Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Popular Protests Forced Change in USSR after 1953 and Can Do So Again, Azimandis Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 28 – One of the most powerful constraints on demonstrations and protests in the Russian Federation today is the assumption that such actions do not have an impact on the powers that be and thus participation in them involves high risks with low chances of making a difference.

            Most Russians and most specialists on the Soviet Union and Russia today believe that the top leaders make their decisions exclusively in terms of their own interests without regard to the actions of the population.  Indeed, Russian history since 1953 has been written and accepted as the record of what particular leaders wanted, with the attitudes and actions of the people.

            Thus, Khrushchev moved to de-Stalinize to protect himself and his comrades a recrudescence of terror, Brezhnev pursued policies intended to avoid rocking the boat, Andropov sought to remobilize the country, and Gorbachev concluded that “we can’t continue to live like this” and ushered in perestroika, glasnost and the demise of the Soviet system.

            Since 1991, Yeltsin first loosened the constraints on the population and then began to tighten them again, a process that his successor, the current Russian president Vladimir Putin is pursuing with renewed vigor. 

            No one could or would deny that the personality and goals of particular leaders were irrelevant to the directions Moscow has taken. These things are obviously critical.  But to say this does not mean that protests and demonstrations by the population were irrelevant. In many cases, those protests helped to shape the attitudes of the Kremlin leader.

            Once that is understood, it can be seen that protests and demonstrations in the future may also have a profound impact on the individual in office even if he is a committed authoritarian like Putin because anyone interested in maintaining power has to recognize certain limits to his freedom of action given the reaction, real or likely, of the population.

            In the course of a long essay in which he considers the evolution of the Putin regime, Yakov Azimandis says that “the thaw in the 1960s did not come by itself.  Many rights and freedoms were won not by Khrushchev’s voluntarist desire but as the result of a wave of protests and risings, first in Stalin’s camps and then in Soviet cities (rufabula.com/author/azimandis/1512).

                Most people remember only the Novocherkassk rising in 1962, he says; but there were many more; and he urges Russians to familiarize themselves with F.A. Kozlov’s 543-page study, Mass Disorders in the USSR under Khrushchev and Brezhnev (in Russian; Moscow, 3rd edition, 2009. The full text is at eland.ru/dirty/kozlov_massovyie_besporiadki_2010.pdf).

            Among them were protests and risings in Podolsk in 1957, Temirtau in 1959, Kirovabad in 1961, Biysk in 1961, Murod and Aleksandrov in 1961, Beslan in 1961, Sumgait in 1963, Bronnitsy in 1964, Moscow in 1966, Frunze in 1967m Chimkent in 1967, Priluki in 1967, Slutsk in 1967, and Nalchik in 1968, not to mention the many in Gorbachev’s time.

            The powers that be were simply “forced” to make certain concessions to the population and open the way for more working class people to enter the government, something that is less likely to happen now, Azimandis says, because “generals have their own children.”  As a result, the elite has become “incestuous” and thus “condemned to collapse.”

            The Putin regime “doesn’t want and cannot renew itself,” he continues, and thus “it is useless to wait for a thaw or even more a spring.” Russians need to take things into their own hands because “spring will come when anger breaks out in the hearts of people … No one gives anyone any rights; they have to be taken.”

            That means that Putin’s plans for the future elections are “good news” for Rusisanns because they show that he no longer has any room for maneuver. He simply wants to keep power. And that in turn creates a situation where demonstrations and risings by the population can have an effect, perhaps one even more powerful than in the 1950s.

Moscow Deploys the Most Dangerous Kind of Disinformation Against Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 28 – Lies are one thing; disinformation quite another, as the late Nathalie Grant warned decades ago. The first can muddy the waters but are typically quickly exposed by anyone who examines them. They have a far greater and long lasting influence because the lies are wrapped in facts.

            Indeed, one could say that the flood of lies is nothing but a means to make disinformation more effective because those who recognize these falsehoods may deceive themselves when it comes to more carefully constructed narratives of disinformation which are accepted because so many parts of them are true.

            Consequently, identifying such disinformation and carefully sifting the lies it contains that are surrounded by facts is a far more important but also far more difficult task than simply unmasking lies. The latter may make those who do it feel better; but only the former can protest us against those who deploy disinformation skillfully.

            That makes a new article by US-based Russian journalist Kseniya Kirillova especially important. Indeed, in many ways, it is a model of the challenge the world faces in dealing with Russian disinformation and the care that needs to be exercised in exposing and thus countering it (ru.krymr.com/a/28334404.html).

