The Leftovers

I have read again ([on the social media pages] of those who have left [Russia], of course) that we [who have stayed in Russia] have no right to rejoice, that we must feel terror and depression all the time. I didn’t want to respond to specific people—I could have snapped and said harsh things—so I will speak out in general. A person who constantly experiences negative emotions is a weak person. All their strength and energy are spent on emoting; they are unable to fight back, unable to do good. Yes, there are people who can draw energy from rage, from anger. But not all people can do this. For example, I cannot; I can only draw energy from positivity. So excuse me, dear departed comrades, but I will go to restaurants and concerts, admire the beauty of the sunset, enjoy an interesting book, and strive to communicate with friends. I will maximize the positive energy in and around me. Because I want to be strong, among other things, so that I can help those who are in trouble. My suffering won’t make their situation any better, but my strength might be useful to them—and to me, too. I woke up the other day with the feeling that I didn’t want to live, so much so that I even got scared. Thank you, but I don’t want any more of this, once was enough. If a person is happy, it doesn’t mean that they don’t care about the horrors in their midst and those who have ended up in this hell. It just means that they want to survive.

Source: Irina Starodubrovskaya, Facebook, 8 July 2022. Thanks to Alexander Kynev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader


“Peace to the world, and an ice cream for you!” PZ, a grassroots activist in Petersburg, recently shared this provocative snapshot of an ice cream, cotton candy, and popcorn stand in a city park with friends on his closed social media account.

How do the prospects for peace look from Europe? There is a consensus that Putin cannot be expected to end the war. Firstly, because the war enables him and a large group of the war’s beneficiaries to transform Russian society to their liking (his confidence rating has risen to 92%). Secondly, because Putin is confident of his superiority over Ukrainians and believes that Europe will not withstand the war’s economic consequences (inflation, the energy crisis, supply chain breakdowns, etc.).

Can we expect the war’s end to come about due to processes in Russian society? That is, can the society pressure Putin into ending the war? The polling numbers (seventy-five, eighty-five, one hundred percent support for the war) drift from one publication to the next, but European decision-makers do not rely on these figures. They rely on so-called agency. The support figures are fictitious. But the factor of “silence” is a political reality. “Silence” is the absence of agency. Europeans look at the situation and say that, in such circumstances, at least one of the three “manifestations of agency” could be expected.

1. Household protests: mothers protesting the deaths of their men and children, “casserole protests,” family-centered grassroots protests.

2. Mass strikes: the war threatens people with unemployment and the closure of their workplaces, prices are rising but wages are not, etc.

3. A revolt by oligarchs, if only in the shape of an alliance formed abroad.

None of these three things has happened. And since agency has not been manifested in any guise, the concept that “society is silent”—i.e., that there is no society [in Russia]—becomes the explanation. (Usually, in these cases, our delegations tell the Europeans that there is totalitarianism in Russia, people are intimidated by the FSB, etc. To which their interlocutors nod sympathetically. But at the same time they think: it’s the same in Turkey, but all those three factors are constantly flaring up there. No one says it out loud, though, so as not to offend us.)

But what is there? We can say that there is a Russian anti-war movement abroad. “There is one” not in the sense that it is large and influential, but only in the sense that it has “shown up.” “There is one” means that you can point your finger at it. Therefore, Europeans are willing to meet, both individually and in groups, with representatives of this movement—because, by European standards, “it is at least something.”

At the same time, however, everyone is eagerly waiting for the Russian people to evince some minimal will to save themselves and to show up in some way. Then it would be possible to say that, no, ninety-two percent of Russians are not “proud of the successes of Russian arms and the liberation of Ukraine from Nazis,” that there is an sensible part of society and here it is, it has “surfaced”—via casserole riots, strike committees, or a conference of oligarchs on Capri. We could then talk about peace, about the war’s end. Without such “showing up,” it is impossible for Europeans to envision peace.

Source: Alexander Morozov, Facebook, 9 July 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Living End (Russia Day 2022)

“A week of discounts from domestic brands! We’re celebrating Russia Day! Russian goods at discounts from 12%” A screenshot of the email flyer I received earlier today from Ozon, Russia’s answer to Amazon.


