Wednesday, November 30, 2016

‘To Kill is Good. To Have Doubts Bad’ – the Operational Code of Putin’s Officials

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – One of the most important and influential books about the Soviet leadership was Nathan Leites’ The Operational Code of the Politburo (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951; available via hypertext link at

            His study traced the ideas that drove the leadership of the Soviet Union to take this or that action and was based on a careful study of what those leaders had said and done in particular cases, something that Leites generalized to provide guidance as to what the Soviet ruling elite would be likely to do in the future.

            Now, the Snob portal has examined “hundreds” of statements by members of the Putin elite and compiled what it calls “the moral compass of the Russian bureaucrat” of today. It has now presented its findings with only the caveat that there is as yet no unanimity in views on any of these points (

            In each case, the portal provides hypertext-linked quotations from Vladimir Putin as well as key members of the government and federal legislature.  Some of the findings are unexpected, but many are disturbing. And while they do not provide the kind of authoritative guidance that Leites’ work did, they are suggestive.

            Snob’s 14 points of the values system of Russian officialdom at the present time are as follows:

·         “Force is very good.”

·         “Religion is very good.”

·         “Traditions are very good.”

·         “Marriage is very good.”

·         “The death penalty is good.”

·         “Single-sex marriage is good.”

·         “Ukrainians are good.”

·         “The fifth column is very bad.”

·         “Terrorism is very bad.”

·         “The West is bad.”

·         “Freedom of speech is bad.”

·         “Meetings are bad.”

·         “Corruption is bad.”

·         And last but perhaps not least, “ethnic Russians are bad.”

Kremlin Risks Making Things Still Worse by Restarting Regional Amalgamation Plans, Shaburov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – Aleksey Shaburov, the editor of the Politsovet portal, says that the Kremlin plans to redraw the borders of the regions and republics of Russia after 2018 but argues that if it does so without changing the political system as a whole, that process risks making the country’s economic and even political situation much worse.

            Shaburov, who says that he favors the redrawing of many of the existing borders within the country because doing so is “that rare case when the authorities are moving in the right direction, but there is a great risk that they as is their custom will end by doing the wrong thing” (

            The regional division of the country clearly needs updating, he argues. “The Russian Federation inherited an administrative-territorial division from Soviet times and did not rethink or replace it.” Much of that system was the product of official “arbitrariness” and cannot be justified now.

            “In the planned Soviet system,” Shaburov says, the division into republics and regions “could exist, but in the current federal one, when each region has its own taxes and budgets, the economic harm of this system is becoming ever more obvious.” 

            The regions and republics need to be combined, he continues, but “everyone understands” that poor regions will not become rich unless their borders are changed. And people also understand that while the regions are formally equal, they are in fact anything but – and this situation is further exacerbated by the existence of republics.

            “If from a legal point of view, Sverdlovsk oblast is in no way different from let us say Chechnya, then from the point of view of the functioning of political institutions, there is between them an enormous gap, one that is in no way reflected in the legal acts” of the Russian Federation.

            But making any changes in borders or status will be difficult, Shaburov says, because this requires “a serious, broad and general” discussion of all interested parties. But “alas, in contemporary Russian politics, there are no mechanisms for such a discussion” and so it is unlikely to take place.

            Instead, the Kremlin will make the decision and impose it on the country, and any public discussion will be only “an imitation” of something real.  That probably doesn’t matter for many issues, but it clearly does matter and matters profoundly for any change in borders or the status of regions and republics.

            The greatest obstacle to a serious discussion of these things is that “the theme of interethnic and inter-regional relations in the Russian Federation are subject to a multiplicity of taboos.”  Federal law in fact “prohibits the discussion of the territorial composition of the state and de facto bans criticism and casting doubt on certain aspects of ethnic policy.”

            Under those conditions, regional leaders and most others concerned with this issue will be afraid to say anything, and that means that “in the discussion of the amalgamation of regions, the leading role inevitably will remain with the federal center which has its own interests which do not correspond with the interests of the regions.”

            That entails “several risks,” the Moscow commentator says. He lists four:

·         First, “there is the risk that the model of enlarging regions will simply be imposed by order, and this will be even worse than if nothing were changed.”

·         Second, “the new model if it appears could lead to the further political centralization” of the state with more unitarism and less federalism.

·         Third, “there is the risk that from the economic point of view, the regions as a result of amalgamation will lose more than they gain,” especially if tax and budgetary arrangements remain as they are now, arrangements than benefit Moscow but not the regions.

·         And fourth, “there is a great chance” that Moscow could seriously destabilize the country if it decides to do away with the national republics without consulting with their populations.

