Friday, July 28, 2017

Paragraph 282 Becoming Article 58 of Putin’s Time



Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 28 – Fifteen years ago this week, Vladimir Putin signed the law “On opposing extremist activity,” a measure that is now Paragraph 282 of the Russian Criminal Code and one that as amended and applied over the years has become almost as terrifying as the notorious Article 58 that Stalin used against all and sundry to fill the GULAG.

            Initially, Yekaterina Bogdanova of the 7x7 news agency says, many human rights activists were skeptical of the measure but did not “massively criticize it” because it appeared to include certain protections. But those have been ignored by the regime and the courts and the constitutional rights of Russians are being trampled upon (7x7-journal.ru/item/97104).

            “The number of sentences under ‘extremist’ paragraphs has been growing at more than arithmetic progression, and the list of extremist materials has already grown geometrically. Defenders of freedom of speech now speak more often about the need if not for complete ‘liquidation of ‘the anti-extremist’ law, then at least its major overhaul,” she says.

            The Russian law has been criticized by international organizations who have pointed out that many of its victims now must be called political prisoners because they are being punished by the Kremlin not for criminal actions but because the regime does not approve of what they think or say.

            European countries have laws against extremism, but the number of cases there has been very small, but in Russia, “more than 650” such cases were brought last year alone, up from only 137 in 2011. This has happened, SOVA head Aleksandr Verkhovsky says, because “our Russian courts simply forget to assess the level of social danger” of any action – even though that is required by the law itself.

            Perhaps even worse, the SOVA chief continues, has been the compilation and expansion of lists of “extremist materials,” including books, articles, and videos, and then banning them is “stupid.”  Nonetheless, the list continues to grow, from fewer than 80 in 2007 to more than 4,000 now.

            And in many cases, the term “extremism” has been applied to things that no international standard or even Russian law in general would justify and without any regard to the danger that this or that statement or picture represents.  But everything is lumped together, and the term now means little more than something the authorities don’t like at a particular moment in time.

            Banning publications is “a Russian innovation,” Bogdanova says; but banning organizations is something done in many countries. But experts see a problem with the way in which Russia has done so.  The application of this part of Paragraph 282 is so elastic that the number of organizations declared extremist has risen from eight in 2007 to 47 in 2015.

            And things are getting worse, not only with respect to the application of the law but also with respect to the law itself as ever more provisions are added not to provide new protections but to allow the authorities to apply it ever more widely. Perhaps Bogdanova’s most useful contribution is to list these expansions of what she calls “the well forgotten old.” 

            In short, she demonstrates that at 15, Paragraph 282 is now vastly more dangerous than it was at its birth, with no sign that it will be reined in anytime soon.

Like Brezhnev’s, Putin’s Stagnation Could Last Decades but End in a New 1991, Travin Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 28 – Continuing low growth or even complete stagnation in Russia will lead to dissatisfaction and growing apathy just as they did in Soviet times under Leonid Brezhnev, Dmitry Travin says. But in the absence of foreign or domestic shocks, these feelings are unlikely to prevent Vladimir Putin from remaining power for decades.

            In an interview with Galina Ostaapovets of Kyiv’s Delovaya stolitsa, the St. Petersburg University economist says that this prediction is based on the fact that “in Russia politics is not directly connected with economics” (dsnews.ua/economics/-pochemu-putinskiy-rezhim-prosushchestvuet-do-2042-go-goda--26072017220000).

            Even though without reform, poverty and income inequality will continue to increase and the regions will have ever less month, he argues, but “the system could exist for a very long time, and in 2042, Putin would be 90” and could easily still be alive and in power in much the same way that Brezhnev remained in power “from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.”

            Russians should remember, Travin continues, that Brezhnev’s Soviet Unioin “was a country in which it was possible to live but it did not develop. And all the problems which existed at the start of the Brezhnev period were handed over to Gorbachev at its end. Nothing was decided, not a single problem.”
           
            And today, he argues, “we have approximately the same situation, with only one difference: there is not the same deficit of goods, one can buy everything, and there is a market economy.” But without development, the situation could end just as it did for Brezhnev’s system, first with feverish efforts to reform and then with collapse and disintegration.

            “The Union collapsed when people in various regions felt that it was time to take power into their own hands because Moscow was blocking development.” And there were enormous hopes that all regions and republics could replicate the success which the three Baltic countries seemed to promise.

