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04/19/2007


What Putin Really Wants with Crimea

Invasion
Russian helicopters enter Ukrainian airspace near Sevastopol - see video, AFTER THE JUMP...

BY GREGORY FEIFER / GlobalPost

Western countries must act decisively for any hope of rolling back Moscow's incursion.

Now that Russia has carried out a de facto invasion of Crimea, it’s worth looking at recent history to help understand Moscow’s motivations and what it wants.

UkraineNot that the Kremlin necessarily sees what it’s doing as an invasion. When Soviet troops occupied Afghanistan in 1979 after killing the president, Moscow treated the operation almost as an afterthought aimed at shoring up a coup d’etat it thought would be resolved within days or weeks.

Just as Soviet troops wore Afghan army uniforms 25 years ago, the removal of insignia from the uniforms of the soldiers now in Crimea is meant to confuse the outside world about who’s behind the incursion.

So was the Kremlin’s statement on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered his government to continue talks with Ukraine on economic and trade relations and consult the International Monetary Fund and the G8 on financial aid.

The movement of Russian armored personnel carriers, helicopter gunships and troops into Crimea — where gunmen have seized parliament, government buildings and strategic infrastructure like airports and the local telecom provider — belies the Kremlin’s denial it’s carrying out a coup.

Violating the sovereignty of an independent country would seem to go against the principle Russia upholds as most sacred in its foreign policy. Nevertheless, Moscow is taking advantage of Ukraine’s weak new leaders — whom many Russian officials have denounced as illegitimate — acting according to a very basic pattern carried out many times since the Soviet collapse.

Time and again, Moscow has welcomed instability in another former Soviet republic — when not actually fomenting it — in order to exert influence there by appearing to be a peacemaker or beneficent sponsor.

That’s how the Kremlin controls the breakaway pro-Moscow region of Transnistria, an impoverished sliver of Moldova that erupted in a brutal civil conflict in 1992. With its so-called peacekeepers still stationed there, Russia uses its influence over the territory to pressure the Moldovan authorities.

In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia to firm its hold over that country’s two pro-Russia separatist provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which the Kremlin recognized as independent soon after.

Those areas have become “frozen conflict” zones — isolated from the world, locked in cycles of poverty that makes dependence on Russia the only immediate way to survive.

PutinIn Ukraine, having lost the struggle last week to save the presidency of his ally, the former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych — in what Moscow characterizes as an illegal takeover by violent nationalists — Putin is now grabbing Crimea to show Russia can do the same. Taking over Crimea would have the added benefit of relieving Moscow of the need to lease the port of Sevastopol to house the Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet.

It’s all being done in the name of protecting Russian citizens — the parliament in Moscow just made it easier to give Ukrainians Russian citizenship — and may end up creating another Russian exclave.

Nevertheless, Putin has previously shown that he responds to obstacles by backtracking, having built his power base at home as well as his aggressive foreign policy by taking risks and gauging the response. Faced with a backlash, he has reversed himself in the past.

Russia’s success in Georgia — where the 2008 invasion followed actions similar to the ones Moscow is taking now, such as staging military exercises on its southern border — showed Putin Western countries will do virtually nothing to help their allies in former Soviet territory.

Part of the reason Europe and the United States have been caught off guard by Putin in Crimea, as they have been elsewhere so many times recently, is that they tend to assume he makes decisions in his country’s interests, like his Western counterparts. That’s not the case. Putin makes decisions that are in his interests: Threatening to direct nuclear missiles at Western Europe, for example, is bad for Russia’s image abroad, but at home it shows Putin to be tough.

Of course a secure, independent, successful Ukraine would benefit Russia greatly by providing a strong ally and trade partner. That’s not what Putin wants, and his actions in Ukraine are posing the West its biggest challenge since he invaded Georgia.

He has helped push Ukraine, the country on Russia's southern border, to the verge of civil war by pressuring the president to abandon a deal with the European Union while warning the West not to meddle. Surely that’s not in Russia’s interests, but it is in Putin’s: He wants Ukraine to join a so-called Eurasian Union, an organization whose main purpose would be to oppose Western alliances.

Putin’s overriding goal is to obstruct the West. Like his Soviet models, he believes that to be feared and loathed means to be respected. Still, Western countries still hope Moscow will cooperate on Syria, Iran — and now Ukraine — even though doing so plays right into the Kremlin’s hands.

That’s why the best hope of rolling back Russia’s intervention in Crimea now rests on firmness about the consequences. If Western countries are to uphold their values and interests, they must show they’ve learned lessons from the Russia-Georgia war by acting together to threaten sanctions against Moscow and aid to Ukraine.

Dealing with Moscow should begin with not being deceived about Putin’s intentions. As long as his actions in Crimea result in no direct consequences for him, he will continue trying to show the world just what a tough guy he is.

A video of helicopters entering Ukrainian airspace, AFTER THE JUMP...

