fareed offers his take on the Situation Room.
If the president would have, for example, opened up his speech over at Georgetown University and said, I'm going to talk about climate change in a moment, but first, I just want to [offer] a direct appeal to Russia to send Snowden back to the United States, it obviously would escalate this situation, because the president has a lot more at stake then.
I think the danger is that if the president makes a public appeal like that and it doesn't work, you really do look bad. You lose credibility.
So I think the White House is probably calculating exactly how much pressure they can put. They started out very tough with the Russians, thinking that they might even kind of push them into doing something. And it became very clear the Russians weren't willing to do that. So they're now playing nicer. They're saying, look, can't you help us?
The U.S. has extradited a number of people. But this is a unique situation. This is a situation in which the person that we're talking about has revealed that the United States is engaging in massive surveillance programs of many, many foreign countries and governments. So from the point of view of those foreign countries and governments, it is, of course, a very complicated issue. I bet you that if you were to poll public opinion in Russia or China, they would support what their governments are doing right now.
By Lucian Kim, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Lucian Kim is a journalist who was based in Russia for eight years and chronicled the Moscow protest movement on his blog at luciankim.com. The views expressed are his own.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s euphoria over securing Russia’s joint sponsorship of a Syrian peace conference didn’t last very long. Soon after Kerry’s triumphant visit to Moscow in May, reports surfaced that Russia had made another weapons shipment to beleaguered Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
Russia’s open support for the regime in Damascus didn’t stop Barack Obama from trying yet again to get President Vladimir Putin on board at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland this week. The Obama administration is being either naive or delusional in its belief that Russia will ever pull in the same direction over Syria. Putin will back al-Assad to the bitter end.
By Anna Neistat, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Anna Neistat is associate program director at Human Rights Watch and has undertaken extensive field research in Syria since the beginning of the uprising. The views expressed are her own.
While world leaders managed to produce a joint communique on Syria at the end of the G8 summit, the closing media remarks made it clear that Vladimir Putin hasn’t actually moved an inch on the issue. The Russian president once again lashed out at the European Union and the United States for considering arms shipments to the Syrian opposition, suggesting it will further destabilize Syria. At the same time, he made it clear that Russia will continue supplying a range of weapons to the Syrian government, arguing that this will help stabilize the region while preventing a foreign intervention.
Welcome to Russian doublespeak.
Some of you may have trouble understanding Moscow’s logic, or will at least find it remarkably cynical. But anyone who used to watch the prime time Soviet show “International Panorama” will be at an advantage in interpreting what Russia really means. After all, this is the same program that trained viewers to be able to distinguish between the “ignition of new offensive arms race” (U.S. development of strategic weapons) and “maintenance of the power balance and international security” (Soviet development of strategic weapons). Of course, regular viewers would also never confuse the “blood-thirsty hirelings of Capital” (anti-communist guerrillas) with the “valiant freedom fighters” (pro-communist guerrillas). And audiences would also be fully aware that Western intervention anywhere in the world is a “shameless attack on sovereignty by ruthless NATO occupants,” while Soviet invasion is a selfless fulfillment of “an international duty to support brotherly peoples.”
By Jonathan Adelman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The views expressed are his own.
Ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has fallen further from grace and power. Derided by some as “upper Volta with nuclear weapons,” the glory days of World War II and post-war years of vying with the United States for global leadership feel long gone. They were replaced by the dour 1990s, under the buffoonish Boris Yeltsin, a period marked by the loss of 2 million square miles of territory to states becoming independent, as well as bankruptcy, military disaster in the shape of the Chechen conflict and demographic decline.
True, rising oil prices bolstered the economy, but the country’s inability to stop Western interventions in Iraq and Libya, and mass terrorism incidents at home (Moscow theater 2002, Beslan 2004), were reminders of how far Russia had fallen. But recent events in the Middle East may have heralded a turnaround in diplomatic fortunes – for now, at least.
By Jeffrey Mankoff, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jeffrey Mankoff is deputy director and fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Russia and Eurasia Program. The views expressed are his own.
Faced with an increasingly complex international environment, President Barack Obama is quietly re-emphasizing one of the main priorities of his first term: trying to build a cooperative relationship with Russia. This may come as a surprise – after all, the atmosphere between the two countries has been decidedly frosty the past year. But although the high-profile outreach of the first-term “reset” may have been set aside, the Obama administration has been pursuing low key, concrete cooperation on issues ranging from Syria to Afghanistan to counter-terrorism. And, freed from the political baggage surrounding the reset, such cooperation is likely to prove more sustainable – and more effective at advancing U.S. interests.
Obama’s first term got off to a good start. Washington and Moscow agreed to cut their nuclear forces under the New START agreement, and Russia also provided logistical support for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, at the United Nations, Russia supported Iran sanctions and ultimately acquiesced to U.S. requests for intervention in Libya. This cooperation was symbolized by the bright red (but mistranslated) reset button that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented to her Russian counterpart in Geneva in 2009. As several of Obama’s other first term international initiatives fell by the wayside, the U.S.-Russia reset became one of his highest profile foreign policy achievements.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern Politics and International Relations at the London School of Economics, about the state of the al-Assad regime in Syria.
