Sunday, November 23, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Another Regional Ministry – This Time for the Arctic – Won’t Help, Moscow Experts Say

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 23 – “Kommersant” reported last week that Moscow is planning to create a Ministry for Arctic Affairs ( on the pattern of the other “regional” ministries the center has set up over the last 18 months for the Far East, the North Caucasus and occupied Crimea.


                Despite the statement by Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov that he does not know anything “about the existence of such plans,” Moscow experts and commentators are already weighing in and suggesting that this latest bureaucratic innovation will occur and will be no more effective than any of the others (


            Aleksey Polubota of “Svobodnaya pressa” surveyed three of the Academician Artur Chilingarov, president of the State Polar Academy and someone suggested as a possible head of the new ministry, said that it would be “more effective” to create a state committee which could coordinate with other ministries than to establish a new ministry that would fight with them.


                In his view, Chilingarov said, “a ministry for Arctic affairs in fact would be ineffective and an unjustifiedly expensive structure.” It would cost more but do less than the State Committee for the North that existed in the 1990s. Moscow should be thinking about a coordinating committee instead.


            Aleksandr Ignatyev, the editor of “Arkticheskiye vedomosti,” said that Moscow needed to pay more attention to the Artic and that a ministry might be “better than nothing” but that it would be less effective than a coordinating committee because other ministries and private firms would resist it at every step.

             And Sergey Vasiltsov, the Duma deputy who heads the Center for Research on the Political Culture of Russia, said that he opposes the idea less because of its particular focus than because of what it says about the Russian government’s current proclivity for such regional ministries.

            “Attempts in recent years at resolving problems by setting up yet another agency have mostly led to the doubling of the size of the bureaucratic apparatus,” he said. “Even without this, we already have more than two and a half times as many bureaucrats per capita as was the case in Soviet times.”

            Vasiltsov added that he does not see any evidence that the new ministries in the Far East or in the North Caucasus have brought with them any particular successes. Instead, all of them are “simply the result of the bureaucratic style of thought of the majority of our government administrators.”

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Moves in Ukraine Limit Its Ability to Back Russians Elsewhere, Solovey Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 23 – Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine, undertaken in the name of defending ethnic Russians, has had the unintended consequence of making it more rather than less difficult for Moscow to speak out and act in defense of ethnic Russians elsewhere, according to Valery Solovey.


            That is because, the MGIMO scholar argues, anything that Moscow now does is viewed both by the countries involved and by the West as a possible precursor of a Ukrainian scenario and thus something which they must oppose even when Moscow’s statements and actions may be justified (


            Solovey’s observation comes on the heels of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s suggestion that Russia had devoted too little attention to “compatriots” in Ukraine in the past ( and of the suggestions of some, like nationalist commentator Modest Kolerov, that this means Moscow will now go on the offensive elsewhere (


            The MGIMO processor says that Lavrov’s words “only demonstrate the extremely limited possibilities of Russia to do anything to help its compatriots” from now on.  “After the events in Ukraine, any declarations [by Moscow] about the need to support compatriots will be viewed with extreme vigilance” given fears that such things set the stage for the use of force.


            “That is the flip side of [Russian] assistance to the residents of the Donbas.”  Moreover, any “loud declarations” from Moscow about ethnic Russians abroad such as in Latvia will be viewed by the West as “a certain threat” and lead to counter-actions that Moscow will find it difficult to respond to.


            Under these circumstances, Moscow can’t even use NGOs, although that may be “theoretically” possible, Solovey says, because now, thanks to Ukraine, “the application of so-called soft power by Russia will be met with a harsh rebuff.”


            This all means Russia’s influence over Russians abroad will continue to decline, with “part of the Russians coming to terms with the existence of things.” Thus, “for many Russians in the Baltics, the bitter pill of life beyond the borders of their historical Motherland has been sweetened by their being in the European Union.”


            Even Russians who remain particularly attached to their Russian identity increasingly look to the European Union rather than the Russian Federation as the place where they can “more actively struggle for the protection of their rights,” the MGIMO professor continues.


            “A part of Russians in the near abroad are losing their [ethnic] identity,” Solovey says, “but not all of them.” However, Moscow has now tied its hands as far as providing more help to support their Russian identity because of what it has done in Ukraine and how that will be viewed everywhere else.


