An Interview with Irina Feldman

My name is Pablo Llamas Aparicio and I am a first-year student of Translation at the UEM. On June 9, 2016, I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Irina Feldman, who teaches Spanish language and Latin American literature at Middlebury College, in Vermont, United States. I thought it could be interesting to know the opinion of someone who lives in a state that usually remains unnoticed for Europeans in comparison to some of the states where we get the idea that everything seems to happen. On top of that, being born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Ms. Feldman’s own intercultural experience only added spice to this amazing interview.

First, it seemed a good idea to me that Ms. Feldman introduced herself to my readers. She told me that she had moved to the U.S. when she was fifteen years old, short after the U.S.S.R. had dissolved, because her mother –a single mother- was not sure of whether it would be possible for them to live safely in Russia during the transition. After a period of time during which she was not precisely infatuated with the States, Ms. Feldman took her high education in Georgetown, Washington D.C. and graduated in Hispanic literature. After living a couple of years in South America, she got a job in Middlebury College. She explained me that her research focuses on left-winged movements in South America, as well as the authors of those movements, especially in the Andean area (Bolivia, Peru…).

My next question to her was about the origin of her interest on Hispanic literature, given that she was born in Russia and works in the United States. She confessed me that one major factor was the fact that she did not really like the English language when she moved to the U.S. or the country itself, for that matter. She also told me that she had had wonderful Spanish teachers when she was in high school and later at college. She had had really positive experiences with teachers and professors from Spain, so she started studying Peninsularists, that is studies on the Iberian Peninsula, and she was highly interested on Medieval Spain. However, once she got in contact with studies on Latin America, she finally made up her mind and started focusing her studies on Latin America.

Wanting to know more details about what made her like the Hispanic literature so much, I asked her whether Hispanic literature had traditionally had a big impact on the Russian culture, as well as the American. To that question, she answered that actually, it had a great impact on the Soviet culture, when she was young. In that time, the classics from the Golden Age of the Spanish literature, like Cervantes or Lope de Vega, were indeed very famous in Russia. She told me that her first contact with the Spanish literature came when she was young and lived in Russia. She would read all these classics that are so important for the history of Spanish culture and literature. She also told me about a Russian-made movie of El Quijote, saying that it was “a very impressive movie.” As for Latin American literature, she answered that both in Russia and the U.S. it was famous for “the Boom” of authors like Gabriel García Márquez or Mario Vargas Llosa. However, she expressed her disappointment on the newer generations of students in the U.S. due to their little knowledge on Hispanic literature, even in the case of her own students at the very beginning of their degrees.

Next, I thought it was time we spoke about current affairs. Laughing, Ms. Feldman said that she could already guess what I was going to ask her (and she happened to be right). First, given that only two days before, Hillary Clinton had become the first woman to be an official candidate to the U.S. presidential elections, I asked Ms. Feldman why she thought Clinton received so much supporting from the U.S. citizens. She explained that Vermont is a state that traditionally votes as much to the left as it can. So then, she asks, why does Hillary Clinton receive so much supporting? In her opinion, Hillary’s popularity has been supported by her relation with former president Bill Clinton. She thinks that Hillary’s stand on immigration is not progressive, but she receives so much supporting because people think of Hillary as a professional who knows what she is doing. However, according to Ms. Feldman, Hillary’s presidency would not mean the revolutionary change that a lot of people seem to ask for.

When asked about Donald Trump, she answered that it was completely the other way round: people think of Trump as an anti-establishment candidate. From what she told me, a lot of people seem to believe that because Trump is so rich, he will not accept bribes. People, Ms. Feldman says, are sick of the system, they think that the government does not represent the people, they think that the state is corrupted by the big money, and want someone who can change the game. She, however, thinks that these people are wrong. She can’t see the logic behind the bribes argument, and sees Trump as the main example of the decay of the political system in the U.S.

Moscow’s turn: The Russian version of the conflict in Ukraine

 

Since 2014, the conflict in Ukraine, which started as a result of the Euromaidan, has been continuing. Western Media reported well during the first half of the conflict, the Syrian civil war taking the stage soon afterwards, Ukraine fading from the European Union’s (EU) TV-screens. However, to what extent can we believe what we hear in Western media, without hearing the point of view of Russia itself? ______________________________________________________________________________________________
Authors: Derek W. Brokowski
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Embassy of the Russian Federation in Madrid. (Image Source: Derek N. Photography)

In an interview with Mr. Evgeny Evdokimov, the First Secretary of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Madrid, Mr. Evdokimov explains Russia’s point of view and stance in the conflict, in contrast to that issued by Western European media.


