Thursday, September 29, 2022

Another Potential Flashpoint in the Suwalki Corridor – Opening of First Section of Vistula Canal

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 28 – On September 17, Poland announced the completion of the first section of its Vistula Canal through the Vistula spit. Warsaw declared that this move will help Poland escape from Russian influence, but Russian commentators have played down that possibility.

            Indeed, in the most extensive commentary so far, Moscow analyst Anatoly Kornelyuk says that it will take centuries for the canal to show a profit commercially and won’t have much of an impact geopolitically either (ritmeurasia.org/news--2022-09-28--vislinskij-kanal-kak-prolog-k-remejku-vesterplatte-62235).

            But he does mention that Moscow views this new development as something that only heightens its concerns about the Suwalki Corridor which it adjoins. And that in turn means that Western analysts of Russian intentions need to focus on this canal and its implications for what the Russian authorities might do in the region in the event of a crisis.

 

Real Tragedy of 1991 was Spread of False Notion that Path to Freedom would be Quick and Easy, Shapovalova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 28 – Vladimir Putin has said frequently that the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century was the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. But Russian commentator Marina Shapovalova says that an even greater catastrophe was the spread of the false notion that the path from authoritarianism to freedom would be quick and easy.

            Within Russia and the other former Soviet republics, that led to the idea that a relatively small number of things had to be done to achieve freedom, she says; and beyond its borders, it led to the conviction that now that these countries had declared themselves democracies, there was no more to be done (gorod-812.ru/budushhee-v-proshedshem-o-geopoliticheskih-katastrofah/).

            Now, everyone is seeing that the path from authoritarianism to freedom is long and difficult and that far greater efforts were needed to achieve it. In Shapovalova’s view, it would have been better if what happened in 1991 had occurred over a longer period rather than all at once. Then people would have seen more clearly what needs to be done.

            But that did not happen, and now all of the peoples of the former Soviet space and indeed the world as a whole are paying a high price. What is critical is that they recognize their earlier mistakes and the need to do now and in the future what they failed to do earlier. Otherwise, the coming years will be bleak indeed, a complete reversal of the hopes of 30 years ago. 

Putin’s Partial Mobilization Doomed to Fail and Call into Question Future of Russia, Luzin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 28 – There are at least five reasons why Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization order, one at odds with Russian law on this issue, is doomed to fail and why this failure will delegitimize his government and even call into question “the very statehood of Russia,” according to Russian commentator Pavel Luzin.

            Russia has not carried out a military mobilization since World War II, and its 1997 law on mobilization (pravo.gov.ru/proxy/ips/?docbody=&firstDoc=1&lastDoc=1&nd=102045871) has never been tested. But it is clear, Luzin says, that Putin has ignored its provisions and thus is in uncharted territory (theins.ru/opinions/pavel-luzin/255427).

            Problems are inevitable and they are already turning up as Putin uses a measure intended to defend the country to continue his aggression against another. But in addition to that, the Russian analyst says, there are five ways in which what he is doing is certain not only to backfire but to threaten his future and that of Russia as well.

            First of all, he says, “this ‘flexible mobilization’ without specific times and other parameters inevitably will undermine trust in the Russian powers, even among those who at least in words have not been against the war. In other words, mobilization [of this kind] will delegitimize the Kremlin.”

            Second, an authoritarian regime like Putin’s cannot carry out a mobilization like the ones democratic countries can because there is no mutual trust between them and so this policy will inevitably involve the use of repressive force, further alienating not only opponents but even supporters of the war.

            Third, because those mobilized will backfill units who have suffered losses in the war already, they will be led by inexperienced commanders and will almost certainly suffer greater losses, losses that will eat away at the support the Putin regime may have had earlier but will lose as bodies of the mobilized begin to come back to their hometowns.

            Fourth, Putin has announced a military mobilization but not a general mobilization for war. As a result, there will be an increasing disconnect between the army and the military industry and social support networks on which it will rely. Either he will have to expand mobilization beyond this “partial” one or suffer its collapse.

