Fullofbias

from Russia with bias

Empire That’s Eating Itself

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As expected, Ukraine has revoked its non-aligned status, pathing way for potential NATO membership. Adopted by the Ukrainian parliament today, this decision comes right after the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan travelled to Kiev in what looked like a synchronised show of disobedience to the Kremlin.

In losing friends and spheres of influence, Putin is simply genius. Not only has he lost Ukraine, but even fellow dictators, who have joined his Customs Union. are hinting they might ditch him. None of this would have happened, had Russia not invaded Ukraine in March this year. Before the crisis, the majority of Ukrainians was against NATO membership, while both Lukashenko and Nazarbayev felt safer staying in Russia’s shade than being exposed to the Western pressure over their human rights record and treatment of the opposition.

By all means, Putin appears to be a loser. But on the other hand, it might also be the desired result – at least subcosiously. The ring of hostility permanently closing on Moscow is the regime’s raison d’être. By losing allies and territories, the regime proves to its people that they are under siege and in danger, so they should forget grievances and unite around the leader.

The Russian imperial star went through its final red giant stage under the Bolsheviks and turned into a black hole that is swallowing itself and all the matter around it, like black holes normally do. Putin is a suitable person to preside over a lump of self-destroying dark matter.

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December 23, 2014 at 4:18 pm

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Crimea under Putin: Enthusiasts & Dissenters

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(This article was originally published in the Norwegian weekly Morgenbladet)

Retired navy officer Yury Mishin says he was on the verge of tears when he realised Crimea might be incorporated into Russia. “I remember how back in the service days I was thrilled every time I heard the Soviet anthem while lining up on the deck of my nuclear missile carrier for the morning check. It was the very same feeling”.

A battle reenactment enthusiast and a collector of vintage Soviet cars, Mishin runs the ‘Funny Dolphin’ hostel in Sevastopol. It used to cater almost exclusively to Western backpackers, but there is none in town since Crimea was annexed by Russia in March this year. Mishin’s wife lost her job as an English-language guide when Western cruise liners stopped calling at Sevastopol, while agencies specialising in war history tours suspended trips to Balaklava battlefield.

Mishin says sales in his hostel have dropped by more than 50% this year, although in September they started picking up as more Russians headed to Crimean looking for jobs or property in the stunningly beautiful peninsula with comfortable Mediterranean climate. Crimeans have been facing a multitude of problems after the annexation – skyrocketing prices, problems with food supplies, power blackouts and food shortages.

This is however compensated by much higher pensions and salaries in the budget sector, so most people – Mishin included – don’t seem to regret the changes. Yet, there are many dissenters, most notably the Crimean Tatars as well as a small part of ethnic Russian middle class and intelligentsia.

Raids and Boycott

Dissent doesn’t go well with the new authorities. On Tuesday, special forces seized the office of Crimean Tatar umbrella organisation, the Mejlis, in the Crimean capital, Simferopol. The building was cordoned off by masked armed people without insignia as security agents searched the offices of Mejlis leaders.

Masses of documents as well as all computers were removed in what the authorities said was a part of an investigation into the events of May 3, when thousands of Crimean Tatars attempted to create a human corridor across the newly emerged border between Crimean and mainland Ukraine to let in their deported leader, Mustafa Jemilev. “The authorities are trying to provoke the Crimean Tatars into violence in order to justify the use of force and weapons against them”, Mejlis foreign affairs coordinator Ali Khamzin told Morgenbladet.

He also said the Russians were avenging Crimean Tatars for the boycott of September 14 election – the first since the annexation. It was conducted under the new legislation with representatives of Russian political parties running for seats in Crimea’s parliament and the city council of Sevastopol, an independent entity under the law. The election resulted in Russia’s ruling party, the United Russia, winning virtually all seats in both bodies.

Crimean Tatars ruled the peninsula until it was colonised by Russian empress Catherine the Great in the 18th century. In 1944, Stalin’s government accused them of collaborating with Hitler and sent the entire people into exile in Central Asia and Siberia, with thousands dying on the way and in the first years of the exile. Crimean Tatars were not allowed to return until the final years of the USSR. Vast majority of those currently living in Crimea repatriated in the 1990s. Crimean Tatars make up at least 12% of the population and remain staunchly pro-Ukrainian.

