Wednesday, April 24, 2019

New Putin Law Punishing Those Who Insult Regime Backfiring in Serious Ways


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – The first applications of the new Putin law imposing fines and potentially jail time on those who insult key Russian institutions and officials is backfiring in a variety of ways. Polls show Russians oppose the law three to one, are forming flashmobs against it, are discussing just how to describe Putin, and are asking some inconvenient questions.

            Perhaps the most inconvenient of these as far as the powers that be in Moscow are concerned is relayed by the Forum.MSK portal. In the wake of the Ukrainian presidential elections, it says, Russians are now asking: “If it were a choice between Zelensky and Putin, whom would you vote for?” (forum-msk.org/material/news/15595016.html).

            The first conviction under the new law has sparked a flashmob with people using as their hashtag Putin is “a fairytale [fool],” the actual term being unprintable.  It comes from a 2001 Russian film, Down House (based on Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot) in which it referred to someone with Down Syndrome (vedomosti.ru/newspaper/articles/2001/03/12/idiot-dlya-dembelskogo-alboma).

             Participants in this action made the situation worse, at least for the regime, by speculating that the problem with the post may have been that it called Putin “a fairytale” unprintable rather than simply a real one. Others said that the law itself showed that only a fool could have signed it given that it used punishments to get respect.

            One participant said that deciding what Putin is must be “an issue of state importance, while yet another said that the man who had been convicted hadn’t in fact insulted Putin but rather revealed a state secret, a reprise of a Soviet joke about Brezhnev (znak.com/2019-04-24/zhiteli_rossii_zapustili_v_socsetyah_fleshmob_na_temu_putin_skazochnyy and kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5CC039A17DFC9).

Russia’s leading caricaturist has even proposed that the word “fairytale” should become the epithet for Putin, analogous to Terrible for Ivan or Great for Catherine (twitter.com/Sergey_Elkin/status/1120968732870942720). And in Yezhednevny zhurnal, Igor Yakovenko suggests this discussion will spread across the country (ej.ru/?a=note&id=33695).

Meanwhile, the man convicted has announced that he is going to appeal: he intends to appeal, all the way to the European Court for Human Rights (snob.ru/news/176084).  Russia and Putin are going to be dealing with this issue for some time. The question will soon become: can Putin unlike many other dictators survive if he is being laughed at by his own people?

‘If Ingushetia is Set Afire, Russia Will Burn,’ St. Petersburg Protest Placard Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – A civic activist in the Northern capital carried a placard reading, “If Ingushetia is set afire, Russia will burn,” however much the powers that be think they can suppress the Ingush people by violence and keep others in the country from hearing about it by banning media coverage, according to Democratic Petersburg’s Olga Smirnova.

            In an 800-word broadside posted on various websites, she says that since last fall, Moscow and Magas have violated the constitution and the laws of Russia and that these violations have become more numerous since the protests of March 26-27 because now outside siloviki have been brought it as enforcers (zamanho.com/?p=6779).

            Smirnova provides a list of 32 people now being held in administrative detention and 13 more that are already in jail.  She suggests that her list is incomplete and that the actual number incarcerated is growing every day.  Many keep being moved about so that no one can help them, and not all are being released when they are supposed to be. 

            She says that she and her activist colleagues are “infuriated by the arbitrariness of the authorities directed at the suppression of the will of the people of Ingushetia and also at attempts to hide what is going on from Russian society behind a curtain of silence and lies.”

            To counter this, Smirnova says, “we call all the citizens of St. Petrersburg who are not indifferent to the violations of human rights in out country and who consider unacceptable and dangerous for the country the Kremlin’s use of force to impose decisions on subjects of the Russian Federation which they by law have the right to make independently to show their solidarity by taking part in protests” against this policy.

            In reproducing Smirnova’s declaration, the editors of the Ingush opposition site Zamanho make an even more important statement: “Ever more residents of Russia are turning their attention to the crisis situation in our region and precisely to the continuing political repressions in relation to the population of the republic. Enormous thanks to all who are not indifferent.”

            “Many understand,” the editors continue, “that Ingushetia is a testing gorund where those who have power are applying forceful resolutions of problems under the name ‘people.’ If the powers that be will be able to suppress a peaceful, just and democratic protest, then in any other region they will do this with greater ease because they’ll already have experience.”

            “By demonstrating today solidarity with the Ingush,” they say, “representatives of other peoples of Russia are creating on their own territories protection for the rights and freedoms of man and citizen.  The leadership must reflect upon the fact that the people is not a bunch of alcoholics. The people is a group of individual personalities with moral and cultural values.”

            And they will be showing that “the multi-national people of Russia is too complex a mechanism to run by means of dictatorship, zombification, and repression.”

            Meanwhile, on the ground in Ingushetia, arrests, searches, and court cases continued to mount (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/334683/, fortanga.org/2019/04/u-ahmeda-pogorova-snova-obysk/  and
zamanho.com/?p=6790), the most important aspect being the increasing prominence of FSB and Russian siloviki rather than Ingush police, an indication the latter may be becoming unreliable.

iSANS Report about Moscow’s ‘Creeping Attack on Belarusian Sovereignty’ – Part II


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – A month ago, a group of foreign policy and security analysts from Europe and the US met in Warsaw as the International Strategic Action Network for Society (iSANS) to compile and discuss a 120-page report on what it called Russia’s ‘creeping attack” on Belarusian sovereignty, moves intended to end with Moscow’s absorption of that country.

            Because so many of the participants have close ties with governments in the region and because the situation is so fluid, the conference and the report were “off the record.” But participants have allowed Belarusian opposition journalist Aleksandr Otroshenkov to publish excerpts of it on the Reform.by portal.


Below are the key points of this part of the report, one that has attracted a great deal of attention in the Russian patriotic media, that the Belarusian journalist has published in what he describes as the second installment in a series. When he posts more online, Window on Eurasia will report on them as well.y

In it, Otroshenkov highlights three main aspects of the Russian effort to subvert Belarusian sovereignty and independence: its use of official structures like the Union State, the Russian embassy, and the Russian Orthodox Church, its identification of key groups to influence via soft power, and its promotion of cross border ties between Belarusian and Russian regions.

The official structures Moscow is using in this effort earlier served different purposes, but now the Russian government is using them against Belarus certain that Minsk cannot go very far in objecting to them because it has already signed off. That gives these three institutions added flexibility and opportunities for influence. The embassy is especially active and influential.

According to the report, Moscow is now focusing on the following groups: young people with few prospects, workers in failing plants who haven’t been paid regularly, military personnel who do not feel they are being supported by the Lukashenka regime, those who do not speak Belarusian, parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Church, and officials at various levels.

Much of the financing for both official and “unofficial” influence operations in Belarus passed through the Russian embassy in Minsk, the report continues.  The amount of money involved is large, but Moscow has been cutting back on the release of figures, suggesting that it is spending more and in ways it doesn’t want anyone to know.

But especially important in recent months has been Moscow’s effort to promote cross-border cooperation between Russian oblasts and adjoining Belarusian ones. Financing for this is easier to hide, and, because the effort is distant from Minsk, it is typically ignored both by Belarusian officials and the West.

And the report says that “according to certain assessments, in the course of the realization of this project in Belarus are being employed the structure of work for splitting society, earlier tested in the east of Ukraine. Indeed, the rhetoric … of essays really recalls the activities of por-Russian propagandists in Ukraine before 2014,” involving as it does the falsification of history, playing on language issues, and “aggressive nationalism.”