Fullofbias

from Russia with bias

RUSSIA IS NOT NORTH KOREA, BUT YES, IT CAN BECOME ONE

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You hear it all the time when people, both Russians and foreigners, say that Russia is turning into something akin to North Korea. This comparison is obviously only rhetorical because by the standards of authoritarian regimes that existed in the last 100 years and still exist today, Putin’s can only be described as super-mild.

It’s hard to compare it not only with North Korea, but even with Turkey, a member of NATO and a key ally of the US. Whereas in Russia the number of political prisoners is hardly reaching 50, in post-coup Turkey there are dozens of thousands. Russia is also lagging behind Turkey in terms of media censorship.

Yet, Russia is degrading, institutionally and culturally. The brightest Russian intellectuals and businessmen are leaving the country in droves, while public discourse is becoming increasingly debilitating. The nuclear deterrent ensures that the system can’t be changed from the outside. Chronic social apathy and fatalism of post-genocidal society don’t leave much hope that it can be easily changed from the inside.

All of that means that over decades Russia can indeed turn into a Godzilla-sized North Korea by very gradually squeezing out everyone who is capable of acting on their own initiative and keeping only those who will silently cope with more repression and deteriorating economy.

That creates a problem for the entire world. While these days the gangster-ish Russian leadership is artfully playing a psycho while not actually being one, a more North Korean society will be pushing real psychos to the top, making an accidental nuclear conflict a greater possibility.

That’s why there is no alternative to engaging Russia, while antagonization only serves Kremli rulers and state propaganda. Engaging Russia, but not necessarily its political regime, which should indeed be indeed disengaged from its London bank accounts and Cote d’Azur villas. It is Russian people who should be engaged, over the heads of their government.

All problems with this giant country stem from the fact that after the fall of Communism Russians found themselves in a cultural vacuum, feeling that they were unwelcome in the Euroatlantic community and despised by most of its members. They have always lacked the beacon of integration that has forced society in Eastern Europe to change, despite a natural predilection for authoritarianism, patrimonialism and tribalism, which is now showing self in Poland and Hungary.

Reaching out to various segments of Russian directly, having a clearly formulated message for each of them, choosing the right words and making sure that the message finds its audience – all of that may change the landscape for the better. The problem though is that at the moment the West has no positive message for Russians that could inspire them to change, while the level of knowledge and understanding with regard to Russia is just pathetic. With issues Trump and Brexit, there is too much domestic mess to be dealt with before anyone get any fresh thoughts on Russia.

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Written by fullofbias

October 19, 2016 at 4:39 pm

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DC IN MAIDAN WOULD BE PUTIN’S GREATEST REVENGE

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Remember the panorama of Kiev’s Independence Square at the height of the 2014 revolution? Army tents, field kitchens, piles of burning tires, black smoke drifting through the frosty air and giant barricades manned by post-apocalyptic warriors straight out of Mad Max?

Now imagine the same Maidan scene at the National Mall in Washington – a square that stretches for three kilometres and abuts in the Capitol. If I were a Kremlin strategist – given their Tarantino-styled post-modernist obsession with re-staging iconic scenes over and over again – I’d be dreaming of orchestrating a colour revolution in the heart of America. That would be Kremlin’s most spectacular revenge for what it sees as US-backed revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia and the Middle East.

This is what comes to mind when Donald Trump starts talking about rigged elections. It is one of the surest symptom of a pending colour revolution. Allegations of rigging is what sparked Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in December 2004. Seven years later, same allegations triggered Bolotnaya protests in Moscow, which the Kremlin read as an attempt to use the same political technology in Russia.

If someone has told Trump about colour revolutions, it would be Paul Manafort, who once advised Viktor Yanukovych, the man who was defeated in Orange revolution and then once again in the Revolution of Dignity in 2014.

