The Russian Empire

World Kostya Kisleyko

We have a new website for you. At least, it was new to us: ‘President of Russia’, the English version.

On this site you can click on coverage of the Russian president’s trips around Russia, trips abroad, speeches, transcripts of important statements, photographs and videos, and instructions for writing a letter to the Russian president (5,000 characters max).

The ‘President of Russia’ website is relevant right now because one of the big questions starting the last week of July has been: If it becomes necessary for Russia to raise new funds, could Russia replace European and American long-term credit by turning to China, and perhaps other countries?

Or, to ask the question differently: Does the Russian president believe Russia can go it alone, without the long-term loans Russia and Russian companies are accustomed to obtaining from the west?

Experts in the west agree that China cannot deliver the large loans Russia has enjoyed from the west. If, therefore, Russia’s president insists ‘we don’t need the west’, how should we read that kind of language? If the Russian president posts comments to that effect on his website, what conclusions does he want people to draw, inside Russia, and outside Russia?

And what does President Putin say on his website?

Knowing the EU is about to announce economic sanctions, the Russian president says Russia can ‘go it alone.’ — The U.S. announced economic sanctions against Russia on July 16, though at the time, the EU had decided not to go along with the U.S.

But the next day, on July 17, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down. By Sunday night, July 27, it was known the EU would announce economic sanctions against Russia that week (it did, on Tuesday, July 29).

With the knowledge that European economic sanctions were coming, President Putin on Monday, July 28, held a meeting in Moscow on the Russian defense industry.

A ‘transcript’ of his comments was posted Monday the 28th on the ‘President of Russia’ website. The following are quotations from that transcript, and can be found on the ‘President of Russia’ website by clicking ‘Speeches and Transcripts’, then dropping down to ‘Monday, July 28, 2014’.

PRESIDENTOF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: …The main issue on the agenda today is speeding up work to replace imports in the defense industry and make the broadest possible use of Russian-made materials and components….

Our task is to protect ourselves against the risk of foreign partners not performing their contractual obligations [because of the west’s sanctions]. This includes risks of a political nature too.... As I said, we have discussed this matter on many occasions already and there are several issues that are clear to all of us.

[The assertion Russia can go it alone.] Which issues am I referring to? First, we can definitely produce everything we need ourselves. There is no question about that.

Second is the price, which is just as important, and third is the issue of quality. We must ensure that the price is reasonable and that there are no problems with quality, and most important, we must keep to the timetable that we planned for carrying out our arms programme and not allow any delays to occur. These are the matters we need to settle today.

[How much money will we need, how much time, and are we assured of financing for all this development and work?] We need to make a thorough examination of how much time is needed for manufacturing this or that component, how much money it will take, and how much time we will require to develop the needed production here at our production facilities and ensure financing for all of this work.

[‘I do not see any big difficulties so far’ — said with knowledge of the coming economic sanctions.] No matter what the difficulties we may encounter, and to be honest, I do not really see any big difficulties so far, but I was thinking above all of technological difficulties, and I think that they will ultimately work to our advantage because they will give us the needed incentive to develop our production capability in areas where we had not done so yet….

But we now have the chance and obligation to build up a modern, hi-tech production base, and we can do this if we organize the work in proper fashion. We need to be persevering and consistent here, and of course we must not be wasteful with our money but need to make thorough calculations of the costs involved. Let’s start work.

[The above is most of the transcript from the President of Russia website, dated Monday, July 28. The complete transcript fills about one screen.]

Background: Russia pledged to leave Ukraine alone

The end of the Soviet Union, and the vote for an independent Ukraine. — On December 1, 1991, more than 90 percent of the population of Ukraine voted to become an independent republic.

On December 21, 1991, the leaders of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine dissolved the Soviet Union and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The nuclear agreements. — On December 5, 1994, Ukraine, Russia, the UK, and the US, signed a memorandum embodying 6 agreements removing all nuclear weapons from Ukraine and placing them in Russia.

In return for Ukraine’s giving up possession of the weapons removed, Russia, the UK and the US agreed to respect and take steps if necessary to protect Ukraine’s borders.

The referendum in Crimea, March 16, 2014. — If we bring our story forward not quite 20 years, we see in the example of Crimea how it is that Russia might annex Ukraine without the Russian military crossing the border, an act that would violate the 1994 nuclear agreements in which Russia pledged to honor Ukraine’s borders.

In Crimea, Russian ‘volunteers’ worked with the pro-Russian separatists to help them demand elections, and then schedule an election that they themselves conducted. A vote on whether to join Russia was held March 16, 2014. The separatists themselves held the election, counted the ballots, then announced the outcome: A majority favored becoming part of Russia. Russia then welcomed Crimea’s return.

If you asked the Russian president about Crimea’s return, he would say — and has said — ‘They did the whole thing themselves. Russia had nothing to do with it.’

The annexing of Crimea, with little protest from the west, has led the Russian people to expect all of Ukraine will eventually be brought back to Russia. — It is easy to see why Putin has, until now, felt little pressure from the Russian population or the business community to stop Russia’s activities in Ukraine.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea was done quickly, with almost no bloodshed, and at little apparent cost to Russia or the Russian people. The feeling inside Russia has been that the entire crisis presented by Ukraine can have a similar outcome. That is, Russia’s objectives can be achieved at little cost to Russia.

But now, the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17 after it took off from Amsterdam carrying mostly European passengers has led the European Union to join the US in adopting economic sanctions.

The city at war. — Increasingly, the EU’s sanctions are pitting Europe against Russia. And as to the city of London, economic sanctions involve Europe’s banking community, and in a unique and particular way have the effect of seeming to pit London itself against President Putin’s ‘new Russian empire.’ (Is the President of Russia actually intent on ‘empire building?’ Adding new territory to present-day Russia?)