Andrei Kolesnikov: Hooked on Militarism?

new hope“New Hope. All drug addicts quit using. Some manage to do it while alive.” Photo by the Russian Reader

Where Militaristic Infantilism Leads
Society’s Losing Its Fear of War Is More Dangerous Than What Happens in the Absence of an Anti-War Movement
Andrei Kolesnikov
Vedomosti
November 28, 2018

The “polite people” in the Russian military have taken to ramming ships, shedding their politesse. A military coming out has happened. Either so-called hybrid war has become more hybridized in terms of the variety of its methods or it has become more like good old-fashioned war, involving actual armed clashes. Politically, Russia has become not merely toxic but hypertoxic. A premonition of war prevails among more timid folks, although the footage of the ramming at sea, as painless and triumphal as a military parade on Red Square or a football match (“Crush him!”), still make military operations appear unscary and toylike. We will carry the day in any case, sans victims and blood (ours, that is), as in a cartoon by Putin.

This militaristic infantilism—the loss of the fear of war, the loss of the idea that war is terrible—is the worst outcome of our country’s daily intoxication with the thought of its own greatness for several years running. The army is greatly respected nowadays. People need to trust someone, and the armed forces have bypassed another institution, the presidency, in trustworthiness ratings.

Does this mean Russians are ready for a real war? To put it more plainly, are Russian parents willing to let their eighteen-year-old boys be called up to fight Ukrainian boys just like them? Does anyone understand what they would be fighting for? Is it really all about cementing the nation, “Crimea is ours!” and the personal ambitions of several high-ranking figures in the Russian establishment?

Since 2012, Russia’s collective identity has been built on negative foundations, on awakened resentment, which had been dozing, but had no thought of waking up. The plan has worked quite well. This resentment, however, is verbal and fictitous. Public opinion supported “coal miners” and “tractor drivers” verbally. In Syria, the official army and private military companies fought, or so Russians imagined, at their own risk. The proxy war with the US has gone very far at times, but in the summer of 2018 it did not stop the majority of Russians from abruptly improving their attitude [sic] to the States and the west in general.

But suddenly there is the threat of a real war. On the other side of the border, in the country [i.e., Ukraine] that the Russian imperialist mind never really considered sovereign, a mobilization is underway and martial law has been declared. Is this reality capable of changing popular opinion and rousing Russian civil society, which has a lot going for it except an anti-war movement? No, because so far the war has not been regarded as real.

Identification with the military is the last bullet in the Russian regime’s gun, but it is a blank or, rather, a prop. Exploiting what Russians regard as sacred—i.e., privatization of the memory of the Great Patriotic War [WWII] by a particular group—is a tool that is still in play, but militarism as such has lost its power to mobilize and consolidate Russians. If “German POWs” are marched around Novgorod on January 20, 2019, in an absurd attempt to reenact the NKVD’s Operation Grand Waltz, and on January 29, a military parade is held in St. Petersburg to mark the latest anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad, it will not raise Putin’s approval rating from 66% to 80%. Those days are gone. So, the props have been dropped in favor of direct action in the Kerch Strait, but its power to mobilize people is not at all obvious.

You can cynically throw the ashes of those who perished in the Siege of Leningrad to stoke the furnace of fading ratings as much as you want. You can march people dressed up as German POWs round Novgorod as much as you like. When, however, pollsters ask Russians between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four what countries they regard as role models, they list Germany, China, and the US. This is not because young Russians are unpatriotic, but because not everything comes to down to the top brass feeding on the poisonous corpse of the Stalinist past. The present day, progress, and visions for the future matter, too.

Can we do it again? We cannot. Nor is there any reason to do it. Infantilized by the regime, Russian society’s maturation will be measured by the numbers of people who are convinced that we cannot and should not do it again.

