Because of health issues, I am suspending my preparation of Windows as of May 1. Over the last 11 years, first by email, then on the original Windows site and more recently on the new series site, I have prepared more than 8,000 WOEs. I have thoroughly enjoyed the production as well as the interaction it has afforded me with so many of you. At some point in the future, I hope to be able to resume. Best wishes to you all! Paul Goble
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Putin and Kadyrov have a Shared Interest in Avoiding a Break but May Not Be Able To
Staunton, April 30 – Both Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov have a deep interest in avoiding a complete break, the former because a new Chechen war would be “a moral catastrophe” that would undermine his myth and the latter because he would not survive without the enormous sums of money Moscow currently sends him, Leonid Radzikhovsky says.
And as a consequence of these inter-related interests, the Russian commentator says, “there will not be a sharp conflict between Chechnya and the Russian leadership in the near future” even if both sides try to position themselves as the victors in the current round of tensions between them (http://nv.ua/opinion/radzihovsky/kadyrove-i-krah-putinskogo-mifa-46451.html).
But there are at least two reasons why they may not be able to avoid a break that would ultimately threaten both. On the one hand, an important part of Putin’s constituency in Moscow consists of siloviki who are furious at Kadyrov and want revenge. And on the other, and perhaps even more significantly, Moscow is running out of money to fund Kadyrov as it has up to now.
As Olga Solovyeva points out in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Russia’s regions are at the edge of “financial instability” and are being forced to cut staff and programs to try to make ends meet (http://www.ng.ru/economics/2015-04-30/4_ffinance.html). If Putin continues to fund Chechnya while cutting support to the others, he will be creating an even large problem.
The arguments of both Radzikhovsky and Solovyeva are thus worth close attention.
According to Radzikhovsky, “if Ramzan Kadyrov begins to seriously get involved in a conflict with Moscow, this would mean the end of Putin and the collapse of the Putin myth” that the Kremlin leader pacified the North Caucasus. In the case of a new Chechen war, Russians would rally around him, “but all the same this would be a catastrophe” Putin wants to avoid.
But Kadyrov has equally compelling reasons to want to avoid this: He will hold out in Chechnya just as long as the money comes from Moscow. “If this conveyer stops, Chechnya will explode and Kadyrov will simply be killed for in this region there are enough militants who hate Kadyrov.”
Radzikhovsky argues that “there cannot be any unity of Chechnya against Moscow.” What is on view now is “the unity of Chechnya purchased by Russian money. But the unity of Chechnya against the Russian Federation is unreal.” And the same thing is true of Daghestan which would disintegrate if Makhachkala tried to fight the center.
Obviously after the dust up over the Boris Nemtsov murder, Kadyrov “will try to show to the maximum his independence and irreplaceability.” But there are real limits, and both he and Putin know what they are, and as a result, Putin will try to keep the money flowing to Kadyrov in order to save himself.
But as Solovyeva points out, Russia’s economic situation is likely to make assistance from Moscow to all regions, not just Chechnya, ever more difficult. Many are at the edge of default even though Moscow is taking money from the reserve fund to try to prop them up. They are going into debt to pay their bills, and debt service is eating up their budgets.
She cites the conclusion of Igor Nikolayev, the director of the FBK Institute for Strategic Analysis, that next year, Moscow may not be able to pay out to the regions the sums it has this year from the reserve fund because that fund will be depleted. Consequently, he says, “the main risks for the regions are after 2016.”
Conflicts in Russia, Post-Soviet Countries Result of Stalin’s Actions Decisions Decades Ago, Byurchiyev Says
Staunton, April 30 – The conflicts within the Russian Federation and across the entire post-Soviet space are occurring because of the decisions Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin made from the 1920s through the 1940s, Badma Byurchiyev argues, and that heritage, “a real threat to the future” of all the countries in the region, must be rejected to escape more disasters.
What is disturbing is that does not seem to be appreciated even in places like the North Caucasus where Stalin’s actions, including the politicization of ethnicity, the drawing of borders, and the deportation of whole peoples, still remain visible to the unaided eye, the North Caucasus commentator says (kavpolit.com/articles/objatija_stalinizma-16273/).
Indeed, he points out, “judging by everything in Daghestan as in certain other regions of the North Caucasus, people still greatly respect Stalin.” Three republics in the North Caucasus Federal District lead the country in terms of the number of streets still named for him, 16 in North Osetia, six in Daghestan, and two in Kabardino-Balkaria.