I read with my own eyes a post by a journalist (a well-read woman and so on) that there have been shortages of Dijon mustard in France (the seeds came from Ukraine). She says it’s not good to gloat, but it’s still somehow hard to resist.

Since the norms of behavior forbid us to analyze the psyches of strangers without their asking, it remains only to say in the words of one classic author, addressed to another classic author:

God, how sad our Russia is!

Source: Anna Narinskaya, Facebook, 11 June 2022


“What, should I die and not live?” “Who would I make happier by getting arrested?” “I have my health, elderly parents, mortgage (crossed out), cat (crossed out), students, and deadlines to worry about.” “Why doesn’t Syria get so much sympathy?” “One must stand with one’s country, right or wrong.” (Crossed out.) “We have one life to live, and we should think about eternity and loved ones, not politics.” Have you been saying such things to yourself? I have been, constantly, usually silently, only to myself. But then I think that it is a way of normalizing the abnormal, of normalizing the fascist situation, that it is the next stage in the collapse of my personality, and perhaps of the country, morality, culture, and sociability, a new stage and state into which I and all of us are entering.

Source: Sergey Abashin, Facebook, 12 June 2022


“You’re not Peter the First [Peter the Great], you’re Adolf the Second.” Source: Rustem Adagamov, Twitter, 12 June 2022: “The town of Siversky, near St. Petersburg.”


A close female friend writes to me from Moscow that “fun” is in the air again there on the streets and “in the corridors.” “The war has boiled over and cooled down”: it has been put on the back burner. The shock has passed and “the war is somewhere else.” The summer routine has overtaken it. “Well yeah, there’s the war, but does that mean we’re now supposed to stop living?”

Source: Alexander Morozov, Facebook, 11 June 2022


“Wait [for his death]. Press the button to cross the road.” Source: @d_valkovich, Twitter, 11 June 2022: “The voice of the Moscow streets.”


So you bitches are enjoying the summer, right? The birds are singing, the lilacs are blooming, the mosquitoes are buzzing… But it’s no fucking summer, it’s your eternal black February in summer guise, it’s the horseman of the apocalypse pounding his hooves, you see a cloud of dust in the distance… These are the end times.

Source: Roman Osminkin, Twitter, 11 June 2022


Sometimes I have dreams where someone falls off a roof or gets hit by a train. I never see the death itself, but only sense that something irreparable has happened. Something very scary, because it is forever. Then I wake up.

Like many people, I am waiting for this horror to end. The fact that the end exists at all gives us some hope in our helplessness. But we’re not going back to a world where none of this happened. Something irreparable has happened. Tens of thousands have been killed, and probably hundreds of thousands have been crippled in one way or another. It is forever. It cannot “end.”

________________

A dog near its house, which was destroyed by a shell, Kostiantynivka. Photo: Gleb Garanich for Reuters/Scanpix/LENTA

Source: Natalia Vvedenskaya, Facebook, 12 June 2022


All translations by the Russian Reader

Support

There wasn’t much left of Russian army Sgt. Andrei Akhromov’s body when it arrived in a zinc coffin at his hometown, a four-hour drive south of Moscow, relatives said. The 21-year-old died in April near the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv when his tank was hit by enemy fire.

Sgt. Akhromov’s cousin, Sergei Akhromov, said a representative of the regional governor’s office told the family it took the armed forces three weeks to identify what remained of him using DNA analysis. Loved ones didn’t look into the casket before burying him last week, he said.

“I only blame America—not Ukraine, not Russia,” Mr. Akhromov, a 32-year-old parks-and-recreation worker, said. “Biden, or however he is called, allowed for Nazism to flourish in Ukraine, and so Russia had to fight not only to protect its people and borders, but also the Ukrainian people, women, children, elderly.”

