Russia’s regions grow increasingly hostile to Mr. Navalny. Alexey Navalny’s campaign coordinator in Barnaul was stabbed by two men when trying to enter the local city hall building to apply for a demonstration permit. Artem Kosaretsky told reporters that he sewed up the wound himself and didn’t need to be hospitalized. Police have detained the attackers, though security guards at city hall reportedly refused to believe that Kosaretsky had been stabbed, attributing his wound to a scratch or even a mosquito bite. Hours earlier, unknown persons in Barnaul reportedly tried to set fire to Navalny’s local campaign headquarters.
(Source: Meduza‘s daily “The Real Russia. Today” e-mail newsletter, June 26, 2017)
How do these incidents, no doubt arranged by the local security forces, prove that “Russia’s regions have grown increasingly hostile” to Navalny?
Everyone needs to make the Supreme Leader happy once in a while, even Russian media “exiled” to Latvia.
P.S. Or is the guy who writes Meduza‘s English summaries increasingly hostile to Navalny? I can easily imagine that’s the case. Just as I can easily imagine that he doesn’t live in Russia, Latvia or anywhere in the vicinity. These days, you can just phone it in, so to speak, while living the good life in Albuquerque or Austin.
Frightened Passengers Do Not Let Ilyas Nikitin Board Plane in Vnukovo IslamNews
April 4, 2017
On Tuesday afternoon, passengers did not let Russian citizen Andrei (Ilyas) Nikitin, identified by the media as the alleged organizer of the terrorist attack in the Petersburg subway, on board a plan. The victim himself told IslamNews about the incident.
According to Nikilin, he had passed through passport control, but could not board the Rossiya Airlines plane due to protests from frightened passengers.
Even airport security personnel could not resolve the situation. Ultimately, Nikitin was forced to miss the flight.
Nikitin said the reaction of the passengers was a surprise to him, because on Tuesday morning he had flown from St. Petersburg to Moscow witn no problems.
He noted that law enforcement officials helped him get a refund for his ticket.
“The airline said it would not be able to put me on this plane. I hope to fly out on another plane tomorrow morning,” said Nikitin.
In connection with the incident, IslamNews appeals to its colleagues to comply with journalistic ethics. In particular, you should not publish unconfirmed information that could damage people’s reputations and cause panic in society.
Nikitin gave St. Petersburg law enforcement agencies high marks for their work after the terrorist attack in the city’s subway.
As previously reported, on the day of the terrorist attack, Nikita himself went to the police and said he was not complicit in the tragedy. Before this, video and photos of Nikitin, shot by a CCTV camera, went viral in the media. Because of his outward appearance (the clothes and beard typical of Muslims), the man was christened [sic] the alleged bomber.
The Search for Jihad in St. Petersburg*
Denis Korotkov Fontanka.ru
April 3, 2017
The guise of the suspect in the explosion in the Petersburg subway, whose photo has been distributed to police, is unambiguous. If the assumptions are correct, this is a public show. The man in a skullcap with a typical Muslim beard stepped right out of a poster for Islamic State, an organization banned in Russia.
Until April 3, 2017, terrorists did not try and blow Petersburg up [sic].** Homegrown skinheads, who assembled small DIY bombs, do not count in the bigger scheme of things. The first explosion in the subway has been marked with a clear trace. If the man wanted by the Chekists [sic] and police is guilty, he has issued a challenge. He wore no disguise, was emphatically Muslim in appearance, and was calm.
The explosion in the fourth car of the train that had departed from Sennaya Ploshchad subway station was heard around 2:30 p.m., when the train approached Tekhnologichesky Institut station. The dead and wounded are being counted. At the moment, officials agree that “about ten” people have been killed, and the number of wounded is around fifty. According to our information, the number of dead is fourteen. Another explosive device has been discovered and disarmed at Ploshchad Vosstaniya station.
Ambulance crews, Emergency Ministry teams, and police units, sirens blazing. The subway closed, endless traffic jams. Petersburg has never seen the likes of this.***
The prosecutor’s office initially declared the incident a terrorist act, then changed its mind. By 6:40 p.m., the Investigative Committee of Russia had decided the case would be investigated as a terrorist attack, with the proviso that the “investigation intends to look into all other possible explanations of this incident.”Meanwhile, Petersburg police had already received the photo of the man who, presumably, could have placed the explosive device in the fourth car.
