Vladimir Shlapentokh

19 марта, 2015

Public opinion in a non-democratic society: lessons from Russian history—the 1960s and 2000s

Filed under: Uncategorized — shlapentokh @ 3:16 пп

Vladimir Shlapentokh


In the aftermath of the Russian annexation of Crimea in May 2014, Russian pollsters discovered an astounding development: President Putin’s positive ratings had reached a level unprecedented in Russian history—85 percent. If there had been pollsters in the USSR in 1936, and if they had conducted a survey of the attitudes of the Soviet people toward comrade Stalin, they would likely have found the same figure, or maybe an even higher one, something like 99 percent. However, no polling firms existed in Stalin’s Russia, so the level of support for Putin as the Russian leader is, indeed, unique in Russian history. Remarkably, all of the polling firms in today’s Moscow produced practically the same number over the course of 2 years of surveys. The Kremlin was, of course, delighted with the Russians showing such loyalty to its master. The Russian public and many experts in the West have treated this number—85—as highly symbolic of indisputable evidence that there is unanimous support for Putin during this dramatic period when he has radically changed his foreign policy, starting the war against Ukraine and confrontations with the West with an intensity that has forced both ordinary people and politicians to fear an imminent war. In this climate, the notorious “85 percent” has played a very important role, suggesting to many that Putin’s belligerence is supported by the majority of the Russian people. In this paper, we will show that “85 percent” ultimately has nothing to do with Russian public opinion because public opinion cannot function as an independent phenomenon in a non-democratic society in which the people have no choices in either elections or polls. “85 percent” actually reflects the efficiency of the state machine run by Putin, and particularly of the state TV, which the Kremlin has turned into a perfect brainwashing instrument that is much more cynical and deceptive than Soviet TV was on the eve of Perestroika. As soon as Putin disappears from the political scene, and his rivals emerge on TV, nothing will be left of that miraculous 85 percent igure. The experiences related to the first public opinion studies conducted in the Soviet totalitarian society are very useful for understanding the nature of “85 percent” in Putin’s Russia.

Public opinion in a non-democratic society: lessons from Russian history—the 1960s and 2000s

Vladimir Shlapentokh


The birth of polling in the USSR

Fate was on my side in the 1960s when it allowed me to be among those in the Soviet Union who initiated public opinion studies—then a key part of a new emerging science, empirical sociology. Those were giddy days for us, a group of young social scientists, when we started something absolutely new in Soviet society: measuring what the Soviet people thought and felt about their lives within this nation.

The high mission of public opinion studies

We saw ourselves as people who could make an important contribution to transforming a rigid, totalitarian society into one of liberal socialism (or socialism with a human face). We and the liberal intelligentsia were sure that as soon as we had the opportunity to regularly measure the public opinion of the Soviet people—and in this way create it—we would discover the deep discontent of the masses with the Soviet system, which would force the party leadership to change, or at least modify, its policies in various areas of social life. We hoped that the party leadership would finally recognize public opinion as a crucial factor in the government of Soviet society.

The passion of the first public opinion researchers in the 60s was almost unbelievably altruistic, devoid of materialistic stimulus. Dozens and dozens of young people abandoned their previous occupations and higher salaries to join our teams of researchers in Moscow, Novosibirsk and Leningrad. My team in the academic town of Novosibirsk, which conducted surveys of those who read the national newspapers, was full of these enthusiasts. Some of them came from other places to join us, though we could not even provide many of them with minimal housing conditions. Boris Grushin’s team in Moscow consisted of people with an almost religious zeal for studying public opinion in the USSR. They retained this fervor, along with a cult-like devotion to their leader, to the end of their lives.

What a contrast this is with the climate of public opinions studies in conemporary Russia! The fight for government money, as well as the search for rich politicians looking for some nice data for their election campaigns, has made it impossible to retain the special vocation found in the community of sociologists and pollsters, or to make them be concerned with society respecting their work. Gone are the sociological gatherings, where debates about the professionalism of their work aroused high passions.

Our difficulties: the hostility of the party apparatus

We were well aware of the difficulties we had to overcome in the pursuit of our professional work in the 60s. One of them was the totalitarian state’s hostility toward public opinion. Of course, we could have not started our studies if the leadership of the party had not been flirting with liberal trends following Stalin’s death. Yet the main segment of the party apparatus was still hostile toward us. We could not prepare the questionnaire without party censorship, nor could we recruit interviewers without the permission of the authorities, so we had to spend a lot of time on maneuvers with party apparatchiks to implement our research designs.

A deep belief in the power of methodology

The second problem was the object of our studies, the Soviet people living in a totalitarian society. First, it is necessary to underscore that we believed in the objective existence of public opinion in Soviet society as a sort of phenomenon in itself (using Hegelian terminology), even before we started to study it. In other words, we believed that the Soviet people held their own views on a variety of issues based on their own experiences, and had critical attitudes toward many elements of the official ideology.

Our main problem was in eliciting those views from the Soviet people because we were very aware of the listening ear of the state apparatus, which curtailed the eagerness of the Soviet people to answer our questions  and encouraged them to choose safe answers that were supported by the official rhetoric. Later sociologists began to name such answers as having been determined by “desirable values.” However, we strongly believed that, despite all of the obstacles in our path, we could penetrate the minds of our compatriots using contemporary survey techniques.

Our optimism was based on our naïve belief in the miraculous possibilities of the sophisticated survey methodology that we tried to adjust to a totalitarian society. (Gallup was a sacred figure to us, even if his methodology did not  take into account the specificities of an authoritarian society.) We employed different types of random sampling. We compared the results of face-to-face interviews with the results of mail surveys. We used different versions of the questionnaires, combining open and closed questions in various ways. We also compared the results of the surveys with questionnaires that differed from each other based on the order of the questions and contained different wording for key questions. We disseminated the questionnaire with and without socio-demographic questions regarding age, gender, education, and so on, in order to measure the impact of the feeling of anonymity on the answers. We used various devices to prompt the respondents to give us sincere answers (often asking about the opinions of “others” rather than about their personal opinions), and at the same time tried to neutralize the influence the interviewers might have had on the behavior of respondents by strongly suggesting that our interviewers not express their own views.

The great scale of our studies

We were somewhat successful in fighting the conservatives in the party apparatus, managing to carry out many dozens of public opinion projects in the 1960s and 70s. Of course, we were still not allowed to ask sensitive political questions such as those about the Soviet leaders or the respondents’ attitudes toward socialism. The emergence of computers was another powerful factor in our favor. Our belief in science and computers made us persuasive, even with party apparatchiks, and helped us to carry out a lot of research projects.

Our public opinion studies in the 1960s were very impressive in scale, and captured a great deal of attention in the West, where public opinion experts greeted the emergence of such studies in the USSR with delight, and were not overly concerned with the impact the totalitarian state might have on the results.

For the first time in Soviet history, I was personally able to use national data, collected through random sampling, about the opinions of the multi-million strong audience of the leading national newspapers, including Pravda, Izvestia, Literaturnaia Gazeta and Trud  (Labor). The first Soviet pollster, my dear colleague Boris Grushin, collected data on the attitudes of young Soviets in the early 60s. In the late 60s, he studied the public opinions of a typical industrial city, Taganrog. During this time, he also published the first Soviet books on public opinion. An Estonian sociologist, Yulo Vooglaid, monitored public opinion in his republic many years within the same period, and organized seminars in Tartu for debates on public opinion studies.

The ideological struggle in the 60s – did public opinion exist in a non-democratic society or not?

Conservative ideologues did not stop attacking us in the 1960s, and continued to be major opponents to empirical sociology and public opinion studies. We ridiculed them as obscurantists; we mocked their abstract reasoning that was so far from real life, as well as their love of citing Marx or Lenin and the current party leaders. Ironically, a half century later we can see that these ideologues were elaborating on a serious argument against public opinion studies in a non-democratic society. Their position can be described in this way: in a Communist society, public opinion cannot exist as something different from the opinions suggested by government propaganda. They declared that public opinion as an autonomous category was a myth in Soviet society. Even without sociological data, the party knew what people thought and felt because their mindsets were determined by party decisions and official ideology based on Marxist-Leninist theory. The party ideologues suggested that, as seen in the Soviet parliament elections, an absolute majority of the Soviet people supported the Soviet system in exactly the terms suggested by the propaganda. Indeed, 99 percent of the Soviet people did vote for “the block of the Communists and not party members.” The number 99 was as popular in Soviet times as 85 percent is in contemporary Russia (the number of Russians who seemingly support Putin). Those who cast doubt or even dared to mock “99 percent” in Soviet times were treated as enemies of the Soviet system and could end their life in the Gulag, just as skeptics of “85 percent” are now labeled as unpatriotic or as American agents. Alexander Zinoviev, in his Swiftian Yawning Heights (1976), described how the Soviet leaders were disappointed with the data that the sociologists brought to the Kremlin. While the leaders expected 179 percent of their citizens to admire them, sociologists insisted on a much lower number—only 130 percent.

How the arguments of the conservatives in the 60s look now

Now, a half-century after we fought with our adversaries on the nature of public opinion studies, their arguments against us do not look as absurd as they seemed then.

It turned out that the Party ideologues understood the incompatibility of a totalitarian society and public opinion studies better than the sociologists. In fact, our antagonists were better at understanding the impact that the totalitarian state, the repressive regime and its monopoly on the media would have on the minds of the population. Our opponents, without knowing it, were in agreement with Orwell’s discovery that people in any hierarchical organization, especially one in a totalitarian organism, tend to almost sincerely love the leader, a Big Brother. This love is the best way for people who live in a structure where there is no real opposition to adjust to the situation in which they find themselves. Our ideological adversaries also understood, as did all of their bosses in the Kremlin since Lenin, that without any real opposition to the regime, people will always support the system. In this context, the Kremlin ideologues thought the study of public opinion in Soviet society made no sense. Indeed, it is clear from looking at the main results of our public opinion studies in the 1960-70s that, at least to some degree, the predictions of the conservatives were confirmed.

The main results of our studies: the Soviet people support the policy of the party

How did the final results of our studies look on the eve of Perestroika? To our great distress, we found that the majority of the Russians had absorbed most of the dogmas of Soviet propaganda, and that they used ideological clichés for their answers. The Soviet people were sure that the Communist party had every right to be the supreme political force, and we found no complaints about the absence of an opposition in the country. The majority of our respondents supported the most ridiculous dogmas, such as the superiority of the Soviet standard of living over the Americans’, or the dominance of social equality in Soviet society. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 (it was sort of The Ukrainian Crisis of the 60s) was endorsed by the majority of the population, which also swallowed the official explanation that it was necessary for the protection of the USSR against German imperialists—just like 85 percent of today’s Russians are willing to accept Putin’s explanation for the war against Ukraine as having been provoked by the USA.

On the eve of Perestroika, it was evident that the minds of a majority of Russians were totally controlled by the Kremlin and the official media, and that we sociologists were as wrong in our beliefs in “true public opinion” as the alchemists in the Middle Ages were in believing in the Philosopher’s Stone.

Our public opinion studies on the eve of Perestroika were the wrong predictor

Our studies on the eve of Perestroika showed the total loyalty of the Soviet people to the Soviet system, to its ideology and to the party leadership. These data turned out to be an extremely bad predictor of the future. It only took a few years for Gorbachev and his team to demolish the system. The systems’ destroyers met no resistance from any segment of Soviet society—not just the masses, which only a few years prior had told us about the respect they had for the system, but also the KGB, the army and the party apparatus failed to show any resistance to the destruction of the Soviet Union.

Our modest success: the public opinion of the liberal intelligentsia

Our data was not entirely without value. For instance, we could boast of one achievement in the 60s—we were able to find out the views of the liberal Russian intelligentsia. We could do it because this intelligentsia read Literaturnaia Gazeta (The Literary Gazette), the liberal periodical that was—and this was crucially important to understanding the meaning of our data—supported by the Kremlin. Everybody in the Soviet Union knew that the Literaturnaia Gazeta was a “project” of the Central Committee. The Soviet people told everybody with pride that they were subscribers of the Literaturnaia Gazeta or of the “New World,” another officially endorsed liberal magazine. Whatever rumors exist about Russian liberal outlets in Putin’s Russia, such as radio Ekho Moskvy or the TV station ‘Dozhd’(Rain) being “Kremlin projects,” not one of these outlets is openly supported by the Kremlin and so, in the eyes of the Russian public, they are the tools of oppositional liberals. As my recent observations show, many Russians, even liberal intellectuals, avoid being labeled as regular listeners of Ekho Moskvy or as readers of Novaia Gazeta, another liberal periodical that is considered an enemy of the Kremlin.

Because the population believed in the “legality” of the Literaturnaia Gazeta, this newspaper was able to amass 10 million readers—including almost every member of the liberal intelligentsia. As our surveys showed by the end of the 60s and in the early 70s, our respondents were ready to express their support for many liberal ideas, like the liberalization of the economy or the encouragement of creativity in all spheres of life, which were a direct challenge to Soviet bureaucracy. The newspaper also supported sociology and public opinion studies. What is more, those who read the newspaper continued to be treated as loyal citizens, and were not in danger for having done so; this is not true today for those who declare themselves to be regular readers of Novaia Gazeta, an acerbic critic of Putin’s regime, Soviet citizens felt they safe in declaring their respect and even admiration for the controversial poet Evgenii Evtushenko (in 1968, 47 percent praised him as the best poet), or even the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn (30 percent approved his “One day of Ivan Denisovich,” a piece with a strong anti-Soviet orientation) before he was labeled as a traitor and exiled. Compare these data with the low numbers for today’s oppositional politician Alexei Navalny, who was supported by the liberal outlets in Moscow in 2014-2015; no more than 5 percent of Russians held a positive view of him as a politician in 2015.

At the same time, it was not without some amazement and disappointment that we discovered that, despite their critical attitudes toward some aspects of Soviet life, an absolute majority of the liberal intelligentsia was devoted to the ideas of the leading role of the Communist party and the total superiority of socialism over capitalism. Not even Andrei Sakharov could escape the influence of Soviet propaganda—perhaps for tactical reasons—disclosing his concerns about the importance of unity for the Communist movement in the world.

The successful cases where the state was neutral

There was another type of data that reflected genuine views on some issues. Again, the Kremlin was more or less neutral to these issues, so respondents felt they could make a choice between different alternatives, unlike our surveys on politically sensitive issues. My dear friend Vladimir Shubkin caused a sensation in the 60s, when he discovered the professional preferences of high school graduates. Even if Shubkin’s results could be interpreted as hostile to the dogma of the leading role of the working class in Soviet society (only a minority of the youth wanted to join “the leading class” after leaving school), the pragmatic value of his surveys was evident to the authorities looking for the optimal allocation of young people among different sectors of economy. The Kremlin did not object to studies that tried to explain why people wanted to change their place of work either. In both of these cases, the respondents were well aware of the political innocence of their answers and, thus, gave their genuine views, rather than repeating media clichés.

The major lessons from the Soviet times: the incompatibility of an authoritarian state and public opinion studies

Later developments only confirmed the explanation for our failure to measure public opinion on the crucial issues of Soviet life.

It was only when the Soviet system, with its repressive apparatus, was failing, and the various political forces, with their different ideologies and their own power bases, emerged in the country that the true public opinions and the studies of them became real. It was during a very short period—1989-1993—that the first independent public opinions firms emerged. One of the first to appear was VTsIOM (the All-Russian Center of Public Opinion Studies), initially under the guidance of Tatiana Zaslavskaia and Boris Grushin, and later under the leadership of Yurii Levada. Russia then saw the creation of Vox Populi by Boris Grushin, the first private firm for the study of public opinion.

The 1993 shooting in parliament and the false presidential election in 1996 signalled the end of real public opinion and honest elections. Once again, the mentality of the majority of Russians came under the sway of those in control of the Kremlin, the media and the police.

Putin, with his policy of exterminating the opposition, has turned the Russians’ choices in politics, public opinion and elections back into fiction. The remarkable consensus of all of the leading polling firms on the notorious 85 percent rating of Putin’s popularity confirms neither the genuine loyalty of the Russians to the Kremlin leader nor the validity of this number, despite the suggestions of Putin’s ideologists.

What this numbers shows is that all of the firms, collectively, were not measuring the genuine views of the Russians, who did not have a choice between different politicians and different policies. It only showed the effect of the Kremlin’s propaganda, the ultra-aggressive TV outlets that outdid a lot of Soviet media in lies and challenges to common sense, and, to some degree, the people’s lingering fear of the authorities.

The indifference of contemporary Russian pollsters to methodology

The first generations of Soviet sociologists and pollsters were deeply absorbed by the desire to perfect the methodology of their studies. Today, Russian pollsters realistically ensure that the 85 percent number the Kremlin expects from them will emerge, whatever methodology they use. It is not all that amazing to find that the differences in the results of the public opinion firms, whether they have a reputation of close collaboration with the Kremlin, like VTsIOM, or they are regarded by the public as independent, are practically non-existent. Indeed, the Russian pollsters measured the popularity of Putin under conditions wherein he, as a rule, did not leave the TV for even a moment, and when his few critics had been declared anti-patriotic and American agents (or were even murdered, as happened to Boris Nemtsov in February  2015), and when the fear of being accused of non-political loyalties once again dominated the communications of Russians at all levels.

Under such circumstances, nobody in Moscow is currently interested in the subtleties of sampling; and nobody pores over the newest American books and articles on survey methodology, as we did in the 60s.

The rare lamentation of some of the older generation of professionals about the decline in survey methodology, and their nostalgia for the past, can inspire great compassion but it is evident that most pollsters who successfully earn big money serving the ruling elite will ignore their appeals to improve polling technology.

In the rare event where pollsters organized a meeting to discuss the quality of their surveys (January 2015), few of them even mentioned the impact of TV and the political authorities on the results of their surveys. Only the old sociologist Andrey Alexeev, now retired, noted the impact of the authoritarian state on public opinion studies, and Oleg Pashkov reminded the audience of Boris Grushin, who expressed doubts several decades ago about the validity s of public opinion studies in a non-democratic society.

The attitudes of the Kremlin in the 60s and now toward sociological studies and polling

The attitude of the post-Stalin Kremlin toward sociological studies was ambivalent. One the one hand, it tolerated them so it could show its allegiance to progress, and even to the liberalization of society. On the other hand, during the golden years of Soviet sociology, the Kremlin was deeply indifferent to the results of these studies. None of the leading sociologists were called to the Kremlin to discuss the results of their surveys. The legitimacy of Soviet leaders based on socialist ideology, with some Russian chauvinism thrown in, was firm and was recognized by foreign leaders, who had no difficulties using the term General Secretary to refer to the leader of Russia.

The current master of the Kremlin takes a very different position on this. He treats public opinion as a crucially important instrument of his legitimization; it is a replacement for honest elections. In the Soviet era, sociological studies—and polling in particular—were charged with the oppositional spirit. In Putin’s regime, polling has started to play a radically different political role.

