Thursday, October 8, 2015

Russia needs a Muslim Vice President Now, Kazan Editor Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 8 – Russia’s increasing involvement with the Muslim world and the growing importance of the Muslim community in Russia itself means that the country should have a Muslim vice president all the more so because Moscow is going to have to negotiate with the Sunnis abroad and will want to avoid a revolution at home, according to Rashit Akhmetov.

            In his lead article this week, the editor of Kazan’s Zvezda Povolzhya argues that Russia’s problems at home and abroad make such an institutional innovation necessary, and he urges that Moscow select either Rustem Minnikhanov or Mintimir Shaymiyev, the current and former presidents of Tatarstan respectively (Zvezda Povolzhya, no. 36 (764), October 8-14, 2015, p. 1).

            Akhmetov has suggested such a step in the past, but he argues in this article that events abroad and developments within the Russian Federation give new urgency to it. Indeed, he implies that without such a radical step, the current Russian political system could soon be in extreme difficulty.

            The Kazan editor notes that Moscow’s new moves in Syria, moves he believes are primarily directed at securing some kind of bargain with the West, have led Putin to ally himself with the Shiites in Syria, a group which forms only about ten percent of the population there or among Muslims around the world. In Russia, the figure is even lower.

            Trying to get a deal with the West over Ukraine is a wise move, Akhmetov says, given that Russia needs to have the sanctions lifted; but there are real problems for Moscow in linking itself so closely with a single trend in Islam and especially one that is at odds with the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world and in Russia Accordingwho are Sunnis.

            Clearly, the Kremlin will need to reach out to the Islamic world and avoid the kind of mistakes that would flow from a narrow anti-Western Russian nationalism, he continues. Putin understands this and has shown with his decision not to make Yakunin, the ousted head of Russian Railways and a real nationalist, deputy head of the Federation Council.

            According to Akhmetov, “Putin is already skeptical about the Russian national idea,” and quite possibly is actively opposed to it, because he recognizes what havoc it would play in a multi-national Russian Federation.  Evidence of this is that the slogan “’Russia for the Russians’” has disappeared from the media and the streets.

            The Kazan editor offers the suggestion that contrary to what many think, the Ukrainian crisis in the end has not led to a flowering of Russian nationalism but rather has offered a kind of “vaccination” against it because both the government and the population can see how dangerous an idea it is.

            But Russia’s economic and political problems are such, Akhmetov continues, that even if Russian nationalism is brought under complete control, the country faces the possibility that the radical transformations of 1917 will be repeated in 2017, unless the government finds a way out of its current difficulties.

            It is possible, the Tatar editor says, that Putin will again hand over power to Dmitry Medvedev “in order to prevent a revolution and not lose everything” – and thereby, as Stolypin hoped before the 1917 debacle to give Russia five more years to develop without the threat that a revolution would pose.

            It is unfortunately the case, Akhmetov says, that “Russia has a choice not between the democrats and the Stalinists but between the chekists and the bandits.”  That in turn means that Putin or someone like him must be the power behind the throne if Medvedev should become president.

            Syria, he suggests, has raised the stakes: “Russia first got into an argument with Europe, then its hopes for China collapsed, and now its single strategic ally – the Islamic world is being transformed from an ally to one can even say a military opponent.”  That makes Tatarstan and the Muslims of Russia especially important.

            And that is why a Muslim should now occupy the new position of vice president of the Russian Federation.

Putin's Strategy is to Oppose Any Change that Might Threaten Him, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 8 – Deciding whether a leader is a tactician or a strategist profoundly affects how that individual’s actions are treated. If he is viewed as a tactician, then each of his moves will be viewed and treated largely independent of all others; but if he is seen as a strategist, then each of his steps will be seen and responded to in terms of a broader picture.

            It has become “a commonplace,” Moscow analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev says, that Putin is a tactician of genius but also that the Kremlin leader is someone “who does not have a long-term strategy for the development of his own country” and thus “has not formulated a political and economic model” which he would like to implement (

            But in fact “everything is not so simple,” Inozemtsev argues; and “the more dynamic becomes the activity of the Russian president, the greater basis there appear to be to conclude that behind it is concealed a quite precise strategic plan.”  The Moscow analyst says he wants to “try to reconstruct” the Kremlin leader’s concept.

            Putin, the Moscow analyst points out, frequently has called himself a conservative, “but his conservatism is of a very special type.” Indeed, it would be better to call him “a preservationist,” someone who views “stability not an analogue of European sustainable development but rather as one of no development at all.”

            Putin views “any changes as a source of threat,” be they things like homosexuality or the spread of the Internet or a change in governments in place. He sees “unified Europe” as “having lost any political meaning” and the information revolution as “incapable of the unrestrained growth of consumption of raw materials in developed economies.

            And at the same time, Inozemtsev says, Putin “sees in Orthodoxy the main social ‘foundation’ and similary does not doubt in the rapid return of oil prices to one hundred US dollars or more.”

            This view of the world, one very different from that of most people who today call themselves conservatives “should not be considered anomalous” historically.  It reflects the cyclical view of history that Plato, Tacitus and Plotinus advanced in the ancient world. And it has occasionally resurfaced since that time.