A tall, black skullcap, straight-cut black clothing, a typical beard with no mustache: for a considerable number of Petersburgers [sic], this is what a classic Wahhabi looks like [sic], the kind of person from whom the subway is closed by metal detectors and police units.
Subway explosions have been the “privilege” of the capital until now. On June 11, 1996, a blast between Tulskaya and Nagatinskaya stations in Moscow killed four people and injured sixteen. On January 1, 1998, an explosive device was discovered at Tretyakovskaya station; three subway workers were injured when it exploded. On August 8, 2000, a blast in the underground passage on Pushkin Square killed thirteen and injured sixty-one people. In 2004, an explosion in a train traveling between Avtozavodskaya and Paveletskaya stations killed forty-one and injured two hundred and fifty people. On August 31, 2004, a female suicide bomber blew herself up at Rizhskaya station, leaving nine dead and injuring fifty. On March 29, 2010, two female suicide bombers blew themselves up at Lubyanka and Park Kultury stations, killing forty-one people and injuring more than a hundred.
The outcome of the investigations of the 2014 [sic] and 2010 explosions is well known: the female suicide bombers were radical Islamists who blew themselves up at the behest of their religious mentors.
It was calm in Petersburg until then.**** The bell sounded in August 2016, when an FSB Grad special forces team stormed a rented flat on the tenth floor of a sixteen-storey building on Leninsky Prospekt by breaking through the ceiling [sic]. The details of the operation are unknown even now. According to official reports, four Islamist militants shot back and were destroyed by return fire. Judging by the fact that the liquidated militants were part of an Islamic State-affiliated terrorist group, led by Timur Likhov, who had been killed several days earlier, they had not come to Petersburg for a holiday.***** The FSB’s press service did not say what exactly was contained in the canisters and bags that were taken from the ransacked flat and loaded into an official van.
In November 2016, FSB special forces again stormed a flat, this time on the first floor of a five-storey building on Sofia Kovalevskaya Street. The “peaceful taxi drivers” from Uzbekistan and Kirghizia [sic] who lived there had automatic weapons and explosives in their possession, which did not stop them from asking to go home with an infantile naïveté, right after embarrassed confessions of plans to set off bombs in the Galeriya shopping mall on Ligovsky Prospect or in the subway.
Given that immediately after the explosion on the approach to Tekhnologichesky Institut an explosive device was discovered on Ploshchad Vosstaniia, the Investigative Commission’s proviso about “other explanations,” except a terrorist attack, looks more like overcautiousness. Real explosives were discovered were almost simultaneously as the first explosion in the Petersburg subway happened. You can discuss how typical it is for Islamic terrorists to use a fire extinguisher as a casing for an explosive device or place a bomb under a seat in the subway instead of using suicide bombers, but the list of possible explanations is very short [sic].
Surveillance cameras recorded the man in black allegedly leaving a briefcase containing explosives in the fourth car, strolling across Sennaya Ploshchad without the briefcase, talking with someone on the phone, and then leaving [sic]. ****** He could not help but understand he was doing this in the crosshairs [sic] of video cameras. Then his skullcap and beard are not just a typical image, but a signal.
The signal has been received.
The Petersburg subway reopened at 8:40 p.m. For the time being, Petersburgers prefer not go to under ground.
* This incendiary, Islamophobic article, which shows every sign of violating Russian Criminal Code Article 282 (stipulating incitement of racial, ethnic, and religious hatred as a criminal offense) was posted on Fontanka.ru‘s website on April 3 at 9:35 p.m. Since that time, the “terrorist” in the CCTV camera still photograph, above, has voluntarily visited the police, been identified as Ilyas Nikitin, and has told the police he had nothing to do with the bombing in the Petersburg subway on April 3. Apparently, the police believed his testimony, because they immediately released him. And yet, as of 9:30 a.m. on April 5, this article is still posted on Fontanka.ru without the slightest indication that there have been any developments in the case since then. Is this the way ethical journalists work?
** This claim is false, both in terms of Petersburg’s recent history and certainly in terms of its history more generally. What were the Nazi trying to do during the 900-day siege of the city, during WWII, if not “trying to blow [it] up”?
