Monday, June 30, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Successor May Be ‘Already in His Entourage,’ Kryshtanovskaya Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of the Center for the Study of Elites at the Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology and Russia’s most distinguished student of elites and their rotation, says that “Putin’s successor is already in his closest entourage” and that Putin may even decide who it will be.

            In an interview taken by Vladimir Rudakov and published today on, the sociologist says that despite Putin’s high ratings, it is far too early to say whether he will run in 2018 or decide to become a Russian version of Deng Xiaoping (

                Indeed, she suggests, the Ukrainian crisis, depending on how it plays out, may determine whether the Kremlin leader remains in power or chooses to go.  While those closest to Putin are putting on a brave face, they are unhappy about restrictions on their travel to the West, their access to property there, and the ability of their children to study there.

            A slightly broader part of the elite is suffering a bit from the sanctions, she continues, but “if the West will be able to convince its own business and a serious outflow of capital from Russia begins, the borders are closed, and credit card arrangements are disrupted ... this will affect not only the elites but also the middle class.”

            So far, the sociologist says, ordinary people are backing Putin because of patriotism and because sanctions don’t affect them. In most cases, she continues, the population “can hardly calculate” how sanctions are already affecting the country and are pleased to float along with “a romantic wave of patriotism.”

            But if first those closest to Putin and then broader groups start to hurt, Kryshtanovskaya says, opposition to the Kremlin leader could increase because “no one wants to reduce his standard of living, even for the high goals of patriotism.” Such a situation would be very dangerous, and parts of the elite could begin making their own calculations about the future.

                She points out that “if the events in Ukraine had taken place somewhat earlier, in 2011-2012, they might have divided the political class instead of uniting much of it as now. At that time, Kryshtanovskaya says, “there were signs of the fragmentation of the elite,” between Putin’s “conservative majority” and Dmitry Medvedev’s “small group of liberals.”
            Putin was able to “consolidate the political class and neutralize the opposition,” and those around him who might have become his opponents were overwhelmed by the patriotic “wave” that has swept the country since the annexation of Crimea and sent Putin’s ratings through the roof.
            Of course, she continues, “there is a danger that [today’s] euphoria will be replaced by depression. And this will happen if nothing is done.  Fine,” people will say, “you took Crimea. Hurrah! But what next?  Enormous costs? A decline in the standard of living? If so, then depression will come.”

            Putin and his entourage certainly understand this.  He and his people “understand it and are thinking how not to allow it to happen.  Initially,  they will continue to point to what could happen to Russia and its stability if it were to follow the Ukrainian path.  No one wants that, Kryshtanovskaya says.

            “Ukraine has given Russia a lesson about what not to do.  To lose stability and push one’s country into chaos.” That is easy to do, she continues, but escaping from chaos is “difficult.” Putin has made his career by presenting himself as the guarantor of stability, and how he has added to that someone who has given Russians a reason for pride.

            “People want to be proud of their country!” But attitudes can change and the 2018 presidential elections are a long way off.  At present, all polls show that “the population does not see an alternative to Putin.” And neither does the elite.  But this means less than some may think because “in all authoritarian regimes, it is that way: there is no alternative to the leader.”

             Were things to continue exactly as they are, Putin could win without any difficulty. But they are unlikely to.   And that in turn raises the question: “Does Putin himself want to serve another term as president? Or will he prefer to play the role of a kind of Deng Xiaoping,” an eler statesman who doesn’t have to deal with day to day problems.

            Putin is “intelligent and is [undoubtedly] considering various possibilities,” Kryshtanovskaya says.  “It is possible that he will consider that for the preservation of the stability of the system, it will be better to go into the shadows, to find ‘successor No. 2,’ and to help him win his own authority in the elections.”

            The sociologist does not say this, but such a strategy not only represents a recapitulation of the way in which Putin himself came to power but could allow him to have a far longer influence over the future of the country than might be the case if he has to face the inevitable problems that any Kremlin leader would.

            “If that scenario is realistic,” she says, “then such a successor is already in the immediate entourage of the president.” And it may be, Kryshtanovskaya concludes, because “Putin has more than once demonstrated that he is capable of the most unexpected and out of the ordinary steps.”

            And that in term means, the elite specialist concludes, that “intrigue about his true plans will be preserved until the very end.”

Window on Eurasia: FSB Preparing to Close Muslim Institutions in Occupied Crimea, Silantyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – Roman Silantyev, notorious for his attacks on Muslim in the Russian Federation but close to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian security agencies, says that the FSB plans for “the liquidation of radical Islamic organizations in Crimea.”

