Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Russian State Now Acts as Enforcer for Russian Orthodox Church, Alekseyeva Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 31 – Recent events show that the Russian state has agreed to act as an enforcer for the Moscow Patriarchate, an accord that points to the further clericalization of Russian society and that does not bode well for the many opponents of the Russian Orthodox Church, according to Lyudmila Alekseyeva.


            The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church has long supported the Russian state, but now, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group says, the state is returning the favor, acting as its enforcer in clear violation of the 1993 Russian Constitution by making the Moscow Patriarchate “a state religion” (portal-credo.ru/site/?act=authority&id=2137).


            Alekseyeva’s comments to Portal-Credo.ru came after Russian government magistrates intervened and seized the remains of Suzdal saints that had been kept in a church of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, a group that is often at odds with the Moscow Patriarchate but that the latter has not been able to impose its will.


            Now, the state has intervened, a reflection she suggests of the fact that “the state has agreed that the Church can use the state apparatus” for its own denominational goals. In this situation, the Autonomous Church has few good options left except perhaps to turn to the European Human Rights Court.


            When the Russian police came to act on behalf of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Feodor of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church lay down in front of the shrine, but the police simply stepped over him and went about their business. “I can imagine the attitudes of belivers,” Alekseyeva said.

Nearly Half of Russians Say Stalin’s Harsh Rule Justified by Results, Up from a Quarter in 2012

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 31 – Forty-five percent of Russians now say that Stalin’s harsh repression was justified by the results he achieved as a result, a figure that is almost twice as high as in 2012, according to a new Levada Center poll.  The same survey found that the share of Russians who believe that nothing justifies what Stalin did has fallen significantly.


            As a result, only one Russian in four (25 percent) is either fully or partially opposed to the erection of statues and memorials to the Soviet-era dictator on the occasion of what Moscow will mark in May as the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2015/03/31/vse-bolshe-rossiyan-polozhitelno-otnosyatsya-k-stalinu-levada-tsentr).


            Aleksey Grazhdankin, the Levada Center’s deputy director, says that “for the majority of respondents, the name of Stalin as before is connected with terror, but since the last decade there has been a growth in the share of those Russians who give a positive assessment to what Stalin did. It reached its highest level ever last year, he adds.


            Part of the explanation for the increase in approval for Stalin, Grazhdankin suggests, is to be found in Russians’ assessment of the events in Ukraine. Seeing what instability can lead to, he says, many Russians are now “prepared to sacrifice the interests of a minority in order to preserve the current status quo and stability.”


            Five years ago, 32 percent of the Russian sample said that Stalin was a criminal; now, only 25 percent do, and 57 percent say they oppose designating him as one.  It isn’t that Russians love him, the Levada Center sociologist says. Rather, they see virtues in a strong leader when as they now think is the case their country is surrounded by enemies.


            Not surprisingly, Stalin is most positively viewed by the least educated, those living in villages and small cities and the elderly. Young people are largely indifferent to him, while the most antagonistic to Stalin are the middle-aged and the relatively well-off populations of the large cities, such as Muscovites.


            Stalin remains a divisive force for many, Ivan Nikitchuk, a KPRF Duma deputy who wants to rename Volgograd Stalingrad, an idea that the Levada Center poll found is supported by 31 percent of its sample, says that when Russians compare their situation now with what it was under Stalin, they draw the “correct” conclusion that it was better then than now. 


            Nikolay Svanidze, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, in contrast, says that “the moral rehabilitation of Stalin which will intensify in advance of Victory Day would be a personal insult for millions of people.”


            And Yabloko Party leader Sergey Mitrokhin says that the revival of support for Stalin reflects the failure of the country to undergo any “de-Stalinization” during the first two post-Soviet decades and consequently the Soviet dictator remains “an instrument” for some to resolve political tasks such as promoting a cult of a new leader, in the present case, Vladimir Putin.




Russian Occupiers to Close All but One Crimean Tatar Media Outlet as of Tonight

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 31 – “At the stroke of midnight” today, Denis Krosheyev, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, says, “all but one Crimean Tatar language media outlets, which have come under a sustained assault since the Russian annexation, will fall silent.”


            Despite the efforts all of them have made to register, the occupation authorities will now close down Crimean Tatar outlets in “a blatant attack on freedom of expression, dressed up as an administrative procedure … to stifle independent media, gag dissenting voices and intimidate the Crimean Tatar community” (amnesty.org/en/articles/news/2015/03/crimean-tatar-media-will-shut-down-as-arbitrary-registration-deadline-expires/).


            Following the Anschluss, Russian officials required all media outlets on the Ukrainian peninsula to re-register. Pro-Moscow Russian-language channels, news services and print publications have had very few problems, but Crimean Tatar outlets have been “repeatedly and arbitrarily denied registration,” Amnesty International says.


            In the best Soviet-era tradition that Vladimir Putin’s regime is increasingly restoring, one Crimean Tatar outlet, the newspaper “Yeni Dunya,” will be allowed to continue so that pro-Moscow trolls and supporters of the occupation can point to it in order to deny that Moscow is conducting an ethnically-based purge of the Crimean Tatar media space.


            But that is exactly what is going on. QHA, the largest Crimean Tatar news agency, has been refused re-registration twice and has not reapplied, Amnesty noted. ATR, the Crimean Tatar-language television channel, has been turned down three times. It has applied a fourth time, but if it doesn’t hear by tonight, it too will shut down lest it face heavy fines, the confiscation of its equipment, and criminal charges against its mangers.


            Other Crimean Tatar-language outlets, including the Maydan radio, the 15minut.org website, the newspaper “Avdet,” and the magazine “Yildiz” have not received re-registration and will shut down. And in an indication of how sweeping this Russian purge is, the occupation authorities have refused to register the Crimean Tatar children’s magazine “Armanchikh” and the children’s television channel, “Lale.”


