Tuesday, July 28, 2015

None of Eight Myths in Putin’s ‘Crimea is Ours’ Ideology Stands Up to Close Examination, Popov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 28 – “’Krimnashizm’” – as the ideologem “Crimea is Ours” is spelled in Russian – consists of a complex of eight myths that are intended to justify Vladimir Putin’s policies in Ukraine and mobilize support for it, Arkady Popov writes in a 4500-word heavily footnoted article in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal.” (ej.ru/?a=note&id=28231).

            The eight myths which form the core of “’Krimnashizm,’” in his telling are:

·         Myth Number One: Crimea was Given to Ukraine
·         Myth Number Two: Russia has a historic right to Crimea
·         Myth Number Three: The Crimean people have freely voted to rejoin Russia
·         Myth Number Four: Taking Crimea from Ukraine was a matter of “extreme necessity.”
·         Myth Number Five: Ukraine is an artificial state.
·         Myth Number Six: The Euro-Maidan was fascist.
·         Myth Number Seven: Russia has risen from its knees.
·         Myth Number Eight: Incorporating Crimea is cost-free.

In today’s edition, the Russian historian and commentator examines the first of these myths, that “Crimea was given to Ukraine and shows that none of the claims Putin and his propagandists have offered in defense of their seizure and occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula stands up to close examination (ej.ru/?a=note&id=28231).

The myth that Nikita Khrushchev took Crimea away from the RSFSR and gave it to Ukraine is “the very first brick in the edifice of ‘Krimnashizm.”  Many Russian writers had complained about Khrushchev’s action and Boris Yeltsin’s failure to criticize it, but it is perhaps instructive that Putin did not join that “chorus” until 2014, just before he invaded.

“The first feeling” one has in reading statements about Khrushchev supposedly “giving” Crimea to Ukraine is “perplexity,” Popov says. Khrushchev had only been first secretary of the CPSU Central Committee for four months, hardly time enough for him to have enough power to act on his own on something like this.

Moreover, the “Krimnashizm” ideologists act as if Crimea were the only example of part of one republic being transferred to another. In fact, it happened quite frequently – for a listing, see this author’s, “Can Republic Borders Be Changed?” RFE/RL Report on the USSR, 28 September 1990) --and in Soviet times never with any consultation with the peoples involved.

            According to Popov, there are three variants of the myth about Khrushchev giving away Crimea: the alcoholic one, the holiday one, and the political one. None is accurate. Khrushchev wasn’t drinking when the decision was made. It didn’t occur at a time linked to any particular holiday. And transferring Crimea to Ukraine might have been expected to cost him more support among Russian CPSU officials than any gains he would make among the less numerous Ukrainian ones.

            Politics was involved in the decision, but not the kind the “Krymnashists” describe. After the death of Stalin and the removal of Beria, Moscow faced the problem of expanding agricultural production. Crimea was a disaster area but had the climate and soils to be a productive place.

            Khrushchev and Georgy Malenkov visited Crimea in 1953 and concluded that it could be developed if it got water from Ukraine. Without that, its agricultural production would not go up and consequently linking the area to Ukraine instead of the RSFSR made sense, given the policy priorities of the leadership in Moscow.

            What should have happened, of course, Popov writes, was the return of the peninsula to the Crimean Tatars “but apparently the time for such radical decisions had not yet come: from the moment of the death of Stalin had passed less than a year,” and Khrushchev’s rehabilitation of the punished peoples lay in the future.

            As far as Khrushchev’s “’voluntarism’” on Crimea is concerned, there is no basis for such claims, the historian says. “In January 1954, Khrushchev was still not so strong that he could decide such questions on his own.” And it is clear that he spoke with other members of the leadership and they collectively agreed.

            When claims to the contrary fall away, present-day “Krymnashists” argue that Khrushchev didn’t follow constitutional procedures, when in fact he did as much as any other Soviet leader, or that there wasn’t a proper quorum when in fact the record shows otherwise, Popov points out.

            And when those are pointed out, the “Krymnashists” try to make a special case out of Sevastopol. But there too, there is no evidence for their contentions that that city was special in a territorial sense.  The only reason this false argument is raised, he suggests, is that in 1993, Khasbulatov’s Supreme Soviet declared that Sevastopol had “federal status.”

            “This absurd degree was disavowed by the president of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, and the UN Security Council at a special session declared that this decree did not have legal force,” Popov writes. At that time, Russia’s permanent representative did not cast a veto.

