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.