Thursday, December 8, 2016

Putin’s New Security Doctrine Turns Its 2013 Predecessor on Its Head, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble
            Staunton, December 8 – Vladimir Putin’s new national security doctrine is all about the security of the state and creating the illusion of “the rebirth of a superpower,” Vadim Shtepa says, thus reversing the principles of 2013 document it replaces which declared Moscow’s goals included “the creation of favorable external conditions” for growth at home and peace abroad.

            The Karelian realist who was forced into exile in Estonia writes today on the Rufabula portal that “evidently, the events of the last three years have so changed the foreign policy views of the Russian authorities that this required the creation of a new doctrinal document (

            The dramatic shift, one that reverses almost all of the provisions of the doctrine of 2013, is “the direct result of changes in Russian foreign policy during these years,” events that include the Anschluss of Crimea, the unleashing of war in eastern Ukraine, international sanctions, the collapse of the ruble because of declines in the price for oil, and reduced investment in Russia.

            Not surprisingly, “the resolution of these problems the Kremlin does not see in ending its military expansion and restoration of economic ties with developed countries. On the contrary, one of the goals of the new foreign policy concept is “’the consolidation of the position of Russia as one of the influential centers of the contemporary world.’”

            Russia’s own domestic economic problems “trouble the Russian powers that be much less than world geopolitics. [Indeed,] it is difficult not to recall that in the late Brezhnev years, the USSR also was much more concerned with the salvation of the Afghan regime than with reforms in its own country.” How that ended is “well known.”

            Thus, in 2013, Moscow declared that Russia was “’inalienable part of Europe;’” but in the new document, that thesis is nowhere to be found and “the US is declared ‘a threat’ to Russian national security.”  Further to block US plans, Moscow has committed itself to an information war against the West.

            As Shtepa notes, many of the provisions of the new doctrine are either clearly duplicitous or a projection on to others of the crimes that it is committing on its own. To give but one example: the new doctrine says that Russia “’firmly opposes aggressive nationalism.’”  But what then is Moscow’s promotion of the notion of “a Russian world” beyond Russia’s borders?

            The only possible conclusion, he suggests, is that “the Kremlin powers that be mentally are still living in the USSR. However, in reality, the Russian Federation is far from being the USSR.” Its population is less than Nigeria’s or Bangladesh’s and its GDP per capital ranks 66th in the world.  “True, measured by global ambitions, it remains in second place.”

            Because it lacks an attractive model for others and because it lacks the resources to conduct a real competition with the Wes, “Russia is compensating by propagandistic efforts to crate for itself a virtual model of ‘a superpower’ as a media illusion.” But that effort is not irrelevant, Shtepa points out.

            “In the contemporary information world,” such an approach “often turns out to be extremely effective. And it is still unclear, what alternative the new American administration will be able to offer.”

‘USSR Still Falling Apart’ and Putin’s Brezhnevite Stance Speeding That Up, Kolesnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 8 – Twenty-five years ago today, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus met at Beloveshchaya and signed the agreement that many now call “the death certificate” of the USSR. But that event only represented another step on a long road of Russian imperial decay that is far from over, according to Andrey Kolesnikov.

            The liberal Russian journalist argues that “the USSR is continuing to fall apart – Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, Transdniestria and South Osetia are all part of this very same process.” And consequently, despite what many now think, “1991 was not the end but the beginning of the collapse of the empire” (

            “The conversion of Russia into a normal modest Western state will be the first indication of the completion of this transition,” he continues; but he says that he remains “uncertain whether this in principle is possible,” not only because many regret the disintegration of the USSR but also because the current Russian leadership is behaving much like the Soviet one did.

            According to Kolesnikov, it is wrong to blame those who signed the Beloveshchaya accord for the demise of the USSR. “The Soviet Union ceased its existence immediately after the appearance of elements of democracy,” he argues. And its demise was accelerated by the nature and behavior of the late Soviet leadership.

            The last generation of Soviet leaders were in office so long that they were uninterested in or even afraid of any change that might undermine their power, Kolesnikov says. In this, they were just like “the current regime.” Moreover, the Soviet regime sought to improve the situation “without changing anything,” again the same approach Putin has adopted.

