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How many political prisoners are there in Russia? Around 50. Only a handful of them are genuine pro-democracy activists, while many are suspected jihadists and far-right extremists, who were naturally denied fair trial, just because it is Russia.

Now the number of people arrested in the aftermath of the failed Turkish coup is estimated at around 70 thousand, though some of them have been freed. The clampdown on the alleged “Gülenists” does smack of Stalin’s purges of the “Troskyists” in the 1930s. Most of the prisoners had nothing to do with Trotsky, it’s just that Stalin needed an enemy brand to rally his supporters by inciting fear and hatred.

There is a great irony in the fact that a NATO member and a country that once was just a step away from joining the EU (under the same government) is now more repressive than the much-feared Russia. More than that, the duo is now forging an alliance, as exemplified by the gas pipeline agreement announced today.

Just 20 years ago Russia was also a very different country, with a population naively enthusiastic about integrating with the West and ending the Cold War. But having been shown in every kind of away that it can’t hope for the same treatment as other Eastern bloc countries, it found itself in a cultural and political vacuum that has produced a monster called Vladimir Putin. Now it’s Turkey’s turn to create its own monster.

What unites Turkey and Russia is that they were both denied the possibility of integration in Euro-Atlantic structures not because of their merits or the lack of thereof but because of xenophobia and ancient animosities promoted by nationalists in EU member countries.

There are only two ideas that allow leaders to rally masses of people in most of Europe, especially in the east. One is nationalism, with its appeal to archaic tribal instincts of sticking with the kin and hating neighbours. The other is European integration.

When they come together – magic things happen, like Maidan revolution in Ukraine and velvet revolutions of 1989. When the integration component is missing, an authoritarian form of nationalism takes hold.

That’s because those who genuinely care about liberal democracy are never a majority. Not just in Russia or Turkey, but even in the US, as the current election shows.

There are various ways of stopping Putin’s and Erdogan’s brinkmanship as well as them building a Eurasian political alliance hostile to the EU. But there is only one that will ultimately work, if complemented by other methods, such as sanctions.

It is to appeal to the people and elites in both countries, over the head of their leaders, that they are welcome in the united Europe, provided they implement a set of conditions that include a thorough democratization and – in the case of Russia – withdrawing from Ukraine plus a complete overhaul of all corruption-ridden institutes. Leadership change is also a fair, though not necessarily practical demand.

This plan certainly sounds utopian now that various EU nations are now threatening to degrade into 20th century nation states, surrounded by barbed wire and customs posts. But the wind will change and EU expansion will be back on the table.

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October 10, 2016 at 8:46 pm

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Pavel Sheremet was a Ukrainian, as much as Russian and Belarusian journalist. He worked as a correspondent for the Russian ORT channel (currently Channel 1) in Minsk until he got jailed on dubious charges related to his professional activities. His cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky was later killed, allegedly by a death squad, also responsible for assassinations of Lukashenko’s opponents.

For a long time, I could not forgive Sheremet for his stint as a pro-Putin TV propagandist during Russian media wars that resulted in the defeat of Luzhkov-Primakov coalition and the hostile takeover of NTV – an event that heralded the beginning of the end of free press in Russia. To be fair, he was not the only democrat who backed Putin at the time. Many of Putin’s current fierce opponents regarded him as a lesser evil compared with his old guard foes.

I raised that subject when I first met Sheremet for a proper chat last year. He replied something along the lines that he would live to regret it. I immediately hated myself for my mindless righteousness.

Sheremet was one of the most nuanced journalist in the ex-USSR who didn’t give in to the temptation of joining crowds of zealots incapable of critical thinking, no matter whether they support Putin or the West. He understood the complexity of the post-Soviet discourse and bought neither Russian nor Ukrainian and Western propagandist cliches.

I think it is thanks to his Putin experience that he understood the risks of striking deals with the devil. His last op-ed, in which he warned about dodgy criminal characters associated with Ukrainian volunteer battalions, was exactly about that. It was a very carefully worded piece, which praised former Azov commander Anton Biletsky for cooperation with the government, but asserted that Biletsky’s progress should be watched very attentively because of his neo-Nazi past.

This is not to say that the blame should be immediately apportioned to the Ukrainian far-right. Sheremet was an important anti-Kremlin voice who has wholeheartedly supported Ukraine when it was invaded by Russian troops in 2014. As the owner of one of the main opposition websites in Belarus, he had enemies there, too.

Murders of journalists rarely get properly investigated in the former USSR. The lack of transparency in the case of pro-Russian journalist Oleh Buzyna, assassinated in Kiev last year, doesn’t leave much hope that this investigation will be any different. But Sheremet was a much more popular and respected media figure, so I am sure that in his case, the Ukrainian civil society will be pressing the authorities  very hard in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.

