Monday, April 27, 2015

‘Hell is Ours’ and Other Absurd but Applicable Slogans for Russia Today


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, April 27 – Since 2004, Novosbirsk artist and activist Artem Loskutov has been organizing on May Day a “Monstration” in which people march through the streets of his city with absurd slogans that in the minds of many “are beginning to truly describe reality,” according to a Radio Liberty report.

 

            But Loskutov faces two new challenges, the station’s Valentin Baryshnikov says on the basis of an interview with him. On the other hand, the mayor wants to keep those with such slogans from marching in the city center. And on the other, the possibilities for absurdity are so great that Loskutov has not yet selected his own (svoboda.org/content/article/26978811.html).

 

            The artist says that the mayor has proposed that he move the Monstration from the center to the embankment of the Ob, near “the monument to Nicholas II, which we don’t have in the city. There is a monument to Alexander III,” however, and perhaps that is what the mayor was referring to, another case of the confusion of reality and absurdity.

 

            Because he has been focusing on these organizational questions, Loskutov says, he hasn’t come up with his personal slogan yet.  Recent events in Novosibirsk, including the Tannhauser scandal, provide plenty of possibilities. He notes that some of the slogans protesters carried about that opera could easily appear on Monstration signs.

 

            But of course, there is always the war in Ukraine just as there was last year, the artist continues. Last year, with the “Crimea is Ours” propaganda firestorm, it was impossible not to take note of it by carrying a sign that “Hell is Ours” – something he says that was “a little prophetic, not only about Crimea but also about Hell.”

 

            When he first organized such marches a decade ago, Russia was a different country, and the Monstrations were almost entirely happy because people felt that they were living in kind  of “stagnation” in which nothing much was happening and they had not yet been subjected to mind-altering propaganda.  Now things are different – at least in some respects.

 

            One year, Loskutov says, marchers carried a sign that simply said “Anti-Globalist Slogan” and nothing else. Another placard read “A Slogan calling for the overthrow of the constitutional order.” The police wanted to know what that meant and whether it was in fact a threat to the Russian state.

 

            These are the games which Russians have to play, Loskutov says. “We live in Novosibirsk in a kind of vacuum, far from events, from from Moscow, far from those with whom it would be possible to speak. We cannot appeal to politicians and we cannot demand anything from them.” The only possible response is an ironic one.

 

            Loskutov says he was prompted to launch the Monstration project after attending a real May Day demonstration. The slogans “were absurd but were trying to look real.” One slogan involved the shoe factory of a man who wanted a political career; all that was on his placards was a picture of his brand symbol.

 

            Other posters were even more absurd, he continues. The KPRF had signs declaring that “the only force which can oppose the fascists, the West and liberals is the Soviet people,” a true absurdity “because there is no Soviet people.” Another was from a nightclub and promised “100 grams” of vodka to all who came.

 

            There were even placards with slogans from strip clubs. One simply had pictures and was entitled “Capitulation.”  Apparently, on May 9, Loskutov says, “the strippers will capitulate before someone or other.”

 

            He says that he cannot escape from “the sense that I live in an absurd world” and that “the ‘Monstration’ is more honest and adequate” than the official slogans. “We do not conceal that we want to achieve something. We simply register the facts and serve as a litmus test of our society.”

 

            Monstration slogans sometimes pass into the hands of others. Several years ago, during the height of anti-Putin demonstrations, one appeared in Moscow and other cities declaring “You do not even represent us,” a declaration directed at deputies “who do not represent anyone” and an indication of how cut off politicians are from society.

 

            Loskutov says he agrees with Baryshnikov’s formulation that “now absurd posters are an incarnation of good sense and posters which show reality are a complete absurdity.” He suggests that the Monstration is “a living phenomenon. It changes. Each year we begin with one desire and it is transformed” by events.

 

            That is a stark contrast, he suggests, with the official marches on May Day which use the same posters year after year and thus show themselves to be “cut off from life.”