            “It seems to me,” Inozemtsev continues, “that the strategy of the Russian resident is based precisely on a cyclical treatment of global dynamics” in way that is also reflected in the acceptance of others of “the end of history” and then “with what piety” history’s “’return’” was acknowledged.

            If that is the correct perspective, he suggests, “the Putin doctrine of ‘stability’ and ‘conservativism’ can be considered rational only in one situation – in the case that we view everything that has taken place in the last several decades as a gigantic deviation from the norm” and a necessarily “temporary” one at that.

            “Only if one starts from the proposition that the collapse and disintegration of the Soviet Union was a temporary mistake, that ‘morals return like the seasons,’ that democracy is a short-lived and unstable state of society period imperial periods of its history, that peaceful coexistence and deep economic integration are no more than a prelude to an era of new Versailles and Potsdams do the actions of Vladimir Putin look like the embodiment of truly strategic thinking.”

                But if that is how he views the world, then “the task of a great political leader is not to try to catch up with anyone or to search for the proper niche for accelerated development,” but rather to adopt “a real strategy” of opposing any change, of freezing development, of cleansing society morally, and of preparing to block any moves toward change.

            Inozemtsev says that he very much hopes that he is mistaken, but he unfortunately has concluded that “at the head of the Russian state stand a man who really, as Angela Merkel said, ‘lives in another world,’” one very much at odds with contemporary reality.

            In Putin’s world, “the main strategy is to secure by many means the absence of change, to constantly distract people by shifting the object of their attentions from one senseless subject to another, to allow the outflow of qualified and independent citizens capable of demanding reforms and changes, and to torpedo modernization in order to preserve at etatist economy.”

            Viewed from within this paradigm, the Moscow analyst says, “absolutely all the actions of the Russian president look consistent and rational – but only” within that worldview. But at some point this approach will lead to collapse because it puts Russia on a path which is absolutely opposed to modernization as understood almost everywhere else.

            Unfortunately, Inozemtsev says, this is exactly what Putin appears to have decided to do; and it is likely to last for some time because “this is hardly the whimsical choice of a dilettante but rather a [carefully constructed if fatally flawed] strategic course.”

Obama’s ‘Indecisiveness’ Allowing Putin, Asad and Shiites to Advance, Illarionov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 8 – “The indecisiveness of the US leadership has given the armed forces of the Russian Federation the chance not only to bomb Syrians” opposed to Asad “but to begin a land campaign jointly with Asad’s forces,” a development that weakens any effort to defeat ISIS, according to Andrey Illarionov.

            The Russian analyst says that the “allied coalition” created by Moscow, Damascus and Tehran now has six participants: Iran, Russia, Syria’s Bashar Asad, the Shiite government of Iraq, Hezbollah, and also ISIS  (

            And in practical terms, “the only opponent of this coalition, which is now being subject to attack from the sides of almost all the participants o this coalition (except Iraq, but from the side of Russia, 55 strikes out of 57) are the subdivisions of the Syrian moderate and Islamic opposition who oppose Asad’s regime and have receive training and arms from the US.”

            But, Illarionov continues, “the US president is playing a double (if not to say traitorous) role in relation to the Syrian opposition, refusing the latter any help, not acting against the Russian military operation in Syria, and as before repeating that he can cooperate with Putin and Iran and hopes for such cooperation.”

            That in turn means, the Russian analyst says, that Barack Obama is now part of “the allied coalition” Moscow, Damascus and Tehran have assembled and are directing at the moderates who oppose Asad.

            Illarionov traces the moves since the visit of Iranian General Kasem Suleymani to Moscow in July that have resulted in “a new Iranian-Russian alliance in support of Asad” and the meetings between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei subsequently. 

            Russian officials in September put out the word that Russia was getting involved in Syria and the campaign against ISIS as a way of ending Moscow’s international isolation over Ukraine, but it is clear, Illarionov says, that Moscow is not fighting ISIS but rather backing Asad against his opponents.

            According to the Turkish prime minister, only two of the first 57 Russian air strikes were directed against ISIS. The other 55 – or more than 95 percent in all – were directed against groups opposed to Asad and his Shiite regime.

            Initially, American officials were uncertain as to whether Moscow was deliberately targeting Asad’s opponents or whether Russian forces simply couldn’t distinguish between them and ISIS. “But now,” Illarionov says, “American officials are certain that since September 30, Russia is directly attacking rebels supported by the CIA who represent the greatest threat to Asad’s regime.” 

            They add that Moscow has two goals: strengthening Asad and sending a warning message to Washington not to interfere.  Both work to the advantage of the Russian-Shiite alliance: if the moderate opposition to Asad is destroyed, the Americans will not “cooperate with more radical groups and will be forced to agree to Asad’s retention of power.”

            Some American officials are telling journalists that “they are seeking ways to further support the opposition,” Illarionov continues. “But according to their words, Obama does not want to begin a proxy war with Russia or allow Moscow to divert the US from its struggle with ISIS.”

            Unfortunately, he concludes, “as a result of Russia’s attacks, the White House will find it more difficult to control the situation” and prevent advanced weaponry from falling into the hands of groups that may act against American interests.  But for the time being, “the Syrian government army has gone over to the attack” supported by Russian air power.