Putin’s free spirit


Russian president keeps his silence as more troops arrive in Ukraine’s southern Republic of Crimea.

The pretext for the enlargement of russian military personnel in the region is explained by the unrest in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, although some reinterpret the actions as russian takeover of Crimea (that became Ukraine in 1954). 

There is a lot of speculation of what russia’s intentions are and what steps it is prepared to take and consequences to face.

Dr Galeotti in his blog argues that there is an important caveat to Putin’s decision making  – rationality of his actions.

However, the situation among the two countries is essentially one of war. You can call it an intervention, peacekeeping operation or else. But, the military blockade of garrisons and Yatsenyuk’s acknowledgement of the state of war speak for themselves. There are military men on the peninsular confronting each other’s actions and intensions.

And in war calculus is not paramount. Action is.

It appears that Putin, as CinC, is acting with support of his generals and no consultation with his diplomats, as Ъ investigation of decision-making process on Ukraine suggests.

The pendulum is still in motion and the only thing we can do is observe and record.


Parade of Russia’s Greatest

The Order of St Andrew is the highest order in Russia that was established by Peter the Great in 1698 and reintroduced by President Yeltsin in 1998.

Since then fifteen people became members for promoting prosperity, grandeur and glory of Russia.
Ordinary russians know only eight of them. 

Here are the chevaliers of Russian Federation:

Parade Attention!

Gorbachev Michael Sergeevich – President of USSR
Nazarbaev Nursultan Abishevich- President of Kazakhstan
Aliev Geidar Alirza ogly- President of Azerbaijan

Ridiger Alexey Mikhailovich – Patriarch of Moscow

Kalashnikov Michael Timofeevich – weapons designer

Shumakov Valery Ivanovich – doctor
Petrovsky Boris Vasilevich – doctor

Lihachev Dmitry Sergeevich – writer
Gamzatov Rasul Gamzatovich – writer
Alieva Fazu Gamzatovna – writer

Zykina Ludmila Georgievna – musician
Arhipova Irina Konstaninovna – musician
Mihalkov Sergey Vladimirovich – musician
Granin Daniil Alexandrovich – musician

Solzhenitsyn Aleksandr Isaevich – writer (refused the award)

Parade Rest!

Stand At Ease!

Does Putin Read International Relations Theory?