Contemporary pollsters are deeply involved in helping the regime because their data (which, in fact, only measure the political pressure on the population) undermine the view, both inside Russia and in the West, that Putin’s regime has no democratic foundation. Therefore, paradoxically—and wouldn’t this amaze the founders of Soviet sociology!—the public opinion firms have turned into an important instrument of the authoritarian system.

Sociology and public opinion studies enjoyed tremendous prestige in Soviet times.. In the public’s mind, we represented objective information about Soviet society (it is true that, in some cases, we talked about the views of the liberal intelligentsia or the results of the studies in the economic sphere). In crass contrast to the official media, which mixed facts with fabrications, the public believed in the data we published, and nobody suspected that we were not being honest with them. Our studies were vehemently supported by the scientific community, especially mathematicians. physicists, and computer specialists. Among our allies were the Union of Writers and the Union of Filmmakers. The great Alexander Twardovsky published articles supporting public opinion research in his famous magazine, The New World (Novyi Mir)..

It is not an accident that, with their high prestige, sociologists like Tatiana Zaslavksia, Boris Grushin, and Yurii Levada were in the vanguard of the liberal forces that actively participated in the destruction of the Communist system in 1989. Later, they were invited by Boris Yeltsin to be on his presidential Council.

Attitudes toward sociological studies and polling are different now. Trust in the data produced by polling firms has fallen to a very low level. According to some surveys, no more than a quarter of the population trusted pollsters. Some firms, like VTsIOM, now openly collaborate with the Kremlin (its director, Fedorov, even received a medal from Putin). This polling firm even sued the Moscow Times, a liberal newspaper, for accusations of corruption and falsification of data by the firm. In the popular Moscow Komsomolets (December 2014), a prominent Russian journalist, Yulia Kalinina, explained clearly to her readers that in a society with vigilant special services monitoring the loyalty of its citizens, most citizens will choose the answers suggested by the authorities.


There is a rather complex answer to the question posed in the last 3-10 years, both inside and outside of Russia, on whether we should trust the results of public opinion studies and, more specifically, Putin’s 85 percent rating. The number 85, as well as numbers which supposedly reflect the positions of the Russians on politically sensitive questions like attitudes toward the West and the USA, toward the war with Ukraine, and toward the opposition, is not fabricated by the polling firms, and respondents did, indeed, answer in such a way. However, these data offer little or no value for understanding the real political processes in the country, and even less for predicting the future. A considerable number of the respondents simply lied to the interviewers. Even more important is that those who are not lying are simply repeating what they heard on TV. Without political alternatives in society, neither polling nor elections are able to produce data that truly reflects public opinion. In fact, all these data measure the power of Putin’s political machine and the impact of a media that is under the total control of the Kremlin.

The day after Putin abandons the political scene as leader or as a politician with full access to TV, the data currently produced by the Russian polling firms will lose its meaning, and Putin’s popularity will vanish almost instantly. Yuri Luzhkov appeared to be a hugely popular mayor of Moscow in 2010, but when he was fired he virtually disappeared from the mind of Muscovites in an instant. The study of public opinion in a non-democratic society produces only artifacts, and there are no methods that can countervail the impact of the political monopoly or the lack of choice on the responses given by the respondents. Of course, if the leader makes rabid nationalism and xenophobia the center of his propaganda, as Hitler did in 1920-30s, or as Putin is doing now, he can create the illusion that people are full of nationalistic emotions, and that his propaganda only brought them to the surface. All leaders try to find something in the repertoire of feelings and ideas that reside in the human mind which will be useful to him under the given circumstances. Appeals to egalitarism or fairness can be successful, and be the basis of an ideology which brings the politicians using them to the apex of power. Leaders like Robespierre or Lenin proved it. The view that Putin’s popularity is based on genuine nationalist feelings on the part of the Russians is essentially false. Without TV, these feelings could be dormant while several other feelings rise to the top. Give Russian TV 10 days to undertake an attack, under the auspices of the Kremlin of course, against nationalism, and a series of shows praising America, and the mood in the country would change drastically.

The lessons from the Soviet era and Putin’s time are unequivocal—public opinion is nonexistent in a non-democratic society, and polling is a waste of time and resources if we have the study of society in mind. Howevwer, polling in such a society is a good instrument for deceiving the public, inside and outside of a country. in order to hide the deeply non-democratic essence of the regime.

Ordinary Russians, even in Soviet times, had the common sense to understand the importance of choice. A famous Soviet anecdote tells how God brought Eve to Adam, and then told him to choose himself a wife. The real choice in political life—in expressing one’s views in surveys or by voting—pre-supposes the existence of different centers of power, representing both the government and powerful oppositional parties, with each having a good chance of gaining power in the future.

[JS1]Italicizing this is correct, isn’t it?

1 февраля, 2015

Putin as a threat to the USA and the West

Filed under: Uncategorized — shlapentokh @ 10:52 пп

Putin as a threat to the USA and the West

Vladimir Shlapentokh

History offers us several examples of times when the stability of a continent, and even the whole world, depended on the personality of the leader of one country—Stalin, Hitler and Mao are the most remarkable examples from the world as it existed in the 20th century. As strange and improbable as it seems, Vladimir Putin belongs to this list of leaders whose personality exerts a tremendous influence on international developments. What makes these leaders so dangerous to the world is that neither domestic institutions nor social groups are able to restrain their behavior.
Take Soviet history, for instance. Other than Stalin, all of the Soviet leaders were forced to consider the positions taken by members of the Politburo, or even a larger leading body like the Central Committee. The procedures for voting and elections at the highest level of the Soviet hierarchy were a sort of pseudo-democratic mechanism (in official Soviet jargon, it was called an inner party democracy), and were important parts of the Soviet totalitarian system. The Brest Peace Treaty was remarkable in this respect. In 1918,Lenin had tremendous authority as a charismatic revolutionary leader
Lenin’s authority as a charismatic revolutionary leader was enormous. Yet, without the endorsement of his colleagues, he was unable to make the decision to sign the peace treaty with Germany that he thought was necessary to save the newborn Soviet republic. Lenin initiated hot debates in the Central Committee about the expedience of the treaty, and won, following adamant arguments with opponents to the peace. The introduction of the NEP in 1921 also led to fiery debates within the party [since many leading party apparatchiks were against the NEP as the return to capitalism..
Under Stalin, especially in the early 1930s, neither of the highest party institutions—the Politburo and the Central Committee—had an impact on his strategic decisions. Publicly, however, Stalin still attributed the Politburo with great importance. The whole country knew the members of the Politburo; they were even referred to as “the leaders” (vozhdi). During demonstrations, the participants held up not only pictures of Stalin, but also of the members of the Politburo. The popular mind was convinced that Stalin relied on the experienced and respected colleagues who helped him to run the country effectively.
As a sign of recognition for their contributions to the revolutionary cause, Stalin named dozens of big cities after key members of the Politburo, and the Moscow Metro after Lazar Kaganovich. Stalin used the Politburo as an instrument to increase his legitimacy as the supreme leader. His demonstration of respect for the Politburo was also a tribute to their so-called “collegial leadership,” one of the dogmas of Soviet leadership. The importance Stalin attributed to the party body was clearly manifested at the 19th party congress in October 1952. The transformation of the Politburo into the much larger Presidium of the Central Committee was the central event of the Congress. After Stalin’s death, the role of the top party institutions, the Politburo (after 1952, the Presidium) and the Central Committee, was restored.. Both of these institutions played a crucial role in the installation of Khrushchev as the leader of the country in 1957, and in his dismissal in 1964, as well as in the later transitions of power to Brezhnev in 1964, Andropov in 1984, Chernenko in 1984, and finally to Gorbachev in 1985.
The party institutions played a role in the decision-making process in other cases too, some secondary, others very important. During the Cuban crisis in 1962, Khrushchev was evidently the major decision-maker in Moscow. However, he regularly conferred with the Politburo. Yet, it was his insufficient respect for the opinions of “others,” later labeled “adventurism” and “voluntarism,” that was given as one of the reasons for ousting him as the country’s leader two years later. Most of the important geopolitical decisions made by the Kremlin after Khrushchev’s dismissal, such as the invasions of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979, the fate of Solzhenitsyn in 1974 (to arrest him or exile him to the West), as well as the fate of Jewish emigration in 1973 (to permit it or to persecute those who applied for exit visas from the socialist motherland) were intensively debated at the meeting of the Politburo in full house or a reduced format (as was the case with the war with Afghanistan).
Vladimir Putin looks to be a complete exception to the Russian history of the 20th century, including Stalin. Indeed, for the entire past 15 years, Putin has ruled Russia as an absolute despot. He has not been restrained by any external political forces, institutions or social groups.
In no way can Putin’s regime be labeled as a junta because it is impossible to name any other person who has been politically influential in the Kremlin. It was definitely not Dmitry Medvedev, the Prime Minister, whom the public unanimously viewed as a puppet unable to gainsay his boss on any issue. Nobody has mentioned anything about a political role for Sergei Ivanov, the head of the presidential administration, or foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, or the Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, or Igor Sechin ,the head of the Rosneft, the biggest state oil company.
It would be wrong to see Putin’s regime as some sort of oligarchy; that presupposes the active participation of rich people in the direct running of the country. This did happen during Yeltsin’s regime, when people like Boris Berezovsky participated in the Kremlin decision-making process, and played a key role in the appointment of Putin as Yeltsin’s successor. Under Putin, however, the oligarchs ceased any political activity.
Here are the facts to support this thesis: the 10-year prison term for the richest person in Russia, Mikhail Khodorkovsky; the miserable attempts of Mikhail Prokhorov, a leading oligarch, to play even a modest oppositional role in the country; the total political passivity of Putin’s so-called oligarchs—they all owe their fortunes directly to Putin—like Oleg Deripaska, Yurii Kovalchuk or Arkadii Rotenberg; the arrest in September 2014 of Vladimir Evtushenkov, a big Moscow magnate; and the flight of some oligarchs abroad. It would be ridiculous to talk about the oligarchs as being able to act as a restraining force for Putin. The oligarchs did not say one word of critique for Putin’s foreign policy after 2011, despite the fact that their businesses were among the main targets of the sanctions against Russia, as well as, with the ban on travel abroad, their quality of life. We see, instead, passive support for Putin’s foreign policy and his extirpation of the last vestiges of democracy in Russia.
The behavior of Putin’s oligarchs delivers a mortal blow to the simplistic dogma that big capital will support liberal, even democratic, tendencies in a society. In fact, Putin’s regime belongs to the category of political constructions that have been labeled as Bonapartist (or Caesarist or Peronist) regimes in the past. This type of regime presumes a strong authoritarian leader who is independent of any special social group, and who flirts with almost all of them but mostly relies on the regime’s popularity among the masses. By definition, such a regime has no coherent social program and mostly operates with a simplistic nationalist ideology, usually fomenting the xenophobic instincts of the masses. The major goals of the domestic and foreign policies of such a regime are submissive to the leader’s desire to keep his personal power through any and all means. Of course, such a regime does not tolerate any opposition. At the same time, with a record of the criminal deeds committed during his rule, the leader of such a regime should fervently try to stay in power as long as possible and/or, depending on the circumstances, try to transfer the power to the members of his family.
Keeping in mind the nature of his regime and the specifics of his personality—extraordinary narcissism one of them— as the leader of Russia, Putin is a source of danger to the West, and, in many respects, especially for the USA. We can single out four of the reasons this is true:
The Danger number one: Dragging the world into war
The phenomenal rise in Putin’s popularity after the seizure of Crimea, combined with rabid anti-Americanism, shows how easily Putin’s Caesarist regime can sustain its popularity among the masses with small victorious wars. This new military adventure, with its proclaimed goals of restoring the Soviet empire (even partially), along with the pride of the Russian people after years of humiliation, and of imposing fear on its neighbors, makes it clear that Putin, with nuclear weapons under his control, can seemingly sustain his power indefinitely.
Meanwhile, there are no forces inside the country that can restrain the military adventurism of a leader like Putin. Democratic institutions, including a free media and real opposition, are absent. As the developments in 2011-12 showed, the Russian parliament is ready to endorse any aggressive initiative its leader wishes to take. At the same time, no single social group, like the national or local elites, or the oligarchs, is able to proscribe the leader from confronting all of the neighboring countries and the West, and from replacing the real geopolitical interests of Russia with his personal ambitions and whims. In the last two years, Putin has systematically pumped up the military hysteria in the country, describing threats from NATO, and the USA in particular, as real and imminent. What is more, by the end of January, Putin had suggested to his people that a war with the West is already going on because it is “ the NATO legion, and not the Ukrainian army, which is fighting against Russian allies in Donbas.” He has regularly talked about the necessity of increasing military expenditures. See, for instance, his speech at the meeting of “The Military Industrial Commission” on January 20, 2015. The content of the speech forces one to think that “the war will be tomorrow.” Putin spoke about the threat to “the sovereignty of Russia, its territorial integrity and national interests.” Dramatic terminology like this was only used during the war with Germany, never later; no Soviet leader, including the most belligerent one, Yurii Andropov, displayed concerns about the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their country.
It is not surprising that the possibility of a new global war has already become a part of the mindset for many Russians. According to data from the Levada Center, more than one quarter of the population believed there would be military conflicts with neighboring countries in the near future at the beginning of 2015, and 16 percent, a very large number, even thought there would be a war with the USA/NATO. Very few Russians would be shocked if a war, initiated as the Kremlin TV will suggest by America but with Russia’s active participation, were to start in one corner of the planet or another. The Russians’ psychological preparedness toward a war is, by itself, a powerful factor pushing Putin to new military adventures.
The danger number two: The hotbed of anti-Americanism
The hysterical anti-Americanism in Russia should be treated as a special danger to peace in the world. Putin himself is the major curator of anti-Americanism in Russia. While anti-Americanism had been an important part of the Soviet ideology since the end of World War II, none of the Soviet leaders, including Stalin, were as passionately hostile to the USA as Putin is. Inspired by Stalin, the Konstantin Simonov play “The Russian question” (1947), even with all its critical animadversions against America, now looks rather warm toward American society, when compared with what Russian journalists and writers are currently writing about the USA.
In 2011-2012, Putin made anti-Americanism the core of the country’s official ideology and propaganda. Hatred of the USA is cultivated by governmental TV, by pro-governmental newspapers, by the State Duma, and by all Russian officials. In the last few years, Putin has not missed any opportunity in his public statements to show that the USA is a committed enemy of Russia, with intentions of destroying their country and eliminating its role in the world.
Since that time, anti-Americanism has become the core of the Kremlin’s official ideology, and the key to explaining any negative developments that might be dangerous to either Putin’s rule in Russia or to his standing in the world. Only the “class struggle” theory that was dominant in Soviet ideology was used as widely as anti-Americanism is being used to explain everything in Putin’s Russia. The Kremlin’s latest application of anti-Americanism was to make it the key to understanding a political development: Russian media declared that the terrorist act against the French newspaper “Charlie Hebdo” in January 2015 was organized by the American special services.
As seen in the data produced by all of the Russian polling firms, anti-Americanism has become a part of the mindset of 80 percent of the Russian people. The educated class in Russia, effectively corrupted and intimidated by the Kremlin, has mostly joined the masses in their hatred of America. Only a tiny minority of Russians, probably no more than 10-15 percent of the population, has managed to retain common sense in their attitudes toward the USA. Putin has successfully exploited nostalgia for the defunct empire, for the Greatness of Russia, and for her special role in history. What happened with the spread of anti-Americanism in Russia in 2011-2012 clearly mirrors almost the same outburst of nationalism found in Germany in the 1920s, where the Versailles treaty replaced America as the target of hatred, and as a mobilizing force for the creation and sustenance of the totalitarian regime.
[The ruling elite and the educated class ignore that Anti-Americanism, and any such feelings toward the West in general, has a negative influence on the economic development of the country, as well as on the state of science and education.] Anti-Americanism and the Russian Orthodox Church, which has become a strong ally of the regime and is known for her deep hatred of Western culture, pushes Russian society further and further into the abyss of obscurantism.
This is particularly dangerous to the West for two reasons. First, as stated above, the people’s belief that the USA has evil intentions toward Russia has created the conviction of possible attacks on Russia by the USA.
Second, as the champion of anti-Americanism in the non-Muslim world, Putin’s Russia encourages hostility toward America across the world, and especially in Europe, where the Putin administration supports any political movement with anti-American slogans. The party of Marie Le Pen in France is only one example. In its hatred of America, the Kremlin is even ready to flirt with radical Islam.
The Danger number three: The chaotic change of regime, when it happens
Since the demolition of the monarchy in 1917, the transition from one leader to another has always been a weak spot for the Russian state. With his domestic policies, Putin has tremendously increased the probability that his disappearance from the Russian political scene will see this country in possession of nuclear weapons engulfed in chaos and the process of disintegration.
Putin has not only eliminated the opposition, he has made it impossible for the Russian population to be informed about the programs and activities of oppositional politicians. Moreover, he has prevented politicians loyal to him from emerging in popularity. Indeed, according to the Levada Center survey (December 2014), in which the respondents answered questions about possible candidates for the presidential election, only two politicians got more than 1 percent—Putin and Gennadii Ziuganov, the leader of the Communist party, who received 4 percent.
The country would have huge problems finding people whom the Kremlin could invite onto TV to appeal to the Russians, particularly to the elite—central and local—the army and the security forces, and who would be able to retain the unity of the country and convince them obey the new leadership.
The comparison with Stalin is very instructive. The existence of the Politburo as a prestigious institution, even if it was mostly passive, played a crucial role when the despot, who had not designated his heir, died. It was evident to the army and the KGB that the members of the Politburo represented the supreme political power, and all of the institutions obeyed the orders issued by Beria, Malenkov and Khrushchev.
The conclusion
As a relatively rare case in contemporary history, Putin personifies the leader of a country whose unpredictable behavior is totally subsumed by the preservation of his personal power, and who is a source of danger not only to his country but to the world. Putin’s behavior is unrestrained by any institutional or social forces. This means that Western governments should always prepare plans “B,” “C,” and even “D” for dealing with contemporary Russia. The risk of military conflicts has increased enormously under Putin’s leadership. Putin is, without a doubt, a danger to the USA and the West. Putin’s Russia should be included on the list of the major threats the West faces today.

27 ноября, 2014

Putin’s Centrality in Russian politics and the myth about the American Guilt

Filed under: Uncategorized — shlapentokh @ 7:06 пп

Putin’s Centrality in Russian politics and the myth about the American Guilt

Vladimir Shlapentokh

The world is currently witnessing the growing deterioration of Russian-American relations. Provocative deeds by Russian military forces against the members of NATO are particularly ominous, and talks about a new cold war or even WWIII have become almost normal in the Russian and international media.