Andrei Kolesnikov is program director at the Moscow Carnegie Center. Translated by the Russian Reader

Cossacked

18A so-called Cossack lashes protesters with a plaited whip (nagaika) at the He’s No Tsar to Us opposition protest rally at Pushkin Square in Moscow on May 5, 2018. Photo by Ilya Varlamov

Сossacks Were Not Part of the Plan: Men with Whips Take Offense at the Opposition
Alexander Chernykh
Kommersant
May 8, 2017

The Presidential Human Rights Council (PHRC) plans to find out who the Cossacks were who scuffled with supporters of Alexei Navalny during the unauthorized protest rally on May 5 in Moscow. Meanwhile, the Moscow mayor’s office and the Central Cossack Host claimed they had nothing to do with the Cossacks who attempted to disperse opposition protesters. Kommersant was able to talk with Cossack Vasily Yashchikov, who admitted he was involved in the tussle, but claimed it was provoked by Mr. Navalny’s followers. Human rights defenders reported more than a dozen victims of the Cossacks have filed complaints.

The PHRC plans to ask law enforcement agencies to find out how the massive brawl erupted during the unauthorized protest rally on May 5 in Moscow. PHRC chair Mikhail Fedotov said “circumstances were exacerbated” when Cossacks and activists of the National Liberation Front (NOD) appeared at the opposition rally.

“It led to scenes of violence. We must understand why they were they and who these people were,” said Mr. Fedotov.

“Our main conclusion has not changed: the best means of counteracting unauthorized protest rallies is authorizing them,” he added.

On May 5, unauthorized protest rallies, entitled He’s No Tsar to Us, called for by Alexei Navalny, took place in a number of Russian cities. In Moscow, organizers had applied for a permit to march down Tverskaya Street, but the mayor’s officers suggested moving the march to Sakharov Avenue. Mr. Navalny still called on his supporters to gather at Pushkin Square, where they first engaged in a brawl with NOD activists and persons unknown dressed in Cossack uniforms. Numerous protesters were subsequently detained by regular police. Approximately 700 people were detained in total.

The appearance on Pushkin Square of Cossacks armed with whips has provoked a broad response in Russia and abroad. The Guardian wrote at length about the incident, reminding its readers that Cossacks would be employed as security guards during the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. The Bell discovered a Central Cossack Host patch on the uniform of one of the Cossacks photographed during the brawl. According to the Bell, which cites documents from the Moscow mayor’s office, the Central Cossack Host was paid a total of ₽15.9 million for “providing security during large-scale events.”

However, Vladimir Chernikov, head of the Moscow Department of Regional Security, stressed, during an interview with Kommersant FM, that on May 5 “no Cossacks or any other organization were part of the plan and the means of providing security.”

Chernikov said police and the Russian National Guard acted impeccably. Spokesmen for the Central Cossack Host also said they had not dispatched any Cossacks to guard Pushkin Square, and that the Cossacks who, wearing their patches, did go to the square, had “voiced their civic stance.”

Bloggers have published information about the Cossacks they have been able to identify from photos and video footage of the rally. One video depicts a bearded man who grabs a placard, bearing the slogan “Open your eyes, you’re the tsar’s slave!”, from a young oppositionist before arguing with Open Russia coordinator Andrei Pivovarov. The Telegram channel BewareOfThem reported the man was Vasily Yashchikov, member of the Union of Donbass Volunteers. Mr. Yashchikov has confirmed to Kommersant he was, in fact, at the rally and was involved in the brawl with opposition protesters. Yet, he claimed, most of the Cossacks at Pushkin Square had nothing to do with the Central Cossack Host, as claimed by the Bell. According to Mr. Yashchikov, the brawlers mainly consisted of nonregistered (i.e., unaffiliated with the Russian government) Cossacks from two grassroots organizations, the First Hundred and the Crimean Regiment. Moreover, they allegedly showed up at the rally independently of one another.

“The rally was discussed in Cossack groups, and someone suggested we go and talk to people,” Mr. Yashchikov told Kommersant. “We have nearly a hundred people in the  Hundred, but only fifteen decided to go. At the square, we met Cossacks from the Crimean Regiment, which is actually not Crimean, but from the Moscow Region. But our organizations are not friendly, so we were there separately.”

He admitted there were several people from the Central Cossack Host at Pushkin Square, but his group did not interact with them, either.

KMO_165050_00034_1_t218_200833So-called Cossacks at the He’s No Tsar to Us opposition rally at Pushkin Square, Moscow, May 5, 2018. Photo by Alexander Miridonov. Courtesy of Kommersant

According to Mr. Yashchikov, the Cossacks came to Pushkin Square to talk with Mr. Navalny’s supporters, but had no intention of being involved in dispersing the rally.

