Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin’s Media Monopoly Cutting It Off from Reality Just as Censorship Did Soviet Leaders, Sulakshin Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 31 – By imposing a monopoly on Russia’s information space, Vladimir Putin and his regime risk falling into the trap that leaders at the end of the Soviet period complained about: “their ears hear one thing but their eyes see something else,” a development that was fatal for the USSR and could be for Putin’s Russia as well, Stepan Sulakshin says.


            Sulakshin, head of the Moscow Center for Scientific Political Thought and Ideology, says that “information war is a prerogative of the state [but] an absolute monopoly in the media leads to degradation and decay” and “propaganda which goes beyond rationality and expediency” (


            Moscow today, like other governments, is telling itself that it has the right to impose such a monopoly because of the war in Ukraine, but that argument, the analyst says, missed the point that “war is not something that happens every day” and that the greater control the regime has over the media, the more likely it will not know what is really happening and not be able to avoid decay.


            Many commentators have warned, Sulakshin says, that the government’s control of the media is leading to the zombification of the population, but they have paid less attention to the ways in which it is leading at the same time and for the same reasons to an elite which believes its own propaganda.


            In that situation, he argues, “if the blind are leading the blind, then it is well known to which cemetery they will come as a result.”


            Any government has a right to put its message out via the media, Sulakshin says, but it must be careful not to destroy the media as a source of genuine information and feedback by going too far and setting up a monopoly. When that happens, the authorities typically explicit their possibilities, do not get a critical response, and lose their way.


            A vicious circle emerges, Sulakshin says. “The more stupid and mistakenly the authorities act, the more harm their actions inflict on the country … the more efforts the state media spend on explaining such measures as the most intelligence, wise, necessary and positive for the country.”  Those sending the message believe it as much as those to whom it is directed.


            And it is entirely possible, Sulakshin says, that the audience will wake up to the fraud even sooner than the elite. That is because “the population sooner or later will understand” that the regime’s claim that 85 percent” of Russians support it is implausible given the problems and that that in turn means “our state organism, including its information part is also seriously ill.”


Window on Eurasia: Navalny Case Signals Complete Degradation of Russian Legal System Under Putin, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 31 – In its handling of the Navalny case, the Kremlin has shown how it uses “the appearance of legality” to cover what has become “the illegality” of the Russian legal system and thus is important as a marker of the broader and complete degradation of that system, according to Ella Paneyakh.


            In a commentary for today, the sociologist says that the way in which the Russian government acted in the Navalny case shows that it now is quite capable of going “as far as is in general possible” in moving from a legal system to one where the laws are simply political tools (


            The number of violations of law and legal practice in this case, Paneyakh says, is staggering: Under normal procedure, neither brother would have been sentenced to jail after the Yve Rocher company denied that it had suffered damages, and the bother (Aleksey) who was already under suspended sentence would have been sent to jail.


            Moreover, there were other problems. On the one hand, the court simply ignored regular order and issued a decision without reading the text and in effect took a hostage.  And on the other, the sentences, which violate that order, very much appear to be have the result of telephone justice, of phone calls from above directing the judge what to say and when.


            It is important to recognize that what happened to the Navalny brothers is simply “the result of what has happened in the [Russian] criminal justice system in recent years.”  The situation is now so bad that the authorities no longer feel any need to “veil” political cases with legal niceties and assume they can cover everything with “television propaganda.


            The sentences in this case, she continues, represent “a completely new level of legal arbitrariness even in comparison with what has been done” in the past.  The entire system is shown to have nothing to do with law, and as a result, it is likely that soon not only the Kremlin but “every regional princeling” will protect himself by dictating “judicial” outcomes.


            What happened, of course, was preceded by a series of steps away from law and judicial practice as they had been understood. First, the Russian authorities introduced the widespread use of “criminal intent” to force the verdicts they wanted. Then, they employed a Soviet-like elasticity in applying specific codes to get the “correct” outcomes.


             And then, as these things were accepted as the way business is now being done, the authorities simply invoked precedent to do even more, the sociologist writes. “As a result, the legalization of illegal practice has been able to penetrate even into law itself.”


            Society, of course, “at each stage had the chance to respond and protest such changes” and thus stop this gutting of law and court procedure. But in all too many cases, the Russian people did nothing and simply accepted what the authorities have done. The Navalny case may change that, but far more protests will be needed.