            Silantyev told Rosbalt last week that the Russian security services were preparing to do so because they have identified extremist groups in several mosques and Muslim educational institutions in Crimea and will close them because they have become “bases for religious extremists” (

            The Moscow activist’s words are worrisome not only because he has an expansive definition of Muslim “extremism” – it often seems he includes in that category any Muslim trend he and the Russian authorities don’t like – but also because he has repeatedly attacked the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Crimea as extremist and “a branch” of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis (

            As Golos Islama points out, Silantyev recently attracted widespread attention by his call to  liquidate what he said were 700,000 Wahhabis in Russia in order to prevent “the threat of terrorist actions” there. Apparently, the site added, “Silantyev still hasn’t calculated how many Muslims need to be killed in Crimea.”

            But despite the flamboyance of his language, Silantyev often has been among the first Russian commentator to talk about crackdowns by the Russian security services and thus his predictions for what will happen next in Crimea and to its Muslims, most of whom are Crimean Tatars, needs to be taken seriously. 

Window on Eurasia: Three Laws of Soviet Reality Again Operational Under Putin, Magarshak Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – Three unwritten laws which governed the lives of Soviet people have resumed operation in Vladimir Putin’s Russia and increasingly set the terms for the interaction between his country’s population and the state, and they are “just as universal and all-embracing,” a Russian blogger suggests,” as the laws of Newton.

            These three laws, Yury Magarshak, a Russian who now lives in New York, says are as follows:

·         “The first law of Soviet nature is if it seems to you that the Head of the Country or his oracles (the foreign minister, ideologues, and the lead articles of ‘Pravda’) are speaking the truth, this means that you are either insufficiently informed or are under hypnosis.

·         “The second law of Soviet nature is if it seems to you that you understand what is actually taking place, look at the situation more attentively.  After that, convince yourself that everything is absolutely not as you imagined.

·         And “the third law of Soviet nature is if the Leaders of the Soviet State say something which appears humane and human, this means that they either have already committed or intend to commit something especially horrifying” (

Magarshak says that he became convinced of the “universality of [these] three laws of Soviet nature “whenever he had any dealings with the Authorities, read a newspaper, or turned on ‘central television.’”

            Things began to change at the end of the 1980s, and that trend continued in the 1990s, he says. Even the leaders of the country began to speak like human beings.  “It seemed to some that the Soviet System in Russia had receded into the past.” But such conclusions have proved to be wrong.  Once again, “the Laws of Soviet Nature are again being fulfilled in Russia.”

            At first this process was “step by step,” but after the Sochi Olympiad, it picked up speed and became all-embracing.  Government television re-introduced “the Five Minute Hate (exactly as Orwell described)” about Ukraine and the West -- and “twice a day, a whole hour of hatred” as well.

            Whenever Moscow television began to talk about the West, it became “gloomy, sarcastic and angry,” but when it spoke about domestic affairs, the “voice of the zombie broadcaster took on a sickeningly sweet tone, exactly like Soviet television, Magarshak says.

            Russian viewers were encouraged to be joyful about new territorial acquisitions “not because there is too little land in Russia but because a Russia that isn’t expanding isn’t Russia just as a Universe which isn’t expanding isn’t a Universe.”

            The duplicity continued. “The people of Ukraine were declared a fraternal people ... but at the very same time, [Moscow television labelled Ukrainians] fascists, Nazis and Banderites.”

            Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine is obvious to the world, but “just like in the case of the invasion in Prague, earlier in Hungary, and later the fraternal assistance to Afghanistan,” the Russian authorities now follow the Soviet Law and insist that what everyone can see is not in fact the case.

             Magarshak suggests that Moscow’s vote for a UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, a vote that was on its face a humane and correct one, should have been the tip-off that the Kremlin was about to do something terrible.  And it did.

            And Putin’s statement in Austria that Moscow is not involved in Donetsk and Luhansk was followed only two days later by “something especially terrifying,” the unification of the two “peoples republics” into Novorossiya, something that anyone familiar with the three Laws of Soviet reality would have expected.

            The “chief result” of Putin’s time in office has been that “Soviet power has again come to Russia,” not with the goal of the construction of communism but rather with a world in which there is “a fundamental lack of correspondence between words and deeds,” exactly what one would expect of someone who is a KGB officer.

            “The struggle for the establishment of a Fifth Rome (the third was the Empire of the Romanovs, the fourth that of the Ulyanovs and Dzhugashvilis known under the pseudonym of the Soviet Union) is in full swing and will continue.  But there can be no doubt,” Magarshak concludes, “that the Soviet Union has already been restored” in the Russian Federation.

