Sunday, March 29, 2015

Putin Increasingly Harmed by His Pro-Kadyrov Stance, Piontkovsky Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, March 28 – The FSB continues to disseminate its version of the murder of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, one that links it to Ramzan Kadyrov, not out of any concern for getting at the truth but rather because of growing anger at the Chechen leader and the backing he continues to receive from Vladimir Putin, according to Andrey Piontkovsky.

 

            The Russian force structures, he writes, “have never had any good feelings for Ramzan Akhmatovich and are extremely skeptical about the Putin ‘Kadyrov’ project which deprived them as they understand it of their ‘victory’ in the Caucasus” by allowing him an autonomy they would never have permitted (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=551673923B9B4).

 

            In addition, Piontkovsky says, the siloviki are anything but happy about the way in which Kadyrov militants are now getting involved in fights for control of economic and even political assets “far beyond the borders of the Chechen Republic,” something no other regional leader has been permitted to do.

 

            But “the last drop apparently because the provincial version of ‘Triumph of the Will’ at the Grozny stadium,” an action that seemed to presage a situation in which it would not be Chechnya within Russia but “’Russian within Chechnya,’” something anathema not only to the siloviki but to ordinary Russians as well.

 

            All this anger poses problems for Putin, Piontkovsky says, but what Kadyrov is doing is posing an even larger one for the Kremlin leader because what the Chechen head has been doing constitutes a direct attack on “the central nucleus of Putin’s mythology,” the notion that Putin is legitimate because he restored order by means of the second Chechen war.

 

            But at the same time, Putin can’t “close down the ‘Kadyrov’ project” because to do so “would be official recognition of Russia’s defeat in [that] war and at the same time a declaration of a third” Chechen war.” That in turn would represent “a return to 1999” but one in which Moscow’s “starting position” would be “much worse.”

 

            Caught between the need for the superficial stability in the North Caucasus that Kadyrov provides in exchange for massive infusions of cash and the right to act on his own as he sees fit and an equal need to maintain his own legitimating myth, Piontkovsky says, the Kremlin leader has not yet come down hard against either Kadyrov or his siloviki opponents.

 

            That “testifies to the weakening of [Putin’s] regime of personal power,” the Russian analyst says, public opinion surveys to the contrary.  Everyone must remember, he suggests, that “the power of a dictator never rests on polls. On the contrary, polls rest on the power” of those who have it.

 

            “Had a sociological survey existed in the USSR at the end of February 1953, it would have found that 99.999 percent” of the population approved of Stalin.  “But several days later,” after the latter died, that all changed not only in the population but within the elite itself, Piontkovsky points out.

 

            That is something Putin has to be concerned about because “the power of a dictator rests on the qualified subordination to him of several dozen [senior] people.” They will support him until they don’t, until a critical mass of these critical people decide they would be better off without him.

 

            By raising questions about the mythology he has used to legitimate his rule, Putin has brought that day closer, leading more people within the elite to question where he is going and more people in the Russian population to wonder how anyone can square the idea of “a Russian world” with one in which “Russia is inside Chechnya.”

 

FSB Increasingly Involved in Misuse of ‘Anti-Extremism’ Laws, SOVA Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, March 29 – In its new 11,500-word report on the ways in which Russian officials are misusing the country’s anti-extremism laws, the SOVA human rights monitoring organization concludes that one of the most important trends of the last year is a dramatic increase in the role of the FSB in such actions.

 

            There are two basic sources of such misuse: excessive actions by poorly trained law enforcement personnel who are given little guidance by the laws themselves and “the conscious formation of mechanisms for suppression of opposition and simply independent forms of activity” (polit.ru/article/2015/03/28/antiextremism/).

 

            The latter has become “much more in evidence from the middle of 2012” when the authorities used anti-extremism laws to suppress opposition protests.  “Unfortunately,” SOVA writes, “with the falloff in opposition activity, the growth of the repressive component did not cease” but in fact increased.

