Thursday, July 27, 2017

Kremlin Views Russian Nationalism as a CIA ‘Project,’ Prosvirnin Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 27 – The Kremlin because of its Soviet-KGB background views Russian nationalism as the work of the CIA and other Western intelligence services but at the same time fears that a deracinated non-ethnic civic nation would not be capable of mobilizing Russians in a crisis, according to Yegor Prosvirnin, the editor of the now-blocked Sputnik i pogrom portal. 

            In an interview with Rosbalt’s Sofya Mokhova, the outspoken Russian nationalist says that he is convinced the Presidential Administration closed his site because it fears that the Russian nationalist message is reaching too many Russians and particularly members of the elite (rosbalt.ru/russia/2017/07/27/1633802.html).

            Indeed, he argues, members of the elite are more likely to be attracted to the nationalist cause because they understand as ordinary people do not the real problems that people of other nationalities present to business, society and politics; and that is why, he continues, he has directed his site and his efforts precisely at the elite rather than at a mass audience. 

            That is especially disturbing to the Kremlin elite, “a cast of former and current coworkers of the KGB and FSB who have a very specific paranoid mentality. They consider their main enemy – don’t laugh! – Russian nationalism” which they view as “a project of Western special services” who orchestrated the disintegration of the USSR.

            Because this is so, Prosvirnin says, “any attempt by the authorities to make friends with nationalism is always a political technological trick in which they themselves do not believe.” 

            According to the nationalist activist, “liberal nationalism is the natural worldview for any present-day urban Russian resident under 40. And the higher the individual’s level of education, the more he or she will be inclined to national ideas.” Prosvirnin says his portal was thus “mainstream, but mainstream among a generation which is not now decisive.”

            The authorities can “close Sputnik, put [him] in prison, but issues about human rights about the nation and a nation state which provided the side with its population will not be diminished thereby.  If the Kremlin stops one young person from shouting “the emperor has no clothes,” someone will take his place. Moreover, closing the site won’t put clothes on the ruler.”

            Tragically, he continues, Russians are limited by the understanding of nationalism that existed in Soviet time, one completely different from those in the West. Moreover, Russians “who grew up in a society so deformed as to consider ‘positive discrimination’ the norm naturally understand by ‘nationalism’ some completely wild things.”

            Russians need to understand how others understand nationalism, Prosvirnin argues, and hence he says that “a Russian nationalist must know English because in English, a reasonable conversation about nationalism is possible, easy and acceptable but in Russian” it still is not given the Soviet terms still around.

            “I agree,” he tells his interviewer, “that the Russian Federation is very much lagging behind the civilized world.” Nationalists are coming to power everywhere in the advanced Wesst, but “only in backward, provincial Russia are backward provincial journalists who don’t read the key publications of the first world in the original and still believe in globalization, friendship of the peoples and other ideals of the hippies.” 

            The Russian regime has become especially concerned about national identity as a result of its experience in Syria. The KGB types in the Kremlin “are not entirely fools and understand that there are no ‘multi-national Russians’” just as there are no Syrians, an artificial identity if there ever was one.

            But these KGB officers think that they can “build a nation” via the construction of “a total state, hoping that tightening the screws will save them. It won’t. A state without a nation is always very rickety and weak,” the nationalist editor says.

            His interviewer then asks him to define his terms. “Nationalism,” he points out, “is a relatively recent phenomenon which began after the Westphalian world and achieved maturity only in the 19th century, the classical period of nation states. There were no nations and could not be any nations before book printing and mass education which allowed for the spread of identities.”

            In addition, Prosvirnin continues, “one should distinguish between a people (an ethno-cultural community) and a nation (a cultural-political one).  A nation becomes fully itself when it acquires economic, political and media-educational institutions. The striving of a people for control over institutions and its transformation into a nation is called nationalism.”

Russian ‘Federalism’ is to Federalism what ‘Military Music is to Music’



Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 27 – In 1970, Robert Sherill published a harsh critique of the US military’s justice system under the title Military Justice is to Justice What Military Music is to Music. Now, after Vladimir Putin has refused to extend the power-sharing accord with Kazan, one can say that Russian federalism has even less connection to genuine federalism.

