The duck-billed platypus. Photo courtesy of WEST 1
I have been a fan of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation‘s mighty Radio National (ABC RN) for many years now. I especially enjoy programs like “Late Night Live” with the redoubtable Phillip Adams, an Australian national treasure. ABC RN has definitely changed the way I think about lots of things by giving me a variety of Australian and non-Australian perspectives on Australia and the rest of the world.
And yet, like any other human endeavor, ABC RN is capable of getting it badly wrong, as in this interview on “Late Night Live” with former Australian diplomat Tony Kevin. Mr. Kevin is a card-carrying Putinist, apparently, and doesn’t mind painting an unbearably rosy picture of Russia today that is so at odds with reality you’ll find your hair standing on end if you listen to the interview.
To be honest, I turned off my radio when Mr. Kevin launched into his “debunking” of the Skripal case and the Douma gas attack.
It’s not my place to do it, but I hope Australian taxpayers, who foot the bill for the ABC, go after the corporation for this shameless platforming of utter mendacity and useful idiocy in the service of the neo-imperialist Russian police state.
The new cold war
Tony Kevin has worked in Russia as a diplomat and has been writing about foreign policy in relation to Russia for years.
He believes that there are false narratives being pushed by the West to maintain the status of Russia as the evil enemy.
Could there be a path forward towards detente between the West and Russia?
Here is my transcription of the personal message from his Ambassador, Dr A Pavlovsky to me, that the Russian Embassy’s Deputy Ambassador Mr A Ovcharenko read out at my Canberra booklaunch 19 November 2019:
“I am pleased to take part in this presentation of a new book by Tony Kevin, Russia and the West – the last two action-packed years 2017-19.
In my personal view, Tony is a unique Australian author. Being a [former] career diplomat, he clearly sees and comprehensively analyses political forces. He spent many years in Russia, which helped him to understand deeper my country, its history, culture, political and social traditions. Such works as Return to Moscow and this new book offer realistic and honest views on Russia, which are fundamentally different from what are distorted images imposed by mainstream Western media, portraying Russia as an aggressive and hostile country. Tony Kevin stands against such biased approaches towards Russia. He advocates for good relations between Russia and Australia based on common interests and mutual respect. I believe that Tony Kevin‘s new work will help many Australians to understand the real situation around Russia.”
“In 2015, for instance, St. Petersburg hosted one of the most outspoken gatherings of far-right ideologues Europe has seen in years. With speakers rotating across the dais, a pair of Americans—Jared Taylor and Sam Dickson—railed against Washington’s turn toward civil rights and racial equality. Taylor, a man Spencer himself has cited as inspiration for his political baptism into white nationalism, and a man who recorded robocalls on behalf of Trump during the campaign, joined Dickson, erstwhile lawyer for the Ku Klux Klan, as the latter praised Putin for encouraging high birthrates among white Russians. The organization pulling the Americans to the conference was itself an outgrowth of a Russian party founded by Dmitry Rogozin, Moscow’s deputy prime minister.”
The So-Called Partners: How the Kremlin Corrupted an Unimaginable Number of People in the West
Alexander Morozov Colta.ru
March 14, 2017
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
Here is how you tell a pro-Putin western leftist. If someone has not written word one of concern or anguish over the slaughter in Aleppo and Putin’s role in it, but suddenly expresses anxiety over NatWest’s closure of RT’s bank accounts, announced earlier today, they have outed themselves as a pro-Putin western leftist.
Apparently, the rest of the world should just watch as Putin and Co. lay waste to Aleppo and the rest of Syria that has not submitted to the mass murderer Bashar Assad.
And then, if Putin wants to move on from there, and stir up more needless trouble somewhere else, the rest of the world should just avert its gaze from his latest victims.
Here is a modest proposal. Since you feel so much anxiety every time Putin is criticized or mildly slapped on the wrist, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and move to Russia, where you can live the dream of dancing in ecstasy round the one true leftist leader left on earth.
Or is a dumb leftist tape, left over from Soviet times, spinning round and round in your head, keeping you from thinking straight?
I have a message for you: the Soviet Union is dead, and Putin is not a leftist.He is not trying to build socialism. He wants to stay in power for the rest of his natural life, enriching himself and his cronies, and making sure his other 142 million countrymen can never improve their own collective lot in life in any meaningful way, especially in a way that would involve his not being their supreme leader for life.
And just imagine this. When NatWest announced it was closing the bank accounts of the miserable Putinist propaganda channel RT, some of my actual Russian friends actually living in Russia actually rejoiced!
