Monday, March 27, 2017

For Its Own Citizens, ‘Russia is Now an Occupied Country’



Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 27 – The vocabulary people use to describe a situation not only reflects but often intensifies the way in which they and others respond to it. Thus, Ronald Reagan’s most important ideological insight was to describe the Soviet Union as “the evil empire,” a term that not only delegitimated it but helped power the independence of parts of that state.

            Now, Moscow journalist Arkady Dubnov in  the wake of the protest marches in Russian cities yesterday says that Russia is “an occupied country,” on occupied not by some foreign government but rather by its own nominally “Russian” authorities, an “inadequate” and “cowardly” bunch (echo.msk.ru/blog/dubnov/1951386-echo/).

            The Moscow mayor and his “sympathizers from Staraya Ploshchad and the Lubyanka simply do not understand” that all their talk about “an illegal march” is insulting at a time when officials are making decisions about people’s lives and homes without any consultation with them at all.

            If these people “suppose that they are discrediting Navalny by laying all the fault for mass detentions” on him, “then I suggest [they] are cruelly mistaken. The leadership position of Navalny will only strengthen after March 26, especially if you consider the dozens of Russian cities where people went into the streets to protest against the authorities’ corruption.”

            But strengthened even more, Dubnov says, is the sense that “the country is occupied” and that “the occupier is the powers that be.”  And as has been the case throughout history, no one wants to put up with an occupation: all honest citizens will seek to end it – and in this case, that means a change at the top.

            Not surprisingly in a time when such a definition can seem entirely plausible to the Russian people, others are talking about yesterday as “the beginning of a revolution” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=58D8A7510452D) and as an attempted coup d’etat (newsland.com/community/5325/content/popytka-gosudarstvennogo-perevorota-v-rossii-mart-2017-goda/5749932) and saying things have passed “the point of no return” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=58D81956B8FE3).

            There have been many thoughtful commentaries on the March 26 events in Russian cities, but one of the most thoughtful and comprehensive is offered by blogger Sergey Aleksashenko (newsland.com/community/4765/content/mysli-o-segodniashnem-dne/5749858) who suggests seven take-aways from the demonstrations:

1.      Aleksey Navalny by the successes of yesterday has become “a politician of the federal level; if you will, the only one who could assemble at the same moment meeetings under his slogans in a hundred cities of the country.”

2.      “The prohibition on meetings of opposition politicians with voters … is a powerful instrument of suppression and degradation of public opinion in Russia” and will be used now and in the future by the powers that be.

3.      “The OMON and the National Guard with their clubs … are the single real force which supports the political regime which exists in the country.” The demonstrations show the hollowness of claims that 86 percent of the population supports Vladimir Putin.

4.      “Talk about a political thaw … common several weeks ago” must be dismissed as so much hot air.

5.      The new boss in domestic policy, Sergey Kiriyenko, “either is indistinguishable from the old ones … or simply doesn’t have any real authority” to do anything significant.”

6.      “It is obvious that neither the powers that be, nor the Kremlin, nor Putin has any developed ideas which it could offer society, any answers to the challenges of the times, any desire to think about the future of the country and so something for the improvement of the lives of Russians.”

7.      And thus, “in Russia a new political season has begun. The scenarios for which are only beginning to be sketched out. But these scenarios depend on you and me and not on the Kremlin and its political technologists.”

Russia’s Muslims Must Take Advantage of Latest Protest Upsurge, Golos Islama Commentator Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 27 – While Aleksey Navalny and his colleagues are “no less enemies” of Russia’s Muslims than the Putin regime, the new upsurge in street protests in Russia that the opposition politician is promoting is something the Islamic community should take advantage of to advance its own agenda, Ikramutdin Khan says.

            “If in Russia a real street battle begins and the regime is shaken and the political space of the country begins to be formed a new, this creates for the Islamic movement a window of opportunities which it would be criminal not to make use of, the Golos Islama commentator continues (golosislama.com/news.php?id=31506).

            That is because, Khan argues, “when this period ends, and it will end after several years, all the social-political space again shared out without Muslims who will remain on its periphery, as marginals and the targets of suppression by the siloviki.”

            “Therefore,” he says, “without putting any hopes in Navalny personally or the entire Islamophobic leadership of the opposition, passionate Muslims now must morally and ideologically prepare themselves to “get into the came” with their own agenda when that becomes necessary – and to demand their own rights when they do.”

            It is unclear just how much Khan speaks for the 20 million plus Muslims of the Russian Federation or how much influence he has, but his words, coming just after the street protests across Russia, add a new complexity to the situation.

