Saturday, May 8, 2021

With Destruction of All Institutions, the Putin Regime Now has ‘a Human Face,’ Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 6 – The destruction of all major institutions of the Russian state – and those that remain in place operate more by inertia than anything else – has opened the way to a regime with “a human face,” its own, whose members act according to their own impulses rather than according to the laws they keep having promulgated, Sergey Shelin says.

            As a result, the Rosbalt commentator argues, it is the height of naivete to seek any consistency or logic in what the regime does other than the impulses at any particular time of those who form its core group and who feel that they are above any rules however many they seek to impose on others (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/05/06/1900537.html).

            As a result of the combination of Putin’s actions and the increasingly lengthy time he and his associates have been in power, “there is no longer a soulless bureaucratic machine fitting people into a Procrustean bed with its own formalities. Now, everything is informal,” Shelin continues.

            “Courts still exist but more by inertia,” and no one assumes that they make the decisions they announce. “It isn’t completely clear why parliament remains” given that it is easier for a ruler to simply declare what the rule of the day is than to have it go through the process now visible in the Duma and Federation Council.

            Over the last several years, “the so-called institutions have ceased to be used in our case even as political furniture.” And it is clear to everyone that “a small group of like-minded people headed by the leader runs things. The powers have lost their former bureaucratic face and acquired a human one. Their face” and no one else’s.

            For autocratic regimes in large and relatively well-off countries, this shift to “radical personalism is quite unusual,” Shelin says. And now analysts are rushing to explain it by pointing to Putin’s declining popularity and his lack of trust in any institution except perhaps those who carry out his punitive orders.

            Those may play a role, “but no less importance has the very length of time that one and the same closed circle, isolated from reality and living entirely under its own mythology, has been in place.” In such a situation, each of those at the top assumes he can get what he wants by expressing his own desire for it.

            Sometimes this individual may fasten on historical textbooks about Stalingrad or Ivan the Terrible. Other times, he may worry about this or that supposed threat from the opposition. But whatever his concern it, that becomes policy, at least within the country where there are no institutions to oppose it.

            When the regime acts as it does abroad, problems multiply because beyond Russia’s borders, there are institutions whose staffs are committed to playing by the rules. When Moscow bumps up into that as it has most recently with the scandals around its coronavirus vaccine, the shortcomings of personalist rule are highlighted.

            Russians who were upset by “the faceless state” that Putinism displayed until recently are now compelled to try to figure out just what “the features of a regime with an entirely human face” are going to be like. The only thing such people can be sure of, Shelin suggests, is that the face will display the impulses of those behind it and won’t be bounded by logic or law.

A Greater Share of Kazan Tatars have Left Central Asia since 1991 than Even of Ethnic Russians, Census Figures Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 6 – The exodus of ethnic Russians from Central Asia after the collapse of the USSR has attracted enormous attention because it is leading the countries of that region to become less Russianized than they were and to the decline in Russian influence among the governments and peoples there.

            But there has been another exodus from that region which has attracted less attention but that certainly has affected Moscow’s position there: an exodus of Kazan Tatars whom Moscow often employed as its agents because the Tatars have long stood between Russia and the Muslim peoples of that region.

            What is especially striking is that in percentage terms, the departure of Kazan Tatars from the countries of Central Asians has been larger than that of ethnic Russians, even though in absolute terms, this decline has been much smaller.

            The censuses taken in the region show the following: In Tajikistan in 1989, there were 338,000 ethnic Russians and 27,000 Tatars; in 2010, these communities formed only 72,000 and 6500 respectively. In Uzbekistan in 1989, there were 1.6 million Russians and 467,000 Tatars; by 2010, these numbers had declined to 809,000 and 211,000.

            Similarly in Kazakhstan in 1989, there were 6 .2 million ethnic Russians and 327,000 Tatar, but by 2009, there were only 3.8 million Russians and 204,000 Tatars. Figures for Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan showed similar declines (zen.yandex.ru/media/centralasia/ne-tolko-russkie-pochemu-v-1990e-iz-srednei-azii-uehali-tatary-607efc27330a4f14d5c2acad).

            Tatars have been in Central Asia for at least eight centuries, and after Ivan the Terrible conquered Kazan, the Russian state sent more of them there to promote trade with Muscovy. The Soviet system continued that tradition, sending Tatars to the region because of their cultural and linguistic knowledge.

