Saturday, December 20, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Current Crisis Political Not Economic and Thus Not Easily Overcome, Storch Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 20 – Many Russians assume that they will ride out the current crisis just as they did the crises of 1998 and 2008, but that assumption is wrong, Leonid Storch argues, because the former crises were economic and the current one is political. And thus for this crisis, there is no quick or easy fix as there were in the two earlier cases.

 

            In a commentary on Kasparov.ru today, Storch, a Russian who has taught in the US and now lives in Thailand, says that the two earlier crises were very different from the current one and that recovery from them was relatively easy in comparison with what will be required now (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5495206047CE0).

 

            The first two crises, as “even Putin understands,” had “exclusively economic causes” while the current one “has a political nature.”  Moreover, the first two were international – 1998 affected the entire post-Soviet space, and 2008 the world economy as a whole – while this one afflicts Russia alone or almost so.

 

            Russia was able to climb out of the crises of 1998 and 2008 “quite quickly” and relatively easily because the West generally retained its trust in the Russian government, and “the strategic profit from investments in the Russian market exceeded the political and legal risks connected with these investments.”

 

Capital from abroad continued to flow into Russia, Storch notes, and Western banks continued to refinance Russian companies. But “today the situation is different in a cardinal way.” The Russian leadership has “lost the credit of trust” it had had earlier and thus cannot count on the same kind of assistance.

 

Many in the West were prepared to overlook Moscow’s war against Georgia and its playing with Iran. “But when the threat of military actions arose in Europe,” when Moscow began to issue nuclear threats, and “when the use of gas as a weapon of intimidation passed the limits of the permissible, the West turned away from Russia.”

 

“This means,” Storch says, “that Russia can’t expect any credits,” a situation that means it must rely on its reserves which may not be as large as many assume. (He cites the conclusions of economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2014/12/russias-foreign-exchange-reserves.) And it can’t expect oil prices to go back to where they were: the US and OPEC are ready to live with oil at 60 US dollars a barrel.

 

And that in turn means, he continues, that there are quick fixes or easy answers and there aren’t likely to be any.  According to the Russian commentator, Putin understands that as well and that is why he talked about two years of difficult times. Telling oneself that things are otherwise may be a good defense strategy for Russians, but it isn’t a solution.

 

Window on Eurasia: Almost a Third of Russians Would Like Their Children or Grandchildren to Grow Up to Be Chekists


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 20 – Thirty percent of Russians, nearly one in three, say that they would like their children or grandchildren to serve in the security organs with almost two-thirds of those (62 percent) saying that this would guarantee them status and respect from the rest of society, according to a VTsIOM poll taken last January but released only now.

 

            Just under half of the sample (49 percent) said that the work of the security services is a noble task, and only slightly fewer (46 percent) said that it offered the chance for high pay and good benefits (20 percent) as well as for the usual contacts it opened the way for (22 percent) (ria.ru/society/20141219/1039174125.html).

 

            The survey also asked respondents to characterize those who work in the security services. Seventeen percent said they were intelligent and 14 percent incorruptible. They also said they were strong (8 percent), serious and restrained (6 percent), patriotic (5 percent), decisive (5 percent), and just and orderly (4 percent each).

 

            The respondents indicated that they drew most of their conclusions about the organs from films, but they also pointed to “real political figures” like Vladimir Putin (3 percent), Sergey Shoigu (2 percent), and Yury Andropov (1 percent).

 

            While it is entirely possible that some of these answers reflected what Russians thought they were expected to think, it is striking that so many of them have a positive image of the security services after all the revelations about the misdeeds of the KGB and its successor organs that have surfaced over the last 25 years.

 

            And it is an indirect indication of the deference a large number of Russians are likely to show to representatives of these organs and those who have emerged from them, including most prominently Vladimir Putin who began his career as a KGB officer and who in the minds of many remains shaped by that experience.

 

            As Bellona’s Captain Aleksandr Nikitin once put it, “there are no ex-KGB officers just as there are no ex-German shepherds.”

 

 

Window on Eurasia: A New Genre in Russian Commentary – Thinking about Russia after Putin


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 20 – In the minds of some, Vladimir Putin used his press conference this week to demonstrate his conviction that he will remain president of Russia forever  (replika.com.ua/ru/3_politika/zadacha_putina_probivat_na_prochnost_zapadnuyu_koalitsiyu), ever more Russian commentators are asking “What will be the situation after Putin?”