*** A city that went through three revolutions, a civil war, and a 900-day siege by the Nazis from 1905 to 1944 “has not seen the likes of this”?
**** Petersburg in the mid noughties was anything but “calm.” There were hundreds of assaults, perpretated by neo-Nazi skinheads, on Central Asian migrant workers, students and visitors from Africa and Asia, people from the North and South Caucasus, foreigners in general, and local anti-fascists, many of them fatal.
***** The reporter’s only sources here are articles previously published on Fontanka.ru. Given the website’s well-known connections with local law enforcement agencies, I see no reason to treat these stories as necessarily or wholly true. The Russian security forces would not be the first to exaggerate the terrorist threat by fabricating or embellishing the particulars of its counter-terrorist operations.
****** Where are these images? Where have they been published?
Everything that happened on April 3 was awful, sad, and alarming. Today, at the entrance to the Vladimirskaya subway station, I was asked to step aside for an inspection. My backpack was checked, and I was asked to take everything out of my pockets. A man of “Slavic” appearance had been walking right in front of me, carrying a big backpack. No one stopped him. On the way back, at Narvskaya subway station, me and another comrade were asked to show our IDs. There was a young woman with us who, sensing the injustice, asked whether she also had to show her ID, but she was told no, she didn’t have to. Racism in action. Everyone has it hard right now, I realize, but some people have it harder. Everyone is scared to go into the subway, but the fear and humiliation is double for some. Skin color, the shape of one’s eyes, and place of birth do not make anyone second-class human beings. We must always remember this. We must remember it everyday.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Mr. Shtorn for his kind permission to translate and reproduce his remarks here.
At times like this, it’s important to recall that the Russian Federation’s unofficial official ideology is Islamophobia.
The young people are complete zombies, and only adults between the ages of 40 and 60 attend protest demonstrations against the Muslim occupation. After one such protest rally in the town of Trelleborg, the sad activists gathered in the home of my friends Hans and Eva.”
Blue-eyed beauty Agnetta moved from the large city of Norrköping, where she lived next to a Muslim ghetto, to tiny Hammenhög for the sake of her fourteen-year-old daughter Nadja. But now Muslims have come to Hammenhög, too.
“Thank God, Nadia is like an Arab girl, with her black hair and eyes,” says Agnetta, “but I still take her to school every day and meet her afterwards, especially because Afghan men who claim they are sixteen years old are now studying at their school!”
Catholic Oskar Porath fled Helsingborg for the small town of Kivik because of his three daughters. But a huge refugee center is being built five kilometers from his house.
“The girls will grow up, and what should I do?!” Oskar sadly wonders. “When civil war begins, we will move. And it will inevitably begin. First, there will be economic collapse from the exorbitant burden Sweden has taken on itself. And they will stop giving food to the hundreds of thousands of aggressive young men going crazy from idleness in the refugee centers. Riots will start. We have decided to flee to Finland. It’s still safe there.”
Of course, not all Russians by any measure are adherents of radical Islamophobia, but the passage, above, was a little morsel of the steady diet of hateful nothing that has been served to them in truckloads by national TV channels, large circulation broadsheets like Komsomolskaya Pravda, and internet trolls, working through social media, for the last several years.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VA for the heads-up
St. Petersburg Gets a Taste of Terrorism
Vladimir Alexandrov Kommersant Daily
December 20, 1996
A bomb exploded in the Petersburg subway in the early hours of December 19. By a lucky chance, there were no victims. This was the first terrorist attack in Petersburg [sic].* Until the incident, law enforcement had either received false bomb threats or had found the bombs in time. FSB officers, who have joined the investigation, have not yet put forward any more or less convincing explanations of what happened.
The hands on the clock in the driver’s cab showed 12:10 a.m. when he felt the train tremble violently. (It was then traveling between Ploshchad Lenina and Vyborgskaya stations, on the Kirovsky Zavod-Vyborgskaya Line).
“At first, I thought one of the junction boxes in the train’s pneumatic system had exploded, but several seconds later, I realized something unpredictable had happened,” he said.
The steering system was compromised. The emergency sensors lighted up. The driver immediately reported the incident to the duty officer at the station, and he contacted the police.
In fact, an explosive device had gone off in the train’s second car. There were two passengers in the car at the time, one of whom was deafened by the blast wave. His face and hands were injured by shards of glass.