In short, Shaburov argues, “the reform of regional arrangements cannot occur separately from reforms of the remaining parts of the political system” because “if it is carried out within the framework of the current political configuration, there is every chance that things will only become worse.”

Beloveshchaya Didn’t Destroy the USSR: It had Already Ceased to Exist, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – As Russians and others approach the 25th anniversary of the Beloveshchaya accords, many of them are certain to say that that agreement between the presidents of the RSFSR, Ukraine and Belarus was the death knell for the USSR. But in fact, Vadim Shtepa says, they didn’t “destroy” it because it had long since ceased to exist.

            The August 1991 coup completed the destruction that became inevitable when the CPSU lost its constitutionally mandated role a year earlier, the Estonia-based Karelian commentator says; and what the three presidents did was to kill any chances for a confederation arising in its place (

            In many respects, Shtepa argues, the Beloveshchaya meeting was in reaction to the draft of a call for the creation of a Union of Sovereign States as a confederation that Mikhail Gorbachev had proposed and that was published on November 27.  (For its text, seeДоговор_о_Союзе_суверенных_государств_(ноябрь_1991_года).

            The Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian leaders viewed this as just another effort by Gorbachev to hold on to power, and they wanted to eliminate that chance by eliminating his position.  The Soviet president failed in his efforts because “by virtue of his policy in 1991, he fell between Scylla and Charybdis, between two fires.”

            That is because, the regionalist says, Gorbachev’s “previous project of a union of sovereign states as a federation, which was being prepared for signature on August 20, was blocked by the putsch,” while his November project for “the Union as a confederation was cancelled by those who defeated the putschists.”

            “The distinction between the pre-August and the post-August projects of a new Union treaty,” Shtepa continues, “consisted in the fact that the first anticipated a more centralized system which gave critics the basis of calling it ‘a remake of the USSR.’” But one aspect of it was especially threatening to the then-powers that be.

            The pre-August version declared that “all union posts must be occupied by persons delegated by the republics and not by the former Soviet nomenklatura.” That change, Shtepa says, “can be considered the ‘cadres’ cause of the putsch.”

            The post-August variant, in contrast, reduced the central powers to “an absolute minimum,” and although the document didn’t include the term “subsidiarity,” that was what Gorbachev and those who helped him prepare the document clearly were talking about. Indeed, what that document would have put in place would have been something very like the EU.

            Moreover, Shtepa points out, “it is interesting to note that in the draft of this Treaty was a direct citation to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and a requirement that its signatories bring their legislation into line with the principles of that document. That sets it apart from both the CIS Treaty and the Russian Federal Treaty of 1992, neither of which mention it.

            The CIS, he continues, “initially was conceived as a coordinating institution like the European Union, but in fact it turned out to be that only formally and could not prevent any conflicts among the countries of the post-Soviet space or ensure that all its members would follow democratic and legal norms.

            Subsequent efforts to build “over the CIS” via structures like “the Eurasian Union” did not have any real results, “but only were evidence that a genuine post-imperial transformation of the post-Soviet space had not occurred.”  And that means that up to now, “there has not arisen any common mutually interested project for the future” given that “the actual ‘Russian-centricity’ of this space makes the role of other countries secondary and subordinate.”

            That doesn’t mean that the post-Soviet countries won’t cooperate in various ways: they are fated by geography and history to do so, he says. The issue is “only about the model of this cooperation and whether it is based on direct ties and possibilities which a confederation gives or on the subordination to some archaic imperial stereotypes.”

            Unlike other post-Soviet states which “began to construct new states, in part build on the experience of their independence after 1917, Russia turned to its pre-revolutionary imperial history and considered itself the direct successor of that.” But such a view gave rise to thinking in categories of “the metropolitan center” and “the colonies” and made real progress impossible.

            “This was the historical paradox of December 1991,” Shtepa argues. It seemed to many at the time that “Russia was freeing itself from the Soviet past, but this ‘liberation’ led only to its emersion in a still more distant past, with two-headed eagles, a government role for the church, colonial wars and so on.”

            Had the republics agreed to a confederal arrangement, such a restoration of imperial thinking in Rusisa “would have been impossible in principle.” Russia and its neighbors would have been “forced to observe common legal norms as they are observed by EU countries, and the wars with Georgia and Ukraine” would have been unthinkable.

            And had that happened, it is likely that “confederal thinking” would have spread across Russia, “significantly raising the role of regional and local self-government” and eliminating the drive for the reconstitution of any power vertical.

            Obviously, that didn’t happen, and it appears to be true that “Russian political thought of those years was still not ready for the format of a confederation.” But ideas like this one can spread quickly, Shtepa concludes, noting that in 1989, Soviet police arrested someone for carrying the Russian tricolor, but two years later, that flag had become the official one of Russia.