Sunday, May 31, 2015

Shadow Economy, Rural Self-Sufficiency Allowing Russia to Weather Sanctions, New Study Finds

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 31 – Russia’s shadow economy and the self-sufficiency of Russians living outside of the major cities of the country “have allowed Russia to survive the crisis and the introduction of sanctions without large losses, according to five-year-long study of provincial society carried out by sociologists at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.


            According to the study’s findings, Diana Yevdokimova writes in “Novyye izvestiya,” Russian provincial society is characterized by a pattern of social stratification in which “the status of an individual depends not on income but on his public authority and influence, his status [with the authorities] and his membership in various clans, employment and shadow groupings” (


            Consequently, Yury Plyusnin, one of the authors of this study says, while Russians in the cities are frightened as a result of sanctions, the nature of provincial society with its self-organizing and self-supplying systems guarantees the stability of the state and means that an economic crisis as understood in the cities or abroad will not affect most residents.


            According to Simon Kordonsky of the Higher School of Economics, official sources say that 40 percent of Russia’s GDP is in the shadow sector. But in fact, he suggests, the actual figure is much higher. As a result, “the country stands on a very firm foundation,” one seldom described, and “lives according to its own laws because for the state it doesn’t exist.”


People in this category, include those who do not work anywhere officially, often move from place to place, and do not pay taxes.  Some of them live in a natural or dacha economy where they grow their own food. Others engage in “garage” production where they produce and sell things but without reference to the state and its rules.


            “No fewer than a third of all rural families live off water and forest resources of the country which are in no way controlled by the state,” Plyusnin says. They may declare part of what they harvest but far from all of it, and thus they have incomes which may be twice or more what the state thinks they do.


            In Yevdokimova’s words, the authors of the study draw “several other important conclusions.” First, the sociologists say that Russia must be understood not as a market economy but as a resource economy. Second, the country’s social structure is one consisting of various strata, some of which are connected to the state but many of which aren’t.


The sociologists identify four strata groups: the authorities (five percent), the people (66 percent), the entrepreneurs (15 percent), and the marginal (13 percent).


And third, they say, many Russians engage in seasonal work and move among two, three or even more residences in the course of the year.  As a result, Kordonsky says, there are really two Russias, “one visible to the state and one invisible.”  If the visible is in trouble because of the crisis and sanctions, the invisible continues to function, not contributing much to its members’ advancement but preventing them from falling even further behind.


FIFA Corruption Trials Could Threaten Putin’s Hold on Power, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 31 – Many commentators have suggested that Vladimir Putin is expressing outrage about the corruption charges the US has brought against FIFA because of his fear that these cases will be used to deprive Russia of its hosting of the 2018 World Cup competition, an event that Putin hopes will win him even more plaudits than the Sochi Games.


            But Ukrainian commentator Vitaly Portnikov suggests that the Kremlin leader may have an even more powerful motive for condemning the FIFA arrests: trials in Western courts of those involved could expose his own corruption and that of those around him and thus threaten his hold on power (


            He points out that the arrests of FIFA officials may become “only the beginning of the collapse of a gigantic corrupt pyramid build by soccer barons over the last decades and transforming a popular form of sport into a real zone where everything goes.”  That has the potential to threaten Russia’s role of host in 2018.


            But such arrests and trials in Western courts may lead to something far more serious, and that is why Putin and his entourage are reacting so emotionally even though so far they have not made any reference to these larger outcomes, the Ukrainian commentator says. The reasons for this pattern lie in “the psychology of the Russian leader and of those who surrounding him.


            “These people are not agitated at all by accusations concerning the annexation of Crimea or the unleashing of war in the Donbas. In their system of coordinates, those things are only politics. The Americans fight in Iraq; we do so in Ukraine … The Americans forced the Serbs to give up Kosovo; we have forced the Ukrainians to do the same in Crimea.”


            In their view, Russia is a great power and if the Americans can do something so can they. Anyone who suggests otherwise is engaged in “double standards.” Moreover, they are convinced that as long as they hold power in their hands, no one will punish them for such actions. They would be at risk only if they lost power.


