Monday, June 18, 2018

Five ‘Only in Russia’ Stories


Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 – So far this week – and it is only day two! -- the Russian media have featured at least five “only in Russia” stories, some of which are funny at one level but most of which are deeply troubling at another.  The five are:

·         An official who stole at least 26 million rubles (430,000 US dollars) from government accounts has been sentenced … “to six years of freedom,” in the words of the MBK news agency, yet another consequence of the Putin regime’s taking care of its own while repressing and stealing from the population at large (mbk.media/region/ministr-i-svyazi/).

·         A group of Russian scholars argues in new research that feminism is a major cause of the growth of crime among Russian.  By adopting feminist ideas, the researchers say, women are in many cases led down the garden path to criminal activity (versia.ru/rossijskie-yuristy-poschitali-feminizm-prichinoj-rosta-prestupnosti).

·         A conference of nationalistically inclined linguists and sociologists say that Russia need to adopt as soon as possible “a clear ideological doctrine on language” so that it will be in a position to defend and promote Russian against other languages foreign and domestic (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2018/06/18/rossii_srochno_nuzhna_yasnaya_yazykovaya_ideologiya/).

·         The backers of the acting head of the Altai Republic have made a very public promise to him that they will secure him “120 percent of the votes” in the upcoming election. That figure exceeds even what the leaders of some of the North Caucasus republics have been promised and received (regnum.ru/news/polit/2432932.html).

·         Punitive psychiatry, one of the most horrific elements in the late Soviet system, is making a comeback under Putin; but now the jailors in white have come up with a new diagnosis to be used against those who engage in dissent. In Soviet times, they were said to suffer from “sluggish schizophrenia.” Now, they are said to display an overly developed interest in “unhealthy activity” (svoboda.org/a/29293375.html).

As Kremlin has No Plan for Development, Russians Must Plan for Survival, Inozemtsev Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 – Not only has the Kremlin violated the social contract it had with the Russian people by its campaign against social services and now pensions, but it has demonstrated that it has no plan for the development of the country, according to economist Vladislav Inozemtsev.

            And consequently, he continues, Russians must make plans for their own survival either by saving for their own retirement because Moscow isn’t going to provide for them or by choosing to be trained in jobs available in other countries because they are unlikely to be available in Russia (echo.msk.ru/blog/v_inozemcev/2223660-echo/).

            Those are two of the clearest ways to send a vote of no confidence in the Putin regime and to protect Russians if not their government or even in the short term at least their country from the increasingly hard times which lie ahead, without putting those who take them at risk of repressive reprisals by the authorities.

            “However economically justified the decision to increase retirement ages may have been, one cannot consider it anything other than a violation of that ‘social contract,’ which had existed between the people and the powers that be,” Inozemtsev says.  In fact, this decision hits hardest at the group most loyal to the regime.

            That includes those who have reached 55 or 60 and who are anticipating living on pensions. Most of these people do not have good jobs now; and almost all of them will face serious difficulties in finding new jobs if that becomes necessary as the powers raise the retirement age.

            Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that boosting the retirement age is only one of the things the powers that be have done to attack this cohort: “over the last four years, the Kremlin has practically completely demolished the most essential element of the Russian system of social security.”

                “However,” Inozemtsev says, “one must give our powers their due: they know well their people, which is interested in staying glued to the television and watching young millionaires run around a field, and their opposition which is occupied today with nominating candidates for deputies, mayors and governors … and not reacting in any way to what is taking place.”

            But “when the championship is over” and the election campaigns end, Rusisans are going to have to reflect on “what has happened this summer.”  And in Inozemtsev’s opinion, there can be “only one conclusion: In Russia, there are no communists and liberals … there is only the powers that be” who see it as their right to rob the population blind.

            Any thinking person should react to this situation with distrust. Most Russians are going to be “too cowardly” to get involved in active protests or even to vote against the incumbents in the privacy of the voting booth.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t issue a vote of no confidence in the regime.

            They can do so by saving for their own retirement, and if younger, they can train for jobs for which there is “demand abroad.”  If the powers do not have respect for the people, then the people ought not to have respect for them, and if the powers don’t have a development strategy, then their subjects must do what they can to adopt a realistic strategy of survival.”