 

No Non-Military Solution to Russian-Ukrainian War Possible, Illarionov Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, April 27 – Yesterday, Yuri Lutsenko, the leader of the Poroshenko Bloc in the Verkhova Rada, said that the probability of the renewal of military actions in eastern Ukraine was “more than 80 percent,” a statement that underscores analyst Andrey Illarionov’s argument in Tallinn that “there is no non-military solution” for the war now going on in Ukraine.

 

            Speaking on Inter television, Lutsenko said that pro-Moscow forces in eastern Ukraine were now at the highest level of readiness for an attack they had ever been since Vladimir Putin launched his intervention in Ukraine and that it seems clear that “the fighters are preparing for an attack (pravda.com.ua/rus/news/2015/04/26/7065949/).

 

            Meanwhile, speaking at the Lennart Meri Conference in the Estonian capital, Illarionov argued that the war in Ukraine will end only as the result of the use of force: either more by Russia or by Ukraine backed by the West (rus.postimees.ee/3169319/illarionov-v-voennom-rossijsko-ukrainskom-protivostojanii-net-nevoennogo-reshenija).

 

            In support of his argument, the Russian analyst pointed to the very different outcomes in Putin’s war against Georgia in 2008 and his current aggression against Ukraine. In August 2008, US President George W. Bush moved American forces toward Georgia, a step that “helped stop the Georgian war.”

 

            But, he continued, “President Barack Obama on February 27-28, 2014, excluded the use of force when Russia began the seizure of Crimea.” That constituted “a clear signal” to Putin that the West would not act and that he could continue to pursue with impunity his aggression against Ukraine more generally.

 

            According to Illarionov, “Putinis seeking to restore the war established in 1945 in Yalta and Potsdam,” a world in which the big powers can “ignore small states” and act according to a system in which whatever any one of the great powers can act in the same way that another great power does.

 

            “If the US does something,” in this view, “then Russia immediately acquires the right to do the same thing. If the US uses military force, Russia can use it as well. If the West recognizes Kosovo, then Russia gains the right to recognize Abkhazia and South Osetia” – and so on, Illarionov suggests.

 

In his remarks, the Russian analyst made two additional points worthy of note. On the one hand, he said, “Putin is dividing Europe in two: the Anglo-Saxon countries and the so-called front line states (the Baltics, Romania and Poland) who are enemies which must be subordinated, and the countries of continental Europe who are friends.”

 

            And on the other hand, Illarionov said, “there is no other leader who has been using so any different means” to achieve his ends: military, economic, information, terrorist and so on. Putin has combined the all and with great success: By offering deals to the Europeans, he has succeeded in creating a situation in which almost no one talks about Crimea anymore.

 

            In today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Aleksandr Golts suggests that the discussions at the Lennart Meri Conference may point to dramatic changes in the West’s response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, changes that Moscow has brought on itself by its actions and will have no one but itself to blame (ej.ru/?a=note&id=27603).

 

                The Russian analyst noted that at the conference there were repeated calls for NATO to immediately make Ukraine a member of the alliance as “the only chance to stop Russian aggression.” Given that Moscow moved in Ukraine to prevent that from happening, “this nightmare” of the Kremlin is “becoming a reality.”

 

            And that is hardly the only place where the participants in the Lennart Meri Conference pointed to more changes ahead.  NATO has already agreed to put NATO forces in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on a rotating basis. At the conference, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves argued that having permanent NATO bases there should follow.

 

            Those who think that the NATO-Russia treaty precludes this, Ilves said, are misinterpreting that agreement.  And Golts said that he “suspects that the time when the alliance will agree” with President Ilves’ interpretation is “not far distant,” another way in which Moscow has produced by its actions exactly what it said it was taking them to prevent.

 

            “Finally,” Golts writes, “in the course of the conference were expressed some truly revolutionary ideas. For example, about depriving the permanent members of the UN Security Council of a veto when they are involved in direct aggression and thus to create the possibility for their punishment.”