The commentator points out that there are two widely believed myths about Stalin, neither of which withstands examination. On the one hand, he was hardly “’the effective manager’” many claim. And on the other, he was not the brilliant military leader without whom the Soviet Union would have lost the war.
Stalin’s industrialization and collectivization campaigns degraded the population and led to the death of as many as 13 million people. Moreover, to achieve his ends, the Soviet dictator reached back to the period of serfdom to re-introduce the “propiska” system that tied people to particular places without official permission.
Scholars like Oleg Khlevnyuk of the Russian State Archive have cast doubt on Stalin’s supposedly great economic achievements. “For the entire time of Stalin’s rule,” Khlevnyuk writes, “from the end of the 1920s to 1953, there was not a single year in which there was not hunger in the country.”
“There were periods of mass hunger – as in 1932-1933, 1936, and 1946-1947 – but besides these, every year in some region or another people starved,” he writes. Millions died from that and from repression. And only a handful received the much-ballyhooed benefits of the new regime such as pensions (http://www.rosbalt.ru/main/2015/04/15/1389043.html).
As far as Stalin’s military prowess is concerned, there too the evidence does not support the claims of the neo-Stalinists, Byurchiyev says. During the first year of the war, the USSR re “was incapable of resisting Hitlerite Germany,” which had been Stalin’s ally. More than two million Soviet military personnel were taken prisoner.
And even when the balance changed, Russia suffered “no less than three” soldiers killed for every German soldier who lost his life. The real size of Soviet losses may have been even worse because “the fate of two million Soviet soldiers remains unknown,” even though in other countries the number of unknowns has been reduced to a handful.
All of these things have imposed terrible wounds on the societies of the post-Soviet states, the North Caucasus analyst says. But some of Stalin’s most long-lasting negative consequences came from actions he took between 1917 and 1923 when he was Lenin's peoples commissar for nationalities.
Among the problems that echo to this day which he created then are the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, the tensions between Abkhazia and South Osetia and Georgia, the inclusion of the Donbas in Ukraine, and the divisions and combinations of multitude of peoples in the North Caucasus.
Given that “practically all of the projects of the peoples commissar for nationality affairs generated conflicts, and many of those conflicts continue to involve bloodshed to this day,” Byurchiyev says, one is compelled to ask on what basis did Stalin act? Was he simply foolish or did he act on “the good old principle of ‘divide and rule’?”
However one answers that question, he continues, Stalin created “’a belt of instability’ from the Donbas to Crimea and the Caucasus,” a belt that now threatens to tighten around Moscow because it is rapidly extending “from the North Caucasus to the Far North through Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Siberia,” again because of Stalin’s actions.
The currently much-celebrated “effective manager sowed ‘dragon’s teeth’ in the Caucasus,” and those teeth are generating new monsters not only there but across the country. If Stalin’s legacy is continued rather than overturned, Byurchiyev says, Russia and her neighbors are all headed for “’the perfect storm’” that could destroy one or more of them.
Russophobia Doesn’t Exist But Fear and Hatred of Putin’s Regime Do, Ikhlov says
Staunton, April 30 – Vladimir Putin and his supporters have made the struggle against what they see as Russophobia a cornerstone of their ideology, Yevgeny Ikhlov says; but if one examines the characteristics they offer for this phenomenon, it is clear that Russophobia as such does not exist. At the same time, fear and hatred of Putin’s regime very much do.
The importance of this ideological theme to the Kremlin has been underscored, the Moscow commentator says, by the fact that immediately after Putin made his remarks about it, the World Russian Popular Assembly insisted that Russophobia included any attacks on the Russian Orthodox Church (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5540F1C576899).
In defining the term, Ikhlov continues, the Russian Popular Assembly advanced five assertions regarding Russophobia (interfax-religion.ru/?act=documents&div=1259), all of which he says are at the very least problematic. It asserts that the Russian people are being “subjected to Russophobia, they are the victims of genocide in Ukraine, they are a victim people, they are a divided people, and they have an identity which is being blurred.
Before considering each of these in turn, the commentator notes that the claim that an attack on the Orthodox Church is an attack on the Russian people is simply wrong. “Orthodoxy is not a church of the Russian people … moreover, it is not an exclusive attribute of ‘the Russian world.’” Asserting otherwise undermines “the very idea of the universality of Orthodoxy.”