 

            Russia’s involvement in Ukraine has been the occasion if not the cause for five distinct trends that the SOVA report details. First, since the Crimean Anschluss, the anti-extremist laws have been made harsher and “’the space of illegality’ has been broadened,” something Russian courts have not prevented but rather facilitated.

 

            Second, the Russian authorities have extended the application of this legislation into the Internet even though the nature of that sphere makes it almost impossible for them to achieve their ends unless they are prepared to shut down all access to the world wide web, something that would entail serious negative consequences for Russia.

 

            Third, the SOVA report continues, because of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, Moscow and its officials have used anti-extremist laws as a way of suppressing any criticism of their actions.

 

            Fourth, in the face of an ever more xenophobic environment, Moscow has doubled the number of cases it has brought against people for stirring up hatred of one kind or another. Not only has the number of such cases increased, SOVA says, but the share of them which are unjustified has as well.

 

            And fifth, because the Ukrainian events intersect with concerns about Russian national security, the FSB has significantly increased its involvement in anti-extremist cases, something that has added yet another reason why such cases constitute a misuse of the law for political ends.

 

            But Moscow’s focus on Ukraine in this area has not led to a reduction in the number of cases brought inappropriately under this legislation against religious minorities and against individuals for statements that in no reasonable way can be said to fall within the terms of the poorly drawn laws, SOVA argues.

 

            There are two places where the situation appears to have become somewhat better over the past year, the report suggests. On the one hand, the rate at which items are being added to the Federal List of Extremist Materials has slowed. And on the other, the number of cases being brought against librarians has fallen.

 

            But overall, the SOVA report concludes, Russian officials continue to misuse anti-extremism laws and are “obviously not prepared either to liberalize” them or even work to reduce the most obvious violations of even the formulations of existing laws by the police and the FSB.

 

 

 

Shirinsky-Shikhmatov, Pro-Moscow Russian Fascist Killed at Auschwitz, Possible Source for Putinism


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, March 29 – Just as Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is giving the world a geography lesson about places few knew about earlier, so too the Kremlin leader’s efforts to find an ideological justification for his ever more authoritarian and aggressive political system is offering a lesson in the history of some hitherto neglected political thinkers.

 

            One of the most curious sources for Putinism appears to be a Russian prince who broke with the National Bolsheviks when he discovered they were agents of the Soviet secret police, married Boris Savinkov’s widow, developed his own doctrine about Russian fascism, always defended Russia against Germany, and died in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.

 

            But if Prince Igor Shirinksy-Shikhmatov is a curious source, Pavel Pryanikov argues, he may be an extremely useful one because unlike many better-known Russian emigres who flirted with fascism in the 1920s and 1930s, the prince never allied himself with Hitler and always called for the defense of Russia under whatever name against foreigners (ttolk.ru/?p=23343).

 

            Following their defeat in the Russian civil war, many White Russian emigres tried to find an explanation for their loss. “The overwhelming majority of them,” Pryanikov says, “came to the conclusion that the only ideologies capable of defeating the Bolsheviks were national socialism or fascism (in one or another variant).”

 

            Among these groups were the so-called “national maximalists,” who broke with the national Bolsheviks over the degree of the latter’s cooperation with and subordination to the Soviet security agencies and who formed in the 1930s a Union of Revolutionized Solidarists to promote change in the USSR without violence or cooperation with foreign powers.

 

             The leader of the national maximalists was Prince Yury Alekseyevich Shirinsky-Shikhmatov. The direct descendent of Chingiz Khan, the prince was born in 1892 into the upper reaches of the extreme right of the tsarist bureaucracy, served in the Northwest Army during the Russian Civil War, and lived as a taxi driver in Paris after the defeat of the White Russian cause.

 

            Shirinsky-Shikhmatov married the widow of SR leader Boris Savinkov and even adopted Savinkov’s son, Lev.  As Pryanikov points out, in the early 1920s before his return to the USSR and death, Savinkov was “one of the first Russian fascists and saw Benito Mussolini as his ideal.”

