Russia’s imperialistic drive is the result of policies in the “liberal” ‘90s, which the West and Ukraine turned a blind eye to at the time, the Russian independent media writes. Independent publications also claim that, by invading Ukraine, Russia brought European closer together. Previously, Moscow was bankrolling MEPs to gather support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Independent journalists have also analyzed the attitude of Russian artists towards the war, and noticed that those artists who are particularly popular with the younger generations refrained from supporting the war and even criticized it.
GRANI.RU: Russia needs to go
Georgia’s president, Salome Zurabishvili said that “basically, Russia has already lost all battle and even the war itself”. “The Georgian question should also be subject to negotiation talks. Russia needs to learn where its borders end”, Zurabishvili added. The Georgian president believes that Western society has a right to demand Vladimir Putin “to withdraw Russian troops from an internationally recognized territory such as Georgia’s as one of the terms of the peace agreement with Ukraine”. Otherwise, Zurabishvili argues, “the West will make a great mistake, much like in 2008 and 2014”.
It’s not just Georgia, it’s the international law framework as such. If Ukraine manages to restore its territorial integrity at the end of the war, and Georgia and Moldova will remain crippled states, a new war, bigger and much bloodier, will most likely break out. The president thus referred to the other ex-Soviet republics.
The failure of the revanchist project should lead to one major accomplishment – restoring international law at the end of this nightmare that Russia triggered in ex-Soviet space ever since the 1990s, using the instruments it inherited from the Soviet Union. Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia – there were all instruments that Mikhail Gorbachev’s administration used in an attempt to keep Moldova and Georgia in the USSR, since these republics, in addition to the Baltic States, were militating for their independence. (There were also Armenia and Azerbaijan, but these got entangled in the bloody Karabakh dispute). Boris Yeltsin’s administration used these conflicts to solidify its influence over post-Soviet space, making sure Moldova and Georgia “are not going anywhere” (and indeed, because of this conflict, Georgia was still dragged into the CIS, an organization it refused to join in 1991, whereas Communist were reinstated in Moldova).
Ukraine watched indifferently each of the Kremlin’s experiments – to Kyiv officials, these were remote conflicts. Even Transnistria, which borders Ukraine to its south, was perceived as a source of potential wealth to Ukrainian officials and smugglers, not the sign of an impending Russian war against Ukraine. […]
This dangerous narrow-mindedness has turned Ukraine and its people into the ground zero of a real catastrophe. The West remained oblivious to Russia’s banditry under Yelstin and Putin in ex-Soviet space. To this day, Russian liberals are ranting and raving about the wonders of the ‘90s, as if they fail to grasp that it was then that Russia’s Nazism and imperialism was starting to take shape. It was then that Russia’s vice-president, Alexander Rutskoy, visited KGB agents in Tiraspol who weeks before his visit had supported the GKChP, the same Rutskoy who is now criticizing the war. Had he stayed at home back then, perhaps he wouldn’t be pointing fingers today? If the international community had insisted in the first days after the collapse of the USSR on the resolution of conflicts in ex-Soviet republics instead of saying yet to their partition, if the West had been just as sympathetic towards the tragedy of the Chechen people as it had been in Kosovo, if Western powers had mounted a proper response to the annexation of Crimea and the start of the war in Donbas, none of what we’re seeing today and what we’re most likely bound to witness would have happened.
This is why Salome Zurabishvili is perfectly right. International law needs to be restored. The alternative is World War III and the death of tens, if not hundreds of millions in Europe and North America. Therefore, this is far from being just Georgia’s problem.
RE.RUSSIA: “The Putin effect”: the Russian invasion boosted support for democracy and EU integration
When he made his plans for the invasion of Ukraine, Putin hoped Europe would be divided over sanctions. It invested in far-right European parties and thought that support for democracy and EU integration at the level of EU member states is fragile, and could be subject to a new test after its show of force and the energy blackmail. The result, however, was the opposite. Experts now speak of a new cycle of “Western consolidation”, and a recently published survey shows that the effect of the invasion, or “the Putin effect” is felt not just by political elites, but the European public at large. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has strengthened the confidence of European citizens in democratic values and has prompted an increased support for policies designed to fortify the EU. The idea of a “strong leader” and the popularity of traditionalist attitudes, lost traction.