The assertion that there is ethnic hatred toward Russians as such in the contemporary world is without foundation, Ikhlov says. The only place where one could speak about this would be in the Baltic countries, “but this is a manifestation of the most ordinary migrantophobia and diasporaphobia, which Russians also display.
Around the world, people recognize Russian culture as “a great world culture,” and Russians “have not encountered even that hostility which for long years surrounded Germans after the first and especially after the second world war.” Those who assert otherwise do not know what they are talking about.
The fact that there exists “fear and hostility to the Putin government” and that this is spreading and intensifying is quite another matter, Ikhlov says. A century ago, “every literate individual could clearly distinguish between the regime of Nicholas I and the Russian people and Russian intelligentsia.”
Thirty years ago, people found no difficulties in distinguishing bvetween the Russia of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn and Russian communism. “And now,” Ikhlov says, they have no problem recognizing that the Russia of Boris Nemtsov is something entirely different than the Russia of Vladimir Putin.
Confusing or conflating “fear before the imperial policy of the Kremlin and the authoritarian mentality of the people with hostility toward Russians as an ethnos” is simply foolish nonsense, Ikhlov suggests.
The second plank in the attack on supposed Russophobia is that ethnic Russians are, it is said, being subjected to genocide in Ukraine.” There is no truth to that, and the word genocide should be used with care rather than tossed about whenever one wants to blacken opponents and play the victim.
Russians can claim to be victims, Ikhlov says; but most often and most seriously they have been victims of other Russians rather than of foreigners of one kind or another. But they are not a victim people in the sense that the Jews and Palestinians, Armenians and Tutsis are, and they should not claim otherwise.
Nor is it correct to label the Russians “a divided people,” as many of those now talking about Russophobia do. It is true that the collapse of the USSR in 1991 left many ethnic Russians beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, but “over the last quarter century much has changed” and the Russians in these countries are now “classical examples of a diaspora.”
Finally, Ikhlov argues, there is no evidence that Russian national identity is being blurred. “On the contrary, Russians very clearly set themselves apart from other ethnoses of the empire, having unwritten but in no way less obligatory criteria of what is required from a non-Russian to be recognized as a Russian,” even if various groups of Russians often fight about that.
Economics and Education have Replaced Ethnicity as Main Reasons for Outmigration from Russia, Study Says
Staunton, April 30 – Between 1994 and 2003, ethnicity was the most important factor involved in decisions by residents of the Russian Federation to emigrate, according to Mikhail Denisenko of the Institute of Demography of the Higher School of Economics. But from 2004 to 2013, other factors, including economics and education, have been more important.
In a report delivered this month, Denisenko provides one of the most detailed descriptions of emigration and its causes available as well as a serious discussion of why it is often so difficult to determine the exact numbers and motivations of those involved in this process (http://opec.ru/1820577.html).
At the present time, he says, there are more than 2.7 million people who were born in the Russian Federation living in countries beyond the boundaries of the former USSR. But specifying the exact number is hard because many want to maintain their ties with Russia rather than seek integration elsewhere and because no two countries count in the same way.
Nonetheless, Denisenko says, some trends can be traced. During the first period, 1994-2003, more than 90 percent of emigres from the Russian Federation went to Germany, the US, and Israel. In the second period, 2004-2013, many fewer people from Russia went to these countries and more went to a broader variety of destinations.
Part of the reason for that, he suggests, is that ethnicity became less of a driving factor as those who wanted to join co-ethnics abroad had already done so. Another part is that the attitudes of receiving countries changed and their willingness and ability to register people. And still a third is that economic growth gave Russians more choices, even when they chose to leave.
A major complicating factor for anyone trying to track emigration is that some countries like the US define it in terms of the country of birth while others like Germany define it in terms of citizenship. Those can lead to very different sets of numbers as can whether the receiving country allows dual citizenship.
Germany does not, and Denisenko says that is one of the reasons why the figures the German government has for the number of Russians in Germany are vastly different than the number that the Russian consular service says are there. The US and Israel do allow dual citizenship, and there are now 118,000 Russian citizens in the former and almost 137,000 in the latter.
Denisenko says that many stories in the media seriously misstate how many Russian emigres there are in this or that country. One place where the Russian media routinely suggest that there are many Russians is Great Britain. In fact, there are only several tens of thousands there, and Russia is not in the list of the top 70 countries from which emigres there come.
