A huge snowdrift in downtown Petersburg was graffitied with an insult to Beglov. Workers began clearing it within an hour • Yevgeny Antonov • Bumaga • January 10, 2022
A large frozen snowdrift near the Sennaya Ploshchad subway station in downtown Petersburg attracted notice this morning. An insult to the city’s governor, Alexander Beglov, who has been blamed for poor snow removal, had been written on it in black.
Bumaga asks readers to guess how soon this snow hill will be removed.
Updated after 12:00 p.m. Workers have begun clearing the snowdrift.
Updated after 12:00 p.m. An eyewitness has informed Bumaga that workers have begun removing the snowdrift. A little less than an hour has passed since we published this news, and an hour and a half since the accumulation of snow was first noticed.
According to an eyewitness, municipal services employees removed the graffito separately as trucks worked nearby. “Two trucks loaded with snow have already left Sennaya. The backhoe driver drove up, took a keepsake photo [of the offending snowdrift], and began shoveling the neighboring snowdrift,” he said.
Read more about it:
Fate, Sauron or Navalny? Our readers on who is to blame for the poor snow removal in St. Petersburg.
Periodicals that previously supported Beglov are now criticizing him for the uncleared snow. What’s happening?
Activists in Novosibirsk record message for the international community about Kazakhstan • Arina Yuzhnaya • Siber.Realii (RFE/RL) • January 10, 2022
Novosibirsk residents have recorded a video message to the international community “on behalf of all Russian citizens who oppose the Russian military intervention in Kazakhstan.” They are certain that the peaceful protesters in Kazakhstan “are not terrorists,” our correspondent reports.
Nine people appear in the video, including pianist Timofei Kazantsev, former head of the We Are Against Corruption Foundation Viktor Sorokin, and activists Andrei Kaygorodtsev, Rashid Zamanov and Alexander Abrosov. The appeal has been released in two versions: in Russian with English subtitles, and in English translation.
“The citizens of Kazakhstan who came out to protest poverty and corruption are not terrorists. Their arrests, and even more so their murders, are unacceptable,” they say in the message.
They stress that they consider the Russian military intervention unacceptable, since it could lead to “interethnic hostility and bloodshed.”
“President Tokayev called on the CSTO to defend [Kazakhstan] against an external terrorist threat. We believe that the Kazakhs will perceive Russian soldiers, who make up the bulk of the Collective Security Treaty Organization military contingent, as an external threat,” Kazantsev told us.
He believes that there now exists an “extraordinary situation in which our country is potentially behaving like an aggressor.” Kazantsev considers it wrong when an international organization meddles in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, even at the request of the country’s president. All this, in his opinion, is fraught with consequences.
For this reason, the authors of the video also appeal to the people of Kazakhstan. They explain that the Russian people have no “aggressive ambitions,” but that “no one has asked the opinion of ordinary Russians.”
At the end of the appeal, the authors of the video demand the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kazakhstan.
The Kazakh government has unleashed ferocious repression against the uprising that exploded last week.
Security forces opened fire on demonstrators. “Dozens” died, according to media reports, but on 7 January president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev let slip that “hundreds” had been killed. Tokayev also said he gave the order to “shoot to kill without warning” to suppress protests.
There are no accurate figures, because the government has cut off internet access for almost the whole country and imposed an information blockade.
The internal affairs ministry has said that more than 4400 people have been arrested, and warned that sentences of between eight years and life will be imposed. The Kazakh regime has used torture against worker activists before: its forces may be emboldened by the 3000 Russian and other troops flown in to support them.
It’s difficult, in the midst of this nightmare, to try to analyse the wave of protest and its consequences. Anyway, here are four points, based on what I can see from a distance.
Novosibirsk city councilman asks prosecutor to investigate complicity of United Russia reps in veteran’s death Sibir.Realii (RFE/RL)
January 7, 2022
Novosibirsk city councilman Georgy Andreyev has asked the prosecutor’s office to investigate whether the United Russia party was complicit in the death of 100-year-old Second World War veteran Nikolai Bonkin. The veteran died of covid-19 five days after he was visited by United Russian party members, who congratulated him on the New Year. They were without masks and did not observe social distancing. As part of its “Happy New Year, Veteran!” campaign, United Russia congratulated hundreds of veterans in the Novosibirsk region alone.