“There were one and half thousand people there [the Moscow police counted the same number of protesters—Kommersant]. There were thirty-five of us at most, and we had only two whips. You could not have paid us to wade into that crowd,” claimed Mr. Yashchikov.

Mr. Yashchikov claimed he managed to have a friendly chat with Mr. Navalny, but opposition protesters were aggressive, he alleged.

“Someone picked on us, asking why we had come there, that it was their city. Another person tried to knock my cap off, while they swore at other Cossacks and blasphemed the Orthodox faith,” Mr. Yashchikov complained. “Well, we couldn’t take it anymore.”

People who attended the rally have denied his claims.

“The Cossacks acted cohesively, like a single team,” said Darya, who was at the rally [Kommersant has not published her surname, as she is a minor]. “They formed a chain and started pushing us towards the riot police, apparently, to make their job easier. The Cossacks kicked me, while they encircled my boyfriend and beat him. They retreated only when they realized they were being film and photographed.”

Darya planned to file a complaint with the police charging the Cossacks with causing her bodily harm. Currently, human rights defenders from Agora, Zona Prava, and Public Verdict have documented more than fifteen assault complaints filed against the Cossacks.

Oppositionists have claimed the police mainly detained protesters, allegedly paying almost no attention to the Cossacks and NOD activists. Kirill Grigoriev, an Open Russia activist detained at the rally, recounted that, at the police station where he was taken after he was detained, he pretended to be a NOD member, and he was released by police without their filing an incident report.

“When we arrived at the Alexeyevsky Police Precinct, a policeman immediately asked who of us was from NOD. I jokingly pointed at myself. He took me into a hallway and asked me to write down the surnames of other members of the organization,” said Mr. Grigoriev.

He wrote down the surnames of ten people, after which everyone on the list was given back their internal Russian passports and released.

*********

Cossacks Confront Navalny Supporters for First Time
Regime Prepares for Fresh Protests, Including Non-Political Ones, Analysts Argue 
Yelena Mukhametshina and Alexei Nikolsky
Vedomosti
May 6, 2018

He’s No Tsar to Us, the unauthorized protest rally in Moscow held by Alexei Navalny’s supporters, differed from previous such rallies. On Tverskaya Street, provocateurs demanded journalists surrender their cameras. By 2:00 p.m., the monument to Pushkin was surrounded by activists of the National Liberation Front (NOD). When protesters chanted, “Down with the tsar!” they yelled “Maidan shall not pass!” in reply. Behind the monument were groups of Cossacks, who had never attended such rallies. In addition, for the first time, the police warned people they intended to use riot control weapons and physical force, and indeed the actions of the security forces were unprecedentedly rough. The riot police (OMON) detained protesters by the hundreds, and Cossacks lashed them with plaited whips.

The Moscow police counted 1,500 protesters at the rally, while organizers failed to provide their own count of the number of attendees. Navalny said the nationwide rallies were a success. His close associate Leonid Volkov argued that “in terms of numbers, content, and fighting spirit, records were broken,” also noting the police’s unprecedented brutality. According to OVD Info, around 700 people were detained in Moscow, and nearly 1,600 people in 27 cities nationwide. Citing the PHRC, TASS reported that 658 people were detained in Moscow.

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“He’s No Tsar to Us, May 5: A Map of Arrests. 1,597 people were detained during protest rallies on May 5, 2018, in 27 Russian cities, according to OVD Info. According to human right activists, during nationwide anti-corruption protests on March 26, 2017, more than 1,500 people were detained. Source: OVD Info.” Courtesy of Vedomosti

PHRC member Maxim Shevchenko demanded the council be urgently convoked due to “the regime’s use of Black Hundreds and fascist militants.” According to a police spokesman, the appearance at the rally of “members of different social groups” was not engineered by the police, while the warning that police would use special riot control weapons was, apparently, dictated by the choice of tactics and the desire to avoid the adverse consequences of the use of tear gas.

According to NOD’s leader, MP Yevgeny Fyodorov, 1,000 members of the movement were involved in Saturday’s rally.

“We wanted to meet and discuss the fact the president must be able to implement his reforms. Because we have been talking about de-offshorization and withdrawing from a unipolar world for five years running, but things have not budged an inch,” said Fyodorov.