 

            “Of course,” the Moscow author says, “it is quite easy to ignore all that was said at the conference in Tallinn. [NB: He spelled the Estonian capital with two N’s, not one, as Russians typically do.] What won’t these arrant Russophobes from the Baltics say! Only I suspect,” Golts continues, “this is the first attempt to respond to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.” [NB: Here he uses “na” as Putin prefers rather than “v” as Ukrainians do.]

 

Note: The author of these lines presented the Lennart Meri lecture to this conference via Skype. It was entitled “Restoring or Renewing the Post-1991 Order: What are the Prospects?” I will be happy to send a copy to anyone who requests one by writing me at paul.goble@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

Russia’s CIS Partners Won’t Celebrate Great Fatherland War Victory Anymore


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, April 27 – The Western media have kept close track of the growing list of world leaders who won’t be attending Victory Day festivities in Moscow this year, but another trend that may be more important – the decision of Russia’s CIS remaining partners no longer even to speak about what Russians call the Great Fatherland War – has attracted much less.

 

             But as Svetlana Gamova of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” puts it, that change means that “Russia is losing the last and, if you like, the most important thing which connects it with the CIS countries – Victory in the Great Fatherland War,” a conflict the non-Russians in the CIS now prefer to call World War II (ng.ru/dipkurer/2015-04-27/9_victory.html).

 

            While all of them will mark the date, they will do so at home rather than in Moscow and under their own colors rather than the black and yellow of the St. George ribbon, a decoration that she suggests “has become the simple of the splitting apart of the Commonwealth of Independent States.”

 

            The Kremlin has tried to play down this trend, she continues, excusing Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s decision to mark the anniversary in Mensk not Moscow, but “ordinary Russians as always have read between the lines: Lukashenka is openly distancing himself from Moscow,” something confirmed by his decision not to use the St. George ribbon.

 

            Lukashenka is hardly alone, Gamova says. Leaders in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova have taken equally demonstrative steps to show that they will commemorate World War II in their own way and not jointly with the Russian one or employing the symbols that Moscow prefers.

 

            “Many experts in the CIS countries suggest that this … is the result of the work of NGOs and Western embassies,” the Moscow journalist says, another example of the way in which many in that region seem incapable of accepting the idea that peoples and governments can ever act on their own.

 

            Others, including Gamova herself, point to “the ineffective work or its complete absence by representatives of the Russian Federal Agency for CIS Affairs and Compatriots (Rossotrudnichestvo) and the International Foundation for Humanitarian Cooperation among the CIS Member States.

 

            She says that officials in Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan say they know nothing about Rossotrudnichestvo or have heard “something about it” but can’t quite remember much.  Moldovan parliamentarians, for example, say they have never met with its representatives, although they have heard about its work with Moldovan gastarbeiters in Russia.

 

            The Russian government has allocated funds for this, she says, but things haven’t worked out. The money has gone for a few conferences and public celebrations but has not achieved the ends Moscow said it would.  Neither Russians nor what she refers to as “’the titular nations’ of the CIS countries take it at all seriously.”

 

            But one “fact” is obvious, the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist concludes: “We have lost that space which for many years we considered traditionally a zone of Russian influence … and we will have to celebrate Victory Day in a dramatically shrinking circle of former fellow fighters.”

 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Half of Russian Army Soldiers Now Working on Contract Basis, Defense Ministry Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, April 26 – Yesterday, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov said that 50 percent of the uniformed personnel of the Russian Army are working on contract as professionals rather than as draftees, a figure that has been achieved as a result of difficulties in the civilian economy and of new benefits extended to those who sign up.

 

            But precisely for that combination of reasons, the Russian military is unlikely to be able to meet its plans to move toward an all-professional army anytime soon if the country maintains a military of its current size, the economy improves or the government is unable to continue to boost benefits for servicemen and women.

 

            Even if all those things obtain, the declining size of the prime draft age or military service pool will mean that professional military personnel will effectively take people away from jobs in the civilian sector and become a choke point on the future economic development of the Russian Federation.

