Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What the Real Putin Constitution Looks Like

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 1 – A constitution is not just words on paper but a living and breathing document that is given meaning by those who use it.  That is certainly true in the Russian Federation where the words contained in the 1993 basic law provide little guidance on how the Russian political system functions, according to Vladimir Pastukhov.


            As a guide to the perplexed, the St. Antony’s College Russian historian provides an outline of what the Constitution of the Russian Federation is in the mind of its most important interpreter and implementer, Vladimir Putin, and how those now considering the revision of the existing document might change it  (


            Herewith is an informal translation of Pastukhov’s understanding of Putin’s understanding of the Russian constitution:

The President


Article 1


  1. The president is the leader of all the peoples of Russia and especially of the Chechens.
  2. The president is one in three persons: the president is the favorite father of the nation, the president is the great son of the nation, and the president is the spirit of the Constitution.
    Article 2

  1. The president administers those who control but does not control those who administer.
  2. The president governs with the help of the Chosen Rada. The chosen Rada is not elected. Note: From February 23, 2014, the Chosen Rada is the Elected Khural.
    Article 3

  1. The president defines the bases of domestic and foreign policy of the Russian Federation in correspondence with the recommendations of the chief advisor on whom is laid the obligation of being “the Jew attached to the governor.” “The Jew attached to the governor is an honorary title which is given in the Kremlin to persons whose last names end in “-ovsky.”
  2. Power in Russia is divided if the President listens at one and the same time to the opinion of several advisors. In this case, the decision is taken by a consensus of the internal “egos” of the President.
  3. To avoid a conflict of interests, the President must have only one “Jew attached to the governor.” Such a person may serve several Presidents. In this consists, the continuity of power in Russia.
    Article 4

  1. The President occupies his position as the result of a palace coup and rules until the next palace coup.
  2. The time and place of the palace coup is decided upon by a secret vote of members of the Chosen Rada (since February 23, 2014, the Khural).
  3. The people greets the appointment of the President in general elections. Despite the wealth of choices, there is never an alternative to the incumbent president. Each president in turn is considered irreplaceable until he is.
  4. The President is chosen once and forever. The time of the President’s rule may be divided into terms. Each successive term is to be considered the first. Each third term is to be considered sacred. The President can leave his post before the beginning of a palace coup in the event of his unexpected death.
    Article 5

  1. The President and Russia are indivisible. We say President and we mean Russia. We say Russia and we mean the President.
  2. Each new President creates his own Russia and destroys the old one.
  3. At the end of his term, the President loses Russia so that his successor will have something to look for.
  4. Each successive President must return the Russia which his predecessor destroyed.
    Article 6

  1. The President can do anything and everything.
  2. If the President cannot do that, it means that revolutions have begun.
  3. The competence of the President does not depend on his competence.
  4. All disputed issues regarding the authority of the President are resolved by competent organs.
    Article 7

  1. The President is the apex of the power vertical.
  2. The President dreams up, issues and implements laws.
  3. The President judges his own actions and those of others.
    Article 8

  1. The President of Russia by default is considered the President of the world. The world by default is considered Russian.
  2. Peace is a hybrid of war. The President has the right to begin and end hybrid war whenever it suits him.
  3. The President prefers war to revolution.
    Article 9

  1. The President is the guarantor of the stability of his own power.
  2. The President defends Russia from color revolutions with the help of black and white television.
  3. Any attack on the power of the President is state treason.
    Article 10

  1. The question about the removal of the President from his position is decided by the Federal Assembly the means of a collective flipping of a one-ruble coin on which the shield of the Russian Federation is to be found on both sides.
  2. The President is considered to have been removed from the position if, despite this precaution, the coin lands on its edge.

Ethnic Jokes in Russia are No Laughing Matter, Moscow Experts Say

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 1 – Almost half of the residents of the Russian Federation think that ethnic jokes are something impermissible, according to a new VTsIOM poll ( But Moscow scholars say that they can play a positive role in certain circumstances but, of course, not in all.


            Anecdotes and ethnic humor, Natalya Shmelyeva of the Moscow Institute of the Russian Language says, can reduce tensions and aggression if they are told “in times of peace.” Stories about Jews, for example, are fine now, but they wouldn’t have been during the Holocaust (


            The same thing is true of Russian jokes about Ukrainians and Ukrainian jokes about Russians, she continues. Before the annexation of Crimea, both groups were able to tell them often to the delight of each. But now, that is not the case. Instead, Russian jokes about Ukrainians are often nasty as are those of Ukrainians about Russians.