            Those who raise questions about the transfer of Crimea from the RSFSR to Ukraine clearly forget that there are a lot of other places where similar questions could be raised: Tuva, Vyborg, Sakhalin, Kaliningrad, Karelia, and so on. Thus, making these kinds of arguments about Crimea is potentially very dangerous.

            Many of the “Krymnashists” also attack Boris Yeltsin for not demanding “the return” of Crimea in 1991 when the USSR fell apart. But they forget two things: the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet Union was predicated on the absolute acceptance of the union republic borders as fixed and that Ukraine, including Crimea, has just voted to leave the USSR.

            To have challenged those borders would have opened “a Pandora’s box” for Russia and all the others, Popov says.

            “All myths,” the historian concludes, “offer a false picture of the world,” but artistic ones do not claim they are real. “Political myths are something else: their inventors and distributors angrily insist that in them is given the only reliable conception of reality” and that they must be respected regardless. And that makes them dangerous, even for those who employ them.

West Must Offer Russians and East Europeans an Alternative Worldview Not Just Accurate Information, Kyiv Paper Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 28 – Those in the West thinking about launching a Russian-language television station to counter Moscow’s lies need to reflect on the fact that “Kremlin propaganda offers its own integral albeit inadequate picture of the world,” while “Europe on the other hand does not offer any picture at all,” according to Kyiv’s “Delovaya stolitsa.”

                In an unsigned article yesterday, the Kyiv daily comments on the July 20 proposal by Poland and the Netherlands to create a European Russian-language news agency that would deliver its information to the Russian Federation and Russian speakers in Eastern Europe via TV, radio and the Internet (dsnews.ua/world/kak-ubit-dmitriya-kiseleva-28072015071500).

            The two have called for a donors’ conference to take place in Warsaw in September to come up with the funding for this project, but the Ukrainian paper suggests that before any money is gathered and spent, those behind this need to answer a number of questions that they do not appear to have posed.

            Europeans were so shocked by Moscow’s success in manipulating the media environment over the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner that the European Commission’s foreign policy apparatus already in March of this year set as a task for Europe “countering the disinformation campaign of Russia.”

            That is a noble and important goal, the paper says, but “the problem consists above all in the lack of clarity of the goals of the project.”  Calling for the delivery of accurate information is fine, but “it is a big question as to whether there is a niche for such an agency in the media marketplace” in Eastern Europe, let alone in Russia.

            Television is obviously “the most significant media” in the planned structure, “but any channel in order to attract attention needs advertising and presence on TV.” The Europeans may come up with sponsorship, but how are they going to ensure that this television channel will have more than an Internet presence?  The experience of “Dozhd” shows the limits if they don’t.

            But there is an even more essential question that those behind this project need to address, “Delovaya stolitsa” says, and that is this: “What story do they want to tell? If they don’t, the viewer will prefer” the clear if distorted picture Moscow propaganda offers “to boring journalism.”

            “For that small part of Russian society which avoids the impact of Russian TV … the channel that is being proposed will hardly offer any new information.”  And for those in Russia who don’t or those in Eastern Europe who don’t, “’objective media’” however nice the term sounds is unlikely to win many viewers.

            Indeed, the Ukrainian paper says, “the ability of such a product to compete with Russian propaganda elicits doubt, for under the conditions of contemporary information technology, the problem of access to factual information does not exist. There is, for example, Euronews with its Russian service which completely supplies the demand for objective facts."

            The majority of viewers “watch television products not for the sake of facts.” And they don’t want to become victims of propaganda. But well-constructed “propaganda creates a whole worldview, connecting a multitude of facts into a single picture. Standards of objective journalism presuppose that the viewer should draw conclusions for himself -- while propaganda offers its audience a ready-made product.”

            “Propaganda and Russian propaganda in particular is rich with bright imagery … and interesting stories. Objectivity isn’t a priority. Given that, struggling with manipulations by means of unmasking it and providing objective news sources is a strategy doomed to fail,” the paper says.

            “People who are ready to believe in the story about ‘the crucified child’ … are no interested in evidence showing it to be false. For those who didn’t believe this nonsense from the beginning, the new agency will not give them additional reasons for their views.”

            If the West is to be successful in counterpropaganda, “it must establish its own integral narrative, a worldview which the channel will offer to its viewers.”  Exposing falsehoods and providing objective facts “will find its viewer in its framework” but not on their own.

            But “for the creation of such a worldview, there needs to be a vision of the long-term development of the region, something which up to now is not to be observed in the European community.”  It is striking that a year after Crimea, “the collective West has not developed a clear explanation” of what it would like to see in Eastern Europe in the future.