Let us imagine a scenario from Stanley Cramer’s movie On the beach (1956)—that few people survive a nuclear holocaust in 2018, the final consequence of an accidental confrontation between Russian and NATO fighters in Estonian airspace. They are trying to understand the events ultimately accountable for the end of civilization. Among the multitude of theories, two happen to be the most popular. One focuses on Putin’s centrality in Russian politics which, while following the logical course of events, allowed him to unintentionally sacrifice the world in his attempt to keep his personal power. Another sees the policies of Washington as the crucial cause of the tragic developments, in that their refusal to recognize Russian national interests helped to maintain and strengthen anti-Americanism in the Russian elite and masses. This anti-Americanism pushed Putin and his circle to actively confront America and its allies, which finally led to a chain of events culminating in the resumption of the cold war, the arms race, and, ultimately, the application of nuclear weapons. If I happened to be, by the will of Providence, in the small crowd of survivors after World War III, I would vehemently argue against the anti-Americanist theory, which puts the blame for the destruction of civilization on the foreign policy makers in Washington and whatever mistakes they had made. I would argue instead that it was Putin’s yearning for power that led to the end of the world. This would be the final argument of those who insisted on the crucial role played by single individuals in history against those who offered the so-called “structural” explanations, and who believed in the leading role of mass “objective” processes. It would be a sad defeat of those American and European analysts who, while watching the world slide into disaster, underestimated the role of Putin’s personality and, with masochistic passion, ascribed guilt to the West, especially the USA. In some ways, one of the causes of the catastrophe would actually be the victory of Putin’s propaganda, which has not only conquered Russian minds but also those of many Western experts.

The birth of anti-Americanism as a vision of the world

Since the middle 2000s, Moscow has deftly and persistently created two myths: one about America’s guilt with regards to Russia, and a second one about the deep, spontaneous anti-Americanism of the Russian people. We even know exactly when the Kremlin started building both of the myths—in 2004, in the immediate aftermath of the first Orange revolution in Ukraine, which scared Putin immensely because he saw the writing on the wall for the first time since his ascension to power, warning him of the possibility losing that power. The notorious Munich speech in 2007 revealed that Putin believed the West, and the USA in particular, was behind this revolution. From that moment on, this view has directed his foreign and domestic policies. Since that time, anti-Americanism has become the core of the Kremlin’s official ideology, and the key to explaining any negative developments that might be dangerous to either Putin’s rule in Russia or his standing in the world. Only the “class struggle” theory dominant in Soviet ideology was used as widely to explain everything as anti-Americanism is used in Putin’s Russia.

The myth about America’s guilt has conquered the minds of not only 80 percent of the Russian population, but also of many American politicians and analysts. It is reasonable to keep in mind that many American intellectuals—mostly those from the liberal camp, who are often inclined to take an excessive self-critical, almost masochistic position on many foreign and domestic issues—also believed in the myth that the cold war was initiated by the USA but not by Stalin . Another dubious achievement of the American intellectual community was the praise they bestowed in the late 1960s and early 1970s on the Chinese Great Cultural Revolution, saying that was a great achievement by Mao in his fight against bureaucratization and inequality.

Let us deconstruct anti-Americanism as it has bloomed in Russia. It consists of a few components. The custodians of the anti-American myth are concerned that all of these components be represented in the media on an everyday basis in order to maintain their impact on the Russians.

Component number one: The USA destroyed the USSR and wants to disintegrate the Russian Federation

According to this myth, throughout Russia’s thousand-year history, the West has always intended to do as Putin  said in November 2014—destroy the Russian state to acquire the country’s natural resources, and isolate Russia from the rest of the world. Putin’s ideologues do not miss an opportunity to suggest, directly, or more often, indirectly, the existence of the some “Western center” (or “they,” or “elites” as Putin’s media refer to anonymous Western politicians), now under the direction of the USA, which is continuing this devilish work against Russia. Putin has stretched this view to absurdity, declaring in that November 2014 speech that “America wants not so much to humiliate us but to subordinate us.” As I have seen in my recent personal communications, even the most educated and respected Russian intellectuals share this postulate of Putin’s propaganda.

The Orthodox Church has added a religious dimension to this plot—not only are Russia and its civilization the target of the Western evil-doers but so is the Russian church; the soul of the Russian people will supposedly be annihilated. It looks as though Putin’s political technologists are using the anti-Semitic myth about the plot by the Elders of Zion to conquer the world, but are replacing “the Jews” with “the USA” and “the West,” and “conquer the world” with “conquer Russia.”

The important part of this myth—which is especially dear to Putin—is the idea that the Russian president became the target of Western critique because he saved Russia from the disintegration that was almost inevitable by the end of the 90s. Putin intentionally linked his personal political survival to the survival of Russia as an independent country. A clear sign of his serious concerns about his personal future was clearly manifested by his close aide Viacheslav Volodin who, at the 11th annual Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi in October 2014, declared that «there is no Russia today if there is no Putin.» He added that «any attack on Putin is an attack on Russia.» Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, continued to develop this idea at the end of November 2014. The Kremlin now says that Western sanctions do not aim to change Moscow policy (as it relates to Ukraine, for instance) but to see a change in the regime, which evidently means removing Putin from power.

The anti-American myth has successfully suggested to most Russians that all organizations receiving material help from the West are agents of the USA, whose true goal is the destruction of Putin’s regime. Even such seemingly innocent projects as the adoption of orphans by Americans, or inviting children to spend time with American families serve the same purpose. In the November interview with a Russian journalist, Putin emphatically repeated his readiness to label everybody as an American agent if he or she receives material help from abroad.

The USA, of course, pursues its own interests in the world, which supposedly conflict with various countries on various issues. There is no doubt that the American government has made several mistakes in foreign policy, particularly when Washington has tried to expand democratic order in foreign countries. There are, no doubt, conflicts of interest between the USA and Russia, too, but the USA has never planned the destruction of the Russian state. Concern about the fate of nuclear weapons has always prevailed in the minds of the American elite (let us remember the famous “Chicken Kiev ” speech of President Bush SR. in August 1991, in which he beseeched Ukrainians to stay inside the USSR) , as opposed to any thoughts about creating anarchy in the vast territory of the Russian Federation.

There is one somewhat dissonant note in the myth of Russia as an eternal victim of the West. It comes from another postulate being advanced jointly by the Kremlin’s and the Russian Orthodox church’s propaganda: the moral decline of the West, and Russia’s mission to save the world with its strong Christian values, This, of course, makes it impossible to support, among other things, same-sex marriage—an issue that is almost central in denouncing Western depravity. However, a postulate about the moral decay of the West plays a subordinate role in Russian ideological construction, even if its importance should not be underestimated. It engenders a positive response from conservative forces both inside and outside Russia.

Component two: The whole world is being used by the USA against Russia

The idea of America being devoted to the goal of Russia’s destruction is complemented by another of Moscow propagandists’ obsessions—that no European country, especially the countries neighboring Russia, particularly the former Soviet republics, are sovereign states with their own national interests and their own specific internal problems. Everything about these countries that has displeased Moscow was arranged and directed by the Washington “obkom” (the regional party committee in the USSR), or at least by Brussels. This is particularly true of the democratic movements in the former Soviet republics, which Putin treats as a personal threat, and whose American roots are one of the most unshakable parts of the anti-American mythology. This seems to be a deep conviction for Putin. Leaders, as we know, often believe their own myths.

Removing the idea of their neighbors’ sovereignty from the minds of the Russian people has helped Putin to use the expansion of NATO to the East as his most important evidence of the USA’s ominous intentions toward Russia. Those who live in Putin’s reality cannot accept that the main factor in this process has been the Russian neighbors’ desire for protection against an eventual Russian aggression, the justification for which was found much faster than these countries expected when they were initially imploring NATO to accept them. Russian TV  will not permit anybody to remind the Russians of the bitter history of their relationships with the Baltic republics or Poland, whereas the people of these countries have certainly not forgotten. There is no doubt that the expansion of NATO would be impossible without the support of the American and European governments, but all of these governments quite shrewdly saw, even a few years before the Ukrainian events of 2004 and the Russian-Georgian war in 2008, that this was the remedy to an eventual Russian aggression. In no way did the Western powers see these actions as a threat to the integrity of Russia. Denying the new democracies an opportunity to join NATO only to deprive Moscow of a propaganda argument against the West—which was suggested by several Western politicians fighting a non-existing triumphalism in American policy that looks ridiculous in Obama’s time when with the “reset” policy  many attempts to soften Russian arrogance were made  —would be unreasonable for many reasons, even without the Georgian and Ukrainian experiences.

The Kremlin itself has seemingly ignored the fact that its invasion of Ukraine helped to rejuvenate NATO much more successfully than the increase of NATO’s military potential through the addition of the army of Estonia, or even Romania or Bulgaria.

It would be too costly for NATO to abandon plans to build up the anti-missile installation in East Europe for the sake of weakening Russia’s anti-American propaganda based on the idea of America’s intention to destroy Russia. In fact, the American promise to delay some actions in building the PRO did not change Russia’s anti-American propaganda one bit.

Component Three: The disrespect

While the accusations that the USA harbors intentions of disintegrating Russia and grabbing its natural resources are baseless, they are still are in the realm of possible debate. Other components of the anti-American mythology are utterly irrational. The Kremlin’s obsession with the USA and other foreign countries disrespecting Russia, which has been inculcated successfully into Russian minds by Putin’s propaganda, assumes that everybody in the world should love Russia and honor it. Typically, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky are mentioned as the first argument. Meanwhile, as the Russian media asserts, the USA does not respect the Russian nation, its culture, its state, its leaders, or its ordinary people. This disrespect is revealed, for instance, in the Americans’ desire to give advice to Russian politicians and managers on how to build a democratic and market-based society. The arrival of economists from Harvard and the International Bank in the 1990s, by invitation of the Russian government no less, wounded Russia’s honor forever. Using the logic of this accusation, anybody who dispenses advice, whether reasonable or stupid, does not respect those to whom the advice is directed. It was Putin himself who introduced this element of anti-Americanism, when he expressed anger toward Western teachers of democracy in his Munich speech. He went even further in the November interview, saying that today’s Russian political order is “much more liberal” than America’s. In other words, in Putin’s proposed reality Russians should consider any foreign critique of the regime— political or economic—as disrespectful of Russia.


Component Four: Ingratitude and betrayal

Another component of anti-Americanism looks no less ridiculous than the previous one. America is accused of ingratitude, and even betraying Russia. It is being espoused that Russia has made several concessions to the USA in the past, such as abandoning military bases in foreign countries or cooperating with Americans in the war in Afghanistan, as if these actions were not done in Russia’s self-interest. The Russian media has even talked about “the betrayal,” though they have difficulty explaining the specifics of how America could have “betrayed Russia”.

The myth about the popularity of anti-Americanism in Russia

Along with the myth of “the American guilt before Russia,” another one about the deep anti-Americanism of the Russian people and their expected reactions to American policies toward Russia plays an important role in Putin’s propaganda, as well as in Western critiques of Washington.

The Kremlin actually regulates most of the hatred toward America and the West. Inside the public mind of any country’s people, one can find the elements of various traditions, often opposite in character to that which the political power is currently using as the means of persuasion and coercion to stimulate or restrain. Anti-Semitism in Russia is a good example. From the early 1930s, Stalin and his heirs encouraged anti-Semitism, and made it a leading social issue in the country. Later, Yeltsin and Putin both rejected it as a fundamental state policy, which brought about a drastic decrease in anti-Semitism in the country. The same thing happened in Ukraine after the Orange revolution and Maydan, even though Ukraine was a hotbed of anti-Semitism for centuries, and the most anti-Semitic part of the USSR.

Anti-Americanism declined considerably in Russia in 1990, and was probably lower than in many other countries in the world. Even in the early 2000s, the level of anti-Americanism in the country was quite low simply because, during this time, Putin was flirting with the USA, and cooperating with Washington in Afghanistan and other places.

The more recent outburst of anti-Americanism has to be directly ascribed to the Orange revolution in Kiev and Tbilisi. Putin’s intellectual staff has transformed anti-Americanism into the core of its official ideology, adding to it the fierce and devious media attacks against Ukraine and its people, even if the level of anti-Ukrainian feelings was close to zero only a few years before. It would only take a few weeks, perhaps even days, to drastically decrease anti-American feelings in the country if Putin and his people were to make favorable statements about America and allow pro-American programs on TV.

Putin’s determination to stay in power forever as the major factor in his foreign and domestic policies

Unlike the Chinese Communists who, after Mao, elaborated on the rules to allow a smooth transfer of power from the old leader to a new one, the transition of power became a problem that Russia, after the demise of the monarchy in 1917, could not solve. Putin, who was himself chosen as heir to Yeltsin through non-democratic procedures, has been obsessed with finding ways to stay in power indefinitely since his first days in the Kremlin. The accumulated records of his deeds with a criminal dimension have could been a factor in his desire to stay in power as long as possible; by the end of his first term, Putin had to contemplate the probability that he might, at best, finish his days in a European or Russian prison. Yeltsin had the same fear. Putin was chosen to be the heir because he was the most reliable person among the candidates; the one who was least likely to permit Yeltsin to be sued in court. Indeed, Putin’s first edict as president was to declare immunity against any criminal investigation for Yeltsin and his family. Whether Putin will be as lucky in choosing his heir is a question without answer. In any case, it is not that amazing that the murder of Khadafy or Yanukovich’s flight from Kiev would have impressed Putin so much. The idea that Putin has backed himself into a corner through many of his actions has now become conventional wisdom for many liberal analysts in Russia. In that same November interview, Putin rejected the idea to declare him the Russian monarch but not very convincingly.  He promised to observe the Constitution and to stay in power no more than two new terms. With his record of lying, however, nobody took this promise seriously.

In 2011, Putin had not yet discarded the idea that cooperation with the West could help him to stay in power longer. With this belief, Putin organized the Olympic Games in Sochi—he spent an enormous amount of money and his own personal time, sending the message to the world that Russia is a part of Western civilization. However, the developments in Kiev in November 2011, beginning with the ouster of president Yanukovich, and the actions arranged by the West have, in Moscow’s view, radically changed his view. The days after the victory of the Second Maydan were crucial to Putin’s biography. Since then, Putin has gone into direct confrontation with the USA and the West, assuming that it will help him to strengthen the anti-American ideology, and continue presenting him as the savior of Russia, two essential parts of his political capital. This is the basis of his legitimization, and of his hope to stay safe in the Kremlin for a long time to come. With the total lack of opposition or political institutions that can even mildly restrain him, and with the masses easily ignited with a hatred of America, neither Putin nor most analysts (with the exception of wishful thinkers) see any serious threat to his control of the country. Of course, he has assumed that, with the help of a huge and well-paid repressive apparatus, the various economic adversities which could happen in the future will be overcome.


The view that Russia’s aggressiveness is a reaction to flawed American policies toward it is deeply wrong. It is also wrong to believe that American foreign policy accounts for the growth in anti-Americanism among ordinary Russians whose views supposedly reflect Putin. In fact, it is Putin’s determination to stay in power indefinitely that explains both Russian aggression with respect to Ukraine and other neighboring countries, and the high level of anti-Americanism found within the country. Putin chose confrontation with the West and a break with many elements of Western civilization as a way of creating a national ideology based predominantly on hatred of America, as well as a way of eliminating the remnants of the opposition in the country, and guaranteeing he stays in power for the next decade or two. All of Putin’s decisions on the economy or in foreign politics are submissive to this goal.

The current developments in Russia are an interesting contribution to the centuries old debate about the role that both leaders and the masses play in history. In today’s parlance, the debate revolves around the relative role of agents and structures in the functioning of society and in the historical process. There are cases when structures—political and social institutions, social and economic relations, and traditions in the mentality of the people—allow those who control the buttons of power to not only choose the direction of the developments and stay in power for a very long time, but even to implement their personal whims.

Such is the case with Putin. He presents a high level of danger to his country and to the whole world. So far, neither the Russian who understands the ominous impact of Putin’s staying in power to Russian long-term interests, nor Western politicians restrained by fear of a nuclear war—and Putin has the possibility of launching one—can do anything to remove this dangerous person from the buttons of power. The danger of Putin’s unpredictable actions clearly increased in November, following the meeting of the G-20 in Australia, which demonstrated the big gap between Putin and the world. His foreign minister crossed a line when he declared that his boss is the object of the world’s hatred, and that the world dreams of his being replaced as the head of Russia. Since there is no doubt that this confession was endorsed by Putin, it means that both actors—the Russian president and the Western world—are now involved in a deep confrontation, and have no common ground for solving their differences. Psychologically, there are few examples in the history of the contemporary world of a similar public adversity between the leaders of two camps able to destroy each other; only Hitler and the leaders of the anti-Nazi alliance after 1941 come to mind. The choice of strategy and tactics in dealing with such a power-hungry and narcissistic person demand that Western politicians consult with various experts, including psychiatrists. It is remarkable that during the interview with the Russian journalist on November 14, there was a question about the President’s health, and Putin himself acknowledged that society was concerned about his “bodily and psychic status,” He  assured  his interviewer that “everything  is fine.” In any case, while questions about “psychic status” were raised with respect to Hitler, it was never raised about any Russian leader in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Putin is a leader who will bring a lot of trouble to Western politicians in the near future, with his deep hatred of the West, and especially the USA.

9 ноября, 2014

Moby Dick and the Russian revolution: an intellectual bagatelle

Filed under: Uncategorized — shlapentokh @ 11:05 пп

Moby Dick and the Russian revolution: an intellectual bagatelle

Vladimir Shlapentokh

I finished  finally Moby Dick , probably the first «production» novel in the world literature. Later after  Melville “production” novels  became very popular  in the USA and then also in Soviet Russia. Upton Sinclair ‘s Jungle or  Theodore Dreiser’s novels like The Titan can be treated as the representatives  of this genre but, of course particularly Artur Hailey’s numerous novels devoted to the description various sectors of American economy like Airport or Wheels which we read  in 1960s  with delight in Moscow .  John Grisham’s novels like Firm or Client also belong to “production literature”. However, how much  they all yield to Moby Dick in quality!  I should non even mention best  Soviet  «production novels» which the party demanded from its writers like Panova’s  Kruzhilikha  or Nikolaieva’s  Harvest. How bleak they all –American and Soviet production novels— look in comparison with Moby Dick , its passion, its philosophical and religious reflections, its historical digressions!!     What stroke me however  in Moby Dick it was not its production side. It was a brilliant, almost Orwellian, description of a type of  revolutionary  society where not only the leader, captain Ahab who looks as a revolutionary fanatic, but the whole team, or the whole nation, turned out to be devoted to a great idea— to kill the great whale in one case, or to build a just society in another. The analogy between Ahab’s  utopian dream to kill the whale which became his obsession , and the utopian dreams of the Russian Bolsheviks look for me almost self-evident.  It is unbelievable  but even the idea of death which never quits the novel—from the beginning to the end- is very close to the spirit of the Russian revolution which always demanded from its followers be ready to die for the cause. Igor Shafarevich was very shrewd when he drew the attention to this peculiarity of the Russian revolution citing the famous line from one of the revolutionary songs  —«we should all die for this cause». Indeed, all who were on “Pequod”, Ahab’s ship, died in a seemingly senseless fight with whale with the exception  of the supposedly future author -Ishmael . But are not million revolutionary fanatics and those whom they managed to enroll in their also senseless  fight died too? In generally. Moby Dick is an apology of irrationality if it feeds passion.