Despite the fact the energy supply system was malfunctioning, the train rolled into Vyborgskaya station under its own momentum. The wounded man received first aid. Because he had trouble speaking and was quite disoriented, he was almost immediately taken to hospital. The second passenger, a woman, disappeared from the scene for reasons as yet unknown.
An FSB investigative team soon arrived. They inspected the car. It was an awful sight. The bomb had torn apart the car’s insides. The windows had been knocked out, the doors torn from their grooves, and the seats and upholstery ripped apart. The windows had been blown out in adjacent cars as well.
The damaged train was moved onto a storage track, near the Ploshchad Lenina subway station, where there used to be a depot.
The outcome of the forensic investigation was made public only yesterday. Judging by the blast pattern, an explosive device with no casing was placed in the subway car. It contained approximately 400 grams of TNT. The mechanism used to ignite the explosives has not yet been identified.
“It was our good fortune that there were few people on the train at the time of the attack [according to some sources, there were sixteen — Kommersant]. Otherwise, the consequences of the explosion would have been difficult to foresee,” said an FSB spokesman.
The motives and the people who carried out the attack are also still unknown. According to a few witnesses, when the train was stopped at Ploshchad Lenina, several young men dashed out of the car where the explosion would later occur, but no has yet linked the subsequent events with these men. Nevertheless, they are being actively sought by police.
Traffic on the stretch of track between Ploshchad Lenina and Vyborgskaya was restored by early morning on December 19 because the tunnel had suffered almost no damage. Diagnostic work on the tracks and cable conduits will continue tonight, however.
Nearly all police units in St. Petersburg have been on alert since the attack. Security at all subway stations, on public transport, and at other vital sites in the city has been increased. The FSB has established a special task force to investigate the crime.
Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev was informed about the incident half an hour after the explosion. According to him, it was hardly connected with events in Chechnya. Mentioning recent similar events in different countries, the governor suggested that “terrorism has, apparently, simply become a profitable business.”
This is the first terrorist attack in St. Petersburg in the last three months, although the police constantly receive anonymous bomb threats. (The callers usually claim the bombs have been planted in schools.) The last time police received an anonymous message about a bomb in the subway was in early October of this years. Traffic on the Moskovskaya-Petrogradskaya Line was halted for ten minutes due to the threat.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Norsu for the invaluable heads-up and having a good memory.
Man Named as Suspect in Subway Explosion Turns Himself over to Police
Inna Sidorkova and Vladimir Gordeev RBC
April 3, 2017
A man resembling the man in a photograph whom the media had identified as a suspect in the terrorist attack in the subway has produced himself at a Petersburg police precinct.
“He saw himself on TV, got scared, and came to the police himself,” said RBC’s source in law enforcement. According to him, the man had nothing to do with the terrorist attack.
Earlier, REN TV and online newspaper Fontanka.ru had published a screenshot of a recording made by a CCTV camera. The image showed a man who, allegedly, had carried out the terrorist attack. The still showed a tall, bearded man dressed in black.
** UPDATE (5 April 2017). His real name is Andrei (Ilyas) Nikitin, and here is the touching story of how this totally innocent man got booted off a plane in Moscow because Islamophobic, panick-mongering Russian media and social media users had already dragged him through the mud and labeled him a “terrorist.”
*Pervomartovtsy (Russian: Первома́ртовцы; a compound term literally meaning those of March 1) were the Russian revolutionaries, members of Narodnaya Volya [The People’s Will] who planned and carried out the assassination of Alexander II (March 1, 1881), and attempted to assassinate Alexander III (March 1, 1887, also known as “The Second First of March”).
The 1881 assassination was planned by Narodnaya Volya’s Executive Committee. Andrei Zhelyabov was the main organizer. After his arrest on February 27, he was replaced by Sofia Perovskaya.
Alexander II was killed on March 1, 1881, by a bomb thrown by Ignacy Hryniewiecki. Hryniewiecki wounded himself fatally in the assassination; Nikolai Sablin committed suicide. The conspirators—Zhelyabov, Perovskaya, Nikolai Kibalchich, Gesya Gelfman, Timofei Mikhailov, and Nikolai Rysakov—were tried by a Special Tribunal of the Ruling Senate on March 26–29 and sentenced to death by hanging. On April 3, 1881, five Pervomartovtsy were hanged, except for Gelfman, whose execution was postponed due to her pregnancy. Her execution was later commuted to indefinite penal servitude. She nevertheless died in prison of post-natal complications.
