Fyodor Krasheninnikov: Russian History According to the Crimean Calendar

brickwall faceThe writing is on the wall.

Russian History According to the Crimean Calendar
A New Period of Russian History Kicked Off in 2014, But There Is No Proof It Will Last for Centuries
Fyodor Krasheninnikov
Vedomosti
April 11, 2018

In a recently published article, Vladislav Surkov argues we should regard 2014 as the first year of a new calendar, the beginning of a centuries-long era of “political solitude” that emerged after a long period of ambivalence on Russia’s part. Although the thoughts outlined in the article are primarily Mr. Surkov’s personal convictions, they do in some way describe the outlook of Russia’s supreme political elite, to which Mr. Surkov certainly belongs, and they are interesting only in this sense. Among other things, his take suggests that, after 2014, nothing comparable in importance to the events in Crimea has happened nor will happen, meaning Russia seemingly experienced the “end of history” in 2014.

2014 will undoubtedly go down in history as the year of Vladimir Putin’s most memorable achievement. Russia’s annexation of Crimea led to many changes both at home and abroad, but what mattered most was that it was accomplished easily, quickly, and bloodlessly, and led to an incredible surge in the president’s popularity due to the fact that a large segment of society rallied around him. The more alarming the circumstances of spring 2018, the dearer to the president and his entourage are the memories of the happy spring of 2014. Surkov’s article can read as a belated reiteration of Faust’s “Stay a while, you are so beautiful,” as a reluctance to accept the inevitability of change and the ephemerality of all “forevers.”

The flip side of the myth of a new era’s beginning is the fear 2014 was actually the culmination of modern Russian history and things will only get worse in the future. The tendencies of recent years have fully confirmed this fear. Only four years have passed, but the spring of 2018 is nothing like the spring of 2014 in terms of feeling and mood. Russia is not on the offensive; instead, it is on the defensive. The west’s pressure on it has been multiplying and causing palpable problems for the economy. For the first time in four years, the country’s leaders have been forced to acknowledge the dangers posed by US sanctions and give up repeating the argument that all sanctions are a boon to the economy. It is no wonder. In 2014, the sanctions were much weaker, and given the euphoria in the air, they went almost unnoticed. Besides, in 2014, it was still possible to believe the sanctions were temporary. They would be lifted in the very near future, the west would swallow what had occurred, and everything would go back to what it had been. In 2018, the euphoria has long vanished, and if there is still talk the sanctions will soon be lifted, it should be put down more to inertia and confusion than anything else. Although it was intentionally timed to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the Crimean triumph, the presidential election did not produce anything comparable to the inspiring impression generated in the wake of Crimea’s annexation. The celebration of Putin’s electoral victory lasted only ten days, cut short by the disastrous shopping mall fire in Kemerovo and the official day of mourning announced in its aftermath.

Russia cannot look forward to proud “political solitude” in the coming years or at any other time. The modern world is too small for anyone to isolate themselves, especially on their own terms and inside borders of their own choosing. At home, especially among the elite, one can still live in the past for a time and pretend this is still the triumphant year of 2014. One call still pretend Russia is threatening everyone, denouncing everyone, and demanding a reaction from everyone, and that it has centuries and millennia ahead of it. In fact, however, it is Russia that is threatened, Russia that is denounced, and Russia from whom everyone demands a reaction. There are no grounds for supposing this onslaught will wane in the foreseeable future instead of intensifying. Russia’s main trump card in 2014 was its willingness to engage in confrontation and brinksmanship, which the west was not willing to do. That card has now been trumped in turn. After a long period of wavering, the leaders of the Nato countries have also proven capable of engaging in deliberate escalation and frightening their opponents with determination. This seems to have been a major surprise to the current regime in Russia.

A new phase in modern Russian history undoubtedly began in 2014, but there is no proof it will last for centuries and be a time of endless rapture over the annexation of Crimea. For the time being, everything points to the fact it will end much more quickly than many of us would imagine and in such a way that we shall not want to remember 2014 at all.

