Voices from Russia

Friday, 9 November 2012

Reproducing Dogmas and Stereotypes


Twenty years ago, on 6 November 1992, newly-elected US President Bill Clinton phoned his Russian counterpart Boris Yeltsin. When asked what they talked about for 20 minutes, Clinton gave journalists an evasive answer, “We just talked about what he was doing, and I said I supported democratic and free market economics in Russia. We had no substantive conversations”. The Russian side was a bit more open… the Kremlin press service quoted Yeltsin as saying, “I think, Mr Clinton, that my warm and good relationship with George Bush won’t prevent our relations from being even better. The boldness in politics and firm rejection of old dogmas and stereotypes that you stand for, match well with the principles of our Russian-American relations”.

Yeltsin was probably being a little disingenuous in referring to his warm relations with Bush. During his presidency, Bush Sr clearly favoured then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachyov during his intense rivalry with the future Russian leader. It was only when it became clear that Gorbachyov lost his grip on power that the White House switched its backing to Yeltsin. Moscow pinned high hopes on Clinton… during his election campaign, he criticised Bush Sr for his reluctance to provide large-scale aid to Russia and promised to adopt an entirely new approach to the issue. It came as no surprise when, shortly after the election, one of Clinton’s associates, in Moscow on an unofficial visit, was essentially presented with an ultimatum… “Help us now, or else we’ll be in trouble and that’ll hurt you, too”.

That December, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote sarcastically, “There’s a fearful symmetry in the pace at which President-elect Bill Clinton is assembling his administration and Russian President Boris Yeltsin is dismantling his. Just as the ‘new ideas’ people are being introduced in Little Rock, they’re being thrown out the door in Moscow”. Nonetheless, Clinton backed Russia, seeking to make its “democratic transformation” one of the crowning achievements of his presidency. This he failed to achieve. Clinton eventually became extremely disappointed in his “friend Boris”, and at the end of his term, he had to deal with Vladimir Putin, whom he saw as a symbol of the fact that Russia was heading in completely the wrong direction. However, Putin established a good personal relationship with George W Bush, underpinned from the very start by their mutual desire to open a new chapter in USA-Russia relations. However, at the interstate level, the dialogue ran into a complete dead end. Barack Obama revived it, but the limited agenda of “the reset” was fulfilled fairly quickly without delivering any qualitative shift.

During the last 20 years, relations between the two countries have come full circle. Mitt Romney’s description of Russia as the USA’s “Number One Geopolitical Foe” was the most striking statement made about Russia during the recent election campaign. Although even his supporters took this statement with a pinch of irony, nothing more meaningful was said about Russia. In parallel, Moscow decided to get rid of the legacy of the 1990s once and for all. On 1 October, Russia ended the activities of USAID, with whom it signed an agreement in 1992. It also curtailed the Nunn-Lugar programme, under which Washington funded the dismantling of Russia’s excessive nuclear warheads, obsolete missiles, and chemical weapons.

The same logic motivated both decisions… Russia will no longer sign agreements as a junior partner or accept foreign involvement in its domestic affairs. We’ll resolve our problems on our own, and you’ll have to deal with Russia as it is today and on an equal footing. However, the USA has almost no tradition of equal partnerships. There was a kind of partnership, albeit a very peculiar one, during the Cold War… nuclear parity. Rather than leading to cooperation, this prevented conflict, thus, ensuring equality. On all other issues, the USA builds its external relations on the basis of the master-slave principle. Moreover, any partner either needs to sign up to its idea of the socio-political order, or at least recognise it, and agree to help introduce it as quickly as possible. Modern Russia doesn’t intend to accept either of these conditions. Russian-American contacts are in for a radical overhaul.

Russia isn’t so aggressive as to justify a need for deterrence against it, which Romney clearly feels is necessary. Russia won’t expect aid from the USA, as had been the case in the past. Nor will it try to match American-established criteria of democracy. Russia remains an influential global power that one can’t ignore, despite George “Dubya” Bush’s attempts to do just that. However, its position in the world is too amorphous, and, above all, has the aim of retaining a free hand that’d allow it to build systemic relations. Moscow isn’t strong enough to hope for full equality. These are objective facts that don’t depend on who’s in the White House or the Kremlin.