            On the one hand, if Muslims do move into the streets in order to press their case against Moscow, that will create a nightmare for the Kremlin not only in the North Caucasus but in the Middle Volga and elsewhere and for the Russian opposition which indeed has been as Russia and Moscow centric as the Putin regime.

But on the other, the Kremlin may seek to exploit any such Muslim protests to rally ethnic Russians around itself.  That is especially likely if the Putin regime can suggest that all Muslim protests are by its definition about secession and thus a threat to the territorial integrity of the country.

In this context, two new articles about Russia’s Muslim community offer some important inclusions. In the first, Carnegie Moscow Center expert Aleksey Malashenko says that “traditional Islam” – the mosque-limited variety the Russian regime prefers – has exhausted itself in Tatarstan (business-gazeta.ru/article/341019).

To the extent that he is correct, that conclusion suggests that even in the most “traditional” Muslim region of the Russian Federation, independent and often more politically radical Muslim leaders are in the ascendance in terms of influence over the Islamic community there.

In the second, Anton Chablin, a prominent specialist on the North Caucasus, says that many in the expert community are convinced that the ISIS attacks in Chechnya are not isolated incidents and may be repeated and that young Muslims across the region are increasingly politicized and radicalized (svpressa.ru/accidents/article/169104/).

Such people would seem to be ideal recruits for any Muslim street demonstrations, but they also would make ideal “scarecrows” to frighten non-Muslims in Russian into concluding that any Muslim political activity is linked in some way to Islamic radicalism abroad in the Middle East.

Instability Said Flowing into Russia From Former Soviet Republics



Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 27 – It has been a core part of Vladimir Putin’s message for more than a decade that Russia is surrounded by enemies and that they are seeking to promote instability inside his country, but he generally has identified major Western countries as the guilty parties rather than any state closer to home.

            Now, according to Svetlana Gamova, a political observer for NG-Dipkuryer, some former Soviet republics have become an even more immediate threat; and she calls for “closing in a reliable fashion” the borders the Russian Federation shares with these countries (ng.ru/dipkurer/2017-03-27/9_6958_belorus.html).

            What makes her article so intriguing is that she implicitly recalls the situation at the end of the Soviet period when the revolutions in the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Armenia played a key role in powering the upsurge of anti-communist and anti-Soviet attitudes among Russians.

            What is taking place in Belarus now, Gamova says, shows the baselessness of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s claims that his country is “island of stability” and that no Maidan like the one in Ukraine can ever happen, even as Belarusians are taking their cues from Ukrainian activists and as Ukrainians are preparing to send armed people into Belarus.

            The Belarusian leader, she continues, “has told the population about camps for the preparation of militants in Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland and what is most surprising in Belarus itself.  How given the vigilance of the Belarusian KGB in which Lukashenka has assured the citizens of his country could such special camps arise?”

                Lukashenka’s argument that there can’t be a Maidan in Belarus ultimately reduces to one that insists that is impossible because it is impossible. (Similar kinds of arguments are made in and about Russia too. See, for example,  politnavigator.net/sem-prichin-pochemu-pobeda-majjdana-v-minske-i-moskve-nevozmozhna.html.)

            But “it turns out,” the NG-Dipkuryer observer says, that “everything is possible” especially now that new social groups are coming out behind the small Belarusian opposition and because “all those who want to change the regime in that country” are taking advantage of the new situation in Belarus.

            Fearful that the Ukrainians would dispatch units to help the Belarusian protesters, Lukashenka’s regime stepped up its control of the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, something Minsk has not done on the Belarusian-Russian border.  There anyone can pass without being checked at all.

            “All this leaves the citizens of Russian defenseless both from the side of Belarusians and from the side of Ukrainians,” Gamova says.

            The average Russia doesn’t care where militants, terrorists, or activists come from, “east or west.” He cares only that such people be blocked from entering the country and disturbing his life and that of his family.  For that, serious borders are needed, including with Ukraine and now Belarus.

            The Belarusian-Russian borders should have been fortified long ago, because the transit of aliens “under the form of Belarusians must stop just like the export of Polish apples.” The same thing is true of the Russian-Ukrainian border.  But unfortunately, those are not now the only borders in the post-Soviet space across which instability can come.

            Kyrgyzstan, the commentator continues, is a problem because “instability is exported along with goods and workers. And this too is the occasion for concern of Russian citizens and the increase in the vigilance of our special services which we hope are not sleeping. And there are problems at least potentially with Moldova

            “Thus, it has turned out,” Gamova concludes, “that we live in a region of instability and under conditions of intensifying security threats for the population of our country. Not to take this into consideration and continuing to hope that we are united by a common past or a common future in the form of integration structures, is a mistake.”

            More to the point, she says, it is “a mistake which can change many things [and] unfortunately not in [Russia’s] favor.”