Why? Because their tax dollars pay the salaries of Margarita Simonyan and all the other well-coiffed liars at RT, and they would rather not have their hard-earned money wasted in such a flagrant, hostile manner.
Maybe they would rather that Russian doctors and teachers were paid better, or that pensioners had their pensions indexed for inflation (instead of frozen to pay for Putin’s war on Syria). Maybe they would want their country to stand for something else in the world than deceit, military showboating, corruption, and a hot and cold civil war against dissenters.
When are you godlike beings, ye western leftists, going to heed their mostly silent cries?
When are you going to wake up to the fact that your sheer stupidity, blindness, ignorance, and dogmatic stubbornness is destroying what remains of honest leftism? How can leftism pretend it represents a real alternative to capitalism when, time and again, it defends tyrants like Putin in the name of “anti-imperialism,” “stopping war,” or some other sheer nonsense?
The people of Aleppo know you are their enemies, because you vocally or tacitly support their destruction, and the people of Russia will also one day realize that you wish slavery and tyranny upon them as well, if they have not realized it already. TRR
According to the text of the invitation to the forum (which RBC has in its possession), in the conflict between two fundamental principles of international law—the inviolability of state borders and the right of nations to self-determination—the event’s participants come down on the side of the second position. The conference’s stated aim is the creation of an international working group for coordinating the actions of independence fighters throughout the world. The planned outcome is a communiqué defending the right of peoples to self-determination, which organizers suggest submitting as a draft resolution to the United Nations.
The Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (ADR), a Russian NGO, is organizing the congress.
In December 2014, ADR held a similar gathering in the capital. The “anti-war” faction made up a significant portion of the foreign delegation then. The largest group of this sort was the United National AntiWar Coalition (UNAC), an American organization that advocates against police abuse at home in the States and against Washington’s military interventions abroad. UNAC was represented at December 2014 forum by five co-coordinators. One of them, Joe Lombardo, informed RBC that members of his organization had not been invited to the September conference, and even if they had been invited, the Americans were unlikely to come because of their tight schedules.
ADR leader Alexander Ionov refused to reveal the exact guest list for the September forum, citing “security concerns.” According to him, western authorities could hinder delegates from flying to Moscow. His fears are not groundless. In February 2015, the FBI raided the offices of the Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM), confiscating equipment and detaining several activists. The TNM was among the organizations involved in the December 2014 forum, and it will return to Moscow in September. [According to articles in The Houston Chronicle and The New York Times, no one was arrested during raid, which took place at a meeting of a secessionist group calling itself the Republic of Texas—TRR.]
Generally, according to ADR, this time the vast majority of delegates will represent separatist movements fighting against western governments. They include separatists from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Catalonia, and the Western Sahara, and a delegation from the Irish party Sinn Féin, which last year proposed holding a referendum on Northern Ireland’s secession from Great Britain, citing the Scottish independence referendum. [What Sinn Féin actually proposed was “a Border poll on a united Ireland”—TRR.]
The Russian Side
According the Russian Ministry of Justice, the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia has the status of a regional nongovernmental organization and was registered on March 15, 2012.
ADR was created “to support countries and peoples who are opposed to the unipolar world’s diktat and seek to propose an alternative agenda.” Before ADR was formed, Ionov was co-chair of the Committee for Solidarity with the Peoples of Syria and Libya (which was headed by ex-State Duma deputy Sergey Baburin). In the spring of 2013, an ADR delegation traveled to Damascus, where it presented President Bashar Assad with an honorary membership in the organization. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president of Iran, is another honorary member.
The President’s Patronage
According to the invitation to the forum, ADR is prepared to pay for foreign visitors’ flights, airport transfers, and accommodation in Moscow. Ionov confirmed this information to RBC. According to him, ADR and its foreign guests are NGOs with limited means, and according to an unwritten rule, the hosts take care of basic expenses, which had also been the case during the trips the Russian activists made to, say, the Middle East.
Ionov said that ADR’s two main sources of financing are donations from supporters and government grants. These funds are enough to hold an international conference at least once a year, he said.
RBC failed to find information about the grants issued to ADR in the databases of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Economic Development. At the same time, ADR has regularly participated in grant competitions held by the National Charity Fund. Thus, ADR received a grant of one million rubles from the fund last year for its December forum, and this year it won an earmarked grant of two million rubles to organize the September conference. In the latter case, ADR was among ninety-nine winners from a total of over four hundred applications.