Andreyev told Sibir.Realii that he was outraged by the carelessness of the United Russia members. Party rep Tatyana Sazonova published a report on their visit to Nikolai Bonkin. The pictures she posted on Instagram show that not all the congratulators were wearing masks. Not only did they not maintain social distancing, but they also hugged the veteran, even pressing their cheeks to his face. Packages with gifts from State Duma member Dmitry Savelyev are also visible in the snapshots.
“A legendary war veteran has passed away: this is a great loss for the city. Five days before [his death], United Russia party ‘envoys’ had come to see him. Nikolai Sergeyevich Bonkin had survived the war, the 1990s, and the Yeltsin-Putin reforms, but he was apparently unable to survive, unfortunately, United Russia’s desire to hype itself,” Andreyev said.
The councilman appealed to the prosecutor’s office in response to this incident. (Sibir.Realii has obtained a copy of the complaint.) In addition, he has discovered that the campaign “Happy New Year, Veteran!” was a nationwide affair, and that United Russia had visited around 400 veterans in the Novosibirsk region alone. In snapshots featuring veterans, published on the party’s website, the party’s elected officials and representatives are not wearing masks and do not maintain social distancing.
Andreyev noted that in late October, when the State Duma was considering a bill to exempt war veterans from utility bills, 297 United Russia MP “simply refused to press the buttons” [and thus vote in favor of the bill]. Among them were four Novosibirsk MPs, Andreyev said.
There are four points in Andreyev’s complaint. He asks the prosecutor’s office to investigate whether United Russia rep Tatyana Sazonova was complicit in Nikolai Bonkin’s death, whether the individuals in the photos were vaccinated against the coronavirus, and whether they are currently symptomatic. The councilman also asked the prosecutor’s office to find out whether there were other Great Patriotic War veterans who died during or after the “Happy New Year, Veteran!” campaign. In addition, the councilman wants the prosecutor’s office to determine whether there were signs of genocide, [as defined by the Criminal Code,] in United Russia’s actions.
“There is a clause in the article [defining genocide in the Criminal Code] about persecuting a group of people for political reasons. I don’t see anything other than political motives in these actions,” Andreyev explained. “It is important for me to understand who initiated the visits to veterans in local communities. Where did United Russia obtain the personal data of veterans and their relatives? What were their grounds for entering the apartments of elderly people? Who are these people [who paid the visits]? Who verified whether they were political reliable?”
The regional prosecutor’s office did not return our telephone call.
Mighty Putinist Russia can occupy Crimea, invade Ukraine, and “pacify” the “terrorists” in Kazakhstan, but it can’t manage to shovel the sidewalks in our old neighborhood in Petersburg, reports Boris Vishnevsky, the city councilman for our district. If you’ve been watching this space for a while, you’ll recall that snow removal has vexed the Petersburg authorities at least since the “anomalous” winter of 2010-2011, when a healthy amount of snow (Petersburg is the world’s northernmost major city, after all) led to a total “snowpocalypse” on the streets and, most devastatingly, the roofs, flooding thousands of apartments, including ours. ||| TRR
I walked around my council district for two hours: Zagorodny – Zvenigorodskaya – Pravda – Socialisticheskaya – Dostoevsky – Razyezhaya – Svechnoy – Marat – Kuznechny – Pushkinskaya – Mayakovsky – Nevsky – Liteiny – Bolshaya Konyushennaya.
I found no signs that the sidewalks had been cleared. Nor did I find any traces of janitors.
Walking on the vast majority of sidewalks on these streets (the exception is Nevsky, and parts of Marat and Liteiny) is simply dangerous.
Even Mayakovsky Street is dangerous 2-3 meters off Nevsky. On Pushkinskaya, the danger zone begins even closer to the city’s main street.
Don’t even get me started about smaller streets.
I’m posting a portion of the photos I took. Social media are chockablock with similar images.
Now it will get colder — and the black ice and widespread injuries will kick off.
A friend suggested a good idea: to arrange an inspection of janitors. They would all have to be at “their” houses at seven in the morning. And the head of each district would have to personally make the rounds and check how many of them are real — that is, how many of them don’t exist only on paper.
We should demand that the authorities carry out such an inspection.
Meanwhile, [Petersburg] Governor Alexander Beglov, according to the Smolny’s website, has been discussing with Tamara Moskvina the prospects for the development of grassroots sports in Petersburg.
Meanwhile, walking on the sidewalks in the center of the city he leads is a real extreme sport.