.The power of the idea is brilliantly shown  in the novel. Even  the most cynical members of the teams could not resist it.( While Ahab could easily use the repressive methods to enforce  his will, it was his passion which conquer the sailors and made them the obeisant instrument of his design.

No rational calculations, no warnings against the attempts to realize the utopian idea  could stop neither the captain, not his subordinates. It is also  amusing but Ahab as much as an internationalist as Lenin. His team contained the representatives  of all nations on the earth as Lenin’s  Red Army or Cheka. As a true revolutionary Ahab is ascetic and demands from  his sailors to get rid of l passions  playing only very weakly  once with a money incentive.In its asexualism Mobi Dick surpasses even the most revolutionary novels of the Russian revolution.

like   Dmitry Furmanov’s Chapaev or Alexander  Fadeev’s Defeat.

The comparisons between the developments on Pequot and in revolutionary Russia how exotic they look ultimately has simple explanation. The number of the models which describe  human relations are very limited as well as the principles which fregulate human relations.

12 октября, 2014

Putin’s destruction of the common vocabulary with the West hurts the Russian-American relations

Filed under: Uncategorized — shlapentokh @ 6:04 пп
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Putin’s destruction of the common vocabulary with the West hurts the Russian-American relations

Vladimir Shlapentokh

Productive relationships between individuals in a family or office, or between organizations such as political parties (like the Republican and Democratic parties in the USA) and countries (the USA and Iran), require a common vocabulary and demand a common mode of thinking. Contrary to the established view that traditional culture is the dominant factor in determining the human mode of thinking, a powerful agent (such as the leader of a state or a political party) will be able to change his own mode of thinking and, in a relatively short period of time, introduce the same change into the minds of the ruling elite and the masses, especially in an authoritarian society. Of course, different cultures will help or hinder this process. Putin is an example of a leader who, over the course of 10 years, has significantly changed his own mindset, as well as that of the Russian people, about how their country should deal with both domestic affairs and foreign relations. This has essentially deteriorated prospects of collaboration between Russia and the West.
When it became clear in 2000 that Putin’s major goal was to keep power indefinitely, very few analysts could have predicted that he would raise a hand against the historical course Russia took in the beginning of the 18th century—rapprochement with the West— even though Putin was not the first Russian ruler to try to do so. The clear violation of democratic procedures during the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were alarming, of course, but it was still possible to hope that under Putin, Russia would stay in the same civilization as Europe, America, Japan and other countries.
Even the growing animosity toward the West, which took a significant jump in 2006, did not worry Russian liberals or Western public opinion that much. All of them saw the outburst of anti-Western propaganda as merely a result of Putin’s growing concern about his future, since he believed—and not without reason—that pro-Western movements inside Russia and in neighboring republics, like Georgia or Ukraine, directly challenged his chances of perpetuating his presidency indefinitely. Nor do I know of anyone, inside or outside of Russia, who saw this propaganda as an omen of Russia’s intention to retreat from the world of Western civilization. The earlier Communist leaders, including Stalin, who viewed Marxist ideology as a product of Western culture, never turned their country away from Western civilization, even as they turned ideologically away from a capitalist society. It definitely did not happen after Stalin’s death. It is remarkable that in one of his first public statements as the premier minister, Georgy Malenkov called for Western countries to join Soviet efforts to save “civilization” from the threat of “world slaughter.” As we now know from the memoirs of many outstanding apparatchiks like Anatoly Chernyaev, the majority of the Moscow ruling elite had Western orientations in all aspects of their lives, whether they were open about it or kept it hidden. Most analysts, Russian or Western, did not realize that Putin was not simply raising the intensity of anti-Western propaganda in 2006; he was making a critical move by starting the process of disassociating Russia from the West, not only politically but—and this is much more lugubrious—mentally.
In fact, it now seems that Putin declared that he was abandoning the mindset that had been dominant in the world since the Enlightenment; one that was based on rationality and respect for facts proven by science. Jettisoning the common frame for communicating with his Western partners (as he likes to refer to Western leaders), he affirmed in Munich in 2006 that Russian political practices are no less democratic than those in the USA; that nobody in the West had the right to teach “us” democracy; and that Western leaders should “teach themselves” about it.
The Munich speech started the process in which Putin and his operators began to oppose the Western understanding of leading political concepts, replacing them with their own “newspeak.” The concept of “sovereign democracy,” created by Putin’s then-ideologue Vladislav Surkov, was one of the most outstanding products of this undertaking. It stated that everything Moscow considered “democratic” should simply be accepted by the world because Russia is “a sovereign state.” The “newspeak” language that Putin and his team began to create in 2006 was based on a cocktail ideology, which tries to combine nationalist, imperial, socialist, and authoritarian elements, with a focus on anti-Americanism as a major factor in cohesion. Since 2014, the hatred of Ukraine—to the great surprise of Russians and the world—began to serve the same role as anti-Americanism: Often, half of all Moscow news programs in 2014 were devoted to dressing-down Russia’s Slav neighbor, whom they had always treated as their “closest brother.”
In 2006 and subsequent years, Putin threw away Mikhail Gorbachev’s revolutionary deed of 1987-88, when the new Soviet leader called on his compatriots to honor “universal” values and reject the “class approach” that had given the Soviet ideologues the right to interpret reality differently than their Western counterparts. Gorbachev’s “new thinking”—hundreds of books and articles were published in the USSR with similar titles—implied a recognition of the Western understanding of such key concepts as democracy, elections, national sovereignty, and human rights. It was immediately understood by Thatcher and Reagan, who declared that they could deal with this new Soviet leader. Following Gorbachev, Yeltsin and the whole Russian ruling class, not to mention the intelligentsia, accepted this common (with the West) mode of thinking. From Gorbachev on, Moscow was able to discuss conflicts with Western countries in common terms. This is important—since 1989, “relativism” in the interpretation of world events had almost disappeared: Moscow’s descriptions of the developments in Chechnya or what happened at Tiananmen Square were in the same terms as the rest of the international community. Russian and Western diplomats did not waste hours and hours, only to come (if they were able to achieve it) to an identical interpretation of the same event.
Putin started to offer his ruling class and the masses a change in their modes of thinking and of communicating with foreigners in 2006, but he made a radical leap ahead 8 years later, after Munich, during the conflict with Ukraine. The shift to this new way of thinking from the previous, mostly Western, universally adopted paradigms led to a radical change in the Russian conceptual vocabulary.
The Kremlin’s description of the invasion of Crimea in 2014 was the first fully developed example of this. Contrary to the evident facts, Putin and his media denied the presence of the Russian troops there, and insisted that the persecution of ethnic Russians existed, without ever bringing even one fact to light. Putin, Sergei Lavrov, and Dmitry Kisilev, Putin’s main media servant, lied directly to the faces of foreign politicians, diplomats, journalists, and their own people.
It was an unprecedented episode in Russian history. During the notorious show trials in the mid-1930s, nobody outside the Soviet system was able to offer arguments disproving the accusations that Andrey Vyshinsky lodged against defendants, such as data refuting his declarations about subversive activities or spying conducted by Grigory Zinoviev or Nikolai Bukharin. But this is not the case with the invasion of Crimea. The whole world could see what was going on in the peninsula. Dozens of foreign journalists detected the Russian military there. And none of the Russians living in Crimea complained about problems using the Russian language there!
Putin himself has made statements totally devoid of any empirical evidence, such as “the Russian people found themselves in jeopardy in Ukraine”; “Ukraine intended to eliminate (murder) the media people”; and “Ukraine is now plunged into a bloody chasm and into an internecine fraternal conflict.” In his speech before Russian diplomats earlier in 2014, Putin openly encouraged them to continue to work with the same “energy and dignity” as in the past, evidently offering the work of their own Minister Lavrov or of Vitaly Churkin, the Russian envoy to the UN Security Council, as an example. The president promised to support their efforts by increasing their salaries forty percent.
The chasm between the Western and Russian interpretations of reality, which manifested so vividly during the Crimean invasions, was shown again, perhaps with even more dramatic consequences, in the aftermath of the shooting down of Malaysian airline MH17 in Donbass on July 17, 2014. Both sides—the separatists being directed by Moscow, who were suspected by the world of being the airline’s destroyers, and who controlled what remained of the plane and its passengers, and the representatives of Malaysia, Netherlands, Australia and other countries—talked from the point-of-view of their different interpretations of events.
The Ukrainian conflict opened the gates for “newspeak” to come to the fore, introducing concepts such as “the Russian world,” “Novorossia,” or “opolchenie” (a new name for the military units comprised of separatists in Donbass). Moscow and their servants in Ukraine started to use institutions such as the “referendum” in clear defiance of well-established practices, fully ignoring any fact that was witness to the rude violations of democratic procedures. Moscow created “people’s republics” in Donbass, claiming, without showing any empirical data, that they were supported by the majority of the population.
A special stream of ideas about Russia’s place in the world has radically changed the vocabulary endorsed by the Kremlin. The concepts of Russia’s humiliation by the West since the emergence of the country, of Russia as a permanent victim, and as having regularly been deceived by the West (for instance, as Putin recently insisted, during the First World War), are unavoidable fixtures in any long political speech or article. According to Putin, Russia was also, of course, a victim in the conflict with Ukraine because the USA and Europe hoodwinked the country during negotiations about Yanukovych’s fate in February 2014.
The important part of the full recalibration of the ideological apparatus was the negation of ideas that the Russian intelligentsia had held as cherished values for centuries. Putin’s ideologues started to denigrate and derogate such values as “democracy,” “elections,” “freedoms,” “Western civilization” of course, and, finally, “the Russian intelligentsia,” which they have since declared the most vicious and treacherous stratum of Russian society.
Pointing to the USA as the main target of their hatred, and as the culprit of all events that, according to Putin, could possibly damage Russia has reached Homeric proportions. More than ever before, Putin’s regime has ascribed intentions to destroy the Russian Federation in one way or another, as well as fomenting the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, to the USA. Of course, America is also responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Gorbachev was a CIA agent. In making America into Russia’s eternal enemy, the regime has also made it self-evident that any organization in Russia that cooperates with the USA is a tool of the Americans; and those who criticize the regime have been castigated in the media as working for the USA. Putin has expended great efforts to demonize the West, converging with the Muslim fundamentalists in describing it as decadent, depraved, and full of innumerable vices. Putin uses the defense of gay rights as a particularly forceful argument for this thesis. Nikita Mikhalkov, a famous movie director, a talented actor, the official leader of the Russian movie industry, and Putin’s personal friend, is the author of a special program on the leading TV channel. He uses each week to “debunk” one liberal value after another, ascribing unspeakable vices to the West, such as in September 2014, when he spoke of it as encouraging cannibalism.
At the same time, the political vocabulary used in everyday communications by Putin and his retinue is full of religious references. Enriching the official Russian language with religious symbolism in the contemporary context is evidently directed against science and scholarly institutions, and has helped to open the television schedules to the most obscurant programs.
Rehabilitating archaic Russian ideals, which would have seemed practically impossible before 2000, is also of great importance to the new conceptual apparatus of Putin’s regime. “Monarchism” is now a respected political concept, while some of the cruelest tsars in Russian history, like Ivan the Terrible and Alexander the Third, have been transformed into respected statesmen.
In the governmental newspaper Rossiyskaia Gazeta (September 29, 2014), Valery Zorkin, the chairman of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, caused a sensation when he called on his compatriots to revise their attitudes toward serfdom, which he declared to have been a “cohesive” (he was using Putin’s term here) institution for Russia before it was abolished (in the middle of the 19th century), sustaining the unity between the two main classes of society—landlords and peasants.
In creating the new mentality, Putin’s regime has consistently and steadfastly isolated Russia from the world, weakened its technological and scientific progress, and encouraged obscurantism in all aspects of society. The hostility of Putin’s regime toward the Russian Academy of Science is quite strong, as is his disregard for scholars as experts. The regime has not discouraged the continuing flight of the country’s best minds; they consider them a nuisance. When the outstanding economist Sergei Guriev, director of the prestigious New Economic School in Moscow, and a regular critic of Putin’s economic policy, escaped Russia in 2013, it did not arouse a reaction from the Kremlin. It is as if they received the news with relief, as they did the disappearance of other critical minds from Russia.
It is important to note that this new mental construction has not only been internalized by the minds of many ordinary Russians but also by some members of the ruling elite. This makes their communication with foreigners, particularly the world’s leaders, much more difficult than it was when the Kremlin was occupied by the Communists, who had much more respect for science than the country’s current masters. None of the Soviet foreign ministers after Stalin were inclined to lie with the ease of Sergei Lavrov, and, of course, none of the leaders, including Stalin, were willing to deny evident facts as easily as Putin continues to do in his contact with foreign leaders. Neither Churchill nor Roosevelt, who frequently communicated with the master of the Kremlin during World War II, complained of such an issue.
Dragging the Russian leadership and the majority of Russians into this new mode of thinking and communicating is a serious development for the world. It is particularly ominous because it is combined with Putin’s personal qualities, especially his well-known narcissism, and the cult of his personality, which he has nurtured, and which is surpassed only by that of Stalin. It means that the United States and other Western countries will have to spend the next decade or more dealing with a leader whose various obsessions—being anti-Western is only one more—mean that he lives, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel very reasonably postulated in a conversation with Obama on March 3, 2014, in “another world.”
This diagnosis converges with the perception of many Russians, after observing their leader make several bizarre decisions although these decisions may appear quite reasonable if they are viewed as a way of his retaining power; the Crimean invasion certainly managed to generate the now famous “85 percent” support. Several insiders are confident that, even from Putin’s personal perspective, his actions (like the ban on food imported from Europe) appear “inadequate,” a special word in Moscow for deeds that appear to contradict sound reasoning. Yet, the resistance to the new mode of thinking in Russia is rather feeble. Even if the famous 85 percent support for Putin is inflated, and even if they have not all mastered Putin’s “newspeak,” the majority of the population is on Putin’s side. The political significance of 85 will not diminish, even if this number can be partially ascribed to conformism and fear of power, and even if it is, as psychologist Liudmila Petranovskaia contends, very precarious. The significance of 85 is supported by a very important fact: never in recent Russian history has the number of the intellectuals who were critical of the Kremlin been as low as it is now. Even smartest of them, those with a great past record of critiquing the government, have started talking with the same “newspeak” as those whose mindsets are shaped by TV.
The West has always had to live in a world that contains societies with their own conceptual apparatus’, and has sought ways of communicating with them. Sadly, there are no high hopes that Russia will quit using the “newspeak” into which Putin has dragged the country anytime soon.

4 сентября, 2014

Unpredictability is Putin’s powerful weapon

Filed under: Uncategorized — shlapentokh @ 4:38 пп
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Unpredictability is Putin’s powerful weapon
Vladimir Shlapentokh