NOD did not vet their actions with the Kremlin, the leadership of the State Duma or the Moscow mayor’s office, Fyodorov assured reporters.

On Sunday, the Telegram channel Miracles of OSINT reported that, in 2016–2018, the Central Cossack Host, whose members were at the rally, received three contracts worth nearly ₽16 million from the Moscow Department for Ethnic Policy for training in the enforcement of order at public events. As Vedomosti has learned, according to the government procurement website, the Central Cossack Host received eleven contracts, worth nearly ₽38 million, from the Moscow mayor’s office over the same period.

Gleb Kuznetsov, head of the Social Research Expert Institute (EISI), which has ties to the Kremlin, argued there was no brutality at the rally.

“In Paris, the scale of protests is currently an order of magnitude higher, but no one speaks about their particular brutality. In Russia, so far the confrontation has been cute, moderate, and provincial. The only strange thing is that, in Russia, people who are involved in such protests, which are aimed at maximum mutual violence, are regarded as children. But this is not so. Everything conformed to the rules of the game, common to the whole world. If you jump a policeman, don’t be surprised if he responds with his truncheon,” said Kuznetsov.*

The Russian government has allied itself with the Cossacks and NOD, which are essentially illegal armed formations, argued Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Moscow Carnegie Center.

“This does not bode well. Apparently, in the future, such formations will be used to crack down on protests,” said Kolesnikov.

The authorities are preparing for the eventuality there will be more protests. Even now the occasions for them have become more diverse, and they are spreading geographically, noted Kolesnikov.

Grassroots activism has been growing, and the authorities have realized this, political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov concurred. They are always nervous before inaugurations. In 2012, there was fear of a virtual Maidan, while now the example of Armenia is fresh in everyone’s minds, he said.

“The security services had to flex their muscles before the new cabinet was appointed. Although, in view of the upcoming FIFA World Cup, law enforcement hung the regime out to dry contentwise,” said Vinogradov.

* In September 2017, the Bell reported that state corporations Rosatom and RusHydro were financing EISI to the tune of ₽400 million each, and it could not be ruled out that the so-called social research institute was receiving subsidies from other state companies.

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Immortal Regiment: The Regime’s Human Shield

Crimea Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya leading the Immortal Regiment in Simferopol, Crimea, May 9, 2016. According to TASS, she carried a "wonder-working" icon of Holy Martyr Tsar Nicholas II.
Crimean Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonskaya leading the Immortal Regiment memorial procession in Simferopol, Crimea, May 9, 2016. According to TASS, she carried a “wonder-working” icon of Holy Martyr Tsar Nicholas II that had been sent to Crimea from Moscow for the event.

The Regime’s Moral Defense: The Immortal Regiment as a Shield 
Andrei Kolesnikov
Forbes.ru
May 9, 2016

On December 5, 1966, sitting as his dacha in Pakhra, Alexander Tvardovsky, an agonizingly conscientious and grimly self-reflective poet, recorded in his diary thoughts that nowadays would cause the higher-ups to stop inviting him to receptions at the Kremlin, and hired “patriots” to douse him, as is the custom nowadays, with brilliant green disinfectant.

First, Tvardovsky writes about the essence of Victory Day and its semi-official recension, including the myth of the Panfilov Division’s Twenty-Eight Guardsmen, whose debunking now costs people their jobs.

“Those who perished in the war for the Motherland have a indubitable, sacred right to be remembered and honored. […] However, there is a considerable admixture of ‘educational policy’ in all this as well, considerations on how to manipulate the moods of the ‘masses’ […] such as the tomb of the unknown soldier organized recently (God forbid he should prove to be a known soldier), a lot of needless bother, like the five or six of the twenty-eight [Panfilov Division Guardsmen] who utterly embarrassingly turned up alive.”

Tvardovsky then goes on to write about what is totally and even furiously excluded from the national memory and reflections on the topic nowadays.

“No doubt those who perished on the eve of the war and during the war, not at the front, but in the mad regime’s prisons, camps, and torture chambers, also deserve to be remembered in this way.”

