Friday, August 28, 2015

Like Stalin, Putin hasn’t Changed the Rules of the Game; He’s Destroyed Them, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 28 – The Anschluss of Crimea and the murder of Boris Nemtsov were not continuations of the rules of the game that had existed before, with the first following the 2008 Russian actions in Georgia and the second that of murders like Galina Starovoitova and Anna Politkovskaya, Vitaly Portnikov says.

            Instead, on the sixth-month anniversary of Nemtsov’s assassination, Portnikov argues that “the rules of the game didn’t so much change as disappear,” just as happened in Soviet times when Stalin murdered Sergey Kirov in 1934 to destroy the rules up to that time and open the way to greater horrors (

            Indeed, he suggests, it is important to see the way in which the Crimean Anschluss and the Nemtsov murder reflect this change in Russian realities, a change that threatens not only Russia’s neighbors but also the Russian people and perhaps most directly the Russian elite around Vladimir Putin.

            Before Putin annexed Crimea, Portnikov writes, “the Russian authorities, both under Yeltsin and under Putin, never crossed the red lines which separated conditional respect for international law from complete contempt for it.”

            “Yes,” he continues, “they could help preserve the separatist enclave in Transdniestria, while asserting that they were for Moldova’s territorial integrity. Yes, they could even recognize the fictional statehood of Abkhazia and South Osetia while asserting that they support the right of peoples to self-determination and do not have claims on Georgian territory.”

            With the Crimean Anschluss, “everything changed, and not only because Putin spat in the face of the entire rest of the world but because the Russian president for the first time openly demonstrated his willingness to annex to Russia the territory of the former Soviet Union.” After that, “everything changed forever – Russia’s relations with the rest of the world, its contacts with its neighbors and the future of the country itself.”

            The same thing was true of the murder of Nemtsov, Portnikov continues. “Neither Starovoitova, nor Yushenkov not Politkovsky was ever one of their own for the group of comrades who privatized Russia after the collapse of the CPSU. But Nemtsov,” by his life and career, “was.”

            According to the commentator, “the unwritten laws of the existence of the Russian nomenklatura specify that one can defame, fine or even imprison [such people] but one cannot kill them.” And that is why, Portnikov suggested, Nemtsov felt he could act in “relative security” at least until the Crimean Anschluss.

            After that happened, the Ukrainian commentator points out, Nemtsov became “one of the first to speak about the possibility of his own death because he understood that there were no more rules of the game” after Putin’s seizure of the territory of a neighboring country.

            In reality, Portnikov argues, “this is very similar to what was the case in the Soviet Union after the murder of Kirov, only in the reverse order: first, [Stalin] began to shoot former members of the Politburo, then began mass repressions and only after that the occupation of the territories of other countries.”

            The Soviet dictator “consciously formed a regime in which no internal rules operated and in which each was a slave to the attitude of the dictator or simply a victim of circumstances. And Putin today is doing exactly the same thing, even though he doesn’t have a tenth of the repressive resources Stalin did.”

            And that has the truly frightening consequence that “in the Russian future, there will be still fewer rules and logic than there was in the Soviet past,” a trend that means that after the Crimean Anschluss and the murder of Nemtsov, just about anything is possible. And that in turn should frighten Putin’s entourage in the first instance: they are likely to be the next victims.

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