Editorials

Russia, helped by the West’s wavering and ex-Soviet states

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev arrive for a working breakfast of the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) after the Victory Parade in Moscow, Russia 09 May 2023.
© EPA-EFE/VLADIMIR SMIRNOV / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL   |   Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev arrive for a working breakfast of the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) after the Victory Parade in Moscow, Russia 09 May 2023.

Holzstock Festival

The protracted war in Ukraine has made Western countries willing to cooperate with Russia increasingly vocal. These countries persevere despite the sanctions, although they face countless other problems.

Ukraine’s problems and the West’s indecisiveness make pro-Russian politicians hopeful

Amidst the West’s declarations of political support for Ukraine, a state of expectation has seemingly set in (obviously, in the context of a number of significant results grabbed by the Ukrainian offensive), which favor Russia by providing it with more territory to refit and resupply. The absence of clear-cut commitments to provide additional rounds of offensive ammunition in the near future, talks regarding Ukrainian trade routes and the alleged “flooding” of Ukrainian grain in neighboring countries, as well as the tangible effects of president Zelenskyy’s failure to effectively combat corruption in the Ukrainian army, have all but created good opportunities for the Kremlin’s propaganda, but especially for those Western politicians who are willing to give Putin a second chance.

The Berlin Opera stage return of Anna Netrebko, the Russian soprano who organized public fundraisers and concerts devoted to the “Liberated Donbas”, is not a cultural token. It is a clear political signal, hence Ukraine’s justified diplomatic protests. It’s hard for anyone to imagine that Wilhelm Furtwängler would have been able to earn a commission in Chicago or London during WWII, although his conducting activity unfolded in the British capital prior to 1938. Much like conductor Valery Gergiev, Anna Netrebko remains a staunch supporter of the “Russian World” and an admirer of Putin, from whom both Gergiev and herself have received great financial benefits. The Berlin Opera certainly would have been able to find a different soprano of at least equal talent but displaying more moral fiber, unless of course it wanted to send out a strong political message.

The timing is all the more perilous as Putin’s regime is seeing a revival nearly at all levels, which, unless the Ukrainian counteroffensive and Western policies succee in slowing down, might spell great trouble for global democracies. 

Contrary to expectations, Russia’s economy remains robust. Western sanctions, bypassed via the Caucasus and Central Asia

Despite all hopes, the vast network of Western sanctions against Russia did not have the desired effect. Introduced somewhat progressively and mitigated in the very sectors that provide funding to the Russian war effort, the sanctions had the same effect as poison when taken in repeated, small doses. In economic terms, maybe, Russia has lost the strength it had prior to the outbreak of the war, but it did find alternate ways of keeping all branches of the economy afloat.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in August 2023 Russia’s oil exports stood at 17.1 billion USD, accounting for the highest level reported after October 2022, amidst a decline in crude oil loadings, although against the backdrop of an increase in the price of Russian oil by 9.30 USD (+14.4%). Were we to actually believe the study conducted by Kpler, a company specializing in statistical data analysis in the field of energy, although the volume of Russian gas exported to Europe has dropped dramatically, the export of Russian LPG to the EU went up in 2023 (January-August) by 40% compared to 2021, earning Russia 5 billion EUR in profits. Certainly, compared to the “windfalls” prior to the war, present-day revenues look more like pocket money for Putin’s oligarchs. Yet, what is important is that, despite being targeted by sanctions, Russia was capable of finding markets and alternative transport routes for its energy exports.

Although Moscow stopped publishing any relevant statistical economic data “for security reasons”, a number of certified sources, which draw their conclusions based on data compiled from a series of related sources, claim that Russian economy has resumed genuine economic growth. In a recent interview, Natalia Zubarevich, a professor of economic geography of the State University of Moscow who stood out through a number of critical statements against the regime’s economic policies, claimed to have noticed a serious resurge of consumption, particularly in energy-hungry areas. According to Zubarevich, one can also notice a genuine 9% growth of the construction sector in the first half of 2022, considering that Russia was partly reliant on construction materials imported from the West. This proves Russia not only managed to find alternative supply sources, but it is also investing quite heavily in a number of sectors.

“Neutral” countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus, mainly Uzbekistan, Kirgizstan, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Georgia, have become brokerage platforms between Russia and developed economies, which is a fancy way of referring to ways of bypassing Western sanctions.