Source: Evan Gershkovich, “As Coffins Come Home, Russians Confront Toll of Ukraine Invasion,” Wall Street Journal, 4 May 2022

I see that there is a struggle underway over the numbers [of Russians] supporting the war. We are all asked whether Russians want war, how different segments of society relate to the war, etc. There is a temptation (a natural desire) to find grounds — everyone has their own — for our “sense of society’s reaction to the war.” The old liberal circles in Moscow, of course, do not want to reconcile themselves to the fact that society in a patriotic frenzy sincerely supports all the monstrous violence, destruction, and sowing of death and grief produced by Russia’s political leadership and army. Hence the struggle arises. VTsIOM says 75% [of Russians support the war], but independent sociologists says it’s 58-59%. And look at Levada’s figures: by the end of the second month [of the war], support had fallen from 74% to 68%. And so on.

However, if you think about it, what is the political significance of this struggle over the sociological grounds for “non-support”? There is none, since there is no way to mold “non-support” into a political factor. It’s like when the Polish uprising of 1863 was put down. Russian society, including the educated classes, experienced a patriotic upsurge. This is a historical fact. Some people, of course, did not support it, but politically that didn’t mean anything. Therefore, no “figures” or “focus groups” change anything now. They do not enable one to shift Russian society’s attitudes to the war from where they are now. This society is currently under martial law – undeclared, but de facto — because the norms of military censorship have been been instituted, economic data has been partly made off-limits, and civil rights have been completely restricted. Under martial law, “non-support” is tantamount to desertion, “alarmism,” sabotage, and treason. Under martial law, there are no civil institutions within which you can politically voice your “non-support.” Therefore, what are we talking about when we raise the question of who supports the war and why they support it?

Source: Alexander Morozov, Facebook, 4 May 2022. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

Foreign Agents

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.


Alexander Morozov • Facebook • December 30, 2021

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.


Pussy Riot • Facebook • December 30, 2021

THIS MESSAGE (MATERIAL) CREATED AND DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT

two of Pussy Riot, Nadya Tolokonnikova and Nika Nikulshina, were added to the government list of “foreign agents” & required to start every tweet w this disclaimer.

OFFICIAL REACTION:

1. lol

2. we will not label my posts, the government can label their asses if they’d like.

3. we will appeal in court.

4. Russia will be free.


Matvey Ganapolsky • Facebook • December 30, 2021

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

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

Grigorii Golosov: Democracy without Democrats in Russia

Democracy without Democrats: The Prospects for Parliamentarism 
Under a well-functioning system, even the current parties can be a good defense against autocrats
Grigorii Golosov
Republic
August 25, 2017

As hopes for Russia’s becoming a democratic country in the foreseeable future fade, the question of the institutional structure of a future Russian democracy is overstated. Even the best-intentioned commentators often argue that none of the conventional mechanisms fit Russia. A presidential system would not do, because it concentrates too much power in the hands of one man and his retinue, leading directly to dictatorship. That sounds plausible. However, as Alexander Morozov recently wrote on Facebook, a parliamentary system would not do, either. If I understood him correctly, his main argument was that the roster of political players would be maintained under this system, and so “the same fools from the current parliamentary parties would remain in power.” That also sounds plausible.

One of the problems with such dramatic assessments is obvious. They imply that Russia’s current political trajectory is unique, and the systems of governance tested and proven workable in other countries would thus never function in Russia. Theoretically, we cannot exclude such options. North Korea, for example, has now generated a political configuration I am willing to acknowledge unique both in terms of structure and possible consequences. However, there is no mystery as to the miserable country’s future. If it is destined to rid itself of the Kim dynasty, it will have to associate itself with South Korea under conditions acceptable to China and the US. It would be pointless to go into the details, but the overall picture is quite clear.

Russia is a different story. I do not see anything unique about Russia’s circumstances. By world standards, we have a quite ordinary authoritarian regime. All the signs point to the fact the regime is in the upward phase of its trajectory, that is, in the process of consolidating. We are thus unable to say anything definite about how it will cease to exist.  Hardcore opposition politicians (of whom, I think, Alexei Navalny is the last man standing) have it simpler than analysts. Politicians simply fight the good fight, using any means available. They do not need to gaze far into the future. But analysts do need to see into the future and would like to see in the future. They are not very good at it, however.