            There are memoir accounts, he says, of how Brezhnev “sincerely and openly spoke in the narrow circle of his speechwriters: one must not touch anything; if you do, things will fall apart. What was important [to him and his comrades] was not movement or development but the familiar structure of relations” under the cover of Marxism-Leninism.

            “Now,” Kolesnikov continues, “the very same logic” is present: “Let’s not touch anything or things will be only worse.  This testifies to the absence of strategic thinking which can be described by formulae like ‘apres moi, le deluge’ or ‘our century has had enough.’” There is no appreciation that such an approach promises even more disasters ahead.

            Russia has one advantage over the Soviet Union, according to the Moscow commentator. It has a ‘more or less working market economy” which is preventing everything from falling apart quite as fast as was the case with the USSR with its “harshly planned” variant.

            Kolesnikov moreover says that Russians aren’t going to “return to Soviet times,” but the elements in common between the late 1980s and now are too disturbing to ignore: Once again, “Russia is living inside an anti-utopia,” and the lack of clear rules and a vision of the future may make the situation develop in even more unfavorable directions.

            The Moscow journalist does not say but there are three additional reasons why Putin’s revanchist policies, however much supported by the majority of Russians who regret the disintegration of the USSR and who are inclined to blame Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and other politicians for that outcome.

            First, Putin’s efforts to reconstitute the empire if they succeeded would re-insert in Russian reality centrifugal forces that would tear the country apart, especially because those re-annexed would have memories of life beyond Moscow’s reach. There is a reason that the Baltic countries led the parade out of the USSR: they had the most recent experience with freedom.

            Second, Putin is not committed to the kind of internationalism which blocked manifestations of xenophobic Russian nationalism against everyone else. Instead, he promotes exactly that, a trend that means that relations among the nations of Eurasia are likely to deteriorate not improve.

            And third, and perhaps ultimately most important, Putin has failed to develop the kind of infrastructure that would hold even the Russian Federation in its current borders together in a crisis and to promote the kind of standard of living and conditions of existence that would make his country an attractive destination for others. Instead, he has done just the reverse.

            In short, as Kolesnikov argues, Putin’s Brezhnevite approach is only accelerating the demise of the Moscow-centered empire. It may succeed in recovering one or another part of what it lost but only at the ultimate cost of losing all or almost all of everything else.

Two Percent of Russian Young People Said to Be Extremists But 25 Percent More Potentially So

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 8 – As Vladimir Putin says that Russia’s information security must be beefed up and his interior ministry prepares to test all university students in the country for extremism (, Russian experts say that about one in 50 Russian young people are extremists and one in four could join their ranks in the future.

            At a session organized by the Resource Center for the Development of Islamic Studies devoted to “blocking recruitment into radical groups,” participants said that “only two percent” of Russian youth are involved with extremist groups (

            That is not an insignificant number – there are currently 13.8 million Russians between 15 and 24 so two percent of that would be more than 250,000 --  but of greater concern, the experts said, is the fact that “another 19 to 25 percent” of young people display attitudes and behaviors which suggest that they are “prepared to cross the line” into such groups in the future.

            Extremism, the session said, “includes in itself such dangerous understandings and actions as xenophobia, vandalism, the use of force against non-indigenous nationalities, and violations of their rights in the economic sphere.”  And it is often fed by youthful impatience and a tendency to act without reflection.

            “Among the basic aspects of radically inclined youth can be noted aggression, the absence of tolerance and negative attitudes toward specific social groups, the propaganda of these ideas, the lack of acceptance of social norms, the ignoring of the law, and a tendency to act in groups in a demonstrative fashion.”

            The reasons young people join extremist groups, the experts said, lie in their social situation, their broader socio-cultural position and their political status.  Youthful extremism is “less well organized” than that in which adults engage, but young people are likely to be more cruel in their actions because they are less inclined to think about the consequences.

            The Internet has changed the situation in fundamental ways, the experts said. “Now young people live under conditions of virtual reality which leads to the mobilization and organization of specifically extremist groups.” And blocking its spread must involve dealing with that threat as well as with the broader causes in society.