Wednesday, June 29, 2016

‘If the Russians Come Back Again, They Won’t Be Constrained by Communism’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 29 – Some years ago, before he became Estonian president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves observed that “if the Russians come back again, they won’t be constrained by communism.” Instead, he suggested, they will build a genuinely Russian empire in which Russians will rule over non-Russians without even “the constraints” communism offered.

            Those constraints, of course, were never absolute and did not mean that non-Russians were protected from the Russian majority or from the imperial pretensions of Moscow. But they did mean that Soviet Russians had to operate in ways that at least appeared to suggest a respect for the rights of other nations within the USSR.

            Now, those from Vladimir Putin on down who regret the end of the USSR and who would restore Moscow’s power over much or even all of the former Soviet space are not so limited. Instead, they want not a “Russia for the Russians” but a “Russian empire for the Russians,” an entity that would inevitably threaten all non-Russians and the West as well.

            It means that the empire such people would restore would treat non-Russians within its borders as second class citizens or worse and that they would only be able to maintain this ethnicized empire by engaging in constant wars against outsiders, something that the latter should reflect upon before dismissing what is happening in the post-Soviet space as unimportant.

            Those reflections are prompted by the remarks yesterday of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the flamboyant leader of the misnamed Liberal Democratic Party of Russia who often serves as a bellwether of the direction that those above him in Putin’s chekist state, are currently moving even if they are unwilling to be as blunt and politically incorrect as he is.

            Speaking to a congress of the LDPR, Zhirinovsky said that his party would take part in the upcoming Russian parliamentary elections with the following slogans: “Arise, Great Russia,” “Stop Denigrating Russians” and, most instructively of all, “Restore the borders of the USSR” (

            As RFE/RL summarizes the LDPR leader’s speech, Zhirinovsky said that such slogans captured the needs of “millions of Russians” who have been “’driven out’” of Central Asia, the Caucasus, Ukraine and the Baltic states” and also those who are oppressed by ethnocratic republics inside the Russian Federation (

            The first, he suggested, must be returned to Russian rule, and the second must be disbanded and replaced by entities defined entirely by territory and not ethnicity – or at least not by many ethnicity other than Russian.

            Of course, it is easy to dismiss Zhirinovsky’s words. He has achieved what success he has by being outrageous. But all too often, his outrageousness has been reflected in subsequent Kremlin decisions and actions. Thus, the danger Ilves pointed to is real: the Russians may come back or at least try to – and they won’t be “constrained by communism.”

Такие лозунги Жириновский объяснил тем, что миллионы русских, по его мнению, были "изгнаны" из Средней Азии, Кавказа, Украины и Прибалтики. Лидер ЛДПР заявил также, что территорию России нельзя делить по национальному принципу. Главным принципом устройства страны, как он считает, должен быть территориальный.

‘Does Putin Know?’ – Another Stalin-Era Tradition Returns

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 29 – The longstanding Russian belief in “the good tsar and the bad boyars” took the form in Stalin’s time of a widespread insistence by members of the Soviet intelligentsia that “’Stalin doesn’t know what is happening in the country,’” US-based Russian historian Irina Pavlova says.

            That is why such people referred to the Great Terror of the end of the 1930s not as the “Stalinshchina” but as “the Yezhovshchina,” she says, thus effectively shifting in the popular mind all responsibility for the horrific crimes of 1937/38 from the Soviet dictator to his agent, Nikolay Yezhov (

            “Today, almost 80 years later, such talk is returning,” Pavlova continues, and this trend is highlighted in an Ekho Moskvy discussion about the case of Nikita Belykh by Yevgeniya Albats and Kirill Rogov two days ago (

            With regard to the Belykh case, Albats asks the leading Gaidar Institute researcher, were those who moved against the former governor “subordinate to Putin or not? Sergey Ivanov said that he didn’t know anything about plans to arrest Nikita Belykh. He heads the Presidential Administration.”

            Can it be, the Ekho Moskvy journalist continues, that “he really didn’t know?” If that is the case, then it means that the power vertical people like to talk about somehow bypasses the head of the Presidential Administration.  That is a question of principle, Albats suggests, given the history of Moscow politics.