In cooperative action, even where all agree on the goal and have an equal interest in the project, one cannot rely on others. (Waltz, 1959)
The Russian President Vladimir Putin is well known for his piercing speeches that some times leave a loud effect in the international relations media, drawing attention to the figure of the president and his world power intentions. In this paper I want to analyse two of Putin’s speeches: Munich 2007 and Valdai 2013.
What is striking about these two “speech acts” is the transformation of the discourse that in the first speech resembles the realist approach to international relations and the latter invokes to cultural, deconstructivist ideas.
By the time of Munich Conference on Security Policy Putin was portrayed as a man of war: piloting fighter gets, leading the war in Chechnya and building authoritative army-like structure of power exempt from morality.
Putin was the personification of the new Russian might that was coming to emerge on the international scene. And for Putin image of might and force was a resource “… of achieving the external ends of states because there exists no consistent, reliable process of reconciling the conflicts of interests that inevitably arise among similar units in a condition of anarchy. A foreign policy based on this image of international relations is neither moral nor immoral, but embodies merely a reasoned response to the world about us”. (Waltz, 1959)
In his Munich speech V.V. Putin quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt, saying “security for one is security for all”. However his speech was more about security of oneself against the security (or rather insecurity) of the one. He was talking about the vices of the hegemon (i.e. USA, coupled with the NATO’s eastward expansion) and what it represents: “… one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making”.
For the Russian President the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world. The world the Putin envisages is a Waltzian (Hobbesian if you wish) world: “…no one feels safe. I want to emphasize this — no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race”.
However, Russian president provides a solution – the UN. Although many see the UN Security Council as a dead end, especially because of Russian veto practices that stall any intentions to improve a conflict situation.
In his final remarks the President touched on Russia’s history as being an independent foreign policy actor and that Russia is not going to change that thousand years old tradition.
More on traditions, identities and culture was said by the President on 12 August 2013 at the Valdai Conference.
At Valdai the narrative of hegemony was still there, however the question of morals, values and tradition was reinvigorated.
History and ‘us’ were Valdai’s main keywords. It was from history that Putin wanted to find an inspiration for new policies and ideas: “our entire, uncensored history must be a part of Russian identity. Without recognizing this it is impossible to establish mutual trust and allow society to move forward”.
Hegemony was given a new spin. It is not only unacceptable and unfeasible, it is also against God: “… a unipolar, standardized world does not require sovereign states; it requires vassals. In a historical sense this amounts to a rejection of one’s own identity, of the God-given diversity of the world”.
This time, unlike five years ago Putin appeals not to the UN but to his own country, or rather country he wants to construct. For him “it was evident that it is impossible to move forward without spiritual, cultural and national self-determination”.
At this point Putin was entering the realm of vague ideal and mythical world not of Waltz, but of Wendt, Lebow, Lapid and Chakrabarti. According to the latter “political communities are essentially mythological, we know how these myths have very real expression in social life. The success of historical arguments for unity/identity lies in appropriate use of cultural symbols and imagery that come to (1) serve as referents for that unity and identity and (2) symbolically represent that ‘community’. (Chakrabarti, 1997)
Putin acknowledges that “… identity and a national idea cannot be imposed from above, cannot be established on an ideological monopoly”.
We hear a very interesting message, something of a great value for the IR theory. Putin talks about “historical creativity” and “synthesis of the best national practices and ideas, an understanding of our cultural, spiritual and political traditions form different points of view” that ultimately will have to result in policy. In years to come policy will have an effect on political reality and discourse (historical as well) on that reality, hence reproducing ideological constructs and completing the full cycle of history-idea-policy-history.
Finally, “the year 2014 has been declared the Year of Culture in Russia. It is intended to be a year of enlightenment, emphasis on our cultural roots, patriotism, values and ethics”. We’ll see what the future and the presidential administration bring.
Apart form creation of myths and synthesis of ideas one remains hopeful to the presidential word of Valdai 2013: “we must treasure every individual”.
London 2013

“Living life too fast y’all need to slow down”. – Jokhar Tsarnaev

“I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you… stranger”. – The Joker.
No one has taken responsibility for the recent bombings in the Russian southern city of Vladikavkaz. The police and the media have steadfastly labeled the violent attacks on citizens as an act of terrorism. However, the stranger who organized executed and ultimately accountable for the violence is a “no one”, “anonymous”, “lone wolf” passing by us every day. Even if the people or person behind what has happened will be caught, we better get used to a terrorist among us.
Terrorism. We’ve hard of it many times, we’ve seen it on TV and youtube, we’ve read about it in newspapers and journal articles. High street bookshops are full of reading material from fiction to fact on terrorism. Hollywood producers and reporters, World Wide Web and simple rumors made us aware and to extent comfortable with terrorism. And terrorism – terrorists themselves – in a desire to change the world, actually follows the laws of the time and genre. As we learn about terrorism so do the terrorists themselves. They have to. In order to bring the way of life they envisage, religiously violent saboteurs need to know what they are fighting against, and in the process some of them go native. But some of them are native, are us.
I would like to take a closer look at younger Tsarnaev – the Boston marathon terrorist – life and our perceived image of him as of a person and the unexpected action against the society in which he lived and belonged to.
On April 15, 2012 Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan set two homemade bombs during the annual Boston Marathon, killing 3 and injuring 264 people.
For many runners that day was a sporting celebration of physical and psychological achievement. They deserved it, because it takes time to prepare for the marathon. If you’re an armature runner or have just taken up running you’d better spend 4 to 6 months on your training and conditioning. It is a serious challenge that requires not only physical but also mental tenacity and determination. It’s almost like setting up a terrorist act but much harder.
On the hospital bed Dzholhar said that it was Tamerlan who masterminded the bombings. The older brother represented the terrorist we are well familiar with and whose motives we’ve heard of many times: Islamist beliefs, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan… Although the two were not affiliated with any of the big names in terrorism – such as Al Qaida or Al Shebab. Tsarnaevs took to the Internet to learn how to build explosive devices and plan their actions.
What they have done wasn’t much different to what we expect from a terrorist to do. What was shocking is the way they lived their lives, especially the younger brother, before the terrorist act. That was out of constructed picture of a certain type of terrorist, which for the last couple of decades was overshadowed by the figure of Bin Laden and his ‘terroristic’ cult of personality – a politically correct archetype of a modern day villain.  
So, there’s a new kid on the block – terrorist form University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, a qualified lifeguard. An easy-going, marijuana-smoking guy who’s into hip-hop and stay away from politics. If he cared about anything it was money and career. He was one of us.
A terrorist is no longer a powerful, authoritarian, bearded male – be it a German “dark lord” taking over a multistory building to fight Bruce Willis or a freedom-fighter-part-time-terrorist-gun-for-hire personality of Basaev. We have witnessed a transition from the hardcore mountainous bush craft guerillas to laid back terrorists, who don’t only become martyrs but get the swag too.

