Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Window on Eurasia: As Russians' Enthusiasm for Crimea’s Annexation Wanes, Kremlin Prepares to Combat Demonstrations


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 2 – Russians are less enthralled about the annexation of Crimea than they were a few months ago, according to a Levada Center poll, an apparent result of information fatigue and growing recognition of the costs involved but a trend that appears to have prompted the Kremlin to organize druzhinniki to combat opposition protests.

 

            Most government outlets have stressed that the new poll shows Russians to have become more acceptant of Crimea being part of the Russian Federation than they were, but the opposition Dozhd television in its report today argues that the poll shows something else -- that “Russians have begun to reflect about the negative consequences of the annexation” (tvrain.ru/articles/levada_tsentr_rossijane_perestajut_radovatsja_prisoedineniju_kryma-374864/).

 

            Over the last six months, feelings of joy about the annexation and approval of the leadership of the country on this point have fallen, the poll found, as have the percentage of Russians who “are ready to reduce their personal spending in order to finance the new region” of the Russian Federation.

           

            According to the latest poll, the share of Russians who say they feel joy about Crimea now being part of Russia stands at 16 percent, compared to 23 percent four months earlier. Forty percent say they approve of the Kremlin’s actions on Crimea, down from 47 percent; and 30 percent say that the annexation makes them proud of their country, down from 37 percent earlier.

 

            Those opposed to the annexation number only nine percent, the same figure as in the earlier poll.  But far fewer think that residents of Ukraine and other neighboring countries do not have negative opinions about Russia and Russians than did earlier. But 73 percent say that they view Crimea as part of Russia, up from 64 percent earlier, the figure government outlets cite.

 

            While this poll does not suggest a sea change in Russian attitudes, the softening of support if not the hardening of opposition to what Putin has been doing appears to be behind plans to form “anti-Maidan popular militias [druzhinniki]” as part of an effort to ward off “anti-government” actions by “the extra-systemic opposition” (izvestia.ru/news/576041).

 

            In some regions, including Crimea, these groups are to begin work this month. They supposedly will monitor the situation and assist the police, but some observers say that they are being created to fight a danger that does not exist and that may in the end provoke precisely the kind of opposition the regime appears to be concerned about.

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s War in Ukraine Saves Tatarstan’s Special Status For Now, Commentator Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 2 – Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has “unexpectedly” allowed Tatarstan to retain its presidency and thus “again confirm its status as a special region within Russia, ‘an exception from the rules,’ …as former Federal Council speaker Sergey Mironov put it, and thus, “a bastion of federalism” within Russia, according to a Muslim commentator.

 

            In comments to Ansar.ru, Abdulla Rinat Mukhametov says that Putin’s decision to allow Tatarstan to retain its presidency is the unexpected result of his war in Ukraine. Given that “the problems of federalization, decentralization, development and the authority of the regions in Russia is no less a problem than in Ukraine,” Putin doesn’t want to rock the boat just now. 

 

            When Moscow talks about restrictions on the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine, he continues, it is reasonable that the Russian leader should also recall that “far from everything is in order with the non-Russian and even the Russian subjects” of the Russian Federation (ansar.ru/analytics/2014/09/01/52902).

 

            Demonstrations in support of federalization in Russia have taken place in several major cities of the country in recent times, something the “anti-Putin opposition” has attempted to exploit and that the regime has effectively squelched, Mukhametov says. But that hasn’t changed the reality that “potentially, federalism is one of the most important challenges” to Moscow.

 

“If a wise resolution will not be found,” he continues, “it will hardly be possible to speak about the well-being” of Russia.

 

“De facto,” the Muslim commentator continues, “Russia is a federation today only on paper and by name. In reality, it is more a unitary state,” and Putin’s effort to eliminate republic presidents was supposed to “complete this process.” As a result, had Tatarstan given it, this would have been “the symbolic end of real federalism.”

