Friday, December 19, 2014

Window on Eurasia: All Repressed Peoples are Equal, Putin Says, But His Policies Show Some are More Equal than Others


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 19 – At his press conference yesterday, Vladimir Putin said that Moscow is “developing a program under which all formerly repressed peoples, including the Crimean Tatar people,” will get “support in the economic and social spheres.” But as Israeli commentator Avraam Shmulyevich notes, the Kremlin leader doesn’t really mean “all.”

 

            In a post entitled “What is Appropriate for a Crimean Tatar isn’t for a Circassian,” Shmulevich points out that Moscow is highly selective in its approach to the many nations who were subject to repression by the Russian Empire or by the Soviet state, supporting some but rejecting calls to support others (avrom-caucasus.livejournal.com/372921.html).

 

            According to the Israeli analyst, Moscow officials following Putin’s lead are “prepared to pay the Crimean Tatars and the Balkars and recognize the genocide of 1944.” For them, “that is not a problem.” But “the genocide [of the Circassians] in 1864 was too long ago,” in their view, and thus they need not “recognize it.”

 

            Shmulyevich argues that this again shows that “there is no hope that the Kremlin will listen to the tearful requests of Circassian activists and that seeking a meeting is a hopeless cause.” Moreover, it suggests that “Moscow is consciously continuing the Circassian policy of Petersburg, ‘a policy of deportation and genocide.’”

 

            That is almost certainly true, but Putin’s words are likely to have another consequence as well. They are certain to be read by all the other repressed peoples within the borders of the Russian Federation as the basis for making new claims against Moscow, even if they have little hope for achieving something in the near term.

 

            And that beyond any doubt means that Putin’s incautious language about the nationality question, just as was the case with equally incautious words by his predecessors, will spark precisely the kind of activism and assertiveness he does not want and lead to new conflicts in the North Caucasus and elsewhere.

 

            Because that is so, Putin’s response to a question by Crimean Tatar journalist Safiye Ablyayeva yesterday merits careful examination.  (For the text, see kremlin.ru/news/47250.)

 

Ablyayeva, who works for the Crimean Tatar television service in Simferopil, pointed out to Putin that “the local authorities are not taking real steps to realize” his promises about the rehabilitation of those peoples who were deported from Crimea in Soviet times. And she asked: “why has this order remained without life up to now?”

 

Putin said that he does not think the order “is without life and here is why: Because first no one can repeal it: neither the local authorities nor anyone else.” This affects the Crimean Tatars, the Germans, the Greeks, the Armenians, and the Bulgarians, all peoples who were subjected to repressions.”

 

In his view, Putin continued, “this has sufficiently serious political-moral meaning.” And he pointed to the official status of Crimean Tatar on the occupied peninsula and work on resolving land control issues. “If we constantly legalize seizures,” he said, “then we will never establish order.”

 

According to the Russian president, the state “owes a lot to these [repressed] peoples” and the Russian government is working to provide it through money for infrastructure. At the same time, he said, “it is necessary to close this page and after that to say that all are equal.”  Everyone must observe the law, regardless of his or her nationality.

 

Putin ended by saying that this is a task not just of today or tomorrow. It will take time, but he added “no one has forgotten it.” Whether that is true just now in the Kremlin remains to be seen, but it is certainly the case with the members of all those repressed in the past – and Putin’s words will prompt some of them to act and demand equal treatment.

 

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Increasing Alienation from West ‘Only Partially’ Result of Putin’s Actions, Bunin and Makarkin Say


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 19 – Many in Moscow and the West believe that Vladimir Putin bears complete responsibility for the breakdown in relations between Russia, on the one hand, and Europe and the United States, on the other, and thus they believe that if he changes course or is replaced, a more positive partnership can be restored.

 

            But that is a mistake, Igor Bunin and Aleksey Makarkin of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies argue, because in fact the increasing alienation between Russia and the West reflects longstanding social patterns and more recent social pathologies that will define the Russian political landscape for a long time to come (politcom.ru/18362.html).

 

            In a 5,000-word essay, they argue that “the conflict between Russia and the West (not only the US but also Europe) was predetermined by the development of events in Russian society over the last two decades,” trends that have deeper roots than the actions of the current powers that be.

 

            The two analysts point to four. The first trend “consists not simply in the sense of Russians of the self-sufficiency of their own country but also in the sense that Russia is called to be ‘a center of the world’ and a leading power of the planet,” a status they overwhelmingly feel was violated by the events of 1991.

 

            The second trend was a turn to the past. “For Russians,” Bunin and Makarkin say, “the greatness of the country is its history, one in which all its wars are just and the state plays the decisive role,” a sense heightened by the inevitable comparisons between this glorious past and the somewhat less glorious present.

 

            That look backwards does not mean that most Russians want a return to the USSR “in a pure form” but rather that they want a combination of a powerful state with a strong system of social supports and various personal freedoms (although these are understood differently than in the West), the lack of communist ideology, and some opportunities for small business.

 

            The third trend the two point two concerns control of territory. “The loss of even a small portion of it generates among Russians not simply regret but stronger negative feelings,” a pattern they suggest is connected with a history in which “Russia was distinguished by its own religious identity from ‘enemy neighbors’ in the East and West.”

 

            In Europe, up to the Reformation, “the loss of part of the territory [of one or another state] represented a specific foreign policy defeat but not a spiritual catastrophe” because it did not call into question religious issues.  But for Russia to give up territory to the Catholics or Muslims meant something more, they write, and it does once again.

 

            Russian feelings about the sale of Alaska to the United States are the exception that proves the rule.  On the one hand, because there were so few Russian Orthodox there, Russia wasn’t losing them. And on the other, some Russians still feel that the whole matter was a betrayal and want Alaska back.

 

            And the fourth tendency is “the conspirological approach to various processes in politics and economics,” an approach which sees conspiracies behind everything and one that affects not only the population as a whole but the elite as well and has given rise to contempt for expertise even as it is promoted by the mass media.

 

            What these factors mean, Bunin and Makarkin say is that “the anti-Western attitudes in contemporary Russian society” are likely to be long-lasting rather that something that will fade if the Ukrainian crisis is resolved or if oil prices and the ruble exchange rate return to where they were a year ago.

 

            The idealization of the West which preceded the collapse of the USSR, they suggest, has been reversed and won’t return anytime soon if ever. The West’s actions against Serbia started that process, and it has only intensified, with Russians sharing Putin’s view that annexing Crimea was an act of historical justice in the post-Yugoslav world.

 

            But this commonality of views between Putin and the Russian population is not as all-embracing as many think. Russians do support the Kremlin leader when he seeks to restore Russian power, but they do not support him or his regime when he or it moves against socially-popular programs, something Moscow may increasingly be forced to do.

 

            Under current conditions, Bunin and Makarkin say, “the authorities have no indulgence” from the population for decisions which have “a negative impact on the well-being of the population.” But Putin has one advantage arising from another long-standing traditions: When the tsar and the boyars fight, the population “usually prefers the former.”

 

            That is all the more so now, they continue, because of the ways in which the elites have acted, and Putin thus faces less pressure from these elites than many think because they are unable to attract widespread popular support.

 

            Obviously, Putin and his actions matter. Until 2008, Putin tried to adapt himself to the West in the hopes of a partnership. But then disappointment set in with the West’s opposition to his third term and to his invasion of Georgia, and since that time, he has promoted rather than restrained these underlying Russian tendencies, especially after the elite protests of 2011-2012.

 

            But even then up until February 2014, Putin continued to view the West “as a non-optimal partner but a partner nonetheless with whom it would be possible to achieve informal ‘gentlemen’s’ agreements on the basis of compromise.”  But Yanukovich’s exit from Kyiv under pressure from the Maidan ended that by casting doubt on Russia’s influence there.

 

            “The value of the relations with the West that he had established fell practically to zero,” Bunin and Makarkin say, and the notion that Moscow should make any further concessions to the West became anathema. For Putin and for many other Russians as well, “political freedoms, a market economy and the openness of the country are not values which take precedence over the historical unity of a great country.”

 

           

Window on Eurasia: Russians Don’t Feel Personally Responsible for Moscow’s Policies, Poll Shows


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 19 – Despite Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr Tkachev’s suggestion that Russians must share responsibility for the current crisis and President Vladimir Putin’s statement that all Russians are in it together, only one Russian in nine feels responsible for what the Kremlin has done, according to a new Levada Center poll.

 

            Fifty-seven percent of the respondents told the sociologists that they “do not feel any responsibility for what is happening in Russia,” and another 27 percent say that they do not feel any “significant” responsibility for that. Only 11 percent say that they are significantly responsible for what is happening (newizv.ru/politics/2014-12-19/212175-u-nas-strana-poddannyh-a-ne-grazhdan.html#top).

 

            What is most striking about that figure is that the share of Russians who feel responsible now is only half the figure it was when Putin first took office, the result of the dramatic demobilization of the population as the Russian president has put in place his ever more authoritarian “power vertical” which makes decisions independent of the people.

 

            According to Boris Makarenko of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies, Russia today is “a country of subjects but not of citizens.” But as he points out, “this is an issue not only for Russians but also for the Russian authorities. Because responsibility means not only that you will support the steps of the government but also that you have the right to participate in the politics of this state, that your voice and your right means something.”

 

            That requires democracy and only where it is present will there be a feeling of responsibility among citizens, he says. And he points out that the annexation of Crimea was not something society decided upon but rather only has supported since the Kremlin took the lead in carrying it out.

 

            Now, he continues, Russia’s leaders are adopting the classical position of Russian noblemen toward their serfs: We’ve done something about which you must both be proud of and pay for.

 

Window on Eurasia: Putin Now Views West as an Enemy Not a Partner, Makarkin Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 19 – While some in Moscow and the West hope for a restoration of an east-west partnership, Vladimir Putin made clear in his press conference yesterday that he now views the West as an enemy rather than a partner, a vision that does not preclude specific agreements but makes any broader understanding impossible, according to Aleksey Makarkin.

 

            Putin’s press conference showed, the deputy director of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies says, that the Kremlin leader now has a very different vision of the international environment than he had earlier and that this change will affect all of his contacts with Western leaders however much they believe that he will change back (ej.ru/?a=note&id=26724).

 

            Specifically, Makarkin says in a comment in “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Putin “does not see any prospects for ‘partnership’ with the West. Certain agreements, compromises and telephone negotiations are possible, but no serious mutual interaction. He considers that the West is a threat.”

 

            Moreover, the Moscow analyst continues, in Putin’s mental map, “there is America which wants to change the Russian regime and humiliate the country, and there is Europe which is not sovereign and is subordinating itself to Washington.”

 

            “Such a picture of the world,” Markarkin points out, “does not exclude the possibility of reaching an agreement, for example, on the East of Ukraine, but it will be an agreement with an enemy as was the case in Soviet times,” not an accord with those Putin sees as his partners however much Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and others employ that term.

 

            At the same time, he continues, Putin’s view does not represent the start of a new cold war “in a pure form” because it is based on national hostility rather than on the conflict of two “real ideologies,” however much some on the extremes of the Russian political spectrum would like to believe otherwise.

 

            What does this mean regarding Ukraine? According to Makarkin, that is still not clear, and he suggests that it will be the subject of intense negotiations. “The West considers that Russia must make concessions. But Putin thinks historically, and he has the sense that we have already made a mass of them: we’ve left Poland, Hungary and ‘our’ Baltics.” Now, the West wants Russia to leave Ukraine as well.

 

            For Putin, that is unthinkable. Therefore, he will see some kind of joint supervision of Ukraine under which the eastern portion of Ukraine will “remain Ukrainian only in a nominal sense.” That is suggested by the fact that “Putin uses not so much the term ‘a united Ukraine’ as the term ‘a common political space.’”

 

            Under that term, all kinds of things are possible: a federation or “even a confederation. But one thing is very clear: Putin is not going to be satisfied as some think to pull out of eastern Ukraine in exchange for recognition of the Russian annexation of Crimea. “He is not prepared to lose influence in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk,” Makarkin says.

 

            Putin undoubtedly understands, the Moscow analyst adds, that he cannot hope to sweep the board in Ukraine and subsume all of it under Russian control as he hoped to do when Yanukovich was in office.  But at the very least, he “would like to receive a firm right of veto over the possible entrance of Ukraine into NATO.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Window on Eurasia: 2014 a ‘Turning Point for Russia’ Because of Putin’s KGB Psychology, Eidman Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 18 – 2014 has been a real “turning point” in Russian history, one comparable to 1929 and marked by “the beginning of a confrontation of Russia with the West and the establishment in the country of an aggressive regime close to a fascist one which is in a state of permanent war” both internally and externally, according to Igor Eidman.

 

            Both the external and internal dimensions of this change, the Russian analyst says, have potentially “unexpected and dangerous” consequences for their author, Russian President Vladimir Putin. And both the change and these consequences reflect his personality and the nature of the authoritarian regime he has set up (svoboda.org/content/article/26744737.html).

 

            In the past, Putin had been more cautious, reflecting his careerist approach and his calculations about the world around him. But now, on the basis of his assessment of the situation, Putin believes his time has come, and consequently, he is acting on the values that he absorbed as a KGB officer 30 years ago.

 

            Those values include, Eidman says, “Soviet imperialism, hatred to the West (above all to the US as the main potential opponent), contempt for democratic values and human rights, and a view of the republics of the former USSR and the countries of Eastern Europe as the natural vassals of Russia.”

 

            To make his career, the current Kremlin leader served “’democrats’ Sobchak and Yeltsin” and was cautious when he first was elevated to the presidency. But now he has decided that the most favorable time has come “for the realization of his ambitions,” a conclusion that his “emotional reaction” to the Ukrainian Maidan accelerated.

 

            He was pushed in this direction by the fact that he has surrounded himself with others who have a background in the Soviet and Russian security services and thus view the world much as he does, Eidman continues.  But he bears responsibility for it because from his point of view, “a confrontation with the West” helps him personally.

 

            Such a confrontation inevitably increases the importance of the siloviki, justifies harsh measures, and draws on the patriotism of the population. Moreover, 2014 in Putin’s view turned out to be just the right time to move in that direction. Economic growth, based on high oil prices, was coming to an end. And consequently, he needed “a small victorious war.”

 

            Putin understands, Eidman says, that an economic downturn could cost him the support of the population and lead some to democracy as many did in the aftermath of the economic crisis of 2008.  By creating an enemy that the country must oppose with either a hot or cold war, the Kremlin leader effectively restricted the opportunities of the opposition.

 

            According to Eidman, “the shift to an expansionist foreign policy course was inevitable” because it was the product of the “internal organization of the Russian regime, its essence,” and itself the product of Putin’s personality.

 

            “Putin’s system,” he continues, “corresponds to the classic definitions of fascism. At the center of ‘Putinism’ is the idea of national rebirth and revenge (for defeat in the cold war), a cult of a national leader, the priority of state interests over the rights and freedoms of citizens, the search for national traitors, militarism, sexism, and homophobia.”

 

            Revenge is at the center of fascism and Nazism, Eidman says, “an idee fixe” for both Putin and Hitler and the driving force behind their actions. Other governments, including the Soviet, had elements of this, but “the Putin regime is more dangerous for the world than any post-Stalin leadership of the USSR.”

 

            The reason for that conclusion is that unlike the late Soviet period, with its collegial Politburo that was inclined toward caution, Putin is completely in charge. He personally takes all the decisions on his own, and thus “peace on the planet depends on the state of his psychic health.”

 

             Disturbingly, the Kremlin leader has shown himself “ever more inadequate,” and thus the risks that he might do something truly frightening are all too real. “It is perfectly clear,” Eidman concludes, that if the West does not stop him in Ukraine, “he will not stop but instead go further.”

 

 

 

Window on Eurasia: ‘Putin in the End Isn’t Prepared to Die for Narva,’ Piontkovsky Says


            Staunton, December 18 – Two decades ago, two communist empires fell apart, the Yugoslav violently and the Russian peacefully. In both cases, almost the entire political spectrum agreed on the need to dispense with socialism, but the two were split on whether to fight to maintain the empire, according to Andrey Piontkovsky.

 

            Thanks to the pragmatism of Boris Yeltsin who understood that it would not be possible to hold the empire together even at the cost of what people at the time called “big blood” and of the Russian people who did not want to fight for a new empire but rather to recover from communism, Russia escaped what could have been a disaster.

 

            But in Yugoslavia, thanks to the populism of Slobodan Milosevic and his desire to hold the Serbian empire together even at the cost of violent bloodshed, the peoples of that country did not escape the tragedy of war nor in the end avoid the disintegration of the space some of them thought should be maintained (svoboda.org/content/article/26741022.html).

 

            Of course, there were supporters of an imperial restoration in Russia as well, Piontkovsky says. Some of them were among the putschists in August 1991. Indeed, seen from this distance, it is clear that the coup was “not a communist but precisely an imperial putsch.” Its members didn’t want to stop privatization; they simply wanted to reverse the disintegration of the empire.

 

            (Gavriil Popov at that time even called for “the fraternal dismemberment of Ukraine” along the lines that Putin has been pushing, the Russian analyst notes. But neither he nor the coup people received much support at that time.)

 

            “Not only the residents of the former Soviet Union but the entire world owes a debt of gratitude to the wisdom and restraint of the Russian people who did not fall for calls for ‘an ingathering of Russian lands,’” Piontkovsky continues.  “A Yugoslav scenario on the post-Soviet space,” given Moscow’s nuclear arsenal, “could have become a worldwide catastrophe.”

 

            That is what makes Vladimir Putin’s actions over the last year so disturbing. They represent “an insane attempt of an aging dictator to return via a time machine to 23 years ago, to replay the collapse of the Soviet Union this time in a Yugoslav way, and extend the agony of its rotting kleptocracy … in the grand style like Hitlerite fascism or Stalinist communism.”