 

            Moreover, the drive toward professionalism while it almost certainly would lead to a more skilled military is likely to be opposed by senior generals who still place a high value on the kind of massive force structures that is only possible with a draft and one that takes people into the service for relatively short periods.

 

            Nonetheless, Pankov’s statement is an indication of what the defense ministry is currently trying to do.  He said that “Today, we have 300,000 contract soldiers who are serving either in the ranks or as sergeants and about 200,000 officers. And, in this way, the deputy minister continued, “50 percent of our army is a contract one” (polit.ru/news/2015/04/25/army/).

 

            According to Pankov, “interest in contract service has grown thanks to the conditions which are being created for military personnel.” More than 50,000 of those serving on contract “have been able to use military-backed mortgages” and thus obtain housing (polit.ru/news/2015/04/25/military_mortgage/).

 

                Three weeks ago, Col.Gen. Viktor Goremykin, the chief of the defense ministry’s manpower administration, said that Moscow plans to have all the junior command staff be professionals rather than draftees and will increase the number of contractors in the ranks by 50,000 more than Pankov says the army has now (polit.ru/news/2015/04/03/contract/).

 

                That will be an enormously expensive undertaking, and the Russian government will have to divert funds from other sectors, including education and public health, if it is to meet that goal, an indication that a professional army does not solve Russia’s military problems and may in fact be beyond its reach unless the economy remains in the doldrums or worse.


              But Vladimir Putin may see one great advantage to a professional army, an advantage that he may be willing to beggar the rest of the country to get: Draft-based armies provide a closer check on leaders than do professional ones because the draftees are closer to the rest of the population and more likely to register its objections than are the professionals.

Kremlin’s ‘Top 5’ Misrepresentations about Ukraine This Week


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, April 26 – As he does each Sunday, Dmitry Bukovsky of Kyiv’s “Delovaya stolitsa” chooses from among the flood of Russian coverage about Ukraine “the top 5 propagandistic myths, fakes and stupidities” the Kremlin has committed over the course of the previous week (dsnews.ua/politics/top-5-propagandistskih-mifov-feykov-i-glupostey-kremlya-26042015110000).

 

            His selection for the past seven days includes the following:

 

  1. An effort by “Novorossiya” propagandists to claim that a Ukrainian sportswoman had devoted her victory to the “Donetsk Peoples Republic” fell flat when Kyiv officials point out that Ukraine is not affiliated with the athletic organization involved and that the individual who the Russians claimed had gone over to their side in fact had competed on a Russian team to begin with (novorossia.su/ru/node/17945).
     
  2. Russian propagandists again accused Ukrainian soldiers of having “crucified” a pro-Moscow militant. But on the basis of the video the Russians distributed, Bukovsky says, “even Pontius Pilate would have cried ‘I don’t believe it!’” The whole thing was so clearly staged that the actors had to cut things off at the decisive moment lest one of their number be hurt.  The link Bukovsky uses no longer works, possibly an indication that even the authors of this play decided it was too much.
     
  3. Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the head of the self-proclaimed DNR, says that in order to counter what he calls “the methodical and intentional zombification” of Ukrainians, he and his colleagues are preparing “a cycle of broadcasts about what it fact is taking place in the Donbas” – as if, Bukovsky says, “the flood of refugees from the Donbas who have lost their jobs and apartments or had their possessions stolen by local bandits had somehow run out and we had nowhere to learn the truth.”  The working title for these broadcasts is “Antidote,” the Kyiv journalist reports.  “We are impatiently waiting for it.”
     
  4. The DNR has announced plans to create “a Museum of the Achievements of the Republic” on the basis of one of the exhibition centers of Donetsk. The self-proclaimed republic’s culture ministry says it wants to show all the things that the DNR has achieved in the last year, but there is a problem: many of the things that had been on display before the militants got there have been looted (dan-news.info/ukraine/v-donecke-budet-sozdan-muzej-dostizhenij-dnr-minkult.html and www.ostro.org/general/criminal/news/466558/).
     
