Living in the past is wrong. If you are a country who lives in the past then it is even worse, because this can be the birth of instability and the beginning of a huge disaster. When we are talking about foreign affairs we must accept that there is an order among states. This order is crafted by the nature of power that each state has. At this moment, Russia is a huge power, but there is another huge idea in the Russian political spirit – the glory of the Soviet era – they want it back!
In the field of international politics, there are two types of power: hard and soft power. The cornerstone of the hard power is the state of the army: how many soldiers, tanks and bombs and so on and so forth. Soft power is about winning hearts and minds. Sochi Winter Olympics initiative is about winning the hearts and minds of the Russian people and restoring the international glory and image of the Russian Federation.
Sochi Winter Olympics will be held in February 2014 and the Games are the 22nd Winter Olympics. Sochi is a resort city, the only subtropical city of Russia, in the Krasnodar Krai territory having a population of 400.000. This is the first time when Russia is hosting the Winter Olympics. There are many controversial topics around the Winter Games and their nature is very different.
In 2009, organisers said they want these Games to be the greenest, most environmentally aware games ever staged. Also Vladimir Putin said that: “in setting our priorities and choosing between money and the environment, we are choosing the environment.” (The Washington Post) The entire Sochi region has many areas included in the UNESCO World Heritage and there are many environmentalists which argue that the Games will damage the natural environment. The project is very expensive, around $50 billion and we must take into account that the budget for the London Olympic Games was around £9 billion. If that money were invested in an efficient way the ecological impact of the Olympic Games can be reduced to values that will not interfere or alter the natural environment.
Sochi Winter Olympics will be the most expensive in history. According to the official data this is a corrupt project. A good example is the construction of a 45 km road from Adler to Sochi. The cost was $200 million per km. Boris Nemtsov, the current opposition leader, said that: “You could have paved this road with 5m tons of gold or black caviar and the price would have been the same.” (RBK News)
Pride House and LGBT rights
In 2010 the registration of lesbian, gay bisexual and trans gender Pride House was rejected by a Russian court. This summer the Russia’s Duma passed the anti-gay propaganda law which bans the public discussion of gay rights and relationships because LGBT would “contradict the foundation of public morality and government policy in the area of protection of the family, motherhood and childhood.” (CNN) This debate can be distributed on several levels: human rights level, cultural values and perspectives level (conservative societies versus liberal ones) and even the level of personal believes and opinions.
Those found in breach of the anti-gay propaganda law can be fined and deported. There is a security concern because around 120.000 people will visit Sochi during the Games and the anti-gay law will be enforced. How will the Russian security forces will react if one gay US athlete will express his/her sexual orientation? Vladimir Putin said that the participants will not be affected by this law. Also, Vladimir Putin said that the Greenpeace activists are not pirates and although he said that the clash between Greenpeace and Russia is far from over.
FSB will ensure extensive monitoring during the Games. They will use Sorm, which is Russia’s system for intercepting phone and internet communications. Also they added the deep packet inspection protocol which offers them the capability to filter users by particular keywords and since 2010 FSB upgraded the Sorm system permanently in order to be able to cope with the supplementary traffic during the Games. Viktor Teplyakov, a Russian MP said that “simply buying a ticket does not guarantee access – security is No. 1” (The Guardian) The problem with the FSB actions is that this federal service is not known for its transparency and legal instruments. The Sorm system can be used as a huge octopus spy network and FSB can discover confidential, valuable data and information about the participants who attend the Games or their businesses. Moreover, communication providers (phone and internet) installed Sorm boxes in their servers by law and now FSB has the right and the capability to intercept any conversation or message. Also, Russian security forces could use Sorm in order to discover and suppress any protest movement.
