Tuesday, December 1, 2015

If Belarusian Support for Moscow Policies Grows, Ukraine Could Face a New 1000-Kilometer Front, Radina Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 1 – Ukrainians are fundamentally ignorant of the situation in neighboring Belarus and do not realize that “if the number of Belarusians supporting Russia’s actions in the Donbas reaches Russian levels, Ukraine will face yet another 1,000-kilometer-long front, according to Natalya Radina, the chief editor of Charter 97.

            In an interview with Elena Poskannaya of Ukraine’s Gordon news agency, Radina says that it is “surprising” that “the Ukrainian media present Belarus as some kind of economic miracle, leaving the Ukrainians certain that it is a heaven on earth” and no threat to Ukraine (gordonua.com/publications/Glavred-charter97-u-Ukrainy-mozhet-poyavitsya-eshche-tysyacha-kilomentrov-fronta-108735.html).

                “In reality,” she says, “Ukrainians do not know anything about the life of the neighboring state,” they do not recognize that the Belarusian economy is unreformed and survives only on Russian aid, and they do not know that the Belarusian authorities are guilty of “bestial crimes against humanity, kill leaders of the opposition, and that there is no freedom of speech or assembly.”

            Nor do they recognize that Belarusians are hostile to Ukraine. “According to polls, 60 percent of Belarusians support the actions of Russia in the Donbas and in Crimea,” something extremely dangerous for Ukraine. If Belarusian support reaches Russian levels, Ukraine will face “another 1,000-kilometer-long front.”

            And this will be “a front with Russia because believe me no one will ask Lukashenka whether Moscow can put forces on the territory of the republic or not,” Radina says. Belarus is part of a Union State with Russia, and thus “de facto Belarus is a region of the Russian Federation,” completely comparable with occupied Crimea.

            Lukashenka likes to act as if he is a brilliant and independent leader but in fact, he and his country are totally dependent on Russia, and consequently, “to speak about some kind of Belarusian independence is simply laughable.” Putin will do what he wants and when he wants to in Belarus.

            Ukrainian defense officials understand this, see Russia preparing for war against Ukraine from Belarus, but the Ukrainian political leadership is not prepared to take the obvious steps, build up border defenses, and treat Lukashenka’s regime as a Moscow dependency. Instead, Kyiv supports him by lobbying for him in the West.

            Radina says that the recent decision by Europe to lift some sanctions on Belarus is in fact intended to allow European firms to export to Russia bypassing the sanctions regime there by means of the simple trick of relabeling European goods as being the products of Belarus, a concession by political elites in Europe to economic ones.

            Radina says that elections in Belarus will not accomplish anything because of the nature of Lukashenka’s regime and that the opposition must organize underground in order to be able to move when the time is right, exploiting increasing popular unhappiness with the deteriorating economic situation.

            Lukashenka for the time being is well-defended: he has seven times more militiamen per 100,000 population than was the case in Soviet times, not to speak of the various special services at his command.  Nevertheless, she says, there is hope if the opposition organizes itself in a most secret way.

            She devotes the remainder of her interview to arguing that Ukrainian media must give better coverage to Belarusian events and demand that Lukashenka fulfill his promise to allow Ukrainian television to be broadcast in Belarus. She also urges Ukrainians to press their Western partners to broadcast into Belarus to help its people change and to protect Ukraine.

Why There are Muslim Crescents on Orthodox Crosses in Moscow but Not in Kyiv

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 1 – Orthodox churches in Moscow built before 1700 feature crosses with a Muslim crescent moon on them, a feature not found on any Orthodox church in Kyiv and an indication, Andrey Bulgarov argues, that “the Muscovite variant of Orthodoxy is much closer to Islam than it is to Christianity.”

            Russians have many explanations for the fact that a Muslim crescent is displayed on the crosses of these churches, the Ukrainian commentator says, the most popular of which is that it signifies the subordination of Islam to Muscovy after Ivan the Terrible seized Kazan (nr2.com.ua/blogs/Andrey_Bulgarov/Moskovity-ne-hristiane-islamskiy-polumesyac-na-rossiyskih-krestah-112556.html).

            But such an argument is “absurd,” he suggests, just as absurd as it would have been for Moscow to put the symbols of Nazism on Soviet symbols as a sign of its “victory over fascism.”  And consequently, one needs to look in a different direction for an explanation, especially since such crescents are not found in the Orthodox churches of Kyiv.

            “As is well-known,” Bulgarov argues, “the Moscow principality and later kingdom was completely subordinate to the Golden Horde and its descendants, and that in turn means that life in Muscovy was in no way distinguished from life in the Kazan, Astrakhan or Siberian kingdoms.” Moreover, Moscow residents greeted each other with the word “salaam.”

            The Muscovite elite preferred oriental clothing and women were kept out of public view and wore veils (chaders) when in public. Clearly, “such a way of life could not but be reflected in the beliefs of Muscovites,” as for example when women were kept out of churches and had to pray outside.

            “The chronicles say that the church in Muscovia was cruel and authoritarian, and this distinguished it in significant ways from the democratic Christian religion disseminated in Kyivan Rus before the Mongol-Tatar invasion.  The most important dogma for the Muscovites was the recognition of the tsar as the representative of God on earth.”