 

            Among those doing so is Daniil Kotsyubinsky, a historian and journalist, who gave exactly that title to an article he published this week (novayagazeta.spb.ru/articles/9385/). Such questioning about a post-Putin future is more important than any of the answers however well-informed they may be.

 

            That is because it shows that Russians are thinking about something that was unthinkable only a few months ago and that Putin himself is doing everything he can to prevent them from thinking about because the sense of his irreplaceability is one of the key foundations of his regime and personal power.

 

            According to Kotsyubinsky, the time has come to consider calmly two questions: how likely is Putin’s rapid departure from office? And what will happen with Russia and Russians when he goes?

 

            Putin has been much weakened over the past year, the commentator argues, and not by economic problems. Russians will put up with those. He has been weakened because he “has lost a war which he himself declared and on which was based his imperial restorationist project.” That is something much more serious.

 

            Russian history shows, Kotsyubinsky says, that whenever Russia proclaims itself as opposed to the whole world and then loses, it enters into “a zone of turbulence” as Putin’s own press secretary Dmitry Peskov recently put it.  In each case, loss in a war was followed by reforms and then “the growth of revolutionary attitudes.”

 

            Putin has not only lost “a super power war” based on gas and oil, but he has “lost it without any chance at revenge,” the commentator says.  As a result, there is an increasing sense among many in Russia that the entire Putin edifice could come crumbling down and yet another new Russia emerge.

 

            “How this will happen – ‘from above,’ ‘from below,’ ‘from the outside’ or by a combined campaign of ‘the national traitorous Entente’ is not so important.” What matters is that it will happen, Kotsyubinsky argues.

 

            That sense that it will has led some to alarmist and apocalyptic predictions, but the commentator says that he thinks that what will occur will be “something much less” eschatological but nonetheless critically important. And he suggests that it could occur by the spring or summer of 2015.

 

            He predicts that regardless of who heads “a provisional government” after Putin goes, “the very first point of the new agenda for the new authorities must be elections. Not just presidential, but also Duma and – what is most important – regional.” That will mean not just the change from one presidential vertical to another but to the end of this vertical altogether.

 

            Even if the Kremlin “political technologists” succeed in winning the election for their candidate, “he will not have even a tenth of the extremely conditional power which Poroshenko has at present in Ukraine.” Kotsyubinsky’s reasoning on this point is especially interesting and instructive even if his overall prediction turns out to be incorrect wishful thinking.

 

            “The ‘latest Russian autocrat’ will himself be glad to share responsibility for ‘a situation which cannot be run politically’ with the parliament, and at least for a time, he will be forced to move toward the “parliamentary republic standards of Europe,” standards in which the president matters less or even not at all.

 

            Among the most serious challenges a post-Putin regime will face is the reawakening of regional ambitions, ambitions that were stifled after the mid-1990s but that now have returned because “the majority of Russian regions have a not bad idea about how they can live and flourish without the Kremlin’s direction.”

 

            The North Caucasus could be the first of these to rise up, but “it is possible that the scenario of the peaceful resolution of the Russian-Caucasus crisis will turn out to be ‘a model’ for Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Sakha, Buryatia, Tyva and other national republics and also for Siberia and other regions of the Russian Federation” which feel themselves abused.

 

            And that in turn means that in a post-Putin Russia, “the process of transforming Russia from a presidential unitary republic into a parliamentary federation may completely demolish the imperial ambitions which it suffers from today.” Whether this is a good or bad thing is up to Russians to decide, he concludes.

 

Window on Eurasia: Massive Exodus of Migrant Workers from Russia Begins


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 20 – The collapse of the ruble and the test of Russian language knowledge they will soon be required to take are prompting gastarbeiters in the Russian Federation to leave in massive numbers, with the leader of the Federation of Migrants now predicting that more than a quarter of them will depart by early next year.

 

            While some Russians may be glad to see them go, their departure will make it more difficult for the Russian economy to escape the looming recession. But even more seriously, their return to their homelands in such numbers will create problems there, given that none of those economies can easily absorb them.