Dilyara Seitveliyeva, whose family runs a small guesthouse and a restaurant in the sleepy central Crimean town of Bakhchysaray, formerly the capital of Crimean Tatar khans, fought for the right to live in the land of her ancestors back in the 1970s. She and her husband managed to return from Central Asia and linger in a remote Crimean village for four years despite constant harassment by the KGB before being expelled together with elderly parents and two children. She could only return in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, her brother, Mustafa Jemilev, was in prison for defending the Crimean Tatar cause. One of the most prominent Soviet-era dissidents and a friend of Andrey Sakharov, these days he is the undisputed political leader of the Crimean Tatars, while Seitveliyeva now finds herself in a situation reminiscent of the Soviet times.

The restaurant run by Seitveliyeva’s family was raided by police a few days after it featured in a Russian TV documentary aimed at smearing Jemilev, who was banned from entering Crimea back in April. “Six plainclothes detectives aided by six gunmen broke into the premises with no prior warning and started checking every bit of the property”, Seitveliyeva says. The prosecutor’s office eventually opened criminal cases with the view to closing both the hotel and the restaurant under the pretext of minor irregularities caused by contradictions in the Ukrainian legislation, which could be used against every single business in Crimea.

Seitveliyeva is the head of the Crimean Tatar teachers’ union. On the day of the election, she was with an all-female group of about 30 Crimean Tatar teachers holding a workshop on adapting their classes to the rules imposed by the Russians. Asked if any of them voted in the Russian election, they all shook heads in disapproval.

The meeting was presided over by veteran teacher Sultaniye Kharakhady who went through utter hell in order to be able to live in Crimea back in the Soviet times. Bizarrely, KGB left her alone after she threatened to complain about her treatment to Mother Teresa. Asked why the Crimean Tatars were boycotting the election, she said: “This new government came to power in a military coup. So why should we go to the polling stations and endorse their dictatorship and the annexation”.

Another veteran teacher, Fatime Saytullayeva, regrets that the Ukrainian army didn’t offer armed resistance to the Russian invasion. “At the time, we praised Ukrainian soldiers for not opening fire. But now I think they should have started shooting”.

Self-defence

Polling station in Bakhchysaray were not exactly swarming with people on the election day, September 14, as Morgenbladet observed. An election official conceded it was due to the high percentage of Crimean Tatar population.

By contrast, people queued for hours at a polling station in Sevastopol, a city largely populated by people linked to the Russian navy and attracting large numbers of Russian military pensioners. Vladimir, who owns a smallish bar facing Sevastopol’s spectacular harbour, was guarding a polling station in the suburb of Inkerman as part of the city’s self-defence – a paramilitary group that assisted the Russian army during the invasion. Like many residents, he wasn’t born in Sevastopol and came here from Russia only six years ago.

“When I was joining the self-defence, I told my wife that I would defend Sevastopol from the fascists at any price”, he says. By “fascists” he means the participants in pro-European protests that rocked Kiev last winter. He nearly went to fight on the Russian side in east Ukraine, but the family persuaded him not do so. Many of his comrades from the self-defence did go there. One of the died – got burnt in a take. Another one spent a month in Sevastopol recovering from serious wounds and went back to fight.

Vladimir expressed his dismay at the lack of local support to pro-Russian fighters in Donbass: “These miners who claimed they would be the first to rise up, they are still working in the mines. Well, you know who is fighting there – [former Ukrainian] special forces men, war veterans and of course the Russian military who take vacations in order to go and fight”.

The hostel owner Yury Mishin, who also joined the self-defence back in February, says many of his friends from war reenactment groups were also fighting and dying in Donbass. Incidentally, the most famous Donetsk Republic commander Igor Girkin aka Strelkov had also been active in the war reenactment community, although Mishin claims he never met personally.

But the support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not unanimous even in the overwhelmingly pro-Russian Sevastopol. Just a hundred metres away from a polling station in Sevastopol, a lamp post was decorated with a hand-made poster featuring Putin’s name paired with an obscene word.

Voices of dissent among ethnic Russians, who make up a majority in the peninsula, are not difficult to come by. Many middle class people who in previous years were not particularly enthused by the Ukrainian independence got outraged by how Russia handled the takeover of Crimea.

A captain in charge of a pleasure boat based in the beautiful Balaklava fjord, 35-year-old Konstantin Sandulov says he considered himself to be Russian up until the invasion when he discovered that after 23 years of Ukrainian independence he was in fact a staunch patriot of Ukraine. He is now planning to leave Crimea where he was born and lived all his life.

