Sunday, September 23, 2018

Armenia’s Pashinyan Fighting Consequences, Not Causes of Corruption, Khzmalyan Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – In the sixth months since protesters in the streets of Yerevan and other Armenian cities brought him to power, Nikol Pashinyan has been fighting corruption; but he has focused on its domestic manifestations rather than its roots in Russia’s neo-colonial rule of his country, according to Tigran Khzmalyan.

            As a result, the Yerevan analyst says, arrests of former leaders and destruction of the political reputations of the former dominant political parties “has not led to the destruction of the existing political-economic system that is founded on the rule of Russian state monopolies [in the economy] … and of [Moscow’s predominant role] in Armenia’s security.”

            In fact, Khzmalyan says, the first six months of Pashinyan’s rule “have only demonstrated the axiom that the struggle with corruption must be directed not at its consequences but at the causes of this corruption.” There, the new Armenian leader has done little or nothing (

                “Pashinyan’s personal honor has not been able to lower thieving prices on energy and transport, secure economic growth and investments, stop migration or lower military tensions on the borders since the levers of taking decisions in the politics and economy of Armenia as before remain in Putin’s hands.”

            “Colonized countries” don’t control either their domestic or foreign policies; those are set by the colonizing country. “The example of Armenia, and earlier of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova only confirm this rule,” Khzmalyan continues.

            According to the Armenian analyst, “the independence of Armenia, Georgia or Ukraine both at the beginning and the end of the 20th century was the result of one and the same process – the weakening and disintegration first of the Russian Empire and then of the USSR,” with tragic consequences in both cases to attempts to “democratize Russia.”

            “There is no basis to suppose,” he argues, that the course of developments will be fundamentally different. If democracy fails to win out in Russia, the consequences for its neighbors will again be dire. Tbilisi, Kyiv, and Yerevan recognize this but have responded in different ways.

            In Georgia, “Saakashvili undertook a heroic attempt to SIMULTANEOUSLY achieve independence from Russia while rooting out domestic corruption. The price of this became the territorial losses and the exile of the reformer president.”

            In Ukraine, “Poroshenko is trying to achieve sovereignty and the restoration of territorial integrity WITHOUT a serious struggle with the kleptocracy and often in a disturbing union with it. The prices of this has been a critical weakening of the economy which has undercut political efforts and reforms.”

            But in Armenia, “Pashinyan’s path has turned out to be still more paradoxical: he is trying to show society and himself that the domestic cleansing of the country is possible without a change of its external milieu and that the struggle with corruption and improvement of the economy are possible without a change in the country’s civilizational and foreign policy vectors.”

            Even if what he is doing is simply an effort to win time and hope for a weakening of Kremlin pressure as a result of some other reasons, “the price of [Pashinyan’s] misconception is becoming both losses in his own reputation and the political and economic isolation of the country” as his agreement to work with Russia on a humanitarian mission in Syria.

            In this situation, Khzmalyan says, one cannot fail to recall Churchill’s words that “those who choose between war and dishonor will get both.” His tragedy and that of Armenia is that Yerevan lacks the ability to deal with the dragon.  Nikol Pashinyan is no Lancelot.” He and Armenia need help from elsewhere.

            That should come from the Western democracies, but unfortunately in all too many cases today democracy is being replaced by demagogy. And that again brings Churchill’s observation that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.

            “Armenia,” Khzmalyan concludes, “apparently will yet again demonstrate to itself and to everyone this paradoxical axiom.  Almost six months after the replacement of the powers” in Yerevan, Pashinyan has still not set the date for parliamentary elections – even though that is the key to any real breakaway from the country’s dilemmas.

Russia Today Neither National nor Imperial But Rather ‘Privatized Soviet’ System, Savvin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – Putin’s Russia is “a land of imitations,” one that is neither imperial nor clerical nor traditionalist nor national but rather a “privatized” version of the Soviet system whose goal – the enrichment of the elite – is something that precludes any of those things and that it cannot admit openly, according to Dimitry Savvin.