 

            The Ukrainian crisis has given Tatarstan a chance to save what is left of federalism at least for a time and even remain a leader of federalist forces in Russia, he says. Putin’s concession reflects the fact that neither he nor anyone else in Moscow wants to risk destabilizing the situation inside the country while it is at war with Ukraine.

 

            But in retaining the office of the presidency, Tatarstan has retained something else, at least part of the “at one time broad authorities” that it had had under the terms of the corresponding agreements with Moscow and the Russian Constitution. How long that will last remains unclear given that “the general anti-federalist trend in the state is obvious.”

 

            If and when the conflict in Ukraine comes to an end, he argues, then “the same neo-imperialist policy which is being carried out against Ukraine will “intensify” inside Russia against the Middle Volga, the North Caucasus and elsewhere.

 

            Just now, many North Caucasians view the Ukrainian crisis as “manna from heaven” because the Russian media have ceased to attack people from that region and the level of anti-Caucasus attitudes in Russian society has declined. But Mukhametov says that in his view, such attitudes will re-emerge in “even more brutal forms” after Ukraine.

 

            And their re-emergence will be paralleled by a re-emergence of anti-minority and anti-regional sentiment more generally. That “will threaten minorities” of all kinds, including religious ones like Islam, and prevent them along with the country’s various nations from becoming subjects of Russian statehood with equal rights.

 

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Homo Crimeacus a Doomed Effort to Restore Homo Sovieticus, Pastukhov Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 2 – With the Crimean Anschluss, a new “cultural type” has emerged, “Homo Crimeacus,” people who think “fundamentally differently than “’post-communist’ Russians” and who are pursuing a doomed effort to restore the “Homo Sovieticus” of the late USSR, according to Vladimir Pastukhov.

 

            In an essay posted on Polit.ru today, the St. Antony’s scholar says that his status as an √©migr√© initially made it difficult for him to recognize the change but then, after focusing upon it, he recognized that in this case as always, “the ‘new man’ is always ‘an archive collection,’ published with a new cover” (polit.ru/article/2014/09/02/homo_crimeacus/).

 

            “The self-satisfied Homo Crimeacus replaced the weak and feeble Homo Criticus” who had existed in the 1990s and 2000s, someone who was “eternally dissatisfied with his existence” and alienated from anything beyond his immediate personal needs, largely content to “watch bandit television series and anti-corruption investigations.”

 

            With a new energy, Homo Crimeacus has driven this cultural type out of Russian life just as rapidly as “Cro-Magnon man at one time drove out the Neanderthals,” Pastukhov says, noting that “the seizure of Crimea was no more than a trigger” for this. Kremlin propaganda played  a role, but the real reasons were deeper.

                                          

            The real “objective” forces causing this shift, he continues, include both domestic and foreign factors. Domestically, they include the criminal ways in which privatization was carried out; and internationally, they reflect an international system in which others can violate the rules but one in which “Russia in the best case was only allowed to be a spectator.”

 

            Homo Crimeacus, Pastukhov says, has “turned out to be an unattractive creature … full of enthusiasm and suffering from social and political farsightedness as a result of which he doesn’t notice injustice and illegality nearby but only at a great distance typically no nearer than beyond the ocean.”

 

            “On the other hand,” he says, “unlike Homo Criticus,” the new man conceives “surrounding reality exclusively in rose colors” even when his “other sensory organs show him that it is far from rosy.  [Moreover,] he is not ashamed of his inborn criminality but on the contrary is proud of it.”

 

            Such a social type is “aggressive” and “capable very quickly to occupy any free social and political niche and even to go beyond the limits of his natural milieu,” Pastukhov says. “He is a friend of paradoxes and he does not have any doubt that war is peace.”  But at the same time, his very flexibility may mean that he will turn on his own leaders.

 

            From one perspective, he appears to be a modified version of the Homo Sovieticus “who populated the territory of Russia and surrounding areas from the end of the 1950s to the end of the 1980s.”  Like that predecessor, he has “a well-developed mythological consciousness” and “doesn’t engage in critical analysis” of what is going on.

 

            But there is “one extremely essential difference” between the two, Pastukhov argues. “Homo Crimeacus is a secondary” and derivative phenomenon.