Lacking knowledge about the intentions of those with whom you interact makes relations with them very unstable. This is particularly true when those relations are hostile. The openness of Russian politicians toward their Western colleagues, and the degree of honesty in their behavior, has always had a tremendous impact on the relations between leading powers. At the same time, knowledge about the personalities of Russian politicians, particularly the leaders, has been always extremely valuable for Washington or London, much more than data about many politicians from other countries. The vast undertaking of opening Russia to the West was, in the opinion of many Western analysts, a crucial positive result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, while Putin’s transformation into an unpredictable and deeply secretive leader has become a sinister development in the evolution of Russian-American relations.
There is no doubt that there were commonalities in the assessments made by the West and by Russia regarding the consequences of the anti-totalitarian revolution in Russia. Both the Russian public—particularly the intelligentsia—and the Western public praised the victory for liberal democracy in the USSR. However, there were radical differences in Russian and Western perceptions of this colossal event. In the former case, the focus was on the liberal transformation of the regime; the latter focused on the end of the Cold War, and, among other things, on the Russian leader opening his mind to the rest of the world.
The differences in the evaluation of the results of Perestroika originated from the dissimilar Russian and Western experiences of life during the Cold War. After 1945, Western people lived in a permanent state of fear of nuclear war and the end of civilization. Thousands of articles, books, TV programs, movies, conferences, and seminars maintained a permanent state of anxiety in the minds of Europeans and Americans. Herman Kahn, who became a very popular political analyst in the 1960s, introduced the idea of nuclear war as a “thinkable” part of various scenarios of the future, which meant that Moscow considered nuclear war to be an option in its relations with the USA. The Soviet Union’s success in space only enhanced the West’s fear of the probability of a nuclear war initiated by Moscow.
Stanley Kramer’s famous film On the Beach (1956), which was shown simultaneously around the world, described the last months of the world after a nuclear war. It made a huge impression on the public. In the movie, the last people on earth are doomed to die as a result of a nuclear war. They vainly try to understand what happened and who bore the major guilt for the world ending.
While Soviet society in the 1950s-80s was not free of the fear of war and nuclear catastrophe, the intensity of this fear was much lower than in the USA or Western Europe. The Kremlin always tried to combine its denunciations of imperialist warmongers able to resort to nuclear war with praise for the Soviet state as the guardian of a happy and, of course, a secure and peaceful life for the Soviet people. I distinctly remember living in the academic town of Novosibirsk in October 1962. During the Cuban crisis, while Americans were in a state close to hysteria, my compatriots—scholars and students in the first Soviet campus; all intelligent people —were quite insouciant about the developments in the Caribbean.
In the 1950-80s, overwhelmed by fear of a sudden nuclear war, most Western experts, as well as most politicians and the general public, believed that the danger of a nuclear war lay in the Soviet totalitarian system, and in the special status of its leader, for whom the system provided an essentially unrestrained freedom of action. During this period, democracy claimed to be an instrument for protecting the world from extinction. It was evident to the majority of Western Sovietologists that the psychology of the Kremlin’s master, and his personal ambitions, played a crucial role in shaping the foreign policy of a superpower equipped with nuclear weapons. It was also evident that public opinion in Russia could not play any role in the formation of the state’s foreign policy. (This fact became evident to us Soviet sociologists when we started to conduct the first public opinion surveys in the 1960s, and found that while the Soviet people might be critical of some of the domestic decisions made by bureaucrats—particularly the local bureaucrats—they almost unanimously supported any foreign actions taken by the Kremlin, like routing the Hungarian or Czechoslovakian insurrections. 50-60 years later, the Russians supported the military adventures of their authoritarian president with the same enthusiasm as their grandparents, with up to 80 percent of them endorsing the invasion of Ukraine ).
Attributing crucial importance to the personality of the Soviet leader in making strategic foreign policy decisions, Western governments have monitored the mood of the Kremlin master, as well as his habits and whims, as much as possible, since the formation of the Soviet state. Sovietologists were quite nervous about the mercurial Khrushchev but calmed down somewhat with the seemingly balanced Brezhnev—up until the end of his reign, when the Kremlin made an unexpected decision about the Afghanistan invasion—and then, finally, became highly hostile toward America with Andropov, when the former KGB head began threatening Washington with the nuclear war. With an unpredictable leader in Moscow, it was only natural that the Western world was remarkably united in the 1970s-80s, with everyone afraid of the vagaries of the mind of the Kremlin leader.
Indeed, the circumstances of Khrushchev’s dismissal in 1964, and the accusations lodged against him by the members of the Politburo could only increase the confidence most Western professionals had about the dependence of the world’s future on the psyche of the current Russian leader. In removing him from the Kremlin, Khrushchev’s colleagues raised, among other accusations, the issue—although it was very “ unpatriotic” and was kept secret from the general Soviet public—of the General Secretary’s mental instability in dealing with the Cuban crisis. When Western analysts hailed Gorbachev’s arrival to power, they often pointed to Khrushchev’s behavior during the Cuban crisis.
Almost immediately before Mikhail Gorbachev, Yurii Andropov’s short time in power (November 12, 1982 to February 9, 1984) later served as a very positive contrast to a leader with a very different psychology. In less than two years, Andropov single-handedly managed to deteriorate international relations immensely; he broke off all arms control negotiations, and turned the September 1983 shooting of Korean Air Flight KAL-007 by Soviet fighters into a major conflict (this episode would be compared incessantly with the downing of the Malaysian passenger airline three decades later). In Andropov’s days, the Soviet newspaper Pravda was full of warnings about “the world at the edge of nuclear war.” It was at exactly this time that President Ronald Reagan labeled the Soviet Union an “empire of evil.” In response, Andropov showered Reagan with boundless hatred, not seen among Western politicians after Truman. (An amusing indicator: in 1983, Pravda, whose major function was the glorification of the General Secretary. mentioned Reagan’s name more often than Andropov’s, which prompted me and a colleague to write a New York Times article with the title ‘Reagan — Pravda’s Star’). It is difficult to imagine what would have happened after 1984, if Andropov’s kidneys had not failed and he had spent the next ten years or more as General Secretary.
By the power of Providence, very soon after Andropov’s threatening actions, Reagan was strolling (1988) with Gorbachev on Red Square and being greeted by delighted crowds there and everywhere, also in the Club of Writers (evidence of how obedient the Russian masses and most intellectuals were to the Kremlin), and, for the first time, an elated Reagan could deal with a Soviet leader whom an American president did not have to consider as a source of lies or horrendous danger to his country.
Putin’s movement toward the status of a “volatile dictator” is ultimately the logical result of one factor—his determination to stay in power “forever.” With the gradual accumulation of actions that would promise him criminal persecution if he were to leave the Kremlin, this desire has become an all-encompassing obsession. As a result, Putin’s domestic and foreign policies have become completely subjugated by this goal. Formally, the major task of Putin’s domestic policy had been to sustain society’s stability and democracy. In fact, it was actually geared to eliminate the democratic elements of society and exterminate the opposition.
The country’s foreign policy is also subordinate to the same goal. All justifications for actions taken in this arena—the fight again the expansion of NATO to the East, the building up of anti-missile defense systems, and actions against movements by Ukraine or Georgia toward an alliance with the West—are only a cover for the Russian leader’s genuine motivations. Remember the ease with which Gorbachev dropped the entire arsenal of geopolitical arguments that Russian nationalists had used before, which had been sanctioned by a thousand years of Russian history. Gorbachev and his followers treated these arguments as completely obsolete and detrimental to the long-term interests of the Russians.
Putin has chosen tactics of uncertainty about his intentions as one of his most efficient weapons, because this always works to spread fear among his enemies and the general public. From 2011-2014, Putin’s regime gradually returned to the climate of uncertainty inside the country that had been such an important element of life in Stalin’s society, even if Putin’s Russia of 2014 does not yet reach the 1937 levels. In 2011, the State Duma and the Government started to produce one repressive law and edict after another, which not only restrained the behavior of the people but created the belief that the situation might be worse tomorrow.
After the law requiring the registration of all organizations dealing with foreign political associations as foreign agents, the government issued an edict prohibiting officials from keeping money in foreign banks; the Kremlin followed this by banning state employees, including officers, from spending their vacations in the West, and from buying foreign cars; then the Duma demanded that all citizens declare whether they possessed foreign passports and green cards. Other restrictive actions hit the sales of many imported goods. Closing McDonalds in Moscow in August 2014 was another unexpected move by Putin, seemingly necessary in his opinion to sustain enmity with the USA. The country has started to guess at what new restraints will come tomorrow. The huge army of bureaucrats, as well as the entire population, now lives in a climate of uncertainty.
This uncertainty spread into relations between Putin and the international community following the seizure of Crimea in 2014.
The unexpected seizure of Crimea in March 2014 was a crucial event in the demonstration of a new style of foreign policy for Putin. Seizing Crimea was a shock to the world not only because of the insolent aggression on a sovereign country but because Moscow did it unexpectedly, forcing all of its neighbors and the major powers in the world to tremble and try to guess what Russia’s next steps would be. The whole world participated, for instance, in guessing Putin’s intentions about the invasion of Ukraine in March-April: would it only be Donbas, or would it also be Kharkov or perhaps even Dnepropertrovsk? On September 1, Putin indeed declared as a rather nonchalantly ,again bedazzling the world that his forces could sweep into Kiev sweep into weeks if he wanted,
Since that time, guessing Putin’s intentions has become a humiliating game for American and European politicians; even the leaders of states supposedly friendly to Russia have been forced to participate in it. By the end of August, Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan—a member of the Eurasian alliance—learned that Putin boorishly humiliated him during a meeting with young people in a vacation resort close to Moscow, having declared Kazakhstan a state that existed only a few decades. In Astana, the republic’s capital, his statement only generated a pessimistic view about the Russian president’s future intentions toward Kazakhstan, the country with big Russian population.
The unpredictability of Putin’s foreign policy has become one of the main instruments for spreading fear of Russia to the world, which Putin and his subjects view as a major sign of the restoration of “Russian pride.”
During the meeting Putin had with the heads of parliamentary factions of the State Duma on August 14th in Yalta (Crimea), the speakers required Putin to make the world fear Russia even more. For this purpose, Putin’s myrmidons demanded, in an evidently arranged request, that Russia abandon its membership in several international organizations, and they also asked Putin to cancel several international agreements, hoping that these steps would increase fear of Russia. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Putin’s jester, is recognized as one of those who divulges Putin’s ideas if the president does not want to publicize them himself. At the Crimean meeting, Zhirinovsky mused, in Putin’s presence and without his direct objection, how nice it would be if the Russia of 1812 had stayed in control of Paris through today, and if it had controlled the whole of Europe in 1945; and what a pleasure it would be if the whole world were afraid of Moscow.
To the joy of a Russian public animated by xenophobia stemming from governmental TV, Putin has cultivated contempt toward his “partners,” as Putin’s refers to the USA or England. He openly lies to them, encouraging and ordering his foreign minister and, of course, the media to lie without any concerns about the full destruction of trust in him and in his diplomacy. (His foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has surpassed everybody in the history of Russian diplomacy, with the possible exception of Stalin’s Foreign Minister, Andrei Vyshinskii, in rude and obscene deceptions). Lying to foreign politicians incessantly, Putin takes special pleasure in humiliating them. The mean treatment of American ambassador Michael McFaul during his in two year service in Moscow is an unprecedented case in the history of Russia-American relations. He also kept President Obama and the Secretaries of Defense and State sitting and waiting for an hour before meeting with them. Russians have received all of Putin’s actions in showing disrespect for his “partners” with joy, elated to see another achievement in the restoration of Russia’s pride, such as when he chose the seizure of Crimea as a radically new foreign policy course. Putin was sure that the West, with the public’s inclination toward appeasing aggressive powers, would not react to his belligerent actions militarily.
As history shows, spreading uncertainty in society demands a massive cult surround the leader. Indeed, Putin’s regime has made the cult of the leader one of its major spheres of activity, eclipsed in scale only by the official adoration of Stalin in the mid-1930s. Putin’s cult has demanded the continuing persecution of everybody who dares to be critical of the man; it has implied a permanent increase in the number of people who have abandoned their previous liberal ideas and begun to extol the dictator, in some cases vulgarly, like film director Nikita Mikhalkov, and in some cases more elegantly, as recently seen by the leader of the Communist party, Gennadii Ziuganov.
The Crimea adventure has been used by Putin as a new stage in the cultivation of his personality. He started by describing himself, through the servile media and politicians, as the “collector of the Russian lands”; as the heir of the Russian tsars; as the Russian ruler who corrects the mistakes of his predecessors; and as a person who bravely took responsibility for “the Russian world,” i.e., for all Russians on the planet, in whatever country they may now live.
There are many signs that Putin is contemplating some way to entrench himself in ruling Russia as a sort of monarch. It is noticeable that the Russian media has begun glorifying all of the Russian tsars, including such monsters as Ivan the Terrible and such a mentally ill person as Paul the First, following Stalin’s example (Stalin did exactly the same thing in the last decade of his life).
At a recent meeting with the heads of the parliamentary factions of the State Duma (August 14, 2014), Putin accepted, without even a shadow of confusion, the media’s talk of deification of his person. He did not even issue a mild rebuke to Zhirinovsky, who begged Putin to proclaim himself emperor. Of course, this amazed nobody because this myrmidon always speaks what is on Putin’s mind.
After Stalin, no Russian leader’s personality has been as important to the world as that of Putin. He entered the grand political scene in 1999 as an obscure figure, even to people who worked with him. Articles asking “Who are you, Mr. Putin?” invaded the media and scientific magazines both inside and outside of Russia. 15 years later, when Putin has made one unexpected move after another, the same question remains very appropriate for any author who is not complacent in affirming that he knows the answer. Meanwhile, with Putin conducting such dangerous foreign activities, a correct answer is much more important than it was in the past.
This piece, has attempted to look at the current Russian president mostly from one perspective—the predictability of his behavior, particularly as it relates to his relations with the USA, and with the West in general. Conclusions are mostly based on the known facts. Analysis brought the following conclusions about Putin’s personality:
• He presents himself as a quasi-monarch with a passionate, and, by Russian history standards, extraordinary love of power. At the same time, he is truly indifferent to the long-term interests of his country. As a central feature of his vision of the world, we can point to his anti-democratic beliefs, with a veneration of fear as the most effective instrument for dealing with people. His belief in fear is combined with another trait—his confidence in the necessity of forcing people with whom he deals to live in a state of uncertainty about his unexpected decisions. This belief in fear as the best regulator of human behavior is combined with a well-honed (by the KGB) love of secrecy and a mistrust of all other people.
• He evidently has megalomaniac and narcissistic tendencies, strongly believing in his physical might and in his own wisdom. His narcissism includes boasting of the new weapons being made in Russia, a type of behavior that cannot be found in any other country in the contemporary world except North Korea.
• As with most dictators, he is not ashamed to construct a cult for himself within the country. He enjoys what the whole country, including his closest advisors, repeat incessantly: that all of the decisions for the country are made only by him, and that no political institution can restrain him. He likes to sadistically humiliate his opposition and Western politicians. He is full of disrespect and hatred for the West, ready to lie to foreign governments and, of course, to his own people. Ultimately, his hatred of the West has its roots in his strong, and reasonable, belief that Western values are deeply inimical to his desire to be some sort of a new monarch of Russia.
• A portrait of Putin would be incomplete if we did not add other features that must be taken into account when dealing with him. Despite his tendencies toward megalomania and narcissism, he is definitely not the crazy person that many labeled him when he took actions that were clearly against the interests of Russia, such as spending $50 billion on the Olympic Games in Sochi with the obvious goal of earning the sympathy of the West, and then destroying that in one stroke with the incursion into Crimea. Putin often comes across as a cautious and sober man. At the same time, he is able to make decisions that are not traditional for Russia, such as pursuing a liberal policy toward the Jewish population in Russia, and, to some degree, even toward Israel. He is definitely smart and able to operate with data; he is also a good polemicist. Putin definitely does not lack for humor (even if it is often very crude), which only increases his popularity among ordinary Russians.
• Facing Putin is a challenge for any politician. Machiavelli could hardly have found a more ideal candidate for his prince in the beginning of the 21st century. But the great Florentine certainly could not give us advice on how someone who is honest, peace-loving and not cynical can successfully confront a demonic person like Putin. Still, he would probably suggest not trusting a single word uttered by this man, as well as being steadfast and ready to be involved in a risky game. If these suggestions are not followed, the USA has a greater chance of yielding to Moscow, even if the economic and military capacity of the West are superior to the weaker army and economy of the Russian dictator whose only great advantages over his enemies are his arrogance and skill in spreading fear with his sudden decisions.

24 июня, 2014

The difficulties of predicting an authoritarian leader’s behavior:Putin and Crimea

Filed under: Uncategorized — shlapentokh @ 4:43 пп

The difficulties of predicting an authoritarian leader’s behavior: Putin and Crimea

                        Vladimir Shlapentokh



There is no doubt that the invasion of the Crimea in March, 2014, with its ensuing developments, was a turning point in world geopolitics. It was an excellent example of how an event of such a scale can turn out to be almost completely unpredictable, even if the retrospective analysis found a great many signs that could have helped to predict what would happen. Putin’s decision to invade in March, 2014 was as unexpected for both the supporters and foes of Putin’s regime as it was for the politicians and experts in the West. As further developments have shown, the next twists in Putin’s foreign politics were also unpredictable and confusing for analysts.

      The invasion of Crimea was totally unexpected

One of the explanations for why the world was totally unprepared for the Crimean invasion was Moscow’s passive policy toward the Ukrainian turmoil when it began in November 2013. When President Victor Yanukovich refused to sign an agreement about economic associations with the EU, it triggered the events later referred to as the second Maidan revolution.

 Indeed, Moscow’s self-restraint from active participation in the political turmoil in Kiev in January-February 2014 contrasts greatly with its active entanglement in Ukrainian affairs during the first Maidan revolution in 2003. Putin’s absorption at the beginning of this year with the organization of the Olympic Games in Sochi also eliminated any suspicions about any belligerent plans that might have existed in Putin’s head. It was evident that, with hosting the Games and attracting the 50 billion dollars required to garner the respect of the world for himself and for Russia, Putin’s mind was seemingly not focused on defying the international community with a rude aggression. In one moment, however, the invasion of Crimea destroyed Putin’s dreams of the world viewing him and Russia as the symbol of the Olympiad that unites the world.

Before February 24th, when Yanukovich fled from Kiev, it is almost certain that the Kremlin did not have plans to be militarily involved in Ukrainian developments. We can trust, this time, that Putin, despite his normally being a very mendacious person—as the Ukrainian crisis developed, he resorted to crass lies in his public appearances more often than he had in any other period of his 15-year-rule—meant what he said on April 14th, in his on-line talk show with Russian citizens: that the decision to invade Crimea had not been designed even a few weeks earlier. Bolstering Putin’s assertion, it is interesting to note that before the invasion, even though developments in the turmoil in Ukraine were discussed on various talk shows, the idea of a possible Crimean invasion was categorically rejected by the people who usually conveyed the Kremlin’s thoughts.

Yanukovich’s flight from Kiev, and the total victory of Maidan and the pro-Western Ukrainian politicians, changed the course of Russia’s and the world’s history. Watching the developments in Kiev, Putin made a fatal decision in choosing between two alternatives: restraining the Russian reaction by simply denouncing the new regime in Kiev and their Western sponsors, or committing to full-scale involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, with the possibility of annexing some part of Ukraine, and removing any possibility of Kiev joining the West.

There are not many times in Russian history where the leadership has faced the necessity of making a geopolitically risky decision. The resolve to annex a part of Ukraine was one of them (chronologically, the most recent such decision was the judgment to invade Afghanistan in 1979; the earliest was probably Stalin’s decision not to react to the concentration of German troops in former Poland on the eve of their invasion, or to the reports by the Soviet agents in Germany and Japan about the imminent war).

        Again the prediction: what Putin will do next

After the occupation of Crimea in March, 2014, the world held its breath, wondering what would happen next. The Crimean operation looked like it would be the greatest victory of Putin’s reign. It was executed bloodlessly, without victims among either the civilian population or the military. The support of the majority of the Crimean population was almost indisputable. In addition, what was especially important for Putin and seemed to justify his assessment of the risks was that the West appeared to choke down Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, just like it had in his war against Georgia in 2008.

The experts in Russia and the West started a game of prediction. At one point, in the middle of May, the majority of experts appeared to converge on one conviction: in the next week or two, Russian troops would cross the borders and, after easily defeating the Ukrainian army—which had already shown its helplessness in Crimea—would occupy a large part of Ukraine, including Kharkov, the Donbass with Donetsk and Lugansk, Kherson, Nikolayev, and Odessa. Some pessimists in Ukraine did not even exclude the seizure of the central part of Ukraine. In any case, in the beginning of May, many residents in Kiev were afraid that Putin intended to see Russian troops marching on Khreschatyk, the main street in Kiev, on May 9th, the day of the victory that is so sacred for Russia. It looks like, from March-May, Putin suddenly found himself closer to the implementation of his project of partial restoring the Soviet Union than at any time before. On the eve of the Crimean invasion, this had been more of a utopian dream for him, in view of Russia’s economic and military weakness.

             During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the experts could only speculate about the Politburo’s intentions—whether Moscow would continue its march to the South, toward the Indian Ocean. In this case, Putin himself declared, without ambiguity, that his next move would be to the South and central parts of Ukraine, which the Kremlin labeled a failed state; a territory without its own state in the past; and an eternal part of Russia.

          The denigration of Ukraine and its culture—an example of schizophrenic propaganda

             In March and April, Putin’s Russian TV did not seem to consider any limitations to the denigration of everything related to Ukraine. The Moscow propaganda started an all-out attack on Ukraine, its history, its people, and its heroes. Ukrainian history was deeply distorted, and Ukrainians were accused of having always plotted against Russia.

The intensity of this ideological attack on Ukraine could only be compared to the propagandistic warfare against Germany following the Nazi invasion. By the way, during the war against the Nazis, Stalin was very careful not to go too far in the ideological offensive against Germany, excluding German culture, like its classic literature and music (only German classic philosophy and military theorists such as Clausewitz were denigrated), and definitely foregoing comments on the German language, which is in huge contrast to the way the Ukrainian language is mocked on Russian TV. In composing their diatribes against the Ukrainians, the Kremlin propagandists were not the least bit bothered by the high proportion of Ukrainians in the Russian political and business classes, nor by the marital intermingling of both nations. Watching Russian TV during this period created the feeling that the Kremlin had decided to inculcate the hatred of Ukraine into Russian minds, presenting them along with the USA  as the most hostile country in the world toward the Russian people.  

Patriotic hysteria

Never in the history of Russia has the chauvinistic and anti-Western ecstasy, bordering on pathological hysteria, reached such a level as in April of 2014. It was evident to anyone who had even a superficial knowledge of the mechanisms of the autocratic regime that the Kremlin had fomented this patriotic madness. However, nobody thought, even among all those who had never discounted the nostalgic feelings of the Russians, either inside or outside of Russia, that, in a few short weeks, the absolute majority of Russians—including many refined intellectuals—would turn themselves into people who had lost their common sense. It looked as though 20 years of life in a relatively open society had been washed away; as if the Russians had voluntarily returned to the gloomiest days of Stalin’s era, when most Russians believed in the veracity of show trials in the 30s, or in the doctors’ plot in the early 50s.