An increasingly large share of emigres from Russia are students who want to go to university in Europe and the United States, Denisenko says, with the share of such people among all those moving from Russia in the US rising from 14 percent in 1995 to 31 percent in 2013. That pattern is contributing to a reduction in the average age of emigres.
The emigration in many cases is dominated by women. In Italy, for example, more than 80 percent of Russian immigrants are women between the ages of 15 and 34. Some have come as a result of marriage, but others are involved in one or another profession, Denisenko says. At present, in most countries, Russian women outnumber Russian men.
And those leaving are increasingly highly educated. Almost three-quarters of Russian immigrants in Canada have higher educations. In Great Britain, the figure is “almost 70 percent.” And elsewhere it is increasingly high as well, as young Russians take advantage of educational and then career opportunities abroad.
Russia Has No Allies in Kyiv Now and Won’t Have Any in the Future, Kazarin Says
Staunton, April 30 – “When Vladimir Putin or Sergey Lavrov talk about Ukraine,” Pavel Kazarin says, one has the impression that they think there is a pro-Moscow faction in Kyiv waiting in the wings to take power. That might have been true in 2005, but it is not the case now: Moscow has no political allies in Kyiv and won’t have any ever again.
As a result of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbas, “there is no pro-Russian alternative,” the Kyiv commentator says. “More than that,” he adds, “for the Kremlin, the Ukrainian opposition will be in no way a lesser evil” than the government now in place (https://slon.ru/posts/50845).
Ukrainians might elect “populists or pragmatists or socialists or libertarians, but whoever occupies the chief position of the country” will have the same view about the country that is occupying part of Ukraine and, whatever Putin and Lavrov or anyone else thinks, it is not and will not become positive or even acceptant.
After the flight of Viktor Yanukovich, his Party of the Regions renamed itself the Opposition Bloc, but it isn’t an opposition and its base is shrinking. What support it has comes from Ukrainians who vote for people they know because they are from their city or region rather than because of ideology.
And Moscow destroyed this group not only by its aggression but by removing Crimeea and the Donbas, the two most “pro-Russian and pro-Soviet” regions from Ukrainian politics. According to Kazarin, as a result, “Ukraine is much more monolithic” and thus much more anti-Russian.
Radical populists like Oleg Lyashko and Yuliya Timoshenko are a real opposition and they use their lack of responsibility to win support by making promises than they could not possibly deliver. But despite that and despite the fact that their statements may help destabilize the situation, they too oppose Moscow on all the most important issues.
For them as for others on the Ukrainian political scene, the worst label they can be given is “’agent of the Kremlin’” because they know that “loyalty to Moscow could be the very last thing that would attract voters. They too view Crimea as a Rubicon, and they are not going to change either.
The Ukrainian far right exists in the television broadcasts of Moscow’s Dmitry Kiselyov, but it is “absent from the Verkhovna Rada.” Ukrainians aren’t attracted by ethnic nationalism, Kazarin says, because “the Maidan creagted a demand for a political nation in which blood and land are secondary factors and convictions are what matters most.”
“Before Yanukovich, Ukraine was a corrupt oligarchic country. After [his] victory, it became a criminal country.” It can’t go back to either as long as Ukrainians are mobilized, and they will remain mobilized because they have no doubts about the presence of Russian forces on the territory of their country.
This leaves Moscow with only two possible ways forward: Either it can try to force Kyiv to take back the Donbas on the Kremlin’s terms and thus institutionalize a brake on its European aspirations, or it can push to destabilize the country and then say that “there is no reason to conduct dialogue with ‘an East European Somalia.’”
But neither of these variants “will return that Ukraine which existed before 2014,” Kazarin says. Russia’s shedding of blood and occupation of Ukrainian territory have made that impossible for a long time to come -- whatever some in Moscow or other capitals now prefer to think.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Putin Isn’t Going to Start a Nuclear War but May Destroy Russia, Former KGB Colleague Says
Staunton, April 29 – Despite threatening language, Vladimir Putin is not going to start a nuclear war, according to Yury Shvets, who studied along with him at the KGB’s Andropov Institute. Putin’s only desire is to remain in power for life, he says, and he knows Russia’s delivery systems aren’t accurate enough for a first strike that would not result in national suicide.
But Putin’s actions threaten the future of Russia, Shvets says, because his aggressive behavior has reinvigorated NATO, undermined the possibility that the Russian economy can modernize and develop, and likely guaranteed that the United States will choose a second Ronald Reagan in 2016 to contain his country, reducing its importance and possibly its size.