  5. Russian outlets in occupied areas put out the story that Ukrainian military commanders were asking the officers of the militias to open fire on groups allied with the Ukrainians.  According to pro-Moscow leaders, the reason was simple: the Ukrainians needed evidence that the militias and not Kyiv were violating the ceasefire (dan-news.info/defence/vsu-vyxodyat-po-otkrytym-kanalam-svyazi-na-oficerov-dnr-s-prosboj-otkryt-ogon-po-boevikam-azova-basurin.html).

Putin Can’t Conquer Ukraine But He Can Start a Third World War, Smeshko Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, April 26 – In an address to the Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn yesterday, Igor Smeshko pointed to one of the most dangerous asymmetries of the situation in Ukraine: Vladimir Putin, he said, cannot occupy Ukraine and subdue a partisan war, but the Kremlin leader can “provoke a global conflict.”

 

            The former head of the SBU and an advisor to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, says this is the reason that the conflict must be of concern to all of Europe and the West more generally (gordonua.com/news/war/Smeshko-Okkupirovat-Ukrainu-i-vyigrat-partizanskuyu-voynu-s-ney-nevozmozhno-no-vpolne-realno-sprovocirovat-konflikt-globalnogo-masshtaba-77653.html).

 

            “The armed conflict in Ukraine is not simply a local contest between Ukraine and Russia but a clash between two civilizations, the Euro-Atlantic and the so-called ‘Russian world,’” Smeshko said. Were Ukraine to lose, this would be “a threat not only for the post-Soviet space, including the Baltic countries but for all of Europe.”

 

            What is at stake, he argued, is whether Russia will be able to “stop the processes of European integration,” acquire a strong voice in European affairs, and set itself up as a global counterweight to the United States.

 

            Asked why Vladimir Putin decided to engage in this direct confrontation of the West, Smeshko said that Moscow was shocked by the two Maidan protests in Ukraine in 2004 and 2014. “Those protests showed,” he said, “that a developed civil society already exists in Ukraine and that the ideas of democracy are spreading ever closer to Russian borders.”

 

            “The conversion of Ukraine into a flourishing and strong democratic country would be a death sentence for the existing authoritarian regime in Russia and even represent a danger for its disintegration,” the Ukrainian presidential advisor said. Consequently, Putin felt he had to suppress Ukraine in order to protect his personal power.

 

            A second reason Putin has moved in Ukraine, Smeshko says, is that the West has not pursued a sufficiently well-developed security strategy. Instead, “the leadership of the US has been concentrated not on the development of Euro-Atlantic civilization but on the problems of ‘global peace,’ and this could have played a role.”

 

            Putin will pursue his plans to restore a post-Soviet empire “just as far as he is permitted to do so,” the former intelligence agency head said, adding that his listeners should remember what the ancient Romans said: “”Strength restrains; weakness provokes.””  That is true “not only regarding Ukraine,” he argued.

 

            The current conflict may go on for a long time, given the size of the countries involved, but Smeshko suggested that it will not be solved by military means alone.  Ukrainians will continue to fight and consequently, it will be “impossible” for Moscow “to occupy Ukraine and win a partisan war” there.

 

            Smeshko said that in addition to the fortitude and bravery of ordinary Ukrainians, Western sanctions on Russia are “working.” Moscow cannot now “repeat the Crimean scenario in the east of Ukraine,” and it faces ever more problems at home. The question now is how long will Russians believe they see on television over what they don’t see in their refrigerators?

 

            The West must remain united regarding sanctions because any break in them will be exploited by Moscow and seen by the Kremlin as an indication that it can win through, especially given the financial help it is providing to “ultra-right and ultra-left” groups in the West who are giving it support.

Ukraine Must Develop Its Own Myth about Crimea to Defeat Russia’s, Kazarin Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, April 26 – The current war in Ukraine is “a battle between the Russian myth about Ukraine and the Ukrainian myth about itself,” a reflection of the fact that the contemporary world is among other things “a symbolic space” and that “one myth can be defeated only with the help of another myth,” according to Pavel Kazarin.