Largely based on voters’ honesty and backed up by outdated technology, the US elections can indeed be rigged or disrupted by hackers, as demonstrated by the recent cyber-attacks, which the US authorities blamed on Russian government-controlled hacker. With a very weak voter identification procedure, hardly anything prevents what Russians call “carousels” – when groups of people travel between polling stations voting multiple times.

If violations and disruptions are sufficient to convince a constituency that’s already known for buying half-baked lies like president Obama’s non-US origin, then staging a massive permanent protest will be a technical issue. Occupy Wall Street did work for a while, so this one might work, too.

Can Trump rally a million people – the number which Louis Farrakhan promised but failed to bring to the National Mall in 1995? I have no idea. But if I worked for the Kremlin, I’d definitely try to convey the vision of a DC Maidan to Trump and his advisors.

Kremlin’s evident support for Trump’s candidacy has never been about making him win, but about making America divided, weak and preoccupied with an internal crisis. That worked in Ukraine, which keeps bleeding ever since the latest revolution. Making it bleed is not a means of achieving something, but an end in itself.

Written by fullofbias

October 15, 2016 at 11:36 pm

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YES, UNFASHIONABLE. BUT EU EXPANSION IS THE ONLY CURE

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How many political prisoners are there in Russia? Around 50. Only a handful of them are genuine pro-democracy activists, while many are suspected jihadists and far-right extremists, who were naturally denied fair trial, just because it is Russia.

Now the number of people arrested in the aftermath of the failed Turkish coup is estimated at around 70 thousand, though some of them have been freed. The clampdown on the alleged “Gülenists” does smack of Stalin’s purges of the “Troskyists” in the 1930s. Most of the prisoners had nothing to do with Trotsky, it’s just that Stalin needed an enemy brand to rally his supporters by inciting fear and hatred.

There is a great irony in the fact that a NATO member and a country that once was just a step away from joining the EU (under the same government) is now more repressive than the much-feared Russia. More than that, the duo is now forging an alliance, as exemplified by the gas pipeline agreement announced today.

Just 20 years ago Russia was also a very different country, with a population naively enthusiastic about integrating with the West and ending the Cold War. But having been shown in every kind of away that it can’t hope for the same treatment as other Eastern bloc countries, it found itself in a cultural and political vacuum that has produced a monster called Vladimir Putin. Now it’s Turkey’s turn to create its own monster.

What unites Turkey and Russia is that they were both denied the possibility of integration in Euro-Atlantic structures not because of their merits or the lack of thereof but because of xenophobia and ancient animosities promoted by nationalists in EU member countries.

There are only two ideas that allow leaders to rally masses of people in most of Europe, especially in the east. One is nationalism, with its appeal to archaic tribal instincts of sticking with the kin and hating neighbours. The other is European integration.

When they come together – magic things happen, like Maidan revolution in Ukraine and velvet revolutions of 1989. When the integration component is missing, an authoritarian form of nationalism takes hold.

That’s because those who genuinely care about liberal democracy are never a majority. Not just in Russia or Turkey, but even in the US, as the current election shows.

There are various ways of stopping Putin’s and Erdogan’s brinkmanship as well as them building a Eurasian political alliance hostile to the EU. But there is only one that will ultimately work, if complemented by other methods, such as sanctions.

It is to appeal to the people and elites in both countries, over the head of their leaders, that they are welcome in the united Europe, provided they implement a set of conditions that include a thorough democratization and – in the case of Russia – withdrawing from Ukraine plus a complete overhaul of all corruption-ridden institutes. Leadership change is also a fair, though not necessarily practical demand.

This plan certainly sounds utopian now that various EU nations are now threatening to degrade into 20th century nation states, surrounded by barbed wire and customs posts. But the wind will change and EU expansion will be back on the table.

Written by fullofbias

October 10, 2016 at 8:46 pm

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ON PAVEL SHEREMET’S DEATH

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Pavel Sheremet was a Ukrainian, as much as Russian and Belarusian journalist. He worked as a correspondent for the Russian ORT channel (currently Channel 1) in Minsk until he got jailed on dubious charges related to his professional activities. His cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky was later killed, allegedly by a death squad, also responsible for assassinations of Lukashenko’s opponents.