            And fifth, Putin’s decision to boost the size of his military and thus escalate the conflict in Ukraine will only deepen the isolation of Russia from the rest of the world and lead ever more countries to oppose what he is doing. “In this situation, mobilization only prolongs the agony of the regime and raise the moral and material cost which the Russian people will have to pay.”

            In that regard, it is important to remember, Luzin says, that people have to pay for wars long after they end. “For example, Germany completed its payment of reparations for World War I only in 2010, 92 years after its defeat.” If Russia survives or can be reconstituted in some new form, “we will still have to pay our bills for this war into the 22nd century.”

Anti-War Protests in Russia have Occurred in More than 50 Cities, and Fire Bombings of Draft Centers and Government Offices in More than 20

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 28 – Novaya Gazeta. Yevropa has documented that protests against Putin’s war in Ukraine have spread to a minimum of 51 cities from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok and from the far north to the southern borders since the Kremlin leader declared his partial mobilization last week.

            At least, 2333 protesters have been detained – 952 in Moscow, 644 in St. Petersburg, and 101 in Makhachkala. In addition, those opposed to the war have firebombed at least 21 draft centers and government buildings, one man has shot an official and another has committed suicide by self-immolation.

            Just how widespread these protests have become is shown in a map the newspaper has now published (novayagazeta.eu/articles/2022/09/26/kak-rossiiane-protestuiut-protiv-mobilizatsii).

Are Non-Russians Putin’s Primary Domestic Target in Ukrainian War Effort or Only Collateral Damage He Welcomes?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 28 – For almost a century, many have debated whether Stalin’s attack on the peasantry at the time of collectivization was primarily an act of genocide directed against Ukraine or a campaign designed to destroy the peasantry as a class, many but far from all of whose members were Ukrainians.

            That Stalin had a particular hatred for Ukrainians and gave orders for special treatment to be meted out to them to ensure that more would die is now before question, but the fact that he destroyed millions of Belarusians, Kazakhs, and even ethnic Russians during collectivization is beyond question.

            Consequently, the most reasonable description of Stalin’s actions 90 years ago was that it was both an act of genocide against Ukrainians as well as other nations and an action designed to destroy the peasantry as a class regardless of what the nationalities of its constituent elements happened to be.

            That non-Russians have been hurt worse than ethnic Russians within Russia in the course of Putin’s war in Ukraine has been suggested by many commentators even though precise statistics are hard to come by (e.g., themoscowtimes.com/2022/09/27/ethnic-minorities-hit-hardest-by-russias-mobilization-activists-say-a78879).

            Such suggestions have led many to take the next step and conclude that this is the latest act of genocide by Putin whose hostility to and policies against non-Russians are beyond question. However, there are three reasons to take such suggestions cautiously, even if they do reflect part of the truth especially now.

            First, a few Russians have made similar arguments and suggested that Putin’s war in Ukraine is also an act of genocide against the Russian people given that many of the soldiers fighting and dying in Ukraine are ethnic Russians from predominantly rural areas who also have little choice economically but to join the military.

            But these claims are far fewer not only because there are few commentators who write from the perspective of the Russian hinterland and because there are few organizations in predominantly ethnic Russian regions who are opposed to the war and inclined to speak out. There are some but not nearly as many as in non-Russian areas.

            Moreover, the Russian opposition both within Russia and even more in the emigration is Moscow-centric. It may criticize the war, but mostly it does so from a country-wide perspective rather than on behalf of the ethnic Russian majority. Thus, it often picks up the more vocal non-Russian complaints and ignores the Russian situation.

            Second, non-Russians are more vocal about what is going on because they have long-standing and entirely correct perceptions that Putin is hostile to them, because their societies are far more consolidated that are ethnic Russians in regions outside of Moscow and because their opposition both within the country and abroad reports their sufferings more frequently.