Putin Likely to Win Tactically but Fail Strategically at Summit with Trump, Golts Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 -- The pro-Kremlin media is already predicting Vladimir Putin will triumph at a summit with Donald Trump later this summer, and they are certainly correct that he will gain some tactical victory, Aleksandr Golts says, because the US leader to get a win with his domestic base will give up something real for an unenforceable verbal concession by Putin.

            That is what happened in the case of Trump’s meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, the Moscow commentator says, when Trump called off real military maneuvers in the south in exchange for a promise by Kim for de-nuclearization at some unspecified point in the future (ej2018.ru/?a=note&id=32590).

            Kim got a tactical victory by making promises; and Trump got what he wanted: an apparent but far from certain triumph that he has used to mobilize his domestic base. That is what a Putin-Trump summit will look like as well. And as a result, many in Moscow are pleased and many elsewhere frightened by this prospect.

            But Golts points out that neither the Trump-Kim summit nor the prospects for a Putin-Trump one will do anything to alter fundamentally the strategic balance in the world; and that balance, he argues, will remain firmly on the side of the United States regardless of what transpires at a meeting of Russian and American leaders.

            A major reason why Moscow commentators are celebrating the prospect of a summit is that “at first glance, it is an obvious indication that the Western policy of isolating Moscow has not produced results.”  And that in turn means, they write, that such a summit is “doomed to become a triumph for the Kremlin which has stoically withstood the pressure of ‘hostile forces.’”

            It is certainly the case, Golts says, that “the presence of Trump in the White House has essentially eased Russia’s international position. Until recently, Putin, with his view of world politics as an unending zero-sum game, seemed to many hopelessly out of date, stuck in the 19th century.”

            But to Putin’s good fortune, “a man who shares similar views became president of the most influential country of the world,” someone with little patience for or even interest in the kind of alliance building and diplomatic negotiations that his predecessors were committed to. That Trump has little interest in the common values of the West was shown at the G7 summit.

            As a result, many are rushing to declare “a victory for Putin’s strategy,” one that since the Crimean Anschluss in 2014 has been “extremely simple: we will force you to deal with us by constantly creating new problems and threats. You don’t want a direct military clash in Syria, which might lead to a third world war? Then you must deal with Russia.” And so on.

            “Moscow occupied such a large place in the G7 talks for one single reason: it completely consciously has made its goal to become a problem or more precisely a threat to the West. Before our eyes,” Golts says, “has occurred a global redistribution of roles in international political life.”

            It is worth recalling, the Moscow commentator says, that in the early 1990s, Russia, having rejected the Soviet heritage, “sought a new place in the international arena,” one in which it could “represent the interests of the collective ‘civilized world’ in negotiations with countries which from the first were called outcasts.”

            That didn’t work hard, largely because the autocratic leaders of these countries “are not idiots. They prefer to negotiate directly with ‘the main boss.’”  And not there is a US president who relishes doing just think, talking “directly with ayatollahs and Kims” and who approaches relations in an entirely new way.

            Trump “is organically incapable for long serious negotiations with complicated compromises. It is no accident that instead of talks about tariffs, he simply began a trade war with China. He is bored by coordinating positions in the declaration of the seven. But he seriously needs foreign policy successes.”

            Consequently, Golts continues, Trump “has taken on himself the role of the main negotiator with ‘the outcasts.’ His most important victory became the largely senseless meeting with Kim Jong-un,” where he cancelled US-South Korean exercises, something real, in exchange for Kim’s promises about the future, something not.

            But Trump didn’t and doesn’t care because he got what he wanted: “an effective picture on television.”  And now it is Putin’s turn. The Kremlin leader probably will get something real that he wants in exchange for meaningless promises because that will allow his American counterpart to claim victory.

            The American concessions will be a mistake given that they will do nothing to dissuade Putin from his aggressive foreign policy and repressive domestic one, especially in that Putin isn’t about to give up anything he really cares about when he can achieve part of his goals by making unenforceable promises.

            “However, even this likely tactical win will not be able to hide the new strategic reality … Russia finally has been confirmed in the role of the main outcast of the planet, a state from which one can only expect something bad.  That is what Putin is condemned to be in Trump’s scenario. And this is much more important any possible [Russian] successes.”