For a long time, I could not forgive Sheremet for his stint as a pro-Putin TV propagandist during Russian media wars that resulted in the defeat of Luzhkov-Primakov coalition and the hostile takeover of NTV – an event that heralded the beginning of the end of free press in Russia. To be fair, he was not the only democrat who backed Putin at the time. Many of Putin’s current fierce opponents regarded him as a lesser evil compared with his old guard foes.

I raised that subject when I first met Sheremet for a proper chat last year. He replied something along the lines that he would live to regret it. I immediately hated myself for my mindless righteousness.

Sheremet was one of the most nuanced journalist in the ex-USSR who didn’t give in to the temptation of joining crowds of zealots incapable of critical thinking, no matter whether they support Putin or the West. He understood the complexity of the post-Soviet discourse and bought neither Russian nor Ukrainian and Western propagandist cliches.

I think it is thanks to his Putin experience that he understood the risks of striking deals with the devil. His last op-ed, in which he warned about dodgy criminal characters associated with Ukrainian volunteer battalions, was exactly about that. It was a very carefully worded piece, which praised former Azov commander Anton Biletsky for cooperation with the government, but asserted that Biletsky’s progress should be watched very attentively because of his neo-Nazi past.

This is not to say that the blame should be immediately apportioned to the Ukrainian far-right. Sheremet was an important anti-Kremlin voice who has wholeheartedly supported Ukraine when it was invaded by Russian troops in 2014. As the owner of one of the main opposition websites in Belarus, he had enemies there, too.

Murders of journalists rarely get properly investigated in the former USSR. The lack of transparency in the case of pro-Russian journalist Oleh Buzyna, assassinated in Kiev last year, doesn’t leave much hope that this investigation will be any different. But Sheremet was a much more popular and respected media figure, so I am sure that in his case, the Ukrainian civil society will be pressing the authorities  very hard in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Written by fullofbias

July 20, 2016 at 2:03 pm

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ARE SINGLE-ISSUE PARTIES THE FUTURE OF POLITICS?

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Britain’s three main political parties – some of the world’s oldest – got defeated by a single-issue coalition that was formed just a few months ago and lost its charismatic leader less than a week after its victory.

In the US, the unofficial Trump party has effectively defeated GOP and will probably give a hard time to the Democrats in the coming months.

I am writing this in Ukraine, where – like in many parts of Eastern Europe – all parties are temporary coalitions coalescing around charismatic leaders or specific issues and showing no semblance of any coherent ideology.

It has been for a long time presumed that eventually they’ll give way to stable political institutions, such as Tory and Labour parties in the UK.

But see – it goes the other way round in the UK and also in America. Is it a sign of decline or is it the future of global politics? Perhaps Eastern Europe has simply rejected the institution that was already outdated at the time when democracy knocked on its door?

Media revolution has completely changed the tools of political mobilization. Do old parties fit into this new environment? I am not sure.

Written by fullofbias

July 3, 2016 at 4:18 pm

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EUROPE’S NEW BARRICADE

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Did you notice how all of us living OUTSIDE Britain were genuinely worried about the outcome of the British referendum? Like it is our domestic issue.

That’s because it is. Europe is our home. The outcome is a huge blow for all pro-European forces inside and outside the EU. It is a victory for the fledgling Nationalist International – a huge and powerful global coalition that unites Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, West European far-right and far-left populist demagogues, East European nationalists and last but not least – Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia that made its own contribution to making Brexit happen.

But it’s great that we see it as a common issue. It is time to rise to the next level and engage in pan-European political battle against archaic politics that nurtures divisions, jingoism, corruption and wars.

The liberal discourse in Europe has been poisoned by nationalism for decades. That happened because progressive politicians in the 19th and 20th century used nationalism as a tool of political mobilization in their fight for human rights, equal representation and against the oppression of archaic empires.