YouTube demands that an LGBT blogger living in the United States remove a video that violates Russian law OVD Info
January 4, 2022
YouTube has demanded that the blogger Felix Glyukman, who lives in the US, delete his [Russian-language] video “How I Realized I’m Gay.” The news was reported by Sota, who quoted Glyukman’s Facebook post on the matter.
The video hosting service referred to a letter it had received from Roskomnadzor. The notice states that the video, which the blogger posted in 2019, violates the Russian law “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection” and contains information prohibited for distribution. YouTube informed Glyukman that it would block the video if he failed to delete it.
“I actually found the video in Roskomnadzor’s registry. By the way, in it I talk about how I became aware of my sexual orientation in adolescence and how my preferences manifested themselves even in childhood. I also recommended the book This Book is Gay. Apparently that’s why the hardworking asses of Roskomnadzor’s staffers caught on fire: because it was about me as a minor,” commented Glyukman.
The blogger adds that he has not lived in Russia since 2017, and shot the video in Miami.
URGENT MESSAGE FOR MEDIA AND HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATES!
SHARE AND PROMOTE!
Stop deportation of Danila Vasilyev!
As a politically active young man, Mr. Vasilyev took part in various movements that took place around the presidential election in Russia in 2018.
He is also a founder of an athletics club which provided the local youth with an opportunity to exercise, take part in competitions and tournaments, as well as to participate in cultural events and activities. The athletic society was also involved in regional politics and a number of its members were political activists. Mr. Vasilyev also participated in the work of a YouTube channel that satirised current Russian political events and Russian politicians.
As an act of civil disobedience and due to their disagreement with Russian foreign and internal policy (mainly due to the Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Russian carpet bombings of civilian population in Syria), on 11.11.2018 Mr. Vasilyev and two of his friends (A. Shabarchin and A. Etkin) organised a political performance at one of Perm’s squares. The performance consisted of a mannequin with a mask of Vladimir Putin, that was tied to a pole. The placard on the mannequin’s chest read «Военный Преступник Пыня В.В.» [Translation: “War Criminal V.V. Pynya”; this is a derogatory nickname fior Vladimir Putin.] This political performance was recorded and later published on YouTube and various social media.
On 03.01.2019 Mr. Vasilyev and his friends were detained and their homes searched. They were charged with «Hooliganism committed by an organised group in a preliminary conspiracy» (Article 213, Part 2 of the Russian Penal Code). The investigation was conducted among others by the Russian Centre for Prevention of Extremism (known as Centre E), which in reality is one of the main tools of oppression and are frequently used to suppress and terrorise the opposition. The case and the course proceedings were covered by a variety of Russian and international media, while a number of organisations and individuals called the case a political one. On 18.08.2020 A. Shabarchin and D. Vasilyev were found guilty.
Mr. Vasilyev’s sentence ended on 18.09.2021.
Due to persecution Mr. Vasilyev decided to leave Russia and seek political asylum in Europe. Once his probation term ended, he applied for and subsequently received a Hungarian tourist visa and on 14.10.2021 arrived in Budapest. His intention was to seek political asylum in Hungary in accordance with the Dublin Regulation. Upon arrival he reported to a Hungarian police officer at the Budapest Airport, who directed him to an immigration centre where he was informed that Hungary does not accept refugees, asylum seekers and does not grant political asylum. He was instructed to travel to Austria.
He was never able to apply for political asylum in Hungary, no formalised procedure took place (including verbal application), he was not at any point taken into custody and the Hungarian authorities refused to provide any written acknowledgement of his presence there.
He spent the night in a hostel in Budapest and the following day of 15.10.2021 took a train to Vienna.
Upon his arrival at Vienna Central Station on 15.10.2021 (Friday) evening, Mr. Vasilyev entered a local police station where he stated that he seeks political asylum due to persecution in his homeland. Once again he was unable to apply for asylum. He was given a piece of paper with the address of the nearest immigration centre and was told to report there on Monday. As his Schengen tourist visa was still valid for several days, Mr Vasilyev was able to leave the police station and for the next two days was hosted at a private residence of compassionate Austrian nationals.
The day of his arrival in Austria, the Russian authorities arrested a number of his friends and colleagues from the Perm athletic club. Mr Vasilyev’s flat was stormed by the Russian police and his whereabouts were investigated by both police and Russian security services.
