Sunday, December 10, 2017

Russian Occupiers Now Hold at Least 70 Political Prisoners in Crimea



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 10 – To mark International Human Rights Day, the Crimean Human Rights Defense Group has released an infographic on the at least 70 people in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula who have been jailed on the basis of politically motivated criminal cases and thus qualify as political prisoners.

            The number of political prisoners under the Russian occupation has grown from five in 2014 to 20 in 2015 to 41 in 2015 and in the last year has jumped to 55, an increase of 1100 percent since the Russian Anschluss (qha.com.ua/ru/obschestvo/skolko-politzaklyuchennih-uderjivayut-v-krimskih-tyurmah-infografika/183804/).

            At the present time, there are 52 political prisoners in prisons, detention centers or under house arrest.  Two weeks ago, the Ukrainian government has appealed to the Council of Europe to intervene on their behalf (qha.com.ua/ru/politika/ukraina-prizvala-sovet-evropi-zaschitit-prava-cheloveka-v-krimu/180615/).

Emerging ‘Fifth’ Putin Most Dangerous of All for Ukraine, Portnikov Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 10 – The new “fifth” version of Vladimir Putin that is emerging is the Putin of “compromise and saving face,” of reaching agreements abroad and “cementing power within the country,” Vitaly Portnikov says. And this Putin may be the most dangerous of all for Ukraine.

            Many people view the Putin of today as the Putin of tomorrow, but in fact, the Ukrainian analyst says, Putin has evolved; and his latest incarnation is very different from earlier ones.  His 17 years in power have changed Russia, “but they have also changed Putin himself” and his style of rule (ru.espreso.tv/article/2017/12/08/pyat_putynykh).

            There have been a minimum of five different Putin’s, with the fifth taking shape before our eyes, Portnikov says. The first Putin was “the Putin of 1999-2003,” the successor of Boris Yeltsin who was part of a team and who acted on the basis of “clan consensus.” This version ended as a result of the collapse of that consensus over the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

                The “second Putin” was the Putin of 2003-2008.  He was “a more decisive ruler” who took ever more decisions on his own, imposed an increasingly authoritarian regime, and finally did away with competition and discussion.  At the same time, he remained “a respected participant of all serious international forums.”

             “But in 2008,” Portnikov continues, “Putin had to give up the post of president, formally because of the impossibility of changing the Constitution, and hand over the position to his first vice premier Dmitry Medvedev.”  Thus appeared the third Putin, the Putin of 2008-2012, who stood in the background while Medvedev gave the impression of a thaw leader.

            On his return to the presidency, Putin took the form of “the fourth Putin,” the Putin of the Crimean Anschluss and attacks on Ukraine, arguments with the West and “the final tightening of the screws in Russia itself. From an authoritarian regime, it began to be transformed into a totalitarian one.”

            “But this Putin too is outliving its usefulness” to the Kremlin leader, and he is changing again. To understand why, one must “understand the goals of the first four. The first Putin was learning the ropes. The second was establishing his personal power.  The third was retaining power. And the fourth was taking his revenge on the world. 

            The emerging “fifth Putin” is all about “saving the fourth, his power, influence and money,” Portnikov continues.  “Therefore,” he suggests, “the fifth Putin will be the Putin of compromise and face saving, of agreements in the foreign arena and the cementing of power within the country.” 

            The first intimation of this was Putin’s reaction to the Olympic ban. The fourth Putin would have boycotted the games. But the fifth Putin adopted a different policy and a different tone – and those shifts, Portnikov argues, will soon be extended into other foreign and domestic policy realms as well.

            “For Ukraine, however paradoxical this may soon, the fifth Putin is much more dangerous than the fourth.” That is because it will be far easier for the West to reach agreement with him than it was with “the fourth Putin, especially because there are so many in the Western establishment who want such an agreement.

            And one should not imagine from his more cooperative tone that Putin has suddenly become “a well-wisher of Ukraine. No, he will try to reach agreements about us without us and seek to return his influence in our country with the help of diplomatic tricks, agents of influence, diversion and propaganda.”

            And that approach is “much more dangerous than open war. The fourth Putin forced Ukraine to see that Russiaa is not a brother but an enemy and to unity in struggle with this enemy. The fifth Putin will do everything possible to destroy this consolidation.”  And he is likely to have help not only from abroad but within Ukraine.

Moscow’s Deployment of Heavy Weapons in Belarus ‘A Step toward War,’ Minsk Expert Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 10 – Even as the European Union has expressed alarm at Russia’s militarization of Kaliningrad and occupied Crimea (vz.ru/news/2017/12/10/898876.html), a Belarusian military expert says that Moscow is now moving tanks and other heavy weapons into his country and thus taking another “step toward war.”

            The Belarusian government has been consistent in resisting Moscow’s demand that it permit the Russian military to establish a permanent military base in Belarus, but now Moscow is doing the next best thing from its point of view, moving heavy weapons into Belarus on the basis of the Union State agreement between the two countries “for joint use.”

             Queried by Radio Liberty’s Belarusian Service as to whether this constituted the creation of a Russian base by the back door, the Belarusian defense ministry responded with a question of its own “What bases?” and promised to give more details later but then didn’t answer its phone (svaboda.org/a/28905621.html and belaruspartisan.org/politic/408751/).

                Belarusian military expert Aleksandr Alesin says that the latest Russian moves mean that “Belarus and Russia are beginning to prepare more seriously for a future war with ‘our Western partners’” because now the Russian army has de facto what it earlier had hoped to achieve de jure, the basing of tanks and other weaponry to the west of the Russian border.

            The Zapad-2017 maneuvers showed, the military specialist continues, that “if the Russian part of this group is based in Russia,” moving it forward is a question “not of days or weeks.” But if the equipment is prepositioned in Belarus, the amount of time needed for it to launch an attack on NATO forces is much reduced, to hours rather than even days.

            He estimates that Moscow may put up to 400 tanks in Belarus under this latest agreement with Minsk, not to mention additional armored vehicles and other heavy weapons. Nominally at least, these will all remain under “Belarusian jurisdiction,” and consequently, there won’t be any issue of “foreign basing.”

            What Russian forces are doing is the mirror image of what American forces have long done with Washington’s NATO allies, prepositioning heavy equipment that can be moved only by ship so that personnel who can be flown in at the last minute can be joined to them to form a serious military force, Alesin says.

            Many in the Belarusian military will be pleased by this development because they will gain access to and experience with advanced Russian weaponry, but many Belarusian civilians, especially those in Borisov, Bobruisk, and Baranovichey where most of the Russian weapons are being placed won’t be because they will thus become targets in the event of a war.