 

            Homo Sovieticus, “as the product of the lengthy evolution of ‘Soviet civilization,’ was self-sufficient.” He knew who he was and he looked to the future. “Homo Crimeacus, like any other copy, dreams most of all of becoming the original” and thus “his view is turned to the past: he wants to become Homo Sovieticus.”

 

            “Those who lived in the real USSR dreamed about communism. [But] for the present-day epigones of ‘the Soviet regime,’ the USSR is communism.”  But there is one way in which the two are very similar: “their goals are unachievable: to fall into an invented future is just as impossible as to do the same thing into an invented past.”

 

            Like its predecessor, Homo Crimeacus is divided into two groups: the passive and the active backers of “the imperial idea.”  The majority are passive and content to watch. The active minority, “the ‘reconstructors,’ [however,] do not simply quietly believe in their ideal but try to achieve it … the rebirth of the USSR under the new sign ‘Great Russia.’”

 

            “For a long time,” the St. Antony’s scholar says, “the Russian authorities took a wait and see position” about this.”  That left those who wanted to return to the past with few choices. But when the regime itself “firmly stood on the position of ‘reconstructionism’ and shifted from words to deeds that star hour of Homo Crimeacus arrived.”

 

            Many seem to think that “this is the beginning of a new era,” but in fact, Pastukhov argues, “it is its end.”  “Post-communist social searching and historical creativity are finished. Doubts, torments, and discussions have been left behind. Culture, almost as Spengler described it, has become civilization, and its symbol has become a monumental Homo Crimeacus.”

 

            Now, that new-old man will be elevated to a pedestal and will stay there until “the waters of history” erode the foundations of “the newly declared Eurasian empire. Then Homo Crimeacus will also become history and occupy an honored place in the pantheon of Russian illusions alongside its cultural prototype.”

Window on Eurasia: Are Russia’s Smallest Nationalities Now to Be Left to the Tender Mercies of Regional Officials?


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 2 – Members of the smallest nationalities of the Russian Federation have always looked to Moscow for what defense they can largely because the heads of the Russian regions within which they live typically have been far less sympathetic and supportive of their situation, deferring to the local Russian majority and business interests.

 

            Moscow has sometimes helped and sometimes not, but its record as far as most of these micro-nationalities is concerned has been better than that of the regional governments. Now, however, there appears to be a risk that the central government may be preparing to leave these groups to the mercies of the regional officials, something that could threaten their survival.

 

            In a commentary on Nazaccent.ru last week, Valery Tishkov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology and a former Russian nationalities minister, says that in his view the Russian government of occupied Crimea not Moscow should decide the fate of the Karaims who number 670 and the Krymchaks who number 280 (nazaccent.ru/column/61/).

 

            The influential ethnographer writes that he “considers that there is not sufficient basis” for including these two nations in “the list of indigenous numerically small peoples of the Russian Federation” because they are not conducting a distinctive and “traditional” way of life but instead have become part of the surrounding urban milieu.

 

            In addition, he says, “in the current situation, when in Crimea are taking place serious political changes, dividing the population into indigenous and non-indigenous is not very correct because the Crimean Tatars are an indigenous people of Crimea as are the Russians, the Ukrainians, the Bulgars, and the Greeks.

 

            “Our position,” Tishkov says, is that “with regard to Crimea, it is necessary to do what has been done with regard to Daghestan and allow the local authorities themselves to decide this issue.”

 

            The Moscow scholar says that “we do not deny the existence of these peoples – the Karaims and the Krymchaks, their quite tragic fate in the years of the war when the German fascists simply wiped them out together with the gypsies. These peoples undoubtedly are indigenous and numerically small, but we are against including them in the list which exists in the Russian Federation.”

 

            In Russia, he continues, “many indigenous numerically small peoples live, but the law establishes definite criteria” that they must meet to get certain benefits such as quotas for fishing and hunting.  The list should not be expanded arbitrarily, although Tishkov says that this has happened in the case of the Shapsugs, a subgroup of the Circassians who lived in Sochi.