“I hate indecency. I was brought up to believe that if there is a contract, or especially an international treaty, it should be observed. What Russia has done to Ukraine is just so utterly indecent that I decided I want to be Ukrainian rather than Russian”, he says referring to Russia’s failure to observe its obligations regarding Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Sandulov believes Ukraine has by and large lost Crimea, which in his opinion can only be returned by military means or by cutting it from supplies delivered from mainland Ukraine. He says he is more worried about the fate of his country as a whole: “Europeans shouldn’t stay passive. If Russia succeeds in grabbing Ukraine, they will be next. A predator who has tasted blood cannot be stopped. It will be slaughtering one victim after another, like Hitler did in WWII”.

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September 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm

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Yes he can(((

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Putin is great at duping people who say “don’t cry wolves”, me included. Each of his steps is so cautious, well-camouflaged and open to multiple interpretations that many observers fail to register his extremely dangerous overall trajectory. He probes and if he doesn’t meet any resistance, which almost always appears to be the case, he presses on. You can’t really say when exactly he dismantled Yeltsin-era democracy in Russia, but at some point it just became clear as a day. Acting in the same covert manner, he has dismantled the existing world order, but the world is yet to realise that.

The lesson we can learn from Putin is – think the unthinkable. It had been unthinkable he would invade Crimea, yet he did so. It had been unthinkable he’d start a war in Donbass, yet he did that, too. It had been unthinkable he would send regular troops to Ukraine, yet now it is sufficient to shuffle through Russian soldiers’ accounts on social networks or talk to their desperate relatives to figure out where they are and what they’ve been up to in recent weeks.

So it is totally worth acting on the assumption that nothing is inconceivable and whenever you pose a question about Putin’s ability to do something even more evil, the answer is likely to be positive. Yes, he can try to create a land corridor to Crimea by invading swathes of Ukrainian territory. Yes, his troops may march on Odessa and all the way to Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria. Yes, he can send tanks to seize Kiev and keep moving further west. The truth is we don’t really know who this men is and what he wants, whether he is driven by instinct or design, is he sane or suicidal and if there is anyone in his entourage or in Russia as a whole who can stop him.

He won’t tell us, but it is equally conceivable that he has reached the point where he wants to stop. It is quite possible that we should believe the head of the Russian Duma foreign committee Alexei Pushkov when he says that both sides are suffering “war fatigue” and that ceasefire agreements signed in Minsk last week signify “a logical end of the war”. But that already looked like wishful thinking when the rebels started shooting at Ukrainian positions near Mariupol on Saturday night, while the official Twitter feed of self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic @press_dnr announced that a full-out assault on Mariupol was under way.

All in all, Russia has made very little gain in eastern Ukraine – rebels control only parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, there is no land corridor to Crimea, while the settlement plan outlined in Minsk agreements looks suspiciously favourable for Ukraine. Rebel-held territories remain inside the country and there is no  suggestion they’ll get the same rights as, for example Serb-held territories under Dayton agreement in Bosnia. It might be that Putin has just taken a break.

But if that’s not the case, there is no room for complacency. The world was shocked when Russian troops invaded Georgia in 2008. At that time, the Russians could have marched all the way to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, but they stopped short of doing so and agreed to the EU-brokered truce. Was it conceivable at the time that Putin will repeat this adventure on a much grander scale and with a much bigger and stronger ex-USSR country, such as Ukraine? But he did so and there is no guarantee he won’t decide to do something even more unthinkable some years later, even if Ukraine and Russia agree on the terms of permanent settlement now.

Who is Mr Putin? The question asked by a Western journalists when the new Russian leader emerged out of nowhere in 1999 still remains valid. Fifteen years after his sudden ascent to power, political scientists and media commentators still have no language to describe the political system Putin has built. Constant references to KGB, Soviet nostalgia, Russian imperialism, totalitarianism or nationalism are only helping to advance his cause by concealing the regime’s real, non-ideological nature. Putin’s Russia is built on unrestrained greed and the desire of very mediocre, but ruthless people, like himself and those around him, to live above the law and commonly accepted rules of decency. It is a Mafia state covered in moth-eaten and mismatching ideological rags. The culture Putin and his entourage belong to has much more to do with the ganglords of the 1990s than with the Communist leaders or KGB agents of the 1970s. This is reflected in their lifestyle, language and even musical tastes.

