Thursday, December 25, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russians Used Humanitarian Convoys to Send Militants into Ukraine, Russian Organizer of this Effort Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 25 – It is a fool’s errand to try to document and then denounce all the lies the Russian government and media have committed over the last year about Ukraine: Each day brings a fresh crop. But some are so egregious, so dangerous to the international system, and so likely to become precedents that they must be exposed.

 

            Sometimes they are shown to be that by virtue of internal inconsistency or total implausibility. At others, they can be shown to be untrue by the careful examination of evidence provided by those who are Moscow’s victims.  But on occasion, they are confirmed as false by the Russians themselves, an act of shamelessness that in and of itself constitutes an indictment.

 

            This week one of the most appalling lies about what Russia has done in Ukraine was revealed as such by a Russian with close links to that country’s security agencies. In an interview, Vladimir Yefimov said he had helped Russian militants get into Ukraine by hiding in one of the humanitarian convoys Moscow sent there (e1.ru/news/spool/news_id-416966.html).

 

            That Moscow had abused the trust of the international community in this way had long been known by those closely following the situation in Ukraine. Indeed, Moscow’s misuse of such convoys in support of its military goals had even become the subject of Western political cartoons.

 

            Now, thanks to Yefimov, a Russian has confirmed what Russia has done, and the level of detail he provides, the photographs of those involved, and the reproductions of the forms he and his comrades use leave little doubt that Yefimov is now telling at least most of the truth when he said that Russians who volunteered to fight in Ukraine “went under the guise of the Red Cross.”

 

            The international community needs to hold Moscow accountable for this as well as for its other violations of international law in Ukraine, and now that a Russian source has provided the evidence of one such violation, Western governments have no excuse for not denouncing what Moscow has done and demanding that those directly involved by held responsible.

 

 

           

 

 

 

           

Window on Eurasia: Russia Experienced a Coup in 2014 without a Change in Institutions, Rubtsov Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 25 – Over the last year, Russia has experienced a coup “without a change of institutions, symbols or personnel,” being changed in even more significant ways than it was in the course of the “strong mutations of 2011-2013,” according to Aleksandr Rubtsov, the head of the Moscow Center for Research on Ideological Processes.

 

            In a commentary in “Vedomosti” today, Rubtsov says his country has been transformed into “an exalted ideocracy which is incapable of living in the real world in accord either with itself or with those around it” and that it will be stable only on the basis of constant reference to threats of instability (vedomosti.ru/opinion/news/37829481/god-velikih-peremen?full#cut).

 

            What happened “literally between the Olympiad and Crimea” was something “rare: an almost hurricane-like coup without a change of institutions, symbols and people.” Rationalism and pragmatism disappeared and were replaced by appeals to “myths and blind faith,” the Moscow analyst says.

 

            In short, viewed both from within and without, “an entirely different and unrecognizable country” appeared on the map of the world.

 

            Until this year, Russia had tried various means of legitimating itself including formal elections, laws and courts, but none of this worked because none of it had the content that was required.  Only two things have remained: “the deification of the leader who has given the country difficult but historic ‘victories,’” and all-powerful enemies “working for its destruction.”

 

            The “main intrigue at the moment” is connected with the issue of transforming Russia from a raw materials exporter to a modern, industrial or post-industrial society, Rubtsov says.  The regime has offered various notions but remains unwilling to act on an understanding that the entire system economic and political must be transformed.

 

            Indeed, the regime has reversed the Soviet dictum that the material base defines ideas and assumes that announcing an idea is sufficient for its realization. Unfortunately for the Kremlin, as Vasiliy Melnichenko has observed, “Russia produces the impression of a great power … and doesn’t produce anything else.”

 

            But what is especially troubling for the Kremlin at present is that the task of shifting from a country dependent on the export of raw materials to one that manufactures goods others want to buy is much more difficult than “building a planned economy or taking it apart,” according to Zubtsov.

 

            All of this, the Moscow analyst concludes, suggests that it is time to update a Soviet-era anecdote: “Is it possible to order stability by telephone?” the question goes, with the answer being “Yes, it is possible; they will show it to you on television.”

Window on Eurasia: Putin Opens New Campaign Against Latin Script


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 25 – On the eve of Western Christmas, President Vladimir Putin spoke out against what he called the excessive use of the Latin script instead of Cyrillic in Russian cities and towns, a comment that many Russians are likely to view as a call to do away with the use of an alphabet they associate with the West.