On 18.10.2021 he reported to the Refugee Centre at Traiskirchen in Lower Austria, as it was established that he was under no legal obligation to report to the Viennese centre that he was referred to. There, Mr. Vasilyev once again attempted to seek political asylum, however, he was told to report to the Refugee Centre located near the Vienna International Airport Schwechat where he was finally able to apply for political asylum and begin the asylum seeking process as defined by the laws of the Austrian Republic. Following the required first interview he was transferred to the Traiskirchen Refugee Centre.
On 23.10.2021 Mr Vasilyev was transferred to a Refugee Centre in Ohlsdorf, Upper Austria, on the outskirts of Gmunden.
AWAITING DEPORTATION FROM AUSTRIA
On 27.12.2021 Mr Vasilyev received a letter from the Austrian authorities that suggests his eminent deportation to Hungary, in accordance with the Dublin Regulation. On the 29.12.2021 he was able to discuss the document in question with an advisor provided by the Bundesamt für Fremdenwesen und Asyl who failed to clarify the nature of the letter and was unable to communicate with Mr. Vasilyev in a language that he could understand. On 30.12.2021 Mr Vasilyev contacted the responsible agency (Bundesamt für Fremdenwesen und Asyl) with the desire to clarify the content of the letter and in order to preemptively appeal the possibility of deportation.
The Hungarian authorities instructed Mr. Vasilyev to travel to Austria in order to seek political asylum. The current Hungarian government led by Victor Orban is on good terms with the current Russian regime and will undoubtedly repatriate a Russian national who seeks political asylum. The practices of the Hungarian government in regards to refugees and asylum seekers have been criticised by both the UNHR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights).
It is very likely that the Russian Federation will demand Mr Vasilyev’s extradition based on falsified criminal charges. In the event of his return to the Russian Federation, Mr Vasilyev will be arrested and tried on either false criminal charges or charged with one of the offences that the Russian prosecution service is currently attempting to pin on his friends and his colleagues from the Perm athletic club. A number of them were arrested in October 2021 and several are awaiting trial. In recent years, the regime of Vladimir Putin frequently tries political activists and opposition figures on fabricated criminal charges.
If Danila Vasilyev is returned to Russia and imprisoned, it is possible that he will not survive prison. Those who oppose the Russian government are frequently murdered while incarcerated, tortured by the prison authorities and denied medical assistance. The most prominent case is that of Sergei Magnitsky, a tax advisor who uncovered large-scale corruption and died in prison due to denial of medical assistance. His death resulted in international outrage and a number of sanction lists against Russian officials, enacted by the European Union and the United States.
!!! WE URGE ALL MEDIA, HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATES, DECISION MAKERS, and all [concerned] people to stand up for Danila and PREVENT THE EXECUTION OF THE OFFICIAL DECISION TO DEPORT HIM TO HUNGARY and further to the Russian Federation !!!
(Credits to Democratic Movement for Freedom in Russia – Vienna, Austria , Michael Alexander Albert Korobkov-Voeikov for the text)
I have edited this message slightly to make it more readable. ||| TRR
Russian Jets Knock Out Water Supply In Syria’s Idlib • RFE/RL • January 2, 2022
Russian warplanes have bombed a pumping station that provides water to rebel-controlled Idlib city in northwestern Syria, potentially depriving hundreds of thousands of people in the overcrowded city of water, according to witnesses and a monitoring group.
Russian Sukhoi jets dropped bombs in Idlib and several surrounding villages on January 2, witnesses and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
“Reliable sources said that Russian fighter jets have so far carried out nearly 10 air strikes targeting the vicinity of Al-Sheikh Yusuf village in western Idlib countryside, the vicinity of the central prison near Idlib city, and the vicinity of Sejer water station, which feeds Idlib city and its western villages, leaving the station out of action as pipes have been damaged,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
An official at the city’s water utility service confirmed the pumping station was out of action as a result of the strikes.
There was no immediate comment from the Russian or the Syrian armies.
More than 3 million civilians live in jihadist and rebel-controlled Idlib Province, many of them displaced from other parts of Syria during the country’s decade-long civil war. Most of the population in Idlib is dependent on UN humanitarian assistance to survive.
In March 2020, Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, and Turkey, which supports some opposition groups, agreed to a de-escalation zone in Idlib. However, rebel attacks and Russian and Syrian bombing have continued despite the cease-fire.
Turkey has thousands of troops deployed at bases in Idlib to deter a Syrian Army offensive, which it fears would push millions of people across the border as refugees.