Gregory Feifer is GlobalPost's Europe editor. His new book "Russians: The People Behind the Power" was published this month.

Continue reading "What Putin Really Wants with Crimea" »


Why Didn’t More Olympians Speak Out in Sochi Against Russia’s Anti-gay Laws?

German olympians

With the constant stream of athletes, politicians, and companies speaking out strongly against Russia’s oppressive anti-gay laws in the months leading up to the Olympics, you might have thought that Russian authorities would have their hands full dealing with up-in-arms activists once the Games actually began.

Unfortunately for the LGBT citizens of Russia, the public criticism from Olympic athletes was, for the most part, muted in Sochi. The Wall Street Journal reports:  

There were no high-profile proactive statements or blatant symbolic gestures by athletes. A few athletes criticized the law when asked by reporters to weigh in, and a Belgian performer who supports gay rights displayed rainbow colors, a symbol of the gay-rights movement, during her performance at the Games.

LuxuriaBut the only really noticeable pro-gay act inside Olympic Park came when Italian Vladimir Luxuria [pictured], a transgender gay rights activist, showed up at a women's hockey game in a rainbow skirt after broadcasting that she planned a protest. Police removed her from the park. A day earlier police detained her briefly after she unfurled a "gay is okay" banner outside the park.

So what happened?

Ashley wagnerThe paper points to the many athletes who said they had already gone on record against the anti-gay laws and felt that using the Olympic platform to promote a political or human rights cause would be an unnecessary distraction from the competition.

"I really have already voiced my opinion and spoken out," said U.S. figure skater Ashley Wagner [pictured], responding to questions from reporters. Wagner has been outspoken in her criticism of the Russian laws. "My stand against the LGBT legislation here in Russia is really the most that I can do right now," she said. "I'm here to compete first and foremost."

How athletes in Sochi handled concerns over gay rights varied. Belle Brockhoff, the gay Olympic snowboarder who had promised to “rip on [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] ass” during Sochi interviews, failed to medal and was given minimal press coverage. Gay former Olympian Johnny Weir’s decision to work the Games for NBC but not directly address gay rights in Russia was met with scorn from gay rights groups in the U.S. The German team, meanwhile, debuted a rather gay-looking rainbow outfit for the Games [pictured above], but maintained a steadfast denial that it was meant as a protest statement against Russia's anti-gay laws. Other athletes felt that wearing the 'Principle 6' line of protest merchandise was the proper avenue for Olympians to (indirectly) speak out for LGBT rights. 

Billie jean king_2Tennis legend Billie Jean King, who was among the gay athletes in President Obama’s Olympic delegation, said she supported athletes’ decision to avoid public demonstrations that could get them booted, but disagreed that the Olympics isn’t a place for politics. 

"It is an unbelievable opportunity to exchange ideas and hear each other," she said, standing on a hotel balcony just outside Olympic Park. "Hopefully, out of all these athletes we will have some teachers."

To believe the Olympics can remain entirely separate from politics, she says, amounts to "keeping your head in the sand."

'68 saluteIndeed, using the Olympics as a platform for social activism is nothing new, with the most memorable incident being the black power salute by medal winners John Carlos and Tommie Smith in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. It’s sad to think then, that these Olympics came and went without a similar moment of solidarity with LGBT equality, especially when such international attention was given to the issue. Just imagine how iconic (and bold) of a statement could have been made if a simple kiss was shared between two same-sex medal winners on an Olympic podium while in Sochi.

Now that would have kept the conversation going long after the Olympic spotlight and journalists faded from Sochi. 

The International Olympic Committee, which is under pressure to be more selective in its picking of future host cities, has said it’s impractical to eliminate potentially controversial countries, otherwise the Olympics would be held “in only two places.” Putin, for his part, praised the IOC for taking a “risk” by entrusting the Games with Russia. In a post-Olympics meeting attended by IOC president Thomas Bach and committee members, Putin said one of the main aims of the Games was to show off to the world the new face of post-Soviet Russia, a country he has run since 2000. 

"It was important to show that we are a country with goodwill which knows how to meet guests and create a celebration not just for itself but all sports fans in the world."

With the Games over, however, one can't help but feel a sense of mounting concern for Russia's "goodwill" towards its already marginalized LGBT community. The removal of parenting rights for gay couples in Russia, for example, could very well be the next step in Putin's anti-gay agenda. 


Billie Jean King Arrives In Sochi, Talks Gay Rights

King

Billie Jean King arrived in Sochi, Russia this weekend as a member of the presidential delegation to today's closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics. She came to the country with a message to the LGBT community.

The McClatchy Foreign Staff reports on her thoughts on holding the games in Russia:

“Having the Winter Olympics here, the situation here in Russia, has opened up dialogue,” King said Saturday. “I’m always big on love over hate, and I think it’s important that everyone’s treated equally and good to each other. Hopefully, the LGBT community here in Russia knows that they’re not alone and we’ll learn from them.”

