Monday, December 5, 2016

Russians and Non-Russians Alike Oppose Putin’s Hybrid Civic Russian Nation Idea

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 5 – A Putin-supported call for a law defining the population of the Russian Federation “rossiiskaya natsiya,” a hybrid concept that joins together a political term – “rossiisky” which refers to the state -- and an ethnic one – “natsiya” or nation -- is generating ever more opposition among ethnic Russians and non-Russians alike.

            Igor Romanov of the Beregrus Russian nationalist site, says “the initiative for adopting in Russia a law ‘on the Russian nation’ is collapsing. Indeed, one can say it has already collapsed” because people understand now they were being misled in supposing that this was anything but an updated version of “the Soviet people” (“sovetskiy narod”) (

                Like most other Russian nationalists, Romanov detests both the Soviet term and its Russian update because he and they are convinced that such terms undermine the special status and nature of the ethnic Russian nation and that “there cannot be any ‘rossiiskaya natsiya’” of the kind the law is supposed to create.

            What there is, Romanov says, is “an ethnic Russian state-forming people which forms 80 percent of the population of the country, and there are small fraternal peoples of our Power, which together with the ethnic Russians created Great Russia which has been strengthened and secured by the ethnic Russian people.”

            “Who are these Russians?” the Beregrus editor asks. “They are those who confess Orthodoxy, live in correspondence with the traditions of ethnic Russian culture and speak Russian. The ethnic Russians respect and love other peoples living on the territory of Russia. And how could a truly ethnic Russian Orthodox individual live other than in that way?”

            Romanov cites with approval an article in “Kommersant” today which asserts that “in the majority of the [non-Russian] republics including Crimea, people are concerned” about the proposed law defining a civic Russian “nation.” And he cites with approval the judgment of Ramazan Abdulatipov, current head of Daghestan, that “such a law ‘cannot exist in nature’” (

                “The formation of a nation,” Abdulatipov says, “is an objective historical process.” It is something a law can regulate but cannot call into existence. Talking about creating such a new nation is fine but thinking that one can create it by legal fiat is not only absurd but dangerous given how people who have ethnic identities will react.

                “Kommersant” reviews opposition to the idea of the law in Chuvashia, Tatarstan, Mordvinia, Ingushetia, Tuva, and Russian-occupied Crimea and suggests, as does a longer analytic article in today’s “Kommersant-Vlast” that opposition is even more widespread than that (

            And the Moscow paper cited the recent words of Igor Barinov, the head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs which has been entrusted with coming up with a draft that the law should focus on the state’s nationality policy rather to address issues that might call into question “the ethnic component” of identity.

            In short, it appears that the government is moving away from a notion that it backed without adequate thought in the face of opposition from ethnic Russians and non-Russians alike, a rare case where the Kremlin in recent times has done something which has united the two in opposition to the powers that be.

Putin Wants Talks with Trump Not an Agreement with Him, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 5 – Vladimir Putin very much wants to have talks with incoming US President Donald Trump, something the Kremlin leader sees as ending his international isolation and confirming his status as the leader of a super power, but he doesn’t have an interest in reaching an agreement with him, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev.

             The Moscow economists tells Kyiv’s “Delovaya stolitsa” that “like any [incoming] American president, Trump will at first show that he has a positive attitude toward Russia and there will be an attempt at a new reset and the establishment of a new consensus” (

                “But I have the sense,” Inozemtsev says, “that Putin does not have any particular desire to agree about something. There is the decorative position that renewal of dialogue is necessary but this is because for Putin dialogue is more important than the result: the very fact of a conversation is more significant than specific agreements.”

            Putin needs “only to create the impression” that he wants to talk. A dialogue may begin and there may be six months of “a honeymoon,” the commentator says. “But then Trump will understand that he is being ‘played with’ or denigrated. [And] at that point will began a much harsher conversation than the one with Barack Obama.”

            “If Angela Merkel says that Putin constantly deceives her and thus she wants to reduce to the maximum possible minimum of meetings with him,” Inozemtsev argues, “then Trump will react in a corresponding way. Over the course of his business career, Trump was able to tell when he was being ‘played’” and quickly stopped having anything to do with them.

            Three other commentaries on Putin’s foreign policy agenda also shed light on why the Kremlin leader is unlikely to want any agreement an incoming US president could agree to and why he will prolong talks to boost his status but avoid reaching accords, even “grand bargains” of the kind many talk, lest they tie his hands abroad or undermine his standing at home.

            In a commentary in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Moscow security affairs commentator Aleksandr Golts says that the new Russian security doctrine doesn’t say what Moscow will do but only what it wants the rest of the world to know about Russian thinking (

            As such, it has less value than many think and those who try to figure out what it means are like paleontologists who must reconstruct an entire dinosaur on the basis of a single bone.  But in the nature of things, he continues, the authors can’t hide everything they plan and so one can see what they like and dislike.

            On the one hand, they entirely hypocritically complain about the increased role of force in international relations, urging all states to agree to a kind of Holy Alliance based on religious principles like the one that existed in Europe in post-Napoleonic Europe. And on the other, they reject the use of “soft force.”

            “With the election of Donald Trump as president of the US,” Golts argues, “the Kremlin to its misfortune has obtained ‘a counter-partner,’ who is attached to approximately the very same primitive views on international politics and who it follows will not be slow to use all the military, political and economic might of the United States for the achievement of what he considers to be American interests.”