            “The fact that children’s television channels and magazines are being forced to shut down may sound like a cruel April Fools’ Day joke, but this is certainly no laughing matter,” Krivosheev says.  “Instead it heralds a latest stage in an ongoing clampdown on human rights … the brunt of which is being felt by the persecuted Crimean Tatar minority.”

             And to add insult to this injury, the occupation authorities have taken the additional step of warning Crimean Tatar leaders not to protest these closures lest they run afoul of Russian “anti-extremism” law.  As has become typical, the officials issued these warnings orally and refused to leave any documentation, undoubtedly so they can deny that they have in fact done so  (khpg.org/index.php?id=1427798413).


Belarusian Spy Agencies’ Cooperation with Russian Ones in Lithuania Highlights Larger Problem

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 31 – The security services of Belarus are closely cooperating with their Russian counterparts against Lithuania as far as their targets are concerned, according to the annual report of the Lithuanian State Security Department, an arrangement that underscores the real relationship of Mensk and Moscow and that calls attention to a much larger problem.


            That larger problem is this: After the disintegration of the USSR, Moscow maintained its covert presence in the other post-Soviet capitals and especially in their security agencies and often has deployed them against third countries where residents may be less suspicious of their actions than they would be of those of Russian officials.


            Thus, to take a hypothetical example, a Lithuanian official almost certainly would be less cautious if approached by a Belarusian than he or she would be if approached by a Russian, something KGB and FSB doctrine fully recognizes and has long sought to exploit through an especially nefarious kind of “false flag” operation.


            According to the Lithuanian report on “Threats from the Belarusian Security Services” (available in Lithuanian at vsd.lt/Files/Documents/635633000992101250.pdf and analyzed in Russian at charter97.org/ru/news/2015/3/30/145501/), Belarusian agents in Lithuania continue to focus primarily on “the activity of the Belarusian opposition … and its ties in Lithuania.”


            If that is something one would naturally expect, another focus of the Belarusian special services in Lithuania might not be: They are currently working in exactly the same directions and against the same targets as the Russian intelligence services, the Lithuanian security service report says.


            Not only are the Belarusian services seeking to recruit Lithuanian border guards, but the Belarusian defense ministry’s intelligence administration is “aggressively acting” to recruit agents and “collect information about military and strategic civilian infrastructure sites” in the country.


            Some of these Belarusian adjuncts to the Russian intelligence services are at the Belarusian embassy in Vilnius, the Lithuanian service says, but others are operating under cover of business groups, including in particular tourist offices.  Tourist firms are useful because they can plausibly arrange visits by Lithuanians to Belarus.


            The Lithuanian security service concludes that it is quite probable that “the Belarusian GRU  has shared the information it has obtained with the Russian GRU” and thus constitutes a greater threat to Lithuania’s security than many, who consider what is going on only about Belarus, may currently think.



Moscow’s Nervousness about Buryatia Highlights Transbaikal Republic’s Importance

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 31 – Foreign intelligence services are seeking to drive a wedge between the various peoples of Buryatia, a Kremlin official told a Novosibirsk meeting on ethnic relations  and national security yesterday, a latest indication of Moscow’s increasing nervousness about that strategically important republic and a signal to Buryats of just how important they are.


            Magomedsalam Magomedov, the deputy head of the Russian Presidential Administration, said that inter-ethnic relations in the Siberian Federal District were improving but that in Buryatia things were going in the opposite direction as a result of the work of foreign intelligence services and diplomats (asiarussia.ru/news/6695/).


            The Kremlin aid added that there were problems as well in Tuva (another Buddhist republic), the Transbaikal kray (where there are numerous Buryats), and Omsk. But Magomedov was clearly focused on Buryatia, and his words have already sparked an active discussion in that Transbaikal republic.


            Arkady Zarubin, a journalist in Buryatia, suggested that what Magomedov had said reflects the fact that “Buryatia is a strategically important territory for the country,” one  through which “all land routes to the East pass through” and in which, thanks to Lake Baikal, there is an enormous reserve of potable water.


            Thus, he said, “stability” in Buryatia must be maintained “at any price.”


            That Moscow doesn’t think that there is such stability now reflects the enormous corruption in the region, the incompetence of the republic’s leadership in appointing a Russian outsider to head the local university, and the work of the Buryat opposition.  But the role of foreign intelligence services is obscure, he suggested.


            Whenever he has been involved in preparing protest meetings, Zarubin said, “no special services besides the local ones have disturbed [him].  Since when did these become foreigners? Or don’t I know something?” he asked.  What is clearly going  on is that somebody feels he or she has to blame outsiders in order to shift blame.


            Buryatia, an enormous republic which sits astride the Transbaikal region, numbers just under a million people, who are roughly divided between the Buryats who form a third of the population and ethnic Russians who form almost two-thirds.  Maintaining tight central control over it has always been a focus of Moscow’s security thinking.


            But talking about this reality may have just the opposite effect that Moscow intends.  That is because comments like those of Magomedov remind Buryats like Zarubin of just how important they are in the mental maps of Muscovites, a reminder that may lead them to make more rather than fewer demands on the center.


            And in comparison to many other non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation, the Buryats have two serious advantages: On the one hand, as a Buddhist people, they are linked to Tuva and Kalmykia, the two other Buddhist nations in Russia.  And on the other, as Mongols, they have increasingly close ties to neighboring Mongolia.



Monday, March 30, 2015

Russians in Deep Denial about Their Country and the World, Irisova Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 30 – “The longing for ‘former greatness’” that many Russians feel is “playing a bad joke” on them, Olga Irisova writes in “Moskovsky komsomolets” today, because it has led them to don “thick rose-colored glasses” and engage in deep denial about reality, “subconsciously blocking out” anything which doesn’t fit with their preferred imagery.