            But criminal cases are “an entirely different thing.” They are something that Putin and his entourage “fear like fire” because despite “all their self-confidence, Russian rulers like the leaders of any other developing country headed by a corrupt military band are firmly integrated in the Western world. There is their money, property, children and services.”


            To be sure, Portnikov continues, they understand that “against a particular group of people may be introduced political sanctions which can then be lifted, but criminal prosecution remains outside of political conflict.” And consequently, for such elites, Putin’s among them, it is “not comme il faut.”


            Such elites have enough self-awareness, Portnikov says, that “they understand that in the contemporary world, they are not masters but petty thieves … and if in politics they can show their weight with the help of death, then in ordinary life they have nothing to oppose criminal prosecution in the West, except perhaps for war.”


            Putin has particular reason to understand this equation, the Ukrainian commentator says, because he rose to power because he unlike others in Boris Yeltsin’s circle showed himself able to prevent the first Russian president from having to face the criminal charges that Yeltsin himself feared most.


            “Now a similar danger threatens Putin himself or those closest to him,” and that is why he and his regime are reacting so sharply to the FIFA arrests, Portnikov says, adding that the whole case shows something else as well: “In the West, they understand where his button is” and how to push it.




Ethnic Russians Now a Minority in Moscow, Consultant to Russian Force Structures Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – Fewer than one in three residents of Moscow consist of ethnic Russians, according to a consultant to one of the Russian force structures cited by this past week (  That figure is at odds with those of Rosstat, but its appearance has major consequences for Russians, non-Russians and the Kremlin.


            For Russians, always distrustful of official census figures, it is certain to be viewed as an indication that their country is becoming ever less Russian; for non-Russians, it will be viewed as showing just the reverse; and for the Russian regime, this figure represents a challenge to Vladimir Putin’s increasingly Russian nationalist policies.


            Because does not provide any background on the consultant who provided these figures or on how they were derived and because the portal is not an entirely disinterested party given its support for non-Russians and especially Muslims, it is impossible to know how accurate these figures are.


            At the same time, however, there have been frequent indications that the official Rosstat numbers are inaccurate both because of the ways in which the information is gathered – many non-Russians in Moscow avoid enumeration – and processed –officials boost the number of ethnic Russians by folding in other groups into that category or by outright falsification.


            Consequently, while these figures should be treated with caution, they may be useful as a corrective to some official claims; and they are beyond doubt important because of the ways in which they are going to drive the thinking of all the groups involved both in Moscow itself and in the Russian Federation more generally.


            According to this source, of the 10,969,000, people in Moscow, ethnic Russians form 31 percent, Ukrainians eight percent, and Belarusians three percent, thus giving the Slavs as a group 42 percent of the total, still less than half of a city that many view as archetypically Russian.


            Of nationalities from within the Russian Federation, Tatars, Bashkirs, and Chuvash, three nations from the Middle Volga, form 10 percent of the Russian capital’s population, this source says. (It notes there are more Tatars in Moscow than in Kazan.) Chechens, Daghestanis and Ingush form four percent; Tsygane (Roma) form three percent; and Jews form two percent.


            Azerbaijanis form 14 percent of the total, and Armenians five percent. Georgians form three percent. Central Asians – Tajiks, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz – form five percent. And Asians from outside the former Soviet space – Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese – constitute five percent of the total.  All other nationalities make up the remaining four percent.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Putin Faces New Kind of Parade of Sovereignties in Degraded Russian Regions

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 27 – Russian governors, “even the most loyal” to the Kremlin, as a result of the intensification of the economic crisis, find themselves between a rock and a hard place and are beginning to complain about Moscow’s failure to articulate an anti-crisis strategy which takes the interests of their regions into account, according to Nikolay Petrov.


            “A clear example” of this, the head of the Moscow Center for Political Geography Research says, was the recent statement by Voronezh Governor Aleksey Gordeyev that the government in Moscow “doesn’t recognize what is really happening in the regions” (


            This does not mean that Moscow is at risk of “regional fronds” like those in the 1990s: neither the regions nor their leaders have the capacity to make themselves independent actors, Petrov says. “But an increase in the economic and political independence of the regions is inevitable” in the run-up to the 2016 elections.


