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The Real Russia. Today. A Soviet excuse to skip bills, Frolov on the Russo-Japanese negotiation hurdles, and Moscow's problems with New Start

Source: Meduza

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

This day in history (50 years ago): On January 15, 1969, the Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5 became the first two manned spacecraft to dock in orbit. The ships also completed the first-ever crew transfer from one craft to another, using a space walk — two months before Apollo 9 performed the first-ever internal crew transfer.
  • Thousands of Russians have joined something called the ‘Union SSR’ trade union, calling themselves Soviet citizens and refusing to pay their bills
  • Vladimir Frolov says Russia might deliberately demand too much from Japan and lose its shot at undermining the U.S.
  • Russia is turning on the New Start Treaty, as INF is on the verge of collapse

A Soviet excuse for free utilities

A former oil trader named Sergey Dyomkin founded an organization called the “Union SSR” trade union, whose members believe the Soviet Union never legally collapsed. Last year, the organization published a “presidential agreement” supposedly allowing members not to pay their home utilities bills. Members actually stopped paying their bills. Utility companies are trying to recover unpaid bills through the courts, but members of Dyomkin’s trade union reject the legitimacy of Russia’s courts.

Read Meduza's special report: “Thousands of Russians have joined something called the ‘Union SSR’ trade union, calling themselves Soviet citizens and refusing to pay their bills”

Frolov on the problem with Russia-Japanese negotiations

In an op-ed for Republic, columnist and former diplomat Vladimir Frolov reviews the stumbling negotiations between Moscow and Tokyo to return the two most southern Kuril Islands to Japan in exchange for a formal peace treaty. Frolov argues that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s clear readiness to agree to major concessions has prompted even greater demands from Russia, jeopardizing the deal once again.

Frolov says Russian diplomats and Russia’s state news media has responded with hostility to recent signals from the Japanese government that an agreement on the Kuril Islands is imminent, misreading the media blitz in Tokyo as an effort to pressure Moscow into a deal, when it’s really Prime Minister Abe’s attempt to prepare his own constituents for all the unpopular concessions he might make to regain control over the Shikotan and Habomai Islands. The Kremlin is so sensitive, Frolov says, because surrendering even this territory (just seven percent of Japan’s total claim on the volcanic archipelago) contradicts Vladimir Putin’s reputation as a ruler who adds land to Russia. In November 2018, a whopping 74 percent of the country said they object to giving back any of the Kuril Islands.

Moscow also objects to recent comments by Katsuyuki Kawai, Prime Minister Abe’s foreign affairs special adviser, who said on January 9 that a postwar peace treaty with Russia will “help counter a threat posed by China.” Frolov says Putin would never embrace this justification for a deal with Japan, even if the concessions Tokyo accepts (especially requirements that it not deploy U.S. Aegis Ashore missile defense systems on the islands) actually increase China’s ability to contain the United States in the region.

Moscow’s increasingly unreasonable demands

Abe’s obvious high resolve to conclude a deal on less than advantageous terms has driven Moscow to demand more and more concessions: Japan’s unilateral withdrawal from economic sanctions, renunciation of all territorial claims on the other Kuril Islands, and even the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the rest of the country.

When it comes to lifting sanctions, Moscow has no reason to expect a flood of Japanese investment, Frolov says, but Japanese companies do currently observe secondary U.S. sanctions, which has suspended shipments of key chemical components needed for the carbon fiber reinforced polymer wings on the Irkut MC-21 twinjet airliner, threatening to disrupt the project. Frolov says Moscow’s insistence that Tokyo “unconditionally recognize the results of the Second World War” is connected to Putin’s plan to sidestep popular opposition to surrendering territory by opening the door to transferring Shikotan and the Habomai Islands to Japan “as a gesture of goodwill,” without relinquishing formal sovereignty. (Frolov says this is a nonstarter condition for Tokyo.) As for Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova’s remarks in December 2018 (where she said Soviet Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko’s 1960 memo demanding the withdrawal of all foreign troops from across Japan), Frolov says this is either a bargaining chip or a deliberate attempt to torpedo the negotiations, given that Japan will never agree to this condition.

INF collapse threatens to spill into New Start

In a report for The Wall Street Journal, Michael Gordon reports that Russia is stepping up its criticism of U.S. efforts to preserve a nonnuclear role for dozens of B-52H bombers and reduce the launch capacity of Trident II submarines, while adhering to the New Start Treaty (“the last major nuclear-weapons accord between the U.S. and Russia”). Following comments by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov that “transformed the discussions by specialists into a political conflict,” Moscow shared an 11-page paper with U.S. senators exposing “confidential diplomatic discussions between the U.S. and Russian officials.” The scandal threatens the Obama-era New Start deal as the INF Treaty is on the verge of collapse. Read Gordon's report here.

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Yours, Meduza

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