            Instead, the West talks “exclusively about short-term goals such as a ceasefire in the Donbas, even though under current conditions that is not the main thing. What political place in the future Europe is to be given to Ukraine and Russia correspondingly? How will the economic integration of Ukraine into the EU take place and will it be given assistance equivalent to that which was given to Poland?”

            There are other questions the West has not answered either: “In case of the continuation of a confrontation between the Kremlin and the West, who will provide the basis for softening the consequences of economic and social collapse on the territory of the Russian Federation which will inevitably affect Ukraine and Europe as a whole?”

            According to the Kyiv paper, “Kremlin propaganda offers an integral, albeit inadequate picture of the world: ‘Great Russia, surrounded by enemies and traitors.’ Europe however is not offering any picture at all.” But coming up with such a picture is necessary if any television program directed at Russian speakers is to have any impact. That remains to be done.

Might Some of Russia’s Regions Again Combine on Their Own against Moscow?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 28 – With regard to Russia’s regions, there is only one thing the Kremlin fears more than their pursuit of independence or rejection of its plans to amalgamate them and that is efforts by some of them to unite from below without regard for and indeed in opposition to Moscow.

            When the Soviet Union collapsed, various oblasts and krays formed regional groupings like the Siberian Agreement, a trend that threatened Moscow’s control over the periphery of the country more than any one of them could. As scholars pointed out at the time, countries with relatively few component parts are more likely to fall apart than those with many.

            First under Boris Yeltsin and more recently under Vladimir Putin, Moscow has worked hard to restore the situation in which oblasts, krays and republics must look first to Moscow and not to neighboring areas, except when the Kremlin wants to combine them or oversee them with its federal districts.

            But the virtues of regional cooperation, although invariably played down by Moscow and Moscow-centric analysts, are great, and there are indications that the growing economic crisis in the Russian Federation is leading at least some in the regions to think about new combinations that would unite from below what Moscow has been unable to force together from above.

            In a commentary on Newsbabr.ru, Matvey Bagrov pointedly asks “Will there be a unification of Buryatia, Irkutsk Oblast and the Trans-Baikal Kray?” and suggests that there are good reasons that local governments, local businesses and the local populations should want that to happen (newsbabr.com/?IDE=137328).

            The Russian commentator’s brief discussion of this possibility focuses on the current problems of the Buryat Republic and why its leaders and people should favor such a solution, an approach that may make progress toward the goal of unification more difficult given Buryat unhappiness with the inclusion of two Buryat districts in the other two federal subjects.

            But the argument Bagrov makes has a more general application elsewhere in the Russian Federation and thus is worth recounting as a straw in the wind about how hard-pressed areas across the country are now thinking about extreme steps they might take or be forced to take to deal with the current crisis.

            According to the Babr.com commentator, “the economy of the Buryat Republic leaves much to be desired.  By 2017,” he says, “the republic won’t be living but only surviving,” given that it has a much lower standard of living, much lower savings rate, and much lower credit rating than its neighbors. Moreover, its schools and housing are much worse too.

            “The market of internal reserves is devilishly small,” he says, as is the market in goods and services, and “in the republic are extremely limited or completely absence the resources needed for independent resolution of the problems of development.”

            The Buryat authorities, Bagrov continues, “understand the extent of the problems perfectly well. But there is a resolution of the problems of the crisis” there that they may not have thought about sufficiently.  That is “the unification of Buryatia, the Trans-Baikal kray and Irkutsk oblast. This would be a first and major step to modernization.”

            “Unification would allow the use of the advantages of each region and their variety at the level of a macro-region. Access to all kinds of resources of all three regions would allow to boost such branches of industry as machine building, metal fabrication, and reprocessing. And all serious issues of the region would be solved together. And people would find it easier to live.”

            “The most important thing,” Bagrov says, is that “the initiative must be taken by the population, by the businesses of the subjects and by the executive power. By the 2017 elections in the Buryat Republic, there must be a pre-election program about the realization of measures of ‘a road map’ of integration.”

            If that happens, he says, it will make possible “the preparation and carrying out of a referendum of the population of the three regions concerning the formation of a macro-region. All three regions are unique from all points of view,” Bagrov argues, “and the new macro-region must gain all this uniqueness.”

            Nothing may happen with this idea: each regional government is jealous of its prerogatives even if the population would be better off in a larger unit, and Moscow may very well try to hijack such notions and proclaim that this all constitutes a popular demand to restart Putin’s stalled regional amalgamation plan.

            But the very fact that economic conditions in the federal subjects are now so bad that this idea is being floated simultaneously highlights just how difficult things are beyond Moscow’s ring road and how some in those places are thinking about solutions that could take them in very different directions than Moscow wants.