            Also “inevitable,” he suggests, are fundamental changes in the regional elites, which have been degraded during Putin’s time in office, because “some of them are not ready for such a turn of events. And they will give way to more effective commands of crisis managers,” in some cases with Moscow’s help and in others despite what Moscow is doing.


As anyone who has been following the Russian media knows, governors have been retiring at a rapid rate in recent months, some to put themselves in a position to win back their offices in upcoming elections, others to take new positions at the center, and some because they have proven unable to govern their regions under conditions of economic stringency.


But all of these changes, especially over the next two years, are going to affect center-periphery relations in the Russian Federation, not transforming the country into a genuine federal system but making the regions and their leaders more independent because both the regions and Moscow need that at the present time.


“Today,” Petrov writes, “Russia if it is a federation at all is more a federation of corporations than of regions,” with the big companies like Gazprom, Lukoil, Russian Rail, and the like “generating and controlling the main financial flows in the country” and in many cases installing as governors their own people.


That makes the current situation of regional politics “in part similar to what it was in the 1990s.”  But, Petrov argues, “over the last 15 years, regional elites have strongly degraded, the result of both intentional efforts of the center and of negative selection,” something almost inevitable when loyalty counts for more than effectiveness.


From his very first days in office, Putin sought to “restore control” of Moscow over the regions. He created presidential plenipotentiaries, chiefs of regional militias, and other federal officials who were installed in regional governments.  That worked more or less as long as oil prices were high, but with their fall, it has become a problem and not just for the regions.


            “The strengthening of the vertical to a large extent occurred at the expense of the weakening of horizontal ties,” something that means that “federal structures in the regions today often coordinate their actions very poorly.”  Clearly, Petrov says, Putin’s approach went too far and now there needs to be a correction of some kind.


            Initially, he points out, Putin sought a solution through the creation of new bureaucratic structures “with extraordinary authority.”  The regional development ministry was broken up, and now there are three ministries with specific regional responsibilities. Moreover, Moscow worked hard to increase its direct control of governors.


The Kremlin doesn’t need “strong politicians” like Yury Luzhkov, Mintimir Shaymiyev and Murtaza Rakhimov of the 1990s; it doesn’t even want relatively independent ones like those which have been dismissed or even arrested in recent months. But it both needs and wants effective managers, and such people have to have the authority to do their jobs.


The September gubernatorial elections – 11 that had long been scheduled and nine more that have become necessary because of changes of cadres – also are affecting this process, Petrov argues.  While candidates are still selected primarily for their loyalty, they do need to be able to do their jobs or Moscow faces problems.


“The system of administration at the regional level is degrading,” and that has the effect, he argues of weakening “the entire regional pyramid of power,” something that means Moscow is forced to intervene when it really doesn’t want to and would not have to if there were stronger people in office.


“This degradation,” Petrov concludes, is especially dangerous in view of the fact that the center of gravity is inevitably shifting to the regional level.” The governors will play a major role in the 2016 Duma elections, and if they don’t have the resources they need, they will inevitably weaken the federal center in order to do what Moscow wants.


That in turn, Petrov says, will “create the preconditions for a new strengthening of the regions” and of those who head them.


By Declaring Itself Part of ISIS, Caucasus Emirate May Lose Support, Yarlykapov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 27 – The leaders of the Caucasus Emirate have declared themselves part of ISIS, but such declarations, given that many Salafis in the North Caucasus view the latter as not being an Islamic project, an attitude Russian officials need to promote and exploit, may have the effect of weakening the group there, according to Akhmet Yarlukapov.


            Yarlykapov, a specialist on the North Caucasus at the Moscow Institute for Ethnology and Anthropology, says that ISIS nonetheless may be able to use the Emirate to threaten Russia and make officials there suspicious of and more hostile to all Salafi groups in the region (


            By taking an oath of allegiance to ISIS, the popular Daghestani preacher Nadir abu Halid has raised questions about the possibility that this will quickly and immediately lead to more violence and instability not only in Daghestan but across the entire North Caucasus, Yarlykparov acknowledges.