The person best suited to explain Putin’s political behaviour would be a conflict expert specialising in the Russian penitentiary system and criminal underworld. This behaviour is characterized by the perpetual brinkmanship, whereby your success is measured by your ability to raise stakes to mind boggling heights without losing nerve. It is also characterised by playing victim in a situation when in fact you are the perpetrator. The latter behavioural strategy lies at the heart of the blatant brainwashing Russian people are currently subject to. Russia is like a Latin American slum ruled by a powerful ganglord. Inside, it feels like a safe and relatively prosperous bubble, as long as you don’t start questioning what makes it safe and how public money is distributed. The outside world is full of enemies and risks – only the boss knows how to deal with them.

Breaking this narrative requires a major effort by the West to reach out directly to the Russian people with a message that would be both a stern warning and an offer of a viable alternative. As the history of Eastern Europe (and not least of Ukraine) shows the only incentive, which makes people rise and kick out rogue regimes, is the prospect of European integration – however remote, but real. But it takes a much more far-sighted and intellectually advanced Western leadership to start talking about integrating Russia. At the moment, the Kremlin is convinced – perhaps rightly – that it is dealing with the weakest set of Western leaders in history.

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September 10, 2014 at 8:53 am

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Goodbye Yeltsin

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When I entered the compartment of the Moscow-bound train in Sevastopol, there was a young woman with a child and a very drunk navy officer accosting that woman. She looked terrified. But somehow I managed to engage him in some kind of a political dispute and eventually lured him into the restaurant car to get more drinks. There he found a jolly good company of fellow sailors, so I went back to the compartment and instantly fell asleep only to be rudely awaken by the same guy at 5am.

It was August 19, 1991.

“There is a putsch in Moscow! The fucking bitches have arrested Gorbachev” – he said.

A few hours later the train rolled into Kharkov.

All the passengers – holiday makers from Moscow and sailors relocating to White and Baltic sea ports – poured out into the platform. It was a huge crowd which was quite anonymously against the coup and supportive of Yeltsin.

Suddenly an old railway employee dressed in parade uniform emerged and started ranting loudly: “We’ll get a new Stalin for you. He’ll sort you out, put you against the wall”.

So several officers of the glorious Soviet Black Sea fleet beat him up in front of a cheering crowd.

I came to Moscow and went to ‘defend’ the White House which was probably the best thing I’ve done my life. Inverted comas because in fact I just stood there in a human chain for two days under pouring rain. Nothing dangerous happened, not where I was anyway.

A week later I went on a tour of the newly independent Baltic countries, visiting them all in three days, sleeping on trains. It was strange and exciting. As I was writing this sentence, I suddenly realised that it was in fact my first trip abroad. Never thought of it like that and always claimed Germany, which I visited in 1994, was my first foreign country.

Ironically, I am writing this in Riga, which I’ve never visited since then, despite my huge admiration for the independence movement and my Baltic ancestry. The city suddenly feels a few times more Russian-speaking than it was 23 years ago. But it is so un-Russian at the same time – if by Russia we mean Putin’s Russia.

Anyway, what happened back in the Soviet times or in 1991 is increasingly irrelevant, like the Anglo-Boer war was irrelevant in 1941. I’d say the post-Soviet Russia that emerged in August 1991 is now completely done with. You may laugh at it, but it’s the closure of Moscow’s ‘heritage’ McDonalds, which made me come to this conclusion. Those who queued there for hours when it first opened will understand.

This Russia was not a good state by any means, but out of the last 100 years this period of half-freedom and relative prosperity happened to be the best in the life of Europe’s most traumatised (and dangerous) nation.

Maybe this is the real end of the 20th century and being Russian I fear there is another century of utmost horror to come. But that 1991 spirit is alive in me and many Russian people I know. We’ve seen one evil system kick the bucket. We’ll outlive this one, too.

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August 20, 2014 at 9:38 pm

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If Putin had strategy

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Suppose Russian leadership is not simply committing a spectacular suicide, which I am beginning to suspect is the case, as more and more reports are coming in about a massive Russian force ready to pour into Ukraine and re-install Yanukovych as president.

