Saturday, April 21, 2018

Corruption Spreading Not Only among Officials and Deputies but within FSB


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 20 – It is an indication of the all-embracing nature of corruption in the Putin system that this plague has been spreading not only among the ever-larger numbers of Russian officials and deputies but also among law enforcement officers and the FSB who are charged among other things with rooting it out.

            In his report to the Federation Council, Procurator General Yury Chaika said that 1331 officers of law enforcement organs, 871 officials of local administration, 23 prosecutors and judges, and 108 deputies of various levels had been charged with corruption last year (rosbalt.ru/russia/2018/04/18/1697503.html).

                In a Nezavisimaya gazeta article today, Aleksandr Sukharenko, head of the Vladivostok Center for the Study of New Challenges and Threats to the National Security of the Russian Federation, details a series of recent cases in which FSB officers have been charged with and even punished for corrupt actions (ng.ru/kartblansh/2018-04-20/3_7216_kartblansh.html).

            In the last few months, the number of such cases has increased dramatically at least in terms of the willingness of the powers that be to bring charges and the media to report them. In the past, he points out, those in power generally preferred to pass over such things in silence. And what is more, now some of those found guilty are even receiving lengthy sentences.

            But such cases or more precisely reporting on them has undermined popular confidence in the organs, Sukharenko says. According to the Levada Center, only half of the population “trust the FSB.”  Getting rid of corruption within it will help in the long term; but in the short term, many are certain to see these cases as an indication of a fundamental problem.

            That is especially likely among those who have been subject to “unjustified repressions by the special services,” the Vladivostok researcher says.

Putin System Direct Continuation of Golden Horde-Style Rule, Khakass Historian Says


Paul Goble           

            Staunton, April 20 – Many analysts and commentators have suggested that the Russian state was shaped in profound ways by the rule over large parts of it nearly a millennium ago by the Golden Horde; but now Kharmoos Tyundeshev, a Khakass historian, has gone a step further. He says Putin’s system is a near-perfect continuation of Golden Horde rule.

            That is, the author of The Great Khan Baty – the Founder of Russian Statehood (in Russian) argues, Putin rules a Horde-style federation, has established a totally subservient Duma like the Horde’s kurultai, and acts in his capacity of president just as the khans of the Golden Horde did (svoboda.org/a/29172315.html).

            In his book, Tyundeshev agues that “the state established by Khan Baty exists up to now,” with the only difference being that “its state language is Russian, itself a mixture of Slavic and Turkic.” The contemporary Russian state thus “was formed not on the basis of Kievan Rus” and “not in competition with the Horde forces.”

            Instead, he continues, “Russia arose on a completely new Muscovite basis, which was an organic part of the Golden Horde state system. It grew out of the competition of Muscovy with the khanates which had earlier been included in the Golden Horde for the population of a great state that was in the process of disintegrating.”

            For a long time, “the Golden Horde was for the Russian [rulers] the most importance source of legitimacy and prestige of their power. Close ties with the khan’s court, where customs completely different from ancient Russian ones dominated, customs based on harsh and often blind subordination could not fail to be reflected in [their] consciousness and behavior.

            Thus, one must conclude, Tyundeshev says, “Khan Baty was the founder of Russian statehood. All the state system in Rus created by him was part of the Golden Horde. Now [Russia] would be called its ‘federal subject’ … [As the horde declined,] the center of administration of the state gradually was transferred to Rus.”

            “By its mentality,” the historian argues, “Russia is an Asiatic country. There is a small part of the population which prefers a European one. But the grater part, although it belongs to the European race, has an Asiatic mentality. This is connected with traditional ethics, the force of habit and ancestors, and the authority of political leaders.”

            Not surprisingly, “it is very difficult to learn to be free.”

            “When serfdom was outlawed in 1861, a large portion of the serfs didn’t know what to do. Then there was a totalitarian regime, in fact, a form of slavery. Of course, an Asiatic mentality has been preserved. This is show in the elections, including the presidential ones: I think there wasn’t any falsification. This is the same mentality. You can’t change it quickly.”

            In the Golden Horde and in Putin’s system, there is everywhere “a power vertical.” And that means that often “a presidential decree is higher than the Constitution, as for example, that about the creation of federal districts, something that itself traces its origins to the depths of Turkic-Mongol statehood.”

            “From the Golden Horde has been preserved the tradition of life-long or at least lengthy time in office” of rulers and “voluntarism” in their decisions. But that has serious flaws: “Even if the leader has outstanding abilities and exceptional morality, in the final analysis, the state decays and the regime looks for enemies foreign and domestic.”

            “In Western Europe,” Tyundeshev says, “there exists a clear division of powers. [Russians however] have a super-presidential republic where the institution of the presidency is above the other branches of power, and the Duma is not like the parliaments in Western Europe. Here there is no system of checks and balances. The Duma always votes as the president says.”