            “In reality,” he says, “events are developing in a very bad direction because ISIS is being popularized and field commanders of various levels are swearing allegiance to this structure.”  So many are doing so that it is possible to say that the Emirate is “being transformed into one of the subdivisions of ISIS.”


            But at the same time, the Moscow scholar points out, the Salafis of the North Caucasus are far from unanimous in their assessment of such actions because many of them, including some of their leaders, do not view ISIS as an Islamic pRuroject but rather as a narrowly political one that is dividing the umma rather than uniting it.


            Such attitudes, Yarlykarpov continues, should be recognized and exploited so that there can be cooperation with the Salafis rather than a new round of hostility based on the notion that ISIS is Salafi and therefore all Salafis are for ISIS. “This is a mistake,” he says, “and can only lead to the further loss” of Russian influence on these communities.


            Unfortunately, as the detention of Daghestani Salafi leader Mukhammad Magomedov over the weekend shows, the scholar says, the Makhachkla authorities are acting in exactly the opposite way, a decision that may very well have extremely negative consequences in the current environment.


            According to Yarlykarpov, the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Daghestan which “controls the majority of mosques” of the republic bears “the major responsibility” for ensuring that the authorities do not act against Salafis there in a counterproductive way and push those loyal to Russia into the arms of ISIS.


A Warning to Putin: Authoritarian Regimes Last Only if They are Rational

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 27 – “All successful authoritarian regimes,” that is those who are able to ensure political stability, growth and economic and social modernization, “are rational and pragmatic,” whereas the far more numerous instances of unsuccessful authoritarian regimes tend to have leaders who act in irrational and un-pragmatic ways, according to Vladimir Ryzhkov.


            In the first category, the opposition Russian politician says, are regimes like China now, the Singapore of Lee Kwan Yew, the Chili of Pinochet, South Korea, Mexico and Taiwan. In the second, he says, are dozens of regimes in Africa, the Middle East, the post-Soviet space, and “alas, to an ever greater degree Russia” (


            All these unsuccessful authoritarian countries and their elites “live in a world of ideological illusions and chimeras having subordinated to a chimerical picture of the world foreign and domestic enemies, have inadequately understood contemporary economics, and isolated themselves from the world,” Ryzhkov continues.


            Such a false consciousness comes to dominate these peoples, and “as a result, they ever more lose their present and future.”


            “In recent years,” he argues, “Russia has ever more shifted from the world of rationality and pragmatism into the world of illusions and chimeras.  Rational arguments are ever more replaced by talk about sacred places, ‘a Russian world,’ blasphemy and saints, divine visions, the special nature of Russian civilization, the holiness of military victories and so on.”


            The myths of the past are coming back with the active support of government propaganda, myths like the necessity and saving quality for Russia of “the personal and autocratic power of one man and of the specialness and superiority over all others of Russian civilization, which leads to isolation and a rejection of modernization.”


“After all, what should be changed if we are already the best of all?”


In this chimerical world of Russia today, Ryzhkov continues, the authorities and the state are presented as “sacred for the greatness of which (greatness being understood exclusively as consisting of military might, territory and geopolitical influence) any sacrifices and deprivations are permissible.”


            And this false world is reinforced by “the idea of a hostile environment, a standoff with the US and the West, as a result of which the country always must be in the military status of ‘a besieged fortress,’ arming itself against the foreign enemy and cracking down on the internal enemy (defined as consisting of the intelligentsia and in general all those who are dissatisfied.”


            “This entire picture of the world is illusory and false,” Ryzhkov says, “but it is precisely the one which ever more defines today the domestic and foreign policy decisions of the Russian authorities and makes their policies ever more unpredictable and irrational.”


            That is bad enough, but there is something worse: such a false picture of the world guarantees ultimate failure: “Irrationalism and the withdrawal into a world of illusions is the true path to backwardness and poverty, force and instability.” To avoid that disaster, Ryzhkov insists, Russia must again “stand on the firm path of rationalism and pragmatism.”