            Consequently, there is an imbalance in coverage between what Putin’s actions are doing in non-Russian areas and what effect they are having in Russian ones. That has benefited those of us who try to keep track of what goes on in the former but is a factor that must be kept in mind to ensure accuracy.

            And third, the fact that many non-Russian areas have suffered from Putin’s war more than ethnic Russian ones reflects another underlying reality: most non-Russian areas are significantly poorer than most predominantly ethnic Russian ones, and thus their men are more likely to choose to serve in the military as a way out of their economic distress. (For documentation of that, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/09/the-more-economically-depressed-russian.html.)

            Poverty among the non-Russians is of course a result of both history and Putin’s anti-Russian policies; but precisely because it is a factor in what is happening now, it is important to remember that the Kremlin leader is waging war not only against non-Russians but against poorer and more rural elements in his country in much the same way Stalin did.

            Far be it from me to minimize in any way the extent to which the non-Russians are victimized by Putin’s policies. In many respects, they suffer now as they did in Soviet times from a double discrimination, one based on class and the other based on ethnicity. But that must not distract attention from the fact that ethnic Russians are his victims too.

            And those who deny that by suggesting that only non-Russians are play into the implicit message of the Kremlin that it is on the side of the Russian people. In fact, it is against them as well; and the sooner the ethnic Russians recognize that reality, the sooner they will take action, alongside the non-Russians, to change it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

An Old Soviet Anecdote Returns: What is the Maly (Little) Theater? The Bolshoi (Large) after a Foreign Tour

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 28 – Vladimir Putin has been bringing back so much of the Soviet past that it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Soviet humor is making a comeback given how many Russians are fleeing to avoid mobilization, with the classic remark about how the Maly (“small”) theater came into existence after the Bolshoi (“large”) made a foreign tour thanks to defections.

            But this is only one of the growing number of jokes and anecdotes Russians are coming up with or reviving to describe their current situation. Among those assembled this week by Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova (publizist.ru/blogs/107374/44057/-) are the following:

·       Central Asian countries are now inviting Russians fleeing from mobilization to come and work at construction sites on their territories.

·       A Russian with only one leg says that he can’t possibly be mobilized, but a recruitment official says that he can because Putin’s order is only for a partial mobilization.

·       Russian scientists have made a breakthrough discovery: if a Duma deputy is mobilized and loses his head, he will still be able for a certain time thereafter be able to vote for new laws.

·       The Russian media say Putin has now assumed personal direction of the military operation in Ukraine, something that has led historically minded Russians to recall that at the end of 1915, Tsar Nicholas II did so as well.

·       Russia’s Doomsday Clock is about to be renamed Stopwatch.

·       When Defense Minister Shoygu is asked why the mobilization campaign hasn’t touched any children of members of the government or the Duma, he responds that the questioner obviously hasn’t read Putin’s order. It doesn’t affect people with dual or more citizenships.

·       Russians assume that when Putin announces the annexation of the Donbass, he will say that “Lenin created Ukraine and therefore it is not legitimate, but I and Girkin  created the DNR and therefore it is.

·       Russians are rushing to purchase miracle candles from Orthodox Churches because some say these candles can cause draft boards to forget about those who have them. At least, such candles cost thousands of times less than flying abroad.

·       According to the VTsIOM polling agency, Putin has been recognized as the most influential person within his  bunker where he lives alone. 

 

Spengler’s ‘Decline of the West’ Possible Source of Putin’s Thinking

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 27 – Exactly 100 years ago, German philosopher Oswald Spengler published his classic work, The Decline of the West in which he suggested Europe had reached its peak and would decline relative to other parts of the world. Today, Dmitry Minin says, Spengler’s prophecy is coming true.

            Empires fall apart at various speeds, the Moscow analyst says, some over decades while others over centuries, but it is already possible to see a century after Spengler published his book that he was right, that the hegemony of the West is coming to an end, and that what the US is doing to shore it up is a sign of weakness not strength (fondsk.ru/news/2022/09/25/zakat-zapada-57270.html).