            That means that “the president is the khan of today.”

            He gives the following example: In Yoshkar-Ola last summer, Putin declared that “the languages of the national republics must not be imposed on non-indigenous residents.”  And immediately officials began enforcing not a law, not a decree, but a presidential declaration and started banning the required study of non-Russian languages.

            “But we have a multi-national federation; and in the constitutions of the national republics there is a requirement that the second state language is the language of the indigenous population of the republic and all children living in this republic must study it.”   An Asiatic khan could overrule this; a European president wouldn’t.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Kremlin, Worried about a Popular Explosion, Taking Steps to Counter It Before It Begins


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 20 – Vladimir Putin is not acting with the self-confidence one would expect of someone who has just won re-election with more than 70 percent of the vote. Instead, he and those around him appear to be afraid there will soon be a popular explosion that could challenge his rule and are taking new steps to intimidate and combat his opponents.

            Of course, Putin’s margin of victory reflected less overwhelming support for him than his use of the powers of incumbency and exploitation of traditional Russian deference to those at the top. Indeed, he likely knows that now as polls show his standing has slipped since March 18 (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2018/04/20/767285-reiting-doveriya-putinu-nachal-snizhatsya).

            Consequently, his regime is taking steps designed to intimidate those who might be thinking about protesting, to attack opposition figures in the streets, and to suppress what the regime seems to think will be a rising tide of protests over the next year – even though polls show only one Russian in 12 is prepared to take to the streets.

            Earlier this week, Procurtor General Yury Chaika declared that his agency has made “the struggle with the protest activity of the population” the chief priority of its work given that in his view protesters of one kind or another separately or together want to “destabilize the situation in Russia” (apn.ru/index.php?newsid=37224).

            Chaika’s remarks are only the tip of the iceberg of the regime’s efforts at defense against protests that so far, despite the anger of the population about trash, Telegram, pollution and economic hardship, have not been large or coordinated in a way that could challenge the regime. Nonetheless, it seems clear that the powers that be are worried.

            Putin’s Russian Guard has ordered new weapons to be used against protesters. It has announced plans to purchase more than 18 million rubles’ worth of them by November 30 (rusmonitor.com/vlasti-gotovyatsya-k-podavleniyu-massovykh-besporyadkov-uzhe-v-sleduyushhem-godu.html).

            Meanwhile and more worrisome because its activities are likely to be even less restrained that the official siloviki, the Young Guard of the United Russia Party has announced plans to form detachments to go after protesters and especially protest leaders (politsovet.ru/58722-molodaya-gvardiya-sozdast-ulichnye-otryady-dlya-borby-s-oppoziciey.html). 

            These detachments will number between 100 and 200 persons each, will be put in Moscow and all other large cities of the Russian Federation, and be prepared on short notice to go into the street “and express their opinion on the most varied questions.”  Such groups recall the bully boys the Nazis and fascists used before coming to power.

            The Kremlin talked about the formation of such groups earlier, but during the protests of 2011-2012, such “pro-regime” youth did not appear or interfere with the street actions at that time. Now, many Russian commentators say that the same thing may happen again for all of the regime’s tough talk (realtribune.ru/news/authority/806,  afterempire.info/2018/04/19/mger/ and facebook.com/ihlov.evgenij/posts/2085801091435038).

            The big question which at least some in Russia are asking is why is the Kremlin so afraid of protests given its enormous coercive resources and its ability to do things like arrest a hated oligarch or invade another country that can be counted on to mobilize popular support and thus demobilize any opposition movement.

            There are at least three reasons. First, the Kremlin for all its vaunted intelligence operations cannot be sure it knows what people really think. Russians tell pollsters and vote in ways that they think the authorities want them to, but that works only until it doesn’t – and no one knows when that might be.

            Second, Putin and his regime are angering ever more people by their actions. Russians know that they are living ever less well in order for Putin to be able to engage in aggression.  They are furious about things like the Kemerovo fire, trash disposal and environmental pollution, and now the regime’s efforts to block Telegram.

            And third, while these various protests have not come together yet and no opposition figure has emerged as a real leader, the possibility that they could come together and someone now unknown could become the leader is something no one in power, especially if he knows how hollow his support really is, can afford to ignore.

            As one Russian commentator put it this week, massive and successful protests are always unexpected. They jump from something small to something massive in ways no one can predict or even after the fact entirely explain.  This process is “always unexpected,” and it is why authoritarians are always less confident than they appear (svpressa.ru/society/article/198139/).

            This is not to say that the protesters will seek in ousting the Russian dictator or even shake his regime to its foundations.  But it is a reminder to all those who think Putin is in complete control need to remember that commentators have always thought much the same thing right up until such rulers are overthrown.