The conflict in Ukraine, which started in February 2014, by Russia’s annexation of Crimea following a referendum celebrated on the autonomous peninsula, which the Ukrainian government in return declared illegal, is one of the major political crises Europe has experienced in the 21st century.

European media has done a great job reporting about Russia’s aggressions against Ukraine, as well as the violation of bilateral as well as multilateral treaties in which both countries were included. However, the role of Western Media is an important component of how we perceive the conflict in Ukraine. In Russia, Western Media has been called out to be biased, mostly reporting in favour of Ukraine and the actions of the European Union against Russia.

Interested in the conflict, although not identifying as pro-Russian, I have decided to exclusively interview the First Secretary of the Russian Embassy in Madrid, Mr. Evgeny Evdokimov. I knew the Ukrainian side of the conflict already, however I felt the need to be able to understand those opposing me, those in favour of Russia, and not Ukraine.

An interesting aspect of the conflict are the whereabouts of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who is considered to have triggered the Euromaidan and as a consequence also the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, following the suspension of talks between Ukraine and the European Union regarding an association agreement between the two. According to Mr. Evdokimov, the former president left the country on the night of February 21st 2014, heading for Russia. Furthermore, the First Secretary added, Russia has granted Yanukovych asylum, reportedly due to direct threats against him and as a humanitarian act.

Rumours about Yanukovych having been granted Russian citizenship through a secret decree by Vladimir Putin, are not only being denied by Mr. Evdokimov, but also by presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who stated that he had not seen such a decree issued by the president.

In 1994, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, USA and the UK signed the Budapest Memorandum, in which the territorial integrity, the respect of the established borders and sovereignty of the three former Soviet Republics was guaranteed by all signatories. A condition of the memorandum, was that all three former Soviet Republics give up their nuclear weapons to Russia, who in return will assure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of these countries. An alleged military intervention by Russia on Ukrainian soil, as  reported by Western media, breaches the conditions of the memorandum. Upon mentioning this, Mr. Evdokimov explained that, all military interventions are alleged, with no proof of such existing. He furthermore states that this is a propagandistic move against Russia by the West.

What are the motivations of Russia’s support for the rebels in Ukraine’s Eastern regions?

According to Mr. Evdokimov, Ukraine is a country divided by ethnicity and language. In the predominantly ethnically and linguistically Russian East, the people are in favor of close cooperation with Russia, whereas in the predominantly ethnically and linguistically Ukrainian West of the country, people hope to establish close ties with the European Union, and even go as far as to wanting Ukraine to become a member state.

Mr. Evdokimov stated that while Ukrainian products have quite some success on the Russian market, the factories and the industrial sector of the Ukrainian economy will not be able to compete with those of the EU member states. He also describes the EU as a union in which member states compete for the highest political position and the best economy, which would be an unsuitable terrain for Ukraine.

Additionally, Mr. Evdokimov reminded us, that the West has been violating commitments made in 1990, which included the non-expansion of NATO to Eastern European countries such as Poland and Romania, formerly members of the Warsaw Pact or the Soviet Union, as is the case of Ukraine. The First Secretary also stated that according to Western media, this commitment was not a written one, but rather an oral agreement, therefore not making it valid.

This is evident in the case of NATO offering Montenegro, a former Yugoslav Republic, membership on 02. December 2015, which was met by strong disapproval from Moscow, who in return suspended common projects with the small Balkan country, in response to a possible accession to NATO. However, the population of Montenegro is split, both parties, the one in favour and the one against an accession being almost equally big, the protesters reportedly being “Russia-friendly”.

As for the Minsk II Protocol, Mr. Evdokimov stated that Russia is doing everything possible on its part to comply with the protocol and it is up to Kiev to do its part, reminding us that Russia cannot make any changes in agreement with the protocol inside of Ukraine.

In June 2015, the Ukrainian government published the so-called “Kremlin’s Black Book”, in which it lists Human Rights violations committed by Russia and statistics about the ongoing war in the Donbass region, such as casualties and destruction of Ukraine’s industry in the region.
Russia, in return, published the “White Book on Violations of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Ukraine”, in which it lists alleged Human Rights violations by Ukraine in its Donbass region, also including reports by Amnesty International.

Concluding the interview, Mr. Evdokimov stated that it is important to consider Russia’s point of view, as well as that of the West, regarding the situation, in order to set an end to the conflict in Ukraine.