Shvets, who studied with Putin and then worked under TASS cover as a KGB officer in Washington in the 1980s, offered these and many other observations about his former colleague, someone whose KGB career, he says, showed him to be below average in competence and whose presidential career reflects the skill of others in using television to boost any leader.
All these are contained in a long interview he gave to the Ukrainian Gordon News Agency, available at gordonua.com/publications/Sokursnik-Putina-eks-razvedchik-KGB-Vy-serezno-dumaete-chto-Putin-delayushchiy-podtyazhku-lica-razvyazhet-yadernuyu-voynu-U-nego-ot-straha-botoks-potechet-77899.html.
According to Shvets, “now the chief strategic conflict of Russia is the one between the striving of Putin to remain in place until his death and the objective requirements of the country for normal development.” If he succeeds in staying in office for long, “Russia will either fall apart or be converted into a third-tier state like North Korea or Mongolia.”
Like its Soviet predecessor, Shvets continues, the Putin elite is terrified of the possibility that there will be a popular revolt, one that would sweep them from power and lead to its members being hanged from lamp posts “as it was in Budapest during the anti-Soviet uprising in 1956.”
The former KGB officer says that the probability of Putin pushing the nuclear button is “nil.” Even more than the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation lacks the reliable counter-force delivery vehicles which could take out an opponent’s nuclear capacity and prevent a response. It could hit cities, but in that case, the response would be devastating for Russia.
But there is a more serious reason for thinking Putin won’t start a nuclear war whatever he says. “Do you seriously think,” he challenges his interview, “that a man who annually disappears from public view for seven to ten days in order to have a facelift and to fill himself up with Botox is capable of unleashing a nuclear war?”
That doesn’t mean that he will not continue to threaten to do so, especially at present, Shvets says. “The current standoff of Washington and Moscow reminds one of the US-USSR relationship of the end of the 1970s. America was then led by liberal and soft Jimmy Carter,” something Moscow could have used to reach agreements.
But instead, Moscow invaded Afghanistan and put new missiles in Europe. “As a result, after Carter, the tough Ronald Reagan became president” and adopted a harder line against Moscow. That provides the Soviet siloviki with the chance to frighten their colleagues on the Politburo and extract more money, power and glory from them.
And they were assisted in this by the Soviet intelligence services. Anyone who reported anything less than the notion that Reagan was about to attack the USSR was ignored and sidelined, and consequently, all the intelligence that did make its way to the stop reinforced the view of the hardliners.
“As a result,” Shvets says, “two parallel realities arose in the USSR” – an invented one that served the domestic interests of part of the elite and “real life in the country and abroad.” At a certain point, a gap arose in such a way that the elite “occupied itself with virtual threats but the economy of the state fell apart,” with the USSR following in 1991.
Exactly the same thing is taking place in Russia today, he argues. And just as in the Soviet case, the siloviki near the top are destroying the country. They are pushing for actions, such as an expanded invasion of Ukraine, that will lead to more sanctions and more problems for the Russian economy.
Simple logic would dictate against such a move, but “as the late Berezovsky said, ‘it is difficult to predict the logic of idiots.’”
Now, thanks to what Putin and his entourage have been doing, “the fate of Russia to a significant degree depends on the US president.” If he ends restrictions on the export of gas and oil from the United States, that alone would drive down world prices and cripple Russia’s ability to function and survive.
Indeed, “if the West does not lift sanctions, Russia will collapse in two years.” It won’t be able to produce enough more oil and gas to compensate for falling prices, and it won’t be forgiven for using the energy weapon. Even in Soviet times, the leadership never did that, recognizing that it would be a two-edged sword.
But however that may be, Putin has already by his action re-energized NATO and led to the expansion of its forces near Russia’s borders, exactly the two outcomes that he has declared he is working to prevent. And “Putin has already done much to have the next US president become a new Reagan and containment of Russia for a long time become Washington’s course.”
Giving National Law Priority over International Law Would End Human Rights in Russia, Svyatenkov Says
Staunton, April 29 – Aleksandr Bastrykin’s proposal to amend the Russian constitution so that Russian national law would take priority over international law is in fact another step toward the elimination in Russia of basic human rights such as the presumption of innocence in criminal trials, according to Pavel Svyatenkov.
Yesterday, Bastrykin, the chairman of the Russian Investigative Committee, called for amending the 1993 Russian Constitution in order to make national law supreme over international law in order to boost what is today an ideologically popular theme, “the state sovereignty of the Russian Federation” (rg.ru/2015/04/28/bastrykin.html).