The second “First of March” was planned by members of the so-called Terrorist Faction of Narodnaya Volya, including [Vladimir Lenin’s older brother] Alexander Ulyanov. On March 1, 1887, they went to St. Petersburg’s Nevsky Prospect with bombs and waited for the Tsar’s carriage to pass by. However, they were arrested on the spot before his arrival. All fifteen conspirators, including Alexander Ulyanov and Pyotr Shevyryov (the main organizers), Pakhomy Andreyushkin, Vasily Generalov and Vasily Osipanov (the bombthrowers), and ten other people were tried by a Special Senate Committee on April 15–19 and sentenced. The first five men were hanged on May 8, 1887, while the rest were sentenced to prison, exile or penal servitude.
Source:Wikipedia. The article has been edited lightly to make it more readable. TRR
A 1988 map of downtown Leningrad, showing Zhelyabova and Perovskya Streets (inside the red oval). The streets were renamed in memory of the People’s Will terrorists in October 1918. The streets reverted to their pre-Revolutionary names (Bolshaya and Malaya Konyushennaya Streets) only in October 1991. (Image courtesy of retromap.ru.)
Yet streets named in memory of their fellow People’s Will terrorists Alexander Ulanov and Nikolai Kibalchich are still firmly in place on the grid of post-Soviet Petersburg to this day.
If “hysterical Russophobia” were a real thing, instead of a talking point for crypto-Putinists and just plain Russians who don’t know how to explain to their non-Russian neighbors why their homeland has become so “odd” in the past several years, you would have heard about Russian immigrants to the EU and US suffering the same main violence and putrid discrimination that Muslim, Asian, and African immigrants and asylum seekers suffer there, not to mention the relentless violence and staggering discrimination suffered by such absolutely 100% native Americans as Aboriginal Americans (i.e., Native Americans), African Americans, and Hispanic Americans in a land their peoples have been inhabiting from several centuries to several thousands of years.
But no, you never hear of such violence and discrimination against Russian immigrants, and the fact there is no such violence and discrimination against Russians (at least, not enough to show up on anyone’s radars) is a good thing, of course.
It does, however make you wonder what exactly this “hysterical Russophobia” is that has so many tongues wagging, but has absolutely no negative effect on the ability of actual, individual Russians to lead happy, productive, and violence- and discrimination-free lives in the countries where they have chosen to settle.
That’s an easy riddle to solve, however. “Hysterical Russophobia” is a non-phenomenon invented by a motley coalition of people with various political axes to grind, including sections of the mostly hilarious current western left, who for some reason have not heard the news about what has been happening in the Socialist Motherland the last twenty-five years or so or feign not to have heard it. They’re still defending Russia long after it became the world center of the blackest social and political reaction. That is, they’re defending a corrupt, oligarchic capitalist tyranny.
Why actual Russian immigrants might feel defensive about the old homeland is understandable, but they should figure out what’s worth defending and what’s not. The Putin regime, for example, literally has no redeeming features whatsoever, as a perusal of this blog, for example, and its predecessor, Chtodelat News, should persuade you, although there are thousands and millions of more credible sources of information out there that are even more persuasive than my occasional, half-baked efforts to knock some sense into your heads.
People who nevertheless hotly defend the Putin regime, wherever they’re from, immediately strike me as suspicious or hopelessly naive. And I’m not alone.
Well, you’ve probably guessed I’m just being facetious.
I think it’s great that Russians can go anywhere and make new, happy, productive lives for themselves. It should be that way for everyone, of course. No one is illegal, and all that.
Yet, simultaneously, the Russian government has been working overtime over the last year to exacerbate the Syrian refugee crisis. But you’d be hard pressed to hear any of the nattily dressed émigrés, described in the Financial Times article, quoted above, or their countrymen saying anything whatsoever about that nasty business and their country’s role in it. Mum’s the word, I’ve got my life to live, and all that.
However, a fair number of Russians, in my experience (and not only mine), have had lots to say, paradoxically, about Germany and other European countries being “overrun” by refugees from Syria and other war zones. It turns out these “black” unfortunates, who come from completely other galaxies, apparently, don’t have the same right so seek a safe place to live and work in Berlin, Paris, London et al., as the now-“white” (as opposed to White) Russians do.