            After 1991, the situation was so changed that there was a widespread view in Central Asia that the Russians should “go back to Ryazan, and the Tatars to Kazan,” as one popular slogan put it. Roughly half of the Tatars did so because they no longer had the role, backed by Moscow, that they had enjoyed in the past.

            Their return to the Republic of Tatarstan has had three major consequences: It has reduced Russian expertise about Central Asia in those countries. It has helped push up the population of Tatarstan and the sense that it should have the same independent future that the Central Asians have achieved.

            And it has meant that yet another component has been added to the Tatar nation, one that was both more national and less than most of those already there, more national because of the ethnicizing experiences of being pushed out of Central Asia and less national because of Soviet policy and experience of living in areas without a Tatar majority. 

As Kremlin Becomes More like Soviet Regime, Its Opponents are Becoming More like Soviet Dissidents, Buzin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 6 – The ways in which Vladimir Putin has restored many of the repressive features of the late Soviet period have attracted enormous attention. But there has been much less appreciation of the ways in which his actions have led his opponents to become more like the dissidents of Soviet times.

            Emblematic of that, Andrey Buzin, a lawyer who is a leader of the Golos Voter Rights group says, is that in the face of a new flood of repressive legislation, Russian opposition groups have revived a dissident slogan from the 1960s and 1970s, “Observe Your Own Constitution!” (rfi.fr/ru/россия/20210506-соблюдайте-вашу-конституцию-лозунг-диссидентов-60-х-сегодня-обращен-к-российским-депутатам).

            At that time, dissidents in the USSR spoke out against the repressive laws and policies Moscow adopted by demanding that their rulers live up to their own constitution. Now, opponents of the Putin regime have been put in the same position and are demanding the same thing.

            That not only calls attention to just how far from a law-based state Russia has passed under Putin but also the increasingly limited freedom of action the opposition has, itself perhaps the best if often neglected indication of just how far into the past the Kremlin has dragged the country and just how accurate comparisons between him and Soviet leaders have become.

An Armenian Turn to the West Could Cost Yerevan Not Only Its Position in Qarabagh but Its Control of Zengezur, Georgian Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 6 – Russian behavior in the south Caucasus in the wake of the Qarabagh war has both a long-term and a short-term goal, a Georgian commentator who blogs under the screen name BERG…man of Tbilisi says. Long-term, Moscow wants to expand its power in the region; short-term, it wants to ensure that Armenians won’t risk turning toward the West.

            The Russian authorities are doing that by building up their forces in Armenia, in the remnant of the Armenian statelet of Artsakh, and in the Armenian lands between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan, a space Yerevan refers to as Syunik Oblast and Baku as the historical region of Zengezur (kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/378/posts/49084).

            But perhaps most importantly, Moscow continues to argue that the current situation is “the new status quo” and that no one must question it, something that deeply offends Azerbaijan which has very much hoped to build on its victory and easily could if the Russian Federation were not so deeply involved.

            Armenians can see that and thus are likely to be less willing to turn to the West, something that could lead to a Russian pull-back, a new war, and an Azerbaijani victory because the only thing standing in the way of such a victory which this time around would involve Azerbaijan’s acquisition of territory within the borders of Armenia is Moscow.

            Thus, Azerbaijan has an interest in seeing pro-Western forces come to power in Armenia in the upcoming elections because that would free Baku’s hands to act; but Moscow does not because in that event it would likely be forced to pull out some or all of its troops now on Azerbaijani territory and allow Baku to take complete control over Qarabagh.

            Armenians thus have a vested interest in keeping things where they are now, even though they are being forced to acknowledge that the remnants of Artsakh continue to exist only as a Russian, not Armenian protectorate, and that Armenia is a Russian client state which can exist in its current borders only in that status.

            The Russian play now may work in Armenia but only at a cost of its own. By underscoring its backing for Armenia against Azerbaijan, Moscow has offended Baku and angered those in the West who recognize that the Russian forces on Azerbaijan’s territory are increasingly likely to be there without Baku’s active support.

            Consequently, the Qarabagh conflict will continue and possibly even intensify to the point of new violence however Moscow’s efforts to keep Armenia in its orbit work out, the Georgian blogger suggests. 

