The Russian Red Line


Some may call Dimitry Kiselyov a hack. Others may dismiss his comments as irrelevant. The implications of what he said during a visit to Yerevan on June 11, however, cannot be brushed aside. Kiselyov, a controversial Russian journalist who has firm supporters in the Kremlin, is the founder and head of the state news agency Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today) set to replace RIA Novosti. He is also infamous for not mincing words.

One writer called him an “irrelevant lackey,” but when someone like Kiselyov pays a visit to Armenia, a sovereign state with recognized state borders, institutions, state symbols and most importantly a state language, and levels warnings that the decline of Russian language usage in our country is a serious threat to relations, that the Russia-Armenia security alliance will be compromised unless the Russian language is bestowed official status, then red lines in Russian-Armenian relations have not only been crossed, they have been obliterated.

Kiselyov is not merely a mouthpiece for the Kremlin, or a paid hack, or any number of derogatory adjectives that spring to mind – he is most definitely representative of what most Russians think about their former satellites.

Is Russia gripped by imperialist fervor more than two decades after the collapse of its failed experiment called the USSR? In an op-ed piece for the New York Times last month, “Great Russia’s Grand Choice,” Maxim Trudolyubov wrote: “Do Russians want their country to be an imperialist power feared by other nations or a land whose primary concern is its citizens’ well-being? President Vladimir Putin has resolved the issue, or so it seems. He has decided to tip the balance in favor of ambitious expansionist politics rather than domestic development.”

Jack Gilbert’s essay, “Aleksandr Dugin Wants to See a Return to Russian Imperialism,” on talks extensively about Dugin’s vision of Russian expansionism, which is gaining traction in that country. Aleksandr Dugin is head of the Department of Sociology of International Relations at Moscow State University and adviser to Sergei Naryshkin, a key member of Putin’s United Russia Party. Gilbert writes: “Dugin’s political outlook is one based around anti-liberalism, anti-Americanism, and a return to Russian imperialism.” GIlbert goes on to say, “Dugin wants to see the formation of a new Eurasian empire that will include every state from the former Soviet Union, as well as extending into other Asian countries. Through the creation of this new global force…Russia would ultimately be at the helm of a new world pole, creating a superpower that would match America’s influence.”

In his article, “Putin a 21st-century Tsar, with Russians Happy to Trade Freedoms for Security,” Thomas Ambrosio writes: “…the Kremlin’s foreign policy under Putin has been dedicated to restoring the image of Russia’s great power status. This forms the common thread underlying its actions in Georgia and Ukraine, its alliance with rogue states like Syria and Iran, recent provocative movements of its naval and air assets near Western countries, and the over-exuberance of the Sochi Olympics. The message that ‘Russia is back!’ has resonated at home. Granted, this has unleashed nationalism and chauvinism, and may well plunge Ukraine into civil war, but that is seen as a small price to pay for restoring a glimmer of Russian greatness.”

Several years ago, when I was Vice President of Socialist International, I was negotiating with a number of delegations at a Council Meeting in Mexico regarding the composition of some key committees for our region. The delegation of the Just Russia party was participating at that council meeting. They were not full members of the Socialist International, therefore could not participate in the vote, however their opinion carried clout for those delegations from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Theirs was a relatively large delegation comprised of three women and four men. I approached their International Secretary and asked her to translate for me because they only spoke through a translator.The women of the delegation were brushed aside, and I had to stand before four tall Russian men and explain why I needed their support on a certain motion. They were expressionless as they listened – I seem to recall that a few of them stood with their arms crossed. After I was done, none of them spoke. Then the  leader of the delegation looked down at me and, in a heavy Russian accent, coldly said, “We are not used to speaking to our Armenian comrades in English; we always speak Russian.” The others gave me a rather contemptuous look. I told them that I was the NEW breed of Armenian and I didn’t speak Russian.



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