Fyodor Krasheninnikov is a political scientist who lives in Yekaterinburg. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

The Great October Conspiracy

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Monuments to the Holy Martyrs Tsarevich Alexei, Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra. Our Lady of Tikhvin Church, 128a Ligovsky Avenue, Petersburg, 19 July 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader.

The Great October Conspiracy
Conspiracy theories were as useful in 1917 as they are one hundred years later
Fyodor Krasheninnikov
Vedomosti
October 31, 2017

A hundred years ago, Russia stood on the treshold of the Bolshevik coup and the subsequent long-term dictatorship of the Communist Party. How did it happen that society could summon up no forces to stop it?

If you believe conspiracy theorists, in 1917, the forces of darkness managed twice in a single year, in February and October, to pull off the same trick: to hatch a plot and overthrow the existing regime. This take on what happened a hundred years ago has become all but official, and on the anniversary of the Bolshevik coup we will be treated to it again and again.

The story of German agents plotting against Russia was dreamt up a hundred years ago. After the July Days of 1917, a brief revolt in Petrograd against the Provisional Government, an idea emerged in the depths of the counterintelligence service, which had been disfigured by revolutionary purges. The Bolsheviks would be declared German intelligence agents, society would be incited against them, and counterintelligence could take the gloves off. Yet no serious evidence of the charges was presented, and consequently the attempt to save the crumbling Kerensky regime by telling a lie dealt a blow to the regime itself.

After the Bolsheviks came to power and did everything they did, the story about German spies took on a life of its own, eventually fusing with the monarchist theory that Freemasons had organized the February Revolution.

Conspiracy theories are equally useful to the authorities in 1917 and in 2017 for an obvious reason: it lets them off the hook for the state of the nation. Economic downturns, foreign policy failures, and popular discontent are all ascribed to outside forces and their domestic agents. When they turn the talk to spies and conspiraces, the powers that be make their lives easier, for inflating spy mania, and encouraging people to tighten their belts and rally round the current regime, whatever it is like, is much simpler than improving the economic and sociopolitical circumstances at home and thereby raising the popularity of the regime itself.

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“The Russian Economic Miracle.” A stand purporting to prove that all was well with the Russian Empire on the eve of the First World War and the Revolutions of 1917. Our Lady of Tikhvin Church, 128a Ligovsky Avenue, Petersburg, 19 July 2015. Photo by the Russian Reader

The main lesson to be drawn from a thoughtful reflection on the events of 1917 is that the government is primarily to blame for revolutions and coups, because it generates the prerequisites for its successful overthrow. We can endlessly mourn the last tsar and his family, but the truth is that it was Nicholas II who brought things to the point where a huge empire collapsed in a matter of days for the most ridiculous reason, and the institution of the monarchy proved incapable of mobilizing its potential supporters to defend, if not the overthrown tsar himself, then at least the Romanov dynasty and the monarchical system.

By hemming and hawing, and proving incapable either of solving the most urgent economic problems or holding elections to the Constituent Assembly until state power had utterly collapsed, the Provisional Government did its all to pave the way for the Bolsheviks and their sympathizers to seize power.

No conspiracy hatched by agents could have led to the seizure of power in the vast country if the program and slogans of the Bolsheviks had not been popular, and they themselves had not been regarded as a force capable of introducing at least minimal order, launching urgent social reforms, and finally holding elections to the Constituent Assembly.

We now know that the Bolsheviks deceived the workers, peasants, and soldiers, while also failing to bring the country social justice, peace or prosperity. But as we look back a hundred years, we must judge the circumustances not from the perspective of what we know nowadays, but from the viewpoint of contemporaries of those events, who saw only growing chaos on all sides and took seriously the promises made by the Bolsheviks.