Hence the cognitive error they make, an error best described by the classic metaphor of the black box. There is an initial state and a set of possible outcomes, but the box conceals its interior from us, what is in the middle. Since the initial state makes optimism groundless and has not even fully manifested itself, an optimistic assessment of possible outcomes seems implausible. It is impossible to avoid the error, but we can minimize its consequences if we ignore what might be inside the black box, that is, if we temporarily forget about “progressive” generals, lizards from the planet Niburu, and even about Navalny and other possible drivers of democratization in Russia. Instead, we should focus on democracy’s structural features.

Yet, the first hypothesis we have to take into account is that liberal democracy, regardless of its institutional shape, entrusts the decision of who holds power to a majority of voters. Hence, if the absolute majority of votes in an election are conferred on a potential dictator or his party, the return to authoritarianism is a question of time, and it matters not a whit whether the potential dictator holds the office of president or prime minister. Recent events in Turkey vividly bear this out. The country’s parliamentary system, which had existed for several decades, was unable to withstand a head-on collision with a single-party monopoly. The fact that Erdogan did indeed become the full-fledged president merely capped off the transformation, but the process itself took place within the parliamentary system.

The Turkish Parliament in Ankara. Photo courtesy of Umit Bektas/Reuters

It follows that the main danger to a democracy under a parliamentary system consists not in the absence of succession among parliamentary elites, but in the establishment and long-term reproduction of a political monopoly in parliament. The experience of many countries, from Eastern Europe, where it was neutralized by the project of joining the EU, to Africa, where it has not been neutralized and has caused efforts at democratization to fail on several occasions, testifies to the fact that the danger is quite real. It is natural, after all, that at the first elections after democratization people vote en masse for the most persuasive opposition party and hand it a majority in parliament. The country’s main democrat then becomes a dictator, since there is no institutional counterbalance to prevent it.

This should make us look at the prospects of the current parliamentary parties after democratization.  One of them, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), is bound to survive, while two others, the so-called Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and the so-called party of power, United Russia, have good chances of surviving. It is unlikely they would enjoy idyllic relations with a new regime. Then, as becomes clear from the argument I have made, above, the survival of these parties would serve as a positive factor in democratization. They themselves are unlikely to become advocates of democracy, but that does not matter. What matters is that their presence in parliament, if it is considerable, would help restrain the authoritarian impulses of the new ruling group, if they manifest themselves.

I believe the MPs in the current parliamentary parties are neither fools in the mundane nor the political sense. Mainly, they are cunning, experienced wheeler-dealers who have managed to maintain their places at the top of Russia’s turbulent political heap. Clearly, however, they have used their tenure in parliament to preserve features of the current system that benefit them. In other words, they would lobby against progress under a new system, and this would indeed inject a hefty dose of stupidity into the work of building democracy in Russia. The dilemma is this. To stave off the new regime’s authoritarian impulses, they would have to be influential, but they would fritter away their influence on impeding reform.

Hence, I am inclined to think that a semi-presidential system would be optimal in a democratic Russia. The president would have serious powers, albeit powers severely limited by the constitution. Structurally speaking, it would approximate the European parliamentary system more than the presidential system of the US and most Latin American countries. However, it is now utterly useless to go into the details of this system, because they would depend greatly on the transition to democracy, now concealed from us by our imaginary black box.

However, I do not see any particular problems with a parliamentary system in a future Russia. Democracy is not only the rule of “democrats” as a party (a truth we in Russia have already swallowed, it seems), but nor is it necessarily the rule of politicans who adhere to democratic views. The presence of such politicians is extremely beneficial. But views are a shaky thing, and what matters more in a democracy is the structure of political competition. We know several examples of successful democratization, from late eighteenth-century France to modern Bangladesh, in which the role of card-carrying democrats in the initial state of the transition was extremely modest, and the main fight took place among several dictatorial factions. What mattered was that they successfully prevented each other from establishing a new dictatorship.

Grigorii Golosov is a political scientist and professor at the European University in St. Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Alexander Morozov: The So-Called Partners

The So-Called Partners: How the Kremlin Corrupted an Unimaginable Number of People in the West
Alexander Morozov
Colta.ru
March 14, 2017

Vladimir Putin and Michael Flynn at TV channel Russia Today’s birthday party, December 2015

Before Crimea, everyone “cooperated” with the Russians. Until mid 2016, there was confusion about this past. The sanctions did not almost nothing to change this mode of cooperation.

But since the elections in the US, quite significant changes have been occurring that are hard to describe accurately and identify. Outwardly, this is encapsulated in the fact that people accused of communicating with the Russians have been losing their posts, and all this comes amidst public scandals. It’s not that people cooperated maliciously, but they were involved in what Russian gangsters call zaskhvar, “getting dirty.”

No one doubted Flynn’s loyalty, but he resigned due to “contacts.” The deputy speaker of the Lithuanian Seimas, Mindaugas Bastys, resigned the other day. He resigned because the Lithuanian secret services refused him access to secret information, although the list of Russians with whom he palled around at different times doesn’t contain anyone special: employees of Russian state corporations in Lithuania, crooked local Russian businessmen, and so on. Recently, the mailbox of an adventurer who has worked for the Kremlin in four countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary), and the Balkans to boot, was hacked. It transpired that Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeev had discussed or conducted ops of some kind during the elections in Bosnia and Poland.

Malofeev is, seemingly, an extreme example of frankly subversive actions in other countries. Perusing the correspondence and knowing the atmosphere of Russian affairs in Europe, you realize that Malofeev’s strategy and tactics differ not a whit from the actions of dozens and hundreds of similar actors operating outside the Russian Federation. Before Crimea, all of this resembled benign “promotion” of their interests on the part of all those who cooperated with such people. But now retrospection kicks ins. What trouble have those who were involved in the Petersburg Dialogue, the Valdai Club, the Dialogue of Civilizations, and the dozens and hundreds of programs where the Russians either footed the bill, generated incentives or simply provided a one-time service got themselves into? I was told by people from compatriots organizations (who fairly early pulled out of Russian World’s programs) that initially they were fooled by Nikita Mikhalkov’s early cultural projects outside Russia. They sincerely supported his appeal to the descendants of the post-revolutionary emigration. Around 2008, however, they sensed they were getting sucked into a system of ideological support for the Kremlin. Many even continued to travel to Moscow to the compatriots congresses, but inwardly they already felt like observers. They had already decided then that this was a new “Comintern,” and it would be wrong to accept grants from it. But others happily kept on taking the grants and sailed off with the Kremlin for Crimea.

* * *

But all these political, humanitarian and media contacts pale next to the vastness of business collaborations. Millions of people worldwide were involved in Russian money for over a decade. After all, so-called capital flight occurred on a massive scale. This capital was then partly reinvested in Russia through offshores, and partly spent on buying various kinds infrastructure outside of Russia (firms, shares in businesses, real estate, yachts, etc.). This entire giant machine for circulating the Putin corporate state’s money was serviced by millions of people as counterparties, including lawyers, dealmakers of various shapes and sizes, politicians, MPs, movie stars, cultural figures, translators, and so on.

The outcome, when Crimea happened, was a huge spontaneous lobby. This doesn’t mean all these people had literally been bought off, to describe the process in terms of the battle against corruption. People simply “cooperated” and received various bonuses from this cooperation. It is not a matter of recruitment, but a psychological phenomenon. Any of us, having once received money from a rich childhood friend, even if we are critical towards him, would still remain publicly loyal to him. Would you want to shout to the heavens about the atrocities of a man thanks to whom, say, you had earned enough money to buy a new house? You would just keep your lips sealed.

* * *

In other words, for around ten years, beginning approximately in 2004, after the takeover of Yukos, the Russian economy “warmed up” foreign strata whose scale is hard to evaluate. It was not a matter of corruption in the narrow sense of the word. Of course, on their part it was regarded as economic cooperation with a peculiar type of “eastern” economy that involved “pats on the back,” kickbacks, exchanges of various bonuses and preferences, trips to the banya, hunting for wild sheep from helicopters, and so on. But it was not criminal. On their part, it was indulged as a “peculiarity.” Russia is hardly the only economy marked by these ways. It was a partnership in the primary sense. The world’s major companies opened offices and production facilities in Russia. Until recently, it was a privileged economy, included in the BRICS grouping.

