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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2170

Those other "foreign fighters";
The secret of Putin's success: Russia's "genetic code"

Edited by Ilan Berman
December 6, 2017

November 3:

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine are gaining reinforcements. A video report from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
has documented an influx of Serbian nationals who have joined the ranks of separatist forces fighting the Ukrainian military. The foreign fighters - who now number some 300 souls - reportedly entered the Ukrainian theater by flying from Belgrade to Moscow, and from there transiting by bus to Rostov-on-Don for training, and then ultimately traveling onward to Donetsk. The new combatants "appear to motivated by a nationalist agenda stressing traditional links between Russia and Serbia," the news service notes.

USA Today reports that one of professional hockey's most recognizable faces is launching a social movement in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In recent days, Alex Ovechkin, the captain of the Washington Capitals NHL franchise, announced plans via social media platform Instagram to established a social movement he dubbed the "Putin Team" to support the Kremlin and its policies. According to Ovechkin, the movement is "not about political stuff," but rather about patriotism. "I just support my country, you know?" the sportsman has said. "That's where I'm from, my parents live there, all my friends. Like every human from different countries, they support their president." The effort, however, has drawn praise from the Kremlin, which has officially "welcomed" Ovechkin's support.

Russia, along with Iran and Turkey, is actively planning to shape Syria's future.
Iran's Tasnim news agency reports that military chiefs from all three countries are scheduled to meet soon to coordinate policies on "security in the region" and "fighting terrorism." The talks will be separate from, and in addition to, the broader diplomatic negotiations over Syria's future recently held in Astana, Kazakhstan.

November 4:

As part of their efforts to interfere in the U.S. electoral cycle last Fall, Russian "trolls" promoted a number of divisive political narratives - including the need for the state of California to declare independence from the rest of the country.
The BBC notes that "social media accounts with ties to Russia" promoted the ideal of "Calexit" - secession by California along the lines of the UK's recent Brexit vote in favor of independence from the European Union. "California should secede," one Russian troll account on social media platform Twitter argued. "We are the richest state in the U.S. Therefore it is strong enough to be its own country. #Calexit."

Why is Russian President Vladimir Putin so popular? To hear him tell it, it's because of nothing less than the characteristics of Russians' "genetic code." "Unity and patriotism always helped the (Russian) people to endure during times of hardship and to accomplish large-scale development goals," Putin told attendees at a formal Kremlin event marking the country's National Unity Day
in comments reported by Sputnik. "Tender care for the motherland, unwavering and sincere friendship, and utter unwillingness to acquiesce to any pressure from abroad - these are the pillars of the Russian statehood, our genetic and cultural code."

November 7:

Is Russia looking for a way to exit the Syrian theater? "Following the recent successes of the Russian military forces in Syria, there are renewed indications that Moscow is seeking some kind of exit strategy,"
writes analyst Emil Avdaliani for Israel's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Russian leaders, Avdaliani notes, "are now openly hinting at closing off their combat operations there," and have sent similar signals in their recent meetings with Israeli officials.

However, a prompt pullout is likely to be difficult for Russia to achieve, for a variety of reasons. "First, Moscow needs a negotiated political resolution to the conflict that leaves it strong enough to safeguard its military and political influence [in the country]," a situation that will take time and political involvement, according to Avdaliani. Second, Russia has attempted to leverage success in Syria as a means to lessen Western pressure on it over its intervention in Ukraine - something that has not yet happened. As a result of these considerations, "the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Syrian conflict unlikely for the moment..." because "[w]ithout its Syrian presence, the Kremlin risks losing a bargaining tool and with it a chance of restoring its diminished influence in Ukraine."

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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