 

            The prince’s group, centered around the journals “Utverzhdeniye” and “Zavtra” never was that large. According to the Tolkovatel blogger, it had about 300 supporters in Europe, half of whom were in France and Belgium, and another 100 or so in the United States, Manchuria, and Australia.

 

            During World War II, Shirinsky-Shikhmatov refused to work for or even cooperate with German occupation authorities in Paris, called for the defense of the Soviet Union against Germany, and as a result was arrested and dispatched to Auschwitz where he was executed sometime in 1942.

 

            Shirinsky-Shikhmatov’s political program called for religious freedom, a confederal state “with a strong central power,” basic freedoms, “the coexistence of state and private property under the general control of the state by planning,” a strong national defense, and support for liberation movements in the colonial world and workers in capitalist countries.

 

            What set him apart from other Russian émigré fascists was Shirinsky-Shikhmatov’s ideas on how these values might be promoted in the USSR.  He rejected the views of the Smenovekhovtsy who believed that the best way was to cooperate with Moscow and those who favored illegal armed struggle or open cooperation with foreign powers.

 

            Shirinsky-Shikhmatov favored a “third path,” what some called “the masonic way.” That involved the promotion of his ideas via the recruitment of supporters from among those within the Soviet elite who had doubts about where the communists were taking the country and rely on them to transform the situation.

 

            The prince and his entourage were certain that his group should count “not on the intelligentsia or the bureaucracy,” both of whom had been “perverted in the worst Westernizer understanding,” but rather on religious sectarians and on those who were “outside of the clientelist corporations.” 

 

            According to Shirinsky-Shikhmatov, “over the last 300 years, the First and Second Rome have externally triumphed over the Third.” But “the Russian messianic idea in its religious form has remained alive” in religious sects and in the Slavophiles and their philosophical and political descendants.”

 

            Moreover, he wrote, “the Bolsheviks have unconsciously fulfilled a certain part of the high task: they have destroyed the inheritance of Peter I, but this is only the first part” of what needs to be done. After them, a future Russian state “must be built not on the foundation of the principles of ‘pagan-Roman morality,’” but rather “on the basis of the ethics of collectivity, cooperation, and ‘the common task.’”

 

            Russia’s eventual fascist revolution, Shirinsky-Shikhmatov was sure, would require the establishment of “a dictatorship of the people” led by a dictator who would emerge from the military or security services and gain the kind of popular support necessary to transform the country.

 

            Such a leader, the Russian émigré thinker suggested, would be capable of throwing off the “false pseudonym” that was the USSR and “proclaim to the entire world the terrible but genuine name of the country – Russia.”  As Pryanikov notes, Shirinsky-Shikhmatov did not live to see his “dream” realized.

 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Doubly Bad News for the Kremlin – Russia Losing Out to More Technically Advanced Arms Sellers


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, March 28 – Moscow got some bad news this week: it is losing out to other more technologically advanced countries in the arms sales sector, something that is costing Russia money but also highlighting the reality that many of its weapons systems are no longer world class as far as potential buyers are concerned.

 

            While it is unlikely that Russia would ever sell its most advanced weapons systems, such losses suggest that in many areas, its weapons may not be as sophisticated as the Kremlin likes to claim and as many of Russia’s neighbors fear, especially since some of those neighbors are now among those edging Russia out of parts of this market.

 

            And consequently, while Russia remains the second largest seller of arms in the world (behind only the US), it may have trouble maintaining its current sales levels, especially of equipment that requires imported parts that may not be available because of sanctions or that uses advanced technologies Russian arms producers have not yet introduced.

 

            This week, Aleksandr Brindikov, the head of the advisory group to Rosoboroneksport, the Russian government’s military equipment exporting arm, said that Russian producers are becoming ever less competitive on the world weapons market and have already exited some 30 of its sectors (top.rbc.ru/business/27/03/2015/55151ae19a7947285badd2a7).