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Putin’s Party Suffers Big Loss in Small Kaliningrad City

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 26 – Vladimir Putin’s party of power, United Russia, failed to win a single seat in elections to the 15-member city council of Baltiysk in Kaliningrad, an indication of just how soft support for his party and possibly for him is -- and of what steps Russian opposition groups may be able to take to win elections where they occur elsewhere.


            The Baltiysk surprise is dominating much of the Moscow media today, given that United Russia did not win a single mandate. Instead, 12 independent candidates appear to have won through as well as one each from Just Russia, the Patriots of Russia and the Communists of Russia.


            In a commentary in “Novyye izvestiya,” Yekaterina Dyatlovskaya says that experts with whom she has spoken explain United Russia’s failure as the result of high levels of participation, scandals in the registration of candidates, and conflicts among the city and regional elites (


            Almost half of the registered voters – 47.77 percent – took part, a level of participation that Just Russia’s Pavel Fedorov said was unheard of in recent elections there and that overwhelmed the ability of the party of power to win on the basis of administrative measures alone. At the same time, he said, he was surprised that that party did not win at least one seat.


            Another explanation for the outcome, he suggested, was the scandal which broke out when officials refused to register 78 out of 139 candidates.  That action was so gross, he implied, that many local residents and businesses took the occasion of the election to register their anger at official high-handedness.


A third explanation for the outcome was provided by Rostislav Turovsky of the Center for Political Technologies. He pointed out that there are serious differences within United Russia itself and that the regional boss may be entirely happy that the city boss suffered this embarrassing loss. 


According to Grigory Melkonyants, of the Golos vote monitoring organization, all sides in the election used “doubtful technologies,” but this had the effect of cancelling each of them out. The voting itself was relatively good.  He said that now the Russian opposition must “study the experience of Baltiysk in order to learn how to defeat [the powers’] administrative resource.”


Repression in Russia Intensifying Outside of Moscow

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 26 – As it has done so often, the Russian government is increasing repression outside the capital and thus outside the field of view of Western journalists and diplomats at a rapid pace, something it may be able to do even more effectively if Moscow media outlets follow the advice of some not to cover the plight of the victims of such actions.


            The past few days have produced two reports about this pattern: one about the increasing repression in Karelia in recent months ( and the second about a new round of repression against Circassians in the North Caucasus (


            With regard to Karelia, Boris Vishnevsky, a Yabloko deputy in St. Petersburg’s legislative assembly, says that the authorities in that republic have launched criminal cases, searches and arrests in the wake of the success opposition groups have had in winning elections and calling attention to illegal actions by the head of the republic.


            Five Yabloko leaders in Karelia have had criminal charges brought against them, even though there is no evidence supporting these cases. What there is, Vishnevsky says, is a political movement in the republic which seeks the ouster of the republic head. It has been holding meetings to make that demand – the most recent took place on May 20 – and has collected more than 7,000 signatures on a petition to that effect.


            What adds a certain piquancy to the situation, Vishnevsky continues, is that Governor Khudilaynen appears to have been guilty while occupying an earlier job of exactly the things he is charging his opponents. He denies all wrongdoing, of course, but he gets angry whenever anyone raises the issue.


            “It is difficult to say what will happen next in Karelia,” he says. “A great deal depends on how much coverage these events get.” Unfortunately, he says, because these cases do not involve high profile opposition figures and are taking place “beyond the borders of the two capitals, the situation has attracted little attention from the federal media with rare exceptions.”


            A similar problem exists in the North Caucasus. There, officials have detained a Circassian activist whose only crime was that he wanted to meet other Circassians and mark the 151st anniversary of the genocide of the Circassians by tsarist forces on May 21and searched the house of those he hoped to meet with (


            That kind of illegal and heavy-handed authoritarianism when directed at relatively low-ranking people outside of Moscow rarely gets much attention, and it will get less if Russian and western journalists follow the advice of those like Valery Tishkov, the outgoing director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology.