The problem is that the story she pretends to have dug up has been the standard narrative for western journalists and academics pretending to cover or study the “real Russia” for a long while now.
The problem with the standard narrative is it’s not true, although it was partly spun from a combination of half-truths, outright but persuasive sounding lies, and thoroughly unexamined “facts.” It was cooked up, back in the day, by masterful Kremlin spin doctors like Gleb Pavlovsky or Vladislav Surkov or a whole team of such spin doctors.
Over the last eighteen years it has been drilled into the heads of “ordinary Russians” and the legions of pollsters, academics, and journalists who have feigned to be studying what “ordinary Russians are thinking.” All of the above-named parties, including some “ordinary Russians,” have then gone on to brainwashing each other with the narrative in a completely closed feedback loop.
However, the Putinist standard narrative was never true even when easy oil money made it seem partly true, and it’s even less true now when that money has dried up, and the Russian economy has been driven into the dirt by crisis, mismanagement, cosmic-scale corruption, and sanctions.
Yet the less true the standard narrative becomes, the more determined the western media and the west’s dubious posse of “Russia hands” (who don’t live in Chelyabinsk but always somehow know what’s best for the people of Chelyabinsk; twenty more years of Putin’s “heartlandism,” apparently) have been to pound the narrative into our ignorant little readerly, viewerly, and listenerly heads.
It’s no wonder the odious phrase “the Russians”—as in “the Russians think this” and “the Russians do that”—has come into vogue again. As if 143 or 144 million people all think and do the same thing, as if the eighteen years of Putin’s faux “heartlandism” hasn’t, in fact, been one long “cold civil war,” as a friend of mine aptly put it many years ago.
That’s a really complicated story to report. Most western reporters aren’t up to the job for various reasons, so they have just rung the changes on the standard narrative, “heartlandism,” and Putin’s amazing “popularity” (measured by pollsters whose methods should not be trusted, and whose results should not be taken at face value in circumstances where polling cannot by definition produce objective feedback, if it ever could), and have called it a day.
Since editors and newscast producers are usually none the wiser and have lots of other stories to shepherd, they have let the journalists and their sources in the world of Russian handdom spread the Putinist standard narrative up and down and round the west, so that schoolkids and soccer mums in Melbourne, Grimsby, and Cuyahoga County, if pressed, could regurgitate it almost as convincingly as Garrels does, in the “Comment Is Free” piece for the “liberal” Guardian readership, quoted above.
If there’s anything worth preserving about political and social liberalism, it’s the desire to reject canned truths and dogmas and find out what’s really been going down somewhere.
Instead, nearly the entire western press corps and a good portion of its academic experts on Russia have bought the whole bill of goods, freeing the Russian elite from any responsibility for its cynical, destructive, dysfunctional, and dangerous governance of the world’s largest country.
Amid the fake moral panic over “hysterical Russophobia” this has always been the real story: how the western political, media, and academic elites have mostly been letting the heartlandist-in-chief get away with it, in effect, aiding and abetting him and his old friends in the Ozero Dacha Co-op, serving as cashiers to him and the Laundromat, helping him amass his supplies of real and symbolic capital.
This shell game will all come to a screeching halt one day, however, and all the backstocks of bestsellers like Garrels’s will have to be pulped because they won’t be worth the paper they were printed on. TRR
Suicide by Crimea
Nikolay Klimenyuk oDR
March 17, 2017
As long as Russia maintains its grip on the Ukrainian peninsula, significant changes for the better at home are impossible.
In the three years that have passed since the annexation of Crimea, a consensus has taken shape in Russia. Everything having to do with the Ukrainian peninsula is Russia’s internal affair, and far from the most important one.
The “accession” of Crimea has even quite succesfully happened in the heads of the regime’s opponents. In November 2016, while arguing on Facebook with Crimean Tatar journalist Ayder Muzhdabaev, Mikhail Khodorkovsky expressed a stance then supported by many publicly prominent liberals, including activists and intellectuals. Russian society, he argued, wants to deal with other problems. The opposition’s biggest task is regime change, but returning Crimea to Ukrainian jurisdiction by democratic means would be impossible because public opinion would be opposed. Crimea is not mentioned at all in Alexei Navalny’s 2018 presidential campaign platform.