If the Kremlin is following any strategy at all – consciously or unconsciously – its main idea is to keep raising stakes by threatening and destabilizing Ukraine until both Kiev government and the West are presented with the harsh choice of either formally ceding Crimea or Ukraine turning into Bosnia-1992. Its inability to foment sufficient unrest in Donbass region shows that this strategy is not necessarily workable. The critical moment, however, will come when – forced by the IMF – Yatsenyuk’s government starts introducing austerity measures, e.g. when it raises prices for utilities.

But Putin might be underestimating his unique ability to unite Ukrainians from all regions and all walks of life against a common enemy – himself.

Whether he will succeed in undermining the current government or not, I think Crimea will eventually leave Russia. Not because the referendum has been flawed – an honest poll would have probably yielded the same result, though with less totalitarian figures. Crimeans will call it a day when they realize that instead of joining the relatively prosperous and stable Russia of the late noughties, they are becoming citizens of a country that is a basket case and beginning to fall apart.

Operating in an economy dominated by poorly taxed small businesses, they don’t realize how very un-Russian they have become in the last 20 years. Money pumped in by the Kremlin will do more harm than good, since it will be most likely invested in giant projects with contractors bringing in immigrants from Central Asia rather than hiring locally. The influx of foreign labourers will cause the same kind of discontent as it does in Russia proper. Only the shock at the suddenness of the change will be greater. The arrival of Russian organized crime, particularly of North Caucasian origin, will only aggravate the situation.

By grabbing the peninsula, Russia has essentially acquired a time bomb. Not only Crimea will eventually leave, but it may as well undo Russia altogether by heralding a parade of sovereignties Putin has been dreading since he came to power.

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March 26, 2014 at 8:37 pm

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Options for Crimean Tatars

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I wish I could witness this conversation: Putin vs Mustafa Cemilev. The mastermind of KGB revival vs celebrated dissident who spent 15 years in Soviet prisons.

Crimean Tatars are in a dire situation and Ukraine is not able to help them. But Putin is also risking – an ethnic conflict in the region that may soon become Russia is something he can’t afford.

I think the bargain will revolve around the lands grabbed by Crimean Tatars after their return from Stalin’s deportation. PM Aksyonov represents those forces in Crimea that want to claim these lands back and clamp down on Tatar-controlled businesses.

Putin may offer two options.

1. Crimean Tatars guarantee that they don’t start an armed insurrection. In that case, Putin can safely incorporate Crimea into Russia, giving the Tatars full protection from local Slavic mafias and most importantly ensuring the preservation of status quo as per the land grabs. He may also suggest that Tatars (Volga+Crimean) will enjoy some special status as the second largest ethnic group in Russia.

2. Crimean Tatars reserve their right to armed struggle. In that case, it will be wise for Putin to keep Crimea as a quasi-independent state until the fight is over. That will allow him to put down the insurrection using his Crimean proxies, who will not have any qualms about Geneva convention. Of course, in this case the Tatars will lose most lands and many will become refugees.

Of course Turkey (and to some extent Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan) may also have a way of influencing Russia, but its options are limited.

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March 11, 2014 at 8:13 pm

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Who Undermines Ukraine’s Euromaidan?

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In the last few days, Kiev was abuzz with rumours that the dispersal of Euromaidan protest, which has been occupying the city’s main square for almost two months, is imminent. It makes me puzzled. A crackdown wouldn’t help Yanukovych in the least, because police violence can bring hundreds of thousands back into the streets of Kiev. Why disperse people in the maidan, if the government can simply sit out the protest, which has failed to inspire the country’s economic and demographic core in the Russophone southeast. But false alarms help to wear down the protesters and I find it quite telling that it is mostly the far-right activists who ring them.

When the standoff began, the government’s Trojan horse had been already firmly established in the protesters’ camp. Oleh Tiahnibok is the most charismatic and talented of the three Euromaidan leaders and he commands the most organized and efficient opposition force – VO Svovoda. The party’s divisive rhetorics and its glorification of Nazi collaborators is the single biggest reason why the majority of Ukrainians shun Euromaidan movement.

Svoboda utterly compromises the declared goals of the protest – those of promoting European values, which includes ethnic and religious tolerance. An anti-Semitic Christmas performance staged by Svoboda MPs at the maidan in December is one good illustration. Svoboda is shifting the agenda from Ukraine’s real ills, such as rampant corruption and oligarchy, to the fight against the idols of a bygone era, as exemplified by the toppling of Lenin statue in Kiev. With his entourage taking over lucrative businesses across Ukraine, Yanukovych is a hardly a Communist – a Bentley showroom or a Louis Vuitton shop would have made a much better symbol of his rule, yet the poor old Lenin was shattered to pieces like Bamiyan Buddhas.