Window on Eurasia: Putin Prepared to Start Nuclear War to Keep Power and Avoid Corruption Charges, Kolesnikov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 23 – Sergey Kolesnikov, who earlier attracted attention for an article entitled “Putin Forever!” (, now says that Vladimir Putin is prepared to start a war, even a nuclear one, in order to retain power and thus block any chance that he would be charged with corruption were he removed from office.


            A biologist now living abroad and former business partner of Nikolay Shamalov who has been sanctioned by the EU and the US, Kolesnikov says that Putin is so focused on his personal power because he fears he would be tried and convicted for corruption were he to leave office (


            To prevent that series of events from happening, Kolesnikov says, he is prepared to start a war and even use nuclear weapons, an indication of the extent to which Putin is part of an extremely corrupt system and an explanation of why his actions, irrational from the point of view of Russia may appear to him a completely rational defense of his own person.


            According to Kolesnikov, “a politician uses all means which he has in hand. No one would have suggested two years ago that a real war would be unleashed in the center of Europe and that thousands of people would die. But today is this a fait accompli.”  Thus, “one must not exclude the possibility” that Putin will start a nuclear war in the future.


            At present, Kolesnikov says, “Putin and his immediate entourage are already thinking not so much about the defense of their own property or about money.” Instead, “they are devoting attention simply to their own lives,” fearful that if they lost power, they “at a minimum” would be investigated and likely “punished” for their crimes.


            Putin is not protected from this possibility by his high ratings, Kolesnikov continues. They don’t mean anything and could decline to almost zero overnight as has happened with other leaders when administrative measures are directed against them as happened in the case of Yuri Luzhkov, the former Moscow mayor.


            Nor are Putin and his allies protected by laws or the Constitution.  “There is no law in Russia, and even the Constitution does not work.” Consequently, he and they fully understand that any guarantees they think they may have will disappear as soon as someone else comes in their place.


            What was protecting Putin, Kolesnikov suggests, is the grand bargain between himself and the Russian people, in which they deferred to him on political issues in turn for a guarantee that their personal well-being would continue to improve. But the economic crisis has called that bargain into question.


            Neither Putin nor anyone else “wants to say that we are guilty” of what has happened. “It is always simpler to say that we have enemies – America and Europe – and that they are responsible for the fact that we are living worse than we were.” That helps to explain why Putin began the war in Ukraine; it may explain as well why he cannot stop it.


            Putin hasn’t cared about money per se since 2008 because “all Russia belongs to him, and palaces are simply toys.”  Instead, he cares only about “retaining power as a [necessary] condition for the preservation of his own life.”


            The West in general does not understand Putin or understand what can and should be done with him.  German Chancellor Merkel has come closest, Kolesnikov argues, when she observed that “we live in different realities.” 


            “The reality of Western politicians and the reality of Putin are different. These are parallel worlds,” and consequently, it is difficult to predict “what Putin will do” – and equally difficult to assume that there are certain things, even the most horrific, that he will refrain from doing.


Window on Eurasia: De-Stalinization Hasn’t Been Completed in Russia, Lukin Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 23 – De-Stalinization will have occurred not when everyone denounces Stalin in a chorus at the direction of the state but rather when each person can assess him in his or her own way and have debates about him, Vladimir Lukin says. Unfortunately, Russia has not succeeded in taking that step away from Stalinism into a better future.


            In an interview on Ekho Moskvy, Lukin, the former diplomat and human rights ombudsman, said that only if that happens will it be possible to separate the man and the myths and recognize both the crimes he committed and the successes he achieved. Until then, Russians will live with those myths (


            That in turn will mean that some in Russia will continue to celebrate him by treating him in isolation from his crimes or to denigrate him by ignoring what he did for the country, and it will mean that Stalinism will survive as an epithet that will be applied positively or negatively to developments in Russia now and in the future.


            Indeed, Lukin argues, because Stalin was both a criminal and a hero, “de-Stalinization will be deeper and more complete the more freely and in a cultured sense it is possible to conduct discussion about this myth” and thus overcome it. As long as the state orders that people think one way or the other about Stalin, Stalinism will continue.


            He gives as an example the case of Bonapartism in France.  That exists “to this day” as do opponents of that idea. “But France has been de-Bonapartized because to say that a Napoleon I or even a III will come to power is even funny in France. It is a completely different country … and each is free to express his opinion” about that.