Svyatenkov argues that this proposal, which the Duma is to take up in June, is in fact not about that but a Trojan horse intended to achieve another goal -- the end of the presumption of innocence in Russian criminal trials – and that it thus represents “the greatest attack on human rights in the history of the Russian Federation” (apn.ru/publications/article33478.htm).
Bastrykin, the Russian commentator says, bases his argument on the notion that Russians must no longer live with the risk that some foreigners will be able to tell them what to do without their consent. But that is a red herring because “any international treaty is subject to ratification by the Federal Assembly,” making such unilateral imposition of foreign laws impossible.
In fact, Svyatenkov says, this proposal from Bastrykin is closely linked to another piece of legislation the latter is pushing, one that would in fact eliminate the presumption of innocence in Russian criminal trials, a principle that means an accused must be found not guilty if prosecutors do not prove their case.
But this piece of legislation says that judges must “search for ‘some ‘objective truth’” and thus will be entitled, if the prosecution does not prove its case, to send it back for further investigation so that the government will have yet another chance to find the defendant guilty – something clearly at variance with international law.
Bastrykin has been pushing for this “’objective truth’” standard for some time, Svyatenkov says, pointing to an interview the investigator gave to “Rossiiskaya gazeta” three years ago (rg.ru/2012/03/15/bastrykin-site.html). But he has run into a constitutional problem because of Article 15 and Article 17 of the Russian Constitution.
Article 15 reads in part, “the generally recognized principles and norms of international law and international agreements are a constituent part of tis legal system. If by an international agreement of the Russian Federation are established different rules than those set up by law, then the rulers of the international agreement are to be applied.”
And Article 17 specifies, Svyatenkov says, that “in the Russian Federation are recognized and guaranteed the rights and freedoms of man and citizen in accordance with generally recognized principles and norms of international law and in correspondence with the current Constitution.”
“In other words,” he continues, in Russia, “the generally accepted principles and norms of international law are the guarantee of the observation of human rights,” a situation that reflects the fact that the Russian constitution does not define these rights with precision or establish the way they are to be protected.
Consequently, if Bastrykin’s proposal is accepted, that will be equivalent under Russian conditions to a rejection of “human rights as such.”
Svyatenkov points out that he is no friend of the Yeltsin Constitution. “It is a bad Basic Law. It gives too much power to the president. It created an asymmetrical federation. [And] there is nothing in it about the Russian people.” But Bastrykin’s proposal if adopted “will make the Constitution of the Russian Federation not better but worse.”
“If we want to be a sovereign state, we must not reject generally accepted norms of international law but strengthen them by adopting our own Bill of Rights, in which will be guaranteed the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Russia,” including the presumption of innocence. But until then, Russians must rely on the supremacy of international law.
The fate of Bastrykin’s proposal, Svyatenkov says, “depends on the reaction of society.” So far, society hasn’t spoken. But it should because of what is at stake: Those who trample on human rights pay dearly “not only in gold but in blood” and “even with Maidans” because the source of such risings is exactly the kind of injustice that ignoring human rights can lead to.
Putin’s Personality Cult Exceeds Stalin’s ‘by Every Measure,’ Kantor Says
Staunton, April 29 – Although few want to recognize that this is the case, the personality cult surrounding Vladimir Putin far exceeds the one that surrounded Stalin “by all measures” and has become what can best be described as “the religion of a pagan empire,” according to Moscow commentator Maksim Kantor.
In a post on Kasparov.ru, Kantor points out that “Stalin stressed his status as a student of Lenin and demonstratively pointed to the primacy of the leader in everything,” insisting that he was “faithful to the principles of Lenin and the course of the founding fathers – to the victory of Marx, Engels, Lenin and only then himself” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=553FD1FF1829D).
Moreover, one cannot imagine Stalin having golden jets or palaces or to think of him as someone “with a bared chest.” It thus appears, the Moscow commentator continues, that for a full-blown cult of personality one needs a certain “vulgarization of the idol” – and Stalin wasn’t prepared to have that happen.
In essence, Kantor continues, “Stalin really considered himself to be a communist; he really believed that he was building an unheard of society of equality.” Consequently, he was viewed and insisted on being viewed as “a builder of communism and not as a man or as the most attractive individual of the tribe.”