For Yanukovych, Tiahnibok is a dream rival in the 2015 presidential election. Ultra-nationalists are so loathed by most Ukrainians that their leader is guaranteed to lose the runoff even to a monkey. That’s why it is critical for the government to promote Svoboda at the expense of moderate opposition.

Nothing illustrates the danger of the alliance between the moderates and ultra-nationalists better than the recent clashes that followed the decision by a court in Kiev to sentence members of the ultra-nationalist group Patriots of Ukraine to six years in prison. Their organization describes itself as “social-nationalist” and sports a swastika-like insignia on its front page. It’s not just anti-European, in fact one of its leaders, Serhiy Bevz, had promoted the creation of a pan-Slavic union of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus – the video is available on YouTube.

They had been charged with conspiring to blow up a statue of Lenin in the suburb of Kiev. The trial was expectedly flawed and the sentence way too harsh, in the opinion of opposition activists. Protesters, mostly representing Svoboda and other far-right organizations, attempted to blockade a prison van carrying the suspects. Riot police responded with a brutal and indiscriminate beating of everyone who happened to be nearby, including prominent politician Yuriy Lutsenko and some journalists.

Himself a former interior minister, Lutsenko now says that protesters were “acting beyond the pale of law”. Everyone who watched Kiev protests knows that baton-wielding, balaclava-clad ‘Right Sector’ thugs are no ordinary protesters. Exactly what got him dragged into something clearly designed as a trap for moderate opposition leaders like himself is difficult to tell. The way he acted is also questionable – how on earth would calling the policemen “cattle” and shouting “faggot” at their commander help to alleviate the situation?

The result is that Lutsenko was severely beaten by the police. He is in hospital, receiving concerned Western diplomats. US ambassador has proclaimed him a “Euromaidan hero”. This might be a personal gain for himself, but it is a loss for Euromaidan. This story makes the image of the protest even more muddled and controversial. Far-right nationalists have already succeeded in dividing the country over the protest movement, they are now dangerously close to succeeding in discrediting the movement in the eyes of its own sympathizers.

The surprising complacency of Euromaidan’s Western cheerleaders, such as Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, to the movement’s dangerous tendencies also plays in the hands of Yanukovych. It helps his propaganda to paint a picture of the West playing a bizarre geopolitical game against Russia instead of promoting European values in Ukraine. If Western politicians want Euromaidan to fail, they should arrange more photo-ops with Tiahnibok – like EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton did, when she was in Kiev. If they want it to succeed, they must steer it towards becoming a truly nationwide movement that has a positive agenda for the Russophone part of the country.

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January 16, 2014 at 1:25 pm

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Navalny vs Akunin

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Today’s nationalist march in Moscow was accompanied by an interesting exchange between Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and writer Boris Akunin – the most prominent cultural figure to lead opposition demos in 2011-12.

In his initial post, Navalny once again endorsed the Russian march, but added that he would not attend it this year, citing tactical reasons. Akunin responded by saying that Navalny’s lingering nationalism is a sign of incompetence and that Navalny is not ready to assume the role of a national leader. This caused an uproar in .ru sector with many opposition activists condemning Akunin in most unflattering terms.

Navalny’s perspective

Navalny says he wants to reach out to nationalists, de-radicalize them and transform them into a respectable conservative movement. In his initial post, he described as his personal failure the fact that this goal had not been achieved.

Nationalism is a powerful political motivator. It was the main driving force behind anti-Communist revolutions in Eastern Europe. Western governments and media were encouraging anti-Soviet nationalism prior to the collapse of the USSR and continued to encourage anti-Russian nationalism in the last 20 years.

However, Russian nationalism was traditionally regarded with deep suspicion, although it is hardly worse than Ukrainian or Hungarian. Navalny is trying to create a European-styled nationalist movement, like Fidesz in Hungary. He also imports anti-immigrant rhetorics from the European Far Right, like Geert Wilders, and the US Tea Party.

Said that, the very fact that he is not attending the Russian march shows that his broad pro-democracy agenda overrides his nationalist leanings.