            As a result, the Moscow commentator says, “the majority of Russians cannot accept the fact that with their support the leadership has committed a mistake which has cost the country its economic well-being and solid international status”  but thinks it is now the leader of an alliance with China (mk.ru/politics/2015/03/29/kak-druzhili-slon-i-moska.html).


            Most of them, Irisova continues, cannot cope with the notion that “in the world at large, Russia is viewed not as a superpower and guarantor of security but more often as an unpredictable player.”  They think that Vladimir Putin gained stature when he threatened to use nuclear weapons, forgetting that his role model was a North Korean leader no one respects.


            Indeed, none of the ideas about effectively challenging the US and the unipolar world or standing on its own or allying with China to oppose the West stand up to even the most cursory examination, she says.  Russia is in no position to dictate to China no matter how much many Russians would like to believe otherwise.


            “No one in Beijing intends to make a fateful bet on a Russia-China union,” the Moscow commentator says. That country isn’t even willing to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Instead, it has given Kyiv 3.6 billion US dollars in loans so that the Ukrainian government can end its dependence on natural gas from Russia.


            Moscow TV’s “talking heads” for the last year have been telling Russians how fortunate they are to have turned from the West to the East. “We don’t need the West,” they claim. “We have a wonderful partner in the form of China.” But in fact, China views Russia not even as playing the “elder sister” role Andrey Kortunov has suggested.
           Beijing does not even see Moscow as a sister at all. Instead, its interest in Russia is indistinguishable from its interest in African or Latin American countries which have natural resources China can use, Irisova say. But Russians cannot see this through “the rose-colored glasses” they use to look at the world.
            China is an economic giant, as is the West. The Russian economy is only one-fifth the size of either. And in high technology areas, the gap between China and the West, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other, is only getting larger.
            Russians should be able to see this economic situation, but they don’t. But they also are failing to see that China is playing a much larger role in international security affairs, a role it is assuming not by entering into a confrontation with the US and driving itself into a corner as Russia has but by showing itself capable of playing a cooperative role.
           China is hardly likely to scrap what has been an effective approach in favor of Russia’s which has failed, but Russians who remain in deep denial about this as well as about almost everything having to do with the power and status of their country can’t see it.  That of course points to more troubles ahead.


Russians’ Hatreds Easy to Unleash But Difficult to Limit, Reverse or Overcome

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 30 – Many are taking comfort in the notion that just as

Russians appear to have reduced their hatred of immigrants when encouraged by the Kremlin to hate Ukrainians instead so too their hatred against the latter could be ended relatively easily if Moscow changed course -- and in any case won’t expand to include others.


            But in fact, as a panel discussion organized by Radio Liberty points out, there are two problems with the optimistic vision. On the one hand, it ignores that there was a reservoir of hatred among many Russians ready to be whipped up by the government for its own purposes. Moscow did not create it; it exploited it (svoboda.org/content/transcript/26926308.html).


            And on the other, such a view also downplays the danger that while Moscow may be able to exploit such hatreds, it could quickly lose control over them and not be able either to restrain them once they are unleashed or to prevent them from being extended to other groups that the regime either wants to protect or does not want to offend.


            Indeed, to deal with this situation, the panel suggested, the regime will either have to offer new objects of hatred in the hopes of diverting Russians from one enemy to another or employ massive amounts of repression in order to limit the expression of that hatred. In either case, the problems involved with such feelings and their use are not limited or short term.


            Thus, for example, any lessening of official anti-Ukrainian hysteria in the  absence of any new target group almost immediately threatens to provoke new outburst of hostility toward migrants or toward other groups, including Chinese workers and industrialists in the Russian Far East whom Moscow has every reason to protect lest it offend Beijing. 


            (Indeed, that issue is so sensitive that the authorities have taken down an entire website after it featured an article showing that xenophobic attitudes and actions against the Chinese are in the rise there. The article was it sibpower.com/novosti-regionov/kitaiskaja-migracija-na-rosiiskom-dalnem-vostoke.html, but now even the site has been shut off. A cached version is available at


            Consequently, thanks to Putin’s actions in unleashing and exacerbating Russian hatreds in the current crisis, Russia and the world are entering a Martin Niemöller moment, one in which just because they hate someone else now, there are no guarantees that they will not hate others, including ourselves, later.


Border Disputes Spreading and Intensifying in Eastern Europe, Moscow Scholar Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 30 – The announcement three weeks ago that Prague is prepared to transfer 360 hectares of territory to Poland in the Těšín Silesia area is the latest indication that the border changes in the former Soviet and Yugoslav spaces are sparking new questions about borders in the northern portion of Eastern Europe, according to Aleksey Fenenko.


            On March 6, the Moscow State University international relations specialist notes in an article in “NG-Dipkuryer,” Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Subotka announced the transfer, something he said would end a territorial dispute between the two countries that has been going on since 1958 (ng.ru/dipkurer/2015-03-30/10_europe.html).


            Because Subotka provided no additional details and because the amount of land involved was so small, his words attracted relatively little attention. But Fenenko argues that border disputes are endemic in the region and that “the wave of de-Stalinization” at the end of the 20th century “has led to the de-legitimization of the borders of the 1940s.”


            That is because, he continues, “for public opinion of these countries, references to the fact that the borders were established by ‘Stalin’s USSR’ is sufficient to recognize their illegitimacy.” The EU has been able to quiet “but not stop the process of their review.” And after the Těšín Silesia case, “the process is starting to take on a practical character.”


            “Up to the present,” Fenenko says, “border changes have taken place in the Balkans and the territory of the former USSR. In Central Europe, on the contrary, the borders of the 1940s have been preserved.” He suggests that “the disintegration of Czechoslovakia … did not change the situation since it occurred quickly along administrative borders within the country.”