Russian media outlets generally considered “liberal” (these media usually eschew the word “opposition”) havealso swallowed the annexation and most of the rhetoric surrounding it without a peep. TV Rain, RBC (even before its top editors were replaced), and the online Meduza, which operates out of Latvia and is not not subject to Russian laws, have all long routinely called and depicted Crimea as part of Russia. The standard explanation—it is required by Russian law, and insubordination is fraught with penalties—sounds like an excuse. The law does not require that questions about Crimea be included in a quiz on knowledge of Russian cities (which was amended after public criticism) or that reporters term the annexation a “reunification” (Meduzaedited the latter term to “absorption.”)
At the same time, Russian reporters usually have no problem demonstratively violating Ukrainian laws (which require them to enter the occupied territory through the checkpoint at Perekop) and flying to Crimea from Russia (as Deutsche Welle reporter Yuri Resheto did), because it’s cheaper, faster, and simpler, and because Ukraine’s rules are cumbersome, inconvenient, and nonbinding.
After that, you can write critical reports on human rights violations in Crimea till the cows come home, but it won’t change what matters. The voluntary observance of inconvenient Ukrainian rules is tantamount to acknowledging Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea, and hardly anyone in Russia wants to do that.
In fact, the seizure of Crimea has been the cause of many pressing problems in Russia that have been on the Russian opposition’s agenda. It has laid bare peculiarities of Russian society that existed longer before the attack on Ukraine.
For example, not only did the extent of imperialist moods become clear but also Crimea’s place in how Russians see themselves as a society and a nation. The imperial myth, still alive and well in Russia, was concocted during Catherine the Great’s reign. From the moment they were implemented, Peter the Great’s reforms had provoked a mixed response. They smacked of “sycophancy,” and modeling the country on Holland seemed somehow petty.
Catherine, on the contrary, conceived a great European power, rooted in antiquity, Byzantine’s direct heir, the Third Rome, a Europe larger than Europe itself. Her ambitious Southern Project, which involved defeating Turkey, uniting all the Orthodox countries in a single empire, and installing her grandson the Grand Duke Constantine on the throne in Constantinople, was brought low by political reality. The only one of her great fantasies she made come true was seizing the Crimean Khanate, in 1783.
The conquest was extremely atypical of Russia. A troublesome neighbor was not subjugated. Rather, the annexed lands were completely reimagined and rewritten. The rewriting was attended by the first mass expulsion of the Crimean Tatars. They did not fit at all into the pictures of the radiant past that Grigory Potemkin was painting in reality on the annexed lands. Crimea was resettled with Plato and Aristotle’s Orthodox descendants: Pontic Greeks, Great Russians, and Little Russians (i.e., Ukrainians). Naturally, all these particulars have been forgotten long since. What has not been forgotten is Crimea’s central place in the self-consciousness of a “great European nation,” as manifest, for example, in the absurd, endlessly repeated expression, “Crimea has always been Russian.”
The saying perfectly illustrates the peculiarities of historical memory in Russia. Crimea’s current “Russianness” is the outcome of over two hundred years of the uninterrupted genocide and displacement of the “non-Russian popuation,” which culminated during the Second World War. After the two Soviet deportations of 1941 and 1944 (ethnic Germans, Greeks, Bulgarians, Italians, Armenians, Karaites, and Crimean Tatatrs were deported), losses during battles, and the Nazi extermination of Jews and Crimeans, only a third of Crimea’s pre-war inhabitants were left. It was resettled with people from Russia and Ukraine, especially by military officers and veterans of the Party and the secret services.
Naturally, few people in Russia today regard Crimea as a conquered and ravaged country, in which a full-fledged state existed until relatively recently, an indigenous culture was long maintained, and Russians were never the ethnic majority even during the lifetimes of the present elder generation.
Regarding Crimea as a territory, not a society, and treating Crimeans as an annoying inconvenience, was a habit in Catherine’s times and has survived into the present. The formal excuse for the Russian incursion was the “defense of Crimea’s Russophone population,” and yet the “Crimea is ours” attitude of Russians to the peninsula’s residents has been quite skeptical from the get-go. They imagine the main business of Crimeans is leaching off tourists, and the only thing that attracts them about Russia is high wages.
