Staunton, February 23 – Few governments play up anniversaries and especially “round” ones than does Moscow, and that makes it all the more curious that today, it did remarkably little to mark the Day of the Defender of the Fatherland on what is the centenary of the creation of the Red Army.
But despite the fact that in recent years, Vladimir Putin has transformed Russia into what military observer Aleksandr Golts calls “the country of victorious militarism” (ej.ru/?a=note&id=32168), the Kremlin had three compelling reasons for doing so, all connected with the election campaign and Russia’s current military problems.
First, as Golts himself points out, the recent deaths of Russian mercenaries at the hands of American forces in Syria is something that the Putin regime has been working overtime to play down, lest it spark either questions about the competence of his regime or demands for a more forceful response than the Kremlin can or at least wants to give.
Nonetheless, he says, “it remains true: for the first time since the Korean war, Russia and the United States have begun to fight.” It doesn’t matter much that “the Americans destroyed not Russian soldiers … but only armed citizens of the Russian Federation.” And that points to a still more dangerous development.
The Kremlin’s “successes” in its military actions “are making war more probable.” On the one hand, “its operations in Ukraine and Syria do not have the slightest connection to the country’s security. They are directed exclusively at strengthening ‘the pride’ of the Kremlin. And Russians can see that.
And on the other, they make war more likely, not only because they have created a domestic constituency within the military-industrial complex for more spending on military affairs; but they have increased the chances for the kind of accident that happened in Syria February 7-8 and that could happen again. Russians can see that as well.
Second, while Putin’s regime almost in every case traces its institutions back to Soviet ones rather than to earlier tsarist cases – Russia has had defenders far before the Red Army was created on February 23, 1918 – it also has problems with it selection of such early Soviet models, perhaps nowhere more than in this case.
Talking about that centenary raises questions about just what the Soviet government was about, Georgy Oltarzhevsky writes for Profile (profile.ru/culture/item/124989-strategicheskij-yubilej-s-nedomolvkami), thus calling into question both Putin’s notion of a common historical stream for all Russians and the possibility of the peaceful future they want.
And third, in addition to the ebbing of the “Crimea is Ours” enthusiasm among Russians that boosted Putin earlier, there are growing indications that Russians are increasingly skeptical about what the Kremlin leader is doing in Syria in particular. Polls suggest Russians are less than pleased by events there, and the comments of some are devastating.
Radio Svoboda’s Siberian Realities program interviewed people on the street in Vladivostok, Irkutsk, Blagoveshchensk and Krasnoyarsk about the war in Syria. What is found was skepticism about Putin’s explanation of both Russian involvement and Russian victories there (sibreal.org/a/29058628.html).
One resident summed up what many Russians appear to be thinking: What Russia is doing in Syria, he said, “is not a duty; it is simply a use of force.” Given such attitudes, a big celebration of the centenary of the Red Army would likely be counterproductive as far as the Kremlin is concerned.