Does Assad have an incentive to make peace?
Yes, I think he does. Of course, on his own terms. He wants a political solution. He wants, basically, Syria to be in charge of this particular political solution. He wants the outside opposition to be marginalized.
He basically believes that the external powers, particularly Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are funding the most extremist elements in the opposition.
And obviously he wants to stay in power.
Oh, absolutely. I’ve no doubt in my mind that he and his associates believe that they are winning the fight. They have survived more than two years a very powerful campaign by regional international powers. They have gone on the offensive. They tell you, if you meet with Assad's people, they tell you they are winning this war. And any political settlement will most likely reflect the balance of power on the ground inside Syria. That's what it means.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with Matthew Dunn, a field operative in MI6 and now the author of The Spy Catcher novels and Edward Lucas, the international editor of The Economist, about the recent expulsion from Russia of a U.S. diplomat.
So, Matthew, the wig, the cash – do spies really move around like this? The whole thing seems unbelievable.
Dunn: Yes, they do. I mean when I was deployed overseas, I've used wigs. Some props that were found, admittedly, in the case of Fogle, when they're laid out on a table it can look quite amateurish and somewhat bizarre.
But they are the props of the trade, and typically they work 99.9 percent of the time.
You've also written a book on Russia. So is there something interesting about this story, about it being Russia? I mean are we just playing out the Cold War or is there a particular reason this is happening in Russia?
Lucas: Well, I think the really interesting thing about this is not that America spies on Russia, it's not that the CIA has offices at the American Embassy in Moscow. It's not that they try and recruit Russians. That's their job. It’s not even that surprising they get caught, because espionage is about taking risks. And when something works, it looks brilliant. When it goes wrong, it always looks like a terrible bungle.
What's really surprising about this is the fuss the Russians made about it. They didn’t need to go down this public humiliation route. They named the CIA station chief in Moscow. That’s a really big breach of diplomatic protocol. They had this public humiliation on television, which looked like something out of the Cold War.
By Peter Fragiskatos, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Peter Fragiskatos teaches at Western University in London, Canada. You can follow him @pfragiskatos. The views expressed are his own.
Amidst the horror that continues to plague Syria, a glimmer of hope emerged last week as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced they will try to bring together the Syrian state and its opponents by convening an international peace conference.
In principle, negotiations are the right way to go. Had talks taken place earlier, the bloodshed, which has now claimed the lives of more than 70,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more, could have been vastly reduced. The only way it can be stopped is if there are some compromises, and this will only happen when the warring sides start talking in earnest. Yet reports that Russia is sending advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria are a reminder that Moscow's commitment to the process remains an unpredictable wild card.
In preparing for the discussions, a division of labor appears to have been set – the Americans are trying to persuade the rebels to take part, while Russia is pressing the al-Assad regime. And there are some promising signs on both fronts. According to Kerry, Salim Idriss – chief of staff for the main opposition Free Syrian Army – has expressed strong interest in negotiations, while reports suggest Lavrov has received a list of negotiators from the Syrian government.
By Robert Schaefer, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Robert Schaefer is a Special Forces (Green Beret) and Eurasian Foreign Area Officer and author of The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, From Gazavat to Jihad. The views expressed are his own.
As we all struggle to make sense of the Boston bombings, and the revelation that the two suspects are ethnic Chechens, there has been a rush to reacquaint ourselves with the troubled North Caucasus region in the hope that we might be able to answer questions like “why did this happen,” or “are we under attack again?” And as the airwaves and the blogospheres are swarmed with facts and opinions, it’s worth taking a step back to put this deluge of information in some context.
It’s not as though we haven’t heard of Chechnya before, it’s just that it’s one of those places that is only occasionally in the news before fading again as our attention is pulled elsewhere. Yet it isn’t actually all that long ago that we were hearing about the two wars of independence that Chechnya fought against Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. And although we may remember President Bill Clinton drawing comparisons between Boris Yeltsin’s efforts to quell the Chechen independence movement with the U.S. Civil War, many may not be aware that the same law that Yeltsin used to declare Russia’s independence from the Soviet Union gave Chechnya (and many other Russian regions) the legal basis to do the same. It was this that created a constitutional crisis that almost destroyed Russia in the mid-1990’s, and created the conditions that resulted in a de-facto independent Chechen republic from 1996-1999.
By Global Public Square staff
It's not every day you see Russia's Vladimir Putin receiving a bear hug from a Frenchman, but the actor, Gerard Depardieu is no ordinary Frenchman. In fact, he may not even remain French for very long in some sense.
You see, Depardieu has been threatening to give up his French passport, especially now that Putin has handed him a brand new Russian one. But why on Earth would he or anyone, for that matter, want to leave France? Think of the food, the wine, Paris, the countryside. Well, for Depardieu, it comes down to taxes.
Under President Francois Hollande, France has been weighing a proposal for a 70 percent marginal tax rate on millionaires. Russia, on the other hand, offers a flat, 13 percent tax.