Friday, March 23, 2018

Kremlin May Reorganize Russia’s Pseudo-Parties into a Pseudo-Opposition Bloc

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – As one would expect after a crushing electoral defeat, some Russian opposition leaders are again talking about joining forces by combining existing political parties into some new ones ( and

            But as Moscow commentator Andrey Frants points out, “in the present-day Russian Federation, there are no real parties,” only “phantoms which are called upon to imitate ‘civic activity’” and make it easier for the Kremlin to rule the country. According to him, the population if not the analysts understand that (

            The clearest indication both that the existing parties, except in part the KPRF, are not real parties and that talk about their reforming into new ones comes from Nakanune commentator Yevgeny Rychkov who points out that these “attempts at creating a single opposition bloc are possible [only] because this corresponds to the Kremlin’s goals” (

                Not only would such an arrangement have the effect of eliminating the KPRF as a separate unit and thus its ability to promote left-wing ideas, Rychkov says; but it would increase the Kremlin’s ability to manage the Duma by creating “’semi-party’ which would have all the appearances of an opposition force but no chances of coming to power.”

            And it would be consistent with what some in the Kremlin were discussing six years ago. But up to now, the Presidential Administration has not signaled what it wants to do, yet another indication the analyst says that the country doesn’t have real parties but rather politicians playing roles scripted for them by the Kremlin. 

If these people were serious, the analyst suggests, they would be focusing on creating parties rather than talking about combining the things they now have.

Putin Positioned to Hijack Environmentalist Protests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – Many see the growing environmental protests in Moscow and other parts of the Russian Federation as representing a hopeful beginning of social activism in Russia must as they were in the 1960s in the Soviet Union where they predated historical preservation movements and then national ones.

                But such optimism is likely misplaced not only because of the attitudes of those engaged in this protest but also because of Vladimir Putin’s approach that is likely to allow him to contain or even hijack the movement and open the way for potentially massive purges of mid-level officials. 

            On the one hand, the Russian people today, in part as the result of national traditions and in part from the propaganda the Kremlin has employed, are far more likely than their Soviet predecessors to accept the “good tsar, bad boyar” argument that implies because lower-ranking officials are often so vile, they can and must place their faith in the top man.

            In the final decades of Soviet power, most activists, first environmentalists, then historical preservationists and finally nationalist and democratic were inclined to blame the system as a whole, viewing officials at all levels as implicated and not expecting intervention from on high, even if some of them retained a certain worshipful attitude toward the leader.

            But now thanks to Putin’s promotion of the idea that he and he alone can sweep in and solve the most local problems, an idea spread by his actions and his public meetings, many in the activist community are prepared to blame or even attack as in the present case local and regional officials and look to Putin for salvation.

            That is something a few Russian analysts are beginning to point among the anti-trash demonstrators; and at least one, Ivan Lapin, has suggested that the anger Russians feel about the way in which local and regional officials have dealt with trash dumps is something Putin is in a position to turn to his advantage (

                The Kremlin leader can allow such conflicts to fester and then intervene like a deus ex machina, thus solving two political problems at one and the same time: providing him with the occasion to demonstrate his power by removing various officials in an apparent response to public complaint and reinforcing his image as the only person who can hold everything together.

            And on the other, unlike Soviet leaders who generally preferred not to have the media cover popular activism of any kind lest it encourage others but who as a result contributed to the widespread assumption that they were hiding things and that the movements were stronger than in fact they were, Putin media are carefully dosing out coverage of such events.

            A survey of how the central Russian media have been treating the current protests shows how this works. While the media have not provided as much detail as their Western counterparts would have in a similar situation, they are not allowing alternative sources of news the unfettered ability to define the situation (

                Such repressive tolerance, to use Herbert Marcuse’s term, serves Putin’s interests far better than any outright ban. But it is likely to sponsor some new version of the old Soviet joke about Hitler returning from the dead to watch a Soviet military parade in Red Square on May Day.