            The editor of the Riga-based Harbin portal says that Russia today is “not a living political thing but a collection of manikins, cadavers and imitations” whose supporters and opponents are both willing to take for something else because doing so is useful for both of them (

            “We hear so often that Putin’s Russian Federation is conducting ‘an imperial policy’ and has ‘imperial ambitions’ that we somehow even forget to ask: what in fact is an Empire?” Or we are told that it is a budding nation state without enquiring as to what that would require it to become, Savvin says.

            Those who view Russia today as an empire assume that centralization and the suppression of national and religious minorities makes it one, forgetting that empires are universalistic in their goals. And those who say it is a nation state in waiting ignore the fact that nation states in contrast are always specifically local rather than universal in orientation.

            “If for an Empire, striving for the synthesis of various traditions, cultures and even religions is natural,” the Riga-based Russian analyst continues, “then a nation state is directed at the opposite, at the defense and development of its own ethnic, cultural and religious identity.” But Russia now is not the one or the other.

            “The Soviet Union was an empire … filled with anti-human and unnatural content. Its demise theoretically should have led to the formation of new nation states – and this occurred for example in the Baltic countries,” Savvin says. “However, for most of the former USSR, it didn’t happen.”

            The reason is simple and was predicted in 1935 by √©migr√© philosopher Ivan Solonevich in his book, Russia in a Concentration Camp.  In that work, Solonevich argued that the Soviet system had created in the Soviet nomenklatura “a quasi-elite” that, in the event the USSR collapsed, would nonetheless have enough power to maintain control for itself.

            That is exactly what happened in the Russian Federation after 1991. “The nomenklatura quasi elite and state apparatus, not having suffered serious losses and maintaining control in the political system and economy,” remained true to their Soviet origins in terms of methods but changed their goals for imperial outreach to personal enrichment.

             They began sometimes consciously and sometimes not “but always consistently” to restore the practice and institutions” of the USSR which “in the end led to the final formation of the neo-Soviet system under Putin,” one in which power was deployed in much the same way but to new ends.

            This development created serious ideological problems for the regime.  Under the Soviets, the quasi-elite extracted resources from the population to promote world revolution. But after 1991, this same elite continued to extract resources but not for a new empire but for their own wealth.

            “In essence,” Savvin says, “this nomenklatura-oligarchic corporation was transformed into internal colonizers like the British East India company,” but with this difference: “The latter never concealed that it was a private commercial enterprise involved in making money” for its owners.

            “For understandable reasons,” he continues, “the neo-Soviet regime of the Russian Federation could not openly acknowledge that. But it also couldn’t and didn’t want to return to classical bolshevism with its struggle for world rule;” and it was equally incapable of promoting Russian nationalism because that “obviously contradicted the interests of the quasi-elite.”

            But the vacuum had to be filled, and it has been, not with something real but rather with “virtual” things which have taken the form of “a parade of imitations.” Putin promoted the cult of victory in World War II as the basis of state ideology, something that suggested he was in fact interested in Soviet-type goals.

            However, he wasn’t able to articulate an imperial ideology and so put out “various imitations” of that. “Why imitations?” Savvin asks rhetorically. Because such an ideology would require the quasi-elite to make sacrifices it was and is not prepared to make. Fake imperialism for this elite is fine; real imperialism is not.

            But this imperialism fooled many in the West or, worse, led them to act as if they took it seriously, the Russian analyst says.  For Russians, it gave them a feeling of renewed power; and for many in the West, it provided the comforting notion that Russia hadn’t changed, something some were pleased and others horrified by.

            This would all be very amusing were it not for one thing, Savvin says.  It means that the West is not aware of what is actually happening and that it will not respond correctly when the Putin system weakens. Instead, it will assume it is fighting imperialism or nationalism rather than the nomenklatura-oligarchic-quasi-elite.