            The new foreign policy doctrine, he concludes, “leaves Russia with ‘the right to react harshly to unfriendly actions including by means of strengthening its national defense and adopting mirror-image or asymmetrical means.’”  In short, the document suggests that Putin and Trump are far more likely to find themselves at loggerheads than in agreement.

            Ukrainian analyst Viktor Kaspruk says there are good reasons why that is so as far as Putin is concerned.  Not all Russians certainly want war, but those who do “need an enemy: they simply need to hate someone because hatred is the only thing that in Russia, in the absence of advanced science, contemporary technology, contemporary cultural achievement, and other essential factors can unite and feel itself a synchronous all-national unity” (

            Putin is likely to focus on the former Soviet republics not only because of the failures of his broader policies and his hope that no one will contest him there but also because “present-day Russia is ‘a paper tiger’ with a half destroyed economy which can offer the world only hatred, corruption, primitive propaganda, aggression, a declining standard of living and cheap vodka.”

            “Russia has many enemies,” the political analyst says, but “the irony is that all of them perhaps would like to have good-neighborly relations with Russia but Putin’s aggression has driven them away from that. In reality, no one will fight with Russia” because it can be controlled economically.

            In all this, Kaspruk says, “Russia is playing a dangerous game, distracting the attention of its citizens by foreign ‘adventures’ in order to conceal the complete failure of Putin in creating a vital economy in Russia.” No one can have any illusions about this, not those who live near Russia or those who live further away.

            And finally, in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Moscow political analyst Sergey Zhiltsov argues that Putin appears to have decided to focus most of his attention on the former Soviet space, what Russians call “the near abroad” rather than further afield where Moscow’s leverage is less (

                That area is one where Russia has clear advantages compared to the US and the West more generally, and thus it promises to give Putin the opportunity to show his strength for a domestic audience. But by turning in that direction, the Kremlin leader will have signaled to other powers that Russia is after all a regional power and not the super power he aspires it to be.

Putin Appears to Be Distancing Himself from Russian Orthodox Church

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 5 – Two statements by Vladimir Putin suggest that the Kremlin leader is now distancing himself from the Russian Orthodox Church despite his reliance on the Moscow Patriarchate for backing of his traditionalist approach and the Russian church’s aspiration to be the successor to the ideological department of the CPSU Central Committee.

            The first of these involved what Putin did not say. In contrast to last year’s speech to the Federal Assembly and to earlier ones as well, the Kremlin this year made absolutely no reference to Russian Orthodoxy. But the second, in which Putin said that all religions and not just Islam have extremists within them may prove to be even more significant.

            In a commentary on Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly, Irina Tumakova of the Fontanka news agency said that this year, in contrast to last, “Putin did not say a single time the word ‘Orthodoxy.’  Last year, however, he made Orthodoxy a central part of the defense of Russia against foreign threats (

                In his speech this year, she notes, “the present began as a true humanist: in the very first part, he spoke about respect, trust, justice, morality and concern about the individual who requires ‘broad and equal opportunities for self-realization, for the incorporation into life of entrepreneurial, creative and civic initiatives.’”

            Putin continued: “Society decisively rejects hubris, rudeness, hypocrisy and egoism … and ever more values such qualities as responsibility, high morality, concern about society’s interests, and a willingness to less to others and to respect their opinion.”

            “Perhaps,” Tumakov says, “someone listening to the president will recall the pogroms of exhibitions and the visits of Orthodox activists with jars of urine to cultural objects, things that the last year was full of,” something that these Orthodox activists may have felt they had the implicit sanction and support of the powers that be.

            The second of Putin’s statements, one that a lead article in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says today is “very important,” came at a meeting the day after his Federal Assembly speech at a joint session of the Presidential Councils on Culture and Art and on the Russian Language (

            At that session, Putin expressed the view in the words of the Moscow newspaper that “radicals can be not only Islamists, something that has become a common place” in Russian political discourse but that radicals can arise from “the bowls of any religious tradition,” including presumably Russian Orthodoxy.

            Specifically, the Kremlin leader that while Muslim extremists have indeed attracted the most attention for their attacks in Paris and elsewhere, “this doesn’t mean that there can’t be any outburst” from other faiths because “there are a sufficient number of radicals in all confessions.”  And there is thus always the danger, he continued, that they will “cross the line” in their actions.

            Putin himself did not speak directly about others, but “Nezavisimaya” said that “the truth” of his words is self-evident given the aggressive actions of Orthodox activists and even the intolerance shown by Russia’s Buddhists who are campaigning against the so-called “Buddha bars” they find offensive and whose coreligionists in Myanmar are conducting a genocide.

            It is of course possible that Putin’s failure to mention Orthodoxy in his address and his decision to note that there can be extremists within it as well as within other faiths is part and parcel of his effort to present himself as more open and tolerant not only to Russians but to other governments as well.

            But however that may be, Putin’s choices in these cases are certain to be seen as a tilt against Orthodoxy not only within the Russian church itself but perhaps even more important by those whom Orthodox activists have attacked.  And that almost certainly will have three major consequences in the near term.

            First, it will embolden those who oppose the Moscow Patriarchate’s efforts to build churches in parks and public places.  Second, it will also embolden Muslims to demand that the state agree to open another mosque in Moscow, something the Russian Orthodox Church has consistently opposed.

            And third, for many Orthodox Russians, Putin’s apparent shift will raise questions about just how committed he is to what they see as an essential feature of traditionalism and thus cost him support, even if he gains it from the far smaller but much more often attended to group of Russian liberals.