 

            “Sometimes you come into one city or another,” Putin told a joint session of the State Council and the Council on Culture and Art yesterday, “and the level of the culture of the local bureaucracy is immediately evident. If on each corner, all the signs of various institutions and advertising are exclusively presented in Latin letters!” (tass.ru/obschestvo/1670170),

 

            Putin followed this by remarking “everything is fine within limits,” words that probably will affect his listeners rather than his latest Jeremiad against the Latin script, something he has attacked before in passing a law that blocks non-Russian nationalities within the Russian Federation from shifting from Cyrillic-based scripts to Latin-based ones.

 

            In today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Alena Solntseva analyzes Putin’s remarks on this which came in the course of his announcement that he had signed a document entitled “The Foundations of State Cultural Policy” which calls for rethinking the role of culture in Russia and its relations with the rest of the world (ej.ru/?a=note&id=26778).

 

            In his remarks, Putin said that far too often people like about culture and cultural institutions not in terms of “the tasks of the development of the country” but rather only in terms of “services, relaxation, and diversions,” something that he said the current document is intended to change.

 

            According to the Kremlin leader, “the culture of Russia is just as important as its natural wealth,” and it is “a significant resource of social-economic development which allows for guaranteeing a leading position of our country in the world.”  Thus, it is necessary to create the conditions “for the development of creative industries … and for the development of the national sector of mass culture.”

 

            The document specifies that the country must seek “the rebirth of the traditions of family education” and “the overcoming of divisions between generations within the family,” replacing that with “dialogue between [them].”  And it calls for the creation of a special super-bureaucracy to “coordinate” all this.

 

            Putin also said that “no one and no power has the right to dictate to an artist, writer, director or, generally speaking, any individual its will and its ideas about how creatively gifted people must create.”  But he said there is a need to remain “true to historical traditions” and be concerned about the morality of those engaged in cultural activity.

 

Failure to do that, he said, has sometimes meant that creative freedom has opened the way for “pseudo-cultural surrogates.”

 

            As Solntseva points out, Putin’s approach not only is top-down in its authoritarian pretensions but fails to take into account either the enormous diversity of the country or the amount of resources needed to promote culture. Without a recognition of freedom and diversity and without more resources, there won’t be a flourishing culture.

 

            Indeed, she says, bluntly, it is obvious that “in such conditions, culture cannot give any enlightenment.” Some working in the cultural “industry” as Putin understands it may do so “with great enthusiasm,” but they will inevitably fail to understand “the essence” of culture and thus make a positive contribution to it.

 

            Attempts to resolve cultural issues “’from the head’, to again make the state the chief humanist, will not create demands for the renewal of culture among ordinary people.” It won’t promote a demand for culture, “in exactly the same way as over the last 20 years have not appeared independent civic organizations prepared to struggle for their rights at the local level.”

 

            “And the state, if it acts as a regulator should be concerned not with conceptions” as Putin is “but with the mechanisms of access to independent activity at the local level. But precisely this is what no one is involved with and therefore nothing is ensuring independent cultural activity.”

 

            Given that reality, she concludes with a bitter question, what difference do different slogans make? Those may “in a surprising way be changed, but the situation will remain just as it was before.”

 

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Catholic Leader in Belarus Delivers John Paul’s Message – ‘Do Not Be Afraid’


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 25 – In his Christmas message, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the leader of the 1.5 million Roman Catholics in Belarus, called on the faithful not to be afraid of the current situation, echoing the words of the late Pope John Paul II to Poles at the beginning of his pontificate (catholic.by/2/home/news/belarus/hierarchs/124089-paslanne-2014.html).

 

                Shortly after his election in1978 as head of the world’s Catholics, John Paul returned to his native Poland on his first foreign pilgrimage. On his arrival, he was told by Catholic leaders there that he could say anything to the increasingly restive Poles except to exhort them not to be afraid.

 

            Such an appeal, these Polish Catholic leaders said, would inspire the Poles to resist the communist government in ways that would almost certainly trigger Moscow to intervene and suppress Poland even more thoroughly than the Soviet Union already had. The pope must avoid that, they argued.

 

            But John Paul was not impressed with their arguments. He began his first homily there with the words “do not be afraid.” And he included them in all his other public appearances while in his homeland.  Thus encouraged, the Poles and ultimately all the other peoples in Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe took courage and recovered their freedom.

 

            The Belarusian archbishop, himself an ethnic Pole born in Belarus, is certainly aware of the parallel his words have with those of Pope John Paul. And he is someone who has had long experience in dealing with both the process of overcoming the Soviet legacy in Belarus where he has opened more than 100 churches and difficulties of dealing with Moscow’s often hostile stance toward Western Christendom as leader of Catholicism in the region since 1989.