            If they are not forthcoming and if the authorities do not back away from what they have done to the brothers Navalny, then it will be time to speak about something that might be described as the death of law and judicial independence in Putin’s Russia. In that event, everyone is at risk.


Window on Eurasia: The Longer Putin is in Office, the Worse for Russia, Butakov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 31 – Tomorrow is the 15th anniversary of Boris Yeltsin’s New Year’s gift to the Russian people – Vladimir Putin as their ruler – a man who was not the servant of the oligarchs as some had expected but rather a willful leader who has made the last decade a half into his own “era.”


            But it is now clear that whatever Russians believe he has done for their country now, the longer Putin remains in office, Yaroslav Butakov argues in a commentary on today, the more disastrous things will become the consequences for Russia and the Russian people (


            The reasons for that conclusion, the historian says, are to be found in the personality of the man who has become the ruler of Russia.  Putin has shown himself to be increasingly inadequate in providing answers to the questions that his own actions are causing to be raised, and he is sacrificing the interests of the country in the name of maintaining his own power.


            It is quite possible, Butakov says, that Putin is suffering from an emotional problem which means that “the chief goal of his political acts is personal self-assertion.” Such an individual needs “extraordinary circumstances where he can display his qualities as ‘a savior’” and win plaudits for doing so regardless of the consequences.


            “An authoritarian ruler is always put forward by a ruling class,” the historian points out, “but having become such, the ruler begins to ‘build’ a ruling class” that will support him and his projects. Consensus on this point, of course, can ultimately be “destroyed by the actions” of the ruler himself.


            “Disagreement at the top is a necessary factor of any revolution, for a consolidated ruling class always is capable of putting down any dissatisfaction coming only from below,” Butakov says. “Only groups in the elite itself who are dissatisfied [will be] capable of pulling down the regime,” he says.


            “However paradoxical” it may seem, the analyst continues, “the very sharpest intra-elite conflict in Russia after 1993 preceded the ascent of Putin to the Olympus of power.”  That was the fight between Putin and Luzhkov in 1999. It was “a real ‘crisis of the people at the top.’” And it arose over what to do about Chechnya.


            That struggle featured themes that are once again surfacing. Indeed, Butakov argues, “there is nothing new in principle in this connection” in 2014, although there are some minor variations because of the experience of 15 years ago and the inertia of some of the participants who have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from that time.


            Compared with 1999, the situation Putin finds himself in today appears “particularly firm,” but “is that so in reality?” Butakov asks. In fact, “the lack of a definite intra-elite opposition is the result, above all, of the negative selection of cadres” by Putin, of his driving out of all “independently thinking personalities” be they Kasyanov or Illarionov.


            “The elite as a whole needs an executor, but the leader for his part needs around him only executors” of his will,” he says. “No one must interfere with his plans to pay the single ‘savior’” of the situation.” Over time, Butakov argues, “this dilemma can become irresolvable.” The real question is: “has that time come?”


            It is still not clear how groups within the elite are reacting to what has changed in their worlds thanks to Putin’s policies. But to the extent that they do become convinced that he threatens their interests, their opposition will first occur behind the scenes and then “provoke a domino effect for the entire political system of ‘enlightened authoritarianism.’”


            How much longer the Putin era will last remains unclear, Butakov says. But “the Russian Federation as ‘the legal successor of the USSR’ or some kind of ‘USSR 2.0’ has turned out to be a failed and lifeless project.” And Putin’s efforts to play a role “exceeding the capacity of the country” are only leading Russia to collapse much faster than would otherwise be the case.


            Consequently, on this New Year’s Eve, Russian must recognize that the longer Putin remains in office and conducts the policies he is promoting now, “the more catastrophic the consequences” will be for everyone concerned.


            One can only hope, Butakov concludes, “that a year from now, our New Year’s television picture will look different than it does today.”