 

            The returning migrants are thus likely to become a source of additional instability in places that in many cases already are far from stable, and to the extent they are not absorbed into the economies, some of them may become recruits for radical Islamist groups that want to overthrow the existing order.

 

            Mukhammed Amin, the head of the Federation of Migrants of Russia, told Newsru.com yesterday that “more than 25 percent” of the more than 10 million immigrant workers in Russia plan to return home or move to other countries in the coming months (newsru.com/russia/19dec2014/ishod.html).

 

He suggested that the main reasons for that are two: the collapse of the ruble exchange rate means they have less money to send home – most of their transfer payments have been in dollars – and concerns about the impact and cost of the test of Russian language knowledge they will be forced to take as of January 1.

 

Karomat Sharipov, the head of the Tajik Labor Migrants organization, confirmed that this is the case and said that many of his co-nations intend to leave Russia.  He added that because jobs at home are scarce, at least some of them might join the ranks of extremist groups as mercenaries in order to support their families.

 

Russia’s Federal Migration Service had already reported that with the decline in the value of the ruble, the size of transfer payments by gastarbeiters in Russia to their homelands had sharply fallen (newsru.com/finance/12dec2014/migrants.html). That too will harm the economies of countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Azerbaijan from which most migrants have come.

 

Some Russians are pleased by the departure of the gastarbeiters, either because they view such people as culturally alien or because they think that such foreigners are taking jobs that Russians should get. But Russian officials are more concerned by the possibility that those leaving will join radical Islamist groups or become part of “so-called ‘Jihad tourism.’”

 

That term refers to Muslims from one country who travel to another to take part in and make money from radical Islamist groups fighting elsewhere.  According to the Russian government, there are at least 1500 such people from CIS countries now fighting for the Islamic State; the departure of the gastarbeiters will likely boost that number further.

 

Russian officials fear that these people will not only destabilize neighboring countries but also in some cases return to push their causes within the borders of the Russian Federation, yet another frightening consequence of Vladimir Putin’s policies in Ukraine.

Window on Eurasia: Putin Wants Donbas inside Ukraine for Same Reason Stalin Did – But the World has Changed


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 20 – Twenty times during his press conference, Vladimir Putin said that he supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine, simultaneously the latest example of his dishonesty and duplicity, his efforts to win support from the West for a settlement in his favor, and his desire to exploit a pro-Moscow minority inside Ukraine to undermine Kyiv in the future.

 

            In a comment posted online yesterday, Andrey Piontkovsky points out that having failed with his plans to detach “Greater Novorossiya” from Ukraine, Putin very much needs to have that region remain as “a cancerous tumor” within the borders of Ukraine and to use it against Kyiv (ru.tsn.ua/analitika/zadushit-v-bratskih-obyatyah-402012.html).

 

            “The illusion of the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Piontkovsky suggests, is a trap for the Ukrainian leadership because the Kremlin leader has no intention of leaving the area but only forcing Kyiv to bear the social welfare costs of the depressed east while continuing to undermine the ability of the Ukrainian state to control that territory or function independently of Moscow.

 

            According to the Russian analyst, “Putin’s new line is to strangle Ukraine not by a direct war but by economic and political means and a game of cat and mouse with it by talking about the so-called territorial integrity” of that country.

 

            This may be a new line for Putin, but it is entirely consistent with the line Stalin pursued in drawing the borders of Ukraine and the other Soviet republics and one equally consistent with the way in which the West has approached the unpacking of the Soviet system in the two decades since the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

 

            Soviet propagandists asserted and many in both Russia and the West believe that Stalin attempted to draw the borders of the republics of the Soviet Union in such a way as to create nationally homogeneous republics. But in fact, that was never true. Instead, the Kremlin dictator always drew the lines in such a way that these republics were not homogeneous.

 

            Moscow’s reasoning was simple: if it ensured that there was a local minority, either consisting of ethnic Russians as in Ukraine or Kazakhstan, for example, or of another competing nationality as in Central Asia or the Caucasus, it could kill two birds with one stone.

 

            On the one hand, it would guarantee itself a ready-made set of agents in place who would be ready to do Moscow’s bidding in exchange for protection. And on the other, by using these “assets,” the center would heighten tensions between those nationalities relative to tensions between the titular nationality and Moscow, allowing the center to present itself falsely as an arbiter between them.