Syrian and Russian planes have carried out deadly aerial strikes on schools, hospitals, markets, and other infrastructure in Idlib Province that UN investigators and rights groups say may amount to war crimes.
Jihadist factions have also been accused of carrying out possible war crimes.
We know what solidarity in the face of war looks like. It looks like the Grupa Granica, set up to support those stranded on the Polish border by the government’s vicious anti-migrant policy and the Belarusian government’s cynical manipulation of refugees.
To those supporting refugees – whether in Poland or Belarus, or in the English Channel, targeted by the UK government’s murderous crackdown – it makes no difference which war people are fleeing. It might be the US-UK-supported war in Iraq, or the bloodbath perpetrated in Syria by Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Now, we face the possibility of renewed Russian military action in Ukraine. This carries the greatest threat of war in Europe since the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.
The war in eastern Ukraine in 2014-15 has already caused 2 million or more people to flee their homes: more than 1 million now counted as “internally displaced” in Ukraine; at least as many have crossed the border to Russia. A new conflict would be both a human tragedy and a threat to social movements.
Solidarity is needed. An anti-war movement is needed.
Already, pro-Putin propaganda – that corrodes parts of the so-called “left”, as well as thriving on the extreme right – is being dialled up. It seeks to justify Russia’s military preparations. And it could endanger efforts to galvanise anti-war protest.
Putin’s little helpers on the “left” generally have a world view inherited from Stalinism: they believe that authoritarian regimes that spout anti-American rhetoric (Russia, China or both) are to be praised; the imperial character of these regimes’ actions is ignored; and these regimes, rather than popular movements, are seen as the means to resist western powers.
Andrew Murray, writing on the Stop the War website, claims that “if there is conflict over Ukraine, it is the west that bears most of the blame”. But it’s not “if”. There has been a conflict going on for more than six years, which has taken more than 14,000 lives.
The forces involved are the Ukrainian army, the vastly better-resourced Russian army, and separatists and mercenaries supported by, and to a large extent funded and armed by, the Russian state. The western powers have been noticeable by their absence.
Murray says the 100,000 Russian troops stationed on the Ukrainian border are “allegations” and “media speculation”. John Wojcik in the Morning Star says they are there “if corporate press outlets are to be believed”. In the real world where the rest of us live, the Russian forces actually exist (see satellite pictures here and here).
Murray claims that the NATO military alliance is “trying to seize Ukraine by means of moving NATO right up to Russia’s borders”, that the US is “arming Ukraine to the hilt to resist” and that “British troops are stationed in the Balkans”. The journalist and commentator Paul Mason has demolished these claims point by point. He writes:
There is, in short, no NATO plan to “seize” Ukraine; no possibility of Ukraine joining NATO; no “arming to the hilt”; no significant number of British troops in the Balkans; no major deployment of NATO troops “eastwards towards Poland”.
The danger of war is real. But to deny the central role of the Russian military is to deny reality.
Putin’s helpers have form on this. During the civil war in Syria, the Stop the War campaign and their friends had little or nothing to say about the murderous Assad regime and the Russian government that armed and militarily supported it – despite the fact that they were responsible for an estimated 90% of the killings.
While the regime preferred to butcher and torture its own citizens, rather than to grant them a measure of democratic rights, Putin’s helpers spoke up only about minor incursions by western forces … the “anti-imperialism of idiots”, as Syrian-British writer Leila al-Shami called it.
As for Ukraine, the Stop the War campaign did nothing to support the victims of the 2014-15 conflict, but nevertheless hurried to the defence of the Russian “leftist” Boris Kagarlitsky, who joined fascists and nationalists in supporting the Russian intervention.
Fairytale no. 2: Ukraine is fascist, really
There was a “fascist coup” in Ukraine in 2014, writes John Wojcik in the Morning Star (in an article republished from the US-based People’s World, of which Wojcik is editor). “Hundreds of trade union leaders and activists were murdered by the new right-wing Ukrainian government shortly after it came to power.” He also claims that the new government “banned opposition political parties, including the widely supported Communist party”. And it “banned the use of the Russian language, the primary language of 40% or more of the Ukrainian people”. Let’s go through the bits of this fairytale one by one.