            Spengler postulated three things which are often forgotten in the West: first, that empires decay for internal reasons even if they are still expanding abroad; second, that cultures not economics are the moving force of history; and third, that the West will be succeeded by a “Russian-Siberian” civilization.

            Not surprisingly, Minin says, these insights have informed the thinking of many Russians, most prominently Lev Gumilyev and the Eurasians. And they are increasingly being recognized by Western analysts themselves, another sign that Spengler’s pessimistic vision of the future of the West was right.

            While Minin does not say so, it is entirely possible that that well-known “Russian German” now in power in the Kremlin has been affected by the thinking of Spengler even more than by Gumilyev directly and that much of what Vladimir Putin is doing reflects his likely conviction, the one Minin clearly shares, that Spengler is right.

Some in Moscow Now Urging Expanded Russian Cooperation with Iran in Former Soviet Space

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 27 – Russian foreign policy experts at Moscow’s Danilevsky Institute for Russian-Slavic Research say that Iran both because of its growing political weight in the region and its cooperation with can play a significant and welcome role as a “stabilizing” presence in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

            “The close Russian-Iran cooperation there can stop the advance not only of Turkey [into those regions] but also that of the collective West,” scholars at the institute say. And they call for the creation of “a military union” of Russia, Iran and Armenia, which could soon become “a block of five” with the addition of Belarus and Tajikistan (eurasiatoday.ru/analytics/10961- иран-как-фактор-стабильности-на-постсоветском-пространстве.html).

            Such a grouping would constitute “a serious obstacle to the plans of NATO,” the institute says. But even more, as “a union of two country-civilizations, Russia and Iran,” it would become “not only a geopolitical but a civilizational alternative to the Western globalist project” and thus merits widespread support.

            Unfortunately, the Danilevsky Institute says, there are some in Moscow, still overly “pro-Western” who “fear serious Russian-Iranian cooperation” or who fear that any moves in that direction will be threaten Russia’s control of the region. But in fact, the institute insists, expanded Iranian activities in the region will only help Russia by weakening the West.

Russian Men Not Taking Part in Protests Lest They be Directly Impressed into Army

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 27 – The female face of Russian protests against Putin’s partial mobilization order has typically been explained by the fact that women are more sensitive to the threat to human life that wars represent, but there is another and perhaps more compelling factor at work.

            Russian men are not coming to the protests because they fear that if they are detained at such meetings, they may be directly impressed into the army and sent to fight in Ukraine, a fate that Russian women don’t face, the People of Baikal portal reports (baikal-journal.ru/2022/09/25/sejchas-ubijczam-menshe-dayut-chem-mitinguyushhim-i-inoagentam/).

            But women who do take part now face another threat: according to activists, Russian courts are now handing out heavier sentences to those who take part in protests or are identified as foreign agents than they are to those convicted of serious crimes like murder. As a result, the number of women behind bars is rising rapidly and will likely increase as protests do.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

‘Ingria will Be Free’ – Petersburg Hip Hop Artist Takes Regionalist Movement to a New Level

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 27 – Estonia’s drive to recover its de facto independence at the end of Soviet times was known as “the singing revolution” because music played such a key role in organizing and defining that nation’s feelings about itself and about the crimes the Soviets visited upon them during the occupation.

            Now a new but analogous “singing revolution” may be under way among the Ingermanlanders or Ingrians, a growing regionalist movement in the northwestern portion of the Russian Federation which combines both ethnic and regionalist goals but which until very recently many people there had never heard of.

            In a commentary for Holod media, St. Petersburg writer Dmitry Simanovsky says that the actions of hip hop artist Oxymoron four million people most of whom knew nothing about Ingermanland heard about it because the singer ended one of his songs with the words “Ingria will be free?” (holod.media/2022/09/24/simanosvski-ingria/).

            Simanovsky suggests this is a breakthrough moment for Ingermanland/Ingria because far more people will know be aware of the place, the people and the movement, which as he points out is as much a regionalist as a nationalist one since most of its activists are not ethnically Ingrian but rather local patriots who have chosen to identify with the historical group.

            (For background on Ingermanland or Ingria and efforts by its supporters to organize at various points over the last 120 years, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/07/a-new-aspirant-to-be-fourth-baltic.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/02/regionalist-movements-now-under-kremlin.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/06/regionalism-threatens-russia-today-way.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/05/by-attacking-free-ingria-leader-moscow.html, and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/10/window-on-eurasia-ingermanland-is-ready.html.)

            After tracing the history of the movement, Simanovsky makes the following important observation: “Today it is becoming ever clear that the establishment of local mythologies and of identities arising from them is the most important mid-term task of Petersburgers, people of the Urals, Pomors, Siberians, Kuban people, Stavropol residents and so on.”

            Without intending to, he continues, Vladimir Putin has opened the way for this by playing “the separatist card in Ukraine,” effectively digging his own grave. This will play out most easily in the non-Russian republics but it will also open the way for separatism in predominantly ethnic Russian ones as well.

            Songs like the one Oxymoron sang are thus a critical step forward, Simanovsky argues. They ensure that “Ingria will be free” and that others will be free as well, the result of more singing revolutions and revolutions of other kinds as well.

Belarusian Nobelist Confident Putin will Lose in Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 27 – Svetlana Alexievich, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature for her works on live under communism and after, says she was naïve to think that the homo sovieticus the communists created had disappeared, a conclusion she signaled in her last book, Second-Hand Man (2013), when she subtitled it “The End of the Red Man.”  

            Speaking in Vilnius over the weekend, she said that as someone who is both Belarusian and Ukrainian, what has happened in Belarus and even more in Ukraine in recent months have convinced her that homo sovieticus is still very much around and that she is writing a new book about his survival (ehorussia.com/new/node/26904).

            When Putin invaded Ukraine, she was in tears; but when Ukrainians stood up and fought back, she was proud that they have “given us all a chance to believe in our common future.” According to Alexievich, “it is difficult even to imagine what the world would be like if Putin won. But he will not win.”

            Instead, what is happening is the final and real collapse of the Soviet Union. “It had seemed to us that this would take place without blood,” the Nobelist says. But that was wrong. “There has been a great deal of blood, and there will be more.” Indeed, what is happening with Russia today in Ukraine is a replay of what happened to the USSR with Afghanistan.

            “The very same crematoria which they try to hide. The very same deception of mothers and the people about how many have died and how they have died.” But that didn’t work 40 years ago, and it won’t work now, Alexievich says.

            Putin has invested “enormous sums in promoting his idea about the future of Russia, one in which the empire will come back. When there was democracy under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, television didn’t speak with people. The elite in Moscow and St. Petersburg spoke with one another. Putin took this mistake into consideration.”

            The writer says that she recently was travelling on a train and an old man said to her: “you know, we have lived our entire life in a camp. Suddenly the gates were opened and we were let out. But we did not know what freedom is, where we should go and what we should do. And those on top started doing precisely what they had done before. Its happening before our eyes.”

            Today, she says that in addition to her book about events in Ukraine, she is working on three manuscripts, one about love, another about aging, and a third about the Belarusian revolution of 2020.

            The Belarusian revolution convinced her that she wanted to live in that country among her own people. She no longer wanted to leave. But she doesn’t want to see the revolution triumph through bloodshed. Unfortunately, Belarus is now an occupied country. Moscow is making the decisions, not even Lukashenka.

            Putin’s expanded invasion of Ukraine has had a profound effect on her professional life, the Belarusian writer continues. Many in Europe don’t want to have spectacles about her book on Russian losses because there is no sympathy for Russians; and some in Hollywood won’t produce films based on her works for the same reason.

            Despite all that, Alexievich concludes, there are reasons for optimism. “Where are Hitler and Stalin now?” she asks pointedly. “No one can stop the march of time, and the period of dictators is going to become a past we will curse. People of my generation may not live to see that, but that it will happen is something I have no doubt about at all.”