According to data published by the European Commission, two-way trade between the EU and Kazakhstan, a country that distanced itself from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, stood at 74% in 2022 compared to the previous year. What is interesting to note is that machinery and transport equipment account for 50% of the EU’s total exports to this country, followed by chemical products (20%), optical (5%) and plastics (4%). Obviously, part of this increase is owed to Kazakhstan’s economic development, although a significant percentage is obtained from the import of industrial goods that were subsequently re-exported to Russia and Belarus. Uzbekistan is in a similar situation, reporting an economic growth of 77% compared to 2021, with major increases in the export of chemical products (45.6%) and industrial products (31.6%). In Armenia, a country Russia was incapable of defending against Azerbaijan, which shows increasing determination to regain control over the Armenian enclave in Nagorno-Karabakh, the economic growth was more moderate, standing at 32%, although the growth of industrial goods exceeded 50%. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, reported the biggest increase in trade with the EU in 2022 compared to the previous year – 136.4%, although most of this growth is owed to the export of oil and oil-derived products to the EU, hence the EU’s deficit of 29 billion EUR.

Getting Russia’s economic activities back on track is one of the ways Putin keeps his elites fairly content. “Parallel imports” will only further strengthen the alliance between Putin’s oligarchs and the secret services, given that such a deal needs a specific type of infrastructure to work.

Extending personal sanctions, which is what the USA recently did in the case of 24 Russian businessmen, seems to be a far more effective way of shutting down illegal Russian chains of suppling goods and other technologies to the benefit of the weapons industry.

Putin’s problems: North-Korean ammo is subpar, the army is struggling on all counts, while Prigozhin’s demise might compromise Wagner’s operations in Africa

Were we to believe the statements of Russian officials about the “success” of BRICS expansion, Russia is not yet capable of advancing a serious alternative to international systems, which is somehow a paradox. The Kremlin’s foreign policy is more truthfully a long list of lamentations about international plots and the West’s ruses, supported by the world’s most despicable dictators, Kim Jong-Un and Alexander Lukashenko. It was no coincidence the two met with Putin one after the other.

Beyond statements that are reminiscent of the worst period of the Cold War, all Russia can obtain in the wake of Putin’s meeting with Kim is to buy part of Soviet, Chinese and North-Korean weapons (all of which are wildly expensive) that Pyongyang has stockpiled since 1953, basing its deterrence capabilities only on its long-rage artillery, at least during the time it didn’t have a nuclear arsenal. The astute North-Korean leader is expected to sell Putin exactly what he needs, namely ammunition for this type of artillery. The new “supplies” will however do little to turn the tide of the war. The Russian artillery will fire more instead of better, given that following Prigozhin’s disappearance, many Telegram channels associated with Wagner criticized the “appalling quality” of North-Korean shells that were already in use. The Romanian people is intimately familiar with the level of technological advancement of a country that doesn’t want or isn’t allowed to import technologies and high-quality raw materials.

And since we mentioned Prigozhin, the elimination of the Wagner boss from Russian politics has somewhat stabilized public perception of Putin, at least for the time being. However, it did also lay down the premises for Russia’s withdrawal from Syria and Africa. Regardless of what actually happened to Yevgeny Prizoghin, Russia’s second army not only lost its top brass, but also its ability to critically influence the political balance in those areas the PMC still operates in. In Syria, for instance, although Wagner mercenaries were formally subordinated to the Ministry of Defense, they were notified that they will have to rely on local resources, “at least for while”. In Mali, where Prigozhin had only just started to pose as the leader of the revolution, the rebels have started to seriously hunt down Russian mercenaries. A few days ago, according to the gulagu.net Telegram account which quoted messages sent by Wagner troops in Africa, 12 Wagner soldiers were killed in an ambush. One of them is the famous African commander “Malyi” (Little One), whom the rebels saw fit to strip naked and record after shooting him dead.

The army fares just as poorly, although Putin managed to bring the armed forces under Shoigu’s relative control. Dark clouds are gathering over Shoigu himself as well as Gerasimov. Unlike some time ago, no one has the courage now to come forward and talk publicly. The feared General “Armageddon” Surovikin was seriously banged up during the time spent in special detention reserved for high-ranking army officials. The “Butcher of Aleppo”, Mikhail Mizintsev, has simply disappeared, while that brave and the apparently skilled General Popov was reassigned to a completely useless command. Military losses and the state of the Russian army remain the same. According to an August report of the 12269 “Shtorm” (Storm) Unit deployed to Kherson, published on the aforementioned gulagu.net Telegram channel, the unit lost 247 servicemen while discipline levels are disgraceful, mostly due to alcohol and narcotics abuse.