It would not have entered the head of any woman in the Soviet Union to think that she should bear Stalin’s child, he says. “Women loved their men, but they believed Stalin. And this was not completely a cult of personality. The phrase ‘Stalin is married to Russia’ was in principle impossible.” Its use would have led to criminal charges.
Putin's cult has expanded far beyond Stalins, “in part because of the tastelessness and vanity.” But “that is secondary,” Kantor says. The main cause is that what we are observing is “the development of a pagan cult in a nation which has lost all other convictions. There is no longer faith in freedom or equality or democracy or communism.”
“What remains is a tribal faith – and the cult of a leader (precisely a tribal and pagan cult) has replaced all ideology.”
A Vicious Circle: The More Aggressive Putin Is, the More Russians Love Him
Staunton, April 29 – Russian polls, admittedly not the most reliable source, suggest that the more aggressive Vladimir Putin is, the more Russians love and support him regardless of the immediate impact of his policies on their lives, a vicious circle that history suggests could lead to a disaster especially given Moscow’s possession of a large army and nuclear weapons.
In a commentary in Kyiv’s “Den’,” Sergey Grabovsky points out that Russian polls show that Putin’s rating among Russians has dramatically increased since the annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s intervention in the Donbas and that Russians feeling about their own situation have also become more positive (day.kiev.ua/ru/blog/politika/strana-rabov-strana-gospod).
And he cites the words of Valery Fedorov, the head of the VTsIOM polling agency, for an explanation: “The economic crisis is not as deep as many feared it would be; expectations were much worse. In addition, in the last year, the self-evaluation and self-respect of Russians grew.”
That trend, the Kremlin-linked pollster says, “is directly connected with Crimea, with the conflict in Ukraine, with the fact that we now are not simply competing with the US but in conflict with that country, and this, in the opinion of the majority of Russians means that we are comparable in greatness.”
Such feelings, Fedorov suggests, are “a very important element of the self-assessment” of Russians.” Given their improved feelings about themselves on this basis, he adds, Russians have been “anesthetized” against the impact of any economic problems they may face in their day-to-day lives.
Grabovsky argues that this shows that for “the absolute majority of Russians,” the three factors that explain their positive feelings about themselves and about Putin are “foreign aggression, conflicts with world leaders, and wars on Ukrainian territory. Everything else for ‘the devoted people’ is not so important,” and their expectations for themselves remain low.
All of this might not matter much, he continues, “if Russia were not an enormous state with nuclear weapons and a large land army.”
But it is, and that means that “the despotic, neo-totalitarian power (one of the main characteristics of totalitarianism is the impossibility of the rotation of ruling groups) has at its command tens of millions of ‘slaves’ who do not recognize the real danger for themselves and are ready to support the acts of ‘the national leader’ and his people right up to ‘the red line.’
That is, Putin has “tens of millions” of supporters “who are intoxicated not only from alcohol but from global conflicts and local wars [and] who are prepared to suffer serious problems in the name not of freedom, humanism, or national flourishing but in order that someone else as a result of Russian actions will live badly.”
That in turn has led within Russia to the flourishing of an autocratic state, xenophobia, and a personality cult, Grabovsky says. And as various cases from the history of the last century show, that can lead to disaster. Russia’s possession of nuclear weapons compound that problem and mean the disaster ahead could be far worse.
According to the Ukrainian commentator, there is only one way out of this vicious circle: “Russia with the help of the efforts of the international communist must be stripped of its weapons of mass destruction. Once and for all so that the planet will be protected against the rise to the head of this state of the latest ‘titan.’
Otherwise, Putin or some future leader will be driven in that direction “not for the defense of freedom or the increase of the well-being of the population” but gain support for “aggressive attacks on its neighbors” and the use of “a threat of nuclear attacks on all who do not agree” with him.
Daghestan Leader Lines Up with Chechnya’s Kadyrov against Russian Interior Ministry
Staunton, April 29 – Vladimir Putin’s “Kadyrov problem” just got a lot larger, so large in fact that it may ultimately cost Moscow control of the North Caucasus: Yesterday, Ramazan Abdulatipov, the Putin-appointed head of Daghestan, said that he supports Ramzan Kadyrov’s position in his conflict with the Russian interior ministry.
Abdulatipov said that if anyone wants to cross into Daghestan, including those who identify themselves as federal forces, he expects to be advised and then he will give the answer as to whether these are “ours or not ours” (meduza.io/news/2015/04/28/glava-dagestana-podderzhal-kadyrova-v-konflikte-s-mvd).