Window on Eurasia: Autarchy Imposed or Chosen Would Seriously Harm Russians, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – Western sanctions and Ukraine’s decision to end arms exports to Russia have already hurt some sectors of the economy and prompted some to call for making Russia completely independent of the international economy, but such moves, a Moscow commentator says, would only make Russia’s current problems even worse.

            Viktor Dyatlovich, a journalist for “Russky reporter,” has surveyed a number of branches of the Russian economy to see how sanctions or a drive toward autarchy will affect those branches and the country as a whole.  His conclusions should be sobering to Russians and others alike (

            While Russia could do relatively well in maintaining its military capacity even if there were no imports, the Russian people would suffer in major ways because of their dependence on antibiotics because more than 95 percent of those either are directly imported from abroad or contain imported components, something Russian producers can do little about anytime soon.

            No country in the world, not even outcasts like North Korea or Iran is “completely cut off from the rest of the world” or lacks the ability to “import raw materials, goods, and technology” one way or another, Dyatlovich says. But one can use that possibility however implausible to see how autarchy would affect the Russian Federation in key branches.

            The journalist divides the branches he surveys into three groups.  Group One includes the military-industrial complex, construction, and metallurgy.  These branches are the least dependent on imports already and could albeit at the price of delays and higher costs shift relatively quickly to domestic production.

            There would be a slow-down in the domestic production of weaponry like drones possibly for several years. In construction, there would be small bottlenecks but no basic problems. Experts say, the journalist reports, that in that area, “Russia could move to complete self-supply tomorrow.”

            Group Two includes space exploration, agriculture, electronics, IT, machine building, chcemisty and petroleum processing.  In these sectors, Dyatlovich says, Russia’s “dependence on imports is essential but not critical.”  A Russia cut off from the world economy would have to spend more and would have lower quality products, but it could do survive.

             Complete autarchy in space exploration would be “a complete utopia,” experts say. Russia currently imports 65-70 percent of the electronics it needs in this sector.  If it couldn’t or wouldn’t do so, the country would have to rely on rockets developed in the 1950 and 1960s which had far fewer electronic components.  That could be remedied with time.

            The average Russia wouldn’t notice this at least at first, the journalist continues. Electronic items for personal use like smartphones and televisions would still be available, although they would become “significantly more expensive. But that is all.”

            Russia could even develop mines to obtain rare earth minerals needed in this sector, although that would take time, and the relevant ministry has currently allocated only 23 billion rubles (750 million US dollars)of the estimated145 billion rubles (40 billion US dollars) that would take.

            Food production would also suffer.  Russia currently imports 70 percent of its seed potatoes from abroad and much of its meat. And ramping things up would be hard because the country now does not have a single factory producing diesel motors for trackers and other farm equipment.  It could produce them but at much higher costs and only over time.

            Group Three includes branches of the Russian economy that would be most seriously hit by total sanctions or the pursuit of autarchy. They include light industry, machine building, and medicine. In these sectors, there is little or no possibility for a rapid substitution of imports with new domestic production.

            Many kinds of clothing would become unavailable. Machine tool building, “one of the weakest links of [Russian] industry” and the base for many others, would not be able to manage at all well. And critical medicines would become unavailable and Russian public health would suffer enormously.

            In 2006, Dyatlovich says, 99 percent of all machine tool purchases in terms of price were from abroad. Now, the situation is slightly better but not much. And many Russian firms in this area are going bankrupt, especially in high-rent areas like Moscow.  Reversing this would be very, very hard.

            But in some ways, the sector that would be hardest hit by total sanctions or the pursuit of autarchy would be in medicine.  In 2012, the Russian government  identified 563 key medicines.  Only 94 of them were produced by Russian companies. 202 were produced “exclusively abroad” and imported. At present, “almost 95 percent of antibiotics in Russia are prepared from imported components.”

             This is, the journalist says, “a question of national security,” although it is far from clear that the Kremlin agrees. Before the USSR collapsed, the country produced “almost three hundred substances for medicines. Now, it produces only a handful.  And this branch will not be restored, whatever efforts the government makes.”
            In Russia today, Dyatlovich says, “there simply are no bases for domestic production of highly effective substances for antibiotics of the latest generations.” Moreover, “in the course of the last two decades, the scientific potential which would have allowed the rapid development of contemporary substances has disappeared.”
            One figure alone highlights this: At the present time, some 600 Russian pharmaceutical plans produce medications which are significantly less effective than those of the same category manufactured abroad.  Changing that is a matter of generations not months or even years. In the meantime, the Russian people will suffer.