            In response to a question from about the Circassian situation, Academician Tishkov “advised the media not to inflate the theme of the Circassian genocide but to treat other more immediate issues” (




‘In the Donbas, There is a War, But in Crimea, There is Terror,’ Residents Say

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 26 – Many believe that the situation in Russian-occupied Crimea is “not so terrible” because there is no war going on there, Abmezhit Suleymanov says. But in many ways, the situation in Crimea is even worse: in the Donbas, “you know who your enemy is;” in Crimea, there are enemies “all around you” and residents live in a state of terror.


            Suleymanov, who is a representative of the Mejlis committee for the defense of the rights of Crimean Tatars, made these comments to in an article today which also features other reports from people in the occupied peninsula who ask that no one forget what is taking place there (


            Some high-profile cases of this terror have attracted international attention, but activists in Crimea and in Kyiv say that there are far more lower-level ones that pass unnoticed and that even they are not able to register and thus provide documentation to national and international bodies.


            It appears, they say, that “Russia needs Ukrainian ‘spies,’ ‘snipers,’ and ‘terrorists’” and has a variety of charges officials may use or actions some of them or ordinary pro-Moscow people may employ to repress anyone who is not enthusiastically on the side of the new order following the Anschluss.


            Aleksandra Matviichuk, president of the Kyiv-based Center for Civic Freedoms, says that “such ‘a menu’ is used by the occupation authorities for suppressing the initiatives of representatives of civil society” and that “their victims are people of the most varied professions, ages, and activities. But they are all united by the fact that they are publicly active and not under the control of the occupation authorities.”


            Tamila Tasheva, coordinator of the Crimea SOS organization, says that “the international community is devoting more attention to what is taking place in [the Donbas than in Crimea]. And this is logical, but in Crimea we see a kind of undeclared war when every day there are violations of human rights. And there are hundreds of them.”


            Rights activists in Kyiv say that in the last three months alone, there have been 94 interrogations in Crimea, 22 searches, 78 detentions and arrests, 13 trials, as well as cases of torture and beatings.  And that enumeration, they say, is far from complete given that many of these crimes are not reported.


            What is especially worrisome is that the occupation officials increasingly coordinate their work with the criminal grouping known as “the Crimean Self-Defense Force,” whose members employ extra-legal means to repress the population, including beatings, denunciations and other actions characteristic of a terror regime.


            She continues that there are some things that can be done: Crimeans need to arrange in advance with lawyers so that when something is done, they will be in a better position to get the word out and defend themselves. And both Ukrainian and international organizations need to get involved in this horrific situation.


            “We know,” another activist says, “that the Russian side does not allow a UN mission on human rights onto the territory of the peninsula.” But that doesn’t mean that individual countries can’t send their own missions or at least try to and thus spread the word about what is happening and thereby encourage Crimeans to defend their rights.


            Suleymanov adds that “the repressive regime is doing everything it can to take under control the representative organ of the Crimean Tatars, the Mejlis and Kurultay,” including attacks, arrests, and the creation of alternative bodies that the occupiers seek to present as genuine.


            “Today it is very difficult to live in Crimea,” he says, but “to live in occupation and to feel that no one supports you is doubly difficult. People must understand that there is no law or organization which now works in Crimea to defend the rights of these people” – and they are numerous.


            Moscow claims and many outsiders believe that many in Crimea support the occupation, but this is not the case, Suleymanov says. “In Crimea live and struggle those who believe to this day that Crimea is Ukraine and must be.”  What matters now is that they not be left to face the occupiers “one on one.”


Monday, May 25, 2015

Ukrainian Conflict is between ‘Heirs of Kievan Rus’ and ‘Heirs of Golden Horde,’ Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 25 – “The Ukrainian-Russian conflict is to a significant degree a conflict between the heirs of Kievan Rus [Ukraine] and the heirs of the Golden Horde” [Moscow], according to Andrey Piontkovsky, and one of its key results will be “an intensification of the swallowing of Russia by China.”


            In the course of a wide-ranging interview yesterday with Artem Dekhtyarenko of Ukraine’s Apostrophe news agency, the Russian commentator argues that it is a mistake to see what is taking place in Moscow as “a strengthening of the ties of Russia and China” (


            Instead, he argues, it is part of a long ongoing process that has accelerated in the course of the Ukrainian crisis of “the swallowing of Russia by China.” At the recent Victory Day parade in Moscow, something “symbolic” happened that had never occurred “in the thousand year history of Russia:” three units of the Chinese military took part.