In fact, given its growing rapprochement to North Korea, Russia’s regime is starting to increasingly resemble Pyongyang. Due to the deception spread by all of its representatives, the Kremlin no longer uses statements, but rather symbols and images that need to be decoded. After a long absence, the world was told Surovikin still lives by means of a photo showing the Russian general taking a stroll accompanied by his wife, wearing plainclothes, hence the assumption of his demotion. His latest public appearance in Algeria, depicting Surovikin in standard military outfit, yet without any military insignia, is itself designed to prove the former commander of Russian troops in Ukraine must now atone for his sins serving Putin far from Moscow. As previously mentioned, after serving as Prigozhin’s second-in-command for a while, Mizintsev seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. As for the Wagner boss himself, the Kremlin by no means cared to dismiss rumors that Prigozhin was killed after his plane was shot down by a Russian missile. In fact, after Wagner brought down a surveillance aircraft and at least two helicopters during “the March for Justice”, many foretold Prigozhin would share the same fate to avenge the death of Russian military pilots.

Russia, ready to exploit NATO’s lack of response in the Black Sea region

Russia’s aggression in the Black Sea region as well as NATO’s apparently “sloppy” response to Russia accessing the territory of NATO states bordering Ukraine are not products of chance. Of course, just as NATO and Bucharest officials never tire to repeat, there is no evidence attesting to a deliberate attack against these countries. Certainly, the “sloppy” response is also a test that NATO, as well as Washington, Warsaw and Bucharest authorities failed with flying colors.

The lack of declarative bluntness and consistency in terms of planned countermeasures can only reinforce an idea deeply-rooted in the minds of Putin’s most radical supporters, namely that the free world will not intervene if Russia choses to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Various Russian propaganda channels are overflowing with irony regarding NATO’s incompetence to mount an effective resistance against Russia, evidence of which is also the Alliance’s diplomatic restraint in describing these incidents. Normally, one would obviously feel tempted to say such messages are addressed to the public at home, and are typically launched to salve the wounded “superpower” pride of Russians who rally to Putin’s calls. And perhaps this is true, but until proven otherwise, Ukraine is the stage of a war that Russia started precisely because Putin and his network of spies merely consolidated the false image painted by Kremlin propaganda by feeding him false intel.  For the time being, there is little separating Russia’s foreign policy from Russian propaganda, and as long Putin is the Kremlin strongman, things are unlikely to change.

What is worse is that, by bombing the ports in Odesa Region, Russia seeks to trigger a logistics crisis in the Danube region. If navigation on the Danube is hindered, roads and railways are due to follow shortly, as they take on additional traffic, and it’s not just Ukrainian transports we’re talking about. It is clear the Russians have already started “working on” building a hellish winter for Ukraine, a scenario where Kyiv will receive less deliveries of weapons, fuel and food. A logistics crisis spreading from Romania to Bulgaria, albeit short-lived, for reasons that Russian propaganda would certainly blame on Ukraine, will diminish public support for our neighbors’ just cause, which is in truth our own as well. Public guarantees that Russia has peaceful intentions, despite the fact that it bombs Ukraine on a daily basis and its drones keep dropping like flies everywhere, will only pave the way for this course of events. In the absence of Russian military aggression, Romania however builds bomb shelters in the border areas and sets emergency evacuation plans in place in nearby villages, also banning the transit of civilian aircraft. If there’s one thing Russian propaganda is adept at, it’s gullibility, and some are seemingly relentless in feeding this monster, albeit unintentionally.

EBOOK> Razboi si propaganda: O cronologie a conflictului ruso-ucrainean

EBOOK>Razboiul lui Putin cu lumea libera: Propaganda, dezinformare, fake news

Cosmin Popa

Cosmin Popa




Follow us on Google News

10 minutes read
Latvia and China: restrained relationship with no hope of sincerity
Latvia and China: restrained relationship with no hope of sincerity

With the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Latvia's relations with China have become even more restrained than before, and things are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

Kaspars Germanis
Kaspars Germanis
19 Jul 2024
Two Romanian history lessons for Putin’s local admirers
Two Romanian history lessons for Putin’s local admirers

Russian propaganda is now fixed on Romania and Moldova. The Kremlin is reiterating a number of older Soviet narratives, such as the one on Moldovenism, while at the same time spreading new lies, for instance claiming Romania has allegedly given Moscow its treasure.

Cosmin Popa
Cosmin Popa
16 Jul 2024
Four questions regarding the presidential election and the referendum in the Republic of Moldova
Four questions regarding the presidential election and the referendum in the Republic of Moldova

Există o serie de semne de întrebare legate de alegeri, de la numărul de alegători – important pentru validarea scrutinelor – până la actorii care se vor putea înscrie în cursă și desemnarea unui candidat unic al opoziției pro-ruse.

Corneliu Rusnac
Corneliu Rusnac
15 Jul 2024
UEFA is ignoring the political clampdown against Belarusian football players
UEFA is ignoring the political clampdown against Belarusian football players

Dozens of players have been harassed by authorities in Belarus since 2020. UEFA didn’t react, while allowing EURO 2024 games to be broadcast by state propaganda media.

Zmicier Mickievič
Zmicier Mickievič
12 Jul 2024