The Soviet Union is a memory. We live difficult times and we cannot live with the desire to restore the shallow glory of the past. The image of the Soviet era was beautiful but the reality was quite grim for a middle class person. Maybe you do not live in Russia and maybe you don’t even care about the conditions of this country but remember that this is the biggest country in the world with huge oil and natural gas reserves, with a nuclear arsenal and with a strong economy. What happens in Russia will ultimately affect even your life!
Peace Talks – North Korea is Ready for negotiations, but only with Russia
North Korea will enter negotiation talks with its rhetorical foe, the United States, over its nuclear weapons program and on the so-called “security guarantees” – only if Russia will come to the table.
During an international conference in the Austrian capital (Vienna), Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, delivered a message to his US counterpart, Rex Tillerson, that the reclusive communist regime wants a peace talk with America over its nuclear ambitions.
“We know that North Korea wants above all to talk to the United States about guarantees for its security. We are ready to support that, we are ready to take part in facilitating such negotiations. Our American colleagues, including Rex Tillerson, have heard this.”, said, Lavrov, as reported by the Interfax news agency.
However, there was no immediate response from the state department which has long insisted that the US will only consider direct talks unless North Korea stops testing ballistic missiles and agrees to denuclearize – an expectation that was defied by North Korea.
In an interview with Russia’s state-run Russian Information Agency (RIA) news agency, Lavrov added that his country is ready to step in because Russia and North Korea have diplomatic relations.
“We call on partners to focus on solving specific problems of the Korean Peninsula on the basis of negotiations. And for this, it is necessary not to rupture contacts with Pyongyang, but, on the contrary, develop it.”
However, it seems very unlikely that Lavrov’s offer will convince the US, as Trump has long indicated that he has no plans on negotiating with Kim Jong-un.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”, said Trump on his tweet in October after dismissing a reported effort by Tillerson to pursue back-channel negotiations.
Moreover, aside from deriding the North Korean leader as the “Little Rocket Man”, the US President Donald J. Trump, called him a “sick puppy” and threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and that the country “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”.
The amid heightened tension between the US and North Korea reached its peak after the hermit kingdom tested its new and “most powerful” intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the “Hwasong-15” missile, November 29 of last year; claiming that it was capable of striking the US mainland – a missile launch that followed the test of what was apparently a hydrogen bomb last September.
This was followed by Trump’s furious tweets, saying that “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
The said “Hwasong-15”, as estimated by South Korea’s military, flew ten times as high as the International Space Station and twice as high as any satellite in low orbit after finally landing in the Sea of Japan – 210 kilometres west of Aomori prefecture, in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
It can be remembered that North Korea has also issued an explicit threat to Japan after the country, together with the US, spearheaded the United Nations security council sanctions in response to the regime’s recent nuclear test – saying that, “The four islands of the Japanese archipelago should be sunken into the sea by the nuclear bomb of Juche.” and “Japan is no longer needed to exist near us.”
A cue for the allied countries, Japan and the US, to call on China, North Korea’s sole major ally which accounts for more than 90 percent of trade; to fully implement the UN security council sanctions against the isolated country and other steps to pressure it.
However, although China has agreed to do so and has also been angered by Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear and missile tests; it also sees that the US, along with South Korea, share responsibility for the rising tensions. Also, speculations are – China won’t pressure North Korea as much as Japan and the US want, primarily because while Xi Jinping does not trust Kim Jong-un, it trusts Trump less. In addition, Japan is China’s major rival – which history can be traced back to the ancient wars up to the recent issues such as the Nanking massacre and territorial disputes.
As of the moment, the US and North Korean positions are currently very far apart – with Washington wanting Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament to be on the table while Pyongyang wants Washington to recognize it as a nuclear weapons power.
“I think the US would be best served by putting aside the focus on denuclearization and instead look at ways to prevent accidents, reduce risks and de-escalate.”, suggested Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the New America think tank who has played a leading role in peace talks between Iran and North Korea.
What’s Really Going On With Russia?
