Friday, August 31, 2018

Russia is in a Stalemate Today But Can’t Stay There for Long, Shevtsova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 31 – Russia is in a stalemate today because the Kremlin “cannot accept the sanction-backed demands of the West without losing face,” but it also cannot act as if it is indifferent to the sanctions because they are undermining Russia’s ability to remain a great power, Liliya Shevtsova says.

            As a result, the Russian political analyst says, “the Kremlin is thinking not about how to respond to the West in a harsh manner but rather how to respond so as not to provoke the West into new unpleasantness.  But it isn’t succeeding,” as the announcement of a major military exercise ahead (

            “Foreign policy in Russia always was an instrument for the resolution of domestic problems, easing consolidation around the authorities and securing foreign resources,” she continues. But “now foreign policy has become a burden on the budget and led to the formation of an international space hostile to Russia.”

            “In sum,” Shevtsova concludes, “foreign policy has begun to harm national interests, but revising it is impossible without destruction the way in which power is organized.” The Kremlin has created within the country “a political Sahara” and “transformed all the institutions into a parody of themselves,” thereby creating “the illusion of control” among the elites.

            “But in the absence of legal challenges of expressing their will people have only one way to say what they think – in the streets.”

            Moreover, Shevtsova says, “the instruments of power have begun to contradict their task. Thus, on the one hand, Russia cannot get along without militarism, which always was compensated by economic development. [But] on the other, Russia cannot permit itself the militarization” that would require.

            “A devaluation of the mechanisms of total power has occurred. Russia always united itself not about national Interest but around an Idea. And where is this Idea today?”  That question is critical, because “there cannot be a strong power without a strong idea.” Crimean is ours isn’t capable of serving that role.

            The mechanisms of repression have been even more “devalued,” she continues.  Today, “they are not capable of defending the powers that be. Now, they serve only their personal interests.”

            According to the analyst, “Russia can no longer rely on the imperial component as the foundation of statehood. The end of ‘the Russian world’ and the lack of desire of Kazakhstan, Belarus, and other allies to recognize the annexation of Crimea as legitimate is the end of our Eurasian galaxy.”

            The most interesting reaction to the stalemate Russia finds itself in, of course, is within the ruling class, Shevtsova says.  “Western sanctions are inevitably leading to its split: to those who will be forced to hole up in Russia and those who will be able to integrate themselves ‘into the West.’”

            When and how will Russia move out of its state of stalemate? “This will depend not only on external influence. It will depend in the first instance on the appearance in Russia of a domestic force which will allow the country to get ‘a second breath,’” Shevtsova says. Such “a breakthrough into the future always and everywhere is provided by the intellectual stratum.”

            At present, however, there is no obvious candidate for this in Russia. Its intelligentsia has “chosen a different function,” and that leads people to look to the young for a way out. “History says,” the Russian analyst says, “that societies cannot remain in a stalemate for an infinitely long time. They either make a breakthrough or …”

            And with that, Shevtsova concludes her essay, leaving open how long Russia can in fact remain in its current “stalemate” and what role if any the Russian intelligentsia will play in the coming months or years.

Putin Admitted More than He Intended with Pension Speech, Shlosberg Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – Many critics of Vladimir Putin say that his pension remarks were a mistake and a failure, a speech of a manager rather than a tsar, and one that at the same time showed he doesn’t care about the Russian people or what they think (e.g.,,

                All that is true, but Lev Shlosberg, a Yabloko Party leader from Pskov, makes an valuable contribution to this discussion by suggesting that in his speech, intentionally or more likely not, Vladimir Putin made a number of “valuable admissions” that Russians should draw conclusions from (

            First and foremost, the opposition politician and commentator says, Putin in his speech “admitted the obvious: he is the real author of the plan to raise the pension age. That acknowledgement wasn’t planned, of course” but rather reflects just how out of touch with Russian realities Putin and his regime now are.

            “In the mythical world of Putin and his party, public opinion is the result of elections which are organized in favor of the powers that be.  One must be very limited in education, information, and field of vision to think that way. But that is how they really think the situation is.”

            And that is why Putin gave this speech now, Shlosberg continues. He and his colleagues are aware that in ten days, Russians will go to vote and their main plan is to “vote for anyone except United Russia and its candidates. These attitudes have frightened the authorities,” and Putin’s speech was an effort to calm the situation. 

            “The real goal of Putin’s speech in justification of the pension reform was to preserve power for himself and his clan,” to deflect a threat to him and it rather than to explain to people why the authorities were proposing to take this step. That is why his 30-minute address was so “cold and didactic.”

            But from his words, “several simple conclusions” flow:

·         “The economy is in stagnation and cannot meet the social needs of people, including pensions.”

·         “The state plans to use the funds of citizens to get out of the crisis and not those of the oligarchs and the bureaucracy.” The former will have to “tighten their belts.” The latter won’t.

·         “Russia’s demographic crisis as before is to be blamed on World War II and ‘the cursed 1990s.”

·         “The insane spending of the Russian budget on wars and support of the regimes of foreign puppets will continue: Putin does not intend to give up his ambitions.”

·         “Early retirement for employees of the force structures is untouchable [because] the regime relies on their forces to remain in power.”

·         “The authorities and in the first instance Putin have no understanding and vision of prospects for the development of Russia and boosting the well-being of people.”

·         And “’the icing on the cake’” – “the people do not understand their happy state but ‘must be patient.’”

The Russian people really don’t understand all this because “society has gone far ahead of the president in its understanding of the needed quality of life. People aren’t satisfied of life in a Soviet-style system, but Putin proposes preserving exactly that.” He thus speaks “as an outdated leader of an outdated government.”

Putin ‘didn’t explain to people the reason for raising the pension age. Instead, he in an authoritarian way read out to the people a lecture about the correctness of the actions of the authorities and demanded understanding.” That represents “a confirmation of the political and economic bankruptcy of the government he heads” and of Putin himself.

Putin’s softening of parts of the pension plan and his offer of some new benefits only highlights how out of touch he is, Shlosberg says.  All the new benefits could have been offered without an increase in the pension age; and so it is “amoral” for Putin and his regime to speak of them in this context.

“The main socio-economic problems of Russia are injustice and poverty,” the Yabloko leader says. “Putin’s political system is arranged so as to produce both” so that he can take even more from the people than before. His speech shows that “this system completely satisfies him and he has no intention of changing anything about it.”

Russia to Buy Frigates from China

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – In a remarkable turnabout, Moscow is going to purchase specially modified naval frigates from Beijing, the result of Russia’s declining ability to produce ships at home and its inability to buy them in the West because of sanctions and China’s growing arms production especially in the naval sector.

            Profi-Forex’s Elena Tarakanova reports on this remarkable turnaround. “Already a long time ago, the Russian state in fact loss the ability to produce major vessels,” she says, and had to purchase them abroad, first from the West and now from China which only became a naval power recently (

                At the Moscow arms show ten days ago, China showed off drawings for four universal descent vessels with displacements of 40,000 tons, exactly the kind of ship Russian military planners are now focusing on to defend their coastal areas and project power in Russia’s neighborhood.

            Chinese media outlets have since reported that Russia plans to purchase a variety of weapons from China in the near future, adding that it is especially interested in the new Chinese frigate which recall the French Mistral which Russia purchased but was not able to take delivery of because of sanctions (

                The Chinese shipbuilder involved has designated the model the 054AE, with the letter E referring to Russia in Chinese (Éluósī), thus indicating that China is ready, willing and able to modify its frigate to meet Russian requirements and to offer Moscow the equivalent of the Mistral for its future needs.