The leading television journalists, like Dmitry Kisilev or Vladimir Soloviev, were indeed successful in tapping a heretofore unforeseen gigantic reservoir of nostalgia for the empire, and a yearning to live in a “great country” (the world has seen this before in Germany, on the eve of Hitler’s ascension to power). The calls for following Ukraine with a march into Poland, and even the return of Alaska were included in the propagandistic agenda. Putin, in his talk show with Russians in April, almost seemed to take the Alaska idea seriously.        

From a weak leader to his deification: the immediate influence of the Crimean invasion

Russian media turned the invasion of Crimea into Putin’s personal triumph. His popularity reached the highest possible levels in Russia, up to 80-90 percent. It practically became impossible to say a critical word about him or his actions publicly; he had gained the status of national hero.

In a few days, the Putin who was portrayed in Western media as a weak leader whose main occupation was to destroy his potential rivals, such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky or Alexei Navalny, became a political Goliath. Without fear of a war with the West, he was inclined to change the international order and destroy its bulwark—the principle of the inviolability of state borders. Putin forced many countries in East Europe to conjecture whether their countries might be in Putin’s map of a future great Russia.

The destruction of the remnants of the opposition

Putin, of course, could not keep himself from using the invasion of Crimea to tear apart what remained of opposition in the country. He introduced the concept of “national traitors,” adding to the list of invectives used against those who were not his admirers. Everybody who did not enthusiastically cry “Crimea is ours” was also tagged as “a member of the fifth column” and as “not a patriot.” “The Crimea case” was used to humiliate the intelligentsia in the same way that Stalin and Brezhnev had done when they forced its most outstanding members to sign various “letters” condemning Bukharin or Tukhachevsky in the middle of the 1930s, or Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov in the late1960s.This time, 300 Russian intellectuals, including people with world fame, were in a hurry in May to sign a letter praising Putin’s wise decision.

    The invasion of Crimea—“Crimea is ours!”—was enough for the Russians to crown Putin as one of the greatest leaders in Russian history. The media has already awarded Putin the title of “the collector of the Russian lands,” and “the creator of the Russian world.” With sadistic pleasure, Russian TV gathered data on the low ratings of Western leaders, Obama first of all, of course. Statements made by oppositional politicians in the West, suggesting Putin’s superiority as a leader over his counterparts in the West, were regularly cited in Russian media. Under the pen of the Kremlin operators, Putin was transformed into the most important political figure in the world.  Supposing the support of the “patriotic majority,” the Kremlin has moved Russia quite far down the road of obscurantism and xenophobia. A new law that the State Duma is expected to adopt would introduce fines for the public use of foreign words. If Putin does not stop extremist members of the parliament, it will be an action without precedent in world history.    

The signs of the next aggressive steps

With the image of Putin as a ruthless, intrepid, canny and strong-willed leader, the expert community almost instantly started to believe in the imminence of a Russian intrusion into Ukraine. The psychological status in Russia had a great deal of influence on most experts. The patriotic rage scared and consternated the world because it showed how far Russia is from being a democratic society, and how much the psyche of the ordinary Russian is ready to greet a new fuehrer. It was considered a clear signal of Putin’s aggressive intentions to go ahead and satisfy the expectations of the masses.

Indeed, several events in Ukraine after March confirmed that the Kremlin had been going ahead with Putin’s great plans, while the Russian population waited in a continuing frenzy of patriotism, fueled each day by all governmental outlets. The hatred of the USA and Europe, which had been an essential ingredient of Putin’s ideology before, was significantly enhanced.

The signs of an imminent war with Ukraine were not only found in the media but in real facts. The actions of the pro-Russian forces inside Ukraine expanded regularly during April and in the beginning of May. Russian troops amassed on the East border of Russia, in a state of readiness to start an invasion. All the activities of the pro-Russian units were evidently created and controlled by Moscow. Credit for the Crimean operation goes to the special services of the FSB and GRU (the army intelligence service). They ran the events in the peninsula perfectly. Keeping their identity well covered, the agents of these organizations executed their missions extremely well, which created the belief in Moscow that these people could do the same in other Ukrainian cities. Two cities looked to be in the vanguard of the Ukrainian operation: Kharkov and Odessa.

However, the crucial developments happened in the Donbass, the coal mine basin that has a majority Russian population, and borders directly with Russia. Here, the Russian operatives organized the referenda, even if they were of very low validity, and proclaimed independence for two republics—Donetsk and Lugansk. Then, the self-proclaimed leaders of these pseudo states—most of whom were imported from Moscow, like the known Russian nationalist Boroday, now the premier minister of the Donetsk republic—demanded total separation from Ukraine, and, ultimately, called for unification with Russia.

After some hesitation, Kiev started to fight the separatists, with a growing number of victims, including some in the civic population. While “the victims” in Crimea before the invasion were a pure hoax, in this case, real losses among the civil population and the Russian citizens have included a lot people from Chechnya and South Ossetia, who were sent by Moscow to join the separatists. Moscow has used this as clear grounds for crying about the necessity of protecting ethnic Russians as justification for the new invasion. The separatists, and in particular, the segment of the population in the Donbass who joined them (reliable sociological surveys showed that they were made up of a minority, no more than one-third, of the population in this region) expected the arrival of Russian troops in the Donbass each day in May. The secret flow of weapons and “volunteers” from Russia to the Donbass could only have been a very modest consolation to the people who were the victims of Moscow’s abetting them in moving against the central authorities in Kiev. Even Russian television showed a woman in Slaviansk, one of the centers of the separatists in the Donbass, who cried out desperately that “nobody wants to take care of us.”

The change of policy: from plan “A” to plan “B”  

In the middle of May, Putin suddenly changed gears in his foreign policy. He undertook some measures which were supposedly meant to bolster his aggressive course toward the West and Ukraine. There were active attempts to make China his ally, which were not very successful. China did not support Russia at the UN General Assembly or Security Council. And, while the new agreements about delivering gas to China over the next 30 years can serve as some sort of consolation for Putin, the economic results of this agreement are suspicious even to officials in Moscow. It turns out that, in order to build the pipes for the gas delivery, “Gasprom” will need big loans, which make their dependence on Western financial institutions evident. The creation of the Eurasian Union with the participation of Belorussia and Kazakhstan is also a very modest outcome. It is remarkable that Nursultan Nazarbayev underscored that this alliance will not have a political dimension. (Before the meeting about creating the Eurasian Union, Alexander Lukashenko said, in connection with Crimea, that he would personally take part in the defense of his country, even if Putin himself were to lead the offensive against his republic).

Evidently, Putin came to the conclusion—perhaps someday we will learn what happened in the Kremlin in May—that his plan “A,” with its fast dismemberment of Ukraine, was too dangerous, and that the cost of implementing this plan would be too high for the country and for him personally. It is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to determine the weight of all the elements of this cost. By all accounts, it was the Western sanctions against Russia and its officials—those implemented in May and those that had been postponed until the future—that caused the change of minds in the Kremlin, despite how feeble they looked to many in Russia and in the West, and how much they were derogated in Moscow.

By the middle of May, Putin’s policy toward Ukraine seemed to change, as noted by many moderate Russian journalists, like Mikhail Rostovsky from Moskovskii Komsomolets. Far from being dropped, though, Putin’s aggressive policy toward Ukraine moved to plan “B.” This plan abandoned the idea of a mass expansion toward Ukraine, included the recognition of the presidential election and the possibility of contact between Russian and Ukrainian officials. The plan also made it possible for Putin to  meet with Petro Poroshenko, the new elected president, in France, in the background of the festivities related to the 70th anniversary of “D” day. At the same time, plan “B” assumes Moscow’s continued efforts to destabilize the country through actively supporting the separatists in the Donbass and threatening to cutting off the supply of Russian gas to Ukraine.

 The information war against Ukraine, as suggested by plan “B,” became more complex. Ukraine continued to be the main attraction on Russian TV .Aall of the news programs in  June started with descriptions of the atrocities performed by the Ukrainian army fighting separatists in the Donbass. At the same time, TV announcers mostly ceased denigrating Ukraine as a country, on the whole, and reported some information about the election of the president and the mayor of Kiev. The thesis of the dominance of the Nazis, or the followers of the Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera, in Ukrainian political life diminished radically after the presidential election on May 25th, when the leader of the radical nationalists, Dmitro Yarosh, got only one percent of the votes.

Special TV programs, however, particularly those of Vladimir Soloviev, remained as aggressive as they had been in the past. In the beginning of June, the participants on Soloviev’s program demanded immediate military help for the separatists; insisted on the necessity of dismembering Ukraine; called for open war against Ukraine and for ignoring the West;  named  the government in Kiev a “fascist junta” and a bunch of criminals including president Poroshenko.

There is no doubt that this program, as well as several others, reflect the agitation created by Putin’s administration with the seizure of Crimea, and by the promise to go forward with the restoration of the Soviet empire. To some observers, the mass patriotic frenzy in June looked as if it had become a loose cannon; as if it was no longer governed by the Kremlin. That is wrong. Putin is working to maintain a patriotic rage  that is ready to support his policy if he decides to return to plan “A.” By the middle of June, though, Putin was seemingly also considering plan “C,” which supposes reconciliation with the West, on the condition that Crimea remains a part of Russia.

The interactions between the egotistical goals of a leader to stay in power as long as possible, and the interests of the nation have always been the subject of incessant reflections. In some cases, the actions of the leader effectively pursued both goals, and the progress of the nation helped that leader to strengthen his position, but quite often, the leader’s and the nation’s goals are antagonistic Having control over the media makes it possible for the leader—especially if he plays on the people’s patriotic or xenophobic instincts, or their nostalgia for a brilliant past—to suggest to the masses that what he is doing is for the wealth of society, even if the opposite is true. Putin belongs among those leaders who make their authoritarian regimes submit to their personal interests over the interests of the country.

Putin’s Crimean adventure is a perfect example. With the seizure of Crimea, the Russian leader’s media whipped the mood of the Russians to a fury of patriotism, which would have been enough to guarantee Putin’s reelection as president, today and in the next several years, if nothing adverse were to happen to Russia. Meanwhile, the cost of this adventure has been extremely high. It stimulated the restoration of the role of NATO; removed any obstacles for the location of an American military installation in East Europe; increased the hostility of all East European countries toward Russia immensely; made Ukraine, its most important neighbor, a hostile country; and strengthened the hidden animosity of all of the post-Soviet republics. Even more important, the deterioration of relations with the West, for a long period ahead, will slacken technological and scientific progress in Russia, and, ultimately, its military potential, as well as the well-being of the population. While Putin enjoyed the rise in his ratings, which seemed to ensure his power, all these other developments are counterproductive to his personal ambitions. It is particularly true of the attitudes of the political and economic elite toward him. It is certainly true that the members of the elite will not dare to express their negative attitudes toward Putin’s adventure in public.

 Putin, whose hubris is extraordinary, also no longer enjoys the status he did before when he travels to the West. On the other hand, perhaps, his aides did not tell him that the international media reported on how he was avoided by many of the participants at the meetings in Normandy.

Putin is evidently torn between two incompatible desires: to continue to bask in the patriotic adulation of his compatriots and savor the idea that his leadership is “forever” ignoring the various risks generated by the further deterioration of the relations with the external world; or, to choose a policy that will bring stability to him and his nation for the next several years. The choice of the first alternative means the sustenance of patriotic agitation in the country, a cold—or even a hot—war with Ukraine, and the deterioration of quality of life in Russia. The second alternative means the de-escalation of the conflict with Ukraine, without abandoning the claim on the Crimea; the radical improvement of relations with the USA and EU, with some friendly gestures addressed to the West; and the restoration of some oppositional activity inside Russia, even though it could mean some risk to Putin’s position as president in the remote future. The choice is existential for Putin personally, and to some degree for Russia and the whole world. It would very useful to guess more or less correctly which alternative Putin will choose.  In any case, though, the West has entered a period in which it has to be ready to live with the unpredictable authoritarian leader of a country equipped with a nuclear weapon.

21 апреля, 2014

События на Украине.Радио «Свобода»

Filed under: Uncategorized — shlapentokh @ 3:31 пп
Размер шрифта
В программе «Сегодня в Америке» мы говорим о выводах отчета ООН и о том, чем может быть чревато искаженное представление о реальности, внедряемое в сознание россиян российскими СМИ, с Крисом Уолкером, сотрудником американского Национального фонда поддержки демократии, Владимиром Шляпентохом, профессором университета штата Мичиган, и Борисом Кузнецовым, российским адвокатом, получившим несколько лет назад убежище в Соединенных Штатах.

Сегодня в Америке: Доклад ООН об Украине


15 апреля Управление верховного представителя ООН по правам человека обнародовало доклад «Отчет о ситуации с правами человека на Украине», подготовленный группой экспертов организации во главе с помощником генерального секретаря ООН Иваном Шимоновичем. Это попытка первого, по горячим следам, независимого расследования оценки событий, происшедших на Украине в последние месяцы. Группа ООН работала с самыми разными источниками на Украине, а ее главе удалось посетить Крым после референдума и собрать показания очевидцев и участников событий на месте.

Накануне появления доклада некоторые средства информации подхватили информацию, распространенную агентством РИА Новости, из которой следовало, что ООН обвиняет Россию в подтасовке результатов крымского референдума. Российская новостная служба ссылалась на публикацию цитат из предварительной версии доклада в респектабельном американском журнале Foreign Policy. В действительности, в отчете нет прямых обвинений в

Российские средства информации уличены в дезинформации российской аудитории

причастности России к крымским событиям. Прямые обвинения брошены экспертами ООН лишь в адрес российских средств информации, они уличены в дезинформации российской аудитории.

В почти тридцатистраничном отчете приводятся данные о нарушениях прав человека на всей территории Украины с ноября прошлого года, то есть с начала протестов на киевском Майдане. Вот как представители ООН оценивают их причины:


«Нарушения прав человека на Украине являются одной из глубинных причин протестов в период с ноября 2013 года по февраль 2014 года. Среди этих нарушений – коррупция и широко распространенное экономическое неравенство, отсутствие подотчетности со стороны структур безопасности и слабость правовой системы».
А вот что эксперты пишут об эволюции событий на Майдане:
«Первый случай применения чрезмерной силы против демонстрантов был зафиксирован 30 ноября 2013 года, когда 290 сотрудников правоохранительной организации «Беркут» разогнали демонстрантов на Майдане. Насилие продолжалось 2 декабря, а затем также 10 и 11 декабря.
Столкновения возобновились 19 января, через три для после того, как на Украине были приняты новые законы о порядке проведения демонстраций. Демонстранты, многие из которых представляли группу «Правый сектор», атаковали государственные учреждения, бросали в полицейских камни и «коктейли Молотова». В ответ полиция применила огнестрельное оружие и водометы. Погибли пять демонстрантов.
Вопиющие нарушения прав человека были допущены со стороны власти и во время самих протестов. В общей сложности погибли более 120 человек. Поступали сообщения о пытках и жестоком обращении с задержанными.

Ответственность за большинство случаев применения пыток, избиения и негуманное обращение с демонстрантами возлагается на сотрудников «Беркута». Так, например, одного из демонстрантов раздели донага и заставили, не двигаясь, стоять на снегу в то время, как один из полицейских снимал эту сцену на видеокамеру».
Вот как оценивается происходящее в Восточной Украине:
«В восточных районах Украины, где проживает значительное число этнических русских, продолжает сохраняться напряженная ситуация, связанная с тем, что этнические русские считают, что их интересы недостаточно представлены в центральном украинском правительстве. 

Поступали также сообщения о случаях нападения на этнических русских, однако такие инциденты нельзя считать систематическими и широко распространенными

Поступали также сообщения о случаях нападения на этнических русских, однако такие инциденты нельзя считать систематическими и широко распространенными. Кроме этого, поступали неоднократные заявления о том, что участники протестов и столкновений между противоборствующими группами прибыли на территорию Украины из Российской Федерации».
Комиссия ООН отвергла утверждения о том, что русскоязычное население Крыма подвергалось преследованиям со стороны властей Украины, но она отметила многочисленные нарушения прав крымчан во время подготовки и проведения референдума:
«По предварительным заключениям, основанным на общедоступной информации и сообщениях представителей гражданского общества, в связи с проведенным 16 марта в Крыму референдумом есть основания для обеспокоенности по поводу нарушений прав человека. В частности, речь идет об ограничении средств массовой информации. По некоторым сообщениям, избиратели к Крыму имели ограниченный доступ к

Иван Симонович (в центре) встречается с представителями украинской общины Крыма 21 марта 2014 годаИван Симонович (в центре) встречается с представителями украинской общины Крыма 21 марта 2014 года

информации в течение недели, предшествовавшей референдуму.

Согласно некоторым сообщениям, в Крыму имели место случаи похищения людей и их незаконного задержания  неизвестными вооруженным группами, а также случаи применения насилия против демонстрантов. Согласно, информации, предоставленной активистами гражданского общества, семь человек пропали без вести. Некоторые из них позднее были отпущены на свободу, однако есть основания считать, что во время задержания они подвергались пыткам и издевательствам. Некоторые из них содержались под стражей в симферопольском военкомате.
Присутствие в Крыму так называемых групп самозащиты, в составе которых, как считают многие, были российские военные в форме без знаков отличия, не привело к созданию атмосферы, в которой избиратели могли свободно изъявить свою волю. По сообщениям, вооруженные лица отбирали у некоторых граждан документы и подвергали их обыску».
Юрий Жигалкин:  Итак, никаких сенсаций и разоблачений эксперты ООН не представили. Они в меру возможностей собрали данные о нарушении прав человека на Украине, предложили свои рекомендации и призвали новые власти страны как можно быстрее осуществить их.

Что кажется наиболее важным в этом документе и самой работе комиссии ООН Крису Уолкеру, американскому специалисту по правам человека, сотруднику американского Национального фонда поддержки демократии?
Крис Уолкер: В этом отчете подтверждается правота тех, кто настаивал на том, что происходящее в Крыму не является результатом естественного развития событий. Самое важное, на мой взгляд, заключается в том, что в этом документе воспроизведена комплексная картина планомерного нарушения прав человека, нарушения права на свободу слова, права на участие в свободных выборах на

Очень любопытны прямые параллели между методами, использованными в Крыму, и методами, используемыми в политическом процессе в Российской Федерации

полуострове. Очень любопытны прямые параллели между методами, использованными в Крыму, и методами, используемыми в политическом процессе в Российской Федерации. Именно это, я думаю, вызывает особое недовольство российских властей. Взять хотя бы запугивание активистов, которые выступали с альтернативной программой, выступали против выхода из состава Украины или практически полный контроль над средствами информации или тотальную политическую цензуру, установившуюся на территории после ее захвата Россией.

Юрий Жигалкин:  Но, по крайней мере, официально, насколько я понимаю, Москву возмутило то, что специалисты ООН твердо отвергли ее версию грубого преследования русскоязычных граждан в Крыму и на Украине. Российское министерство иностранных дел обрушилось на комиссию с обвинениями в том, что картина, представленная экспертами, однобока?