The also told the BBC she believes the International Olympic Committee should take into account a country's position on gay rights when considering it for the games.

"In the [bid] process it would be helpful. I would like to see it but I also understand it's not that easy." "If you can it would cut down the number of [eligible] countries. Sometimes it's good to go to a country where things aren't as good and help change things."I'm sure they'll [IOC] be looking at things differently the next time.

King had planned to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics but canceled due to her mother's failing health. Her mother passed away on February 7.

Watch a short ESPN interview with King in which she talks about Russia, the Olympics and Vladimir Putin, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Billie Jean King Arrives In Sochi, Talks Gay Rights" »


Bob Costas: Russian Government 'Is Hostile To Gay Rights'

Costas
Bob Costas took a moment during NBC's coverage last night to comment on the state of human rights in Russia, one the first times during the Sochi Olympics wherein the network has acknowledged the issue on air.

Said the newscaster:

The Sochi games have gone much better than many feared and predicted. So far security has held fast, venues have been praised, athletes and spectators have almost unanimously cited the warmth and hospitality of their hosts. All of which is truly wonderful but should not serve to obscure a larger and more lasting truth.

While in many significant ways, Russian citizens have better lives than Soviet citizens of a generation ago, there’s is still a government which imprisons dissidents, is hostile to gay rights, sponsors and supports a vicious regime in Syria - and that’s just a partial list.

The Sochi games are Vladimir Putin's games, from their inception to their conclusion, and all points in between. And if they are successful on their own terms, as appears to be the case, then at least in some corners it will help to burnish the image of a regime with which much of the world takes significant issue. No amount of Olympic glory can mask those realities any more than a biathlon gold medal, though hard-earned and deeply satisfying as it is, can put out the fires in Kiev.

 Watch the full clip here.


Russian Gay Activist Disrupts Scott Lively’s Speech at Anti-LGBT Event in D.C. – VIDEO

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 9.39.37 PM

At a ‘pro-family’ press conference in D.C. on Friday, evangelist Scott Lively was caught on camera being heckled by Viacheslav Revin, a Russian gay activist and refugee in the U.S.

Queer Russia reports:

Revin disrupted Scott Lively’s presentation and made a statement with a help of Ellen Sturtz translating his speech into English:

"Homophobia is a first step toward dictatorship! Putin is a dictator who condemned to death thousands of orphaned children by banning foreign adoptions. Putin is a corrupted thief who invents scapegoats and deflects attention from his crimes. His latest invention is the anti-gay law, so gays in modern Russia feel like jews back in the USSR. Declaring support for Putin means denying the democracy and demanding racial segregation. This is what Putin doing in Russia now in regards to gays and migrant workers from Central Asia."

Lively-protest1Lively's speech was intended to announce the creation of the Coalition for Family Values, which includes Peter LaBarbera, Linda Harvey, and others dedicated to “confronting LGBT agenda” and supporting the Russian government’s anti-gay efforts.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Earlier this week, HRC released a video denouncing Lively and other prominent U.S. anti-gay activists for their work in helping Russia pass its gay propaganda law. 

Continue reading "Russian Gay Activist Disrupts Scott Lively’s Speech at Anti-LGBT Event in D.C. – VIDEO" »


Formula One's Bernie Ecclestone 'Completely Agrees' with Russia's Anti-Gay Laws: VIDEO

Cnn_ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone, the President and CEO of Formula One Management, often referred to as 'F1 Supremo' by tabloids, tells CNN that he support Russian President Vladimir Putin and his anti-gay law.

EcclestoneSaid Ecclestone:

"He [Putin] hasn't said he doesn't agree [with homosexuality], just that he doesn't want these things publicised to an audience under the age of 18. I completely agree with those sentiments and if you took a world census you'd find 90% of the world agree with it as well. I've great admiration for him and his courage to say what he says. It may upset a few people but that's how the world is. It's how he sees the world and I think he's completely right."

Ecclestone's remarks come in advance of the first Russian Grand Prix, set to take place on the streets of Sochi in October.

Listen to his remarks in a CNN report, AFTER THE JUMP...

LotusIn February, Formula One team Lotus was forced to apologize after publishing a tweet that featured two men kissing with the message: "Ahead of the opening ceremony, we would like to wish all athletes a successful 2014 Olympic Winter Games #Sochi2014"

According to the BBC, "The Lotus F1 tweet upset top management and shareholders of the team, who are owned by the investment group Genii Capital, because it was causing problems for their business."

Formula One has a bit of a poor reputation in this area. It was involved in a lawsuit in 2009 in which it was accused of homophobia and racism by an employee who said he was fired for being gay.

Continue reading "Formula One's Bernie Ecclestone 'Completely Agrees' with Russia's Anti-Gay Laws: VIDEO" »


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