            “For the Chinese who devote enormous importance to symbols,” Piontkovsky says, “this was as it were a parade of their victory” because it represented “a foretaste of their complete victory over Russia.”


            A year ago, the Chinese clearly signaled that this is how they view things: Beijing’s prime minister told a gathering in St. Petersburg that “you have big territories, and we have many Chinese workers. Let’s unite these resources for the strengthening of our common economic potential.”


            The Chinese had never permitted themselves to express such notions so boldly, the Russian analyst continues; but it is clear that they now have “complete confidence that having cut itself off from Western civilization, Putin’s Russia will become an easy catch” for Beijing.


             That is all the more so, Piontkovsky continues, because there are influential people in Russia itself who “welcome this process” because they “consider the Golden Horde to have been the golden age of Russian history.” Thus, “the swallowing of Russia by China is a return to its deepest historical roots.”


            Those who think in this way have a certain measure of truth on their side, the Russian commentator concludes, and that in turn means that the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia is “to a significant degree” a conflict between the two states these two countries emerged from, Kievan Rus in the case of Ukraine and the Golden Horde in the case of Russia.



Putinism is What the White Russians Might Have Implemented Had They Won, Pastukhov

Paul Goble
            Staunton, May 25 – Given the recrudescence of Soviet institutions in the Russian-occupied Crimea and Donbas, ever more people are playing the game of “what if” – “what if” the August 1991 putsch or October 1993 clash in Moscow had ended another way or “what if” the anti-Bolshevik White Russians had defeated Lenin and returned to power.
            In a commentary today, Boris Pastukhov, a Russian historian at St. Antony’s College in Oxford, says that such an approach to history is not very profitable most of the time but that if one engages in it now, it is far more useful to think about “what ifs” in the case of Moscow than in the case of the Donbas (
            That is because, he suggests, a kind of alternative history has “already been partially realized” under Vladimir Putin, allowing one to suggest that in certain respects at least, Putinism can be understood as “the victory of the White Movement,” more than 90 years after it suffered what seemed to all intents and purposes its complete loss.
             So much ink has been spilled on what Russia might have looked like had the Whites won, Pastukhov says, first among emigres and then among Russians at home after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  But now there are some real reasons for taking seriously the idea that we can now see the outlines in life itself of what that victory might have meant.
            Imagine for a minute, the historian says, that “in October 1919, Yudenich had taken Petrograd. His victory would have allowed the consolidation of the actions of the White Armies and the formation of a White government which would have finally taken under its full control the territory of the former Empire (except some of its border parts).”
With that achievement, however, “the first – ‘heroic’ – part of history would have come to an end.”  And the new government would have been forced to confront the fact that its victory over Bolshevism had “solved only one of many problems.”  Pastukhov suggests that there would have been at least five:
  • First, with the empire dead and a lack of desire for the generals to remain in power, there would be the question of just what kind of a political system should and even could be erected in place of the old order.

  • Second, there would have emerged enormous administrative problems: “all organs of power would have been just as corrupt as before, workers would have been just as dissatisfied, the national minorities would have been just as oppressed, and inequality as before would have been enormous. There would have been too much centralism and too few skilled cadres.

  • Third, “the majority of the leaders of the movement who would have seized power earlier were not administrators of the first rank: many went from colonel to army general in only a few years” and few of them had any real understanding of how to rule a civilian population.

  • Fourth, “support from abroad would have stopped,” with both victors and vanquished focusing on their own problems rather than on Russia. Consequently, the new regime would have been largely on its own.