What puts Tsarnaev apart from others is an opportunity to tell the story. He is certainly not a monster… he’s just ahead of the curve. 

London 2013

Shapka or beret ?


Last December deputy defence minister Nicolay Pankov announced that the Russian army will give a choice to draftees to serve for one year as conscripts or sign a contract with the ministry of defence for two years. In a move to push the numbers of contract, or what some in Russian military establishment call “professional”, soldiers the ministry is resolving to a measure that basically re-establishes a soviet system of two year draft of its citizens.

One can blame the top brass’ stout resistance to change or geopolitical needs that dictate the course of the reform. However, what most Russian citizens wanted from its army and how they would like it to treat them is not going to happen. It is not a matter of choice to serve or not to. It is a matter of choosing between the lesser evil.

In 2008 the Russian army started a series of reforms that in their goal have a complete change of how the army is being seen by its citizens and from abroad. By 2020 it should be professionalised, with modern equipment, new chain of command and a proper “situational centre” for the top security ministers and generals to discuss issues of state’s imperative in a fancy “digitalised” atmosphere.

What can be said since six years have gone? The looks are getting there. The substance though is lacking.

The reform had its ups and down. From civilian defence minister, which supposed to be a good thing, to a corrupt defence minister. From shambles and wizardry with the air defence, space defence, rocket defence forces, to changing the officer education system, from aspiration to abolish draft and get to volunteer recruit system by 2020 to a bitter disappointment and the request from a new defence minister to forget about it.

So what is on the table? What the options are for Russian young men?

A conscript will have a choice, depending on his motivation, health and fitness levels, education and criminal record to choose to sign a contract and serve for two years, luckily in a location (branch of forces) of his own preference. The important aspect is that such recruits are in high demand and military units and station commanders have to achieve targets in recruiting contract soldiers.

The problem that killed all the good will and desire to get an all-volunteer army is that the supply doesn’t meet the demand.

The majority of young Russians turning up at a local careers office belong to the third and fourth category of professional fitness. Basically, it means that they are not fit for service in physically and mentally demanding forces (paratroopers, marines, submarines etc.) Nearly hundred per cent of contract soldiers are fit and healthy individuals who are in demand from the quality military bases commanded by quality officers.

The tough choice that recruit facing is: a perspective of serving in a professional, well equipped and supplied unit, actually doing some soldiering or operating sophisticated military hardware and getting paid, at a cost of serving for two years just like everyone had to not so long ago. The other option is to pull it out in one-year conscription in a god-forgotten place, with no pay and poor living conditions, shovelling snow else where in Russia.

The sadness of the situation is that for most, as statistics shows, it is not a matter of choice. Appalling fitness levels of Russian recruits have something to say about the demographic and healthcare situation in the country. For these young men there is no choice. They can only thank their fate for the years of service being slashed.

However, the reform proved to wobble and chaotically change its direction. One-year draft remains the answer to threats and geopolitical situation as Russian officials see it.  For now.