 

            The reason for that, he said, has nothing to do with marketing but rather that the products the Russian defense industry is offering cannot compete with those offered by other countries, he continued. For example, Germany, China and “even Ukraine” are getting sales in the armored area that Russia had assumed it would keep.

 

            .Brindikov’s comments are a sharp departure from those of Vladimir Putin on January 27 when the Kremlin leader celebrated Russia’s prowess in this area, but even Putin acknowledged that the international arms market was becoming increasingly competitive, a possible indication that he is aware of these problems.

 

Anton Mardasov of Svobodnaya pressa queried several other Moscow experts on arms concerning Brindikov’s statements. Most were dismissive, although some did concede that Russia has problems now in the electronics area because it must produce components that it used to be able to import (svpressa.ru/war21/article/116991/).

 

But one of these experts, Vladimir Shvaryev, deputy director of the Moscow Center for the Analysis of the International Arms Trade, suggested that Brindikov was pointing to a problem that goes back much further than the past year.  Russia has had problems in producing and selling high-tech arms, he said, but these problems are have been around for a long time.

 

Since Occupation, Crimean Media have Undergone ‘Russianization’ in a Double Sense


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, March 28 – In Soviet times, Western analysts often said that Russians in the USSR were subjected to sovietization while non-Russians were subject to sovietization plus Russianization. But now, the situation in occupied Crimea over the past year suggests that Russianization under Putin now has not only a linguistic but also an ideological dimension.

 

            In an article on Slon.ru, Sergey Mokrushin, who identifies himself as an independent journalist, says that “Crimea’s information space has changed over the past year to the point of being unrecognizable” and that the future of media there in terms of both linguistic diversity and freedom is bleak (slon.ru/posts/49742).

 

            Not only have many Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian language outlets been closed and their journalists pushed out, but more are likely to be next week when on April 1 Russian media law kicks in with full force on the occupied peninsula. Already, Crimea has slipped 22 places to 148th (the same as Russia) according to the rating of Reporters sans Frontiers.

 

            The Russian occupation of Crimea began with the seizure of the Crimea state radio and television company and the Radio and Television Transmission Center by armed men without any identifying marks. Transmission of the Black Sea TV and radio company was blocked, as were all all-Ukrainian channels. Their slots were handed over to Russian Federation channels.

 

            Three months later, local cable operators were forced to drop all Ukrainian channels, and now, Mokrushin says, “those who want to watch them can do so only via the Internet or satellite.”

 

            These institutional changes were accompanied by attacks on journalists by members of the pro-Moscow popular militia. During the first three months of the occupation, more than 100 such attacks were registered. Many journalists fled, although a few attempted to bring their writing into line with what the authorities want and have found work in pro-Moscow outlets.

 

            As a result and clearly by the design of the authorities, people in Crimea “do not know about the numerous searches and arrests and political persecution of those who think differently” there – and neither do people in Russia itself because no journalists from Crimea are able to report about these things.

 

            Instead, Crimean viewers are offered “bravura but all the same extremely doubtful materials” including reports about an economic boom there, “happy Crimeans,” and the doubling of the numbers of tourists, reports that even official statistics do not confirm.

 

            The only channel which still operates according to normal journalistic standards is the Crimean Tatar language ATR. Even it has pulled its punches on some of the most sensitive issues. But in three days, it will be shut down because it has tried and failed to secure official registration, a disaster not only for the Crimean Tatars but for Crimeans in general.

 

            The occupation authorities have been equally harsh in dealing with the Internet. They have seized the offices of the Information Press Center and the Center for Journalistic Investigations, two places that had been centers of journalistic excellence. And they have raided the homes of journalists who had been working there.

 

The same thing has happened with other Internet publications that have been sent a clear signal to adapt or shut down. Several have tried to adapt and hold on, but they are being pushed out as well. One that is likely to be closed soon is QHA, the Crimean News Agency, something that will hurt not only the Crimean Tatar audience but the Ukrainian and Russian one as well.