  • And fifth, that regime would have been lacked the forces necessary to recover the Baltic states “and certain other of its territories ‘from time immemorial,’ including possibly Ukraine. And there would have begun active democratic transformations,” changes that would have echoed in Russia itself.
“Under recently, it would have been possible only to guess how the counterrevolutionary government of ‘the victors’ would have responded to all these challenges.”  But now, observing what Putin is doing, one can very likely see the outlines of what it would have done as well., the historian suggests.
According to Pastukhov, “the flag of Putin’s Russia should be not the white-blue-red” it has adopted “but simply red and white because its ideological foundation is a combination of two counterrevolutions, the Bolshevik and the anti-Bolshevik,” a pattern that goes a long way to explain “the paradoxical quality of contemporary Russian policies.”
One can debate for a long time why the Soviet system failed, but there can be now doubt that at least for some decades, “the red movement successfully realized its counterrevolutionary plan,” first by sacrificing to others what it did not have the strength to hold and then rebuilding that strength and taking most of what it wanted back.
           Would the White Movement have been similarly able to do so remains a mystery, Pastukhov says.  But now there may be a test of that: “the hypothetic ‘white counterrevolution’ has found its embodiment in ‘the red counterrevolution,’ and the alternative scenario which lost a century ago has become a real political scenario for Russia of the 21st century.”
            “One needn’t waste time on reconstruction,” Pastukhov says. “turn on the television and study the course of alternative history.”
            That development, he suggests, raises “the curious question” about what is likely to be the fate of today’s Russian political emigres: will they be future “’Lenins’” who will return and take power, or will they be “a second edition of ‘the white emigration,’ whose nostalgic dreams remained just that?”

The Kremlin’s Top 5 ‘Propaganda Myths, Fakes and Stupidities of the Week’

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 25 – Dmitry Bukovsky of Kyiv’s “Delovaya stolitsa” continues his series, “The Top 5 Propaganda Myths, Fakes and Stupidities of the Kremlin for the Week.”  And this week, Russia has really outdone itself with the very top item being a claim that Vladimir Putin was either Prince Vladimir who baptized Kievan Rus or the Apostle Paul in a past life.


            The five Bukovsky has selected out of the Kremlin’s news feed this week include the following (


  1. How Many Past Lives has Putin Had?  Russians have a long history of portraying their current leaders as wonder-working icons. In recent months, some have portrayed Stalin as a saint in this way. But now, a certain Mother Fotinya, the head of a sectarian group in Nizhny Novgorod, has taken the next step: She says that in “one of his past lives, Putin was Prince Vladimir and baptized Russia” and that he has returned to “baptize anew our pagan land.”  Earlier she declared that Putin in another past life had been the Apostle Paul (
  2. Soviet Pioneer Movement Reborn in Occupied Territories.  On May 19, the occupation authorities in Makeyevka solemnly revived the Pioneers, the Soviet youth movement, with Soviet, Russian and Donetsk Peoples Republic flags flying, a monument to Putin standing by, and with speakers proclaiming that these children “unlike in Ukraine are not fighting their own history” (
  3. Not a Week without a Crucifixion. Devotees of Moscow propaganda would undoubtedly be disappointed if their media sources did not report on yet more horrific killings by “Ukrainian punitive detachments.”  This week for their delectation, Moscow offered a picture of the supposed killing of a militant and his “’pregnant wife.’”  But even Russian commentators recognized that the whole thing had been staged and had never occurred (
  4. Everyone Can Speak with Russian POWs in Ukraine -- Except Of Course Moscow.  The same day Moscow complained Ukrainian officials had failed to give Russian diplomats access to Russian soldiers held by Kyiv (, one of these soldiers, Yevgeny Yerofeyev told Russian journalists that everyone has come to see him: representatives of the UN, the Red Cross, and the OSCE. “All have asked whether I am alive and well and whether I’m being given treatment. All have come,” he said, “except the embassy of Russia” (
  5. There Must Be American Soldiers in Ukraine. Although Moscow continues to deny that there are any Russian soldiers in Ukraine, its media have gone out of their way to point to what they say is evidence of an American military presence there. This week, Vladimir Putin’s favorite news source,, reported that a group of more than 40 Americans from a private security firm had arrived in Ukraine as the first wave of a veritable invasion.  There was no truth to the story but that didn’t prevent Moscow from putting it out with imaginary details or from using this report to muddy the waters (