            “But this,” Shmelyeva says, “however paradoxical it may seem, shows the closeness [of the two nations] for the most evil jokes are always about the nearest peoples who speak a similar, albeit distorted language.”


            Shmelyeva’s observation is supported by Igor Morozov, a scholar at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, who notes that just as Russians tells jokes about Roma because the latter live among them, so do Mordvins and Udmurts about Maris, and Lithuanians and Ukrainians about Jews and Poles.


            According to some Russian scholars in fact, Russians began to tell ethnic jokes in significant numbers at the end of the 19th century when Jews were able to move out of the pale in significant numbers and settle among them. Given the prominence of humor in Jewish life, Russians in this interpretation began to copy the Jews.


            Russians told ethnic jokes about Jews, Ukrainians, Armenians and Chukchis throughout Soviet times, often making fun in these other groups of things that were an exaggeration of what they saw among their own community.  But ethnic humor in Eurasia has not remained unchanged.


            The disintegration of the USSR significantly changed it, Moscow experts say. In Soviet times, people in Russian cities saw non-Russians in various professions. Now, because most of the migrants occupy positions on the lower end of the social scale, Russian jokes about them have become far more standardized about these various groups.


            For some nations within the Russian Federation, humor about themselves and others occupies a particular niche and are used to establish social hierarchies. For others, such jokes are about promoting fertility. And for many, Moscow scholars say, such stories are used to delineate the limits of the permissible for both insiders and outgroups.




Signing Off for Now, Crimean Tatar Broadcaster Says ‘We Survived Stalin; We’ll Survive Putin’

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 1 – Because the Russian occupation authorities have refused to register it, the Crimean Tatar television channel ATR ended its broadcasts at midnight yesterday, its leaders unbowed, committed to continue, and proudly asserting that the Crimean Tatars will survive this just as they survived their deportation by Stalin in 1944.


            ATR managers said that they would continue to seek registration and continue to broadcast while they do so, and Lilya Budzhurova, one of their number, pointedly said “Our people survived Stalin. Will they not survive these current problems?” Of course, they will and ultimately flourish (


            The Crimean Tatars, who suffered incomparably more in the wake of their deportation, “will build their own home on their own land,” she said in signing off. “Yes, we today are ending our broadcasts, but we know that we will be returning. We will always return. And we will say again, ‘This is ATR television on the air.’”

Russia in Far Worse Shape than USSR was at End of First Cold War, Sivkov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 1 – Russia today is in far worse shape than was the USSR at the end of the first Cold War, Konstantin Sivkov says, and unless it takes radical measures now, the forces that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union will have “fatal consequences not only for Russia as a state but for the peoples who populate it.”


            Consequently, the president of the Moscow Academy of Geopolitical Problems argues in a VPK essay today, Moscow must focus on the experience of the USSR because it provides a negative example of what not to do if one hopes to avoid defeat in the course of the current heightening of international tensions (


            Among the lessons current Russian rulers must learn if they are to avoid disaster, Sivkov says, is that they must strengthen rather than weaken the FSB and its control over key elites and that they must articulate a national idea based on justice and equality rather than celebrate one based on Darwinian competition.


            According to Sivkov, “it is obvious” that “Russia is being drawn by the West into a new phase of the cold war,” that East-West tensions are higher than they were at the end of the last one, and that Russia both internationally and at home is in a much worse position than the Soviet Union was before its collapse.


            Geopolitically, the Soviet Union had the Warsaw Pact and China as its allies, he continues.  “Today, Russia observes its geopolitical opponent at its own borders,” with the West extending its control “over the countries of the former socialist camp and even certain post-Soviet republics.”         


            Moreover, “the current allies of Russia are dependent on it significantly less than was the case during the times of the USSR.” As a result, their support of Moscow is “far from always guaranteed” as was shown by their responses to the Ukrainian crisis and their increasingly independent foreign policies more generally.


            Economically, the situation of Russia today is incomparably worse than that of the Soviet Union of a generation ago. The German invasion cost Russia more than half of its industrial production, but the Soviet government was able to restore it.  Economic reforms have cost Russia even more, and Moscow hasn’t. Indeed, in many areas, it is now dependent on the West.


            That is because the Soviet system was driven by national goals and a plan, Sivkov argues. Russia today, “under the capitalist means of production,” isn’t. Instead, the priority for all economic actors is “maximum profits” for themselves regardless of what that means for the country as a whole.


            Spiritually, the situation of Russia today is “even worse than in the economic sphere.”  The Soviet people, he says, were “in their absolute majority convinced in the correctness of the ruling socialist ideology.”  More important, they viewed the social system in the USSR as just and as an example for the world.