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July 20, 2016 at 2:03 pm

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Britain’s three main political parties – some of the world’s oldest – got defeated by a single-issue coalition that was formed just a few months ago and lost its charismatic leader less than a week after its victory.

In the US, the unofficial Trump party has effectively defeated GOP and will probably give a hard time to the Democrats in the coming months.

I am writing this in Ukraine, where – like in many parts of Eastern Europe – all parties are temporary coalitions coalescing around charismatic leaders or specific issues and showing no semblance of any coherent ideology.

It has been for a long time presumed that eventually they’ll give way to stable political institutions, such as Tory and Labour parties in the UK.

But see – it goes the other way round in the UK and also in America. Is it a sign of decline or is it the future of global politics? Perhaps Eastern Europe has simply rejected the institution that was already outdated at the time when democracy knocked on its door?

Media revolution has completely changed the tools of political mobilization. Do old parties fit into this new environment? I am not sure.

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July 3, 2016 at 4:18 pm

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Did you notice how all of us living OUTSIDE Britain were genuinely worried about the outcome of the British referendum? Like it is our domestic issue.

That’s because it is. Europe is our home. The outcome is a huge blow for all pro-European forces inside and outside the EU. It is a victory for the fledgling Nationalist International – a huge and powerful global coalition that unites Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, West European far-right and far-left populist demagogues, East European nationalists and last but not least – Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia that made its own contribution to making Brexit happen.

But it’s great that we see it as a common issue. It is time to rise to the next level and engage in pan-European political battle against archaic politics that nurtures divisions, jingoism, corruption and wars.

The liberal discourse in Europe has been poisoned by nationalism for decades. That happened because progressive politicians in the 19th and 20th century used nationalism as a tool of political mobilization in their fight for human rights, equal representation and against the oppression of archaic empires.

But on its own, nationalism is an ideology of regress that strives to take the world back to tribalism, patrimonialism and anti-meritocracy. It is the ideology of us against them, of always supporting your country and your kin, even if their actions are vile and immoral.

The division of Europe into ethnocratic nation states is unnatural. It is only the Holocaust coupled with post-WWII deportations that turned countries like Poland and Czech Republic into monoethnic and mono-religious states. But is Poland better without Jews, Germans and Ukrainians? Is Czech-only Prague better? It the multicultural cosmopolitan feel that makes countries like Britain and cities like London look stronger than the above two.

I am a Russian European. I am proud of my language and culture, but I am not proud of my country. Actually I am deeply ashamed of what it has done to Ukraine and what it is doing to its own intelligentsia and middle class. I am ashamed of it acting is a wicked teenager that won’t grow up despite all the harm it has done to itself and its neighbours.

Being Russian, I also realize how many people and politicians in countries to the west of mine are exact copies of those who have created Putin’s regime, how close all European countries are to replicating it – much closer than any of them would admit, even to themselves. Yes I mean you, Poland and Hungary. Putin’s Russia is indeed Dorian Gray’s picture of Europe.

I am totally on the same wavelength with my pro-European friends in Britain, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Baltic and Scandinavian countries, Ukraine and Georgia.

I have as little in common with Russia’s pro-Putin majority as I have with Ukrainian and other East European nationalists, West European anti-EU populists of all shades and colours, Brexiteers, Trumpists and Tea Party supporters in the US. I have none of these among my friends and I can hardly see any of them on my Facebook timeline.

There are many Europeans like me, inside and outside the EU. It’s time for European liberals to realign the barricades – destroy the ones that divide us along the national boundaries and build a massive new bulwark against the White Walkers of the 21st century, the nationalists.

I totally believe that European Union is the best institution that has ever been created in this continent. It is also the best guarantee for the survival of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups, from large ones to the tiniest. It is nationalists who start wars and conduct ethnic cleansing.

The EU is still very young, weak, poorly coordinated and disunited. Well, we need to make it stronger. It’s time for a new and more powerful European dream. We need to talk to each other and work it out. Now.

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June 27, 2016 at 8:08 am

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I spoke with a Baltic diplomat earlier this month and he said: “Putin is just a hooligan – it’s a hooligan state!”

He was actually talking about Russian military posturing in the vicinity of his country, but clashes in France clearly confirm his viewpoint. It’s not football hooligans as such, but the reaction of the Russian state to their hooliganism – like summoning the French ambassador on the account of arrests made by French police.

Many media outlets have contrasted the Russian reaction to that of British government officials and politicians.  While British dignitaries condemned their fans for street violence and mischief, the Russians endorsed the considerably more dangerous behavior of their compatriots. Some of them even used hooligans’ language, like Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin who said that Europe is simply “not used to seeing real men after all the gay parades”. In addition to all that, some of the ultras appeared to be members of the official delegation.

It entirely fits into Russia’s general line of behavior. There is no purpose or strategy – just the desire to be evil for the sake of it and to engage in all kinds of antisocial behavior. The country is a teenager that will continue to break windows and pee on the porch until he grows up – something that may or may not happen since there are no grown-ups around to look after his upbringing.