Крис Уолкер: Эксперты тщательно оценили имеющиеся данные и не обнаружили признаков организованного преследования или масштабного нарушения прав русскоязычного населения Украины. Это, действительно, ключевой вывод комиссии ООН, потому что было немало утверждений о том, что на Украине имеет место систематический зажим определенных этнических групп, нарушение их гражданских прав и свобод. В этом отчете сделан вывод о том, что это неправда. Мало того, эксперты ООН привлекают внимание к серьезной проблеме манипулирования средствами информации с целью создания заданного представления о происходящем, они поднимают, по сути вопрос о нарушении права людей на доступ к информации. Кстати, к этой проблеме привлекается все больше внимания в связи с событиями на востоке Украины. То есть мы видим, что с помощью российской прессы создано превратное представление о положении русскоязычного населения Украины, о том, что происходит в стране, и это очень серьезная проблема.

Юрий Жигалкин:  Тем не менее, в этом докладе привлекает внимание крайне негативная оценка и того, как соблюдаются права человека на Украине. Например, эксперты делают вывод о том, что многомесячные протесты на Майдане были во многом именно реакцией на нарушение властями Украины гражданских прав граждан?

Крис Уолкер: Ясно, что так дело и обстояло в течение длительного времени.  Как и в других странах на бывшем советском пространстве, правоохранительные органы используются в качестве инструмента политического давления, а в распоряжении исполнительной власти сосредоточено слишком много возможностей для манипулирования судебными и правоохранительными органами. Новые власти страны дали понять, что они намерены серьезно взяться за решение этой проблемы. Что из этого у них получится, сказать трудно, потому что это невероятно сложная задача. Во-первых, потому что страна стала еще более коррумпирована за время правления Януковича, во-вторых, из-за того, что существование самой страны оказалось под угрозой. Тем не менее, создание подлинного правового государства, я надеюсь, станет приоритетом для властей в краткосрочной или, по крайней мере, среднесрочной перспективе.

Юрий Жигалкин:  Ясно, что этот отчет во многом выглядит своего рода обвинительным документом в адрес России, несмотря на то что там нет прямых оценок действия Москвы, именно поэтому она его так и восприняла. Если учесть недавние акции Генеральной Ассамблеи ООН, Совета Европы, теперь мы видим отчет комиссии по правам человека – не появляется ли ощущение того, что Россия превращается в страну-изгоя?

Крис Уолкер: Я бы не стал характеризовать отношение к России в таких понятиях. Но всем, я думаю, стало понятно, что у Москвы есть планы переустройства Европы. Эти планы, честно говоря, выглядят наглыми, невообразимыми с точки зрения жителя Запада. При этом Москва действовала столь быстро, что европейские и американские наблюдатели и политический истеблишмент, на мой взгляд, все еще не пришли в себя, они очень медленно реагируют на происшедшее. Сейчас они находятся в процессе поиска ответа на действия России. И все эти акции ведущих международных институций стоит рассматривать именно в таком контексте. Станет ли Россия объектом реальной изоляции, пока сказать невозможно. Но и ответ, свидетелем которого мы стали, во многом беспрецедентен.

Юрий Жигалкин:  Что показалось наиболее важным и интересным в этом отчете ООН моим собеседникам, Владимиру Шляпентоху, профессору университета Мичигана и Борису Кузнецову, адвокату, который в прошлом защищал крымчан, обвинявшихся в разжигании межнациональной розни.

Владимир Шляпентох: Этот доклад четко показывает, что степень искажения действительности в российских медиа и особенно в уже ставших знаменитыми программах Дмитрия Киселева была огромная. Можно так сказать, что мировое общественное мнение зафиксировало необычайно большой уровень лжи в российских медиа, уровень, который не наблюдался с 1930-х годов в России.

Юрий Жигалкин:   Борис Кузнецов, как вы оцениваете эти выводы? Не вызывает у вас, скажем так, хотя бы некоторого удивления тот факт, что эксперты ООН фактически оправдали нынешние украинские власти по всем, если можно выразиться, пунктам российских обвинений? Они, например, не обнаружили в действиях «Правого сектора», грубо говоря, признаков преступлений против русскоязычных украинцев, в чем его обвиняют в Москве.
Борис Кузнецов: Нет, не удивляет. Дело в том, что в 1996 году по просьбе Александра Лебедя, который был в то время секретарем Совета безопасности, и по поводу Дмитрия Рогозина, когда он в ту пору оппозиционный общественный деятель возглавлял Конгресс русских общин, я представлял интересы российской общины Севастополя – это был 1996 год, я представлял еще и газету Черноморского флота. Иск был в Генеральную прокуратуру Украины, которая хотела ликвидировать общину, ставила перед судом вопрос о ликвидации общины и закрытии газеты.
Юрий Жигалкин:   А в чем обвиняли ваших подзащитных?
Борис Кузнецов: Обвиняли в разжигании межнациональной розни. Было огромное исковое заявление с перечнем целого ряда публикаций в газете, были выдержки из публичных выступлений, собраний, где российская община Севастополя вела речь о нарушении прав русскоязычного населения в данном случае Севастополя.
Юрий Жигалкин:  Ну и насколько была сложна ваша задача адвоката людей, обвиняемых в разжигании межнациональной розни?
Борис Кузнецов: Дело особой сложности не представляло, потому что из-за этого иска торчали уши украинского КГБ, Службы безопасности. А они, что на Украине, что в России всерьез юридической работой никогда не занимались. И особых проблем не было. Впоследствии случаев преследования судебного, внесудебного – на Украине просто не было.
Юрий Жигалкин:  То есть у вас сложилось тогда ощущение, что судебная система в Крыму работала и права русскоязычного населения можно было отстоять?
Борис Кузнецов: Работала, но это же был украинский суд, и судья была украинка по национальности.

Юрий Жигалкин:  История замечательная, даже как-то не верится в суровые слова относительно украинского правосудия, его ангажированности, податливости властям, брошенные в докладе ООН?
Борис Кузнецов: Дело вот в чем – это мы говорим о нарушении не только прав русскоязычного населения Украины, речь идет вообще о всей Украине, в том числе и нарушении прав украинского населения. Потому что то, что произошло на Майдане, – против клики Януковича встала вся Украина.
Юрий Жигалкин:  Профессор Шляпентох, одна из особенностей доклада ООН, она постоянно бросается в глаза, когда разговор идет о соблюдении прав человека на Украине, заключается в следующем: уж очень очевидны параллели с тем, что происходит в России.

Владимир Шляпентох: Одна из причин, почему Кремль с таким остервенением выступил против Майдана и всех тех процессов, которые происходят на Украине, что это был прямой призыв к российским гражданам посмотреть на уровень коррупции в своей стране и подумать над тем, а нельзя ли сделать что-нибудь похожее и в Москве. Мысль об этом, конечно, не  могла не привести в бешенство Путина и всех тех, кто его окружает. Поэтому Путин не мог допустить позитивного развития событий на Майдане, не мог допустить превращения Украины в правовое процветающее государство. Чего, впрочем, он не хотел допустить и в Грузии.
Юрий Жигалкин:  Но учитывая известное, так скажем, политическое однолюбие россиян, апатию, есть ли у Путина основания для того, чтобы опасаться украинского примера? Что вам ваш опыт социолога подсказывает?
Владимир Шляпентох: Конечно, в этом нет сомнения. Но это старая история, русские цари всегда страшно боялись революции в Европе и в этом видели страшную опасность. И заметьте, что Путин и Кремль очень спокойно относятся

Путин и Кремль очень спокойно относятся к тому, что происходит с русскими в Узбекистане, в Туркменистане

к тому, что происходит в Узбекистане,  в Туркменистане. Например, Туркменистан в этом отношении особенно интересен, там русских преследовали самым настоящим образом. Они обращались в Кремль с призывами им помочь. Им запрещали иметь русские паспорта, над ними буквально в Туркменистане издевались. Но туркменский режим вполне устраивал Путина, он не представлял собой никакого примера для России. То же самое в Узбекистане, то же самое в Казахстане, и, конечно, лукашенковский режим. Но как только в одной из бывших советских республик начинались демократические процессы, эти демократические процессы немедленно объявлялись результатом деятельности Запада, Соединенных Штатов и так далее, весь гнев Кремля немедленно направлялся против этих республик, в частности, против Грузии и Украины.
Борис Кузнецов: Профессор совершенно прав, что это пример для российских граждан, что можно в конце концов воздействовать на эту власть путем ненасильственного общественного движения, каким первоначально и был Майдан. Майдан поддержали не только западные области Украины, но и вся Украина.
Юрий Жигалкин:  Господа, вы сошлись во мнении, что одна из важных мотивировок Владимира Путина состоит в том, чтобы нейтрализовать в России опасный для российских властей пример Майдана. Если это так, то Владимир Путин преуспел, согласно выводам экспертов ООН. Они уделяют особое место в своем отчете о нарушениях прав человека на Украине практике российских средств информации. Вот что они пишут:
«С обострением ситуации в Крыму на Украине начались ограничения на свободный доступ к информации. Одновременно с этим наблюдался значительный рост пропаганды со стороны российского телевидения. В частности, назначенный недавно на должность заместителя генерального директора Гостелерадио России Дмитрий Киселев охарактеризовал Украину как страну, где власть захватили фашисты. Искажая ситуацию на Украине, Киселев заявил, что русские в этой стране оказались перед угрозой физической расправы. Таким образом Киселев пытался оправдать то, что он назвал возвращением Крыма России. 6 марта трансляция украинских телевизионных каналов, в частности Первого национального канала, Пятого канала, канала Интер, в Крыму была приостановлена. Одновременно с этим Украина заблокировала трансляцию в Киеве российских телеканалов».
Юрий Жигалкин:  Давайте отвлечемся от критики ООН в адрес украинских властей, отключивших центральные российские телеканалы и лишивших жителей Украины информационного многообразия, и попытаемся оценить, что сумели сделать российские власти. Ведь они не только, скорее всего, дискредитировали демократический порыв украинцев в глазах россиян, но и смогли поместить свою страну в информационный изолятор. Многие в США, да и на Западе изумлены тем, как можно происходящее на Украине воспринимать так, как воспринимают в России, как можно почти единодушно приветствовать агрессивное поведение собственной страны. Что происходит?
Владимир Шляпентох: Это нечто невероятное. С помощью медиа в стране создан патриотический угар, создана патриотическая эйфория, которая требует от Путина дальнейших шагов. И вместе с тем эта эйфория обеспечила Путину невиданно высокий рейтинг в стране, просто невиданный. И Путин осознал: так можно с некоторым риском сказать, что в его руках имеется абсолютно надежный инструмент поддерживать свой высокий престиж в стране, даже если начнутся экономические трудности, если он будет двигаться в этом направлении. И вот тут, конечно, мы входим в зону неопределенности. Этот угар сам по себе становится независимым фактором, который может толкнуть Путина на весьма опасные действия. 
Юрий Жигалкин:  Борис Кузнецов, по-вашему, нет ли опасности того, что сам Владимир Путин станет жертвой этой пропаганды, поверит в информационную реальность, созданную российскими средствами информации?
Борис Кузнецов: Дело в том, что его на самом деле поддерживает большинство населения России. Поэтому этот миф он для себя не выдумал. Но дело в том, что поддержка стала результатом той информационной войны, которую Путин проводит против всего населения Российской Федерации.
Юрий Жигалкин:  Профессор Шляпентох, у вас нет ощущения, что Владимир Путин становится жертвой этой виртуальной реальности? Ведь трудно представить, что здравомыслящий лидер большого важного государства начнет угрожать соседу военным вторжением?
Владимир Шляпентох: Вопрос, который живо обсуждался в 1950-60-е годы: а верил ли товарищ Сталин в то, что он видел в фильме «Кубанские казаки»? В случае Путина что здесь важно? Путин выяснил, что российское население чрезвычайно чувствительно к патриотическому угару, что российское население, несмотря на 20-летнюю жизнь в открытом обществе, готово верить правительственному телевидению на сто процентов. Это, наверняка, было открытие для Путина. Потому что можно было полагать, что после двадцати лет такой

… можно было полагать, что после 20 лет такой свободной информационной жизни российское население будет более критично и не поверит Дмитрию Киселеву в той степени, в которой оно это сделало

свободной информационной жизни российское население будет более критично и не поверит Дмитрию Киселеву в той степени, в которой оно это сделало. Вот Путин сделал для себя это открытие, это он открыл для себя замечательный инструмент. И это открытие действительно может его толкать на дальнейшие шаги. Это, наверное, самый опасный момент в мировой истории после Карибского кризиса, ибо непонятно, где границы, которые Путин не перейдет для сохранения своей власти.
Юрий Жигалкин:  Борис Кузнецов, Администрация Барака Обамы, громко заявив о готовности прибегнуть к болезненным санкциям, ограничилась пока минимумом и, кажется, сумела дискредитировать санкции в глазах многих россиян, которые не верят в решимость Запада защитить Украину. Как вы считаете, должен ли Вашингтон прибегнуть к санкциям, воспользоваться ими, чтобы привести в чувство российские власти, да и тех в России, кто приветствует расчленение Украины?
Борис Кузнецов: Я считаю, что нужны серьезные реальные санкции, конечно же, нужны. Потому что другим путем Путина не остановить. Другое дело, что есть другая опасность для России – превращение ее в Северную Корею во главе с Путиным, такая опасность тоже существует. И ничего хорошего в этом случае Западу от России не придется вообще, особенно страна, которая обладает баллистическими ракетами и ядерными боеголовками.
Юрий Жигалкин:  Профессор, ваша точка зрения?
Владимир Шляпентох: Я должен согласиться полностью с Борисом, он прав. Есть разные возможные исходы. С одной стороны серьезные санкции абсолютно необходимы. Путин разрушил мировой порядок, который существовал. Последствия нарушения этого международного порядка огромны. Он открыл дорогу к конфликтам во всех частях мира. Мир потерял ощущение стабильности. Идея суверенности государства ослабела как никогда. Поэтому, конечно, Америка должна выполнить свою роль. Но с другой стороны, Борис абсолютно прав, Путин готов на северокорейский путь, он готов, лишь бы был во главе. Если Северная Корея может держаться 50 лет, то почему Россия не может держаться, усилив репрессивные элементы режима, а пока репрессии очень слабые физически. Тут стоит действительно дилемма.
Юрий Жигалкин:   Гигантская и неразрешимая для Запада дилемма?
Владимир Шляпентох: Абсолютно, на уровне Карибского кризиса. Это не вызывает у меня никаких сомнений, и я здесь с Борисом абсолютно согласен.
Юрий Жигалкин:  Ваше ощущение, может ли реакция Запада определить или повлиять на планы Путина относительно Украины, ведь многие аналитики считают, что в отсутствии очень тяжелых для России санкций он будет двигаться дальше?
Владимир Шляпентох: С моей точки зрения, в огромной степени. И сегодня, между прочим, в этих ответах на вопросы он как бы дал в каком-то смысле задний ход. Я также слышал на днях интервью Лаврова на ток-шоу Владимира Соловьева, Лавров был очень осторожен, очень вдумчив, очень настроен на какие-то компромиссные действия. Является ли это приманкой – это сказать трудно. Но во всяком случае западные политические деятели должны сильно размышлять о том, какую им линию избрать с Россией на будущее. Это дело не в Крыме и даже не в Украине.
Юрий Жигалкин:  Борис Кузнецов, у вас тоже есть ощущение, что Путин сильно оглядывается на США и Европу?
Борис Кузнецов: Судя по тому, что произошло в Швейцарии, вот эти четырехсторонние переговоры, с одной стороны, это говорит о том, что Путин по существу, сев за стол переговоров, точнее, усадив Лаврова за стол переговоров, по сути дела признает легитимность ныне действующего кабинета украинского. Особенно уповать на это не нужно, но тем не менее, так или иначе, Россия в лице Лаврова дала гарантии, что силы применяться на Украине не будут. Это, конечно, действует на Путина.


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13 апреля, 2014

Putin’s Crimean «triumph» and his new doctrine:nothing common with the West

Filed under: Uncategorized — shlapentokh @ 2:46 пп


Putin’s Crimean “triumph” and his new doctrine: nothing common with the West

Vladimir Shlapentokh


         Putin has always comprehended that he has no democratic credentials for being the Russian president. For instance, he has always refused to take part in public discussions on the eve of an election. To sustain his legitimacy in the eyes of his subjects, he needs ideological arguments that glorify him as a national leader. Despite these unchanging elements of his vision, Putin’s mind is not frozen at all; it is always digesting and processing new information, which he tries to use to perpetuate his personal power. This, and not Russia’s national interest, is the main goal of his activities.

If we can judge his public texts and behavior, Putin has made recently two major discoveries about himself.  He knows, of course, that his subjects have been inculcated over centuries with nationalism, xenophobia, and adulation of the empire. However, it seems that he did not suppose that his Russians after the experience of life in a practically open society over 20 years would be so credulous. Indeed, Putin has watched with delight the way in which, without any effort, Russians immediately started to believe in the evident lies, like the harassment of Russians in Crimea, and the absence of Russian troops there, despite the obvious facts. Putin was delighted that his dear Russians were ready to swallow the silliest statements about America, or about the nobility of his intentions toward Ukraine. And he was delighted by the fact that only a few Russians challenged his lies, and that he could so easily, even without direct repression, prompt the most sophisticated Russian intellectuals to show their belief in any of the stupidity of his propaganda.

          Even in comparison with the Soviet leaders—with the exception of Stalin—Putin is uniquely free from even the indirect control of any political institution in the country. It is evident that nothing like this is going on in Moscow now. All Russian media and experts are unanimous in saying that only one man makes the decisions for the country. Indeed, there is no one institution in Moscow, not even the Soviet Politburo, which can even remotely restrain him or which he should fear. Nor has he been restrained by fears of international retaliation. When he decided to start the war with Georgia in 2008, he still expected some serious actions against him and Russia from the world community. Nothing like this happened.

The invasion of Crimea was a much more serious aggression against an independent country than the war with Georgia in 2008 , yet the international reaction seemed mild. Putin brilliantly exploited the West’s fear of a global war, which paralyzed the spirit of resistance in the West. Any new successes on the road to the restoration of the Soviet empire guarantees him a new wave of euphoria from his faithful population, and re-confirms that he is, indeed, a great national leader.

Probably even more important and lugubrious than the Crimean invasion was Putin’s jump to a radical ideological confrontation with the West. Until now, the optimists in the West saw some commonalities between Putin’s Russia and the West These were taken as evidence of the essential differences between the Cold war conflicts and the actual conflicts between Russia and the West, because the earlier clashes between the USSR and the USA had a deep ideological underpinning. Now, when Putin offered what the prominent Russian oppositional politician Vladimir Ryzhkov referred to as “Putin’s doctrine,” these differences seem to have disappeared, as can be seen from the official medias leader” does not see his country as having anything in common with the West. Returning to the ideological confrontation, Putin proposed a “new” system of values, with patriotism and concern for the fate of all Russians, wherever they live, as the core principles. This time, Putin denounced the West, not as a class society, as Soviet propaganda used to do, but as a deeply immoral and decadent society. He denounced the Western states and its leaders as those who cannot be trusted in anything, and as having harbored hatred for Russia since the 17th century.