            That is, some of the same words and music are used to describe it, but the content and meaning are entirely different, something many in Russia’s regions and republics are horrified by but that that Russian centralizers are now celebrating because they want all decisions to be made by Moscow officials rather than by Russians and non-Russians beyond the ring road.

            On Monday, the ten-year extension of the Moscow-Kazan power-sharing accord ran out. Tatarstan officials called for its renewal, but the Kremlin ignored their request, except to have Putin declare that it was constitutionally wrong to require Russian speakers in republics to learn the titular language, something that accord had enshrined and that Russian courts had accepted.

            In an article celebrating the end of the power-sharing agreement, Svobodnaya pressa commentator Aleksey Polubota and those Moscow commentators with whom he spoke declared that Russia as a result had “finally overcome a dangerous inheritance from the Yeltsin era in nationality policy” (svpressa.ru/politic/article/177600/).

            The writer quoted Russian nationalist publicist Yegor Kholmogorov as saying that as a result, “Russia had formally been transformed into a single state without treaty elements in its federal structure” and this represented “of course, only the first step to a genuinely united Russia” (business-gazeta.ru/article/352344).

            Polubota asked two other Moscow writers what the end of the power-sharing accord means and what is likely to happen next.  Mikhail Remizov, president of the Institute for National Strategy, said that he welcomed the end of the accord because it would allow Moscow to end the discrimination Russians and Russian speakers now experience in non-Russian areas.

            But Remizov continued, it highlights something else even more significant: “Our country,” he remarked, “is a constitutional federation and not a treaty one. That is, from the outset, Russia was not a country created by various territories which agreed that now we will exist together, each on its own basis”

            Rather, “the logic was just the reverse: from the outset, a single unitary country formed various subjects of the federation.”  That principle must be maintained, and in that regard, “the special agreement with Tatarstan was an unnecessary and even dangerous exception” that has now been eliminated.

            “In the early 1990s, the constitutional disintegration of Russia took place in which dozens of the subjects of the federation sought to obtain for themselves special conditions from the federal center.” That must not continue. Russian speakers in the republics must not be compelled to learn non-Russian languages, and republics must not be allowed to have presidents.

            On those issues, there can’t be any compromise, Remizov said.  All regions must be the same in terms of law and practice, and then all can be strengthened so as to strengthen the country.  Their “strengthening,” including a nod toward “budgetary federalism,” he added, “corresponds to the interests of the country as a whole.”

            Now that the Moscow-Kazan treaty is a thing of the past, he argued, “we must first of all move toward the equalization of the status of regions.” That won’t ever be completely achieved, but Remizov suggested that what is sometimes called Russia’s “excessive centralization” is “a means of compensating for the inequality of the regions.”

            Eliminate the one and the other will be eliminated as well, he implied.

            Toward that end, Remizov argued, “the administrative borders in Russia” should be redrawn to correspond with socio-economic needs rather than “on an ethnic basis.” That will mean fewer federal subjects but more effective ones. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of work to be done on that and no one is yet focused on it.

            A second researcher with whom Polubota spoke was Oleg Nemensky of Moscow’s Russian Institute for Strategic Research. Noting that the power-sharing accord didn’t contain much of importance, he argued that nonetheless it was “a very serious threat to the unity of Russia.”

            Even without the accord, however, “the danger of the disintegration of Russia has not disappeared, although it has been reduced.” Consequently, further steps must be taken and soon to “form relations between the center and the regions which will block the development of centrifugal forces” that could emerge in a “political or economic crisis.”

            To that end, Nemensky continued, “the federal center must increase the number of levers with the help of which it will be possible to influence the situation of inter-ethnic relations in all the republics and oblasts of Russia.” Moreover, Moscow must work to ensure that laws in all are “unified to the maximum degree possible.”

            “This is particularly important in national republics where ethnic Russians are the majority but where representatives of the titular nationality are more heavily represented in government, in business and so on.” There now must be “special laws” about national minorities wherever they live.