Russia’s behavior stems from the 20th century trauma coupled with its unique status of the only East European state that has no real chance of hoping to be integrated into the Euroatlantic community.

That realization, which descended on previously naive and enthusiastic ex-Soviet people late in the 1990s, produced another layer of trauma on top of the first one.

There is no chance at all that Russia will change, while both Europe and America are themselves degrading into political hooliganism, as in the case of Trump, Brexit or Dutch referendum on Ukraine. But it will definitely happen when the pendulum of history swings the other way, the European Union gets its act together and starts fulfilling the project of united Europe without borders and the archaic menace of nationalism.

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June 15, 2016 at 4:40 pm

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The whole of Europe is  outraged by the mayhem caused by Russian and English football fans in France and rightly so. But in fact we could have had another Orlando, if not for the Ukrainian secret services. A couple of weeks earlier (the announcement came on June 6), they intercepted a terrorist suspect who tried to smuggle grenade launchers and explosives from from the war-torn Ukraine into France.

Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) that the suspect, identified by the French press as Gregoire Moutaux, planned to stage simultaneous bombing attacks targeting bridges, highways, a tax office, a mosque, a synagogue and Euro-2016 offices.

SBU press release suggests that the man is a far-right radical. In that case it’s no wonder that he was on SBU’s radar from the moment he stepped on the Ukrainian soil.

Ukraine has a problem with its own ultra-nationalists, who took an active part in the war effort after the Russian invasion in Crimea and Donbass. That made them firmly entrenched in various parts of the government, particularly law-enforcement bodies.

But so far it seems that it is the state that controls and steers them and not visa versa. One example is the gay parade that took place in Kiev last Sunday. There were calls by notable right-wingers to attack LGBT activists.

But major right-wing organisations, like Azov Civil Corps, refrained from doing so. That’s largely thanks to the effort by security services and political consultants who are steering these very real extremists towards relative mainstream.

The ones who actually tried to stage attacks (but were repelled and detained by the police) were mostly connected to Dmytro Korchynsky – a veteran political provocateur, who was formerly an ally of Russian ultra-nationalist philosopher Aleksandr Dugin and fought alongside Donbass rebel commander Igor Girkin (Strelkov) in Moldovan war in 1992. Curiously or not, he also happen to be Ukraine’s chief Russophobe who has been supplying Russian propaganda outlets with “fascist Ukraine” material for two decades.

I was curious to check out how Korchynsky reacted to Orlando. He used the tragedy to attack his arch-enemy – MP Mustafa Nayem, who took part in Kiev Pride. A Ukrainian journalist of Afghan origin, Nayem is also the man whose Facebook post triggered Maidan revolution in 2013.

This is what Korchysky wrote about Orlando:

“I am sorry for the unfortunate victims, but I lack the spirit to sympathise with the Americans. It’s them who should sympathise with us. America is a great country. But why is everyone better there, even the Afghans? While the Ukrainian Afghan was waving a rainbow flag at the gay parade, the American one was skilfully emptying his gun cases”.

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June 14, 2016 at 5:58 pm

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Latvia has adopted a law aimed specifically against a few thousand Russian political immigrants who have fled dictatorial mayhem in their country after Bolotnaya protests and the annexation of Crimea.

These people, mostly middle class professionals, obtained residence permits in exchange for investment in property and businesses. In practice, it means that they swapped their Russian apartments for flats and houses in Latvia, bringing hundreds of millions into the cash-strapped economy.

Now, the new law stipulates that they need to pay 5000 Euro per person to renew the five-year permit. For many families, possibly including my own, it means they’ll have to say goodbye to Latvia after all the efforts, years and money invested in settling down and integrating in Latvian society.

The simple reason is that unlike Russian oligarchs, state officials and criminals who inundate Latvia and will have no trouble paying the fee, for us 5000 euro, multiplied by the number of people in the family, is a very large sum of money.

Besides, the state-sponsored theft and extortion was one of main reasons to leave Russia in the first place, so why live in a country that does the same?

The new law says three things about Latvia:

1. This country is bad for investment, because it cheats and changes the rules in the middle of the game.

2. Amazingly, in the 21st century Latvian laws actually work retroactively. This one, for example, targets people who obtained permits after 2011.

3. The parliamentary majority in Latvia can be easily manipulated by the Kremlin into adopting laws that go against Latvia’s economic and strategic interests, while helping Vladimir Putin to promote anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic agenda in the EU and to target Russian political immigrants.

In short, it is full of Putin’s stooges no matter how they pretend to come across as patriots and nationalists. MPs who initiated this law have a long history of serving as Russian propaganda’s favourite scarecrows who are helping Kremlin TV to paint Latvia as intolerant and Russophobic country, which it clearly isn’t. Now they are at it again.

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April 21, 2016 at 4:30 pm

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