            There is nothing comparable to that in contemporary Russia, Sivkov says. “Social brotherhood has been replaced by competitive relations.” As a result, “unqualified trust in the ruling elite by society doesn’t exist. Instead, the situation is just the reverse.”


            In terms of security, the USSR had definite advantages in its military forces, its special services, and its military-industrial complex, the Moscow analyst and commentator says.  The only sector in which Russia today has an advantage is in its “nuclear potential.”


            Despite its advantages, the Soviet Union lost the first cold war, Sivkov says. If Russia is to avoid losing the second, it must identify the numerous reasons that happened in order to take preventive actions.


            The first of these, he suggests, was “the mistaken cadres policy” of the late Soviet period, a policy which allowed the emergence of clans, the growth of capitalist values at the expense of socialist ones, and a general decay which left the regime without people who could run a planned economy of the defenders the system needed at the time of crisis.


            A second cause, Sivkov argues, was the spread of the false idea that military spending was crippling the country. In fact, much military spending was going to civil needs both directly and through the promotion of the kind of technological advancement that benefitted all sectors of the economy. But that is not what most Soviet people came to believe at the end.


            And a third cause, related to the second, is that ever more Soviet leaders began to forget what the security needs of the country in fact were. “Serious problems arose in the security system,” and they threatened the ability of the country’s armed forces to “guarantee the neutralization of practically all types of armed threats without the application of nuclear means.”


            Unlike in Russia today, the security services worked well both at home and abroad, Sivkov says, but at a certain point, their positive role was seriously reduced when the upper reaches of the party-state became “untouchable” as far as the KGB was concerned, a development that led to the appearance and spread of agents of influence and traitors.


            And equally unfortunately, the Moscow analyst says, this trend allowed the party-state to put its own people in charge of the KGB and other Soviet security agencies. That in turn reduced their effectiveness not only at home where the new security heads began to display the same problems as the CPSU elite but abroad as well.


            “The decay of the higher political elite in Russia is much deeper than was the case in the USSR,” Sivkov says, with massive corruption remaining largely unpunished, with selfishness enshrined as the highest value, and with clans increasingly widespread and all too powerful, he suggests.


            Neither the elites nor the masses have a clearly defined national idea “which would contain a clear understanding of social justice and demonstrate that our state is built on the foundation of justice.”  As a result, there are increasing divides in Russian society and little chance for the technological breakthrough the country needs.


            And what is perhaps worrisome if one looks to the future, Sivkov says, is that Moscow now relies on its nuclear weapons for security because its “conventional forces are capable of solving tasks only in low intensity conflicts.”  And its FSB is much weaker because more of the Russian elite is “untouchable.”


            In that situation, he says, “’the fifth column’ is flourishing,” undermining the government and society and leaving them both “incomparably weaker than was the case in Soviet times.”  Unless radical measures are taken, Sivkov says, “the country is doomed” and likely sooner and more radically than was the late USSR.



Russians Identify with Putin to Cope with Unpredictability He Causes, Moscow Psychologist Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 1 – The overwhelming support Russians currently give to Vladimir Putin has less to do with approval of his policies than with their need to find a way to cope with the unpredictability and sense of powerlessness his regime and the world around them have produced, according to Marina Arutyunyan, a Moscow psychologist.


            Just as was the case under Stalin but was not in Brezhnev’s times, Russians today feel their world lacks predictability and that in turn leads them, on the one hand, to a depressed state of powerlessness and, on the other, to identification with the aggressor who has created that situation, she says (


            “When aggression is equated with force and you have no choice or so it seems,” she says, “then this identification with aggression is a mechanism very much in evidence. By identifying with hatred and anger, you as it were [feel that you have become] stronger.” Of course, she adds, “this is an absolute fiction, but psychologically, it makes life easier.”


            That is what is going on among the overwhelming majority of Russians today, she continues, noting, however, that there are some Russians who are not doing so.  But to the extent that they do not, they find themselves in increasing psychological difficulties because they want to negotiate with the authorities, but the authorities have no interest in doing.


            One response of the sense of powerlessness and depression is emigration. Another is the displacement of aggression onto those one can attack with relative impunity, a trend that explains the rise in the level of aggressiveness in interpersonal relationships in Russia of all kinds. But internal emigration of the kind that existed in late Soviet times isn’t possible, she says.


            The reasons for that conclusion are two-fold, Arutyunyan continues.  On the one hand, those who want to separate themselves from the rest of society have to find a consensus among themselves, something they were able to do in Brezhnev’s time because people in this category agreed about what they were opposing.