Half a century has passed since Tvardovsky penned this diary entry, but nothing has changed at all or has been reborn in circumstances reminiscent of the Brezhnev period in terms of ideology and political strategy. The regime’s legitimacy was then directly linked to memory of the war, moreover, the official memory of the war, with many of the unpleasant particulars concealed. Today, too, the regime feeds on the juices of the past, powerful evidence of the effects of path dependence in the vast nation’s collective consciousness. Back then, however, there were still a couple of things that brought people together like conquering outer space and romanticizing the 1920s. (Fidel Castro and Cuba reproduced the spirit of that era.)  Our day and age parodies the things that consolidated the Soviet Union. But then again, Nikita Khrushchev would never have deigned to be personally involved in launching rockets from a cosmodrome, as did Vladimir Putin, a man who endeavors to inherit the Soviet Union’s achievements.

The current Russian regime’s final privatization of the Soviet victory in the Second World War and the amazing propagandistic transformation of each new war, including the Syrian campaign, into a direct sequel of the Great Patriotic War has divided the nation instead of consolidating it.

And the minority, who are not at all against remembering the great war, but are opposed to hysteria, official narratives, vulgarization, schematic renderings of the war, marking “friends” with Saint George’s Ribbons, and rejecting critical takes on historical events, have been virtually excluded from the ranks of citizens.

If you did not take a Saint George’s Ribbon foisted on you at a football match, and your kid was not involved in an Immortal Regiment event at school, you are a renegade, not a citizen. Everything the state gets its hands on immediately acquires an imperative and moralistic aftertaste and helps to identify an individual as friend or foe. Strangers have no place in this political system. People who think about the Gulag, for example, have no place. They are attacked, even if they are children, as happened during a Memorial school essay contest, and declared “national traitors.”

In our hybrid political framework, these prescriptions and nearly obligatory moral codes, sometimes reinforced by the Criminal Code, have been rented not even from authoritarian systems but from totalitarian ones.  In this model, morality is immoral, Russia’s heroes are anti-heroes, and vice versa. The nation has repented of the repentance it felt thirty years ago. It turns out that iPhones can peacefully coexist with the most primitive variety of Stalinism, and supermarkets, with archaization of the mind.

The Great Patriotic War is used, including to sell nonexistent threats to the general public. These threats strengthen the authority of the man commanding the besieged fortress and expand the food supply of the military and security services elites.

Today’s Russian society is a society of people who have been insulted a priori and attacked before the fact. We were attacked in 1941, and we are attacked now. We are attacked, so we defend ourselves and conduct just wars. These wars are triumphal and victimless, and ennobled and sterilized by TV. They resemble computer games where the players have a big supply of extra lives.

You cannot die a hero’s death in such wars, although you can go as a tourist. (According to Christopher Coker of the LSE, modern war is often a continuation of tourism by other means.)

In the name of the Soviet victory in the Second World War, you can do anything whatsoever. You can even crack down on the opposition, conduct a wild goose chase for “national traitors,” annex Crimea, invade Syria, and do battle with “Banderites.” Ceremony, rather than real success, has become a ritual means of “consolidating” the nation. Anyone who has avoided being consolidated during collective rituals is an internal enemy.

The victorious official narrative is a set of rote answers in the absence of questions. It is the triumph of simplification, the refusal to understand that history is complicated. It is the refusal to imagine the war as a tragedy. The topic of the unnecessary sacrifices and wastefulness of the Stalin regime, which did not count soldiers and devalued their lives, has disappeared from the discourse. Simplifying complicated things has also ben a means of simultaneously justifying the current regime and Stalin’s regime at a single blow, of dividing the nation into right and wrong, moral and immoral, by tying the “right” folks together with a single Saint George’s Ribbon, by marketizing the war and making it fashionable.

Everything in Russia is hybrid: the wars in Donbass and Syria, the political system itself, and now the celebration of Victory Day. Sacred memory has been placed at the service of solving a single albeit blistering problem: preserving the power of the current leaders and current elites as long as possible. To do this, the regime takes cover behind the Immortal Regiment’s morally impeccable shield, which, however, makes it look even more immoral.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Leokadia Frenkel for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Roman Dobrokhotov and TASS. For more on this topic, see Peter Hobson, “How Russian Authorities Hijacked a WWII Remembrance Movement,” Moscow Times, May 6, 2016.