Alexander Morozov: The Price Russia Has Paid for Crimea

krym nashGraffiti and counter-graffiti on the parapet of a bridge over the River Spree in downtown Berlin, March 8, 2019. By changing a single letter in the spelling of “Crimea,” “Polina, Lera, German, Roma, Arina, and Vlad” reasserted that “Crimea is ours,” i.e., it belongs to Україна (“Ukraine” in Ukrainian, not Russian), on January 28, 2019. Photo by the Russian Reader

The Price Russia Has Paid for Crimea
Alexander Morozov
New Times
March 11, 2019

The five years that have followed the events of 2014, regardless of whether you refer to those events as annexation, the Russian spring, a Putinist coup, reunification, a homecoming, an historic choice and so on, have emerged as a whole set of consequences powerful in terms of determining history, having a lasting influence, and shaping Russia as a whole, that is, impacting Russian domestic politics, the Russian economy, and the self-awareness of large segments of the Russian populace. These consequences have generated “another Russia,” a country different from the one that existed in reality and people’s minds throughout the previous stages of its post-Soviet progress.

Destroying Eurasianism
Early Putinism was drive by the integration of so-called Eurasia, i.e., the former Soviet republics. Nursultan Nazarbayev, president for life of Kazakhstan, was the man behind political Eurasianism, as we know. During the Yeltsin administration, Moscow was indifferent to the concept. Later, however, the idea that Russia was Eurasia’s leader was made basic Kremlin doctrine.

Moscow’s actions in this respect were alternately gentle and crude, but generally its policies were seen as rational, as attuned to the region’s economic growth and security.

The Crimean adventure completely gutted the Eurasianist policy. It managed to frighten such stalwarts of Eurasian integration as Belarus and Kazakhstan. At the same time, it put paid to notions of “Slavic unity” and inevitably provoked an assault on the so-called canonical geographical domain of the Russian Orthodox Church.

As long as the logbook contained only one point, the war with Georgia, we could say it had been an extravagance. But the occupation of Crimea was the second point, which could be joined in a straight line with the first.  The Kremlin abandoned its policy of cultural and economic expansion, pursuing instead a police of aggression, bullying, and crude displays of superiority.

Not a single neighboring country has recognized Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation. Consequently, Russia has symbolically transitioned from Eurasia to solitude. Putin abandoned Eurasia, going over its head to engage in various unilateral actions in the far abroad. Although Russian university lecturers habitually still rattle on about Eurasianism, the occupation of Crimea has meant that Kremlin, like Zarathustra, has climbed to the top of an imaginary mountain peak, whence it transmits its rhetorical messages, addressed to the void.

Warring with the West
The occupation of Crimea has meant that, since 2014, the perpetual cold war with the west has taken on a more heated, hysterical tone than under the communists in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. During one of his last interviews, in 2014, the late former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, an imperialist politician if there ever was one, said, “Television has been laying it on thick. The propaganda [on Russian TV] suggests we are preparing the populace for war.”

Before the occupation of Crimea, between 2007 and 2014, the period following Putin’s Munich speech, the Kremlin made numerous demands on the west, reacted harshly to any criticism of its polices and actions by international institutions, and sometimes made rather abrupt diplomatic moves. But the word “rivalry” still described all these things. The occupation of Crimea shifted relations with the west into another stage of aggregation known as hybrid war.

The term is quite obviously inaccurate, like any other term containing the adjective “hybrid.” But the key word in the phrase is “war.” It does not matter whether we believe the Kremlin has been conducting a well-conceived and well-coordinated war based more on the power of networks and the internet than brute force or whether we think the degree of coordination has been exaggerated. All observers have argued that the numerous discrete incidents paint a picture of a networked war against liberal democracy, the preparatory stages of a major war to redraw the world’s geopolitical spheres of influence or an attempt to provoke the United States. The occupation of Crimea put Moscow’s relations with the west on a different conflictual footing.

Transparency
The occupation of Crimea has made everything the Kremlin does automatically malicious, so that between 2014 and 2019 the notion of what the Russian presence means has changed completely. Nowadays, everyone looks for Russian fingerprints everywhere. This means that, as in the recent Troika Dialog money laundering scandal, very old deals and transactions are reviewed as well. Russia’s communications with the rest of the world have come under a spotlight, they have been run through an x-ray machine. Things previously regarded as dubious but acceptable have suddenly gone toxic. The Kremlin has gone from being a partner, albeit a problematic one, to a keeper of rat holes and catacombs. Foreign intelligence agencies, financial monitoring bodies, and reporters are now busy, as they once were with the Islamic presence in Europe, segregating what used to be considered the harmless Russian presence as something automatically toxic. However, the hot zone, meaning the people and entities found to have connections with the Kremlin and its malignant plans, has been expanding continuously for the last five years. Clearly, this investigatory work has not reached the midway point. The exposure of the Kremlin will continue for a long time to come.

Sanctions and Consolidating the Elite
The main outcome of international sanctions has been that the truly powerful segment of the Putinist elite has been professionally recounted. Before Crimea was occupied, people also had notions of who was a member of Putin’s inner circle, and they traced the orbits of his clients. But these speculations were a matter for experts and were thus open to debate. Everything has now fallen into place, which is quite important symbolically. The key personal positions of the players who vigorously went on the hybrid warpath are not just represented in political consultant Yevgeny Minchenko’s periodic “Politburo” reports or some murky media rating of the “100 Most Influential Politicians in Russia,” in which actual stakeholders are confused with officials who have no access to real resources. All of them have now been posted on the world’s bulletin board.

The sanctions have also caused the Russian elite to consolidate. Putin’s dependence on the elite has increased, and the so-called collective Putin has stopped being a metaphor, becoming a specific list of people. Of course, Russia’s history is not predetermined: history consists of twists and turns. But the actual collective Putin’s moves are predetermined, of course. The occupation of Crimea made it impossible for it to change course. At each new fork in the road, the collective Putin must turn towards further escalation, while Putin himself can no longer pull the emergency brake.

Novorossiya
Through the post-Soviet period, Moscow relied on the basic notion that there were two Ukraines, left-bank Ukraine and right-bank Ukraine. It was simply regarded as a fact that, in particular, gave rise to various “cultural” and “humanitarian” undertakings, for example, the long involvement in Crimea of ex-Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov and his people.

The occupation of Crimea, however, produced a monstrous historical about-face. In order to pull off its seizure of Crimea, the Kremlin had to support the so-called Novorossiya campaign to divide Ukraine, which has now gone down in Eastern European history. There is no argument that would make these events look any less inglorious than the partition of Poland and the occupation of the Baltic countries. Whatever history holds in story for Crimea, the Kremlin’s outright malevolence towards a neighboring people in the twenty-first century has been recorded in big black letters. The Novorossiya campaign has meant that all elements of the Kremlin’s earlier policies towards Ukraine have inevitably been reexamined. In the light of latter events, they now appear to be only parts of a plan to invade Ukraine.

Intellectual Perversion
Crimea is the poison that for five years has been continuously injected in small doses into the entire system of education and culture in Russia, as well as the mundane ways the country argues about its national identity. The media constantly have to devise, spread, and discuss on talk shows different fallacious grounds for occupying Crimea. This lie has had to be incorporated into school textbooks, movie plots, the system of legal training for civil servants, and all the pores and crevices of public space.

Russian society cannot live with the thought it unjustly annexed part of another country, and it has an even harder time admitting that it has been complicit in the attempt to partition Ukraine.

It has thus been necessary to engage in nonstop production of the rhetorical glue that kept the textbook The History of the Soviet Communist Party from falling to shreds during the late-Soviet period, i.e., the solid, ornate lie that was meant to show the rightness of the party line despite the endless mistakes and violence.

This intellectual perversion itself turns into a huge machine that latter cannot be extracted from the state apparatus without damaging the entire system. The lie machine and the state come to be equated, meaning Crimea has been inflating like a bubble inside the system. It cannot be localized. Every day it dispatches cancer cells in all directions within the tissue of state and society.

What is next? The five post-Crimean years have been much to short a historic period to make generalizations. It is clear, however, that if Putin had not seized Crimea and then organized the Novorossiya campaign, it is scary to imagine the wonderful chances he and his gang of stakeholders would have had at increasing their influence unchecked in a world encumbered by Trumpism and a Europe weakened by Brexit. But now Putinism is not merely a cowboy, but a horse rustler.

Therefore, international crises and growing uncertainty do not work in favor of the Putinists, although they do fool themselves when it comes to uncertainty, trying every which way to manufacture it themselves. The Putin gang will never try and play nice again. Any way you slice it, Russia will ultimately have to show the world another gang, because the current gang has proven incapable of accommodating itself to Russia’s long-term place in the world.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin and Alexander Etkind for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Postage Stamps and Gunpowder: Syria and the Russian Economy

embrace

Postage Stamps and Gunpowder: How Important Is Syria to the Russian Economy?
The Kremlin has been trying—unconvincingly—to repackage its military campaign in this devastated country as a long-term investment project. 
Yevgeny Karasyuk
Republic
February 27, 2019

The economy was probably the last thing on the Kremlin’s mind when it decided to get involved in a civil war in the heart of the Arab world. But now that Russian military forces have been in the region for several years, the Kremlin has been increasingly trying to spin its support for Bashar Assad’s regime as a sound investment, a contribution to a prosperous trading future between the two countries.

Russia has claimed it is willing to export to Syria anything it can offer in addition to weapons, from wheat to know-how for preventing extremism on the internet. Along with Iran, the country has big plans for taking part in the postwar restoration of Syrian cities and Syrian industry, including the energy sector. Russia’s governors speak touchingly of their readiness to go to Damascus at the drop of a hat to negotiate with the Syrian government.

“When the talk turns to Syria, I immediately catch myself thinking I need these meetings,  I need to see those people again and again, and I need to be useful,” Natalya Komarova, head of the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District said at the Russian Investment Forum in Sochi two weeks ago.

The expenses Russia has incurred during the Syrian campaign are shrouded in mystery. Analysts at IHS Jane’s calculated in October 2015 that Russia could have been spending as much as $4 million a day.  In July 2017, the opposition Yabloko Democratic Party published its estimate of the overall bill: as much as 140 billion rubles [approx. 1.87 billion euros], but this total did not include associated costs, including humanitarian aid. In 2017, according to RANEPA, 84% of Russia’s official total of disbursed humanitarian aid ($19.6 million) went to Syria. What kind of economic cooperation could justify such figures?

It would be pointless even to try and find an answer in recent trade trends between the two countries. Its volumes are negligible. During the first nine months of 2018, Syria’s share of Russia’s exports was 0.09%, while Syria accounted for 0.002% of imports to Russia during the same period. This has always been more or less the case.

trade

“Trends in Russia’s trade with Syria (in billions of US dollars).” The pale violet line indicates Russia’s exports to Syria, while the blue line indicates Russia’s imports from Syria. The data for 2018 is only for the first nine months of the year. Source: Russian Federal Customs Service. Diagram courtesy of Republic

The largest transaction in the history of the economic partnership between the two countries was Moscow’s cancellation of $9.8 billion dollars in debt, 73% of what Syria had owed the Soviet Union. At the end of the 2005 meeting at which this matter was decided, Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin also spoke publicly of the idea of establishing a free trade zone. Subsequently forgotten, the undertaking was mere camouflage for the political bargain reached by the two men, which was and remains support for the Syrian dictator’s regime in exchange for the dubious dividends the Kremlin has received by increasing its influence in the region. It is believed Russian strategic bomber saved Assad, who had already been written off by the west. But explanations of what Russia has ultimately won for its efforts and what its economic strategy might look like have been more muddled and contradictory than before.

In an October 2018 interview with Euronews, Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov avoided directly answering a question about joint economic projects. During his tenure as head of the Russian Export Center, Pyotr Fradkov (not to be confused with his father former PM Mikhail Fradkov, the current head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service or SVR) talked about Russia’s potential involvement in developing the “high-tech segments of Syria’s economy.” A month ago, however, the selfsame Russian Export Center placed Syria at the bottom of its ranking of 189 countries in terms of their favorability for foreign trade.

The Syrian economy, in turn, can currently offer Russia even less. Mainly, its exports boil down to fruit, but in such small and unstable quantities that they cannot seriously compete with deliveries from Turkey. Russia has been promised priority access to the development of natural resource deposits in Syria, which are teeming with oil, natural gas, and phosphates. But the smoldering war and the lack of security guarantees for investments have hampered implementing these plans.

Russian experts pin their hopes on the surviving remnants of industry in the government-controlled areas of Latakia, Tartus, and Damascus. Based on the fact that “the level of production that survived has enabled Assad to almost fully provide himself [sic] with food during five years of war,” Grigory Lukyanov, a political scientist at the Higher School of Economics has concluded the Syrian government “depends on a well-developed business community.”

Syria, however, seemed like a nightmare for investors well before the country was turned into an open wound. “Only a crazy person would go into Syria at his own behest,” Vedomosti quoted a source at a major company that was involved in negotiations with the Syrian government in the summer of 2012. Suffering from international sanctions, Syria proposed that Russian companies take part in construction of a thermoelectric power station in Aleppo. Four years later, one of Syria’s largest cities had been turned into ruins by heavy bombardment.

The Rothschilds [sic], who made fortunes on wars, thought the best time to invest was when blood was flowing in the streets. Their approach might seem to resemble the Kremlin’s strategy. But let’s not kid ourselves: unlike the famed financiers, President Putin is completely devoid of insight when it comes to the economic consequences of his military escapades. Business plans are not his strong suit.

Photo courtesy of Mikhail Klementyev/AP and the Washington Post. Translated by the Russian Reader

Cannon Fodder for the Fatherland

voenkomat“Give birth to meat!” Photo by David Frenkel. Courtesy of Activatica

In Petersburg, Feminists Bring Meat Disguised as Infants to Draft Board
Activatica
February 23, 2019

Feminists in Petersburg have carried out an anti-war protest. They brought bundles meant to look like suckling babies to the Military Commissariat for Leningrad Region. The bundles were tied with St. George’s Ribbons and khaki-colored ribbons. The bundles were filled with ground meat.

voenkomat-2

“Feminists brought infants to the military commissariat, although there was raw meat in the bundles instead. ‘Women are forced to bear meat that the state enjoys eating. Today we say no to the coercion of women. We say no to violence against men who don’t want to serve in the army. We say no to war,'” wrote photographer David Frenkel on Twitter, apparently communicating the message of the women who organized the protest.

Later, the well-known feminist activist Leda Garina published a post about the protest containing a slightly modified (updated) communique from the feminists

“Women are called upon to have children even as the right to abortions is threatened. But what happens to our children? They serve as cannon food for Russian militarism. They are turned into corpses in the senseless wars Russia has unleashed. Woman are forced to bear the meat that the state enjoys eating. Today we say no to coercion against women. We say no to violence against men who don’t want to serve in the army. We say no to war.”

Garina also noted the protest had been carried out by “unknown feminists.”

Yesterday, February 23, Fatherland Defenders Day was celebrated in Russia. Women are expected to congratulate men for “defending the Fatherland,” although they have done nothing of the sort for nearly seventy-five years. In Soviet times, the holiday was celebrated as Red Army Day. Translated by the Russian Reader

Halo’s in Your Head

390px-unsc_insignia_(post-war)

The nonstop international hasbara hoedown Quora gets all the best “specialists” to answer its readers’ pressing questions.

When my personal favorite Quora hasbarista, “Dima Vorobiev, I worked in Soviet propaganda,” is unable to make the shaky, miserable, mean, destructive Putin regime look indestructible and infallible, “Ha Dang, Military Specialist at United Nations Space Command (2016-present” picks up the slack.

Who would win in a war between Russia and Germany?
Ha Dang, Military Specialist at United Nations Space Command (2016-present)
Answered Mar 11, 2018
Russia vs Germany ( Great Patriotic War Vol.2)

No Allies involved (NATO would not support Germany)
No Nukes

[…]

Though a lot of experts said that it is most likely Russian land invasion would be stampede, since their T-72 and T-80s are too fragile when facing tanks like Leopard 2 or Abrams. However, with the advent of T-72B3, T-80BVM, T-90s and T-14 Armata, it is the Russian, who are enjoying both numerical and technological edge. With a force of 3600 modern tanks, Russia can quickly capture Berlin within 4 weeks, instead 4 years like it did 73 years ago.

Final Verdict:

Russian Victory

Why does garbage like this matter?

Because people read it. This particular post garnered 60,400 views for “Ha Dang, Military Specialist.” That’s only 22,000 or so fewer views than the Russian Reader got all last year, even though I never publish hasbara and fake news, much less the “expert” opinions of self-avowed propagandists and video game enthusiasts.

This is the brave new world Alex Jones, Donald Trump, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Mark Zuckerberg, and other world-historical creeps have bestowed on us.

The essence of this topsy-turvy world is well expressed by Quora superstar “Dima Vorobiev, I worked in Soviet propaganda.”

Does Dima Vorobiev add his own propaganda and biases into his answers?

[…]

Obviously, I do. As a propaganda veteran, I believe that hardly anything people tell each other, is ever unbiased. Everything is propaganda—you just have to accept that, like death and taxes.

What is my bias? I’m the wrong person to ask: I don’t know. I live inside my own bias. Don’t ask fish what water feels like. It’s got no idea, it just swims in there.

It’s also a world where 60,400 people were impressed by Ha Dang’s arguments, even though he “works” at a fictitious agency that only exists in the “military science fiction first-person shooter video game franchise” Halo.

The United Nations Space Command (UNSC) is the military, exploratory, and scientific agency of the Unified Earth Government which acted as the emergency governing body of the human race at large for a time. The UNSC was formed in the 22nd century, a time when remnants of old cultural ideologies clashed for supremacy in the Sol System. The UNSC served mainly as overseer of United Nations military operations in space. After initiating massive militarization propaganda throughout its off-world colonies, through the UNSC, the UN defeated Frieden and Koslovic insurgent forces in a conflict known as the Interplanetary War, which consisted of several side-battles that took place on Mars, the Jovian Moons and the South American rainforests. Although the Interplanetary War brought a great deal of suffering to both the colonial population and the residents of Earth, it also united most of humanity’s military forces by the end of the 22nd century.

This is one of the reasons I have nearly given up on the idea that this website has much to contribute to a conversation that is anything but intelligible. The masses (or, at least, a worryingly large number of people) want racist, fascist, apocalyptic, pro-Putinist fairy tales for breakfast, dinner, and supper, not the complicated but ultimately discoverable truth. {TRR}

UNSC logo courtesy of Halopedia

The Siege of Leningrad 75 Years Later

osipova-siege graffiti

The inspiring Petersburg artist and political activist Yelena Osipova has drawn this graffiti to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War.

The piece is dedicated to her late friend Lenina Nikitina, another wonderful artist, who lived in the building on whose walls Osipova drew her work.

Nikitina lost her entire family during the Siege, which lasted nearly 900 days, from September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944.

nikitina-cold bathLenina Nikitina, Cold Bath. Pencil on paper. Courtesy of ArtGuide and the Museum of Nonconformist Art, St. Petersburg

As many as a million civilians are believe to have died during the Siege.

The other evening, an arts program on one of the regional German channels broadcast a segment about Daniil Granin and Ales Adamovich’s Blokadnaya kniga (Book of the Siege), which has recently been translated into German by Helmut Ettinger and Ruprecht Willnow, and published as Blockadebuch: Leningrad 1941–1944.

Blokadnya kniga was translated into English by Clare Burstal and Vladimir Kisselnikov, and published in 2007 as Leningrad under Siege: Firsthand Accounts of the Ordeal.

If you don’t have time to read Blokadnaya kniga or any of the other hundreds of books about the Siege, please watch Jessica Gorter’s stunning 2011 documentary film 900 Days. {TRR}

_________________________________________

The Siege of Leningrad Ended 75 Years Ago Today: Here Are Nine Films and Books about the Siege Worth Watching and Reading
Anton Dolin and Galina Yuzefovich
Meduza
January 27, 2019

[…]

Once There Was a Girl
Viktor Eismont, 1944

Eismont began shooting this unique picture while the Siege was still underway. It premiered a year to the day after the Siege was lifted. The Siege is shown through the eyes of two children, five-year-old Katenka and seven-year-old Nastenka. Natalya Zashchipina, who played Katenka, would go on to star in children’s films such as The Elephant and the Rope and First-Grader in the late 1940s, while Nina Ivanova, who played Nastenka, would star in Spring on Zarechnaya Street in 1956.

Baltic Skies
Vladimir Vengerov, 1960

The best film about wartime Leningrad and Leningrad during the Siege, when Baltic Skies premiered, it outraged Nikolai Chukovsky, whose novel inspired the film and who is credited as the screenwriter. The movies features a star-studded cast, including Pyotr Glevov, Mikhail Ulyanov, Mikhail Kozakov, and Rolan Bykov. The film’s young lovers were played by Oleg Borisov and Liudmila Gurchenko, who would later act in Alexei German’s war films. German considered Vengerov one of his teachers.

We Looked Death in the Face
Naum Birman, 1980

A picture about the founding of the Frontline Youth Ensemble. In one of his final roles, Oleg Dahl played the former choreographer. The film features poems by Olga Bergholz and music by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Blockade
Sergei Loznitsa, 2006

A documentary film consisting of footage shot by cameramen during the Siege, it features rare scenes, including the execution of Germans. Loznitsa added a soundtrack to the film, bringing viewers closer to the events.

We Read the Book of the Blockade
Alexander Sokurov, 2009

Less a film and more an impressive project by Sokurov, We Read the Book of the Blockade shows Petersburgers both famous and unknown reading aloud Daniil Granin and Ales Adamovich’s book, a compilation of eyewitness accounts of the Siege. The readers include actors Vladimir Retsepter and Leonid Mozgovoi, and Sokurov himself.

Celebration
Alexei Krasovsky, 2019

[Posted on January 2, 2019, by Alexei Krasovsky. “Attention! This film was made without state financing or grants. The filmmakers paid for its production themselves. Please do not show Celebration without listing the information about how you can donate money to us.  It is the only we can cover the costs of this film and start working on a new one. Thank you.

Sberbank Visa/Mastercard Card (in Russia): 5469 3800 7030 3101 (Aleksei Olegovich Krasovskii)

DonationAlerts (featuring viewer poll): https://www.donationalerts.com/r/alkras

PayPal: https://paypal.me/alkras (alkrasss@gmail.com)

Yandex Money: https://money.yandex.ru/to/410013518953856

Cameraman’s Yandex Money account: money.yandex.ru/to/410013518953856 (Sergei Valentinovich Astakov, cameraman-sa@yandex.ru)

Ehterium address: 0xbA2224ba22f2f4494EF01C6691824A178651d615

Don’t forget to mark your contribution as a “donation” so that we’ll have any easier time making films in the future.

Happy New Year!

Screenwriter and director: Alexei Krasovsky

Cinematographer: Sergei Astakhov

Starring: Alyona Babenko, Yan Tsapnik, Timofei Tribuntsev, Anfisa Chernykh, Pavel Tabakov, and Asya Chistyakov

Executive producer: Yuliya Krishtofovich

Art director: Yevdokia Zamakhina

Sound: Nelly Ivanovna and Anastasia Anosova

Assistant director: Zhanna Boykova

Editing: Vladimir Zimin and Alexei Krasovsky

The song ‘Field, O My Field’ was written by Iosif Kovner in 1937 and first recorded in 1941.”]

Filmmaker Alexei Krasovsky shot this controversial, intimate, tragicomic film at his own expense and uploaded it to YouTube during the New Year holidays. The picture deals with the privileged classes during the Siege and contains transparent illusions to the present. Starring Alyona Babenko, Yan Tsapnik, and Pavel Tabakov.

Polina Barskova, Zhivye kartiny [Living pictures], St. Petersburg: Ivan Limbakh, 2014 

Written by poet and academic Polina Barskova, this book is a miscellany of strange, heterogeneous, and genre-bending texts (several stories and essays on the verge of poetry, capped off with a short, semi-absurd play) that interweave the author’s own experiences as a researcher and human being with the real stories of people during the Siege.

Significant historical figures who survived the Siege (poet and literary scholar Dmitry Maximov, writer Vitaly Bianchi, playwright Yevgeny Schwartz) meet on the the pages of Living Pictures with other, unknown shades, such as the art historian Totya and the artist Moses, who made the mistake of falling for each other on the eve of the war, or six-year-old Katya, who plays a gloomy game of  bouts-rimés with her mother, composing a poem about people stricken by hunger-induced dystrophy. The famous, the nameless, Barskova’s other characters, and Barskova, some of whom did not experience the Siege themselves, ring the changes on the book’s main point, as voiced by one of the characters: the Siege was a peculiar civilization with all the qualities of other human communities. This civilization did not disappear without a trace. It has germinated anew in subsequent generations, who continue to feel its icy breath.

Sergey Yarov, Leningrad 1941–42: Morality in a City under Siege, trans. Arch Tait, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017

1509507981

“The ethic of sympathy demands the gaze not linger on mournful scenes of human agony,” writes historian Sergey Yarov in his book, seemingly ruthlessly violating this ethic. Instead of charitably averting his gaze from the most horrific aspects of the Siege of Leningrad, Yarov peruses as keenly and closely as possible theft and deception, monstrous, incurable physical deformities and people’s aversion to them, assaults on children (it was easier to take food from them since they were weaker), indifference to the suffering and deaths of other people, willingness to endure any humiliation, the collapse of community, and cannibalism.

As he plunges into the abyss of diaries, memories, and official records, uncovering truly unimaginable things, Yarov nevertheless hits upon an impeccable tone for discussing them, managing to maintain in each episode the perfect balance between scholarly scrupulousness and supreme humaneness.

Olga Lavrentieva, Survilo, St. Petersburg: Boomkniga, 2019 

This graphic novel by the young artist Olga Lavrentieva is a laconic, black-and-white account of the life of her grandmother, Valentina Survilo. Survilo’s happy Leningrad childhood ended in 1937 with her father’s arrest. She was exiled to a village in Bashkiria, where her mother died, before making a long-awaited return to her beloved Leningrad. This was followed by the most important and terrible chapter in her biography, the Siege, which the still very young Survilo endured in a prison hospital, the only place willing to employ the daughter of an “enemy of the people.”

The relentless hunger, cold, bombings and artillery attacks, treachery of friends, and rare, miraculous instances of kindness left a deep wound in Survilo’s heart, causing her to suffer nightmares and be constantly anxious about family members during the relatively prosperous postwar years. Lavrentiev uses the rather typically tragic story of one Leningrad woman as a lens through which she and her readers can look at the history of her hometown and the entire country.

Survilo will be published in March 2019.

Thanks to Giuliano Vivaldi for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. I have replaced the trailers used in the original article with full-length videos of the films themselves. Please take note of filmmaker Alexei Krasovsky’s appeal for donations. If you watch Celebration, please consider making a donation to him and his crew via Sberbank, PayPal, Yandex Money or Etherium.

 

We Change Our Minds like Socks, or, The Pollocracy’s Comeback

3Focus group drawing from the study “Autumn Change in the Minds of Russians: A Fleeting Surge or New Trends?” The first panels is labeled “Now.” The second panel shows a drunken Russia at the bottom of the stairs “in five years,” while “the US, Europe, Canada, China, [and] Japan” stand over it dressed in swanky business suits. The third panel is entitled “Friendship.” Source: Fond Liberalnaya Missiya

Experts Who Predicted Bolotnaya Claim Attitudes of Russians Have Changed
Vladimir Dergachov
RBC
December 24, 2018

Economists Mikhail Dmitriev and Sergei Belanovsky, and psychologists Anastasia Nikolskaya and Elena Cherepanova have authored a new report, “Autumn Change in the Minds of Russians: A Fleeting Surge or New Trend?” which they will present on Monday, December 24.

RBC has obtained a copy of the study. It was conducted as a follow-up to previous autumn opinion polls, which identified a loss of interest in foreign policy among Russians, growing dissatisfaction with domestic policy, and a collapse in reliance on the government.

How the Study Was Conducted
The experts combined qualitative sociology and psychological tests [sic], comparing the results with the Levada Center’s polling data. In October and November 2018, respondents in Moscow, Vladimir, Gus Khrustalny, Yekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk, Saransk, Romodanovo (a village in Mordovia), and Ufa were surveyed as part of focus groups. In Moscow, a number of focus groups were convened involving public sector employees, including physicians, and university lecturers and researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN). There was also a mixed focus group featuring engineers, traffic police officers, and theater employees.

Peace Instead of Scandals
Previous surveys, conducted by Dmitriev and Belanovsky in April and May 2018, showed Russians largely supported the country’s foreign policy, although critical respondents said the country spent too much money on supporting other countries and used foreign policy to distract people from issues at home. Six months later, the statements made by respondents revealed a demand for a peaceable foreign policy. “Spy scandals, falling missiles, certain statements by Russian politicians, and the protracted war in Syria” have led to a downturn in support for Russia’s foreign policy, the report claims.

In the May 2018 study, respondents were not yet pessimistic about the future. In the October surveys, however, a majority (68%) of respondents had a negative attitude towards the future. They envisioned a Russia that, in five years, was weakening and lagging behind other countries in terms of progress, a country whose populace was intimidated and did not have the right to vote.

They Predicted the Bolotnaya Square Movement

In March 2011, Dmitriev and Belanovsky, then employed at the Center for Strategic Development (TsSR), presented a report in which they alleged a profound political crisis had emerged, and support for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev and United Russia had fallen off. They predicted increasing dissatisfaction with the political system. Less than a year later, sparked by insufficiently [sic] fair and transparent elections to the State Duma, large-scale protests kicked off in Russia.

Self-Expression Instead of Survival
In the May study, the demand for justice had increased dramatically, shunting aside the previously dominant demand for a strong leader. In October, the invocation of distributive justice (a more equal distribution of income and assets) gave way to the demand for procedural justice (equality of all before the law).

The respondents in all the focus groups felt physical needs and government welfare were less important than the need for respect, liberty, and leaders capable of voicing these values. Harsh statements by public officials on social issues (i.e., that people could live on 3,500 rubles a month by eating macaroni, etc.) had provoked increasing irritation. Concerning the raising of the retirement age, the respondents negatively assessed the suddenness of the decision and the way it was made behind closed doors.

Ninety-four percent of respondents claimed they no longer relied on the government, only on themselves. Sixty-three percent of respondents expressed a willingess to contribute personally to the country’s progress. This contribution was conceived in different ways: from a willingness to pay high taxes and be involved in charitable work, to grassroots activism and educational outreach. According to a Levada Center poll, 60% of respondents felt responsible and were willing to make personal efforts to facilitate improvements in Russia.

A Demand for Change
The May study testified to a slackening of reliance on a strong leader among Russians. In October, the analysts registered a demand for new leaders who would respect people, be honest and democratic [sic], admit to their mistakes, and act in the people’s interest. These qualities were bound up with the values of self-expression, which were foregrounded by respondents.

These qualities had little in common with the positive and negative qualities Russians [sic] had used to assess Vladimir Putin in a July poll by the Levada Center (stability, respect, personal charm, capacity for compromise, firmness, and foresight). The discrepancy in criteria was a sign of the rudimentary emergence of counter-elite sentiments [sic], the researchers warned.

A growing demand for change was noted among the respondents. Up to 76% of respondents would be willing to support temporarily painful reforms vital to overcoming the crisis in Russia. Russians no longer demanded immediate improvements. They were willing to wait and endure hardship for the sake of a positive ultimate income.

The respondents had almost no substantive notions of the necessary reforms. The experts compared public opinion to an “empty vessel” waiting for new leaders who inspired confidence.

None of the focus groups voiced aggression towards the regime, but the willingness to get involved in social movements had grown. The demand for respect and freedom prevailed over other demands, and thus the struggle for respect was imagined by the respondents as peaceable and legitimate.

Negativism towards the regime was no longer associated with a demand for populism, whose tokens include the appeal to distributive justice and anti-immigrant sentiments.

Frustation of Public Sector Employees
The report devotes a entire section to moods in the study’s public sector worker focus groups. The researchers discovered the highest level of tension among these people.

Public sector employees were frustrated not because of financial problems [sic], but because of the sector’s irrational organization [sic]. For example, due to the May 2012 decree on raising salaries, the managers of many public sector organizations took some workers off payroll, dramatically increasing the workload of other employees. The respondents were also dissatisfied with the avalanche of reports due to increasing bureaucratization, the chronically poor quality of management, and the fact that personal loyalty to bosses had replaced professionalism in the management hierarchy.

Three Scenarios
According to the experts, these trends indicate Russian public opinion has moved beyond the “stasis” of the post-Crimean consensus. They paint three possible scenarios for further changes in public opinion. The first would involve returning to “rallying around the flag,” typical of the post-Crimean period. This scenario would become a reality if international conflicts involving Russia escalated dramatically.

The second scenario would involve a rollback to counter-elite populism [sic] due to negative economic changes.

The third scenario foresees the consolidation of new values in the public’s mind over a lengthy period. This turn of events is likely if the status quo in the economy and foreign policy is maintained, that is, given sluggish economic growth and the absence of intense international conflicts. The experts cite Iran as an example of a country where this scenario has come true [sic]. Eighty percent of Iranians were born after the Islamic Revolution and have no experience of life under the previous regime. Due to the economic difficulties caused by western sanctions, young Iranians are tired of permanent crisis and disapprove of the country’s costly expansionist foreign policy. The unfavorable socio-economic conditions have a generated a demand for a alternative secularized and westernized lifestyle among young people.

In this scenario, the experts suggest altering the way the regime interacts with the populace in order to diminish its growing negativity. This is doable as long as the populace manifests no aggression towards the regime and is open to constructive dialogue.

The researchers note this scenarios contradicts the prevailing international trend of populists taking power. Unlike the societies of many developed countries, Russians have not descended into archaic populism and “social infantilism,” displaying instead increased social maturity and responsibility for the state of affairs in Russia [sic].

A Long-Term Shift
Political consultant Dmitry Fetisov generally agrees with the study’s findings. He links society’s growing demand for a peaceful foreign policy with the fact the Kremlin demonstrated a successful example of this policy during the 2018 FIFA World Cup [sic],  and the critical attitude of public sector employers towards the regime with the pension reform. Fetisov argues, however, that these trends could change depending on how the Kremlin acts.

Political scientist Nikolay Mironov is certain these shifts in public opinion are long term. He argues the trends described in the study have been caused by the post-2014 economic stagnation. Mironov does not believe a return to the “rally around the flag” consensus is possible, even in the event of international conflicts, unless they impinge on Russian territory. Mironov concludes what is needed are large-scale economic reforms and an easing of foreign policy.

Levada Center sociologist Denis Volkov also notes the growing criticality of respondents towards officialdom and public fatigue from assistance to other countries [sic]. However, Volkov argues it is wrong to chart changes in public opinion by comparing surveys of focus groups, rather than using quantitative research. Fetisov likewise points to the study’s lack of representativeness, as it is based on comparing the opinions of different focus groups.

Translated by the Russian Reader

This article and the research paper it purports to summarize and analyze should be read with a huge spoonful of salt.

First, “public opinion” polls in Russia are wildly unreliable, as I have tried to show over the years on this website, often with a leg up from likeminded Russian journalists and researchers.

Second, this study, apparently, is a funhouse mirror image of the usual “Putin’s wild popularity” poll. The economists and psychologists who wrote the report set out to detect a “positive” sea change in Russian public opinion and, God willing, they found it, by offering their focus group respondents a weak-tea pipe dream they obviously dream themselves. If that dream seems rife with contradictions, it is, although the researchers seem utterly unaware of them.

Third, even in a country as messy, corrupt, and authoritarian as Russia, the idea that people can rely only on themselves is absurd. Of course, they rely on the government for lots of things, at least if they are living in more or less large towns and cities. To the extent that libertarianism has become popular here, it has done so only as a consequence of the prevailing black political reaction, as cultivated by the Putinist state and its propaganda organs.

On the other hand, we are supposed to imagine these newly minted libertarians would be simultaneously willing to pay high taxes and endure hardships to make their country a better place, and yet this is supposed to happen without the “social infantilism” of “developed countries” where people protest on the streets against elites.

Given that the once-mighty RBC has long been a shadow of its former self, I was tempted to write this passage off as ad-libbing on the part of their reporter, but, in fact, he merely paraphrased the report’s authors, to wit:

В отличие от обществ многих развитых стран, население которых продолжает скатываться популистскую архаику и «социальный инфантилизм», российское население неожиданно для всех начинает демонстрировать возросшую социальную зрелость и ответственность за положение дел в стране. Эти качества в наибольшей мере ассоциируются с модернизированной системой ценностей, характерной для развитых стран до того, как их стала охватывать волна контрэлитного популизма.

“In contrast to the societies of many developed countries, whose populace continues to slide into archaic populism and ‘social infantilism,’ the Russian populace has surprised everyone by beginning to show increased social maturity and responsibility for the state of affairs in the country. These qualities [were] associated with the modernized value system of the developed countries before the wave of counter-elite populism engulfed them.”

As this blog has shown over the last eleven years, I have often been among the first to celebrate and chronicle emergent grassroots resistance and social movements in Russia, but the people who wrote the passage above were engaging in wishful thinking, not scholarship. If anything, their counterintuitive, baseless conclusion shows the contradictions of the newfangled method of governance at arm’s length I have dubbed the “pollocracy.”

The pollocracy has been used by the regime to monitor “public moods” while also explicitly and aggressively shaping that mood by asking pointed questions that countenance only certain answers.

On the other hand, it is used by the regime AND its allegedly liberal pseudo-critics to, alternately, register tremors of discontent among an otherwise disenchranchised and disempowered populace, and demonstrate these exact same people are routinely subject to all sorts of illiberal, irrational populist delusions and phobias, thus making them unfit to govern themselves.

Finally, the pollocracy has been used as a substitute for actual, full-fledged grassroots political involvement. A populace that “slides” into “archaic populism” and “social infantilism” is one thing (a bad thing), but a populace that meekly agrees to confine its dissent to skewed public opinion polls and hokey focus groups is both “socially mature” and not a threat to anyone, least of all to the current Russian regime.

It is especially telling these “socially mature” focus groups expect, allegedly, a less aggressive Russian foreign policy to emerge ex nihilo, merely because they wish it into existence in the safety of their anonymous focus groups. God forbid they should have to organize a national anti-war movement on their own. {TRR}

Free Edem Bekirov!

15447318032279451Edem Bekirov.  Photo courtesy of Vector News

Ayder Muzhdabaev
Facebook
December 28, 2018

Watch the footage we shot of Edem Bekirov. Then read what the well-known Kyiv musician Mitya Gerasimov has written.

“I’m sitting in my parents’ kitchen in Kazan. In its news bulletin, Echo of Moscow, a supposedly liberal radio station, reports that a terrorist has been detained on the Crimean border, the member of an armed band. He has been accused of storing and transporting weapons and explosives. His name is not mentioned, but it is clear they are talking about our friend Edem Bekirov, a Crimean Tatar from Novooleksiivka in Kherson Region.

“Edem is an ill, elderly man who has had heart bypass operations and a leg amputated due to diabetes. Before the latest operation, he went to Kyiv to see his mom. On the border, he was abducted by men in masks. For a time, nothing was known about his whereabouts. Then they let him call home from the FSB’s Simferopol office. He had not been given anything to eat or drink for two days or been taken to the bathroom. He was not permitted to take bandages to dress the unhealed wound on his stump or the medicines that keep him alive. He needs to take sixteen pills a day.

“The Russian authorities have been slowly killing Edem in a remand prison for over two weeks. The day before yesterday, the so-called court dismissed the appeal in his case. The radio reports the detained man associated with the terrorist group led by Lenur Islamov. They apparently meant the Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR, where Edem’s daughter works.

“Everyone knows Crimean Tatars do not kill anyone or carry out terrorist attacks. They have a principled stance of nonviolent resistance to the occupiers. The cartridges and twelve kilos of explosives that Edem, one-legged and ill, was supposedly taking somewhere is the same nonsense they made up about the so-called terrorist militant Oleg Sentsov. I remember watching Russian television in early 2014, before the annexation. It was footage of Grushevsky Street in Kyiv: Molotov cocktails, burning tires, snowdrifts. The announcer explained to viewers they were seeing Crimean Tatars rioting in Simferopol.

“There is the pre-New Year’s hustle and bustle on the streets of our cities: lanterns, New Year’s trees, shopping, traffic jams. Like many other Crimean political prisoners, Edem Bekirov will ring in his new year behind bars. We must do everything we can to publicize his plight. We have to shout about it on every street corner. We have to get him out of jail before it’s too late.”

That is the Happy New Year we are having.

Translated by the Russian Reader