 

            Putin’s plans were doomed to fail, Piontkovsky says, because “the mentality of Russians has not changed over,” the “euphoria” over the Crimean Anschluss notwithstanding.  Few of them saw their enthusiasm for that as a sanction to the Kremlin “for an unending hybrid war ‘in defense of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers’ in the entire post-Soviet space.”

 

            Of course, there are some Russians who would like to see Moscow pursue a Milosevic-style campaign. Among them are “the Prokhanovs and the Dugins, the Kholmogorovs and the Prosvirins, the Zhiriks and the Zyuganovs, the Prilepins and the Okkhlobystins,” Prokhanov says.

 

            But for all their brave talk and for all the times that Putin echoed it with his threats to use 1991, nuclear weapons against anyone who opposed him, “it has turned out that Putin is not ready to die for Narva.” He knows he would lose, and consequently, he will do what he can to avoid that lest he lose the other achievements of 1991, privatization and wealth.

 

            Unfortunately and complicating Putin’s retreat, there are others in the Russian political firmament who want to follow the Yugoslav scenario to the end and continue the violence in Ukraine and the threat of it elsewhere. And they include in the form of “a real fuehrer” a “three-headed hydra of Girkin, Ragozin and Glazyev.”

 

            They and their fate bear the closest possible watching.

 

Window on Eurasia: ‘Will Mongolia have the Courage to Scrap the Russian Alphabet?’


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, December 18 – Mongols live in three states, Mongolia, Buryatia within the borders of the Russian Federation, and Inner Mongolia within the borders of the Peoples Republic of China. They share many things in common including their language, but they are divided by alphabets imposed by outsiders.

 

            The Buryats are currently compelled to use a Cyrillic alphabet as a result of a 2002 Russian law. The people of Inner Mongolia use the traditional Mongol alphabet which is written vertically. But the people of Mongolia are caught not only between those two scripts but also between them and the possible introduction of a Latin-based script as well.

 

            Because alphabets can divide otherwise common linguistic communities and thus change the pattern of influence from the outside in a region, the question of alphabet reform in Mongolia not only reflects changes in the balance between Russia and China but also the possibility of the growth of a pan-Mongol identity challenging both Moscow and Beijing.

 

            In an article for the Asia-Russia Daily portal, Yikiyasu Arai, a correspondent for Japan’s JB Press, explores the complicated history of alphabets among the Mongols and pointedly asks “will Mongolia have the courage to scrap the Russian alphabet?” (asiarussia.ru/news/5394/).

 

            The traditional Mongolian script was introduced in the 12th to the 14th centuries by the Uyghurs, who drew on Arabic script as their model but wrote it vertically rather than horizontally. Some explain this by reference to the fact that it was easier for Mongol horsemen to reach a vertical text, but others say this is the result of Chinese influence.

 

            This script won out over the block alphabet from Tibet which was introduced by the Buddhist monk Pagba-Lama in large measure because the latter was both more complicated to write and did not have letters for all the sounds in the Mongol language, Yikiyasu Arai says.

 

The traditional script lasted until the 1921 revolution and the establishment of communist power in 1924.  Under the influence of the Soviet Union whose leaders believed that Latin script could help “backward” peoples overcome their illiteracy functional and political faster than any other, Ulan Bator was pushed into adopting a Latin script.

 

The Latin script gradually replaced the traditional one, although the latter was still taught because so much of Mongolia’s literary heritage was written in it.  Then, in 1941, Moscow decided that Mongolia should go over to a script based on the Russian Cyrillic in order to be more tightly integrated with the communist world.

 

            (Some activists in Inner Mongolia pushed for the adoption of the Cyrillic script after the communists took power in China, but they were suppressed as relations between Moscow and Beijing worsened in the late 1950s and 1960s.)

 

            With the weakening and then collapse of the Soviet Union, some in Mongolia began to press for dropping Cyrillic and going back either to the traditional script or to a Latin-based one. For many Mongols, the traditional script became a symbol of their national tradition, and beginning in 1992, Mongol schools began to teach the first classes in it.

 

            But because Ulan Bator did not have the funds to pay for new textbooks and because the traditional script did not allow for the expression of certain scientific formulas, Mongolian school children after being exposed to the traditional script in the first two grades have been forced to shift back to the Cyrillic beginning in grade three.

 

            The alphabet struggles are likely to continue, Yikiyasu Arai says, because the various scripts “mark out a definite cultural circle and sometimes a religious sphere of influence as well. In some cases,” he concludes, “scripts disappear with the collapse of empires and the destruction of their spheres of influence.”

 

            That is what makes this issue so important not only in Mongolia but for Mongols in China and Russia and for those two countries more generally.