            Now, however, “the situation is changing,” the Moscow specialist says, as the Těšín Silesia shows.  Warsaw and Prague, under pressure from the Entente agreed to the border in 1920. But both sides had problems with it, and immediately after Munich in 1938, Poland demanded and got a border adjustment in its favor.


            In 1947, following the Soviet occupation of the entire area, Poland and Czechoslovakia signed an accord that largely restored the 1920 border; but Poland later tried to make greater changes, something Czechoslovakia rejected.  In any case, the small adjustment announced now highlights the reality that “Poland and the Czech Republic have a problem” with borders.


            The 1938 Munich agreement between Hitler and Chamberlain is “traditionally viewed in Europe exclusively in a negative way.”  Any reference to it, including by Moscow, Fenenko says, represents a kind of “’red line’” that must not be crossed.  But Prague’s action this month has the effect of implicitly and partially rehabilitating of part of Munich.


            Could this prompt other countries in Central Europe, and especially Hungary, to raise similar issues, Fenenko asks. The answer is far from clear. Germany isn’t going to question its borders: the current ones are too much part of that country’s self-definition. But the situation with regard to Lithuania may be different.


            The current Polish-Lithuanian border follows a line established by the Soviet-Polish treaty of August 16, 1945, but “problems of the border delimitation between Poland and Lithuania remain,” the Moscow scholar says, with each side having claims to portions now within the borders of the other.


            On the one hand, many in Lithuania consider portions of Poland and Russia’s Kaliningrad oblast to be part of Little Lithuania. And many Poles still remember when Vilnius was within Poland, not Lithuania.  As a result, Fenenko says, “Warsaw could activate discussions about the principles of the delimitation” of the border.


            There is also the possibility of disputes between Poland and Ukraine. According to the 1945 Soviet-Polish treaty, Poland gave up territories to the Ukrainian SSR;” and “officially, Warsaw has refrained from advancing demands on Ukraine.” But that doesn’t end Ukraine’s western border problems: it also has them with Moldova.


            The most serious set of border issues involve Hungary and Hungarians. After 1945, some of Hungary’s lands were handed over to Romania, others to Yugoslavia, still others to Czechoslovakia and the USSR.  In 1991, Budapest began talking about the formation of “a Greater Hungary” that would reunite all of these.


            The US blocked that at the time by promising Hungary eventual NATO membership if it refrained. But, Fenenko points out, “over the last few years,” discussions of this kind in Budapest have “intensified.” Budapest now has problems with Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine, problems it has exacerbated by demanding autonomy and offering dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians.


            Now, given “the precedent of the Polish-Czech negotiations,” the Moscow specialist continues, “Budapest in the future may achieve the establishment of a negotiation framework with Ukraine about the provision of particular rights to Hungarians” in that country.


            Fenenko’s article is important for three reasons: First, it is clearly an effort to set the stage for Russian demands for border changes by suggesting that this is not a “Moscow problem.” Second, it suggests that some in the Russian capital are interested in promoting such conflicts as a way of expanding Moscow’s influence over the region.


            And third, it is a reminder that the West, having failed to stop Russia’s “territorial” adjustments in Georgia in 2008 or in Ukraine in 2014, has opened the door not only to Vladimir Putin but to other leaders around the world who may decide that the era of fixed borders is over and that they have everything to gain by seeking to expand their own.

Reshetnikov Details How RISI Helps Putin Make Decisions

Paul Goble

             Staunton, March 30 – Leonid Reshetnikov, the obscurantist and imperialist former SVR lieutenant general and head of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI), says that his organization is “one of leading” organizations providing input to Vladimir Putin as the Kremlin leader formulates his foreign and domestic policies.

             In the course of a long survey of his views on the world and Russia, Reshetnikov provides additional details on the way in which RISI is involved in “the development of information-analytic materials, proposals, recommendations and expert assessments for state structures including the Presidential Administration (lenta.ru/articles/2015/03/26/risi/).

             According to its president, RISI “is one of the analytic centers [in Russia] which supplies the Presidential Administration with analytic materials. Besides us, I think,” Reshetnikov continues, “the Kremlin above all relies on the reports of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,on the work of our special services … and on the work of other institutes.”

             But “among these other institutes,” he suggests, RISI “occupied one of the leading places.”

             Reshetnikov served for several decades in the SVR and ultimately was head of its analytic administration. Consequently, he says, he understands what ordinary people do not – just how reports are prepared for senior officials. Outsiders “think that someone writes something, gives it to Putin, he then reads it as says: ‘Fine! Let’s take this decision now!’”
            That is not how things proceed. Instead, there is a constant flow of materials “from various sides,” and this is processed again and again at various levels in what is “an enormous analytic” process which “continues” at each level “right up to the very top,” that is, to Vladimir Putin.

             The RISI president tells Lenta.ru that Russia’s foreign intelligence services did not have an analytic shop until “the end of 1943.”  That was one of the reasons for the country’s failures in the first months after the Germany invasion. There was plenty of operational information, he says, but “there wasn’t any analysis” that sorted it out.

            As a result, the country’s leaders were pushed now in one direction, now in another. Thus, Reshetnikov says, “Zorge wrote that war would begin on June 22, but some agent in Berlin reported that it wouldn’t begin at all, and a third asserted that the war would happen but it would start only in December.”

            Now, he continues, the situation is different. There is an enormous analytic apparatus, and one of its strengths is that it contains and reports “alternative points of view” up the line so that the Kremlin will not be blindsided or trapped by a single position.

             Asked about RISI’s role in the run-up to the annexation of Crimea, Reshetnikov says that “we of course constantly prepared analytic materials both on Crimea and on Ukraine … but I want to say,” he insisted, “that in the preparation of the reunification of Crimea, no one from Russia took part … it was something unexpected for all.”

             Challenged by his interviewer that Putin has said that the Crimea operation was planned, Reshetnikov suggests that it “was planned when already everything had begun,” that the planning “went in parallel with events,” rather than in anticipation of them even though RISI and others had highlighted the attitudes of the Crimean population and Kyiv’s shortcomings.

            “But unfortunately,” the RISI president says, “we did not allow for the possibility that these attitudes would move toward a more effective phase, one of action.”  When that happened, Moscow, however, was ready to respond.

             (For background on RISI, Reshetnikov, and its and his recommendations, see “Kremlin Think Tank Confirms Close Links with Kremlin and with New Greek Premier” (February 1, 2015) at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/02/kremlin-think-tank-confirms-close-links.html; “Putin’s Personality, Agenda and Nuclear Weapons Make Him ‘Most Dangerous’ Leader in History, Piontkovsky Says” (March 18, 2015) at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/03/putins-personality-agenda-and-nuclear.html; andRussia Must Stop Relying on Soviet and Western Answers to the Nationality Question and Use Tsarist Ones Instead, RISI Says (January 14, 2014) at http://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2014/01/window-on-eurasia-russia-must-stop.html.)


For Putin, Russia’s Isolation is a Strategy Not a Misfortune, Lipsky Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 30 – Most analysts have suggested that sanctions and international isolation were a cost Vladimir Putin was willing to pay in order to get his way in Ukraine, but Andrey Lipsky, an editor of “Novaya gazeta,” says that is exactly backwards: the Kremlin leader wanted isolation and launched his Ukrainian campaign to get it.


            Indeed, he suggests, Putin’s comments to the FSB leadership last week confirm that interpretation because they suggest that the Russian president is worried that further contacts with the outside world could lead to a repetition of the destabilizing protests of 2011-2012 during the upcoming 2016 and 2018 election seasons (novayagazeta.ru/politics/67833.html).


            And to prevent that from happening and thus to ensure the continuation of his own power, the “Novaya gazeta” editor argues, Putin is quite prepared to suffer what he believes will be the short-term costs of sanctions and isolation in order to ensure his own long-term political survival.


            Since the Crimean Anschluss and the West’s response, Lipsky points out, people in both Russia and Western capitals have been asking why – why did Putin need to take a step that he might have been expected to understand in advance would entail so many costs and bring what seems to others so few benefits?


            Clearly, most of the propagandistic memes – “Russia wants to restore the empire,” “It must defend Russian speakers from the fascist junta,” and “a desire to seize the territories of others is in Russia’s blood” – are now explanations but rather something that must be explained, he continues.


            What else is left? Preventing Ukraine from joining NATO and the West establishing a base in Sevastopol? “Strengthening the security of the country? The growth of Russia’s influence in the world? The rallying of the ‘Russian world’? [or] Consolidation in the framework of a ‘Eurasian project’?


            Very early on, Lipsky says, it became clear that Putin’s policies in Ukraine had done Russia more harm than good, that Russian influence in the world had declined, its security had been compromised, that NATO had been reinvigorated under expanded American influence, and the status of Russian speakers abroad had gotten worse.


            All this happened not because of the West’s desire to box Russia in but because by Putin’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine more generally, “Russia violated the [existing world] order, and the others simply have been defending themselves.” And they now view Moscow as a dangerous source of instability, “unpredictable and unprofitable.”


            Given this balance sheet, the commentator says, many have simply decided that Putin miscalculated, but quite possibly there is a better explanation. His actions in Ukraine, Lipsky says, are “only a cover for something more essential for the ruling political command in Russia” – the preservation of its political power.


            The Kremlin leader’s remarks to the FSB last week provide a clear indication of this. He talked about “attempts by ‘Western special services’ to use Russian NGOs and ‘politicized unions’ to discredit the authorities and destabilize the situation in Russia in the course of the 2016 Duma and 2018 presidential campaigns.”


            In thinking about these words, it is important to remember that “precisely injustice and falsifications during the Duma elections of 2011 in favor of the party of power led angry citizens in Moscow and certain other major cities into the streets,” something that clearly frightened Putin and his entourage and led to a tightening of the screws.


            Increasingly, this campaign presented the opponents of the regime as “agents” of the West, something that required presenting the West as an external enemy. Otherwise the moves against the regime’s domestic opponents could go only so far, at least by making use of this ideological paradigm, Lipsky suggests.


            But until Crimea, the Kremlin lacked one thing to ensure acceptance by the Russian population of the equating of the opposition with Western agents and that was “the mass mobilization and rallying of the population around the existing authorities. The Ukrainian crisis,” Lipsky says, “and ‘the return of Crimea’ provided this happy possibility.”


            Whether Putin can maintain that without doing something more for any length of time remains an open question, but it is clearly the case, the “Novaya gazeta” editor says, that the Kremlin is going to do everything it can to maintain it through the 2016-2018 “political season by propaganda, the actions of the force structures, and new legislation.”


            Obviously, “total isolation would not be profitable” for Russia even in pursuit of that goal, Lipsky says. “But partial, with a limitation of harmful contacts and with sanctions which mobilize the population … and explain why the economic situation is deteriorating … is completely useful.”


            And indeed, it may “at the present stage only strengthen the arguments of the regime which is seeking to go into the new political season” without having to face any real danger that Putin and his regime will be challenged.



Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ex-Prisoners and Guards Demonstrate to Save Russian Prison Camp and the Town It Supports

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 28 – The sad fate of company towns in Russia where the closure of the industry around which they were formed closes down, but there is a special category of these settlements that has so far received less attention: towns built up around prisons or penal camps that are at risk of disappearing if their main “industry” goes away.