           

Russia Desperately Needs but Doesn’t Have a Leftist Party Combining Social Democracy and New Trends, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 6 – Everyone can see that Russia desperately needs a party of the left, one that combines the traditional goals of social democracy with a commitment to reaching out to the emergence of new groups that the current political system either ignores or mistreats, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.

            But it doesn’t have such a party, given that the KPRF spends more time regretting the demise of the USSR than in fighting for things like overcoming poverty, raising incomes, and funding the government through progressive taxation. Instead, it is a self-proclaimed workers opposition that is represented by businessmen and works with the incumbent regime.

            Were such a genuinely left-wing party to emerge, the Russian economist and commentator says, it would have a great chance to compete with and even defeat Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia Party because it would appeal to such a large swath of Russian society (vtimes.io/2021/05/06/o-tupike-v-levom-dvizhenii-a4877).

            Tragically, “the present-day Russian communist party, the legal successor of the CPSU, is clearly turned to the past and not the future and as a result is not capable of becoming such a force.” To change that, it must both recover its own class interest roots and expand them as have left-of-center parties in Western countries.

            In the West, Inozemtsev says, the leftist movement has ever more clearly been transformed “into a left-radical” direction, one that “however strange it may seem” combines in itself the old class interests with “the principles of libertarianism” which are supported by the most creative elements of society who don’t work for huge bureaucracies but on their own.

            The views of this movement are thus diametrically at odds with those of the KPRF which to this day “occupies left-conservative positions and tries to assert its monopoly on the basis of an apology for Soviet paternalistic traditions and expectations,” a position that attracts ever fewer people because society is moving in a different direction.

            “If one simplifies the situation,” Inozemtsev says, “one can say that a significant part of Western leftists either call for the affirmation of the rights of individual workers … or for the possibility of spreading certain fundamental social subsidies to all members of society.” This is what animates them but not the KPRF.

            Moreover, “if in the majority of the countries of the world, the present-day leftists try to actively recruit into their ranks those who for one or another reason want to receive from society a significant portion of the national wealth … in Russia, ‘the defenders of the toilers’ are not prepared to struggle even for a better share” to those who create this wealth.

            “However one views contemporary Western leftists,” he continues, “they are presenting ever more active challenges to the political establishment, but Russian communists are satisfied with the role of official critics of the powers that be and are in no way dangerous for the latter.” Indeed, they make the situation of those in power easier.

            Some rising members of the KPRF can see this and want change, but the party bosses oppose that and have been working hard to marginalize such people, Inozemtsev says. Not only does the KPRF not fulfill traditional left-of-center goals, but it does little or nothing to draw to its batter various minorities who have suffered.

            In the West, parties on the left appeal not only to those with lower incomes but to immigrants, including illegal ones, historically excluded and mistreated ethnic and religious minorities, and even people with non-traditional sexual orientations. But there is none of that in Russia.

            Until that changes, Russia will not have a vigorous left-of-center party; and until such a party emerges, Russia’s future will be far less bright than would otherwise be the case.

Stalin’s System Shared ‘the Hallmarks of Hitler’s,’ Skobov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 6 – Those who argue about the similarities and differences between Hitler and Stalin often fall into the trap of thinking the answer lies in which of the totalitarian leaders killed more, Aleksandr Skobov says. But that is a mistake: sometimes one of them was the leader in this regard and at other times his opposite number.

            In fact, the Russian analyst says, “the two regimes were as similar to one another as twin brothers” not only in grand design but down to details like the organization of social competition in industry and the presentation of awards to their peoples for these and other accomplishments (graniru.org/opinion/skobov/m.280303.html).

            That was recognized both by Soviet journalists who visited Nazi Germany during the time Hitler and Stalin were allies after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and by many Soviet citizens who watched the film, Seventeen Moments of Spring, which sought to present the fascism regime as fundamentally at odds with the Soviet one but in fact highlighted their similarities.

            But these similarities were only a superficial and external expression of something more important, Skobov continues. “The two regimes had identical mechanisms, means, and methods of organization and realization of power.” That is, they fall into the category social scientists have identified as totalitarian.

            Until the last decades of Soviet power, when revisionists in the West argued against totalitarianism as a concept, and now under the Russian Federation, when the regime wants to talk about Stalinism as a mobilization regime rather than as a totalitarian one, there was broad agreement on three types of state – democratic, authoritarian and totalitarian.

            In democracies, Skobov says, “power depends on society and is controlled by it;” in authoritarian ones, “power does not depend on society and isn’t controlled by it but it leaves much of society outside of its direct control and interference.” Totalitarianism is not just more authoritarianism as the revisionists and Putin regime think; it is fundamentally different.

            “A totalitarian regime not only isn’t under the control of society but strives for all-embracing (total) control over all spheres of its life. It does not leave to the population any ‘private spheres’ where they could live untouched by its interference.”

            What must be remembered is that shifting from totalitarianism to mass mobilization society “does not change the essence of the case,” Skobov says. “Mass political mobilization is one of the most important characteristics of totalitarianism that sets it apart from traditional authoritarianism.”

            Unlike authoritarian systems, totalitarian ones aren’t satisfied with any passive support. They demand unconditional manifestations of loyalty. “One can say that the principle of authoritarianism is ‘he who is not against us is with us;’ but that of totalitarianism is ‘he who is not with us is against us,’” something fundamentally different.

             The secret police and repressive organs play a key role for totalitarian systems, but they are not the only or even the most important components of it. More important are all “the mass ‘social’ organizations” which ensure conformity, and a ruling party which communicates what the rulers want and ensures that everyone not only accepts but supports these desires.

            “A party in a totalitarian society is not simply a force which controls everything and everyone.” It is the bearer of an ideology which is declared to be universally true and has the messianic character of wanting to extend itself to the entire world and equally or perhaps even more important defeating all those who oppose it.

            The instruments of terror play a key role in creating and supporting this ideological vision, but “the post-Stalinist history of the USSR showed that totalitarianism can exist for quite a long time without mass terror.” Indeed, it may work even better at least for a time, but the camps of Hitler and Stalin were always in reserve as it were.

            When Hitler attacked Stalin’s USSR, the Nazi leader forced the communist one into an alliance with the Western democracies. That led to the defeat of Hitler and helped ensure the survival of Stalin’s system. But it had an even more important consequence which should be remembered to this day, Skobov suggests.

            The world leadership of the Anglo-Saxon countries that it made possible opened the way for “humanity at the end of the 20th century to be significantly more human than it had been in the middle of the century. That is what Soviet soldiers died for in the trenches of Stalingrad and justifies their sacrifice.”

            But their deaths in no way “justify the deeply criminal Soviet system.” And no efforts by Stalin’s present-day apologists “with all their criminal paragraphs, prohibitory laws, and Constitutional amendments will succeed in eliminating the shameful hallmarks of its past,” Skobov says.

            Those are “the hallmarks of a system equivalent to Hitler’s.” 

Putin Says Russian Vaccine ‘Reliable as Kalashnikov’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 6 – In his most extended public discussion of the pandemic in months, Vladimir Putin said Russia’s Sputnik-5 vaccine is as “reliable as the Kalashnikov,” questioned international bodies which have rated vaccines produced by other countries as better, and defended his decision to extend the May holidays to fight the coronavirus (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/65534).

            The Kremlin leader also said he was ready to support the lifting of patent restrictions on vaccines so that they could be more widely used internationally, complained that the pace of vaccination and testing in many Russian regions has declined, announced the registration of the one-dose Sputnik-Lite vaccine, and again insisted flight restrictions weren’t political.

            As Putin was making these declarations at a meeting together with Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, the Russian government announced that it had registered 7639 new cases of infection and 351 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours (t.me/COVID2019_official/2898).

            The authorities also said that 9.4 million Russians have now had both the shots they need and that 13.4 million have had the first one (regnum.ru/news/3262432.html) as the pandemic continued to ebb and flow across the Russian Federation (regnum.ru/news/society/3258922.html).

            Golikova acknowledged that Moscow and St. Petersburg have recently experienced a new surge in infections but said that this was expected. She added that the situation in the northern capital had again stabilized but at an unacceptably “high plateau.” Officials there are calling on people to wear masks during the upcoming holiday (echo.msk.ru/news/2834000-echo.html).