            That meant that to the tsar everything was permitted and to his slaves nothing, “a version of Christianity that was very useful for the Golden Horde authorities.” To use such ties from within Orthodoxy itself was the best means for keeping order that they could imagine, Bulgarov says.

            This tradition was continued by all succeeding Muscovite tsars, none of whom “decide to return to his people the true Orthodox faith of Kyivan Rus,” something foreign travelers noted in the seventeenth century.  One Swedish visitor even posed the question; “Are Muscovites in general Christians? And then he gave a negative answer to that!”

            That in turn means, Bulgarov continues, that “the Muscovite variant of Orthodoxy is much closer to Islam than to Christianity,” an observation that even Vladimir Putin has made in the past.  But it also means that Ukrainian Orthodoxy which doesn’t have this feature is much closer to the rest of the Christian world than Russian Orthodoxy and Russia is.

‘Russia’s Future Not Connected with Ukraine or Syria,’ Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 1 – Russians have been so focused on events in Ukraine and now Syria that they have forgotten the most important thing: their future and that of their country is not connected with what is going on in those countries but what is taking place or not taking place in their own, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev.

            In a Snob.ru commentary, the Moscow economist says that eventually Russia will leave Syria and Ukraine “with or without Crimea and the Donbas” will continue its path to Europe.  When that happens, he suggests, Russians will ask what they should have been focusing on in 2014 and 2015 (snob.ru/selected/entry/101468).

            “The future of Russia is not connected either with Ukraine or even more with Syria,” he argues. “having lost the status of a global power” because of the failure of the communist regime and having gained “a breathing space” because of high prices for oil, Russia could have used that time to figure out how it could develop when oil prices inevitably fell.

            Had Russians done so, had they been “oriented toward real and not false goals, the discussion would have had a completely different tone and theme,” Inozemtsev suggests.  Instead, the Russian government has focused on foreign affairs and acted as if everything is fine at home.

            The Kremlin has even suggested that “everything is normal” despite the collapse of oil prices to 40 US dollars a barrel. But in doing so, the Moscow economist says, it has ignored that the price is likely to fall further, that the current cutbacks harm not only the current generation but future ones, and that its promised modernization program hasn’t happened.

            And addressing those problems, Inozemtsev argues, is far more important than “the fates of ‘the Russian world’ or the chances for Bashar Asad’s survival.”

            The standard of living in Russia is falling, although many still remember that it rose in the first decade of the 2000s and believe that spending on arms will be a solution. “However, history teaches that the memory of the Russian people is exceptionally short.”  Twenty-five years ago, Russians took down the statue of Dzherzhinsky; now, they want to put it back.

            Thus, the successes of a decade ago will also be forgotten, especially if incomes continue to contract at the rate of 10 percent a year, and also will be forgotten the so-called “Putin consensus.”  At the very least, it will not attract any new supporters from the population however the war on terror goes.

            And ever more frequently Russians will have occasion to recall what has often been the case in their past: when economic difficulties during periods of real or imagined foreign dangers lead to catastrophic social cataclysms.” That being the case, he says, Russians should not be so concerned about what is happening in Kyiv and Damascus. They should worry about what is happening at home.

            And there are so many problems: Will Russians be able to fly from Vladivostok to Moscw if Transaero is driven into bankruptcy?  Will small businesses be able to survive and provide jobs if they are taxed excessively and oppressed by the government? Will pensioners put up with further cuts to their already miserable existences?

            In addition, how will Russians move about if the roads aren’t repaired? And “what prospects are opening (or more precisely closing) before the country’s middle class as a result of all the new prohibitions on travel and what threatens the tourism branch and international air carriers?”

            There are dozens of such questions, Inozemtsev says, and behind each of them “stand hundreds of enterprises and companies and touches the interests of hundreds of thousands of people.” But today, the Kremlin is ignoring them and hoping that others will ignore them as well because of their focus on Ukraine and Syria.

            Indeed, he argues, one can say that “the main goal of the authorities who have sparked foreign policy hysteria consists in distracting the attention of the people from the domestic agenda.” After all, for the authorities, it is “simpler and more effective” to struggle for “’the Russian world’” in Ukraine than to build at home and “more convenient” to bomb Syria than to find the murderers hiding out in Chechnya.

            Up to now, however, there is no indication that anything has changed or will change. Instead, the situation is deteriorating. There is less money for medical care, and “people are now dying from heart problems while in line at polyclinics,” an inexcusable situation that appears likely to get worse given that the Kremlin cares not about the people but only about itself.

            “The entire population (which it is difficult to call a people) is refleting not about its own pipelines and roads: it is interested only in how much oil the Islamic State is delivering to Turkey from whom we are refusing to buy fruit,” Inozemtsev says.

            Over the next several weeks, Vladimir Putin will be questioned about some of these things, albeit in a very police way, Inozemtsev says. But if he does nothing to change the situation and there seems little reason to expect that, then these questions will be posed in “a much less polite form.”

            That will happen, the Moscow analyst says, “when the people (and already not the population) understands what it should have been thinking about five or ten years ago.”