Nagorno-Karabakh: The world silently watches as Azerbaijan and Armenia resume fighting

 

Once again conflicts ensued between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two historical enemies lying in the Caucasus region on Europe’s border with Asia. Russia plays a key role in the conflict too.
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Authors: Suzanne Vink, Derek Julian Weyrather,

Paloma Álvarez, Raquel Envó,Alba Montoya
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Location of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh within the Caucasus region. (Source: Eyes on Europe & Middle East News)

Stepanakert – The so-called “frozen conflict” over the Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) region between Azerbaijan and Armenia started again in early April of 2016, the Azeri military intervened in Nagorno-Karabakh, killing several ethnic Armenians.

However, the conflict is not one sided, and victims are falling on both sides. Politico reports 18 Armenian soldiers have died in the current conflict, while at the same time 12 Azeri soldiers found the same fate. Moreover, the use of tanks, helicopters, artillery and grenade launchers show the conflict is getting serious.  Over the past two decades, about 300.000 Armenians had to leave their homes in Azerbaijan (of which 30.000 settled in NK). On the other side, there are 800.000 Azerbaijani people displaced, of whom 200.000 have fled from Armenia and 600.000 from the conflict zone.

Not unexpectedly, Russia plays a key role in this conflict. Not only is the world’s largest country busy fighting a war in Ukraine, it has also supplied both sides, Armenia and Azerbaijan with weapons. Nevertheless, on 3. April 2016 Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, called for an immediate ceasefire between the two former Soviet republics.

Russia’s call for a ceasefire is the response to diplomatic interest in the Caucasus region. While relations with Georgia have been strained since Russia’s invasion of the country in 2009, Azerbaijan and Armenia do enjoy good relations with the large Slavic nation. While Russia uses the conflict in Ukraine as an opportunity to stop gas supplies to Europe, the European Union has set an eye on the Caucasus countries, which lie in an energy-rich region, in order to diversify gas supplies from Russia.

In the meantime, Turkey is backing Azerbaijan. This is a sensitive issue, considering the fact that the Turkish government still has not recognized the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. Recently there have been worldwide protests towards the Turkish government, as it is the 101st anniversary of the genocide.

Azerbaijan and Armenia distrust each other, respectively. According to a census published in the Caucasus Analytical Digest (CAD) (a monthly publication composed of statistics of all types regarding the Caucasus region), 63% of Armenians saw Azerbaijan as Armenia’s biggest enemy in 2012. 32% of Armenians stated Turkey as such. Simultaneously, 91% of Azeris stated to see Armenia as Azerbaijan’s biggest enemy.

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(Graph Sources: Caucasus Analytical Digest (CAD))

Already in August 2014, Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, threatened Armenia with war via twitter, further increasing the tension between the two countries.

Ilham Aliyev threatens Armenia with war via Twitter

(Image source: Ilham Aliyev Twitter)

Furthermore, since Azerbaijan’s has mainly a Muslim population, the Islamic world has severed ties with Armenia. Especially Pakistan, who even withdrew recognition of the Republic of Armenia as a state, also breaking off diplomatic relations.

On the other hand, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European External Action Service (EEAS), called for an immediate ceasefire, stating that: “We expect both sides to respect strictly the ceasefire, refrain from the use of force and resume efforts towards a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”

An Unlikely Alliance

Since the end of the Soviet Union, Russia has been a country wanting to regain power. With President Vladimir Putin leading the Russian campaign, many expected a continual growth, what they did not expect were the relations formed with their once enemy China.

For many years the two communist countries had an alliance, though it continued to break down. It was during Richards Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 that relationships were frayed. Since then China has began to prosper, with a constantly growing economy, to create the Confucian academies around the globe to promote their culture and using soft power to their advantage. However Russia has pulled further away from the EU, due to sanctions on trade related to the annexation of Crimea. The further Russia has moved from the EU though; they have formed closer ties with China.

On May 8th, 2015, the relations between China and Russia came to a diplomatic victory when President Putin and Xi Jinping met, commemorating the 70 years anniversary of the end of WWII and the surrender of the Nazism regime in Moscow. Important economic meetings where held hoping to join the two countries, by forming a “joint investment bank”.

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The meeting became a success for both countries as they signed 32 agreements, including the financing of a new project of train in Russia. They also will be working with Byelorussia and Kazakhstan to promote the EAEU -the Eurasian Economic Union-.

This was not the first deal to be signed by the two countries as recently China and Russia agreed upon a $400 billion contract for gas, as well as several new agricultural business ventures in the Chinese region of Heilongjiang, which is in the northernmost part of the country.