Fortunately, there is no war [sic], no “land question,” and nothing like the Bolshevik Party, with its radical leftist platform and readiness for violence nowadays, so direct comparisons are completely out of place. But attempts by the current regime to chalk up all its failures and all dissatisfaction with it to the baleful endeavors of foreign agents and fabled Russophobes do, indeed, evoke the saddest comparisons with the past.

Fyodor Krasheninnikov is a political scientist based in Yekaterinburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Apocalypse According to Bastrykin

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The Apocalypse According to Bastrykin
The Head of the Russian Federal Investigative Committee Describes a Russia on the Brink of Disaster Due to 16 Years of Putin’s Rule 
Fyodor Krasheninnikov
Vedomosti
April 20, 2016

One of the pillars of the current regime is not inclined to see Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a stable country with reputable authorities, and people who are united around them and ready to face any and all tests. This is the conclusion one draws from Alexander Bastrykin’s sensational article.

What is Bastrykin’s Russia like? First of all, it is a country standing on the brink of collapse. Things are so bad that only extraordinary measures, described at length at the end of the article, can save it. If you take the article at face value, you might imagine the enemy’s “hybrid” armies are literally camped outside of Moscow, while in the rear the “fifth column” is blowing up the last bridge, and only a miracle and Bastrykin can save the Fatherland.

However, none of this is surprising, for in the Russia described by Bastrykin, our intelligence services are practically dysfunctional, while their foreign counterparts, especially the Americans, are powerful and omnipresent.  Bastrykin literally howls,“It’s time to erect an effective barrier against the information war!” This appeal even serves as the article’s headline. It follows that, until April 18, 2016, there was no effective barrier against enemy propaganda and agitation whatsoever, and Russia’s foes could do literally anything they liked.

The vulnerability of Bastrykin’s Russia is quite easy to understand and not at all surprising, for, according to the article, the country has not been very lucky with its population. Bastrykin’s Russia is populated by two categories of people. The first are gullible and prone to react unreasonably to the most trivial things. The second are unprincipled scoundrels, ready to enlist in any intelligence service, extremist or terrorist organization for money.

The first category cause a lot of trouble. As soon as these excitable simpletons read something on the uncensored Internet, hear an unorthodox take on a story or find out someone does not recognize the outcome of a referendum, they immediately join forces with the second category, carefully recruited by foreign intelligence services, and commence destroying their own country. So the first category should be isolated from everything as much as possible, while the second, obviously, should be isolated physically and, preferrably, have their property confiscated as well.

Bastrykin’s Russia is a permanent victim and helpless puppet in the hands of the US. In Putin’s seventeenth year in power, Bastrykin unflatteringly reports on “the shaping of a pro-American and pro-western so-called non-systemic opposition in Russia, and the spread of inter-confessional and political extremism[.]” The author has nothing to say directly about the president, which is odd in itself, for it transpires that under Putin’s administration all kinds of extremism have flourished, and thousands of Russian citizens have traveled “to areas of heightened terrorist activity [through] Turkey and Egypt, where they travel both directly and through third countries[.]” They do this, obviously, because life is no bed of roses. The rest, as I have already said, are just waiting for someone to stir them up.

What about the president?

“Enough of playing at pseudo-democracy and following pseudo-liberal values,” Bastrykin tells him.

The trouble, it turns out, is he has flirted too long with pseudo-democracy.

Judging by Bastrykin’s article, the upper echelons of powers do not expect anything good from the future and Russia’s people, and are openly readying themselves for a merciless fight against any encroachments on their right to remain in power. The head of the Investigative Committee has issued an explicit warning. Whatever abysses the Russian economy plunges into, whatever misfortunes come crashing down on the heads of its people, any dissatisfaction with the authorities will be interpreted a priori as a consequence of the activity of western intelligence agencies, as extremism and terrorism, and will be decisively crushed. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe Bastrykin is alone in thinking this way.

Fyodor Krasheninnikov is president of the Institute for the Development and Modernization of Public Relations, Yekaterinburg. Translated by the Russian Reader. Image courtesy of Alexander Vilkin