 

            Their inclusion, he suggests, was “insufficiently justified.” However that may be, Tishkov’s reference to them indicates that he is making a broader judgment than just about the situation in Russian-occupied Crime and that judgment is one that almost certainly will have negative consequences for the smallest nations who seek defense against local majorities.

 

Window on Eurasia: Russian Officials Move to Expel Siberian Rabbi


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 2 – The Federal Migration Service has stripped Osher Krichevsky, Omsk’s chief rabbi, of his residence permit nominally on the basis of a charge of illegal trading of alcohol but in fact, experts say, because of the political situation in the Russian Federation, “Kommersant-Siberia” is reporting today.

 

            Yesterday, the FMS told the rabbi, who has Israeli citizenship, that he has 15 days to leave Russia together with his wife and six children. Krichevsky told the newspaper that the officials had refused to tell him the reason or to meet with him or his representatives to discuss the case (kommersant.ru/doc/2557887).

 

            Krichevsky, 36, has served as the chief rabbi of Omsk and Omsk oblast since September 2001, and in 2007, he received his residence permit. He has been quite active, including in establishing a kosher store at the synagogue there, and officials earlier fined him 2,000 rubles (50 US dollars) for selling alcohol without a license.

 

             Leaders of the Jewish community in Omsk believe that the action against their rabbi was initiated not by the FMS but by the FSB, the Russian security services, and they say that they plan to appeal to Vladimir Putin and “the competent organs in order that justice may be restored.”

 

            The leaders of the community also insist that Krichevsky is “an absolutely apolitical individual,” but other observers there, “Kommersant-Siberia” reports, say that he may have made some “anti-government comments” in private conversations and that the authorities have moved against him to send a warning to other religious leaders.

 

            Under Russian law, the rabbit has ten days to appeal the decision, but his position is weakened by the fact that he cannot appeal until the FMS tells him why he is being expelled, something the FMS is currently unwilling to do, according to legal experts with whom Olga Danilova of the newspaper spoke.

 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Even if Kyiv Agrees to Moscow’s Federalization Plan, Instability in Ukraine will ‘Intensify,’ Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 1 – Even if Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko agrees to federalize Ukraine as a result of Russian military action and Western and especially German political pressure, such an agreement will not end the Ukraine crisis. Instead, Andrey Piontkovsky argues, it almost certainly will intensify.

 

            On the one hand, the Russian analyst says, Moscow will have every reason to continue to push harder in order to ensure that Kyiv will not be able to join the West, especially since the West has not imposed any serious penalties on Russia for its actions in Ukraine (rusmonitor.com/andrejj-piontkovskijj-pmri-lyubom-scenarii-destabilizaciya-ukrainy-budet-usilivatsya.html).

 

            And on the other, while Poroshenko may be forced to sign, such a step “would generate serious opposition in Ukraine and provoke and what is often called the third Maidan,” a development that would “intensify the destabilization of Ukraine” and quite possibly help Putin to achieve his goals of subordinating that country to Moscow.

 

            Those in the West who see federalization as a panacea, as a way out of the crisis, are misleading themselves, Piontkovsky says.  Moreover, although not mentioned in this interview, such people are allowing themselves to be deceived by the Kremlin leader in an even more fundamental way.

 

            As some analysts have already noted, Putin has secured Western acquiescence if not recognition of his Anschluss of Crimea by sparking violence in and then invading other parts of Ukraine.  Indeed, some have implicitly argued that accepting Russia’s seizure of Crimea may be the price to be paid for ending Moscow’s invasion of southeastern Ukraine.

 

            But such arguments miss the point: Putin takes two illegal steps and then appears to pull back from the second, thus allowing his propagandists and those in the West who accept their arguments to view him as a moderate with whom they need to do business. And then, having achieved that, he takes another two illegal steps, with apparent plans to do the same.

