WHAT IT MEANS TO BE PRO-RUSSIAN IN THE AGE OF CLICKBAIT?
Written By Antun Katalenić
“Pro-Russia Candidate Appears Likely to Win Bulgarian Presidency”
The New York Times, November 13, 2016.
“Pro-Russia presidential candidates tipped to win in Bulgaria and Moldova”
The Guardian, November 13, 2016.
The Guardian went on to say that: “Voters in Bulgaria and Moldova could extend Moscow’s influence in eastern Europe on Sunday in potential fresh blows to the European Union. Bulgarians are expected to elect a Russia-friendly former air force commander as president in a runoff election, setting the stage for months of political uncertainty for the EU member country.”
This Bulgarian pro-Russian candidate is Rumen Radev who eventually did in fact win the presidential election, beating the ruling party’s candidate Tsetska Tsacheva in the second round of voting. A win that would eventually lead to prime minister Boyko Borisov stepping down and calling for snap elections.
“Pro-Moscow figure Igor Dodon claims Moldova presidency”
BBC, November 14, 2016.
He too, like his Bulgarian counterpart, beat a female candidate of the government and other pro-EU forces but failed to get his wish of preliminary parliamentary elections fulfilled.
“Estonia’s New Premier Comes From Party With Links to Russia”
The New York Times, November 20, 2016.
“ Jüri Ratas, the new leader of a party whose strongest support comes from the country’s ethnic Russians, has been named the next prime minister of Estonia. Despite having the second-largest number of seats in Estonia’s Parliament, the Center Party had long been shut out of power for its links to the United Russia party of Vladimir V. Putin.”
All three aforementioned were also included in Politico’s so called “New Putin Coalition” along with French Republican presidential candidate François Fillon, Dutch PM hopeful Geert Wilders, Greek and Hungarian prime ministers Alexis Tsipras and Viktor Orbán and the new President of the United States of America, Donald Trump.
But what does it actually mean to be pro-Russian in the 2016-17 political season? Reading the news, it seems that either you’re a pro-EU good guy or a pro-Russian baddie. There doesn’t appear to be any middle ground.
Let’s look at the case of the Bulgarian presidential elections mentioned at the top. Rumen Radev is a 53-year old Bulgarian Major General of the Reserve. He graduated from the Georgi Benkovski Bulgarian Air Force University in 1987 and from the Maxwell Squadron Officer School in the United States five years later where he also returned in 2003 for additional education. So far his life story seems more like the one of the ex-Georgian pro-West president Mikheil Saakashvili, rather than one of Vladimir Putin’s ally as the media would have us believe. During the presidential campaign Radev stated his unconditional support for Bulgaria’s membership in the EU and NATO for which he also flew as a pilot as he likes to point out.
So how did this socialist backed independent candidate get stuck with the pro-Russian tag? Simple, he called for ending sanctions on Russia. Yes, the very Russia that annexed Crimea and is arming the rebels in the east of Ukraine. The Russia that shares fake news and propaganda to interfere with democratic elections in the West.
Hold on just for a second. It appears that in fact he wasn’t alone in his call to end sanctions. The same proposal was in fact made by the pro-EU camp’s favourite Tsacheva. Her boss Borisov hasn’t gone as far but has admitted that sanctions are indeed hurting his country and that cooperation with Moscow is necessary. Borisov also stated his disagreement with NATO setting up a navy base in neighbouring Romania whilst all three mentioned said nothing against four so called Bulgarian-American Joint Military Facilities on their soil.
It appears that apart from some more Kremlin friendly rhetoric, no significant foreign policy shifts can be expected during Radev’s time in office. Firstly because the president holds a mostly ceremonial role in Bulgaria’s parliamentary system and secondly because he is simply not that pro-Russian. In this case it is more of a political claim made by his opponents that the media on both sides of the new Iron curtain happily picked up. Cold war generates traffic.
In all fairness, the Moldovan president Dodon fits much better in the pro-Russian mold. During the presidential campaign, Dodon did in fact call for Moldova joining Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in the Eurasian Economic Union. However it’s important to note in this, as well as any other Moldovan political issue, that a four thousand kilometre strip of land in the east is controlled by a self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria which is almost completely reliant on Russian support. The reality is that if any leader wants rapprochement inside Moldova’s internationally recognized borders, they are going to have to work together with Kremlin. It’s also important to note that Dodon has said that he is willing to follow reforms set out by Brussels in cooperation with Moldova’s government. It seems that neutrality is the path of choice.
To claim that the Estonian PM is pro-Russian seems ludicrous to anyone with basic knowledge of the country’s past and present. It seems so because it simply is so. The truth is that his party has some links with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia however those are frozen as we speak. Ratas made it abundantly clear that Estonia’s place is in the EU and NATO and went as far as saying that he will back EU’s policy towards Russia until the latter restarts to obey international law.
Some and maybe even most of this information can in fact be found in the articles cited above. But that is left for the more enthusiastic consumers of information.
In the age of clickbait, the criteria to determine who is pro-Russian seems very vague and who knows, maybe the next election in your country will also be won by a pro-Russian candidate. Or at least that’s what the media will have the rest believe.
A version of this article was first published on Radio Študent.