            In reporting these and even more radical Russian nationalist proposals now that the treaty has lapsed, Kazan’s Business Gazeta notes that some of them incLude calls for “transforming Tatarstan into the Kazan oblast” and stripping it of all independent powers  (business-gazeta.ru/article/352722 discussing  sputnikipogrom.com/russia/74844/rebuilding-tatarstan/).

            As of now, the paper says, “plans for the deconstruction of [the Tatar] nation” are still those of “marginal figures.”  But it warns that no one can tell how long it will be before such ideas become centerpieces of Moscow’s policy.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Kremlin Plan to Make Fight for Justice Centerpiece of Putin Campaign Seen Backfiring



Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 26 – Two anonymous sources “close to the Presidential Administration” tell the Znak news agency that Vladimir Putin plans to fight “the struggle against poverty and social injustice” a centerpiece of his re-election campaign in order to mobilize Russians against local and regional elites.

            But Znak commentator Yekaterina Vinokurova warns that this program may backfire if Russians focus not as Putin wants but on the Moscow elite in general, Putin’s immediate entourage and even the Kremlin leader personally (znak.com/2017-07-25/putin_sobiraetsya_sdelat_stavku_na_borbu_s_nespravedlivostyu_no_eto_opasnaya_tema).

            The Kremlin has been trying to come up with some agenda for the campaign that will allow him to pose as the people’s champion against entrenched elites even though he has been in power for 17 years and is responsible for the division of the spoils among elites and the increasing impoverishment of Russians.

                Vinokurova notes that experts with whom she has spoken agree that “the demand for social justice and the struggle against poverty really exists in society,” but they warn that “if the powers take this up, it is not certain that they will be able to keep it under control.” Indeed, they say there are real risks that it could lead to a social explosion.

            Tatyana Stanovaya of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies says that protests five years ago were about politics and human rights. “Now at the foundation of protest is the problem of social injustice.” Consequently, “even if ‘the sauce’ remains the same – ‘the struggle with corruption’” it has an immediate rather than long-term political meaning.

            “Six years ago, this concerned the issue of equal opportunities and prospects,” Stanovaya continues, but now” it is about what the country can do about a closed elite of “new ‘Putin oligarchs,’” when there is no clear signal from the  top as to what can be done about that to benefit the bottom part of society.

            Moreover, she says, “if earlier the powers were inclined to underrate the problem of social injustice and tried not to notice it, fearing the growth of social expectations and demands, then now it is just the reverse: the powers are trying to seize the initiative from the non-systemic opposition.”

            According to Stanovaya, “now we are witnessing ‘how over the strategy for the development of the country are involved not so much economists as political technologists.’ However, there is a risk: recognizing social injustice may increase its social and political sharpness.”

            Other commentators agree about the risks.  According to political analyst Abbas Gallyamov, “if Putin is able to show that he is seriously involved” in trying to address poverty and injustice, then people will believe him. However, the credit of trust he has is not infinite” and could run out.

            The problem, however, is this, he says: such a use of this theme is “the last line of the Kremlin’s defenses against growing general disappointment.” If Putin makes promises and then doesn’t or can’t deliver, his credit with the population will be “exhausted,” and there could be an explosion in two or three years.

            Aleksey Makarkin, vice president of the Moscow Center for Political Technologies, says that Russians traditionally have “gone to the tsar” to get justice, but the current powers that be “don’t want to disturb the situation in the elites.” They can arrest low-level officials but only if these don’t have ties close to the Kremlin.

            “The struggle for justice,” he continues, “is the reverse side of settling accounts because of economic competition,” but how that can be done under conditions of “systemic corruption” is a large and still open question. “The opposition has it easer: it can criticize the entire system.” For the incumbents, that is dangerous as “the Uzbek affair” proved in the late 1980s.

            And finally, Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Politics Foundation, said that Putin had always made the struggle with poverty part of his program, even though he has surrounded himself will billionaires. What is going on now, he suggests, is that people around Putin are trying to force him to run again, something he hasn’t made a final decision about.

            That is because a fourth term could prove dangerous for Putin given that those pushing him forward now want to “transform Putin into the successor of Putin who will simply sign papers put in front of him.”  Running again would thus be a mistake, even though there is no doubt Putin would win. One thing is clear: Russia’s poor aren’t going to be among the winners.