The meeting coincides with the publication of the text of Fidel Castro “Our right to be Marxist-Leninists” where he talked about the Sino-Russian relations:

“With their close cooperation, modern science and powerful armies and brave soldiers, they constitute a powerful shield of world peace and security, so that the life of our species may be preserved”

Russia and China are more likely to become allies since they have been supporting each other for a long time. As Xi Jinping stated “decades ago, the Chinese and Russian nations shared weal and woe and forged an unbreakable war friendship with fresh blood,” he wrote. “Today, the two peoples will jointly move forward, safeguarding peace and promoting development […]” However, Russia has four myths which act as a handicap to drive the alliance process further. These myths are:

  • China is growing and developing at a constant and continuous speed
  • Several Chinese citizens will migrate to Siberia since both countries share a huge border
  • If they finally agree to become allies Russia’s main concern is about becoming too close to China that ends up depending on it, specially on economic means
  • They are both big countries and are worried about the security of the country, which causes mistrust between the countries they share borders with and is probably the basis of all the reasons why China and Russia haven’t become allies yet

Europe against Russia in Ukraine

European Union hopes to end the bloody conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists ravaging eastern Ukraine for nearly 10 months.

Last Saturday, western countries asked the Russian President Vladimir Putin to take action and bring back peace in Ukraine. They are pressing Kiev to accept the decisions taken together.

German chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande are trying to be the mediators between Ukraine and Russia in this major conflict. This crisis is at the heart of discussions during the security conference in Munich, which ended on February 8. When Angela Merkel compared the Ukrainian conflict with the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, participants in the Munich Conference understood that a turning point had been reached in this crisis, which has deteriorated more and more over the last year. By establishing a parallel with the Cold War, chancellor Merkel set the tone of the conference.

The implementation of the Minsk Agreement is the only way to resolve the conflict, insisted the Ukrainian President. Petro Poroshenko reminded the lines of the peace plan, starting with the establishment of a cease-fire.

The French president Francois Hollande said that a failure would have serious consequences. “If we fail to find, not a compromise but a lasting peace agreement, well, we know perfectly the script, it has a name, it is called the war,” said the French president. After visiting Kiev and Moscow, Merkel and Hollande united Russian and Ukrainian presidents this Sunday on the phone with the hope of finally reaching an agreement.

Since November 2013, Ukraine is going through a long period of conflict whose prospects are difficult to decipher. After important demonstration and the demission of the Pro-Russian President Viktor Ianoukovitch, Ukraine seemed more open toward European Union. Ukraine is home to a large pipeline network that supplies the entire European natural gas from Russia, which could decide to close the valves to pressure the European Union. It will not accept a state could serve as an instrument of pressure and does not want to give up its agreements with Ukraine .

Vladimir Putin decided to invade the east part of Ukraine, the Crimea. Indeed, Ukraine is home to a large pipeline network that supplies the entire European natural gas from Russia, which could decide to close the valves to pressure the European Union. It will not accept a state could serve as an instrument of pressure and does not want to give up its agreements with Ukraine. Now, both parts of Ukraine are divided, and the international community watches the conflict that became military between the two parts of Ukraine. Officially, nobody helps any camp, but in fact Europe and USA support the West part and Russia the East, by giving military support.

UKRAINIAN DOMINO’S EFFECT

On May 11th, 2014, referendum for independency was held in the region of Donetsk. About 90 % of the voters had casted their ballots in favour of independency. According to Ukrainian government but also, according to international community such as EU and especially UK, this referendum was completely illegal. 

William Hague, Foreign Secretary to UK government expressed his stance that the whole process of referendum was ‘irregular and illegal’,  therefore; it cannot be taken seriously by the international community. In a meanwhile, Russian minister of foreign affairs, Sergei Lavrov said that Russian government will respect the decision of referendum.

During the voting period, many incidents were reported such as threats from pro-Russian armed activist, forcing native Ukrainians to either vote in favour or, not to vote at all. There were also many technical issues such as, lack of polling stations, out of date voter lists, no proper checks on identity, multiple voting and even coercive methods during the plebiscite.

These independency issues in eastern Ukraine are just yet again one more example of tails of history which were never fully solved in the past. The territorial issue dates back from early 20’s when Lenin and the communist party was constructing the federal Ukrainian state within the USSR. 

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Retrieved from Pakistan Defence, Blog about Discussion in ‘Strategic & Geopolitical Issues’

 

It seems that Ukrainian government feels powerless and helpless against the changes happening in the country, with the pro Russian forces, specifically with Donetsk. Although the Ukrainian government is weak against the constant attacks, allies from NATO like Japan, the United States and Canada have imposed sanctions and they have warned Russia that there could be more in the future. In another perspective, the Ukrainian military has stopped with the recruitment.

