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 (newizv.ru/politics/2015-05-26/220086-bez-edinogo-mandata.html).


            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 (echo.msk.ru/blog/boris_vis/1554528-echo/) and the second about a new round of repression against Circassians in the North Caucasus (caucasreview.com/2015/05/v-rf-nachalis-repressii-protiv-cherkesskih-aktivstov/).


            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 (caucasreview.com/2015/05/v-rf-nachalis-repressii-protiv-cherkesskih-aktivstov/).


            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 Nazaccent.ru 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” (nazaccent.ru/content/16095-valerij-tishkov-sovetuyu-smi-ne-razduvat.html).




‘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 Glavred.info 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 (glavred.info/politika/krym-v-okkupacii-kak-zhizn-v-usloviyah-terrora-319569.html).


            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” (apostrophe.com.ua/article/politics/2015-05-24/putin-davno-provalil-proekt-novorossiya---politolog-piontkovskiy/1749).


            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 (http://polit.ru/article/2015/05/25/countrrevolution/).
            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 (dsnews.ua/politics/top-5-propagandistskih-mifov-feykov-i-glupostey-kremlya-25052015090000):


  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 (regnum.ru/news/cultura/1490540.html).
  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” (antimaydan.info/2015/05/vozrozhdenie_pionerii_v_novorossii_307083.html).
  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 (voicesevas.ru/news/yugo-vostok/13921-akciya-ustrasheniya-foto-video-18.html).
  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 (tvzvezda.ru/news/vstrane_i_mire/content/201505221540-n1i0.htm), 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” (novayagazeta.ru/politics/68506.html).
  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, Lifenews.ru, 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 (lifenews.ru/news/154229).


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Moscow Can’t Maintain Current Levels of Military Spending for Much Longer, Guriyev Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 24 – The Russian government cannot afford to maintain its current levels of military spending for long because its shift of resources to the military sector is threatening the rest of the Russian economy and because its reserve fund will be insufficient to pay for this spending for more than another year or two, according to Sergey Guriyev.


            Guriyev, currently an economics professor at the Sciences Po in Paris and earlier the rector of the Russian School of Economics in Moscow, says that experts have known this for some time but that the Kremlin has gone ahead anyway, something that opens the way for radical shocks ahead (nv.ua/opinion/guriev/kogda-voyna-istoshchit-kreml-49959.html).


            The Russian government’s original budget for 2015 was based on the assumption that oil would be 100 US dollars a barrel, that Russia’s GDP would grow two percent, and that inflation would not exceed five percent, he notes. None of those things has proven to be the case; and the government has cut overall spending by approximately eight percent.


            “Nevertheless,” he continues, that has not prevented the government deficit from ballooning from 0.5 percent of GDP to 3.7 percent, “a serious problem” even though Russia’s sovereign debt forms “only 13 percent of GDP” because the Ukrainian war has increased spending and Western sanctions have made it harder to borrow.


            As a result, Moscow has been forced to dip into its reserve fund. That fund currently amounts to six percent of GDP. Consequently, if the deficit continues at 3.7 percent, the Russian government will run out of money in about two years, forcing it either to withdraw from Ukraine in order to end the sanctions regime or change its budgets in fundamental ways.


            Both steps would entail “major political risks for Putin,” Guriyev says.


            But in fact, the economist continues, that kind of train wreck may happen far sooner. During the first three months of this year, he point out, Russia’s military spending exceeded nine percent of GDP – or “twice more than planned.” If that level of spending continues, Russia’s reserve fund will be “exhausted before the end of the year.”


            That military spending is eating up the reserve fund is the result of Russian decisions made four years ago, Guriyev says. At that time, the government proposed increasing defense spending from three to more than four percent of GDP, something Finance Minister Aleksey Kudrin suggested was impossible. He was summarily fired and that is what the Kremlin seeks.


            According to Guriyev, “the goal of the Kremlin turned out to be unbelievably ambitious both by Russian and by word standards.” Most European countries are not spending more than two percent of GDP on defense; the US spends 3.5 percent, and only nine countries in the entire world are now spending more than four percent.


            Russia “simply is not in a position” to spend that way for long, the economist says. Moreover, its defense industry isn’t capable of modernizing that quickly. And that suggests that the Kremlin is less interested in that than in supplying its forces in Ukraine, something that could set the stage for a new attack in the coming months.


            Or alternatively, Guriyev continues, it could simply be an indication that the Ukrainian war is costing Putin far more than he counted on and that he will have to find a way out.


            Whatever proves to be the case, he concludes, “Kudrin’s economic logic today is even more just than it was on the day he was fired. If Russia in favorable times couldn’t allow itself to spend up to four percent of GDP on defense,” then it certainly can’t at a time when oil prices have collapsed and Western sanctions have been imposed.