Window on Eurasia: Three Questions for Navalny about Russia’s Future

Paul Goble 
            Staunton, December 31 – If as some are suggesting 2015 is going to be the year of Aleksey Navalny just as the past years have been those of Vladimir Putin, then it is extremely important that the opposition leader clearly state his positions lest Russians find in his case that they have given the power to someone who will take Russia again in an unwelcome direction.
            One area where Navalny has been less than clear about his positions concerns Moscow’s relations with Russia’s regions and Russia’s neighbors – indeed, he has been criticized in the past for playing up to nationalist groups – and that makes it especially important that he be quite specific about his intentions in that regard.
             Vadim Shteppa, a regionalist analyst, says that “like all normal people [he] is glad that Aleksey was not put in prison and is angry that his brother Oleg was.” But he suggests that “if Aleksey would study Russian history a little more closely, he would understand that this is the work of the same imperialist matrix” of the past (
            The analyst thus asks that Navalny give short and clear answers to three questions:
*** “Should Russia be a federation or an empire?”

*** “If a federation, then on what model should it be built? Will it be an agreement of sovereign regions or the same Kremlin ‘vertical’ but only with [Navalny] instead of Putin?”
*** “Do you [Aleksey Navalny] recognize Ukraine and the other post-Soviet countries are genuinely independent – or do you dream about the remake of the Russian Empire?”
Given how angry many Russians are now at Putin and his crimes against the Russian people and Russia’s neighbors, it is all too easy to assume that almost anyone would be an improvement. And while that may be true in many respects, it is not the case in all, and those supporting anyone to replace the Kremlin dictator deserve to know just what they are backing.

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Two Megaprojects in 2014 Have Cost Every Russian Nearly 1200 US Dollars

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 31 – At a time when the Kremlin is closing Russian hospitals, cutting teachers’ pay, reducing pensions, and not building roads, Vladimir Putin spent more than 160 billion US dollars on his two megaprojects of 2014 – the Winter Olympics in subtropical Sochi and the invasion of Ukraine.


            That works out to about 1200 US dollars or 60,000 rubles for every man, woman and child in the Russian Federation, an immediate direct cost on each of them and one that does not include the loss of intangible rights and the future loss of even more of both the longer Putin stays in the Kremlin.


            This figure comes from adding the widely accepted cost of the Sochi Olympiad – just over 50 billion US dollars – to the figure of 111 billion US dollars – which is the amount of the decline in Russia’s reserves since the start of Putin’s campaign in Ukraine and which Andrey Illarionov says is “the price” of that war ( and


            According to Illarionov, a Russian analyst now at Washington’s CATO Institute, “the loss of 111 billion dollars of reserves in this year is not the result of Western sanctions but is the result of the political decisions of Mr. Putin and the illiterate actions of the Central Bank.” And it is “no small sum,” being 2.5 times what was spent in Sochi.


            While many Russians likely felt at the time that the Sochi Games were worth the price, even with all the corruption they entailed, ever fewer do given that whatever bounce in international standing that international competition gave the country was almost immediately irretrievably lost by Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and his continuing aggression in the Donbas.


            There are far more compelling moral reasons to oppose the actions of the last dictator in Europe – and it is Putin even more than Belarus’s Alyaksandr Lukashenka – both in suppressing his own people and unleashing war against his neighbors and the world. But it is often the case that nations turn against their leaders because the geopolitical projects of the latter cost too much.


            Over the last 12 months, Putin has imposed an enormous burden on the people of Russia, something ever more of them are certainly aware of and oppose. And in the next 12 months or even sooner, their awareness and opposition of this tragic waste of resources by a country that can ill afford such things will, one hopes on this New Year’s Eve, be the basis for change.



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Analysts Say Kyiv Planning Terrorist Acts against Russia But May Lack Resources to Carry Them Out

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 30 – Four Moscow commentators with close ties to the Russian security services say that the Ukrainian special services are preparing to conduct terrorist actions and other “diversions” inside the Russian Federation, a charge that will dramatically increase tensions and may be presage Russian diversions that Moscow will blame on Ukrainians.


            On the portal, Ruslan Gorevoy presents such evidence as he says he has gathered on this issue and then surveys the opinions of Sergey Goncharov, head of the Alfa Group veterans organization, Aleksandr Mikhailov, a former FSB officer, Viktor  Myasnikov, a spetsnaz veteran, and Nikolay Dimlevich, a high technology analyst, about it (


            Gorevoy begins by referring to the statement of Andrey Levus, a deputy in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, a few days ago that Ukraine’s SBU is preparing terrorist acts in Russia and has spent some 50 million US dollars on that project.  His comments are hardly the only indication of this possibility, however, the writer says.