(a) A “fascist coup”. The overthrow of the government headed by president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 was, by any measure, a mass popular action. A crowd of more than half a million people occupied the centre of Kyiv for more than two weeks, in the face of assaults ranging from baton charges to sniper fire, making it impossible for the government to continue. There were mass actions on a similar scale in dozens of other towns and cities. The politics of this “Maidan” protest were complex. Participants ranged from fascists, who played a key part in the violent confrontations with the old regime’s armed forces, to socialists and anarchists. But the word “coup” is meaningless to describe it. As for the new government, while its record on defending democratic rights was mixed to put it mildly, it was no more “fascist” than the governments of e.g. Poland or Hungary. And, in terms of the rights to assembly, free speech and workplace organisation, less repressive than the governments of e.g. Turkey or Russia.
(b) “Hundreds of trade union leaders and activists were murdered by the new right-wing Ukrainian government.” This is false – shockingly so. No such murders took place. No such murders have been recorded on the web sites of Ukraine’s two trade union federations. None have been mentioned in the detailed reports of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights on attacks on civil rights in Ukraine. Demonstrators were killed in clashes with the security forces, but this was mostly before Yanukovych was overthrown. Activists and journalists have been attacked, and some killed, apparently by non-state actors, albeit sometimes with covert support from elements in the state. In 2014, prior to the military conflict, there were other deaths and injuries resulting from civil conflict. The most serious incident, by far, was the deaths of demonstrators opposed to the new government who, confronted by its supporters, took refuge in a trade union building in Odessa that was then set on fire. Ukrainian law enforcement did little to investigate. Tragic as these deaths were, they were not murders of trade union leaders or activists by the government.
(c) The government “banned opposition political parties”, including the Communist party. It didn’t. The electoral commission banned the Communist party from participation in the 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections, under the 2015 “decommunisation” law. This law, which forbids the promotion of “totalitarian regimes”, defined as Nazi and Communist, and their symbols, has been and is being used to attack democratic rights. Together with similar laws in other eastern European countries, it deserves to be denounced and resisted. But note, too, that the Communist party continues to operate legally; that it has mounted legal challenges to the ban; that no other party has been banned from electoral participation under the law; and that the government and the electoral rights group OPORA are currently in dispute over the extent of proportional representation – an election procedure that in the UK, for example, remains an unattainable dream.
(d) The government “banned the use of the Russian language”. It didn’t – and it’s irresponsible and inflammatory to sit in an editorial office in the US claiming it did. A law making Ukrainian the single state language was adopted in 2019 – the culmination of three decades of argument, shaped both by by aspirations to revive Ukrainian culture that has suffered historically from Russian imperial domination, and by hard-line Ukrainian nationalism. Ukrainian socialists opposed the measure (and I sympathise with them). Remember, though, that the law requires that Ukrainian be used in public spaces, and not exclusively; that it does not apply to private or religious life; that it will be applied in the education system, and to TV, over an extended period; and that breaching the law is essentially a civil, not criminal offence. (See reports by Russia’s state owned TASS news agency here, and Russia’s opposition newspaper Novaya Gazetahere.)
Another of Putin’s helpers’ favourite tricks is to portray Ukraine as protective of the memory of wartime Nazi collaborators. With no reference to the real, complex battles over memory (see e.g. here and here), they point to Ukraine’s opposition to a Russian resolution on the holocaust at the UN, in a ridiculous diplomatic ritual repeated annually since 2005 (see here and here). This is a facile attitude to a serious subject. Putin’s helpers seem blind to the reality that it is the security forces in Russia, not Ukraine, that have recently tortured and jailed a group of young anti-fascists.
Fairytale no. 3: Ukraine is part of Russia, really
Putin’s helpers insist that Ukraine is not really a country with a history. The Stop the War site says that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 “turned what had been internal borders, arbitrarily drawn with no great significance, into inter-state boundaries”; Ukraine has “failed to develop anything like a common democratic culture”; therefore what is now “decisive” is the “international aspect” and the actions of the western powers; and what mattered about 2014 was that the government established in Kyiv was “anti-Russian”.
Both Stop the War and the Morning Star quote Putin’s article On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians, published in July. It heightened fears in Ukraine of imminent invasion, with insanely exaggerated warnings of a path towards “an ethnically pure Ukrainian state”, that would be comparable to “the use of weapons of mass destruction against us”. (Putin followed up earlier this month, with a deranged claim that “current developments in Donbass” are “very reminiscent of genocide”.)
