Thursday, September 18, 2014

Window on Eurasia: By Focusing on Politics, Russians Missing Looming Economic Catastrophe, Moscow Scholar Warns


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 18 – Like Argentinians in the 1950s and 1960s, Russians are focusing on politics to the extent that they do not see the economic catastrophe for the future that Moscow’s current policies guarantee – decades of stagnation and missed opportunities for a better life, according to Konstantin Sonin.

 

            The Higher School of Economics professor says that Argentinians did not notice how quickly they were falling behind other countries two generations ago because their leaders encouraged them to focus only on political issues, and as a result, this economic disaster became “an unnoticed catastrophe” (vedomosti.ru/opinion/news/33390661/nezametnaya-katastrofa).

 

            Now, he says, Russians are doing the same thing to their peril.  “On the one hand,” he says, the course the Russian government has embarked on is truly “catastrophic.” But “on the other, this catastrophe which now appears completely inevitable will not be similar to the catastrophe of 1990-1991 which led to catastrophic political consequences.”

 

            Rather, Sonin argues, what is coming will be “a catastrophe of the ‘Argentinian type,’” involving “long years of slow development” which will leave Russia even further behind the West than it is now and which will be looked back on as “decades of lost opportunities” just as the Argentinians do today.

 

            “The sanctions which have been imposed from outside and the sanctions which have been imposed by Russia itself are completely impermissible. They are making stable growth practically impossible,” even though Russia needs to grow “a minimum of two to three percentage points faster than Europe in order to catch up.”

 

            From an economic development point of view, Sonin says, “this is no less impermissible than some territorial or even more geopolitical losses.” The expenditures on war both in the direct and indirect sense are simply “incompatible with stable economic growth,” even if few in Russian are paying attention to that reality.

 

            Today, Russians are focused on geopolitics even though that is “a subject which is in no way connected with the problems of [Russia] in 2014.”  Sonin asks rhetorically “What then can economists do to attract attention?” Perhaps he says they should talk about what will happen when it will cost 100 rubles to buy a single US dollar.

 

Or perhaps they should suggest that Russia is converting itself into North Korea and will have to send all its oil to China to keep itself afloat? Or perhaps, he says, they should talk about the risk that Russians in the future will have to watch as their children become slaves to Baltic barons? But at present, he suggests, even that might not be enough to change their focus.

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Cancellation of His ‘Contract with Business’ Will Trigger ‘War of All Against All,’ Pastukhov Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 18 – Having earlier been forced to end contract with the Russian people of loyalty in exchange for economic growth, Vladimir Putin as a result of his invasion of Ukraine and the exchange of sanctions has been forced to tear up his contract with business of “security in exchange for loyalty,” according to Vladimir Pastukhov.

 

            That is the political meaning of the arrest of oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov, the St. Antony’s College Russian historian says, and it will trigger a new round of struggles among various clans which in the Russian context will take the form of a Hobbesian “war of all against all” (novayagazeta.ru/columns/65314.html).

 

            The reason Putin was forced into taking this potentially dangerous step is the looming budget deficit which he is going to find it hard to make up. Putin’s system, Pastukhov says, is nothing other than “a modernized and stylized for the Internet era of the medieval system of ‘feeding’” in which only those who are loyal are allowed to share in the wealth of the state.

 

                As long as the budget is in balance and the amounts that can be shared out are growing, the commentator says, everything is fine; “but if the size of the pie declines … then the struggle for access sharply intensifies” and someone or even many someones have to be driven away from the table or the system has to be transformed if the state is to survive.

 

            With the rising costs of the war in Ukraine and the sanctions both those imposed by the West and those imposed by the Kremlin, the pie in Moscow is getting smaller, and thus “in definite sense, Yevtushenko became the first really serious victim of Western sanctions.”  But his arrest sends a signal to all the other oligarchs, and it is unlikely to be the last.

 

            Not surprisingly, the Russian historian continues, many have compared the arrest of Yevtushenkov with the earlier arrest of Khodorkovsky. Both are political, but “the politics of today is entirely different than it was ten years ago. The Yukos affair “preceded the flowering of the regime; the Yevtushenko case presages its end.

 

            With Khodorkovsky’s arrest, Putin sent a message to all the other oligarchs that “if you do not want the same thing to happen to you than has happened to [him], then conclude a contract with the authorities: ‘loyalty and part of the profits in exchange for security,’” an arrangement that led to the appearance of “’systemic business.’”

 

            With the arrest of Yevtushenkov, Pastukhov argues, what has happened is something very different: the Putin regime itself has torn up the contract it had with the oligarchs because it can’t afford to allow them to keep making money at a time when the state, as a result of Ukraine, is becoming impoverished.