            Former Ukrainian defense minister Anatoly Gritsenko and Verkhovna Rada deputy Dmitry Yarosh have said much the same thing, Gorevoy continues. And it is very likely that the case against SBU head Valentina Nalivaychenko will soon feature charges about this crime as well.


            Gorevoy suggests that the Ukrainian special forces are already making use of anti-Moscow Chechens and Crimean Tatars, and he cites Moscow political analyst Lev Voroshilin’s comment that he has “no doubts in the inevitability” of terrorist actions by these people against Russia.


            Kyiv is also planning to make use of ethnic Ukrainians in the Russian Federation regardless of whether they are Russian citizens, migrant workers, or refugees, and it is “preparing terrorists out of ethnic Russians and citizens of the Russian Federation” as well, Gorevoy says.


            Vershilin says that “the conclusions are obvious.” Ukraine is preparing to launch “a terrorist war against Russia on its territory.” Anyone who “closes his eyes to this fact” is behaving in an irresponsible manner because a state that uses terrorists is a terrorist state, “although not from the point of view of the West, where terrorism directed against Russia isn’t terrorism.”


            The four specialists Gorevoy spoke with were unanimous that Ukraine would almost certainly like to engage in such actions, but they expressed varying degrees of skepticism about Kyiv’s ability to do so.


            Goncharov said that at present, the only group Ukraine has which could carry out such tasks is the SBU’s Alfa unit. It was created in Soviet times, the veteran says, “and we know that it has the potential” to do so. But Ukraine has only a handful of such people, and building up the requisite staff is “a question of more than one year.”


            Mikhailov said the presence of a large number of Ukrainian refugees in Russia means that the potential for such diversionary attacks “theoretically” exists, but he said that “in order to carry them out, [Kyiv] needs not only people but also money and corresponding bases on the territory of Russia.” All of that is expensive, and it isn’t clear whether Kyiv has the resources.


            Myasnikov said that “it is obvious that Kyiv wants to create a group” to eliminate opponents of the Ukrainian government if for nothing else.  But even that is no easy thing to carry out.  And Dimlevich noted that the Russian security agencies would be very alert to such a possibility and do everything necessary to block it.






Window on Eurasia: Moscow Must Prevent Gastarbeiters from Spreading Islamist Radicalism in Russia, Suleymanov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 30 – Central Asian gastarbeiters are introducing and spreading Islamist radicalism in many parts of the Russian Federation, and Moscow needs to take some extraordinary immediate measures or risk losing effective control over portions of the country, according to Rais Suleymanov.


            The portal this week has posted Suleymanov’s article, “Migrants and Their Role in the dissemination of Radical Trends of Islam in Russia” from a collection of essays, “Ideological Opposition to Ethno-Religious Terrorism in Contemporary Russia” (in Russian; Saransk, 2014, pp. 65-94) (


            In this 8,000-word and heavily footnoted article, Suleymanov, a Kazan scholar who works for the influential Russian Institute for Strategic Studies and has been a frequent critic of Muslim leaders and Muslim republics, provides details on what he says is the threat that immigrant workers now pose.


            Suleymanov notes that many people think of migrant workers only as a source of crime, but the real threat they pose is as “bearers of radical trends in Islam.” Such people are now so numerous in many places that Russia may soon face “a situation when our villages will gradually be transformed into Central Asian kishlaks.”


            Moreover and still worse, Russia will soon find itself in a situation like the one France faces with Arabs: the rise of a second generation of immigrants born in Russia who combine the worst of all possible worlds: a commitment to Islamist values and the expectation arising from their Russian citizenship that they will nonetheless be treated with deference by the authorities.


            But most immediately, Suleymanov says, “the main danger” the gastarbeiters pose is that they are carrying out agitation and propaganda among Russia’s own indigenous Muslims and recruiting them as their allies in the struggle for the realization of their own radical Islamist goals.


            To meet these challenges, the RISI commentator offers six recommendations to the Russian government.  First, he says, Moscow must expand its cooperation with the special services of the Central Asian countries in order to gain their help in identifying and then blocking radicals from coming into Russia.


            Second, the Russian government needs to train and hire specialists on Islamist movements who can help the Federal Migrant Service identify and weed out the radicals.


            Third, Moscow needs to draw on the expertise of Russia’s own Muslims and make imams and mullahs responsible for monitoring and then countering Islamist radical propaganda on the territory of their parishes.