         So far, the whole country, with the exception of a tiny minority of liberals, are intoxicated by the ease of the Crimean operation, and view it as a stimulus for the next steps in the restoration of Russian control over post-Soviet space. Many Russian analysts on official TV rant that, having seized Crimea, Russia became much stronger than before and can now follow a new course in international affairs.

         The West faces almost the same dilemma now as it did in the past—what to do to stop Russia’s expansion. The radical difference between now and the times preceding WWII lies in Putin’s personality. Unlike many other leaders, Putin only submits his foreign policy, and even the expenditures on the army, as a means of prolonging his stay in power through non-democratic ways. From his viewpoint, the West can easily appease him by withdrawing any critique of his domestic rules, stopping any support of the democratic movement inside Russia and in neighboring countries, ceasing any sanctions against his elite, and greeting him as the high leader when he visits. If the West will not meet these demands, it should be ready to raise the risk of a military confrontation with Russia, in the hope that Putin will see the danger of the military to his own existence as the president, with the possibility of criminal persecution if he were to leave his position.




31 марта, 2014

The annexation of Crimea as Putin’s geopolitical triumph or self-imposed defeat

Filed under: Uncategorized — shlapentokh @ 10:11 пп

The annexation of Crimea as Putin’s geopolitical triumph or self-imposed defeat

Vladimir Shlapentokh

From the very beginning of his rule, Putin has assumed that his ability to govern Russia indefinitely was highly dependent on the strength of the ideological justification of his power. Indeed, he was never elected according to even elementary democratic standards. For this reason, the state’s ideology was of primary importance in the decision-making process for Putin’s regime—even higher than for the Soviet leaders. Thus, many domestic and foreign policy decisions have been decided upon in order to cultivate Putin as a national leader and savior of the nation. The obsession with his personal power makes Putin indifferent to the long term national interests of his own country, such as the diversity of the Russian economy, the state of science, the flight of talented people from the country, and, certainly, the development of democratic traditions that the Russians so badly need.
Ultimately, Putin’s hostile attitude toward the West was determined by his belief that Western leaders and the media do not see him as a democratically legitimate leader of Russia, and, for this reason, systematically plot to remove him from power. For the same reason, his attitude toward the former Soviet republics has depended on the character of their regime. If they were authoritarian, similar to his own, the relations between Russia and the post-Soviet republics were more or less good, but if these republics happened to make movements toward democracy, which could set an example for the Russian people, then they became fierce enemies. This inferiority complex caused by lacking democratic legitimacy explains why Putin is so afraid that the revolution in Kiev will indeed usher Ukraine into an era of prosperity as a country. Putin needs chaos in Ukraine, and suggestions for his own people that democracy and an alliance with the West can only lead to disaster.
In the first half of his rule, the main ideological argument in favor of Putin as the leader was the stability of society, together with some increase in the standard of living; in comparison with the 1990s, this was seen as one of the regime’s great achievements. By the beginning of his third term, however, it became evident to the country, and to Putin himself, that “stability” had worn itself out as the basis of an ideological construction. The prospect of economic stagnation, as predicted by his own advisers, makes the future quite gloomy for Putin, who needs popular acclamation as a leader who brings the good life to Russians. The protest demonstrations in 2011-2012, which scared Putin immensely in much the same way as the revolutions in nearby Ukraine had done, made it necessary for the Kremlin to “reset” the regime’s ideology. For geopolitics, a public goal of partially restoring the Soviet empire as a way of restoring the unity of the Russian people, combined with anti-Americanism, was chosen as the new major ideological instrument for the legitimization of the regime. In his address to the State Duma in the aftermath of the Crimean invasion, Putin proclaimed that the West has always, or at least since the 18th century, conducted a policy of “containment” because “we have an independent position and are not hypocritical.” In addition, Putin strengthened the official attitudes toward the West, accusing it of moral decadence and disrespect for Russian civilization and its Orthodox religion. Hatred of America in particular was a leading ingredient in Putin’s third term ideology, not only because it was easy to foment the xenophobic sentiments of Russians but also because the USA was seen by Putin as a sponsor of democratic processes inside Russia, as well as in the former Soviet republics, and especially in Ukraine. Putin was also encouraged by his vision of the USA as a declining power, and by the meekness of the American president.
At first glance, it looks as though providence once again helped Putin in 2013-2014 with the revolution in Kiev, as it had already done with the high price of oil, combined with the timidity and disunity of the opposition. The events in Kiev in autumn 2013 frightened Putin because they offered Russians an example of how to fight a corrupted system. At the same time, the Kiev events offered God-sent opportunities for the Kremlin master to recharge the country’s ideology. Indeed, the events that destabilized Ukraine allowed Putin to play his geopolitical card, which, as seen by his war against Georgia in 2008, he had used rather cautiously in the past. This time, Putin has seemingly decided that entering into a risky game of confrontation with the West can give him the fuel he needs to maintain, and even increase, his personal cult; in his mind, this promises to secure his power for many years, even with the deterioration of the economic situation in the country.
Indeed, Putin’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 looked like a grandiose geopolitical victory for the Russian ruler. It was definitely perceived in this way by the majority of Russians, who celebrated the “the return” of Crimea to the motherland. In March 2014, 80 percent of Russians enthusiastically greeted “the restoration of historical justice,” since Crimea was indeed a part of Russia for two and a half centuries. Many liberals, including Mikhail Gorbachev, joined the jubilant Russians, praising the brave move by the government. It is true that the 40-50,000 educated Muscovites came out on March 16th to protest the Kremlin’s foreign policy—there were practically no other serious protest actions in other cities—but they clearly did not spoil the country’s euphoria. The Kremlin immediately labeled the protesters as “the fifth column,” and as a gathering of paid foreign agents. “National traitors” is a new entry in Putin’s lexicon. More than ever, the impact of the brave critique of the Kremlin by a few famous cultural figures, like writer Boris Akunin, has been neutralized by the mobilization of numerous members of the intelligentsia, like the famous theatre director Oleg Tabakov or the conductor Valerii Gergiev, who offered their full support and admiration for Putin.
The fact that the mass support of the military invasion into Ukraine was pumped up by the official media does not undermine the political meaning of Russian public opinion. The impact of the blatant lies about Ukraine that were interspersed in Putin’s public statements in February and March of 2014 (no Soviet leader after Stalin ever demeaned themselves with such blatant falsehoods in their public statements), and the influence on the Russian public of such abominable figures of Russian TV as Dmitry Kisilev or Vladimir Soloviev would be impossible if the masses were not traditionally receptive to xenophobia and anti-Americanism. Most Russians, including the most educated, amazingly believe in the wildest absurdities about the developments in Ukraine, like the supposed mass harassment of the Russians there, the US State Department’s direction of the revolution in Kiev, and the absence of the Russian troops in Crimea during the referendum on March 16th. From the very beginning of the Soviet system up until now, the Kremlin has never been concerned about the internal motivations of those who obeyed its orders, whether through fear or by a “genuine” belief in the official ideology. They are simply delighted with the support, whatever the motivation.
In any case Putin’s prestige has reached its highest level in the last 5 years; in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea, almost 80 percent of Russians endorsed his action. He has indeed transformed himself into a national “hero” from whom the agitated population expects new successes in the restoration of the Soviet empire—a dangerous fact because, in his desire for a new wave of popularity, a leader like Putin can end up the victim of his own propaganda .
Among the devotees of the authoritarian regime are the enthusiasts, who are more royalist than the king, and who will call for the further expansion of governmental policies on key issues, with a leaning toward extremism. On March 17th, the participants of the talk show on the leading TV channel almost unanimously demanded that Putin not stop with the annexation of Crimea but also seize East and South Ukraine, justifying their aggressive ardor with both the necessity of protecting Russians and their language, and the dubious security of the nuclear power stations and chemical industry under the current chaotic conditions in Ukraine. Half of Russians supported this idea and look forward to the inclusion of the Eastern and Southern parts of Ukraine in Russia. In the atmosphere of patriotic paranoia, several Russians are going even further; the Moscow newspaper Nezavisimaia Gazeta reported that a member of the Volgograd legislature demanded on March 13th that President Obama return Alaska. Judging by the Internet response, the idea of Alaska being returned does not seem absolutely absurd to many Russians, who look at Putin as a guy able to undertake any geopolitical action. So far, of course, the slogan, “Alaska back,” or even a call for the return of the other former Soviet republics to the imperial fold, does not play a serious role in the Russian political climate. It does, however, reveal the real potential of Putin’s ideological strategy.
The Kremlin hawks were restrained in their imperialist demagoguery up until now. They seem to have been given a green light for the most arrogant statements, even to the point of threatening the USA—who they say is the major force behind all pro-democratic movements in post-Soviet space. They “remind” the world that Russia can turn the USA into “radioactive dust” with Russian missiles if, as they have insinuated, the USA continues to hinder Russia’s path to glory and supremacy in the territory of the former Soviet empire. Even during the gloomiest years of the cold war, including Stalin’s times, it would have been impossible for a Soviet propagandist to resort to such language. With this statement, the Kremlin has clearly decided to follow the example of the North Korean leaders, who regularly scare the world with threats of a nuclear attack to secure their personal power.
There are those who try to prove that Putin’s geopolitical triumph is evident, and that the world is trembling as it tries to guess the next move of the new Russian tsar. It was with sadistic pleasure that the March 23rd participants of the talk show hosted by Vladimir Soloviev, one of Putin’s ideological servants, tried to suggest that Obama’s willingness to find a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis showed how scared America is of Russia, and of Putin personally. Putin’s propagandists pointed with great Schadenfreude to the critique of Obama in the USA—ignoring, of course, that it was mostly for the weak response to Russia’s aggression—and said that Americans see Putin as a much more energetic leader than Obama. Politicians and the media mocked the American and European sanctions against Moscow.
Operation “Crimea” looks even more important to bolstering Putin’s intention to be the country’s ruler for many years if we take into account that it helped him to accelerate the eradication of opposition to the regime. This operation put accusations of anti-patriotism into circulation, with a frequency similar to the way the term was used during Stalin’s fight against cosmopolitism in the late 40s and early 50s. Previously standard denunciations, like extremism or denigration of authority, clearly retreated before this charge. Dmitry Kisilev boasted that Putin appointed him to head the giant media holding “Russia today” in March 2014 because he, in the president’s words ,“is a patriot.” Many journalists and academics have lost their jobs, mostly under the pretext of anti-patriotism. Without any embarrassment, Kisilev stated on the main TV channel that he intended to fire dozens of journalists from his media corporation for “subversive activity.” Russian media no longer says Alexei Navalny is a denigrator of Putin’s regime so much as they say he is not a real patriot. What is more important, the campaign for the elimination of the “fifth column” has raised the fear of persecution—so far mostly of losing jobs or normal business conditions—to a level not seen in the country since 1985. Professor Andrei Zubov was fired from the Institute of International Relations for his “anti-patriotic article” in the newspaper Vedomosti. Everybody in Russia sees this as only the beginning of a mass campaign against “national traitors”.
The success of the Russian Blitzkrieg in Crimea that was accepted with such elation by the majority of Russians, also misled many analysts in the West, and in Russia, into believing this was a great victory for Putin’s geopolitical program, as well as a formidable elevation, under his guidance, of Russia on the world scene. In fact, an elementary cost-benefit analysis shows that it is not so. The wrong analysis is rooted in a miscomprehension of the real goal of Putin’s Ukrainian adventure. In fact, Putin’s sudden decision to invade Crimea—it was not abrupt only for the American intelligence services but it was for members of the Russian ruling elite—actually had nothing to do with a long term strategy for “gathering Russian lands and Russians living in the near abroad.”
The geopolitical goals and the desire to help Russians living in the “new abroad” are only a cover for the single passion of the Russian president—to keep his status as the Russian leader “forever.” Putin’s foreign policy is virtually always an instrument for Putin’s personal goal, a fact which is mostly ignored by observers, who assume that Putin is actually pursuing the national interests of his country, and that the seizure of Crimea is a reaction to the humiliation of Russia by Western countries (for example, look at Jack Matlock ‘s article “The U.S. has treated Russia like a loser since the end of the Cold War” in The Washington Post on March 14, 2014, or David Herszenhorn’s article “In Crimea, Russia moved to throw off the cloak of defeat” in the New York Times on March 25, 2014). This is not only true in the West but also in Russia, where too many analysts, like leading Moscow political scientist Fedor Lukianov, who pretends to be independent of the Kremlin, have advanced theories that try, with their various incursions in history and philosophy, to obfuscate the essential fact of the crucial impact the current developments around Ukraine will have on Putin’s personal interests (Nobody, however, tries to explain the policy of Kim Jong-un as a desire to pursue his country’s national interests because it is so evidently directed by his desire to keep power by any means).
The theory of Putin’s neo-imperialist goals are fully refuted by the facts. It is well known that any leader concerned with building and maintaining an empire tries to gain the support, almost the love, of all of the nations that are (or can make up) its parts. Indeed, Franz-Joseph of the Austro-Hungarian empire, as well as Lenin and Stalin, cultivated “the friendship of the people” (using one of the most important Soviet slogans).Putin’s policy is the absolute opposite. Instead of improving his relations with other countries—candidates for a variety of alliances in which Moscow would play a leading role—Putin has scared them all. Only Armenia expressed its full endorsement for the Crimean annexation. Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, and Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, two major actors in forging allies with Putin, were very evasive (especially the Belorussian leader) about supporting the annexation of part of the territory of an independent country; tiny Kirgizia and Moldova even dared to protest. More important, however, is that Ukraine—whether or not Putin cuts additional chunks out of its territory—will be an implacable foe of Moscow’s for a long time into the future. The Russian intellectuals who traveled to Kiev during and in the aftermath of the February revolution, like the prominent writer Evgenii Grishkovets, are telling radio Ekho Moskvy about the hatred they found there for Russia. Meanwhile, the Baltic republics and all of the former Russian satellites in East Europe, particularly Poland, have increased their yearning for even closer military cooperation with NATO enormously.
Besides Armenia and Belarus, only Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe (Andrei Illarionov, a famous critic of Putin’s, named all these authoritarian countries as members of “Putin’s posse”) supported the annexation of the peninsula in the vote by the UN General Assembly. Evidently, the Crimea operation factually revived NATO, which had almost lost its raison d’etre. In the last several years, Russian foreign policy considered the prevention of the American antimissile defense system being built in East Europe to be its main task. Now, the issue of Russian discontent has lost any meaning, and the USA is free to create this defense any place it chooses.
The actions in Crimea can only help the separatist activities inside Russia in the future. For now, it has revived the idea of the referendum, which Putin had outlawed, refusing to recognize it as a legal way of expressing the people’s will inside Russia. Indeed, the country is full of territories where many people now nurture the idea of a separation from Russia. In addition to the Muslim republics in North Caucasus and Tatarstan, we can mention the Far East, Kaliningrad, and even some Ural regions. Russia will pay for the Crimean operation with insurrection in some regions, where the people will resort to their own referendum to proclaim their autonomy, or even full independence.
The deterioration of relations with the West, however far they go, can hardly help to enhance the real international status of Russia, which Russia had been yearning to enhance with the extremely expensive Olympic Games in Sochi; instead they are being ousted from the elitist G-8 club. In the West, Russia now looks like a veritable monster to many ordinary people. Whatever the reluctance of Western Europe to join American economic sanctions against Russia, and however limited the American sanctions themselves are, they will all hurt the Russian economy in various ways, which was sliding even before they began, and bring unpredictable consequences for Putin. This will be true even if Putin’s Special Forces, like OMON, are able to quash protest actions for a long time.
Amusingly, if looked at from another perspective, the Crimean operation is fraught with serious dangers for the Putin’s long term chances of staying in power. The opportunities for this new geopolitical adventure to maintain the current blazing levels of patriotism are limited. Putin is generally a cautious politician, even if he is confident of the West’s reluctance go to a “hot war”—this fear the West has of a new war is, in fact, Putin’s major weapon—he is still afraid to go further.
Aside from the impending stagnation, or even deterioration, of material life in the country, Putin has clearly pitted himself against a considerable part of the ruling political and economic elites. Almost all those who were included in the blacklists formed by the USA and EU, like Vladimir Yakunin, the president of state-run Russian Railways company and one of the richest people in Russia, or Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s adviser, publicly mock their new “untravellable” position (in the Soviet Union, this status was “enjoyed” by all people suspected, like me, of not being loyal to the “system,” as well as by most non-party members). The fact is, however, that restricting their freedom to travel, even aside from the potential loss of their property and money kept in the West, has hurt them a lot. We can suppose that these people, who are utterly cynical, are hardly admirers of Putin’s patriotism, and are very much indifferent toward the reunification of Crimea with the motherland. We can also affirm with great probability that with only a few exceptions, the members of the elite, along with the members of their families, are cursing their “national leader” for his anti-Western policy. Even those privileged people in Russia who, so far, have not been targeted by the West nurture a growing animosity toward their benefactor. Of course, in the climate of total fear of the president, the members of the elite, show complete public loyalty to their chief. What is more, many of them, all corrupted, are aware that the fall of this regime does not promise them a nice future. And still, the discontent of the elite is a time bomb, which will contribute, in one form or another, to the end of Putin’s rule. Private property is a new factor in Russian politics and its impact on Putin’s future we will see.
What are the results of the Crimean operation in terms of a cost-benefit approach? On the positive side for Putin, his popularity in Russia has increased a lot. The reunification of Crimea with Russia permitted Putin to rearrange his propaganda, making “patriotism” a key value, much like it was in Stalin’s times, and allowing him to expand the fight against anybody who is critical of his regime, labeling all of them as “traitors” and “American agents.”
On the debit side of Putin’s balance sheet, Russia’s geopolitical situation has deteriorated enormously. Practically all of the former Soviet republics, without even mentioning the East European countries that Moscow wanted to unite under its direction, became more suspicious of Putin’s intentions than they were before. What is especially important is that no matter what Russia does at this point, Ukraine will be a fierce enemy of Moscow’s for decades to come, something that has never before been part of Russian-Ukrainian relations. Eastern European countries now have another argument for their apprehensions about Russia, and the necessity of expanding the American military presence in their country. The Crimean operation also saved NATO, which was almost surely facing its demise before but which will be able to augment its military capacity and its significance, albeit slowly. Even in their initial and weak forms, the sanctions against Russia have already hurt a very vulnerable Russian economy. No doubt Putin has created a hidden front against him inside the political and economic establishment.
Whether Putin will continue to play out the geopolitical card in order to sustain the patriotic hysteria in the country, or will see the cost of his activities in post-Soviet space as too high is something that even Putin himself probably cannot answer yet. In any case, the West hardly has a position other than trying to increase this cost if there is a new act of aggression. The idea that Russia swallowing Ukraine without a serious reaction from the West would lead to Putin immediately turning himself into a peaceful member of the world community is wrong. Those who share this view do not understand that Putin’s major preoccupation is to stay in power as long as possible.

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