 

            In Soviet times, people talked about Moscow’s “salami tactics,” the process by which the USSR took parts of other countries bit by bit.  Putin has updated this in ways that so far at least have allowed him to escape responsibility and even involve Western governments in ratifying some of his actions as the price of getting him to pull back elsewhere.

 

           

Window on Eurasia: Crimea’s Russians want Soviet Past Not Russian Present, ‘Novaya’ Commentator Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 1 – “Crimea never was pro-Russian – it did not know and could not know post-Soviet Russia,” Pavel Kazarin says. “Instead, over the course of the last quarter of a century,” the Ukrainian peninsula was “pro-Soviet,” something that is going to create problems for Moscow there in the near term.

 

            And that confusion is mirrored, the “Novaya gazeta” commentator says today, by one in Moscow. “For Russia,” he continues, “Crimea is not valuable in and of itself” but rather because of the sense it gives Russians” that they are still an empire. Indeed, it is the only marker most of them now see for that status (novayagazeta.ru/comments/65060.html).

 

            The Russians of Crimea were never entirely happy to be part of “the Ukrainian periphery,” and the support some but far from all of them have offered for Putin’s Anschluss of the region is an effort to reverse 1991 and to allow “the current generations to live under developed socialism.”

 

            But that isn’t necessarily what Moscow wants from Crimea, Kazarin says. For it, Crimea is “the unique indicator of the imperial status of Russia.” But “for the peninsula to become in reality what it sees itself as being, one small thing is needed – the Soviet Union.  And it doesn’t exist.”

 

            For Crimea’s Russians, “Soviet reality is 350 enterprises, tens of thousands of sailors of the Black Sea Fleet, a resort behind an iron curtain which is filled to capacity … and along with all of those factors,” the “Novaya” writer continues, “it is social justice,” as defined at the end of Soviet times.

 

            In point of fact, he continues, “the only [currently existing] country in which Crimea would feel itself at home is Belarus … the last preserve of the USSR” that has been maintained by Moscow’s money but that is fundamentally different from the Russia that has emerged since 1991.

 

            “What will Moscow offer Crimea tomorrow? What reality will be built in a region which dreams about a new wave of industrialization? What long-term strategy will Moscow choose if even today it cannot force its own major banks and net operators to go to work on the peninsula?”  These are all questions without answers.

 

            To a large extent, Kazarin writes, “Crimea is like the ring in Tolkien.” If it is not put on the right finger, “it will destroy” the one who attempts to wear it. Moscow today may see the USSR in the Crimean “mirror” into which it is looking, he says, “but to imagine oneself as the Soviet Union and to be it are two totally different things.”

 

            “Crimean awaits from Moscow not so much money as a sense of subjectness. It wants everything which it read about in the early novels of Strugatsky where progress, new horizons, and where money begins on Saturday,” he writes. “What will happen when [Crimea] understands that it has turned out to have been included in ‘The City of the Condemned’?”

 

            Crimeans will resist drawing that conclusion. But however much they try to ignore reality, they won’t be able to “repeal” it.  Its Russian residents are dreaming of going back to 1961 with the flight of Gagarin and Komsomol construction projects. But they may discover that they in fact have returned to 1988 and are along with Russia, “at the brink of a new collapse.”

 

            Meanwhile, in an action that combines “The Commissar Vanishes” and Costa-Gavras’ 1969 film “Z,” the Russian occupation authorities have begun confiscating books about Mustafa Cemilev, the Crimean Tatar leader earlier banned from returning to his homeland for five years (nvua.net/ukraine/v-krymu-izyali-iz-prodazhi-zapreshchennye-knigi-o-mustafe-dzhemileve-9801.html).

 

            In reporting this latest horror, Refat Chubarov, head of the Mejlis who has also been banned from the Ukrainian peninsula, said that “in Crimea they are not yet publicly burning books. But judging from the last reports out of Crimea, they are preparing to do just that.” This parallels what the Nazis did in Germany.

 

            As Chubarov recalls, the infamous burning of books on May 10, 1933, was preceded by efforts to confiscate books whose authors and content the Nazis did not approve of.