            Fourth, Moscow must “mobilize all government organs” to block “the colonization of rural population points by migrants, the formation by them of ethnic quarters in cities, and the active settlement of entire cities in the Far North.”  If it doesn’t, these will become centers for the spread of Islamist radicalism throughout the country.


            Fifth, Moscow must toughen its laws on religious extremism. Currently, according to Suleymanov, they are “extremely soft.” Indeed, he says, one of the reasons Islamist radicals come from Central Asian countries to Russia is that the laws against extremist are much tougher in their homelands than in the Russian Federation.


            And sixth, he concludes saying this is “the main thing,” Moscow must take radical steps to fight illegal immigration. Unless it gets that under control, Suleymanov says, it will be extremely difficult if not outright impossible for Moscow to prevent immigration from becoming a source of the destabilization of Russia.


Window on Eurasia: Ukrainian Group Wants Kyiv to Apply for NATO Membership Now

Paul Goble

           Staunton, December 30 – Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Marchuk have formed a new group to press Kyiv to apply now for membership in the Western alliance, a step that is possible now that the Verkhovna Rada has voted to end Ukraine’s policy of non-alignment.

            That action, Kravchuk and Marchuk say, “requires that the Ukrainian authorities immediately restore the Euro-Atlantic foreign policy course, apply for membership in NATO, and conduct an all-Ukrainian referendum in support of the membership of Ukraine” in the Western alliance (

            In addition to Kravchuk and Marchuk, the initiative group for the formation of a Ukraine in NATO movement includes the poet Dmitry Pavlychko, former foreign minister Vladimir Ogryzko, former  Hague tribunal judge Vladimir Vasilenko, former Verkhovna Rada deputy Ivan Zayats, and former ecology minister Yury Shcherbak.

            The group plans to set up branches in all cities and villages of Ukraine and to collect signatures to press for a referendum as soon as possible.  But the group’s leaders are under no illusions that the way forward will be necessarily easy or quick.

             Marchuk pointed out at the press conference yesterday that “the procedure of joining NATO is quite complicated, both technically and in terms of the demands” the alliance places on potential members. Moreover, he pointed out, “not all NATO member countries are inclined in the direction we would like.”

            According to the former prime minister, “Ukraine will only be able to acquire the status of a country with a NATO Membership Action Plan [MAP] after it holds a referendum. And consequently, he and his colleagues hope to meet that requirement as soon as possible. Ogryzko for his part said he hopes it can take place in 2015.

            Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said in the past that he hopes Ukraine will be able to create the conditions that will allow it to join NATO sometime over the next five to six years.  The new group, fearful of Moscow’s intentions, clearly wants to advance that timetable in a significant way.



Window on Eurasia: ‘V Ukraine’ has Always Been Correct, Moscow Language Expert Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 30 – Most English speakers now recognize that calling Ukraine “the Ukraine” is insulting, but Russians remain divided over whether to say “in Ukraine” (“v Ukraine”) or “on Ukraine” (“na Ukraine”), investing the choice with political meaning because in the minds of some, the first makes Ukraine a country and the second only a place.


            Oksana Grunchenko, a senior researcher at the Institute of the Russian Language in the Russian Academy of Sciences who provides guidance on Russian usage to the media and other scholars, say that the “v” or “na” issue has become especially heated in the last year (


            But she points out that it is not a new question and that “over the course of many years we have said that in reality, two forms exist historically: with the preposition ‘v’ and with the preposition ‘na.’” Pushkin used “v” in his poem “Poltava,” for example, and thus it is part of Russian literary language.


            At the same time, Grunchenko continues, she and her colleagues “stress that the normative form in contemporary Russian language which no one has tried or is trying to change is the form with the preposition ‘na.’” According to the Moscow scholar, “it always was the case, and until 1993, it didn’t come into the head of anyone to open a discussion on this issue.”


            “But in the process of establishing Ukrainian statehood,” she says, “this question arose” because Ukrainians live in their own country but speak Russian and overwhelming use a specific preposition: “v” and not “na.”


            Some scholars in Ukraine even began to demand that Russians use “v” as well because, “they said” it was important to “break the link with the offensive analogy ‘on the borderland’ and ‘on Ukraine.’” Perhaps not surprisingly, this has become a very sensitive issue for many, and the choice people make says something about their politics.