In September 2022, Russian expert Andrei Kortunov, a known mouthpiece for the Kremlin who also has down-to-earth and independent positions, published a report in which he argued that the Russian invasion of Ukraine broke the cycle of “centrifugal tendencies in the Western world”, which dominated policy-making in previous years, thus contributing to the consolidating of “the collective West”. At the end of January, London School of Economics published the findings of a research into the evolution of EU-wide public opinion, which showed that the effect of the new consolidation is transparent not just at the level of politicians and party members, but also in terms of people’s preferences. This is particularly true of countries that had previously displayed little attachment to European values.
The authors of the research conclude that the Russian invasion in Ukraine had a positive influence on the Europeans’ commitment towards democracy and liberty, at the same time strengthening their confidence in the importance of European integration.
Another trend discovered by researchers is the decreasing support for leaving the EU, and conversely, an increasing support for further harmonization of European policies.
Similar tendencies have also been noted in previous research studies. For instance, the Russian invasion of 2014 in Ukraine had a positive influence on EU perception among East-European members, whereas the start of the war in 2022 also increased support for European integration among students.
RIDDLE: Star wars
The Russian authorities continue their fight against opposition-minded musicians and artists, declaring them to be foreign agents and bringing criminal charges against them. Concerts of undesirable performers and music groups get cancelled. Actors who criticize the war get dismissed from theatres. Sensing the sentiments among their superiors, Members of Parliament suggest that scenes with disgraced artists should be removed from movies or their names should be labelled as ‘traitors’ in the final credits.
The Kremlin would like the cultural scene to offer full support for the war, but receives backing only from actors and musicians who are ultra-loyal, close to the authorities and popular with the older generation. Performers and singers who are favored by young people criticize the authorities’ actions and the outbreak of war. Facing a defeat in this battlefield, the Kremlin is acting in its usual way, i.e. imposing bans and repressions. However, this does not solve the problem and only fuels young people’s interest in opposition-minded artists and musicians.
The Russian music scene as well as the movie and theatre industry have divided into three camps since the start of the war. The first camp comprises stars who condemn the invasion, the second one includes those who do not publicly support it whereas the third one is composed of characters who have expressed full loyalty to the Russian authorities and support for the war. The former two camps have significant numbers of performers and actors who are genuinely popular (primarily among young audiences). Those who have expressed support for the war are the second- and third-tier stars, or artists attracting the older generation of Russians. The Kremlin clearly did not and does not like this situation. According to opinion polls, young people are more skeptical than anyone else about the war and the authorities in general, while opinion leaders, such as popular rap and rock performers, demonstrate solidarity with their audiences and do not try to change their minds along the lines favored by the authorities.
Which Russian stars have officially supported the war? In most cases, these have been people who focus on promotion via TV channels or earn their living by performing at corporate parties of major state-owned companies or associated businesses. They have long been loyal to the government, knowing all too well that this is the source of their well-being. These performers and actors aim to attract mainly older TV audiences. From the perspective of second-tier stars and particularly the third-tier ones, support for the war has become an opportunity to cash in on officially organized concerts. However, the loyalty demonstrated by such artists neither boosts the authorities’ ratings nor increases public support for the war.
ISTORIES: How the Kremlin tried to corrupt MEPs to support the annexation of Crimea
Shortly after the annexation of Crimea, a group of experts in political technologies affiliated to the Kremlin began to whitewash Russia’s international reputation. It sought to obtain recognition from European Union states of the “annexation” of the Crimean Peninsula, or at least create support movements and get annexation-related sanctions lifted.
Leaks from the correspondence of State Duma employee Sargis Mirzakhanyan, who acted as a go-between in relations with European politicians, reveal that interactions with MEPs from a number of EU states were not limited to handing out payments so MEPs could attend patriotic forums in Yalta or get involved in monitoring elections in Russia. Tens of thousands of Euro were spent on promoting pro-Russian resolutions in national parliaments, with an additional bonus stipulated in case the said resolutions were passed.