            After watching the soldiers, the tanks, the missiles and the planes go by, Hitler, the story goes, is approached by a Soviet citizen, who says “I bet you  are thinking that if you had had all these weapons, you would never have lost.” “No,” the Nazi leader responds; “I’m thinking that if I had a newspaper like your Pravda, no one would ever have found out that I did.”

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Putin May Soon Make ‘Veterans of Hybrid Wars’ New Symbol of Russia’s Future, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – With the passing of the World War II generation, few of whom now remain, Vladimir Putin appears ready to make “veterans of hybrid wars” a new symbol of the idea that Russia today is “a besieged fortress” and that it must restore the lost empire not as a communist project but as a nationalist one, according to Vadim Shtepa.

            Shtepa, a Russian regionalist living in Estonia who edits the After Empire portal, says that possibility reflects both the use of “warrior internationalists” at the end of Soviet times who did their “international” duty in Afghanistan and elsewhere and the rise of hybrid forces since 1991 (

                In addition to the deployment of “official Russian ‘peacekeepers’” in conflicts on the post-Soviet space, the regionalist says, Moscow has made use of “entirely new unofficial Russian units which have called themselves ‘volunteers,’ ‘Cossacks,’ or otherwise,” Shtepa says. And such groups have a very different ideology.

            “As a rule,” he continues, “in place of communist ideology, they profess Russian nationalism and ‘Orthodox values.’ Formally these units aren’t subordinate to Russian force structures, but in fact, there have been unofficial mercenaries which allow involving in military operations defense and interior ministry retirees who haven’t found a place in ‘civilian life.’”

            The neo-Cossacks who have appeared in recent decades are part of this, and they are particularly valuable from the Kremlin’s point of view because they represent a movement that has arisen from below rather than one that it all too obviously created from above, thus allowing Moscow to present them as an expression of the Russian popular will.

            In the case of the Chechens, Moscow has overseen the transformation of those who fought against Russia in the 1990s into warriors of the empire of a kind that recalls the Savage Division of the late imperial period whose soldiers defended the imperial state rather than advanced the interests of their own nations, Shtepa says.

            In the course of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its occupation of portions of the Donbass, the regionalist expert says, “the Kremlin has demonstrated a characteristic technology of its aggressive actions: they are carried out not by cadres of the Russia army but by anonymous ‘little green men’ without identification,” allow the Kremlin to say “’they aren’t there.’”

            All this, he argues, is part of “an imperial revanchism” that seeks to extend the borders of Russia to include the former Soviet space but on the basis of “a different ideology” and “a different technology.” Instead of communism as the basis, Moscow wants this to be about “an imperial consciousness” arising from below “as “‘the will of the people.’”

            “For the support of militarist attitudes, the ideology of ‘a besieged fortress,’ and Russia’s opposition to the West, the Kremlin already for long years has cultivated the theme of victory in World War II, having transformed May 9 into the chief state holiday de facto,” Shtepa argues. But with the passing of its veterans, the Kremlin needs replacements.

            “’Veterans’” of its hybrid wars are the obvious candidates, the regionalist writer suggests, not only because of their age – most are middle aged or younger and thus very much alive – but also because they have already participated as “volunteers” in Putin’s project of restoring a Russian empire.

            According to Shtepa, “any empire, beginning with the Roman, has drawn its militarist legitimacy from a cult of veterans. Therefore, it is probable that in the course of the next Putin term will appear a growing propagandistic ‘heroization’ of participants” of various hybrid formations, with the Kremlin taking credit for their work rather than holding itself apart.

            At least some of these “veterans” will be integrated into some kind of “’new patriotic elite,’” in order to replace any remaining people with “liberal and pro-European views.” That is because, Shtepa concludes, “the militarization of mass consciousness is the only ideological and psychological resource available for supporting a Kremlin-centric empire.”