            If someone uses “v,” then they are being guided “by the principle of political correctness,” but if they use “na,” then they are being guided by the traditional norms of the Russian language.  “It is possible,” Grunchenko says, that doing the former is a better idea if one is speaking with “residents of a neighboring state” who feel strongly about this.


            Moreover, she points out, the leaders of the Russian state have used “v” on occasion when relations between Moscow and Kyiv have been relatively good but then shifted to “na” when conditions have deteriorated.  Over the last year, “v” has more or less disappeared in Russia, except in expressions like “’in Ukraine, as they say there.’”


Window on Eurasia: Unlike Russia, Ukraine Escaping from Orwellian World, Klyamkin Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 30 – Unlike Russians who will call white black one day and then reverse themselves the next, Ukrainians are on the way to escaping that Orwellian world and are no longer prepared to make engage in such mental acrobatics to fit into their society, a fundamental shift which gives hope for Ukraine’s future, according to Igor Klyamkin.


            Russians, the senior Russian commentator points out, become uncomfortable when they are offered “various points of view relative to the general order of things” and thus are prepared to go along at least in public with whatever the leadership says is the case even if this requires accepting as true what was rejected as false (


            This does not mean that “people do not have their own senses about what is correct and what is incorrect,” Klyamkin continues. It simply means that “they do not trust their own senses very much. They can distinguish black from white when the two are next to them,” but when they are far off, they aren’t certain and thus follow what those they assume know better say.


            Unfortunately, that in turn means that “the white of today will be viewed as black tomorrow -- and the reverse as well.” Thus, those who are called fascists now “will begin to be considered heroes” and so on.  Because of their dependence on rulers and TV commentators, Russians are like soldiers who may get doubtful orders but cannot doubt them.


            They go along, Klyamkin says, not simply out of fear of punishment, although that can play a role, but out of “a fear of ignorance about the common interest of the country and the common views of the command.”


            In Ukraine, it seems, the situation is different. There, ideas about what is correct do not always correspond but do come “upwards from below. Slowly, without complete confidence and with breakdowns, but they have come.” As a result, Ukrainians are not uncomfortable with what appears to be “anomalous.”


            What that means, Klyamkin says, is that Ukrainians have become citizens rather than soldiers, people with their own ideas who are not afraid to express them rather than those who keep their mouths shut and await orders about what to think and what to do.


            The reaction of Russians to what has been going on in Ukraine is “traditionally that of soldiers,” of a society that awaits orders rather than one that thinks for itself. That is why the Russian analyst says today, almost his only hope is that Ukraine will succeed in making this transition from an Orwellian world complete.


            “2014 was in European history [Ukraine’s] year,” Klyamkin concludes. “Let the same be true in 2015.”


Monday, December 29, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Crimea has Not Become Part of Russia, Kashin Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 29 – Ukraine’s blockade of Ukraine and Moscow’s reaction to it show that “Crimea has not become part of Russia” however much Vladimir Putin and his propagandists repeat that “Crimea is Ours.” It isn’t because if it were, Ukraine and Russia would both be behaving differently, according to Oleg Kashin.


            Kashin, a prominent Moscow journalist and commentator, says if it were the case that Crimea had become part of Russia, then Russian media would have to begin talking about “’a blockade’” of Russian territory and even consider the occupied peninsula as “a new Leningrad” (


            But that word is not part of “the lexicon of Russian propaganda” now, and it isn’t because however much Moscow insists that Crimea is part of Russia, the reality today is that it is not, that it remains foreign territory.  If that were not the case, neither Russia nor Ukraine would be acting as they are.


            At the present time, “two million Russians are blockaded on a cold peninsula,” Kashin says. No trains or cars can reach them from the outside, no one can count on regular electricity, and no one has any confidence that Moscow will ever build the bridge it has promised to construct to link the peninsula to Russia.


             “’Crimea is Ours’—the victorious slogan of this spring – has been sounded so often that it has become an anecdote” or even “something ominous.”  “Our – and this means a humanitarian catastrophe on the edge of which it now balances is also ours, and responsibility for it lies with the Russian Federation.”


            “If Crimea is Ukrainian, then everything is even worse,” the Russian commentator says. “For Ukraine, the peninsula is a territory temporarily occupied by Russia, a source of a territorial dispute and of big losses. The people of Ukraine in this view are unhappy Ukrainian citizens who in spite of their will are being held under the power of the Russian state.”