 

             At the same time, even though Catholicism has roots in Belarus extending back a millenium, it does not play the same role that the Church did and does in Poland. At present, there are 1.5 million Roman Catholics in Belarus, approximately 15 percent of the country’s population.

 

            Almost all members of the Polish and Lithuanian minorities there are Catholic, but a sizeable number of the followers of the faith – perhaps a million – are ethnic Belarusians. And consequently, what the archbishop says will inevitably spread throughout the Belarusian nation and have an impact on the attitudes of its members.

Window on Eurasia: ‘A Real Genocide’ – Trains to Stop Running in Most Russian of Russia’s Regions


Paul Goble

 

                Staunton, December 25 – Local electric train service will end in Vologda Oblast on January 1, cutting much 70 percent of the population of that most ethnically Russian of Russia’s regions off from its capital, make it more difficult for people there to get educations or even medical treatment, and thus threaten them with what Aleksey Navalny calls “a real genocide.

 

            Oleg Kuvshinnikov, the governor of that region, says his administration has tried to keep the trains running by offering more subsidies to Russian Railways but not no avail, and he points out that the problem.” his region faces is one that many regions share (flashnord.com/news/rzhd-s-1-yanvarya-otmenyaet-vse-prigorodnye-poezda-v-vologodskoy-oblasti).

 

            For people in many countries with good highways and large numbers of private cars, such a development may seem entirely normal, but as Navalny, the embattled Russian opposition figure, points out, in Russia which lacks such things, the ending of such local train service is almost apocalyptic for those who have relied on it (echo.msk.ru/blog/corruption/1461720-echo/).

 

                Even today’s Muscovites may not understand just how serious a development this is, Navalny says, but “as someone who for several years travelled by electric train to university and back (and 60 percent of the residents of the country will understand [him] perfectly well, this is HELL.”

 

            Vologda Oblast, he points out, is an enormous place, equal in size to all three Baltic countries. It has 1.2 million people, but only a quarter of them live in the administrative center. All the rest have to travel there in order to get medicines, education and so on. “How are these people going to get there if there are no electric trains?”

 

                Even during the years of stagnation and the wild 1990s, people could rely on the trains to run on time, but now after Putin’s much-ballyhooed growth and stability, Moscow is doing away with this most essential form of public transportation, directly harming the wellbeing and even the lives of the Russians involved, Navalny says.

 

            There is “a sad irony” in this, he continues, noting that for many months, Moscow television has been filled with stories about “’the genocide of ethnic Russians.’” Vologda Oblast “stands in first place among all other regions of Russia in terms of the Russian share of the population – 96.56 percent” of its people are ethnic Russians.

 

            And for many Russians, it is the archetypically Russian region because of the photographs of Russians taken there in 1908 by Prokudin-Gorsky. There were no trains then, and soon there won’t be any again, a remarkable testimony to what the last hundred years have brought the Russians there.

 

            Meanwhile, China is building more high-speed trains and electric trains continue to function even in war-torn Donetsk. But Moscow doesn’t care about the fate of the residents of Vologda, about the ability of mothers there to take their children to the oblast hospital or for shopping.

 

            Instead, the Russian government makes bold declarations about protecting Russians everywhere, except of course in Russian places like Vologda, and works to ensure that no one will challenge the right of rich Russians to build palaces in Sochi or buy expensive property in London or elsewhere in the West.

 

            If this isn’t evidence of “intentional genocide,” Navalny asks, “what would be?”

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Window on Eurasia: 12 Problems Predictions about Russia’s Future Suffer From


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 24 – The approaching end of the year is a time when commentators, bloggers and politicians seem incapable of refraining from making predictions about the future, but far too many of these predictions suffer from a dozen problems that mean these projections are often less accurate than they might be, according to Yekaterina Schulmann.

 

            In “Vedomosti” today, the Moscow commentator lists the 12 as a checklist of sources of error in many such predictions and as such provides a service to those who will be reading them in the next week or two (vedomosti.ru/opinion/news/37767731/prakticheskij-nostradamus). Below is her list, with some of the supporting commentary she provides.

 

  1. Personification. There is a widespread tendency to elevate the role of personality in history, with statements of the kind “if there wasn’t Citizen X, there wouldn’t be a Russia.” But that is nonsense: “a personality can disappear, and a regime survive – or the opposite can happen.”
     