Putin, despite his petitions to delay the referendum, has admitted the result of Donetsk and has also declared to be ready for negotiations, in what Kiev’s Government defines as ‘an effort to create division and destabilization in the country’.  The illegality of the referendum lies at first in the national law of Ukraine, which does not recognize the proclamation of such an enquiry without the government’s approval. The government has condemned this fact in Donetsk and previous pro-Russian incidents to the International Community.President of Ukraine stated that, ‘I would like to call your attention to the political issue. That small group of terrorists will be treated according to the law, but millions of Ukrainians, they’re really seeking changes’.

 

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Retrieved from BBC News Europe,Separatists, including the self-proclaimed co-chairman of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin (C), want greater autonomy from Kiev

 

The success of the ‘Euromaiden,’ the movement in Kiev, unsettled Moscow, perhaps fearing the loss of another former ally to eastward European and NATO expansion.  David Clark of the ‘Russian Foundation’ said that, lacking natural barriers such as mountain ranges along its western borders, the country’s leaders have been preoccupied with ‘the maintenance of a sphere of influence over the countries around it as a source of security’.  Perhaps Russian activities in Eastern Ukraine are evidence that Putin is attempting to build a more reliable pro-Russian state between itself and the new, increasingly pro-Western regime in Kiev. 

On the Ukrainian side, the increasingly vocal rhetoric of the interim Kiev government suggests that it will be some time before a normalisation of Kiev-Moscow relations can take place.  The decision of Russia to double the amount Kiev must pay for the import of Russian gas, and Putin’s demands that Ukraine pay in advance for all gas imports from 1st June can only signal a further deterioration in relations between Russia and Western Ukraine. 

Although Russia is trying to open dialogues with the EU, the sanctions implemented will increase if, as it said, it accepts the Referendum results and the annexing of Donetsk, leaving Ukraine in a weaker position politically, geographically and economically.

 

Cleaved parties in the European Union due to Ukraine conflict

Last Sunday Pro-Russian achieved their personal breakthrough: Eighty-nine percent of the population voted in favour of the self-rule for Eastern Ukraine by the referendum vote. This result as well as the way of voting reboils the Ukraine issue ones more inasmuch as the European Union is not acclaiming this vote and wants to declare more sanctions which cause cleaved parties between its members.

 

The so called third level of sanctions – wide-ranging economic sanctions – are intended to weaken Putin, as Europeans have ruled out the use of military means and use sanctions as their most powerful weapon. But in fact this can only be effective when all the members agree on them unanimously. Levels one and two were no problem because they were primarily symbolic acts – but the latest sanctions would have a strong effect on Russia and therefore also on the economies of the EU members.

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Picture:alliance / dpa / Anthony Picore

 

This leads to a splitting of the EU into different parties. Because in the last few months, countries such as Lithuania, Luxembourg and Sweden have publicly stated that they will support Ukraine with their military use of force. Raimonda Murmokaite, Lithuania’s United Nations envoy and Olivier Maes, her Luxembourg counterpart defended Ukraines’ right to use force if needed against pro-Russian separatists at an UN Security Council meeting on the 13th April in New York. Also Carl Blidt, Sweden’s foreign minister announced via Twitter: “If illegal armed groups took over police stations and local government offices in Sweden we would use all our instruments to restore order.”

 

On the other hand, the European Parliamentarian, Rebecca Harms, said that she agrees with the paths that the EU is following. She suggested more sanctions to Russia but she is totally against the use of military means from the EU for solving Ukraine’s crisis. Nevertheless the German foreign minister warned that the Ukraine is close to war as Ukrainian troops clashed with pro-Russian separatists a few days ago: “The bloody pictures have shown us that we are just a few steps away from a military confrontation”. As Germany and France are taking the middle position, they don’t want sanctions. But if Putin goes on destabilizing Ukraine, they will support measures. The French president Hollande has no negative attitude towards Russia and its president Putin. He wants to keep their relation of interest stabile.

 

Moreover especially the countries in Southern Europe are afraid of economic costs of a trade boycott. Spain tries to act neutral in this conflict. The Spanish foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, as well as the Italian one, Federica Mogherini, gave importance to restart the conversations in Geneva in order to get national peace in Ukraine and to keep working with Russia to stop this conflict. Garcia-Margallo states that Spain is in favour of the international legality and therefore condemns the separation of Crimea. He explained that Spain fully supports their NATO and EU allies. Additionally Mogherini expressed her hope that the Ukrainian presidential elections on May 25, should allow Ukraine to reform their constitution.