 

            Moreover, returning the principle of border stability after violating it first in Georgia and now in Crimea, Putin will win support from some in the West who will see that as an opening for a new round of cooperation with the Kremlin – given that a commitment to the stability of borders in the former Soviet space has been a core element of Western policy since 1992.

 

            The quintessential expression of this position was the declaration by a White House spokesman on February 6,1992, that the United States would “never recognize any secession from secession on the territory of the former Soviet Union,” a declaration that titled the balance against any further moves toward self-determination in the name of stability.

 

            But three things have changed since that time that make Putin’s move less likely to work on the ground if not in Western chancelleries than he may think. First, many ethnic Russians and even more non-Russian speakers now have a civic identification with the countries in which they live and will not play the game as Putin hopes. That is why he has failed in Ukraine so far.

 

            Second, Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and his incautious language about becoming the latest “ingatherer of Russian lands” not only has alarmed the titular nationalities of the non-Russian countries but has also frightened many ethnic Russians there who know they are better off in those countries than in Russia.

 

            And third, by his naked aggression in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine, Putin has alarmed enough people in the West that most will not be taken in by this latest turn in the Kremlin line. Instead, they will understand and act to make sure that Putin cannot play a Stalin-like role there or anywhere else beyond the borders of his country.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian Scoundrels Don’t Deserve Sympathy but Their Victims at Home and Abroad Do, Kirillova Says

Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 19 – Many Russians and their neighbors are suffering from the actions of Russian scoundrels at home and abroad , and the former deserve our sympathy even if the latter merit only condemnation,  according to Kseniya Kirillova, a Seattle-based journalist who writes for Novy Region 2.

 

            In an article today, she says that the ability of Russians to withstand even the worst catastrophes is one of their best qualities, but not in the current case given that what is happening in their country and its neighbors is the direct result of scoundrel-like behavior of so many of them (nr2.com.ua/blogs/Ksenija_Kirillova/Podlecov-mne-ne-zhal-86989.html).

 

            “Difficulties are not so terrible when they are logical and temporary, conditioned by objective factors, often accidental and not connected with personal guilt,” she writes.  “In families, love helps people survive difficulties; in a state, patriotism; and in all cases, mutual assistance.”

 

            “That is often so, but not in this case.”

 

            The situation Russians find themselves in today is “a direct result of the destructive and criminal policy of the authorities which they have no intention of ending and which with each step they are making worse,” Kirillova writes.  The leadership has made the entire world opposed to Russia.

 

            But in this, the scoundrel quality of the leadership has been reinforced by the scoundrel quality of all too many Russians who are prepared to accept as justified anything the Kremlin does and to ignore all moral laws.

 

            Kirillova says that in speaking about this quality, which is covered by the almost untranslatable Russian world “podlost,” she does not have in mind those villagers who have been zombified by Moscow television into thinking that Ukraine is ruled by fascists and Banderites. One can accuse them more of ignorance than of scoundrelness.

 

But tragically, there exists “a still not small quantity of Russians who perfectly well understand what is being done in Ukraine and none the less approve it,” Kirillova says. And it turns out, she says, that there are a lot more of such people than she could have ever imagined. What is worse is that they are not stupid and in many cases are members of the middle class.

 

            Many of them do not believe government propaganda completely, but they accept the basic thrust of it. They are quite prepared to be skeptical about reports of “’fascists’” and “’the bloody junta’” in Kyiv – they may even pat themselves on the back for their skepticism – but they have accepted the Kremlin’s idea that might makes right, that the end justifies the means, and that because other countries have violated the rules, Russia must be allowed to as well.

 

             Kirillova says that her Russian interlocutors of this type are “convinced that Russia is doing everything correctly,” that “objective truth doesn’t exist,” and that “politics is in general a dirty business.”  Such attitudes, she says, reflect “a total atrophy of moral feeling and even of fundamental human instincts.”

 

            “Neither the fate of individuals nor the value of human life nor norms and rules … not even banal responsibility means anything for such people,” she argues. Instead, they celebrate what they believe is needed for the Empire, confident that in a nuclear world, they and Russia can get away with anything.