Akunin’s perspective

For Akunin, Navalny is a source of both hope and dissapointment. He wants Navalny to be a strong leader and believes that Navalny’s nationalism is what makes Navalny weak. Denying nationalism is a matter of principle for Akunin, who is not a politician.

Navalny believes that broad population is inherently nationalist, hence one needs to offer a strong nationalist agenda to win over it. But he might be taking random irresponsible rant for serious political convictions. Nationalists consistently fail to rally more than a few thousand people in Moscow. Their columns at opposition rallies were hilariously small even compared to those of radical left-wingers. They rallied over 10,000 today (Nov 4), in the aftermath of Biryulyovo events, but they have probably reached their ceiling.

Conversely, the participation of cultural leaders, such as Akunin, consistently ensured the highest attendance – up to 100,000 during Bolotnaya and Prospect Sakharova marches. The so-called ‘civic column’ led by them traditionally comprised the bulk of opposition marches. Numbers dwindled once people like Akunin distanced themselves from the movement.

Activists’ perspective

Rank-and-file activists of all political convictions took the brunt of the crackdown which began after Putin’s inauguration in 2012. Some of them have been in prison for almost 18 months. They get little attention from the media, compared with Pussy Riot or Greenpeace prisoners. Navalny himself has nearly landed in jail for five years and there is another criminal case waiting for him.

That makes activists feel bitter towards those who they see as bystanders unwilling to take part in serious action. One of May 6 suspects, Maria Baronova, pointed out on Twitter that Akunin had never attended Bolotnaya case trial, even though the hearings had been going on for several months. The fact that the person who once inspired them spends most of his time in his French home, while they are suffering, makes activists feel betrayed and abandoned.

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November 4, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Down with the Soviets

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When a projectile hit the White House, I was on the 24th floor of the Moscow State University main building – the most imposing of the city’s seven Stalin-esque skyscrapers. A dorm room shared by two Bosnian Serbs and two Germans turned out to be an ideal vantage point to observe the standoff between government troops and militants defending the Russian parliament.

One of the Germans was called Kermit. It was his real name – I had seen his passport. Moscow was a stopover on his bicycle journey to Indonesia. Only his bicycle was stolen the day he arrived, so he got stuck.

Kermit and the other German, called Mike, were desperate to get to the scene. “It’s history in the making, I can’t miss it!,” Mike exclaimed peering out of the open window. In the distance one could make out the tanks moving around the Russian parliament building.

The Serbs were badly depressed. “Why wherever I go THIS happens,” said Vlado who was the Serbian Tetris champion. He and the other guy, Zelko, had both deserted General Mladic’ army in Bosnia and fled to Belgrade, feeling unable to shoot at their school friends across the frontline.

Zelko actually synchronized his escape with a Muslim friend in the opposite trench, so he was proud he didn’t tip the balance in enemy’s favour. He was from Srebrenica. He would have probably had to take part in the massacre of Muslim civilians had he stayed.

They helped me to cool down the Germans by talking about the war in their country as I was observing a civil war unfold in my own.

In the middle of our dispute, the historic shot was made. As if taking its final breath, the White House released a huge cloud of papers while a black circle was rapidly expanding around the gap made by the gunshot. It was a gorgeous sight – the last of the Soviets taking its last breath.

At that moment I felt good. Not particularly happy about tanks shooting at the parliament, but relieved that my army defends me against the fascist gang which had come close to seizing my city. I had defended the White House in the democratic revolution of 1991. This time, I thought, the democratic government should defend me.

As for the parliament – which is a grand word for this ridiculously disorganized body formed before the USSR collapsed – I had few regrets about it. Especially after its leadership sought protection from right- and left-wing extremists who had fought in bloody regional conflicts on the fringes of the former USSR. All they wanted was more war.

The People’s Congress of Russian Soviet Socialist Republic was elected in March 1990, when all parties, apart from the CPSU, were still outlawed and non-existent even as illegal organizations. Opposition candidates had virtually no access to national TV or newspapers. Open opposition to Communist ideology was still a punishable crime. Although elections in Moscow and St Petersburg were really competitive, elsewhere around the country there was no alternative to candidates vetted by local party committees.