 

A myth, he points out in “Ukrainskaya Pravda,” “is not a synonym for the word ‘invention.’” In classical Greece, it referred to the concept of how an individual viewed the world and his place in it. A myth is an idea “about the universe’s architecture, about past and future, about values and taboos” (pravda.com.ua/rus/articles/2015/04/24/7065788/?attempt=1).

 

Nowhere is this problem more critical than in the case of Crimea where there is a well-articulated “Russian myth” but no Ukrainian one has appeared “up to now,” Kazarin says. And as a result, “Ukraine uses the Crimean Tatar one.”

 

“The Russian concept of Crimea” includes such things as the defense of Sevastopol, the “Crimean Riviera,” Pushkin, Wrangel, the withdrawal of the White Army to Bizerte, and the second defense of Sevastopol – all things which serve to justify a Russian status for the Ukrainian peninsula.

 

Some say that “the Russian Crimea myth is in fact ‘a Soviet myth’ both in terms of the time of its creation and its realization,” Kazarin says.  “Yes, that is possible,” he says, but one thing is undeniable: “it exists,” and it serves Moscow’s purposes. There is no alternative Ukrainian myth; there is only the Crimean Tatar one, which Ukrainians use.

 

The Crimean Tatar myth about Crimea is well-developed: it involves the story of a motherland taken from its people, the mass deportation, and the destruction of its language and culture by Russian occupiers.

 

            “The weak point of the Crimean Tatar myth is that it is not inclusive but exclusive,” Kazarin says. “It is defensive and directed at the preservation of the borders of a group and not on their broadening,” a pattern that reflects the experience of the Crimean Tatars after the return for deportation as a minority in their own land.

 

            But that gives rise to a problem with this myth: “It is difficult to be part of it if you are not a Crimean Tatar, because this myth looks toward the establishment of a national-territorial autonomy, quotas in the offices of governance, and a system of preferences.” And because of that, “it helps mobilize not only its supporters but also its opponents.”

 

            “Today,” Kazarin continues, “Ukraine ever more frequently uses precisely the Crimean Tatar myth,” largely because “over the last 20 years, a uniquely Ukrainian concept about the peninsula has not appeared.”  Kyiv’s authority there is “legal from the point of view of law but it hasn’t been legitimized by mythology.”

 

            Ukraine has “all the preconditions” necessary for the elaboration of its own myth about Crimea. It is simply the case, Kazarin says, that this myth won’t be about military conquest or about historical or religious issues but rather about economics, about Crimea as an economic hub for the Black Sea region, as Ukrainian economist Andrey Klimenko has suggested.

 

            A Ukrainian myth so constructed, the Kyiv commentator says, would be inclusive and appropriate for all regardless of ethnicity. But so far, because “inertia has turned out to be strong,” Ukrainians have not advanced it.  Many think they don’t have to because the Crimean Tatar myth justifies Kyiv’s position.

 

            But Kyiv’s failure to advance its own myth, Kazarin suggests, opens the way for Moscow to push its own. And it is “characteristic” of the Ukrainian approach that “the law on the restoration of the rights of those deported on the basis of ethnicity” was adopted by the Verkhovna Rada only a month after the Russian Anschluss.

 

            Russia briefly tried to “privatize the Crimean Tatar” mythology by giving their language official status, but that effort collapsed with Moscow’s moves against the ATR television channel and its attacks on activists.

 

            “Someone may say that all this is secondary, that economics and the military define politics,” Kazarin says, but anyone who does is “wrong.”  That is because the contemporary world is a symbolic space, and those who control the symbols often control the politics more than those with the arms or the money.

 

            Ukrainians should reflect on this, Kazarin says, as well as on the fact that Moscow has defined Crimea as “’a Russian Jerusalem,’” something it has never said about the Donbas.  And if they do, he suggests, they will want to articulate their own Crimea myth in order to do battle with and defeat Russia’s version.