Crimea turned all the fruits of this decade-long warming-up into a problem. It is obvious Putin used Crimea to implement an instantaneous mobilization amongst those involved in the partnership. He confronted all the partners with the need to define themselves. Putin’s use of the word “partners,” which he pronounces ironically, has often been thought to relate to the diplomatic lexicon. But in fact Putin has in mind other partners, the millions of people who have received big bonuses for dealing with Russian contracts, Russian money, and various undertakings with Russians for a decade.

* * *

Now these partners have big problems, and we must sadly note that the problems are not due to Crimea as such nor to the regime of sanctions and countersanctions, nor to the ambivalence of having been involved in toxic projects with Russians in the past.  The problems lies entirely in the fact that Putin does not want to stop.

This entire massive milieu would sigh in relief if it found out that Putin had “transferred the title to himself” (i.e., focused on Crimea) and called it a day.

But the extreme ambiguity has been maintained and even intensified from 2014 to 2017. It was not Putin who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but folks mobilized by Malofeev. It was not Putin who murdered Nemtsov, but Chechen security officials. It was not Putin who hacked the Democratic Party’s servers, but volunteer hackers, who maybe were Russians or maybe not, but they used Russian servers. The attempted coup in Montenegro was not orchestrated by Putin, but by persons unknown. It was not Putin who plotted to destroy Ukraine as a country and establish Novorossiya, but, say, Sergei Glazyev. The pro-Russian rallies in European countries were organized not by Putin, but by a guy named Usovsky, who raised money for the purpose from patriotic Russian businessmen. And so on.

The list now grows with every passing day. Yet the Kremlin doesn’t really distance itself from any of it with a vigor that would be comprehensible to its so-called partners. The Kremlin has not conducted an investigation of any of these events, but has played an ambiguous game that can be clearly read as “covering up” all of “its own” people.

So the ten-year economic warming-up has been transformed before our very eyes into “inducement to conspiracy.” Everyone is now looking back and asking themselves, “Who was it we ‘partnered’ with? Maybe it was Russian intelligence? Or, from the get-go, was it just bait to get us involved in an unscrupulous lobbying scheme?”

* * *

There is tremendously frightening novelty at play here. Everything happening before our eyes with the State Department and pro-Russian politicians in Europe lays bare a complex problem. The boundaries between lobbying, partnership, espionage, propaganda, and corruption have been eroded.

A situation is generated in which it it impossible to tell benign partnership from complicity in a politics that erodes the limits of the permissible. Just yesterday you were a Christian Democrat building a partnership with the Russian Federation, but today you are just a silent accomplice in eroding the norms of Europe’s political culture. You are not just tight-lipped, refusing to evaluate the Kremlin’s actions. On the contrary. “Maintaining fidelity,” so to speak, to the fruits of your past partnership with the Kremlin, you even raise a skeptical voice. “What’s so criminal about Putin’s policies?” And others do the same. “The sanctions have been been ineffective. Frankly, Crimea has always been Russian.”

And if you were somehow able to take in at a glance the entire so-called Kremlin propaganda machine abroad as a combination of the work of Moscow news agencies and little-visited European websites run by left- and right-wing critics of American hegemony who for that reason sympathize with Putin, it would be utterly impossible to get a glimpse of the giant roots the Kremlin has put down in the western economy. It is beyond estimation, just like the transformation or, rather, the corruption not only of its own native population but also huge circles in the west, a task the Kremlin has accomplished in ten years.

Three years ago, I imagined Putin was putting together a kind of right-wing Comintern, and I wrote about it. Now it is often dubbed the “black Comintern.” I think, however, the situation is more complicated and a lot worse. The “Putinist Comintern” is the fairly insignificant and well-visible tip of a much larger process taking place on other floors of European life, where people who are not involved in either ultra-rightist or ultra-leftist politics remain silent about the Kremlin’s actions. Condemning it, they remain loyal nevertheless. They considerately wait for Putin to return to European norms of partnership. These people cannot see and do not want to see that the ambiguity fostered by the Kremlin in the matter of responsibility for murders, paramilitary detachments, mercenaries, and destabilization of small countries is not a temporary phenomenon. It has been conceived that way. And it will continue that way in the future.

Alexander Morozov is a Russian journalist and political analyst. Translated by the Russian Reader