            Attitudes in Russia about Stalin as a myth, Lukin continues, reflect a fundamental divide as far as ideas are concerned. As long as some believe that the state is the main value and the empire an unquestioned thing, then “the myth will be one and it will always be one.” But if the values of the human person are paramount, then attitudes will be “different in principle.”


            Lukin says that his view of Stalin as a man is simple: “It is extremely negative. He was a son of a bitch,” given how he behaved.  But his view of Stalin as a political figure is more complicated because political decisions reflect not only values but also what is possible at a particular place and time.


            (He notes that his parents were arrested in 1937 and spent two years in the camps, with his father than serving in the Red Army during World War II. Both his parents “couldn’t bear Stalin.” On the one hand, they viewed Lenin as “the ideal,” but on the other, they “didn’t separate Stalin from victory” over Hitler.)


            He says that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact shows his own divisions. At a personal level, Lukin says, he very much opposes the pact and what it represented. But considering the pact at a political level, his views are more variegated because anything that Stalin might have done differently would have had its own “serious pluses and its own serious minuses.”


            On another issue, Lukin says he is an opponent of lustration because in his view, it would become just another occasion for settling accounts much as Bulgakov suggested in his novel “The Master and Margarita,” and he argues that overcoming Stalinism and the Stalin myth is going to take a long time.


            “We have come a long way from Stalinist stereotypes,” Lukin says, but not nearly far enough. Many continue to discuss all current developments in terms of Stalin, but in fact, they “do not have a relationship to Stalinist affairs then.”  The situation is very different, and using the Stalin myth to discuss the situation now shows how far Russia still has to go.




Window on Eurasia: Orthodoxy Formed Russia Just as Protestantism Formed US, Chaplin Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 23 – There are Russians who are Muslims and Russians who are Jews, but they like Russians who are Orthodox recognize that “Orthodoxy formed Russia just as Protestantism formed America and Catholicism formed Italy,” according to Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s office for relations with society.


            “A Russian,” he said on TV Center yesterday, “is someone who recognizes Orthodoxy as the basis of our culture, as the force which shaped Russia.”  It is now time to proclaim this rather than somehow being ashamed of it or hiding behind euphemisms or outright distortions of reality, Chaplin continued (


            Chaplin, a protégé of Patriarch Kirill and one of the chief ideologists of the Moscow Patriarchate, offered a number of other observations noteworthy because they almost certainly constitute the position of the Orthodoxy Church in any policy debates that may be taking place in Moscow.


            With regard to the fight over whether Russians should identify in ethnic or civic terms, Chaplin said that as for himself, “the term ‘Russky’ is much more definite and correct than the term ‘Rossiyanin,’” arguing that “all efforts to form an all-Russian, all-European, all-world identity have today failed.”


            Those who argue that only these “supra-ethnic and supra-religious identities will work” are wrong, he said. “They do not work! Neither with us nor in the West.” No one should be ashamed of his or her ethnic identity: Such identities “will not disappear but will only strengthen … No one has thought of anything better.”


            “For many,” Chaplin said, “their ethnic identity and their religious identity is the most important thing.” As for himself, the fact that he is Orthodox  is “much more important than citizenship or ethnic membership.” That is a reality and those who feel that want others to respect that reality.


            With regard to church-state relations, the churchman said that “the Church has always blessed the powers that be. They and the people are not enemies … The normal state of a Christian, the normal state of the Church, the normal state of a Christian people is Christian statehood.”


            That does not mean that the state is always right or that the Church must avoid criticizing it. Chaplin said that “as a church official,” he spends “70 percent of his time arguing with government officials.” Fortunately, the Russian state is moving in the right direction and has gone a third or even a half of the distance it must go.


            Patriotism, Chaplin continued, is “the natural state of the Christian.” If someone criticizes the state in order to improve it, then he or she is “a normal patriot.” But if he seeks to destroy the state on behalf or “foreign forces or because of egotism, he is an anti-patriot and a sinner.”


            Russia, he concluded, has “a single history.” Lenin and Trotsky tried to destroy that and they failed. Stalin had to bring back much of it. Then, Khrushchev tried again to break it apart as did Gorbachev, but neither succeeded. And today, the underlying values of Orthodoxy and thus Russianness are reemerging as “the basis of our future.”