 

            The occupation authorities have also redistributed radio frequencies in such a way that “not one radio station broadcasting [in Crimea] before 2014 is still working. And they are in the process of shuttering both the Russian-language paper “Sobytiya” and the Crimean Tatar-language “Avdet.”

Why Did Stalin Save the Life of Hitler’s Gauleiter in Ukraine?


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, March 28 – That the Soviets and the Nazis cooperated even before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and that Stalin and Hitler were allies between 1939 and 1941 are well known, but that Stalin interceded to save the life of Hitler’s notorious gauleiter in Ukraine and that Erich Koch was not executed but died in a Polish prison at the age of 90 in 1986 is not.

 

            In an essay on Russian7.ru this week, Sergey Zotov directly asks the question “why did Stalin save Erich Kokh, the Reichskommissar of Ukraine?”  -- a question that has acquired greater interest and urgency given Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in that country over the last year (russian7.ru/2015/03/pochemu-stalin-spas-rejjkhskomissara-uk/).

 

            Koch is still remembered in Ukraine for two of his more outrageous comments and for the actions he took to implement his words. He said that he needed to create a situation in which “when a Pole meets a Ukrainian, he kills the Ukrainian and conversely the Ukrainian kills the Pole. We don’t need Russians, Ukrainians or Poles; we need fertile land.”

 

            And the Nazi leader also said that in his view Ukrainians so hated Russians that in support of the idea of a Ukrainian state, “they are ideal fighters against the Red Army” but after the latter is defeated, they must be subject to complete annihilation “as the most horrible barbarians.”

 

            Koch served as Reichskommissar over Ukraine for the entire time German forces were there. He made his capital not Kyiv but Rovno, and he set the borders of his region, “according to Rosenberg’s plan,” as ranging between Western Ukraine including Galicia to Saratov and Volgograd in the east.

 

            “Known for his harsh manner,” Zotov writes, “Koch was called ‘a second Stalin’ among the Germans,” not an inappropriate description for someone who sent to their graves approximately four million people.

 

            During the war, he was targeted by Soviet partisans for execution, but he escaped all such attacks; and at the end of the war, Koch had relocated to East Prussia from which he took a ship to Copenhagen from which he wanted to travel to Latin America via a German submarine. But his plans to do so came to nothing.

 

            As a result, after the war, he sought to hide near Hamburg under the name of Rolf Berger, but at meetings of refugees, Zotov says, Koch showed himself to be too gifted an orator for someone in the position he sought to present himself as and was arrested by the British occupation authorities.

 

            The British handed Koch over to the Soviet occupation authorities in 1949, but “the USSR refused to judge the former Gauleiter and Reichskomissar and decided to hand him over to Poland.” There he was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. But Zotov says, that sentence was never carried out. Instead, he was given life imprisonment.

 

            “Neither the USSR nor the Ukrainian SSR ever asked Poland to extradite him or challenged” Warsaw on its failure to execute him, Zotov says. “What was the reason?”

 

            One explanation is that Koch was Stalin’s agent and that his repressive policies in Ukraine were intended to spark resistance to the German occupation. That was advanced by Russian historian Vladimir Batshev in his book, “The Partisan War: Myths and Realities” (2007).

 

             That possibility is suggested by the fact, Zotov continues, that under the system that existed in the Soviet bloc, only Stalin “could save a criminal of that rank,” especially since Koch was never judged for his crimes against the Ukrainian people but only for his crimes in Poland and East Prussia.

 

            Adding to it is the fact that at his trial, Koch “spoke about his sympathies for the Soviet Union” and even suggested that his actions undermined the plans of Rosenberg in Ukraine and thus helped the USSR. Moreover, like other Nazi leaders, he presented himself as only “a pawn” in Hitler’s game.