This parliament outlived the country it was elected in by two years. The Soviet Union was long gone, but Supreme Soviet was still there. It’s lifespan was wasted on arguments about the procedure and grotesque spending projects, which the MPs were putting forward although they knew that the government had barely enough money to avert famine. In a gesture of outright lunacy that parliament adopted two annual budgets with 100% deficit envisaging all sorts of spending which the government could never feasibly deliver. As a result, Gaidar’s reformist government was toppled and the era of crooks and thieves began with the advent of Chernomyrdin.

I had always wondered why Yeltsin had not dissolved the Congress of People’s Deputies and the Supreme Soviet back in 1991. He had so much more legitimacy in both legal and moral terms. But then again, I wasn’t a fan of Yeltsin. I couldn’t grasp this idolization of a former Communist party functionary because I though the whole point of the 1991 revolution was about toppling the Communist government. For me it was a battle of two evils, of which Yeltsin was evidently a lesser one.

I find it ridiculous when people say that Russian democracy was destroyed at that moment. The Supreme Soviet embodied everything that is alien to democracy and the rule of law. It discredited parliamentary procedure and I was not surprised when disenchanted voters turned to Zhirinovsky in 1993 Duma election having watched this joke of a parliament for two years.

In its final months it became the symbol of a very real prospect – that of a Yugoslavia-style civil war. Plans were being cooked up in various quarters for invasions into Crimea and northern Kazakhstan while wars were already raging in Abkhazia and Transnistria. Yugoslavian butchers Karadzic and Mladic became role models for disenfranchised KGB types and freakish political activists. These were the forces that assembled in the sieged White House and for a few days they had indeed succeeded in turning Moscow into Sarajevo.

In my opinion, there was one good thing about this dark and awkward moment in Russia’s history. It was when people, Muscovites first and foremost, rejected civil war. Its specter was never seen again on the streets of Moscow and other Russian cities. One might argue that this scare of an upheaval is the only thing that keeps Putin going up until now. But that’s a totally different story.

Written by fullofbias

October 3, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

WEDNESDAY: Beaks & Tricks

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Weather permitting, Vladimir Putin will fly a hang glider over Yamal peninsula in northern Siberia tomorrow, leading a flock of very rare Arctic cranes (only 20 left in the wild in total) on their seasonal migration.

Hang gliders help changing rare birds’ migration patterns, so that they winter in safer places, e.g. national parks, not their traditional breeding areas, w

here they get killed.

A crane expert told RSN radio that in order to succeed (in other words – to cheat the unsuspecting cranes), Putin will have to wear a white robe, a special helmet and most importantly – a fake beak. A good use for his training in the art of deception.

A few hours later, the same man corrected himself by saying that Putin will only hold the helmet with a beak, but he won’t put them on.

It didn’t take long for an avalanche of jokes to descend on the Russian blogosphere.

One of the first to emerge, was Sergey Yolkin’s cartoon depicting a winged Putin who tells the cranes: “Let’s define our roles straight away. I’ll be the alpha-crane”.

Comedian Mikhail Shats wrote on Facebook: “Cranes will be idiots if one of them doesn’t become Putin’s envoy to Yamal peninsula”.

It was a reference to engineer Igor Kholmanskikh, who – posing as an ordinary labourer at his plant in the Urals during a live broadcast – promised Putin that the workers will come to Moscow and sort opposition protesters out, should the police fail to do so.

As a reward, Kholmanskikh jumped from obscurity into the seat of Putin’s envoy to the Urals, coordinating the work of law-enforcement bodies and the executive in a key region of Russia.

The planned PR stunt is likely to produce the most entertaining images from Russia since Pussy Riot affair. One might suggest it was design detract people’s attention from the ongoing crackdown on the opposition on the eve of the APEC summit in Vladivostok.

Meanwhile, a number of less telegenic stories are unfolding in Russia –

– One of the handful of genuine opposition MPs – Gennady Gudkov – is facing criminal charges
– Opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been charged with fraud and is facing a prison sentence
– Arrests continue of participants in May 6 clashes with the police. Most are based on slim evidence, people arrested in June had their detention period prolonged till November
– Other Russia activist Taisia Osipova was sentenced to eight years in prison for selling drugs, which a key prosecution witness admitted were planted in her flat by detectives
– Ultra-nationalist activist have been harassing Pussy Riot supporters, while pro-government media accused them of a ritual double murder in Kazan and anti-church acts of vandalism around the country
– NGO leaders are facing huge fines or imprisonment if they fail to register as foreign agents

And so on.

Written by fullofbias

September 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized