Thursday, March 22, 2018

Putin May Soon Make ‘Veterans of Hybrid Wars’ New Symbol of Russia’s Future, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – With the passing of the World War II generation, few of whom now remain, Vladimir Putin appears ready to make “veterans of hybrid wars” a new symbol of the idea that Russia today is “a besieged fortress” and that it must restore the lost empire not as a communist project but as a nationalist one, according to Vadim Shtepa.

            Shtepa, a Russian regionalist living in Estonia who edits the After Empire portal, says that possibility reflects both the use of “warrior internationalists” at the end of Soviet times who did their “international” duty in Afghanistan and elsewhere and the rise of hybrid forces since 1991 (

                In addition to the deployment of “official Russian ‘peacekeepers’” in conflicts on the post-Soviet space, the regionalist says, Moscow has made use of “entirely new unofficial Russian units which have called themselves ‘volunteers,’ ‘Cossacks,’ or otherwise,” Shtepa says. And such groups have a very different ideology.

            “As a rule,” he continues, “in place of communist ideology, they profess Russian nationalism and ‘Orthodox values.’ Formally these units aren’t subordinate to Russian force structures, but in fact, there have been unofficial mercenaries which allow involving in military operations defense and interior ministry retirees who haven’t found a place in ‘civilian life.’”

            The neo-Cossacks who have appeared in recent decades are part of this, and they are particularly valuable from the Kremlin’s point of view because they represent a movement that has arisen from below rather than one that it all too obviously created from above, thus allowing Moscow to present them as an expression of the Russian popular will.

            In the case of the Chechens, Moscow has overseen the transformation of those who fought against Russia in the 1990s into warriors of the empire of a kind that recalls the Savage Division of the late imperial period whose soldiers defended the imperial state rather than advanced the interests of their own nations, Shtepa says.

            In the course of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its occupation of portions of the Donbass, the regionalist expert says, “the Kremlin has demonstrated a characteristic technology of its aggressive actions: they are carried out not by cadres of the Russia army but by anonymous ‘little green men’ without identification,” allow the Kremlin to say “’they aren’t there.’”

            All this, he argues, is part of “an imperial revanchism” that seeks to extend the borders of Russia to include the former Soviet space but on the basis of “a different ideology” and “a different technology.” Instead of communism as the basis, Moscow wants this to be about “an imperial consciousness” arising from below “as “‘the will of the people.’”

            “For the support of militarist attitudes, the ideology of ‘a besieged fortress,’ and Russia’s opposition to the West, the Kremlin already for long years has cultivated the theme of victory in World War II, having transformed May 9 into the chief state holiday de facto,” Shtepa argues. But with the passing of its veterans, the Kremlin needs replacements.

            “’Veterans’” of its hybrid wars are the obvious candidates, the regionalist writer suggests, not only because of their age – most are middle aged or younger and thus very much alive – but also because they have already participated as “volunteers” in Putin’s project of restoring a Russian empire.

            According to Shtepa, “any empire, beginning with the Roman, has drawn its militarist legitimacy from a cult of veterans. Therefore, it is probable that in the course of the next Putin term will appear a growing propagandistic ‘heroization’ of participants” of various hybrid formations, with the Kremlin taking credit for their work rather than holding itself apart.

            At least some of these “veterans” will be integrated into some kind of “’new patriotic elite,’” in order to replace any remaining people with “liberal and pro-European views.” That is because, Shtepa concludes, “the militarization of mass consciousness is the only ideological and psychological resource available for supporting a Kremlin-centric empire.”

Are Russian Elections Again Going to Be Focusing on ‘Missing One Percent?’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – In Soviet times, Western analysts gleaned enormous insights into the attitudes of various non-Russian peoples in the USSR by analyzing small variations in the level of support voters in the various union republics gave to the always unopposed CPSU list of candidates.

            In a 1968 American Political Science Review article, Jerome Gilison described this effort in an article often familiarly and sometimes slightingly referred to as “The Missing One Percent” (

            Now, a half century later, analysts in both Russia and the West are moving back toward to analyzing Russian elections in a similar way, considering relatively small, albeit larger than in Soviet times, variations in levels of participation and support for Vladimir Putin among different ethnic and regional groups.

            In reporting on regional variations, the Federal Press news agency said it was doing no more than football commentators do when confronted with an expected lopsided victory: they focus on the small things in order to keep things interesting for their audiences even though those secondary figures are just that (

                Putin, it notes, did not get the highest percentage of votes in Crimea as some had expected – the boycott by Crimean Tatars probably precluded that – but rather in Kabardino-Balkaria, Chechnya and Daghestan, North Caucasus republics where many say corruption this time around remained just as rampant as before (

            The Russian president received the lowest levels of support in Sakha, Altay Kray and Primorsky Kray, precisely the places where KPRF candidate Pavel Grudinin received the most votes, 27.35, 23.67 and 21.39 percent respectively. Grudinin also received over 20 percent in the Altay Republic and in Omsk Oblast.

            LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky received his greatest support this time as in 2012 in Siberia, the Far East, and the Transbaikal, but his figures were lower now. Kseniya Sobchak got her highest vote totals in Moscow and St. Petersburg and among Russians living abroad, but she did not get five percent in any of those.  Her least support was in North Ossetia – 0.22 percent.

            The other liberal candidate, Grigory Yavlinsky, also did his best in the two capitals but in neither did he get as much as 3.2 percent. “Unexpectedly,” he received 2.37 percent of the vote in Ingushetia. Elsewhere in the North Caucasus, he got less than one percent this time just as has been the case in the past.

            As far as participation is concerned, it grew by small amounts in both of the capitals; but the share of voters their casting their ballots for Putin was far higher than in past, almost exactly the same as the country as a whole and thus far more than ever before.  As a result, the liberals for whom Moscow and Petersburg had been bastions lost out.

            Participation was highest of all among those living outside the Russian Federation, 97.80 percent. That was followed by the 93.66 percent figure in Tyva, the 91.90 percentage share in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District,, 91.80 in Kabardino-Balkaria, 91.54 in Chechnya, and 89.98 percent in North Ossetia.

            At the other end of the participation ranking, with between 55 and 58 percent casting ballots, were Transbaikal Kray, Tver Oblast, Novgorod Oblast, Karelia and Irkutsk Oblast.

            Some figures about participation and support for Putin told a particular story. Tatarstan, under pressure from the Kremlin for much of the last year on the power-sharing accord and language use, turned out to be “the absolute leader in terms of the reduction of votes for Vladimir Putin” and in the level of participation (

                This year, Tatarstan gave the president 113,172 fewer votes than it had in 2012; and 160,000 fewer Tatarstan voters took place, a clear indication of unhappiness with Putin and Moscow, albeit relatively small figures considering the total number of votes in the country and the share Putin received overall.

            Two other places where major shifts in voting occurred were in the capitals and other large cities which went from being the bastions of the opposition to places which gave Putin almost the same share as the country as a whole and in Siberia and the Far East which did the same (

                In 2012, for example, only 46 percent of Moscow voters cast their ballots for Putin. This time, 71 percent did, a pattern replicated in St. Petersburg and other major cities and a reflection both of changes in Russia since the Crimean Anschluss and the success of Putin’s political campaign this time around. 

            But perhaps even more dramatic were Putin’s gains in both participation and support east of the Urals.  In 2012, some places in those regions lagged country-wide figures by 20 percent. This time around the differences in both were significantly small across this enormous region (

                Indeed, Krasnoyarsk political analyst Yury Moskvich said that these elections showed that Putin “is not only president of Moscow, St. Petersburg and central Russia” but of the entire country, a reflection of how much has changed since the Russian president organized the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Could Doping Scandal Do to Putin what Tax Evasion Charges Did to Al Capone?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 22 – In 1931, the US government charged mobster Al Capone for tax evasion, far from the most heinous of his crimes but one for which it could most easily get a conviction in court.  That indirect judgment had the effect of ending Capone’s rule of the Chicago underworld.

            Now, almost a century later, something analogous appears to be happening with Vladimir Putin who may find himself more isolated for his organization of a state system of doping by Russian athletes than he has been for his other, more serious crimes, including political murders and the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine.

            This possibility is suggested by the confluence of two events this week. In the first, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said he agreed with that “Putin will use the World Cup 2018 just as Hitler used the 1936 Olympics” in Berlin (

            And in the second, officials at the World Anti-Doping Agency said that they were taking additional steps to deprive Russia of the right to host future competitions, although the officials indicated that they will not seek to take away any events, including this year’s World Cup, that Moscow has already been awarded (

            That would seem to limit the appropriateness of the Al Capone analogy to Putin, but there is reason to think that is not the case because the doping scandal coming on top of the Kremlin’s efforts to kill its opponents in Russia and abroad and its invasion of neighboring countries is leading ever more governments to think about various forms of boycotting the World Cup.

            Britain, Denmark, Spain, Poland, Ukraine and Sweden are actively considering boycotts at least by officials; and even the governments in Italy, Spain, France and Germany have been discussing that possibility, although few think they will follow through (

            Such boycotts send the kind of message that even Putin will understand, yet another indication that anyone who violates the rules of the game as often and as cavalierly as he does will not be accepted as a member of the international community in good standing however many nuclear weapons he has and however willing he is to use violence.

            And it is worth remembering that Al Capone’s income tax conviction not only cost him his leadership of the American mob: it represented a major step toward the beginning of the end of that criminal conspiracy.