 

            Put in crudest terms, what Putin has signaled is that “the time of ‘arbitrary action for others’ is ending. The new time of ‘arbitrariness for all’ is beginning,” and in that new era, the oligarchs are not exempt. 

 

            But they are not the only ones who are now at risk, Pastukhov says.  The force structures on whom Putin has relied are also in a new position. Given budgetary shortfalls, the Kremlin isn’t going to be able to “look through its fingers” at the enormous diversion and theft of public resources by them.

 

            Thus, “what has begun with Yevtushenkov will not end with him.  Vicious clan wars lie ahead for Russia … and that will continue until the Russian elite … finally recognizes that ‘a state of laws’ [a Rechtstaat] is not just something liberals want. It is something that [the elite itself] can deal with more cheaply than with a war of all against all.”

 

            In a commentary published yesterday in “Vzglyad,” Petr Akopov expands on this idea. He also says that Yevtushenkov’s arrest marks “a change of eras,” but in contrast to Pastukhov, he argues that what the Kremlin is likely to do is to reverse privatization and restore a statist economy (vz.ru/politics/2014/9/17/706177.html).

 

            Although Putin has pledged not to so that, he may not have any choice not only because of the deficits Pastukhov points to but also because the Russian people unlike the oligarchs have not accepted either the manner or the results of privatization and are now quite prepared to support a reversal of that process.

 

            “The economic war with the West,” Akopov says, “is forcing the authorities to recognize the need for an acceleration of the process of consolidating strategic branches into the hands of the state and inevitably raises issues not only about the role of the oligarchate in Russian life but also of the relationship of state capitalism and large private property, about the social state and cooperative property, about the free hand of the market, and yes, about capitalism as such.”

Window on Eurasia: World Must End ‘Shameful Silence’ about Russian Oppression of Crimean Tatars, Moscow Commentator Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 18 – The world must end its “shameful silence” about the intensifying “moral terror” Moscow and its agents are waging against the Crimean Tatars to drive them again from their homeland or to force those who do not go to accept the status of “second class” citizens on the occupied Ukrainian peninsula, according the Ayder Muzhdabayev.

 

            The Moscow commentator himself a Crimean Tatar says that Russia “an  enormous and strong state” is oppressing the Crimean Tatars who number “no more than a million” in the world at large and “all of 300,000” in Crimea, an action that is “unworthy” of a powerful state against a weak and peaceful people” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=541A83060571B).

 

            The Russian occupiers have “prohibited the Crimean Tatars from their holidays and remembering the victims of political repressions” except, Muzhdabayev notes, in “’places of compact settlement,’ which are in fact becoming national ghettoes.” They have banned the elected leaders of the Crimean Tatars from entering their homeland.

 

            Moreover, the occupiers are encouraging non-Crimean Tatars to “’suggest’” to their Crimean Tatar neighbors that they leave the peninsula, and “people in masks and without them calling themselves ‘self-defense’ forces” are acting in ways that show that they do not feel that they have to obey any law.

 

            “Mass searches are being conducted,” he continues, “during which such people search for ‘arms and extremist literature’ in the Mejlis building and the homes of ordinary people.”  Nothing is ever found, of course, because the Crimean Tatars are “a peaceful people” who have never taken up arms or engaged in “extremist” activity.

           

            Whatever the Russian authorities say, Muzhdabayev says, they “do not represent a threat for the authorities or for their neighbors of other nationalities.” What Russian officials are doing is “unworthy of a great country. It is a shameful blot on the civilized world. It is inhuman in relation to defenseless people. [And] it must be stopped.”

 

            The Moscow commentator says he is appealing to Vladimir Putin who could end this if he chose. He says he is also appealing to leaders of other countries and international organization to “express their support for the Crimean Tatar people” and to take action now to prevent things from reaching the point of “forced deportation and apartheid.”

 

            And he says he is appealing to the intellectual and social leaders of all countries to “raise your voices in defense of the Crimean Tatars.”

 

            “Unfortunately,” Muzhdabayev says, “up to now the Crimean Tatars have heard from these people and organizations either unfulfilled promises or indifferent silence. This is unthinkable and in the final analysis shameful” -- given the history of the Crimean Tatars almost half of whom died as a result of their deportation in 1944.        

 

            “No country can be considered great if it oppresses the weak, and the world cannot be considered civilized if such injustice is allowed to go on,” the Moscow commentator says.  Moreover, “not one can have a clear conscience if he or she sees this and does not respond.”

 

Window on Eurasia: Russian Government Pushing New Law Allowing Jailers to Use Force Against Prisoners


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 18 – The Russian government is about to introduce a bill that would allow jailers to use more force, including in some cases lethal force, against prisoners and to avoid being held accountable by the courts, an action that led Russian ombudsman Ella Pamfilova to appeal to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to kill the measure.

 

            But her appeal, reported today by “Kommersant” may not be crowned with success because Presidential Human Rights Council earlier denounced the justice ministry draft and nonetheless the government’s commission on legislative initiatives subsequently approved its dispatch to the Duma (kommersant.ru/doc/2569394 and grani.ru/Society/Law/m.233112.html).

 

            According to Panfilova, the new measure would harm the reputation of Russia by opening the way for jailers to use greater physical force, including in some instances lethal force, against prisoners if lesser means do not work and to escape any judicial oversight of what they are doing. But of course, it would have more immediate consequences for Russian prisoners.

 

            If the government-backed measure goes forward and is approved, that will almost certainly untie the hands of many Russian jailers, lead to more abuses of the rights of prisoners, increase the chances for intimidation and the spread of fear, and mark a return to some of the worst days of the penal system of the Soviet past. 

 

            According to Vladimir Osechkin, the coordinator of the Gulagu.net project, the government-backed measures, which take the form of amendments to Article 286 of the Criminal Code will make it very difficult to bring charges against jailers and thus open the way to more “beatings and torture” of prisoners.

 

            The Russian government’s response to these observations makes them even more disturbing.  The Justice Ministry told “Kommersant” that the amendments “only systematize already existing rulers on the application of force and special measures on prisoners.” In short, they are nothing new but rather more of the same.

 

            And the Justice Ministry insisted that in it view, “the draft law corresponds to the Russian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights and Basic Freedoms according to which the loss of life is not considered a violation of law when it is the result of an absolutely necessary application of force.”

Window on Eurasia: Ever More Putin Associates Bear a Resemblance to Nazi Ones, Eidman Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 18 – Many commentators in Moscow and the West see parallels between Vladimir Putin’s regime and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi one – its authoritarianism, its attacks on minorities and its pursuit of Lebensraum for “the Russian world.” But Igor Eidman takes the next step and draws specific parallels between Nazi figures and Russian ones.

 

            By doing so, the Moscow commentator shows both the numerous ways in which the leaders of Putin’s “Reich” resemble those of Hitler’s and also the equally numerous ways in which the current regime is only a pale reflection of the one defeated in 1945 and tried at Nuremberg (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5419B46A8E11F).

 

            But perhaps the most important conclusions his article suggests are two that he does not draw. On the one hand, his listing shows just how large a number of senior officials are involved in the policies of the Putin regime. And on the other, it indicates that the departure of Putin from office would hardly be enough to prevent a recurrence.

 

            Instead, what would be needed is another update from the past: the de-Putinization of Russia lest the next tier of leaders lead to its metastasis under one of them.

 

            Among the Russian equivalents to Nazi figures Eidman suggests are: Kabayeva as “our ‘Eva Braun,’” Surkov as Goebbels, Shoygu as Keitel, Bastrykin as Himmler, Sechin as Bormann, Medvedev as Goering, Lavrov as Ribbentrop, the FSB as the Gestapo, and  the Russian Defense Ministry as the German Wehrmacht.

 

            But besides these parallels, there are some very important differences, Eidman writes.  The FSB-Gestapo “in general seeks not enemies of the Reich but rather is a racket” which is seeking to pocket as much in corrupt cash as it can. And the Defense Ministry-Wehrmacht is prepared to sell off military equipment and cash in as well.

 

            Moreover, he continues, “Every one of our ‘Reich ministers’ or SS Gruppenfuehrers-FSB officers has a house in London or a villa in Cannes. And the ‘Gauleiters’ (governors) in general have ceased thinking about the interests of the Reich.”

 

            “And where is ‘the Fuhrer’s concern about Germans’ (that is, Russians)? Where are the new autobahns, ‘strength through joy,’ inexpensive housing and cruises for workers?” None of that is present because “all our successes are in the sphere of propaganda” rather than reality. In that, Putin’s Russia has left Goebbels’ Germany in the dust.

 

            But underneath those differences there are fundamental commonalities, Eidman says. “The main thing is this: Our Reich also wants to take revenge for defeat in war, in this case in the Cold War.” It too wants “Lebensraum” and is “successfully” pursuing that idea via the Russian world idea.

 

            The Putin regime has united “’our ‘Austria’ (Crimea),” it has dismembered our ‘Czechoslovakia (Ukraine),” and like the regime of which it is a dim mirror, its leaders may ultimately stand in judgment before the world via “our” very own Nuremberg trial.