In his article, Putin explains the tsarist empire’s anti-Ukrainian legislation of the 1870s on the grounds that the Polish nationalist revolt was in progress; argues that Ukrainian nationhood was an invention of the Poles and/or Austro-Hungarians; and describes the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, by which Poland and the Baltic states were divided between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, with the words “the USSR regained the lands earlier seized by Poland”. He never once refers to Russian imperialism and colonialism, and the role they have played in shaping, and trying to deny, Ukrainian national identity.
That Putin justifies his imperial aspirations with reference to Russia’s imperialist past is not surprising. For western “leftists” to endorse this logic suggests that the “left” has sunk to a new low.
Fairytale no. 4: Putin is protecting Russia’s riches from imperialist looters
“Possible western aggression against Russia” is caused, in part, by “the desire of the fossil fuel monopolies to control the world energy market”, the Morning Star claims. These western interests seek to “turn Ukraine into a base”, in order to “achieve economic control of Russia”. This is unbelievably upside-down and back-to-front.
The Russian economy was subordinated to world markets, as a supplier of raw materials such as oil, gas and minerals, in a process that took two decades after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. In the first decade of Putin’s presidency, especially, large chunks of the wealth earned from these exports found its way into private hands and was shipped to offshore locations, at the rate of tens of billions of dollars per year.
Although Putin insisted that the private owners of oil and metals companies pay more taxes than they did in the 1990s, and some oil assets have been renationalised (the state owns an estimated 50% of the oil industry now), investigations by journalists and the anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny have shown conclusively that his governing team put far, far more effort into diverting many billions in to their own accounts. Russian oil companies remain open to foreign investment; the largest of them, Rosneft, is 22% owned by BP.
So Russia’s economy has been integrated into the world capitalist economy in a way that serves its elite, not its people. Material inequalities have widened substantially under Putin.
Since 2014, a giant contradiction has opened up for the Russian government. The elite’s economic interests would be best served by developing these good relations with foreign capital. But its political interests required it to stoke up nationalism, to seek to reinforce its diplomatic and military control over its near neighbours that have slipped from its imperial grasp, Ukraine first among them. The war fought by Russia in Ukraine in 2014-15 was driven by these politics, not by economic interests. It, and western sanctions that resulted, damaged those interests.
The western powers already have most of what they want from the Russian economy. The idea that they are plotting military action to control it is, frankly, daft. There’s no doubt that the US hopes to constrain Russia’s geopolitical and military reach in central Europe – although the western alliance is split, and Germany is generally readier to compromise with Russia. But there is another factor here: the popular movement that removed Yanukovich and drastically weakened Russia’s political control over Ukraine, rooted in a history of colonialism. Putin is not only trying to reassert Russian influence against a divided NATO, but is also reacting to those changes in Ukrainian society. And it is Ukrainians who are being killed, and Ukrainian communities divided and devastated, by war.
The arguments put by Putin’s helpers are so absurd that I find it hard to explain them to Russian and Ukrainian friends. In 2015, a Ukrainian friend living in the UK asked: “What is it with these people? Are they being paid by the Russian embassy?” I answered that I was sure they are not. They justify Putin’s actions on account of their messed-up ideology, which on some level they must believe. That’s why, although it’s a bit like explaining why the earth isn’t flat, I offer readers these thoughts. SP, 29 December 2021.
Thanks to Simon Pirani for permission to reprint his essay here. ||| TRR
When your weary mind
loses its balance,
when the steps of this staircase
give way beneath your feet
like a ship’s deck,
when your nocturnal solitude
doesn’t give a hoot about humanity,
reflect on eternity
and doubt the purity
of ideas, theories, modes
of art appreciation
and, interestingly, the conception
by Madonna of her son Jesus.
But it’s better to worship what’s given
with its deep graves.
many years from now,
they shall seem so dear.
Yes, better worship what’s given
with its short roads.
Later you’ll find them
strewn with compromises.
They’ll seem like large wings.
They’ll seem like large birds.
Yes, better worship what’s given
with its wretched standards.
Later, to the nth degree,
they’ll serve as a railing
(though not a particularly clean one),
keeping your hobbling truths
on this chipped staircase.
