Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Putin Gives the World His Geography Lesson: ‘All the Former USSR is Russia’


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, April 28 – The 150-minute film “The President” about Vladimir Putin is mostly boring and predictable in that it insists that “without Vladimir Vladimirovich nothing in the country will work,” Kseniya Kirillova notes. But she points out that there are three “lessons” contained in the film that must not be ignored.

 

            First, she argues, despite all the anti-Americanism he has promoted, Putin clearly indicates in the film that the model of the world order he would like to see is one in which Russia and the US would jointly decide all of the world’s “most important” geopolitical issues and divide up the world into “spheres of influence” (nr2.com.ua/blogs/Ksenija_Kirillova/Putin-fakticheski-nazval-Ukrainu-territoriey-Rossii-95566.html).

 

            While the Kremlin leader does not say so, this would be a return to what he now sees as the way the world worked between the Yalta and Potsdam conferences at the end of World War II and the time of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and one in which other countries, especially small ones, would have little or no voice about their fates.

 

            Second, in the film, Putin offered the clearest indication yet that not only does he consider the disintegration of the USSR the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the last century but views it in a way that is absolutely at variance with the facts, one that points to more trouble ahead for all of the former Soviet republics and occupied Baltic states.

 

            According to Putin, “all of us had illusions: it seemed then that after the destruction of the Soviet Union and after Russia voluntarily – I stress this – voluntarily and consciously” gave up its “own territory, productive capacity and so on, with the departure of the ideological component which separated the former Soviet Union and the entire rest of the civilized world, than now the fetters would fall and ‘freedom would great us joyously at the entrance.”

 

            Such ideas have been circulating in the Moscow elite for some time, Kirillova says, pointing to a recent essay by Pavel Kazarin who noted that “in the consciousness of many representatives of the Russia elite, Moscow did not lose ‘the cold war.’ More than that, in their opinion, the division of the Union took place not so much as a result of the collapse of the Soviet model … but rather as a result of the Kremlin voluntarily agreeing to join the club of western players” (ru.tsn.ua/analitika/boytes-svoih-zhelaniy-422136.html).

 

            As a result, Kazarin says, “Moscow conducts itself as if the Soviet Union had not fallen apart, as if it had only been reformatted but with relations between the vassals and sovereign retained in their former state.” (For a discussion of Kazarin’s argument and its implications, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/04/russia-looks-in-mirror-and-sees-ussr.html.)

 

            In “The President,” Putin goes even further and declares that “Russia voluntarily gave up its own territories,” Kirillova says, an assertion so sweepingly at odds with reality that it is important to remember what actually happened 25 years ago.

 

            “In fact,” Kirillova observes, “the present-day Russian Federation exists in the very same border that the RSFSR had; that is there were no territorial changes in Russia itself in connection with the collapse of the USSR. The republics which acquired independence after 1991 were never part of the RSFSR.”

 

            From this it follows, she continues, “when Putin speaks about the territorial losses of Russia, he is directly declaring that all the former union republics are Russian territories! Note bene: he designates them already not as ‘zone of influence’ … but as [his country’s] ‘own territory,’ from which Russia ‘voluntarily withdrew.”

 

            That is simply an Orwellian retelling of what happened: In reality, “all the union republics, including even Ukraine and Belarus the closest to Russia, proclaimed their sovereignty in 1989-1990, that is, before 1991, and this phenomenon even received a name, ‘the parade of sovereignties.’

 

            There was nothing voluntary in Moscow’s response: It tried to crush Lithuania first by an economic blockade and then by the direct application of military force. But it failed to stop “the movement for exit from the USSR” that was “born in all the union republics.” As a result, after the failure of the August 1991 putsch, “the disintegration of the Union was inevitable.”

 

                The Beloveshchaya accords of December 8, 1991, usually seen as the death certificate of the USSR simply put on paper what had already taken place, a reminder that “even when these republics were in the USSR, none of them called themselves ‘Russia’s own territory.’”  That is a Putinism that goes back to tsarist times.

 

            And finally third, Putin’s film underscored how isolated Russia is in the former Soviet space, not how much the peoples and countries of that territory continue to look to Moscow as Vladimir Putin suggests they should.  The only foreign leader who gets a positive reference in the film is Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev.

 

            One might have expected there to be some reference to Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the leader of a country that is part of Putin’s union state of Russia and Belarus. But “obviously, the prospects of considering his country Russia’s territory do not generate any pleasure” with the Belarusian leader who has been distancing himself from Moscow over and as a result of Ukraine.

 

            Putin’s “myth about the voluntary, carried out ‘from above’ demise of the USSR, which completely ignores the will of the peoples populating it, shows,” Kirillova concludes, “that the Kremlin has not drawn any conclusions from its collapse, and lessons which are not learned as is well known, have a tendency to be repeated.”

 

 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Russian Parents Still Spending ‘Billions of Rubles’ Each Year to Help Sons to Avoid the Draft


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, April 27 – Despite the growth of contract service, the decline in the size of the military, and the fall in the number of men the Russian army hopes to draft, Russian parents are still spending “billions of rubles” every year so that their sons can avoid performing military service, an indication that public support for the army is not as high as Moscow claims.

 

            According to the calculations of Aleksey Boyarsky, a “Kommersant-Dengi” journalist, the exact sum is on the order of eight billion rubles (160 million US dollars), a figure so large that it has not only placed real burdens on parents but spawned an entire industry devoted to helping young men avoid the draft (kommersant.ru/doc/2703354).

 

            The journalist telephoned several companies promising to help people avoid military service. He found them by using an Internet search engine, with the words “don’t go” enough to generate as the most popular response “don’t go into the army.” He spoke several times with representatives of the Service for Helping Draftees, a firm with branches throughout Russia.

 

            For fees averaging 150,000 rubles (3,000 US dollars), the firm promised to prepare all the necessary documentation, organize medical checks, and handle legal appeals in order to get a permanent or at least temporary deferment – and to refund the client’s money if it was not successful.

 

            In addition, people in such firms give advice on what potential draftees should do in advance of medical testing to make sure they fail and thus get deferments that way.  If all else fails, potential draftees can turn to the courts or give bribes to officers involved in the military draft, including doctors.

 

            But that hardly covers the extent of bribery involving military service, Boyarsky says.  In the North Caucasus in particular, many who should be deferred bribe their way into service so that they can work in the police. And many who are drafted pay bribes directly to officers to avoid punishment, including having their terms of service extended.

 

Putin’s Power Resembles a Witch Doctor’s, Pain Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, April 27 – Totalitarianism can emerge in any society if conditions are created to promote the restoration of “social and cultural archaism” as a result of “a lack of choice in politics” and the promotion of “irrationalism in mass consciousness,” according to Moscow sociologist Emil Pain.

 

            Exactly that dynamic, one that promoted “barbarism” as opposed to the triumph of rationality that Max Weber saw as the hallmark of modernity, is on view in contemporary Russia and helps to explain both what Vladimir Putin is doing and why his ratings are so astronomically high (colta.ru/articles/society/7139).

 

            Over the last two years – and Pain insists that the events in Ukraine have been the occasion rather than the cause of this – such archaism, including the desecularizaiton of society, the expansion of zones of the sacred which cannot be criticized by anyone, and hostility to the surrounding world, has been Putin’s policy and has boosted his standing.

 

            After the annexation of Crimea, Pain rights, mass consciousness in Russia increasingly acquired a messianic aspect: the notion “Great Russia is called upon to defend the Russian world from any enemies: fascists, liberals and the West” and the related notion that Stalin and any real leader – and by implication, Putin -- is justified in taking any actions if he does so

 

             To understand this, Pain suggests, one should consider the ideas of English anthropologist E. Evans-Pritchard who argued 60 years ago that the study of witch doctors in Africa helps to explain “the nature of totalitarianism” and its leader cults.  Now, it is clear why that is so.

 

            “The cult of a leader of the nation for life and that of the witch doctor are based on one nad the same thing – recognition of the unachievable and mystical power of a particular individual in whom resides a magical and supernatural force or ability” without which the nation or the tribe would die, the Moscow sociologist writes.

 

            According to Pain, “the witch doctor and the leader use similar mechanisms of subordinating the masses to themselves, appealing not to the reason of the latter but to the emotions of a pre-cultural stratum and above all to fears and phobias.” That is exactly what Putin is doing now.

 

            The totalitarian leader just like the witch doctor is able to give comfort and eliminate fears “again by the same mystical path, above all by the elimination of an impure force on which all attacks depend. Such mystical comfort is best of all demonstrated by contemporary Russian propaganda.”

 

            That propaganda creates “the image of the horrific enemy who with the help of magic is capable of calling forth ‘color revolutions’ in any country but then comfortsits audience by showing that it is not difficult to convert this enemy into ‘atomic dust’(somehow without a return threat to one’s own country).”

 

            Indeed, Pain argues, statements by Russian military experts about the use of nuclear weapons recall the incantations of shamans” more than any other kind of analysis. Nonetheless, they can help consolidate Russian society around Putin, although such “negative consolidation” is something that is very narrow and likely short-lived.

 

            “For positive consolidation,” one would need goals that elevated people rather than drove them back to atavistic positions, but there are no such goals on offer or even currently available in Russia, Pain says.

 

            Internationally, Russians now know who their enemies are but not their friends. Economically, they are in the position of someone who is happy only when his neighbor’s cow dies.  And culturally, they are told they should come out in defense of traditional values. But there is the problem: most Russians may protest the new but no longer support the old.

 

             As Pain notes, “classical totalitarian regimes guaranteed social support for themselves by advancing global goals: ‘world revolutions,’ ‘the thousand-year Recih,’ the universal Islamic khalifate,’ and so on.” But Putin’s Russia is “positioning itself as an outsider, fighting not ‘for’ anything, but only ‘against.’”

 

            Maintaining this is a problem given that the enemies or obstacles keep changing, Pain says, although promoting the idea is “one of the simplest tasks for propaganda.”  But when the country can’t attack others or cannot achieve economic growth and when the leader doesn’t offer anything else, his backing will fall.

 

            The magic of the leader like the magic of the witch doctors around him allows for the manipulation of public opinion for a time. “For the time being, it guarantees the self-preservation of power but this magic is not total or firm.”  Indeed, “the current ‘uncompleted (and perhaps unachievable) totalitarianism’” is closer to its end than its beginning.

 

            “Historically,” he says, “all processes are accelerating,and as a result, the lifetime of mobilization regimes is now measured not in decades but in years.”

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


Paul Goble

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


Paul Goble

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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


Paul Goble

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

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


Paul Goble

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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