 

            Such people, she says, are accomplices in a crime, responsible not only “for the death of people” in Ukraine but also for “the collapse of Russia which has begun.” They talk about “the right of the strong” while forgetting that they will not always be such, and they support war on the territory of other countries forgetting that it could come to their own.

 

            For such scoundrels, Kirillova continues, there is no reason to have any regret in tht regard, but one must feel very sorry for “the innocent people who also must bear all the consequences of the economic collapse,” not just those who have spoken out against the war but also those who have in a cowardly fashion “buried their heads in the sand.”

 

            The writer asks forgiveness for her own harshness but notes that the greater her regret for the sufferings of the innocent, the more she understands that she “is not capable of feeling any sympathy for the scoundrels” who are responsible.  “Apparently,” she concludes, where there is no repentance, one won’t move forward without revenge. Alas.”

 

 

Window on Eurasia: All Repressed Peoples are Equal, Putin Says, But His Policies Show Some are More Equal than Others


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 19 – At his press conference yesterday, Vladimir Putin said that Moscow is “developing a program under which all formerly repressed peoples, including the Crimean Tatar people,” will get “support in the economic and social spheres.” But as Israeli commentator Avraam Shmulyevich notes, the Kremlin leader doesn’t really mean “all.”

 

            In a post entitled “What is Appropriate for a Crimean Tatar isn’t for a Circassian,” Shmulevich points out that Moscow is highly selective in its approach to the many nations who were subject to repression by the Russian Empire or by the Soviet state, supporting some but rejecting calls to support others (avrom-caucasus.livejournal.com/372921.html).

 

            According to the Israeli analyst, Moscow officials following Putin’s lead are “prepared to pay the Crimean Tatars and the Balkars and recognize the genocide of 1944.” For them, “that is not a problem.” But “the genocide [of the Circassians] in 1864 was too long ago,” in their view, and thus they need not “recognize it.”

 

            Shmulyevich argues that this again shows that “there is no hope that the Kremlin will listen to the tearful requests of Circassian activists and that seeking a meeting is a hopeless cause.” Moreover, it suggests that “Moscow is consciously continuing the Circassian policy of Petersburg, ‘a policy of deportation and genocide.’”

 

            That is almost certainly true, but Putin’s words are likely to have another consequence as well. They are certain to be read by all the other repressed peoples within the borders of the Russian Federation as the basis for making new claims against Moscow, even if they have little hope for achieving something in the near term.

 

            And that beyond any doubt means that Putin’s incautious language about the nationality question, just as was the case with equally incautious words by his predecessors, will spark precisely the kind of activism and assertiveness he does not want and lead to new conflicts in the North Caucasus and elsewhere.

 

            Because that is so, Putin’s response to a question by Crimean Tatar journalist Safiye Ablyayeva yesterday merits careful examination.  (For the text, see kremlin.ru/news/47250.)

 

Ablyayeva, who works for the Crimean Tatar television service in Simferopil, pointed out to Putin that “the local authorities are not taking real steps to realize” his promises about the rehabilitation of those peoples who were deported from Crimea in Soviet times. And she asked: “why has this order remained without life up to now?”

 

Putin said that he does not think the order “is without life and here is why: Because first no one can repeal it: neither the local authorities nor anyone else.” This affects the Crimean Tatars, the Germans, the Greeks, the Armenians, and the Bulgarians, all peoples who were subjected to repressions.”

 

In his view, Putin continued, “this has sufficiently serious political-moral meaning.” And he pointed to the official status of Crimean Tatar on the occupied peninsula and work on resolving land control issues. “If we constantly legalize seizures,” he said, “then we will never establish order.”

 

According to the Russian president, the state “owes a lot to these [repressed] peoples” and the Russian government is working to provide it through money for infrastructure. At the same time, he said, “it is necessary to close this page and after that to say that all are equal.”  Everyone must observe the law, regardless of his or her nationality.

 

Putin ended by saying that this is a task not just of today or tomorrow. It will take time, but he added “no one has forgotten it.” Whether that is true just now in the Kremlin remains to be seen, but it is certainly the case with the members of all those repressed in the past – and Putin’s words will prompt some of them to act and demand equal treatment.