Saturday, November 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Four Goals in Ukraine Point to ‘Agony’ Ahead for Ukraine and Russia, Belkovsky Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 22 – Vladimir Putin has four specific goals in Ukraine, according to Stanislav Belkovsky, and the pursuit of them will leave Ukraine fragmented, isolated from Europe, and subject to Moscow’s diktat and Russia on the verge of new revolutionary convulsions, out of which in each case something new may emerge.


                The Moscow commentator says that in Ukraine Putin seeks first guarantees that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO, that its drive for European integration will be slowed in all possible ways, that it will yield a land corridor to Russian-held Crimea, and that it will yield another such corridor to Transdniestria (


            If Putin gets his way on all four – and Belkovsky told Ekho Moskvy’s Marina Koroleva that the Kremlin leader is confident that the West won’t block him – then “there will not be a new war,” although the Russian intervention in southeastern Ukraine will continue to provide Moscow with the continuing leverage it wants.


            But in response to Western anger about what he is doing in Ukraine, Putin has turned away from Europe to China, something that promises no good for Russia either, Belkovsky says. That is because China isn’t any more interested than the West in the development of Russia into anything more than a raw materials supplier.


            Neither the West nor China views today’s Russia “as an equal partner in the military, technological or economic spheres,” and that won’t change until Moscow changes course so that it too can pursue a European course reflecting the fact that “we also are Europe,” a shift Putin shows little interest in making.


            As a result, not only Ukraine but Russia too will enter into a period of “agony.”  But Belkovsky says that one should remember that “before being reborn, it is necessary to die, as our friend Jesus Christ told us. He who does not die cannot be reborn.” What is happening now are “imperial convulsions” out of which something new may come.


             Asked how long these “convulsions” might last, Belkovsky says that “there are only two factors about which astrologists and tarot card readers tell us: December 2014 and January 2015 will feature one important event, and in March 2017” – the centennial of the overthrow of the tsar – will complete an important cycle of Russian history.”


Window on Eurasia: Russian Nationalism from the Outset is Anti-Liberal, Moscow Scholar Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 22 – Contemporary Russian nationalism, in marked contrast to the nationalisms of many other peoples now and in the past, is by definition anti-liberal because it reflects “the trauma” many Russians feel about the collapse of the USSR and their desire to reverse that event, according to Vladimir Malakhov.


            A professor at the Moscow Higher School of Social and Economic Sciences and a researcher at the Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Malakhov says that in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, nationalism and liberalism shared many goals, but that was not true of Russian nationalism (


            Instead, the two trends quickly separated, with liberals seeking democratization and Westernization and nationalists viewing those trends, whatever names they are given, as a betrayal of Russia’s “national roots.” Given such feelings, no real alliance between the two has ever been possible.


            Aleksey Navalny is not an exception, Malakhov says.  He has tried to “appropriate nationalist slogans and include them in the liberal agenda.”  But he has not been very successful because the nationalists do not view him as one of their own, and the liberals view all such attempts as raising questions about his loyalty to their program.


            Vladimir Putin has also made use of Russian nationalist feelings especially “in connection with Crimea and the war in the Donbas. But it is important to understand that this mobilization while massive is “administered mobilization” and does not embrace “the multitude of actors of Russian nationalism” who are not ready to be mobilized in this way.


            Underlying their mobilization, Malakhov says, is “the collective trauma which was the result of the disintegration of the state in 1991. One should not underrate the depth of this trauma” or the extent that it requires “cure or as it were compensation,” something that no one action can provide.


            The Moscow scholar notes that Russians are divided about the events in Ukraine and that even those fighting in Ukraine are divided as well. Russian nationalists are split between those who favor what Moscow is doing and those who oppose his actions either as an affront to fellow Slavs or as a distraction from the needs of Russians at home.


            “Among those who are fighting in [Ukraine’s] South-East on the Russian side, there also exists a palpable emotional-ideological split,” Malakhov argues. Some local people doing the fighting are “pro-Kremlin” because “for them Putin is a sacral figure,” but others who have come in from outside “are often extremely critical about the current Russian authorities.”


            Asked by his “Russkaya planeta” interviewer about the prospects for the national-democratic trend in Russian nationalism, Malakhov replied that “there is just as much democratic in these trends as there was socialism in German national socialism” and that what will happen depends “not so much on ideas as one the administrative and financial resources” of the sides.