There are at least three reasons why the Daghestani leader’s declaration makes Putin’s problem a great deal larger and far more complicated to resolve (For background on Putin’s “Kadyrov problem,” see (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/04/putins-kadyrov-problem-coming-to-head.html).
First and most immediately, it means that if Putin sacks Kadyrov in order to curry favor with the siloviki in Moscow, he almost certainly will have to fire Abdulatipov and perhaps other North Caucasus republic leaders as well, something that almost certainly would in and of itself lead to the further destabilization of the region.
Second, and even more worrying from Moscow’s perspective, it suggests that a united front may be emerging among these republic leaders about how the Russian authorities are conducting themselves in the North Caucasus. Abdulatipov normally is one of the most cautious of the group. Consequently, if he is saying this, others likely feel the same way.
And third, it shows that Moscow’s ability to rely on its longstanding policy of divide and rule in the region may be increasingly limited. If the center can’t isolate Kadyrov the way it isolated Dzhokhar Dudayev, it loses one of the most important levers it has to control Chechnya or any other part of the region.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Putin ‘Repeating All Mistakes’ of 2000 Amnesty and Making New Ones as Well, Experts Say
Staunton, April 28 – The Victory Day amnesty Vladimir Putin has promised “repeats all the mistakes of an analogous measure of 15 years ago, when the godfathers of organized crime along with repeat rapists and murders were released from prison” on an unsuspecting population, according to “Versia” journalist Ruslan Gorevoy and the experts he spoke with.
Indeed, they suggest that the poorly drafted amnesty plan coming from the Kremlin opens the way not only to massive corruption within the penal system but also could lead to the release of terrorists, pedophiles and cannibals as well, raising the question “haven’t we learned anything from our mistakes?” (versia.ru/po-amnistii-v-chest-70-letiya-pobedy-na-volyu-mogut-vyjti-lyudoedy-nasilniki-i-ubijcy).
The current amnesty like its predecessor in 2000 releases those who are suffering from cancer or tuberculosis, who have medical decorations, or the status of invalids. “Is this humane?” Gorevoy asks, suggesting that no one should “hurry to agree” given that could allow those guilty of the most heinous crimes to go free if they lack a leg, an arm, or can get medical certification.
This Putin amnesty, like its predecessor, features bold declarations that such things won’t happen, but it contains no legally enforceable language to prevent that – and in fact, Gorevoy suggests, it opens new possibilities for various kinds of corruption as those inside prisons work to get certified as having conditions allowing for their release.
Given that the heads of jails and camps will have the right to sign off on such certificates, Vladimir Osechkin, a human rights activist, says, this virtually guarantees that there will be “a trading in amnesties,” something that will involve exactly the kind of corruption that the criminals and their jailors won’t be able to resist.
One large group that is certain to get out under this amnesty, Eva Merkacheva, a member of Moscow’s public observer commission, will be siloviki who have been convicted for exceeding their authority by beating or killing those under arrest in order to extract confessions. She says that in her view, the current amnesty is a sell-out to the siloviki “lobby.”
But what will undoubtedly attract attention is that the current amnesty as drafted does nothing to prevent the release of those guilty of cannibalism, pedophilia and other sex crimes – even those who gained widespread attention because of the seriousness of these offenses, Gorevoy says.
Moreover, because the amnesty in 2000, Putin’s first, largely recapitulated all the mistakes of the last Soviet-era amnesty in 1987, when “more than 60,000 prisoners, three quarters of whom were bandits, were turned loose on the streets,” one result is certain beyond all others: many of those released will soon be back behind bars for new crimes against society.
In 1990, for example, at least 16,000 of the 60,000 released three years earlier were again in penal institutions, a pattern that was repeated in 2000 and is likely to be repeated, following a new outburst of crime as a result of Putin’s incautious actions in the coming years.
Two experts with whom Gorevoy spoke are disturbed by what is happening. Valery Borshchyov, a rights activist with the Moscow Helsinki Group, says that the draft amnesty plan this time around is “qualitatively” different from the two most recent mass amnesties “and not for the better” given that the new measure does not define key terms and thus invites abuse.
Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman of the Duma committee on civil, criminal, arbitrage and procedural legislation, agrees, saying that the proposed amnesty could release as few as 60,000 or lead to the release or dropping of criminal charges against as many as 350,000 to 400,000, with all the negative consequences that could involve.
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