Original text. Thanks to Katya Vidre for the suggestion. Translated by the Russian Reader
Lyudmila Savitskaya • Facebook • December 28, 2021
A year ago, the Russian authorities labeled me a foreign agent. THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) WAS CREATED AND (OR) DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA OUTLET PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT AND (OR) A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT. During these 365 days, one of my bank cards was blocked on suspicion of money laundering, I was fined over ten thousand rubles for the Journalist-Foreign Agent LLC that I created by order of the Justice Ministry, and I was deprived of the opportunity to work on certain projects. Antidepressants appeared in my medicine cabinet, and a psychiatrist became one of my friends.
My husband Dmitry Permyakov was turned into a family member of an enemy of the people: as a person affiliated with a “foreign agent” he was summoned for questioning by Center “E” and threatened with torture in prison. And another person close to the police called to solicitously warn us that our home had been bugged. You can read this year’s other sad particulars in my column for Sever.Realii – “Luda, the floor is burning under your feet!” (See the link in the first comment.)
But here you can admire my super agent photo shoot, which was cold but quite a lot of fun. No time to die, happy new year!
Russia Labels Pussy Riot Activists, Satirist ‘Foreign Agents’ • Moscow Times • December 30, 2021
Russia has added members of the Pussy Riot art activist collective, a prominent satirist and an independent journalist its registry of “foreign agents” Thursday.
The designations close a year in which Russia labeled nearly every major independent domestic news outlet, as well as dozens of individual journalists and activists, a “foreign agent.”
Founding Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and fellow member Nika Nikulshina have been added to the Justice Ministry’s “foreign agents” registry.
Tolokonnikova, 32, was among the Pussy Riot members who were sentenced to prison for their 2012 protest performance in central Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral that criticized the Russian Orthodox Church’s close ties with President Vladimir Putin.
Anti-Kremlin satirist Viktor Shenderovich; Taisiya Bekbulatova, chief editor of the independent Holod news website; and art collector and former Kremlin advisor Marat Gelman have also been added to the list.
“These people systematically distribute materials to an indefinite circle of persons, while receiving foreign funds,” the Justice Ministry’s statement said.
The ministry’s registry now includes more than 100 entities and individuals, most of which were added in 2021.
Rights advocates denounce the country’s “foreign agents” law, saying it seeks to silence groups and individuals that dissent from state narratives by branding them with a label that carries dark connotations from the Soviet era.
Labeled individuals and entities must submit regular financial reports and detailed lists of income and spending, as well as prominently display a wordy disclaimer on all articles, social media posts and other publications — or else face criminal charges.
But officials defend the law, pointing to what they say are harsher equivalent laws in Western countries.
On Monday, prominent BBC Russian investigative journalist Andrei Zakharov said he left the country two months after being labeled a “foreign agent,” saying he faced “unprecedented surveillance” following his designation.
And Russian courts this week ruled to liquidate the two main structures of Memorial, Russia’s leading human rights group and a key pillar of its civil society, citing repeated violations of the “foreign agent” law.
After seeing today’s list of “foreign agents,” I thought: is any more proof required that this status is exclusively political, that its legal aspect does not matter at all? These are not foreign agents in the sense of “lobbyists of a foreign state.” They are “agents of the West” (in the broad sense of “the hostile West”). In this respect, their status directly depends on the Kremlin’s conflict with the outside world. The next stage of escalation (which, in my opinion, is inevitable) will automatically mean that, regardless of their legal status as “foreign agents,” the people on the list will be criminally prosecuted. After all, the list is “good to go”: it exists and therefore should be put to work. So the list is no joke at all. Anyone who does not leave the country before the Kremlin’s conflict with the West accidentally escalates will end up behind bars. Therefore, I won’t congratulate people dear to me on having this label conferred on them. It’s a very dangerous and grim business.
I want to say what will happen with the Russian media in 2022.
1. Domestic opposition media outlets will be destroyed and gutted. TV Rain and Echo of Moscow will have huge problems, including closure or reformatting, because they broadcast oppositional viewpoints. Neither [Alexei] Venediktov nor [Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry] Muratov will be able to save them.
2. Under various, poorly concealed pretexts, the local offices of Radio Svoboda [Radio Liberty] and the BBC will be closed. Radio Svoboda’s internet broadcasts and podcasts will be blocked, as well as the websites of these companies. VPNs will also be blocked.
3. The West will find itself in a paradoxical situation in which it will be necessary to resume short-wave broadcasting. Russia will respond by jamming them. Young people will run to their grandparents to retrieve old radios.
4. The media situation will be at the level of the late USSR. It will change only with Putin’s departure or death.
Items 1, 3, and 5 translated by the Russian Reader