 

            It is possible, of course, that Koch could have been recruited as a Soviet agent, but then why did Stalin hand him over to Poland rather than keep him in the USSR, Zotov asks, especially since despite his harsh measures in Ukraine, he never provoked the Ukrainian people into the kind of mass uprising Stalin was in this interpretation waiting for.

 

            There is another far more sinister explanation, but it is one Zotov does not offer. Stalin had already moved to destroy Ukrainians via his terror famine in order to reduce their share in the Soviet population. Given that he had no problem with mass murder in principle, Stalin may not have been displeased that someone else was continuing his efforts in Ukraine.

 

            But however that may be, the failure of Stalin or his successors to demand that Koch be extradited and executed for what were surely capital war crimes and crimes against humanity is a continuing sore point among Ukrainians. It is likely that as conditions between Moscow and Kyiv deteriorate, this question is one that will be asked by more rather than fewer people.

 

 

 

Putin’s Collapse Could Spark Russia’s Violent Disintegration, Kasparov Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, March 28 – Speaking in Kyiv yesterday, Russian opposition leader Garri Kasparov said that the collapse of Vladimir Putin’s regime could spark the disintegration of the Russian Federation and that that in turn would likely be far more dangerous and explosive than was the end of the USSR.

 

            Kasparov said it is impossible to know when the Putin regime will collapse because “the life of dictators does not fall under the law of a biological cycle.”  But Putin’s demise, he argued, “in the course of the next five to ten years” could lead to the disintegration of Russia” (news.liga.net/news/politics/5406544-kasparov_opasaetsya_chto_krakh_putina_privedet_k_raspadu_rossii.htm).

 

            It could occur suddenly if those in his immediate entourage decide that he is more a burden than a defense, the opposition figure suggested, adding that “if Putin thinks that he has immunity from the laws of history, then he is mistaken.”  At the same time, Kasparov said, “the agony [of Putin’s regime] could last quite a long time.”

 

            “I would not count on an immediate collapse,” he said. Moscow’s resources are far from exhausted, the economy has not collapsed, and there are no clear challengers yet. “The authorities still control the entire information space, and in the absence of an organized opposition, I would not wait for some kind of explosion” at least in the near term.

 

            But over five to ten years, the regime could certainly collapse, and if that happened, Kasparov said, one “quite probably scenario” would involve its collapse being followed by the disintegration of Russia, something that would entail far more dangers than did the falling apart of the USSR.

 

            “Unlike in the former Soviet Union,” he said, “there are no administratively recognized borders.”  The union republic borders were, but “inside Russia there are no such borders.” Consequently, “no one knows where Chechnya ends” and a Yugoslav-type conflict likely could not be averted.

 

            Kasparov concluded that the best way to avoid having Russia disappear in the wake of the Putin dictatorship would be for Putin to depart the scene as soon as possible. The longer he remains in power, the opposition figure says, the greater the chances that Russia will not be able to stay in one piece.

 

            Kasparov’s argument requires at least three comments. First, he is simply wrong that the union republic borders were forever fixed and agreed upon as opposed to the borders of the autonomies within the Russian Federation. Both were changed frequently in Soviet times, and the former were and are not where everyone wanted but where the West insisted they remain.

 

            Second, his argument that Putin’s departure could mean the end of Russia echoes many of the views of those in the regime as well as in the Russian population abroad that as bad as Putin may be, his remaining in office is essential to keeping Russia together, something most of them very much want.

 

            But third, Kasparov’s suggestion that the Russian Federation will be more at risk of disintegration the longer Putin stays not only contradicts that but suggests that in his view Putin’s Russian nationalist integration strategy is having exactly the opposite impact on the non-Russian portion of the country than he hopes.

 

            The combination of the three puts those who want to keep Russia in its current borders in a difficult position: If they support Putin in order to do so, they risk having him continue to act in ways that mean when he does go, as the actuarial tables at the very least require, the disintegration of Russia will be both greater and more violent than might otherwise be the case.