            That may be about to change thanks to a Dozhd television broadcast last week about the situation in Sos’va, a small settlement in the Urals where former prisoners and their former guards staged a demonstration opposing the closure of the prison camp there, something that would mean the death of the town (snob.ru/selected/entry/90066).


            Some 200 people took part, making this “save the prison” effort the largest demonstration in the settlement over the last decade perhaps because it was organized by local business people who will lose out if the camp closes down.  One of the protesters openly acknowledged he’d been inside as a prisoner long ago because of “stupidity.”


            Sos’va with a population of a little more than 7,000 is located some 450 kilometers north of Yekaterinburg and exists because of two strict regime camps and a third for prisoners suffering from tuberculosis. The only other industry, a wood processing plant, went bankrupt some time ago.


            Rumors that one or more of the camps will be closed have been circulating for some time, although officials say that no decision has been taken because no one is quite sure where the remaining prisoners would be sent. But because almost all Sos’va’s residents are linked to the camps as employees or former inmates, they are very concerned about a possible shut down.


            Russian penal officials say that they are indeed closing many camps far from the main cities as part of an efficiency drive. Dozens have been shut down already, and both the inmates and the guards have been taken care of. People don’t need to worry. If things were as bad as the media say, why has there been so little protest? 


            But now that there has been a demonstration in Sos’va, that too many change with residents of other such settlements deciding that they have no choice but to go into the streets to try to protect what little they have in what many Russians still call “the big zone” outside of the camps by insisting that the state maintain “the little zone” of them.



Russian Rights Movement Must Recover Its Roots of a Century Ago, Popkov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 29 – The contemporary human rights movement emerged at a time when its possibilities for action were generally increasing. Now that those possibilities are continuously decreasing, it needs to reinvigorate itself by recalling the efforts of its predecessors, those who fought for the same rights as the Soviet system was institutionalizing itself.


            That is the message of Roman Popkov, a former Russian political prisoner who now heads the Nation’s Freedom movement, in an article entitled “Legal Advocates as Predecessors of Rights Defenders” in which he laments that the 50th anniversary of one of those people, Yekaterina Peshkova, passed largely unnoticed last Thursday (openrussia.org/post/view/3805/).


            Russian rights activists today, he writes, and for completely justifiable reasons remember the dissidents of the late Soviet period, protest the closure of the Perm-36 GULAG museum, and object to the erection of statues to Stalin.  But they don’t remember as they should those who laid the foundations for their activities a century ago.


            To make his case, he interviews, Yaroslav Leontyev, a Moscow historian, about Peshkova and her work. Her predecessors, he says, include Fyodor Gaaz and Princess Maria Dondukkova-Korsakova who began the fight for the rights of political prisoners in the middle of the 19th century.


            By the early 20th century, mass political parties had formed in Russia, and many of them created their own “Red Crosses” or “Black Crosses” to come to the aid of their own political prisoners. Peshkova was involved in one of these as early as 1910 when she was living in Nizhny Novgorod as the wife of Maksim Gorky.


            During World War I, she was a leader of the Help the Victims of War organization and devoted herself to rescuing children from the front.  After the Soviet-Polish war in 1920, she was involved in the exchange of prisoners and the search for Poles who had been exiled to Siberia. In Soviet Russia and then the Soviet Union, she helped organize groups to help political prisoners.


            In the 1920s, the Soviet authorities openly acknowledged that they had political prisoners and allowed those who wanted to help them access to the prisoners to provide them with legal and other forms of assistance.  Because of that focus, Peshkova and others like her did not call themselves “human rights defenders” but rather “legal advocates.”


            The Soviet-era Political Red Cross operated quite openly in Moscow between 1917 and 1922 and lasted in some places into the 1930s under the same Pompolit (“Help for Political Prisoners”), an arrangement Peshkova, because of her links to Gorky, was able to negotiate with the secret police.


            Peshkova’s granddaughter told him, Leontyev relates, that once Stalin’s secret police chief Yagoda asked Peshkova “when will you finally close up shop?”  Peshkova responded, “That will be on the day after you do!”  There is a certain “black humor” in this recollection, he says. Her group was closed down just after Yagoda was arrested and shot.


            Leontyev suggests that Peshkova’s activities have three important lessons for human rights activity in Putin’s Russia.  First, it is absolutely necessary now as then that the political prisoners themselves organize as best they can and with the support of outsiders to defend their rights. Often, they are the only ones in a position to do anything.


            Second,  human rights groups must define themselves in the first instance as lobbyists for the political prisoners because that will help create a Russian civil society.  And third, given the rising number of political prisoners, rights activists now need to be concerned with something Peshkova was: the rehabilitation and reintegration of political prisoners after their release.


Putin Increasingly Harmed by His Pro-Kadyrov Stance, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 28 – The FSB continues to disseminate its version of the murder of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, one that links it to Ramzan Kadyrov, not out of any concern for getting at the truth but rather because of growing anger at the Chechen leader and the backing he continues to receive from Vladimir Putin, according to Andrey Piontkovsky.


            The Russian force structures, he writes, “have never had any good feelings for Ramzan Akhmatovich and are extremely skeptical about the Putin ‘Kadyrov’ project which deprived them as they understand it of their ‘victory’ in the Caucasus” by allowing him an autonomy they would never have permitted (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=551673923B9B4).


            In addition, Piontkovsky says, the siloviki are anything but happy about the way in which Kadyrov militants are now getting involved in fights for control of economic and even political assets “far beyond the borders of the Chechen Republic,” something no other regional leader has been permitted to do.


            But “the last drop apparently because the provincial version of ‘Triumph of the Will’ at the Grozny stadium,” an action that seemed to presage a situation in which it would not be Chechnya within Russia but “’Russian within Chechnya,’” something anathema not only to the siloviki but to ordinary Russians as well.


            All this anger poses problems for Putin, Piontkovsky says, but what Kadyrov is doing is posing an even larger one for the Kremlin leader because what the Chechen head has been doing constitutes a direct attack on “the central nucleus of Putin’s mythology,” the notion that Putin is legitimate because he restored order by means of the second Chechen war.


            But at the same time, Putin can’t “close down the ‘Kadyrov’ project” because to do so “would be official recognition of Russia’s defeat in [that] war and at the same time a declaration of a third” Chechen war.” That in turn would represent “a return to 1999” but one in which Moscow’s “starting position” would be “much worse.”


            Caught between the need for the superficial stability in the North Caucasus that Kadyrov provides in exchange for massive infusions of cash and the right to act on his own as he sees fit and an equal need to maintain his own legitimating myth, Piontkovsky says, the Kremlin leader has not yet come down hard against either Kadyrov or his siloviki opponents.


            That “testifies to the weakening of [Putin’s] regime of personal power,” the Russian analyst says, public opinion surveys to the contrary.  Everyone must remember, he suggests, that “the power of a dictator never rests on polls. On the contrary, polls rest on the power” of those who have it.


            “Had a sociological survey existed in the USSR at the end of February 1953, it would have found that 99.999 percent” of the population approved of Stalin.  “But several days later,” after the latter died, that all changed not only in the population but within the elite itself, Piontkovsky points out.


            That is something Putin has to be concerned about because “the power of a dictator rests on the qualified subordination to him of several dozen [senior] people.” They will support him until they don’t, until a critical mass of these critical people decide they would be better off without him.


            By raising questions about the mythology he has used to legitimate his rule, Putin has brought that day closer, leading more people within the elite to question where he is going and more people in the Russian population to wonder how anyone can square the idea of “a Russian world” with one in which “Russia is inside Chechnya.”


FSB Increasingly Involved in Misuse of ‘Anti-Extremism’ Laws, SOVA Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 29 – In its new 11,500-word report on the ways in which Russian officials are misusing the country’s anti-extremism laws, the SOVA human rights monitoring organization concludes that one of the most important trends of the last year is a dramatic increase in the role of the FSB in such actions.


            There are two basic sources of such misuse: excessive actions by poorly trained law enforcement personnel who are given little guidance by the laws themselves and “the conscious formation of mechanisms for suppression of opposition and simply independent forms of activity” (polit.ru/article/2015/03/28/antiextremism/).


            The latter has become “much more in evidence from the middle of 2012” when the authorities used anti-extremism laws to suppress opposition protests.  “Unfortunately,” SOVA writes, “with the falloff in opposition activity, the growth of the repressive component did not cease” but in fact increased.


            Russia’s involvement in Ukraine has been the occasion if not the cause for five distinct trends that the SOVA report details. First, since the Crimean Anschluss, the anti-extremist laws have been made harsher and “’the space of illegality’ has been broadened,” something Russian courts have not prevented but rather facilitated.


            Second, the Russian authorities have extended the application of this legislation into the Internet even though the nature of that sphere makes it almost impossible for them to achieve their ends unless they are prepared to shut down all access to the world wide web, something that would entail serious negative consequences for Russia.


            Third, the SOVA report continues, because of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, Moscow and its officials have used anti-extremist laws as a way of suppressing any criticism of their actions.


            Fourth, in the face of an ever more xenophobic environment, Moscow has doubled the number of cases it has brought against people for stirring up hatred of one kind or another. Not only has the number of such cases increased, SOVA says, but the share of them which are unjustified has as well.


            And fifth, because the Ukrainian events intersect with concerns about Russian national security, the FSB has significantly increased its involvement in anti-extremist cases, something that has added yet another reason why such cases constitute a misuse of the law for political ends.


            But Moscow’s focus on Ukraine in this area has not led to a reduction in the number of cases brought inappropriately under this legislation against religious minorities and against individuals for statements that in no reasonable way can be said to fall within the terms of the poorly drawn laws, SOVA argues.


            There are two places where the situation appears to have become somewhat better over the past year, the report suggests. On the one hand, the rate at which items are being added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials has slowed. And on the other, the number of cases being brought against librarians has fallen.


            But overall, the SOVA report concludes, Russian officials continue to misuse anti-extremism laws and are “obviously not prepared either to liberalize” them or even work to reduce the most obvious violations of even the formulations of existing laws by the police and the FSB.




Shirinsky-Shikhmatov, Pro-Moscow Russian Fascist Killed at Auschwitz, Possible Source for Putinism

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 29 – Just as Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is giving the world a geography lesson about places few knew about earlier, so too the Kremlin leader’s efforts to find an ideological justification for his ever more authoritarian and aggressive political system is offering a lesson in the history of some hitherto neglected political thinkers.


            One of the most curious sources for Putinism appears to be a Russian prince who broke with the National Bolsheviks when he discovered they were agents of the Soviet secret police, married Boris Savinkov’s widow, developed his own doctrine about Russian fascism, always defended Russia against Germany, and died in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.


            But if Prince Igor Shirinksy-Shikhmatov is a curious source, Pavel Pryanikov argues, he may be an extremely useful one because unlike many better-known Russian emigres who flirted with fascism in the 1920s and 1930s, the prince never allied himself with Hitler and always called for the defense of Russia under whatever name against foreigners (ttolk.ru/?p=23343).


            Following their defeat in the Russian civil war, many White Russian emigres tried to find an explanation for their loss. “The overwhelming majority of them,” Pryanikov says, “came to the conclusion that the only ideologies capable of defeating the Bolsheviks were national socialism or fascism (in one or another variant).”


            Among these groups were the so-called “national maximalists,” who broke with the national Bolsheviks over the degree of the latter’s cooperation with and subordination to the Soviet security agencies and who formed in the 1930s a Union of Revolutionized Solidarists to promote change in the USSR without violence or cooperation with foreign powers.


             The leader of the national maximalists was Prince Yury Alekseyevich Shirinsky-Shikhmatov. The direct descendent of Chingiz Khan, the prince was born in 1892 into the upper reaches of the extreme right of the tsarist bureaucracy, served in the Northwest Army during the Russian Civil War, and lived as a taxi driver in Paris after the defeat of the White Russian cause.


            Shirinsky-Shikhmatov married the widow of SR leader Boris Savinkov and even adopted Savinkov’s son, Lev.  As Pryanikov points out, in the early 1920s before his return to the USSR and death, Savinkov was “one of the first Russian fascists and saw Benito Mussolini as his ideal.”


            The prince’s group, centered around the journals “Utverzhdeniye” and “Zavtra” never was that large. According to the Tolkovatel blogger, it had about 300 supporters in Europe, half of whom were in France and Belgium, and another 100 or so in the United States, Manchuria, and Australia.


            During World War II, Shirinsky-Shikhmatov refused to work for or even cooperate with German occupation authorities in Paris, called for the defense of the Soviet Union against Germany, and as a result was arrested and dispatched to Auschwitz where he was executed sometime in 1942.


            Shirinsky-Shikhmatov’s political program called for religious freedom, a confederal state “with a strong central power,” basic freedoms, “the coexistence of state and private property under the general control of the state by planning,” a strong national defense, and support for liberation movements in the colonial world and workers in capitalist countries.


            What set him apart from other Russian émigré fascists was Shirinsky-Shikhmatov’s ideas on how these values might be promoted in the USSR.  He rejected the views of the Smenovekhovtsy who believed that the best way was to cooperate with Moscow and those who favored illegal armed struggle or open cooperation with foreign powers.


            Shirinsky-Shikhmatov favored a “third path,” what some called “the masonic way.” That involved the promotion of his ideas via the recruitment of supporters from among those within the Soviet elite who had doubts about where the communists were taking the country and rely on them to transform the situation.


            The prince and his entourage were certain that his group should count “not on the intelligentsia or the bureaucracy,” both of whom had been “perverted in the worst Westernizer understanding,” but rather on religious sectarians and on those who were “outside of the clientelist corporations.” 


            According to Shirinsky-Shikhmatov, “over the last 300 years, the First and Second Rome have externally triumphed over the Third.” But “the Russian messianic idea in its religious form has remained alive” in religious sects and in the Slavophiles and their philosophical and political descendants.”


            Moreover, he wrote, “the Bolsheviks have unconsciously fulfilled a certain part of the high task: they have destroyed the inheritance of Peter I, but this is only the first part” of what needs to be done. After them, a future Russian state “must be built not on the foundation of the principles of ‘pagan-Roman morality,’” but rather “on the basis of the ethics of collectivity, cooperation, and ‘the common task.’”


            Russia’s eventual fascist revolution, Shirinsky-Shikhmatov was sure, would require the establishment of “a dictatorship of the people” led by a dictator who would emerge from the military or security services and gain the kind of popular support necessary to transform the country.


            Such a leader, the Russian émigré thinker suggested, would be capable of throwing off the “false pseudonym” that was the USSR and “proclaim to the entire world the terrible but genuine name of the country – Russia.”  As Pryanikov notes, Shirinsky-Shikhmatov did not live to see his “dream” realized.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Doubly Bad News for the Kremlin – Russia Losing Out to More Technically Advanced Arms Sellers

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 28 – Moscow got some bad news this week: it is losing out to other more technologically advanced countries in the arms sales sector, something that is costing Russia money but also highlighting the reality that many of its weapons systems are no longer world class as far as potential buyers are concerned.


            While it is unlikely that Russia would ever sell its most advanced weapons systems, such losses suggest that in many areas, its weapons may not be as sophisticated as the Kremlin likes to claim and as many of Russia’s neighbors fear, especially since some of those neighbors are now among those edging Russia out of parts of this market.


            And consequently, while Russia remains the second largest seller of arms in the world (behind only the US), it may have trouble maintaining its current sales levels, especially of equipment that requires imported parts that may not be available because of sanctions or that uses advanced technologies Russian arms producers have not yet introduced.


            This week, Aleksandr Brindikov, the head of the advisory group to Rosoboroneksport, the Russian government’s military equipment exporting arm, said that Russian producers are becoming ever less competitive on the world weapons market and have already exited some 30 of its sectors (top.rbc.ru/business/27/03/2015/55151ae19a7947285badd2a7).


            The reason for that, he said, has nothing to do with marketing but rather that the products the Russian defense industry is offering cannot compete with those offered by other countries, he continued. For example, Germany, China and “even Ukraine” are getting sales in the armored area that Russia had assumed it would keep.


            .Brindikov’s comments are a sharp departure from those of Vladimir Putin on January 27 when the Kremlin leader celebrated Russia’s prowess in this area, but even Putin acknowledged that the international arms market was becoming increasingly competitive, a possible indication that he is aware of these problems.


Anton Mardasov of Svobodnaya pressa queried several other Moscow experts on arms concerning Brindikov’s statements. Most were dismissive, although some did concede that Russia has problems now in the electronics area because it must produce components that it used to be able to import (svpressa.ru/war21/article/116991/).


But one of these experts, Vladimir Shvaryev, deputy director of the Moscow Center for the Analysis of the International Arms Trade, suggested that Brindikov was pointing to a problem that goes back much further than the past year.  Russia has had problems in producing and selling high-tech arms, he said, but these problems are have been around for a long time.