            And on the other, the hostile surrounding world needs to be relatively predictable. That was the case under Brezhnev, but it is not under Putin; and that makes it extremely difficult for groups to form and survive because they are under constant threat of being pulled apart by changes in the surrounding society.


            Autyunyan insists that she “does not want to say that convictions do not have significance,” but the psychological state that Putin has created and in which Russians today live “is also very important.”  When people feel suppressed and powerless, it is “very easy” for them to become angry, and they need a target for that anger.


            As Theodor Adorno showed after World War II in his studies of authoritarian societies, the Moscow psychologist points out, that is something authoritarian rulers have always understood and been ready to provide because, by providing an explanation for their populations that eases the latter’s psychological state, it generates support for themselves.


            For extended periods, such a strategy can be effective, but ultimately it is doomed to fail because it does not address the underlying problems people face or allow them to re-acquire the sense of efficacy and a feeling of predictability which allow them individually and collectively to act in a mature and self-confident manner.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Russian State Now Acts as Enforcer for Russian Orthodox Church, Alekseyeva Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 31 – Recent events show that the Russian state has agreed to act as an enforcer for the Moscow Patriarchate, an accord that points to the further clericalization of Russian society and that does not bode well for the many opponents of the Russian Orthodox Church, according to Lyudmila Alekseyeva.


            The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church has long supported the Russian state, but now, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group says, the state is returning the favor, acting as its enforcer in clear violation of the 1993 Russian Constitution by making the Moscow Patriarchate “a state religion” (


            Alekseyeva’s comments to came after Russian government magistrates intervened and seized the remains of Suzdal saints that had been kept in a church of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, a group that is often at odds with the Moscow Patriarchate but that the latter has not been able to impose its will.


            Now, the state has intervened, a reflection she suggests of the fact that “the state has agreed that the Church can use the state apparatus” for its own denominational goals. In this situation, the Autonomous Church has few good options left except perhaps to turn to the European Human Rights Court.


            When the Russian police came to act on behalf of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Feodor of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church lay down in front of the shrine, but the police simply stepped over him and went about their business. “I can imagine the attitudes of belivers,” Alekseyeva said.

Nearly Half of Russians Say Stalin’s Harsh Rule Justified by Results, Up from a Quarter in 2012

Paul Goble


            Staunton, March 31 – Forty-five percent of Russians now say that Stalin’s harsh repression was justified by the results he achieved as a result, a figure that is almost twice as high as in 2012, according to a new Levada Center poll.  The same survey found that the share of Russians who believe that nothing justifies what Stalin did has fallen significantly.


            As a result, only one Russian in four (25 percent) is either fully or partially opposed to the erection of statues and memorials to the Soviet-era dictator on the occasion of what Moscow will mark in May as the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II (


            Aleksey Grazhdankin, the Levada Center’s deputy director, says that “for the majority of respondents, the name of Stalin as before is connected with terror, but since the last decade there has been a growth in the share of those Russians who give a positive assessment to what Stalin did. It reached its highest level ever last year, he adds.


            Part of the explanation for the increase in approval for Stalin, Grazhdankin suggests, is to be found in Russians’ assessment of the events in Ukraine. Seeing what instability can lead to, he says, many Russians are now “prepared to sacrifice the interests of a minority in order to preserve the current status quo and stability.”


            Five years ago, 32 percent of the Russian sample said that Stalin was a criminal; now, only 25 percent do, and 57 percent say they oppose designating him as one.  It isn’t that Russians love him, the Levada Center sociologist says. Rather, they see virtues in a strong leader when as they now think is the case their country is surrounded by enemies.


            Not surprisingly, Stalin is most positively viewed by the least educated, those living in villages and small cities and the elderly. Young people are largely indifferent to him, while the most antagonistic to Stalin are the middle-aged and the relatively well-off populations of the large cities, such as Muscovites.


            Stalin remains a divisive force for many, Ivan Nikitchuk, a KPRF Duma deputy who wants to rename Volgograd Stalingrad, an idea that the Levada Center poll found is supported by 31 percent of its sample, says that when Russians compare their situation now with what it was under Stalin, they draw the “correct” conclusion that it was better then than now. 


            Nikolay Svanidze, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, in contrast, says that “the moral rehabilitation of Stalin which will intensify in advance of Victory Day would be a personal insult for millions of people.”


            And Yabloko Party leader Sergey Mitrokhin says that the revival of support for Stalin reflects the failure of the country to undergo any “de-Stalinization” during the first two post-Soviet decades and consequently the Soviet dictator remains “an instrument” for some to resolve political tasks such as promoting a cult of a new leader, in the present case, Vladimir Putin.