            In Gorbachev’s times, for example, there were many decisions taken which people said he did not bear responsibility for; but Putin has made a fetish of being in charge so suggesting that he isn’t “responsible” for this or that action of those below him is a way of shifting blame away from him.

            Although Albats refers to the Gorbachev era to make that suggestion, the more significant comparison is with Stalin’s times, Pavlova suggests, noting in conclusion that there is of course one major difference between those who said then “Stalin doesn’t know” and those who say “Putin doesn’t know now.” 

            It is this: under Stalin, people said that very privately and only in the circle of their closest friends. Now, they are able to say it in public and even on the media. But, Pavlova notes, “precisely the public nature of such declarations makes the Putin regime more flexible and invulnerable than Stalin’s was.”


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Putin Regime Attacking Russian Middle Class’s ‘Territory of Freedom,’ Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – The compact between Vladimir Putin and the Russian population consisted of two parts, one in which the population as a whole gave up their claims to participate in politics in exchange for stability and higher incomes and a second in which the Kremlin leader bought off the emerging middle class by recognizing for them a certain “territory of freedom.”

            The first of these has been weakened as a result of the economic crisis brought on by the collapse in the price of oil and the imposition of sanctions and counter-sanctions, but for many parts of the population, it has frayed but not come apart, as a result of the Kremlin’s efforts to ensure that certain basic payments are made on which the population depends.

            But the second compact, Vladislav Inozemtsev argues, is in danger of rupture because “the powers that be are confidently carrying out an attack on the middle class, on that stratum of ten to fifteen million people who have been able to achieve something in the new Russia and who were and remain the most active part of society” (

            While the Russian government continues “to do a great deal” for government employees and pensioners and thus largely retains their support, the Moscow economist says, it is undermining its support among this group because it is cutting into what the members of that group have expected as their rightful “territory of freedom.”

            The Kremlin may assume that the support of the mass population is sufficient, Inozemtsev says, but “experience shows that the elderly and the employees of budget institutions in practice never save the powers that be from the next revolution or Maidan” which in almost all cases are led by “the most well-off and responsible citizens.”

            The Moscow commentator points to three of the areas where these attacks on the Russian middle class are taking place: against debtors, with the imposition of new fines on middle class activity, and regarding foreign ownership and foreign bank accounts.

            More than 38 million Russians have bank loans, amounting to a total of 10.5 trillion rubles (160 billion US dollars). Of this some 891 billion (15 billion US dollars) are in arrears. Those who are behind in their payments are increasingly subject to restrictions on their travel abroad under a 2007 law.

            These people are part of the growing army of those not allowed to travel abroad. They number almost two million now, a number projected to rise to 4.5 million by next year, is huge. In Moscow almost, “all most four percent of the adult population” now falls into this category, Inozemtsev says.

            But thanks to more recent laws, those who are in debt and behind in their payments may also be prevented from having the right to drive a car.  “Just imagine,” Inozemtsev says, this happening in the US and “reflect upon the political future of a congressman or senator who would risk introducing such a bill in Congress.”

            The Russian middle class is also under attack by the government in the form of fines imposed on drivers either for parking without paying or violating other traffic laws, violations that are now being caught on video cameras.  Such fines can rarely be appealed and consequently they add to anger among the middle class toward the government.

            Indeed, Inozemtsev says, there is now a clear sense that “the authorities are terrorizing the most independent and relatively well-off part of the population, the very ‘middle class’ which for long years was the main beneficiary of economic growth in the country and the support of the Putin regime.”

            And third, the middle class is the most effected by new restrictions on foreign bank accounts. Given that Russians own “more than 700,000” pieces of property in Europe alone and that there are as many as 100,000 Russian students in European countries, there are many Russians who need foreign accounts. Now they are at risk of fines and other punishments.

            Such actions will affect “at a minimum” two million Russians, many of whom will compare the way they are being  treated with those closer to the Kremlin.  And such comparisons, Inozemtsev implies, will hardly be likely to make them more supportive of Putin and his regime.