            Kyiv is punishing Crimea and its population with its blockade, but instead of helping the peninsula and its people, Moscow is helping Ukraine by supplying coal and ignoring the needs of a place and a population which its leaders regularly insist are part of the Russian Federation. This might be laughable if it weren’t so serious, he implies.


            “The annexation of Crimea in the course of the entire year was the occasion for the harshest criticism of Vladimir Putin from his various opponents in Russia and abroad,” Kashin says.  The Kremlin leader “has been accused of imperialism, expansionism, of dangerous geopolitical games and much else.”


            “The last days of the year demonstrate the baselessness of all these accusations,” the Russian commentator says.


            “Imperialists do not conduct themselves in this way. Put was and remains the leader of a money-centric authoritarian regime for whom the fate of two million people on the peninsula is nothing more than an occasion for virtual political games, and when these games come into contact with some reality, it turns out that Putin isn’t involved with the people or the peninsula.”


            Putin’s press secretary says what the Kremlin leader has been doing is “a consistent demonstration” of his political will, but there is nothing consistent about Putin’s actions in Ukraine. He has come up with four different explanations for why he sought the unification of Crimea with Russia, each in response to the situation of the time when he offered it.


            In reality, Kashin concludes, “Russia did not unite Crimea to itself; [instead], Russia pretended that Crimea became part of it.” That allowed for a propaganda campaign, and the immediate political goals of its author were achieved. But now Moscow has “no truck” with Crimea and its people.


            That, the Moscow commentator says, is how “Russian imperialism and expansionism look in the 21st century” and it is why Crimea is “ours” only for those who believe in propaganda.



Window on Eurasia: ‘Ukraine is the Poland of the 21st Century,’ Portnikov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 28 – Just as Poles were able to exploit the collapse of the Russian state a century ago to become independent countries and part of Europe, so too now Ukraine has the chance to exploit another round of the collapse of the Russian imperial project and become “the Poland of the 21st century,” according to Vitaly Portnikov.


            “Ukraine must use this chance,” one purchased in blood “and forever become part of the European world,” the commentator says; but if it is to do so, Ukrainians must understand the full implications of three things, none of which is likely to be entirely pleasant for many of them (


            First, they must recognize that “the main challenges of 2014” despite the dizzying events of the last months “not only have not been overcome but on the contrary are becoming the main content of [Ukrainian] life and the life of the world surrounding us” for the coming year and possibly years.


            Second, they must understand that they now find themselves in a situation much as the Poles and Finns did a century ago when the Russian Empire experienced a failed revolution, a patriotic boom, a collapse into despair in the course of a war, and a revolution that allowed some but now all of its parts to escape.


            And third, and most important, Ukrainians must face the fact that “now everything depends on us and only on us. The occupiers may commit diversions, think up new adventures, and impose dangerous deals but all this in no way will be able to change either our choice or our future.”


            As amazing as the events of 2014 have been, Portnikov argues, it seems destined to become “only a shocking prelude to real changes” in 2015 or even later given the ways in which Ukraine “has become the generator of a cycle of imperial modernization which the Russian Empire experienced already a century ago.”


             Ukrainians should remember that “the first clear push to changes in Russia then was the 1905 revolution, whose participants demanded the democratization of the country” and whose energy derived in the first instance from the non-Russian borderlands and only later the Russian provinces, just as appears to be the case in the Russian Federation today.


            “The increasingly harsh policies of the [Russian] regime in both cases led to the intensification of the inadequateness of the first person [in the state], the artificial selection of idiots and fools in power, and a complete lack of understanding by them of the logic of the development of economic and political processes in the contemporary world.”


            Ukraine’s Maidan and the ensuing events only add to these parallels, Portnikov says. In many ways, they can be “compared with the shooting” of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarayevo in 1914.  Both then and now, Russia wanted the course of events that followed “considering that this untied its hands,” a position that was idiotic but reflected that in both it was made by idiots.


            “The single chance for preserving the Russian regime in 1914,” Portnikov argues, required that the regime engage in economic reforms “and careful democratization. But Petersburg wanted to take part in a war for the re-division of the world” even though it had no understanding of its lack of capacity to do so successfully.


