The week in Russia: Behind the facade

At an annual economic forum in St. Petersburg, President Vladimir Putin sought to justify the invasion of Ukraine and portray Russia as a constructive force in the world. But the destruction and death continued, Moscow faced accusations of exacerbating world hunger and Ukraine took a step towards joining the European Union.

Here are some of the most important events in Russia over the past week and some of the future takeaways.

Behind the scenes

St. Petersburg is Putin’s hometown, and it is also the site of some of his most diligent imagery – at once stage, stage and props for events he has used for almost 23 years as president or prime minister to showcase Russia and his rule.

The city’s columns, churches and canals on the eastern edge of the Baltic Sea and its history as Tsar ’s “Window to the West” provides a beautiful backdrop for Putin’s efforts to portray Russia as a modern country open to business – and as a power that deserves to speak out, or even influence, in European and global affairs.

But over the years, the showcase events have been lined with what is not shown, what happens outside the stage, behind the scenes.

In May 2003, Putin hosted an associate press reporter for foreign leaders at the centennial celebrations wrote then“to promote Russia as a cornerstone of the international community and to restore the glory of St. Petersburg after decades of Soviet decline.”

But behind the newly painted facades lurked another Russia: Invisible from the street, the courtyards of the city’s apartment buildings remained a mess, and the misery remained in the communal apartments in the stately old structures in the center and in the dilapidated Soviet-era housing projects further out.

At the same time, Putin’s Russia was still in an early stage of development. This was, for example, five months before the arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose imprisonment was one of the most prominent symbols of Putin’s rule. It was about nine months before one brutal hate crimes which showed an ugly side of the country: the deadly stabbing of Khursheda Sultanova, a 9-year-old girl of Tajik ethnicity, on one of the farms in St. Petersburg. Petersburg. And it was more than a year before Putin, after suicide bombers toppled two passenger jets and militants staged a deadly attack on a school in the southern city of Beslan, curtailed civil rights and political pluralism in what would prove to be a step in a breakdown that has continued – and escalated in many ways – to this day.

Ten years later, in September 2013, Putin hosted a Group 20 (G20) summit in an imperial palace outside St. Petersburg. Petersburg.

Ten years later

The tenor of ties with the West was much changed from 2003: US President ’s “recovery” with Moscow had deteriorated amid a growing number of disputes over issues including NATO’s attacks on Libya in 2011, war in Syriaand further curtailment of rights and democracy in Russia.

Putin, who publicly accused the United States of inciting a wave of street protests among Russians angry over evidence of election fraud and appalled that he was returning to the presidency, he returned to the Kremlin after a four-year term as prime minister.

Putin’s charges against alleged participants in a protest in which police clashed with protesters in Moscow Bolotnaya Square on the eve of his inauguration in May 2012 – a wave of prosecutions that set the stage for the growing battle that has marked Putin’s last two terms.

Opposition politician had been sentenced to five years in prison in July after a politically charged trial, but the sentence was suspended hours later, allowing him to run in Moscow’s mayoral election in September, a few days after the G20 summit.

Over the years, the most important event that Putin has used to court investment and portray Russia as a leading player in the world economy and the global community, the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, which he has participated in every year since 2005.

He did it again last week and repeatedly struck out against the United States and the European Union his address on June 17 and claims that Russia is building a “new world order”, but strikes some of the same tones as he has in previous editions of the event – this time he is courting outside the West.

Russia’s “first principle is openness”, he argued, adding that it “will never follow the path of self-isolation” and vice versa “expands cooperation with all those interested in it, who want to with us, and will continue to do so. . “

This time, the second Russia that remained off stage, behind the curtain, went far beyond St. Petersburg’s courtyards: It stretched across the country, where the state intensified its opposition to civil society, independent media and all forms of dissent by 2020 and has increased further since Putin launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine four months ago.

Navalny, arrested after his return to Russia in January 2021 after treatment abroad for an almost fatal neurotoxic poison he blames on Putin, he is now serving a nine-year sentence for what he calls absurd, politically motivated accusations, and was moved this month to a high security institution where his relatives and followers fear for their lives.

Changed states

The war against Ukraine has rapidly changed Russia, resulting in unsurpassed Western sanctions and the withdrawal of countless companies such as McDonalds, Nike, and Ikea, and financial problems that promise to be persistent and serious. Tens of thousands of Russians have left the country, fearing for their future in their isolated homeland, disgusted by the war, or both.

And, of course, the other Russia has extended to Ukraine itself, where the unprovoked invasion has killed thousands of people, forced millions from their homes – many of them destroyed now that the Moscow has bombed cities and towns across the country – and caused unimaginable suffering. with more to come.

Putin mentioned the war in Ukraine in his speech at the forum, but only to repeat his attempts to justify it without providing evidence to support his arguments – and in some cases rely on outright lies, such as his claim that has committed genocide in the eastern Donbas region.

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has left a trail of devastation in its tracks.

From his insistence on calling the war a “special military operation to liberate the Donbas”, there was a deep link between Putin’s statements and the reality of the devastation Russia has caused Ukraine.

Mariupola largely Russian-speaking city in the Donbas with 450,000 people before the February invasion, has been devastated by Russian bombing and street fighting. Hard fightg is now ravaging other parts of Donbas as Russia is pushing to advance in the region. Some residents have been forcibly evacuated to Russia, and many have survived stories about the horrors of the assault.

Traces of destruction

The same applies to other areas that have been attacked or held by Russian forces, such as Ukraine accused of having committed war crimes in different parts of the country, including cities around Kyiv and in the north, where the invading army left a trail of destruction and alleged atrocities as it withdrew after failing to take the capital.

Russia is accused of blocking grain exports from Ukraine, exacerbating what many call a global one food crisis. A war against a country whose people Putin has claimed is “one” with Russians has brought Ukrainians together like never before and is likely to leave relations between the two countries in ruins for decades or more.

Ukrainetogether with Moldova, var granted EU candidate status on 23 June at an EU summit. and , which share a long border with Russia, have applied NATO membership and can join the Western military alliance this year.

And Russiansthree decades after the life-changing turbulence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, faces a protracted period of deep uncertainty – financially and otherwise – once again.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE / RL, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036


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