But on its own, nationalism is an ideology of regress that strives to take the world back to tribalism, patrimonialism and anti-meritocracy. It is the ideology of us against them, of always supporting your country and your kin, even if their actions are vile and immoral.

The division of Europe into ethnocratic nation states is unnatural. It is only the Holocaust coupled with post-WWII deportations that turned countries like Poland and Czech Republic into monoethnic and mono-religious states. But is Poland better without Jews, Germans and Ukrainians? Is Czech-only Prague better? It the multicultural cosmopolitan feel that makes countries like Britain and cities like London look stronger than the above two.

I am a Russian European. I am proud of my language and culture, but I am not proud of my country. Actually I am deeply ashamed of what it has done to Ukraine and what it is doing to its own intelligentsia and middle class. I am ashamed of it acting is a wicked teenager that won’t grow up despite all the harm it has done to itself and its neighbours.

Being Russian, I also realize how many people and politicians in countries to the west of mine are exact copies of those who have created Putin’s regime, how close all European countries are to replicating it – much closer than any of them would admit, even to themselves. Yes I mean you, Poland and Hungary. Putin’s Russia is indeed Dorian Gray’s picture of Europe.

I am totally on the same wavelength with my pro-European friends in Britain, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Baltic and Scandinavian countries, Ukraine and Georgia.

I have as little in common with Russia’s pro-Putin majority as I have with Ukrainian and other East European nationalists, West European anti-EU populists of all shades and colours, Brexiteers, Trumpists and Tea Party supporters in the US. I have none of these among my friends and I can hardly see any of them on my Facebook timeline.

There are many Europeans like me, inside and outside the EU. It’s time for European liberals to realign the barricades – destroy the ones that divide us along the national boundaries and build a massive new bulwark against the White Walkers of the 21st century, the nationalists.

I totally believe that European Union is the best institution that has ever been created in this continent. It is also the best guarantee for the survival of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups, from large ones to the tiniest. It is nationalists who start wars and conduct ethnic cleansing.

The EU is still very young, weak, poorly coordinated and disunited. Well, we need to make it stronger. It’s time for a new and more powerful European dream. We need to talk to each other and work it out. Now.

Written by fullofbias

June 27, 2016 at 8:08 am

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THE PUNK NATION

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I spoke with a Baltic diplomat earlier this month and he said: “Putin is just a hooligan – it’s a hooligan state!”

He was actually talking about Russian military posturing in the vicinity of his country, but clashes in France clearly confirm his viewpoint. It’s not football hooligans as such, but the reaction of the Russian state to their hooliganism – like summoning the French ambassador on the account of arrests made by French police.

Many media outlets have contrasted the Russian reaction to that of British government officials and politicians.  While British dignitaries condemned their fans for street violence and mischief, the Russians endorsed the considerably more dangerous behavior of their compatriots. Some of them even used hooligans’ language, like Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin who said that Europe is simply “not used to seeing real men after all the gay parades”. In addition to all that, some of the ultras appeared to be members of the official delegation.

It entirely fits into Russia’s general line of behavior. There is no purpose or strategy – just the desire to be evil for the sake of it and to engage in all kinds of antisocial behavior. The country is a teenager that will continue to break windows and pee on the porch until he grows up – something that may or may not happen since there are no grown-ups around to look after his upbringing.

Russia’s behavior stems from the 20th century trauma coupled with its unique status of the only East European state that has no real chance of hoping to be integrated into the Euroatlantic community.

That realization, which descended on previously naive and enthusiastic ex-Soviet people late in the 1990s, produced another layer of trauma on top of the first one.

There is no chance at all that Russia will change, while both Europe and America are themselves degrading into political hooliganism, as in the case of Trump, Brexit or Dutch referendum on Ukraine. But it will definitely happen when the pendulum of history swings the other way, the European Union gets its act together and starts fulfilling the project of united Europe without borders and the archaic menace of nationalism.

Written by fullofbias

June 15, 2016 at 4:40 pm

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