The two countries must realise that they’ll never enjoy linear relations… they’ll neither be unequivocal foes or genuine allies. Nor will they be soulmates or ideological opposites. A desire to achieve full clarity, in whatever field, undermines all attempts to create a solid foundation for relations, whereas a willingness to be flexible on current issues makes it possible to achieve concrete results. In this context Russia, above all, needs to overcome its fixation on the humiliation of the recent past, and the USA must realise that the primacy of its values can’t be a prerequisite for cooperation in the 21st century.

No long-term agenda accommodates the potentially-crucial changes that lie ahead for both countries. Today’s agenda will take on new accents only when other issues come to the fore, such as the situation in Asia, the prospects of the commercial development of the Arctic, the reform of the nuclear non-proliferation system, etc. These issues require serious discussion, which, for now, nobody seems willing to conduct. To quote Yeltsin’s words from his conversation with Clinton 20 years ago, we need a “firm rejection of old dogmas and stereotypes”. If we don’t change anything, our relations will continue going round in concentric circles of cooling off, détente, and resets, whoever the US President is.

8 November 2012

Fyodor Lukyanov





Patriarch Kirill Arrives in Jerusalem


On Friday, one could hear applause and welcoming shouts at the Jaffa Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, as hundreds of people from different religions gathered to welcome the Patriarch Kirill Gundyaev of Moscow and all the Russias, who’s making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Onlookers saw hierarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Franciscans, members of the Armenian and Coptic Churches, and many others. Jews, who were hurrying to round up routine daily business before the beginning of Shabbat, also showed friendly curiosity.

Patriarch Kirill arrived at the main shrine of all Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The loud strikes of the staves of the Church’s guards of honour announced his path along the streets of the Old City. Theophilos Giannopoulos, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, greeted Kirill warmly. In his speech, His Holiness said that he’d come to pray at the holy sites… especially, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre… “for the peace of the whole world, for the prosperity of the Churches, and for the salvation of all and everyone. Certainly, every Christian wishes to go to the Holy Land at least once, to walk along Via Dolorosa, to venerate the stone upon which Jesus’ body was placed”.

Kirill emphasised that a special feature of his pilgrimage was that he’d pray in the name of the entire MP. He brought up that the MP’s canonical territory embraces, apart from the Russian Federation, the Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and a number of other countries, saying, “The situation in the Holy Land is far from quiet or stable today, and we’ll especially ask in our prayers for the descent of peace and concord amongst people onto the land where Christ’s Great Victory came into being”. The six-day itinerary of his visit to the Holy Land includes dozens of places related to the life of Jesus Christ and Christian saints.

10 November 2012 (MSK)

Voice of Russia World Service



9 November 2012. A Goombah Comments on l’Affaire Atty at STS

THIS is what we’re getting from the First Families… how much longer, Lord?


Here’s something interesting (but sad) that I heard from one of the goombahs:

I’m convinced the OCA, due to its bumbling ways, is trying to piss off everyone possible outside the OCA. The rules were actually changed to allow Atty to remain under the Antiochians when he took over as dean at STS (previous deans all had to be OCA). Now, they’re sticking it to him with this contract shit. Maybe, the alienation isn’t intentional, but damn, it sure seems that way sometimes. At one time, the Antiochians were the closest friends of the OCA… or, at least it seemed like it… here in North America. From the looks of it, that’s gone by the wayside. Individual and parish friendships remain, but at the top, no way!

The people suffer, and Syosset and the First Families don’t give a damn… how long? Yes, how long?


Bulgarian Patriarch Maksim Buried in Home Monastery




Bulgaria‘s late Orthodox Patriarch Maksim Minkov was buried Friday at Troyan Monastery in central northern Bulgaria, per his will. Patriarch Maksim passed away at the age of 98 on Tuesday. Maksim was born Marin Minkov in the village of Oreshak village near Troyan in 1914, and began his monastic life at in the local monastery, one of the largest and most renowned in Bulgaria. The funeral service and liturgy for the deceased patriarch were held Friday at 09.00 local time at St Aleksandr Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, where Maxim’s body was laid in state before being interred in Troyan. Patriarch Maksim was in charge of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for 41 years. Bulgaria’s higher clergy will elect a new Patriarch within the next four months. Bulgaria’s government declared Friday a day of national mourning due to the Patriarch’s death.

9 November 2012


Sofia News Agency



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