Moreover, this opinion is common across the entire political spectrum. Sergei Parkhomenko, a liberal journalist and public figure, expressed it in a very telling way.
“If first you take five days to explain to the population of Crimea that if they return to Ukraine’s jurisdiction, their wages and pensions will be increased, and they’ll also be permitted to build even more chicken coops for holidaymakers in the coastal zone, and only then you ask them to vote in a referendum, 95% will vote for going back. […] These people have proved they could not care less what country they belong to. And if there is anyone for whom I now feel not an ounce of sympathy as I read about how they are being fooled, robbed, milked, and put under the rule of gangsters pretending to be officials and bosses, it is the population of Crimea.”
The massive support of Russians for the annexation has much more serious and immediate consequences than a display of deeply rooted chauvinism. Having signed off on “Crimea is ours,” Russians have deemed their own power above the law and sanctioned its use in violating all laws and treaties for the sake of higher interests or “justice.” The Russian authorities had behaved this same way previously, but now they have obtained the relevant mandate from society. Quite naturally, the crackdown following the seizure of Crimea has been chockablock with spectacular acts of lawlessness.
One such act was the demolition of commercial kiosks and pavilions in Moscow, which happened despite legalized property rights and court rulings. There was nothing accidental about the fact the Moscow authorities justified their actions by citing the law adopted for settling real estate disputes in Crimea. And the twenty-year-sentence handed down to Oleg Sentsov set a new ceiling for verdicts in political trials. Before Crimea, activists would get a dvushechka (two years) for especially vigorous protests. After Crimea, the Russian authorities have been sentencing people for reposts on VK and holding solo pickets.
Actually, any regime that tasks itself with establishing the rule of law in Russia will first have to annul this “mandate to lawlessness.” The Russian opposition’s attitude to Crimea shows the rule of law is not among its priorities at all. Bewitched by the figure of Putin, the opposition does not regard regime change as a product of the rule of law. The fact that it cannot offer a realistic scenario for regime change is not a problem in itself. Russia’s currrent regime does not presuppose a peaceful change of power. Systemic change might happen as it did in the Soviet Union, at the behest of the bigwigs and under the impact of external circumstances: the state of the economy, public sentiment, foreign policy factors.
The opposition’s most serious problem is that it doesn’t have a meaningful outline of what would come next.
If we believe the alternative to Putin is neither Navalny, Khodorkovsky nor anyone else, but a democratic state based on the rule of law, there are two obstacles in our way: Crimea and Chechnya. The opposition has no vision of how to establish control over Chechnya and incorporate it into Russia’s legal system, but it is possible in theory, at least. There is no such possibility with Crimea. It is impossible to hope for international recognition of the peninsula as part of Russia, and if we keep regarding it as part of Russia, it will thus remain a legal anomaly. Moreover, no rule rule of law is even formally possible without observance of international law.
When discussing Crimea, the Russian opposition evinces a notion of democracy that differs little from Putin’s, although it is consonant with the rhetoric of Donald Trump and the European populists: that democracy is rule based on majority support and not burdened by the observance of laws, procedures, and international obligations. Khodorkovsky, for example, considers “democratic procedure” not the restoration of law, but the adoption of a decision on Crimea based on the opinion of the majority, which, allegedly, is against giving Crimea back to Ukraine. Navalny has suggested holding a new, “normal” referendum.
Yet what the majority really thinks, whether there is such a thing as public opinion on any issue and how to measure it, obviously means nothing at all either to Khodorkovsky, Navalny or many other members of the opposition. By the same token, since Putin is supported by the majority of the Russian population, there is nothing for the opposition to do at all. All these contradictions can be eliminated only by unconditionally recognizing both the illegality of Crimea’s annexation and the total impossibility of keeping it in the Russian Federation on any grounds.
With Crimea in tow, Russia has no positive alternative to the current regime. And as long as the Russian opposition is concerned only about regime change and avoids discussing Crimea, the only thing it can offer is a Putinist Russia sans Putin. Whoever ends up in his place, however, the changes won’t be too noticeable.
Nikolay Klimenyuk writes about politics and culture in Germany and Russia. He was an editor at Forbes Russia, Bolshoi Gorod, and other periodicals. He has lived in Berlin since 2014 and writes for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other German mass media. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader