In this week’s Western media highlights, a number of publications, including the Huffington Post, wrote about controversial connections between Donald Trump’s aides and Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Professor Nikolas Gvosdev argued in the National Interest that Putin also scored from Turkey’s failed military coup. Meanwhile, in the Russian media, Alexander Baunov explained why such a military coup could not be conceived in Russia. And the journalism community, shaken by the murder of a colleague, Pavel Sheremet, discussed the motives and political implications of this tragedy.

 

Donald Trump takes the stage on the last day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, OH, as he officially accepted the presidential nomination of the U.S. Republican Party. Photo: Yin Bogu / Xinhua via ZUMA Wire / TASS

 

From the West

The Real Winner at The GOP Convention Was Vladimir Putin

Akbar Shahid Ahmed, Ryan Grim, the Huffington Post

In the Huffington Post this week, Akbar Shahid Ahmed and Ryan Grim analyze the Republican National Convention from the perspective of potential U.S.-Russian relations in the event of a Trump presidency. The authors remind readers of the sympathy Trump expressed toward Putin, calling him “an effective leader.” They also highlight the fact that “Trump lieutenants stopped the GOP platform from expressing support for arming Ukraine”—a position that is at odds with the view of the GOP foreign policy elite. The problem is that many Republican voters nowadays resemble far-right Europeans and their leaders, who oppose globalization, hate immigrants, and perpetuate the Kremlin’s argument that the leaders of the West want to provoke a war to pursue their “shady globalist ends.” The authors also emphasize the connections between top Trump advisors and Putin’s “friends.” For instance, retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn, a potential future vice-president, attended the ten-year anniversary of the pro-Kremlin television network RT; Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, lobbied for the Kremlin-friendly former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, and for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska; and Carter Page, Trump’s foreign policy advisor, used to work for Gazprom. It seems, the authors contend, that Trump’s pro-Russia stance “is about profit at least as much as it is about principle.”

 

Vladimir Putin’s Message to the World: You Are Just as Bad

Peter Pomerantsev, Financial Times

In his piece for Financial Times, Peter Pomerantsev, a Russia expert at the Legatum Institute, discusses the Kremlin’s reaction to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) allegations of state involvement in the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Russian athletes. Putin called WADA’s investigation “political,” and other public officials and the media also framed the doping scandal as “part of the sanctions policy against Russia.” According to Pomerantsev, the Kremlin is relying on two techniques to discredit all allegations made by the West. The first is to persuade Russians that the West is just as bad—after all, they have doping problems in the U.S. too. The second is to foster a conspiratorial worldview. Conspiracy, Pomerantsev writes, is “emotionally seductive,” because it can explain away not only the shortcomings and failures of the regime, but also those of the public. Such a worldview also legitimizes the Kremlin’s methods. “In a crooked world, the Kremlin has no choice but to use covert forces and disinformation to take Crimea or to feed its athletes steroids.” That is, the Kremlin breaks the law, just as ordinary Russians often do, in order to survive. Pomerantsev concludes by pointing out that if previously Putin’s “contract” with the Russian people consisted in providing economic prosperity in exchange for bestowing political power to the Kremlin, nowadays—given the economic crisis—the deal is “much more emotionally manipulative.”

 

Putin May Be Turkey’s New Buddy after the Failed Coup

Nikolas Gvosdev, the National Interest

Nikolas Gvosdev, professor at the U.S. Naval War College, argues in the National Interest that a recent failed military coup in Turkey against president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could accelerate the reconciliation process between Turkey and Russia. According to Gvosdev, it’s not hard to envision how Putin might “help” Erdoğan interpret the attempted coup as having been orchestrated by the United States. This would further push Turkey to reach a compromise deal with Russia. Gvosdev reminds readers of the trajectory of Russia-Turkey relations. The leaders of the two nations had “warm and friendly ties” until last fall, when a Turkish warplane shot down a Russian fighter jet conducting operations in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. The incident itself was a result of deeper disagreements between Russia and Turkey over the Syrian question. Moscow reacted with sanctions against Turkey, and Ankara sought support from NATO and the EU. By late spring, however, Erdoğan shifted course, and apologized for the loss of the Russian aircraft. Gvosdev suggests that three factors contributed to this shift: First, the ongoing civil war in Syria made the emergence of Syrian Kurdistan, with close ties to the Kurdish Workers’ Party in Turkey, more than possible. Second, the renewed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh also caused problems, and Turkey was not planning on a proxy clash with Russia. Third, all these developments jeopardized Turkey’s intentions to become the indispensable energy transit state for Europe. Turkey was already seeking to normalize relations with Russia when the coup attempt happened. Gvosdev writes that the next few weeks will show whether Erdoğan is in fact ready to reach a consensus with Russia over Syria, and whether the talks about the Turkish Stream project, which would enable Russia to bypass Ukraine to transport gas to Europe, will resume.

 

From Russia

Regiment of Modernizers: Why a Military Coup Is Impossible in Russia

Alexander Baunov, Carnegie.ru

In his analysis of the recent failed coup in Turkey, Alexander Baunov, editor-in-chief of Carnegie.ru, argues that a similar scenario would be impossible in Russia, which hasn’t seen a military coup since the Decembrists revolt in 1825. Baunov notes that military troops can attempt a coup only if they consider themselves modernizers and bearers of the best qualities of the nation, and only if the public also sees them as such. The Russian military is far from playing such a role in the country: it is not a guardian of progress—rather it is one of the most nostalgic social groups in the country. It does not lead the masses—on the contrary, the army’s role in Russia has been artificially downgraded after the October Revolution (as happened in Communist China and Islamist Iran). In Turkey, the military used to play such a role. The recent coup failed not because its organizers were poorly prepared, but rather because the military ceded its position as a true bearer of modernization values, and the public’s assessment of the military no longer matched its own high self-esteem. As for Russia, concludes Baunov, it’s been a long time since the army viewed itself as an independent branch of power, a strong institution, or a bearer of modernization.

 

What Can Be Done After an Empire Collapses

Vladislav Inozemtsev, Vedomosti

Vladislav Inozemtsev, visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and director of the Center for Post-Industrial Studies, observes that one of Russia’s crucial problems today is a post-imperial nostalgia the country seems unable to shed. Both the Russian political elite and the public have failed to overcome this complex. The author notes that empires have never been a fully democratic or legal form of governance, relying on a complicated compromise between political, ideological, and economic elements. Historically, empires have collapsed following the same scenario: they were destroyed by the burden of “preserving dependent territories.” Post-imperial nostalgia is inherent to all former empires, but there are three ways to overcome it. The first is new imperial expansion as a compensatory response. The second is joining a new “pseudo-imperial project and either taking a leadership position in it or ridding of the complex through a feeling of normality” (France and Portugal can serve as examples of the latter). The third way is staking the country’s future on economic development, as Japan did after World War II. Inozemtsev argues that Russia’s case appears to be exceptionally difficult, and overcoming its imperial complex will be possible only through a combination of all three of these methods.

 

Clear and Present Danger: What Awaits Ukraine after Pavel Sheremet’s Murder

Pavel Kazarin, Slon.ru

The prominent Russian-Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet was murdered on July 20 in the center of Kiev. He was driving his car to work when it was blown up. According to law-enforcement, several motives are currently being investigated: that it had to do with his professional work (both Sheremet and his wife Alyona Pritula, editor-in-chief of Ukraine’s largest online newspaper Ukrainian Pravda, complained about surveillance); that it might be linked to criminals in Russia; that it was an attempted assassination of Pritula (who owned the car); and enmity. The murder became the most discussed event in the Ukrainian media. That comes as no surprise, according to the author. Journalists play a crucial role in Ukraine’s political process, and approval ratings of these institutions are among the highest in the country, significantly surpassing those of the president and the parliament. It might be a coincidence, but another journalist whose murder became a high-profile case in Ukraine in 2000 and caused a shake-up of Leonid Kuchma’s regime, Georgy Gongadze, also worked at Ukrainian Pravda. The author concludes that in the current sensitive political climate in Ukraine today, such a brazen murder serves as a great challenge to the country’s authorities. The state has to show that it is changing. In Sheremet’s own words, “We are still at the bifurcation point.”

 

Nini Arshakuni helped compile this week's roundup. 

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