            Now, “if the country will stagnate for many years, then the Russian leadership will find it difficult to struggle with the desire of particular elites and political forces to resolve [these problems] on their own.” The country could come apart not into the existing oblasts but in ways that today are not predictable.

            Obviously, a new wave of disintegration would be tragic for many, especially if Moscow does not take care to plan for it because in that event “the collapse will occur with revolution and blood.”  No imperial demise is easy and most are not pretty for most of those involved, the economist says.

            Putin, Travin points out, is “an experienced manipulator.” He has suppressed the opposition and even though he has driven the economy into stagnation, his regime could last for a very long time. But there are factors, both domestic and foreign, that could change that in rapid and unpredictable ways.

            Even now, the economist continues, “there is a strong opposition movement in Russia,” and in five years, Aleksey Navalny could present a real challenge to Putin. “If oil prices fall significantly, then the economy could shift from stagnation to recession and then suffering in particular regions would be so strong that mass resistance would emerge.”

            Again, the Brezhnev era is instructive, he argues. At home, “people then lived badly but over the course of 20 years there were no sharp declines. That is the way it is now: if things will be bad but without sharp worsening, then the regime can exist for a long time. But if suddenly that changes, then there could be problems.”

            Young people aren’t going to continue to support a regime that promises them now future, Travin says; but he adds that “from this it doesn’t follow that young people will be able to overthrow the regime.” Russia lacks the conditions for a Maidan. People may protest but this will either end in nothing or with mass arrests.

            The situation abroad will also play a critical role. Now, Putin uses the problems in Ukraine as the basis for generating support at home for himself. But if Ukraine proves successful, then “Putin will not have any arguments” in that regard. However, “if there will be a permanent crisis in Ukraine, that will be the best possible support for Putin.”

            The same thing is true of the impact of the West. If Western countries can solve their problems and develop rapidly and in a stable fashion, “the Putin system may exist for a long time, but it will be impossible to reproduce itself permanently … But if the world around will be in crisis, then leaders like Putin will be produced continually – Putin I, Putin II” and so on.

            Nonetheless, Travin says, “even if the Putin regime exists until 2042, this will be the last authoritarian personalist regime in Russia. It will be very difficult to come up with some new Putin.” But if Ukraine and the West are in crisis then too, “a new Putin could easily emerge” and the system continue.

            After Putin, Russia is likely to begin democratization, “but it is not obligatory that it will be successful. It could follow the scenario” of the successful Central and East European countries “or it could follow the scenario of Ukraine, where the crisis unfortunately has lasted longer than it did in Poland, Czechoslovakia or Estonia.” 

            “I fear,” Travin concludes, “that Russia will be closer to the Ukrainian scenario,” although he expresses the hope that Ukraine “will develop well and will catch up with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.  Then Russia too will choose the European example in all senses of the word.”

Russia’s Leaders Announce Their Summer Vacation Plans



Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 28 – Where to take a summer vacation or even whether to take one at all is invariably a political question for a country’s top leaders, all the more so when that country is suffering through an economic crisis and many of their citizens have been forced to curtail or cancel their plans for time away.

            Komsomolskaya Pravda has usefully provided a checklist of the vacation plans of Russia’s top leaders (kp.ru/daily/26709/3734139/).  They are listed below:

·         President Vladimir Putin has no plans for downtime given his full schedule, his press spokesman says.

·         Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will be making “many working visits to the regions,” his office says, but hasn’t announced his vacation plans. 

·         Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin says that he has no plans for taking any time off. 

·         Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko says she will travel to St. Petersburg and to Crimea.

·         Just Russia Party head Sergey Mironov says for him Europe and the US are closed and so he plans to do some extreme tourism in the northernmost portions of the Russian Far East.

·         KPRF head Gennady Zyuganov says he plans to spend time in his “small motherland,” Oryol Oblast.

·         LDPR head Vladimir Zhirinovsky plans a staycation at home, although he says he may make short trips to nearby locations.

·         Duma deputy Vitaly Milonov says he is taking his family to visit relatives in Greece.

·         Duma deputy Natalya Poklonskaya plans to go to Yalta in Crimea.

·         Duma deputy Iosif Kobzon plans to return to his native Transbaikal.

·         Senator Frants Klintsevich says he will visit his five grandchildren at his dacha.