Information leaked on the web by Ukrainian hackers contain approximately 20 thousand letters sent by Sargis Mirzakhanyan over 2007-2017. A PR expert, Mirzakhanyan was the assistant of State Duma deputy Igor Zotov. In addition, he was a member of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with the Russian Diaspora. Mirzakhanyan was also connected to the Kremlin and was featured as such in the phone list of some of his acquaintances. Some of his most notable correspondents was Inal Ardzinba, at the time a presidential administration employee who reported to Vladislav Surkov.
Mirzakhanyan would talk to Ardzinba first and foremost about Ukraine. He would usually handle commissioned articles published in the Ukrainian and Russian media, the recruitment of bloggers and Internet influencers as well as the organization of pro-Russian rallies.
Originally, Mirzakhanyan and his staff operated under the unregistered tag of the “International Agency for Current Policies”. In early 2017, Hemingway Partners LLC was established in his mother’s name. The company description extoled the implemented projects – first and foremost those in the media sector, as well as other actions, from rallies to election, from “leveling information threats and conducting counter-campaigns” to "creating a strategy for direct access to lawmakers”. […]
The loudest media uproar
“Shocker news! The resolution: 1) recognizes Crimea; 2) lifts sanctions; 3) attacks Mogherini! This will create the loudest media uproar!”, Mirzakhanyan wrote to one of his colleagues in April 2016. He was referring to a draft resolution of the Regional Council of Veneto, tabled by one of the MPs, Stefano Valdegamberi. The proposal in this resolution is described by Hemingway Partners as one of the international projects of Mirzakhanyan’s team. Ukrainian hackers discovered in Mirzakhanyan’s mailbox not just the text of the resolution, but also a document describing “an action plan”, stating that the resolution would be supported by 29 MPs.
The resolution was indeed voted in May 2016 (by 27 MPs). The document condemned the EU’s “discriminating tone and disregard for international law” in its policies on Crimea. Moreover, the Regional Council of Veneto also called for lifting sanctions. It was the first European institution to recognize Crimea as part of the Russian federation.
After Veneto, other similar pro-Russian resolutions were soon adopted by another two regions of Italy – Liguria and Lombardy. […]
Mirzakhanyan’s mailbox includes another letter describing an “action plan” entitled “Resolutions in Austria and Italy”. The plan suggests the Veneto resolution will be presented at national level, in the Italian Parliament. The resolution was expected to be tabled in the Senate by Valdegamberi’s colleague from the Lega Nord far-right party, Senator Paolo Tosato. At the end of the document, the “Budget” section provides for “€20,000 + €20,000 (proposal on Parliament’s agenda) in case the resolution passes + €15,000 for each specific case”.
A few days later, Tosato introduced the draft resolution in Parliament’s agenda – the Italian Senate voted against on June 27. […]
The aforementioned document also indicated an estimate for a similar resolution to be introduced in the Austrian Parliament: “€20,000 + €15,000 in case the resolution passes”. The deputy expected to spearhead the draft resolution is Johannes Hubner, representing another nationalist party, the Freedom Party of Austria. In June 2016, Hubner tabled the resolution, but, just like in Italy’s case, it failed to gather the majority support.
Just like Tosato, Hubner denies ever receiving payments for tabling and voting the resolution.
Mirzakhanyan’s mailbox contains other similar “action plans”, particularly targeting Latvia, Greece and even PACE, although none of them reached the hearing phase.
Mirzakhanyan’s PR staff was particularly successful in Cyprus. In July 2016, the Parliament of Cyprus voted in favor of such a resolution.
Promoting pro-Kremlin resolutions is just part of Mirzakhanyan’s intense interaction with European politicians and media.
Right-wing MEPs have often visited occupied Crimea. The most representative delegations attended the Yalta International Economic Forum, created a year after the “annexation” of the Crimean Peninsula.