                Last week, she notes, the Ukrainian media was filled with stories that Ukrainian defense plants were selling military equipment to Russia.  The reports cited the conclusions of the distinguished Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and even appeared plausible given that Ukrainian plants had supplied Russian ones before 2014.

            Such stories have two target audiences: Ukrainians who might conclude that their elites were betraying them and their country out of greed, and Europeans who might conclude that there was no reason to defend Ukraine or maintain sanctions on Russia for its invasion if the Ukrainians weren’t willing to prevent such sales.

            But the stories, however plausible and apparently fact-based they appeared to be, were entirely false. Indeed, as experts at the Kyiv Center for Research on the Army, Conversion and Disarmament point out, those behind this disinformation did not report accurately even about what SIPRI did say.

            Mikhail Samus, deputy head of the center, notes that “it is important to understand that SIPRI did not publish precisely the information” these stories contained. Instead, the stories were based on its own collective summaries of materials rather than on the actual evidence the Stockholm institute gathered.

            For journalists who choose to rely on the summaries rather than on the report itself, the stories placed in the Ukrainian media appear accurate, whereas those who examine the SIPRI study will see that such conclusions are not only inaccurate but designed to hide what SIPRI did highlight in its latest report: Russian arms shipments to its forces in the Donbass and Crimea.

            And one Ukrainian journalist, Aleksandr Demchenko, adds that the way in which SIPRI presented the data it has on Ukrainian arms sales further confused the situation. The Swedish center based its findings not on data from the last year but rather for a five-year-period, from 2012 to 2016, which includes a time when Ukrainian firms did supply Russian ones.

            Moscow is only too pleased to use such “inaccuracies” to discredit Ukraine in Europe and to hide its own illegal supply of weapons to its own forces and clients in the Donbass and to Russian-occupied Crimea. By pushing the inaccurate story of Ukrainian arms sales at the same time and with the same sources, Moscow at least in part has achieved its goals.

            Exposing this kind of thing, as Kirillova has done here, is far more difficult and time-consuming that simply pointing to lies, but it is also far more important. And as she notes, “this isn’t the first such case” since Russia invaded Ukraine; and it certainly won’t be the last either there or elsewhere.

New Reichstag for Moscow Children to Storm ‘a Universal Meme’ for Putin’s Russia, Movchan Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Februar 28 – Last week the Russian defense ministry said that it was building “a mini-Reichstag” at a Moscow amusement park so that Russian children will have “a real building to storm” (washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/02/22/the-russian-military-is-building-a-mini-reichstag-at-its-amusement-park-so-that-kids-have-a-real-building-to-storm/).

            Reaction has ranged from the bemused to the angry, but Andrey Movchan, a Moscow commentator has offered a reflection on his Facebook page that is one of most profound diagnoses of the nature of Vladimir Putin’s Russia to appear anywhere so far. Below is a translation of his complete text (facebook.com/andrei.movchan/posts/1483814595008079).

“Moscow is dealing with a report about the construction of a Reichstag for a new storming. And it seems to me,” Movchan says, “that this is a new universal meme in the sense that everything that Russia is occupied with today is the construction of a Reichstag within itself with the goal of then taking it.

“In this metaphor there is no unnecessary detail and nothing is left out: That is exactly what a super cargo cult should look like: you erect in the center of yourself something with the single goal fo then storming it and ritually destroyed.

“Freud should have called this collective masturbation with a rape fantasy (perhaps he didn’t, I’m not certain” Movchan continues”). But of all our shortages which we have about, the main thing that turns out to be is a lack of enemies and victories – and thus have to turn backward to one from the past symbolized by the Reichstag.

“Bu what is most horrific is that our excitement reeks of necrophilia. We are not simply devotees of a cargo cult; we are an anachronism.  We can’t even find an enemy for ourselves from our own era: We are building not a Pentagon, not a mosque in Mosul, not the palace of Kim Chen Un, not Buckingham Palace, and even not Poroshenko’s dacha at the worst end.

“No, we are stuck in the dark middle of the 20th century, like a specter which died then and is condemned to wander forever in the fields of asphodels among other specters which died in its time.

“In Dante’s Inferno, there is a circle for false prophets and false teachers. There, in punishment for their leading people into pernicious error, they eek out their eternity with their head turned around toward their backs.

“Are not all of us already paying for the false teachers who were given birth by Russia in the 20th century and are we not condemned eternally to pretend that we are moving forward, with faces turned around on their necks and gazing backward where in the rear are the increasingly indistinct outlines of the Reichstag?

“We all are trying to take it yet another time as it recedes ever further from us …”