  2. Historical Parallels. Pace Marx, Schulmann says, “history does not repeat itself either as a tragedy or as a farce.” The reason is simple: there is such a large number of historical facts that each event is a product of a different combination than its predecessor. There may be similarities but there are no identities, whatever commentators say.
     
  3. Geographic Cretinism. Geographic determinism follows from the previous point, with this difference: for those who promote this idea, “geography is fate” and time and all other factors are irrelevant. Such people can’t explain why some regimes a world away from each other are the same or why some regimes so close together – like the two Koreas – are so different.
     
  4. Vulgar Materialism. A subspecies of geographic determinism is resource determinism, a view that holds that the economic resources of a state define all its possibilities, a view that ignores that different countries with similar resources behave in completely different ways.
     
  5. Vulgar Idealism. Those who fall into this trap, into the belief that ideas once announced eventually take physical shape forget that the authorities “exist not in a Platonic universe” where ideas are the only factors but in one where all kinds of things affect decisions and outcomes.
     
  6. A Cargo Cult in Reverse. Reverse cargo cults are typical of countries which are trying to catch up with the West and hold that imaginary or fake institutions they create will inevitably be filled with the content and have the meaning they have in the West.
     
  7. Catastrophe.  Many who make predictions like to suggest that Russia or the world are heading to an inevitable end, but such predictions are almost inevitably wrong because somehow something survives.
     
  8. Conspiracy Theories. Conspiracy theories are always based on the proposition that what is really happening is determined by unseen forces and that the secret will become public knowledge. But “secret organizations (Jesuits, Templers, the Elders of Zion) do not rule the world; the world is ruled by very obvious organizations – including governments, parliaments, armies, the church and corporations.
     
  9. External Control. Those who talk about how this or that country is controlled from outside sometimes do so because it is a good way for people to avoid responsibility but “it is especially absurd in the case of Russia,” Schulmann says, “because it is a big country with a large and primarily urban and literate population.”
     
  10. Fantasies about China. Russians don’t know much about China and thus project onto it anything they want to think about “the Other.” Thus, some Russians think that the Chinese want to move to Siberia, forgetting the obvious that the Chinese like almost everyone else want to live in cities and “not somewhere in the wilds of Eastern Siberia.”
     
  11. Citations from the Great. Commentators love to quote the great and famous, and when they can’t find a quotation that serves their purposes, some of them even make up things that the great and famous never said.  People who read their works should remember, “if it isn’t in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, it doesn’t exist.”
     
  12. Conversations with the People. Some commentators like to quote their taxi driver or nanny, forgetting that “all people are inclined to consider themselves unique and those around them as typical.  “Remember,” the Moscow commentator says, “no individual considers himself or herself simple.”
     
    Schulmann concludes her article with an appeal to “dear Grandfather Nostradamus. Bring us all in the near year clear reason and rational thought free from superstitions and with an objective view on oneself and those around. Let false wisdom wither and die under the son of immortal intelligence. Then no future will be so terrible.”
     
     

Window on Eurasia: In Karelia, Finlandization in Reverse?


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 24 – The procuracy in Karelia has refused to find a website which has denounced the Russian occupation of that land and called for a referendum on its future extremist and thus subject to banning, an indication that Moscow may be practicing a kind of Finlandization in reverse and thus avoiding antagonizing its neighbor.

 

            Sites elsewhere in the Russian Federation which contain far less dramatic materials have been subject to banning, but when Sergey Pirozhnikov, a deputy in the Karelian parliament, asked the powers that be to take the same step with the Stop the Occupation of Karelia portal (occupacii-karelii.net/), they refused (karelnovosti.ru/policy/prizyv-k-referendumu-o-suverenitete-karelii-ne-priznali-ekstremistskimi/  and nazaccent.ru/content/14322-prokuratura-ne-priznala-ekstremistskim-sajt-stop.html).

 

            On the basis of what it said were expert opinions, the procuracy refused to ban the site for extremism even though it contains articles denouncing the Russian occupation of the republic, Moscow’s suppression of the legitimate government of that area, and the failure of the authorities to allow a referendum on the future status of the region.

 

            The procuracy did say, in a letter to Pirozhnikov, that some of these materials were extremist even though it refused to find the site as a whole worthy of that designation. The letter added that it would seek approval of the courts to declare those materials extremist and thus subject to ban.

 

            In most parts of the Russian Federation, such calls would be more than sufficient for the authorities to declare the site extremist and seek to block it. But apparently, both officials in Karelia and officials in Moscow overseeing Karelia have decided that trying to ban the site, which is based abroad, would offend many Finns and thus counterproductive.