For the mere mortals among us, it’s hard to determine exactly what’s going on with Trump and Russia. To get the bottom of things, it may help to look at the backstory. There’s no denying that Russia and America have had a rocky road in the past. While things have always been a little strained, we did manage to find some level of calm. But, a NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 put a chilly slant on things. Add in one Vladimir Putin (elected in 2000), and you have an ice age on your hands.
But, what have the main issues been? Well, let’s be honest, the cold war got a little…cold. That did nothing to strengthen the relationship. Aside from that, the arguments between our countries come from a direct split in ideologies. Capitalism and communism don’t get on for obvious reasons. Add in the fact that the U.S. and Russia are some of the largest nuclear countries in the world, and you have a real conflict. Perhaps, for world peace, it would be best if we all ‘got along’, but our differing approaches only fuels the fire more.
But then, along came Trump. Despite other negative connotations to his presidency, he did at least seem willing to solve the Russia/U.S. split. In fact, during his election campaign, Trump heralded Putin as ‘very smart’, and gave every indication that he would treat Russia as an ally. He even tried to turn attention from Russia during the election hacking scandal.
Of course, the good times didn’t last long. We now find ourselves in a position where relations are more strained than ever. Given where we’ve been in the past, that’s hard to believe. But, the relationship has spiralled, perhaps in part due to the possibility that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. So, where did things go wrong? To get to the root of the rift, we need to revisit April 4th, when Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was allegedly responsible for dropping chemical weapons on his people. Chemical weapons which Russia had removed.
In an arguably rash counter attack, Trump ordered the dropping of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. It’s not hard to see, then, why things deteriorated so fast. Overnight, Trump and Putin went from the perfect pair to bitter enemies. And, for some, the change was too subtle to keep on top of. But, rest assured, the old order has been restored when it comes to our relationship with Russia.
So, where are we now? Recently, political figures such as Idaho’s senator, Mike Crapo, have been pushing hard for new Russian sanctions. The new bill, signed by a grudging Trump on the 2nd of this month, makes it harder for him to lift the sanctions if he wishes.
Trump’s reluctance seemed to come about due to remaining hopes of reestablishing relations with Russia. While that seems unlikely, the bill will ensure we can at least hold some level of control over what Russia does overseas.
Media Rhetoric: Era of Corrupting Public Opinion for Clicks
In the age of mass media and information society, political rhetoric is thriving. Back in the days, political power could not possibly reach all the corners of one country (especially in case of an immense territory), whereas it is easily done across the borders. The only possible obstacle is another man’s rhetoric.
So, what do we see now? More and more headlines willing to go as catchy as possible. How is a person being swallowed into this? The purpose of this article is not to dwell upon freedom of speech. However, it tries to put into perspective the influence that the current media has on a person (using the example of today’s media rhetoric).
In the 90s, when Soviet Union, one of the most powerful countries collapsed, media all around the world immediately changed its attitude towards it. This change of attitude was noticeable even among the public, watching it. Yet, this rather indulgent political discourse was transforming along with the development of Russia. During that time, Russia was not viewed as a threat, but rather as one among many. Today, after more than twenty years, the situation is different. Portrayed as an expanding empire, this image makes a lot of money on the front pages.
If you had a chance to go through the Western media, for sure you would find yourself thinking about it. To begin with, after reading you will probably think that Russia is indeed quite bad. Surprisingly, this has nothing to do whether you agree or not. Rather, this has to do with your sub consciousness. Strong negative language first addresses emotions, only later it is processed by our mind. Afterwards, you may use other sources, but surprisingly other sources sound rather the same. So here is a question: Would you consider turning to a Russian source when everyone else is saying differently? Or better question, would you even consider another opinion in the situation?
On the one hand, the negative image is being constructed for a long time. “Bad boy Putin won’t find friends at G20 summit” (torontosun.com), “How Vladimir Putin became evil” (theguardian.com), “West faces up to Putin aggression” (bbc.com) etc. Along with these headlines, there are high officials who insist on further sanctions against Russia; there are decisions taken to suspend the country from G8, limit its abilities at the PACE and so on. On the other hand, economic relations are actually getting stronger (forbes) . Many European producers, exporters, businessmen are actually against sanctions. Simply, they are no good for the business (the Guardian).