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin Can Retain Power Only with War and Violence, Podrabinek Says

Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 17 – Vladimir Putin has no need of Chechnya, Abkhazia, South Osetia or Crimea, Aleksandr Podrabinek says. He has moved against all of them “not for territory but for his own self-assertion and personal power, things which only the state of war can guarantee him.”

 

            That is how he began his rise to supreme power in 1999 with the apartment bombings, the Moscow commentator says in an essay on Grani.ru, and that is how he will continue in Ukraine and elsewhere given that, to use George Orwell’s expression, he is interested only in building and retaining personal power (grani.ru/opinion/podrabinek/m.233046.html).

 

            “The shedding of blood preceded Putin’s ascent to power,” Podrabinek says. And “this was not an accidental coincidence: it was a necessary condition for his rise.” In his case as in many others, “war became the occasion for a change in power and a change in course.”

 

            To have a war, he needed “a casus belli,” and he “did not look for one but created it,” blowing up the apartment buildings in Buinaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk and only failing to blow up another in Ryazan when alert citizens sounded the alarm that the local police arrested and then were forced to release FSB officers who had planted the bomb.

 

            “On that very same day, September 23 [1999], the first bombing raids were made on Grozny. More bombings followed and “thus began the second war in Chechnya,” whose conduct was now in the hands of “a young, energetic and decisive president.”

 

            There is no other explanation than official involvement for what happened in Ryazan, but Russians prefer “not to remember” or if they must to do so “exclusively in an emotional key and not in an analytical one. Unfortunately, this is the normal way of things in Russia,” the Grani commentator says.

 

            Efforts to find out the truth were quickly drowned out by meetings about the tragedies. “Such is the nature of our national character,” Podrabinek says. “The beauty of suffering overwhelms everything else – justice, curiosity, honor and duty before those who have died.” Ceremonies are enough to get Russians to come to terms with their past as officials want.

 

            But 15 years on, “an understanding of the events of the fall of 1999 is essential in order to correctly evaluate the moving forces of Putin’s current policy.” That was when the Putin era began. It “began with terrorist acts and wars.” Indeed, it was precisely those that allowed Putin to come to power and “in a planned fashion take civil rights away from society.”

 

            In the intervening period, “each military event and each terrorist act has been used by [Putin] to tighten the screws still more, to make the laws harsher and to strengthen his personal power.  War is his life, his means of existence. It is a pretext for the salvation of society … Only in an atmosphere of war can he exist.”

 

            “Peaceful life is full of political discussions and elections,” a state which Putin will find himself on the losing end and he “understand this” very well. He always has and always will need an enemy.” Even when he installed the superficially more liberal Medvedev in his place, Putin “compensated with a war with Georgia.”

 

            “In the absence of a foreign enemy,” Putin is “ready to use the image of an internal one,” throwing “healthy national forces” against those as well.  He need only shout “’The Fatherland is In Danger!’” and this lumpen including former military personnel, imperialists, fascists and radical Orthodox will “joyously” throw themselves against that enemy too.

 

            No one should forget that this is Putin’s “cadres reserve, his last hope for preserving power if it suddenly turns out that he doesn’t have enough forces to withstand a foreign enemy.”  That is how he began and that is how he is continuing, Podrabinek says, concluding that to keep himself in power forever, “force [too] is not a goal but [only] a means.”

 

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Following Tatars, Bashkirs Want Republic Presidency Kept As Well


Paul Goble

           

                Staunton, September 17 – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s suggestion at the end of August that the people of Tatarstan should have the right to decide the title of their republic leader (business-gazeta.ru/article/112750/) has opened a Pandora’s box with some in other republics now demanding the retention of the title “president” for themselves.

 

Yesterday, Murtaza Rakhimov, the former president of Bashkortostan, said that his republic must seek to have a president just “like in Tatarstan” because the substitute title some Bashkirs have proposed isn’t appropriate.  The title “president” must be retained. To do otherwise, he said, would mean that “the system” and not the people has the last word (prokazan.ru/news/view/94977).

 

            Putin and his advisors may think that this is a small thing, something that will mollify non-Russian leaders at a time when the Kremlin continues to push for greater centralization, but in fact, it is likely to spark a new round of debates and demands for more authority to be given to the republics.

 

            If as seems certain Moscow resists that, then tensions between the center and the Russian Federation’s non-Russian republics are likely to continue to grow, quite possibly sparking a new round of declarations like the sovereignty declarations that spread across the RSFSR at the end of Soviet times.