            And it will again as was the case in the early 1990s accept the reassurance of this elite that it is against both these things and thus end by supporting the same old rulers and attacking everyone else rather than recognizing that these rulers themselves are the problem that must be addressed and removed.

            But even before the Moscow-centered state fails, this lack of understanding in the West will have extremely negative consequences for Russia by allowing this elite to continue its thievery and for “many neighboring countries” who will suffer attack as the Moscow quasi-elite tries to put on a virtual show for both its own people and the West – while hiding its own crimes.

Three Chechen Challenges to Moscow’s Control of the North Caucasus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – The Kremlin’s massive payments to Ramzan Kadyrov and the latter’s oft-expressed loyalty to Vladimir Putin as well as the Chechen leader’s repressive policies within his republic have kept Chechnya relatively quiet in recent months and led many to assume that it is no longer a problem for Moscow.

            But three stories this weekend underscore the fact that however pacified Chechnya may appear to be, Kadyrov’s rule and Putin’s deference to him carry with it serious problems for Moscow in controlling that republic and other regions in the North Caucasus whose leaders often view what Kadyrov is doing as an indication of what they can try as well.

             The first of these challenges to Moscow’s control is Kadyrov’s suggestion that borders with at least two of Chechnya’s neighbors be changed and his establishment of a commission to draw up the correct borders of Chechnya in what appears to be an entirely unilateral way (

                As regional specialist Anton Chablin points out, any suggestion that existing borders be changed “instantly becomes an occasion for concern” because if one border is changed, all borders become subject to discussion. The most serious of Chechnya’s claims and actions about borders concerns Ingushetia, with which it has no border agreement since the two split in 1992.

            That situation has been exacerbated not only by the creation of the commission but also by an earlier law unilaterally declaring part of Ingushetia to be Chechen and by moves this summer to build Chechen roads into areas that Ingushetia claims. (For background, see

                Chechnya under Kadyrov also has border disputes with Daghestan. Since at least May 2013, Chablin notes, the two republics have claimed as their own the waters of a mountain lake. So far they have not come to blows, but Kadyrov’s policies regarding Chechen claims make that an increasingly live possibility.

            Dmitry Yefremov, who for many years worked on Chechen state television, tells Chablin that “the problem of borders in the North Caucasus Federal District is of course a destabilizing factor,” one that could lead to explosions if one or another republic leader attempted to use them for political goals – as Kadyrov appears to be doing.

            To avoid that, Yefremov proposes moving to make these administrative lines “nominal” borders rather than “political” ones; but that idea is likely to be as offensive to at least some in the North Caucasus republics as any proposal to change the borders in favor of one or another side.

            The second of these challenges involves the behavior of younger Chechens especially beyond the borders of their native republic. According to Adani Umayev, a Chechen elder, many young Chechens, being “children of war” whose psychological balance has been “destroyed,” ignore the law and customs as well (

                Instead, they feel that they can do anything they can get away and display contempt for law which as he notes “does not always defend our rights and interests.”  Such Chechens offend not only Russians but non-Russians in the North Caucasus and contribute to a general rise in tensions throughout the region. 

            And the third challenge, perhaps the most serious if not the most immediate of the three, is rooted in the fact that Chechnya today is “unique in the sense that its people live simultaneously according to several laws – “civil Russian law, shariat, adat (customary law), and partially by ‘understandings’”(

                According to Radio Svoboda’s Ruslan Isayev, “relations with the state as a rule are regulated with the help of civic laws. Relations among Chechens, be they family or financial issues, are taken up according to Islamic law, the shariat. But before reaching shariat courts, many cases pass through the elders who consider them according to Chechen customary law (adat).”  And some disputes are solved directly “’according to honor and justice.’”

            The system works relatively well with one major exception: it sends a signal to the Chechens that their laws are every bit as important as civil Russian law, a lesson that Moscow can’t want them or anyone else in the North Caucasus to learn as that sense alone can be a driver of secessionist attitudes.