This kind of blaming rhetoric is similar in Russia itself. Of course, it targets the West in return.
As a result, we see rhetoric of finger-pointing. The countries are demonizing each other according to the principle “we are good – they are bad”. This kind of strategy aims to form certain opinion of another country and stirs up enmity. This strategy is another form of geopolitical influence that is used by the governments.
It should be noticed that when referring to Russian sources (not just media, but also politicians and government officials), it is widely accepted that these sources are not reliable or trustable. They are corrupted; hence they should not be taken into account. So, does it mean that another point of view is not taken into account as well? I would draw your attention to the question why European rhetoric is believed to be more trustable than any other’s.
During twentieth century, the West had become the main documenter of historical events, from the World War I to the Cold War. Of course, it did represent the events that actually happened, yet we should stress what kinds of things were highlighted in this narration. The West pays attention to what it is important for the West. There is nothing wrong in this; this is simply the way how humans express their opinions. But other countries tell their stories too. Rejecting their point of view means staying in the nutshell. Just because it is not delivered by stronger power does not necessarily mean that it is a wrong opinion.
For example, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact (Nazi-Soviet neutrality pact) is usually condemned nowadays. In contrast, Europe does not bring up the Munich Agreement of 1938, which permits Germany to annex portions of Czechoslovakia, which was signed by France, Italy and the United Kingdom, the major powers of Europe.
Other notions are also created and moved forward by the West. The term of “cold war”, first appeared in Orwell’s Animal Farm, was later picked up by Walter Lippmann in 1947. Now the period of US-Soviet tension is referred in this way.
This rhetoric has power to reach out anyone in the world that makes it a little bit frightening. It became dominant rhetoric too, developed and imposed by strong counsttries. This discourse easily leads to false stereotypes about international relations.
In this sense, everything that happens outside of Europe, e.g. the conflicts in the Middle East, remain in the periphery and do not influence the main course of events. But for those countries who are actually involved into the conflict, the conflict occupies the central place. In humanities, this is called textualization of reality, which means interpretation of events. So far, textual ethnocentrism of the West is very strong because of its power. As Winston Churchill once said, “History is written by the victors”. It will never get old.
One of the examples of this Western dominance would be terrorist attacks in Belgium and France. Similar and even worse attacks in the Middle East did not draw as much attention as it did with European ones . In the previous century, the description of events was more spontaneous (the wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945). Today it is more well-directed and oriented by power interests.
This leads to certain public opinion all around the world. As a result, powerful countries are getting political and economic benefits, making international agreements that are more beneficial for the West (See Artic Sunrise Case).
Yet, democratic demagogy is vulnerable and easily shaken. For example, it has been years but Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan are still not democratic, regardless of US attempts. Europe is being weak in the light of the “Eastern Front”, meaning that Eastern countries are turning out to be not particularly democratic. If Serbia and especially Turkey enter the European Union, what is left of democracy and euro-identity?
Every power pursues its interest. Every power has its own agenda. By using electronic or paper means, available to them, they strive to achieve what’s best for their country. An ordinarily person has to be aware of this and restrain himself/herself from immediate joining to the finger-pointing discourse. Two heads are better than one. Even if another head is believed to be evil.
Author’s note: This article does not aim to finger-point any party, rather it questions trust in media. The West/Russia are taken as an example because there are more sources available (and because I haven’t learnt exotic language yet 😀 ).
I would appreciate people from countries other than Europe expressing their opinions (below in the comments) about their media/officials, interpreting different events.
 If you are interested how the events are interpreted and talked about, read more about Rwandan Genocide. Particularly, the way media and officials addressed the events of 1994.
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