            As Portnikov says, “at the end of 1914, patriotism and enthusiasm in the Russian Empire were at the highest pitch, the year seemed a turning point, and the coming year victorious and happy.” But then these feelings dissipated in disappointment. Now, at the end of 2014, Russian emotions have been on an even more rapid rollercoaster ride up and then down.


            At the end of this year, he continues, “Russia society is both demoralized and confused, but the chief disappointments, the nightmares of 1915-1916 are still ahead” for them. And only the future will tell whether this will be a democratic February or a tragic October, “the disintegration of Russia and civil war” and exactly when these events will happen.


            “What does this mean for Ukraine?” Portnikov asks rhetorically. Before the Maidan, Ukraine “remained part of the empire in the form of an economic protectorate with an imitation of an independent state.” But now “the fate of ‘the Kingdom of Poland or ‘the Grand Duchy of Finland’ awaits us” if Ukrainians use “the collapse of the metropolitan center and forever become part of the European world.”


            Ukrainians “will enter the world without Russia. And next year, this will be finally understood even by the Russians themselves.” That is “the main result of 2014.”


            But history isn’t ending  with the last days of this year, Portnikov says, and just as with Poland after 1917, Ukrainian faces a future filled “with all the ensuring consequences” of its decision. “Now,” the commentator says, “everything depends on us and only on us.”


If Ukraine makes its Western choice stick, he suggests, in a few years, people will ask “who was Lenin?” rather than conclude that his statues must come down.


            But if Ukraine doesn’t make its decision to join Europe stick, then Ukrainians will remain hanging “between the civilized world and the disintegrating pseudo-empire, having neither the will to go forward nor the desire to go back to the past.”




Window on Eurasia: Will Russian Budget Allow for Restoration of Soviet-Style ‘Hero Mother’ Awards?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, December 29 – A group of Duma deputies wants to restore the “Hero Mother” award with all its accompanying benefits in order to boost the birthrate in Russia and help solve that country’s demographic problems, but the Russian government is worried about the potential cost of doing so and, while not opposed, is seeking to keep it as inexpensive as possible.


            The Soviet government created the award “Hero Mother” in 1944 which came with a variety of benefits to encourage Soviet families to have more children. Over the next 47 years, some 431,000 women in the USSR were given this status on the birth of their tenth child, Yury Alekseyev writes (


            But with the end of the USSR, this program lapsed, even though it had played a valuable role demographically, the Russian commentator suggests. Finally in 2008, faced with population declines, Moscow created a new award, that of “Parental Glory,” which recognized not just mothers but both parents.


            The new award did not come with any significant benefits and was hard to get: those who qualified had to collect an enormous number of documents and face endless lines. As a result, over the last six years, only 218 couples have received it. (Some regions, Alekseyev notes, supplemented this award with benefits, but the Russian government as a whole did not.)


             Now, a group of Duma deputies have offered a draft bill that would restore the status of Hero Mother and provide more benefits to those who are awarded it, but they face opposition from the government because of what many officials say are the potentially high costs of such a program.


            Initially, the deputies wanted to give the status and benefits to any woman who had given birth to five children, but faced with government opposition, they have since limited the potential number of Russian Hero Mothers by limiting the award to those who have given birth to ten children all of whom are still living at the time of the award.


            Government officials have also pushed to cut back on the bill’s offer of subsidies, housing and education benefits, and especially early retirement possibilities, Alekseyev says. And the regime’s opposition has been supplemented by those who feel the award is sexist and that fathers should be recognized as well.


             The deputies have given ground, but they insist that even if all the benefits the bill calls for were to be handed out to all the Russian women with ten living children, this would not be a burden for the state. They suggest it would cost only several tens of millions of rubles a year, a figure that could be made even less for Moscow by requiring regions to fund much of it.


            According to Alekseyev, if each region had to come up with 500,000 rubles (10,000 US dollars) a year, that would be no more than many Russian business managers receive in a month. Given that, how can the government suggest that such a program is beyond its means?


            And as far as pensions are concerned, the costs would be truly minimal, the authors of the Duma measure insist. That is because the additional children Hero Mothers would have would  pay far more taxes to the state than their mothers would draw out for early retirement.


            As Alekseyev puts it, the real question is whether those who talk so much about promoting the good of the country are prepared to show “the political will” necessary to support this measure and actually do so.