The National Charity Fund was founded in late 1999 at the initiative of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the National Military Fund. Its goal was the financial support of military personnel and military-patriotic projects. Lieutenant General Vladimir Nosov has been the fund’s director since 2009. Prior to this, he was first deputy head of the FSB’s military counterintelligence department. The fund’s budget is formed by voluntary contributions from the public and by grants. Donors include both public figures (e.g., Roman Abramovich and Suleiman Kerimov) and major companies (e.g., Sberbank, Lukoil, Severstal, and ONEXIM Group), and ordinary citizens may also transfer funds via SMS. The fund operates under the patronage of the President of Russia and his administration, which is stipulated on the organization’s website.
Probably because of the limited budget, it was decided to hold the event on Sunday. According to the hotel chain, rental of a conference room at the President Hotel costs 45,000 rubles an hour on the weekend, which is twenty-five percent cheaper than on weekdays. In addition, the final press conference will be held on Monday, September 21, at the Izmailovo Hotel Complex. Renting a conference room there for a period of one to four hours costs twenty to thirty thousand rubles, depending on the room.
The trait that unites all those invited to Moscow—from leftist Irish nationalists to Latin American anti-globalists—is their anti-Americanism, notes Anton Shekhovtsov, an expert at the Institute of Euro-Atlantic Cooperation (Kyiv).
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Anton Shekhovtsov for the heads-up. Map courtesy of alternatehistory.com
New Law Could Punish ‘Separatist Views’ With 5-Year Prison Sentence
January 11, 2014 The Moscow Times
President Vladimir Putin signed a law makes spreading separatist views a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in jail.
Under the law submitted to the State Duma by the Communist Party, people will face a fine of up to 300,000 rubles ($9,200) for calling for action against Russia’s territorial integrity.
Lawmakers said the legislation was an effort to curb increasing public support for the idea of relinquishing mainly Muslim territories in the North Caucasus but the measure has also drawn criticism for drawing attention away from more serious problems in Russian society.
One of the strangest shocks I’ve had over the past couple years was discovering an advert for this sprightly academic tome in my favorite biweekly review of books:
In this unique volume from the World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations and the Social Science Research Council, some of the world’s greatest minds—from Nobel Prize winners to long-time activists—explore what the prolonged instability of the so-called Great Recession means for our traditional understanding of how governments can and should function. Through interviews that are sure to spark lively debate, 22 Ideas to Fix the World presents both analysis of past geopolitical events and possible solutions and predictions for the future.
Interviews with: Zygmunt Bauman, Shimshon Bichler & Jonathan Nitzan, Craig Calhoun, Ha-Joon Chang, Fred Dallmayr, Mike Davis, Bob Deacon, Kemal Dervis, Jiemian Yang, Peter J. Katzenstein, Ivan Krastev, Will Kymlicka, Manuel F. Montes, José Antonio Ocampo, Vladimir Popov, Joseph Stiglitz, Olzhas Suleimenov, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Immanuel Wallerstein, Paul Watson, Vladimir Yakunin, Muhammad Yunus
Vladimir and Yakunin are common enough first names and surnames in Russia, so I thought that maybe the Vladimir Yakunin in question was a previously obscure philosopher or economist working in the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences or Tempe, Arizona.
What I didn’t know then was that the cumbersomely named World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations was a soft-power vehicle, vigorously headed by the one and only Vladimir Yakunin, for advancing Putinism 3.0’s new Cominternist “conservative” agenda, a wild melange of militant homophobia, “traditional Christian family values” (this from veterans of an organization previously and murderously committed to “militant atheism”), “anti-imperialism,” post-capitalism, “anti-fascism,” “anti-globalism,” anti-Americanism, anti-liberalism, a yearning for the (perpetual) “decline of the west,” etc. You name the flavor, they had it (almost).
The main thing, apparently, for the hundreds and thousands of “foremost” thinkers, pols, players, NGOists, bored middle-aged academics, IR chancers, and “youth leaders” invited by Yakunin to dialogue and confab in exotic locations like Rhodes was never to ask too hard (or at all) who was footing the bill for all this grassroots diplomacy and heavy thinking.
What a rare, perceptive friend Mr. Ruse had! At the time, the only other person on planet Earth, apparently, to notice that something was amiss with Yakunin’s largesse and the seating arrangements at his tea parties was Richard Bartholemew, who writes about religious affairs:
That’s quite a line-up of intellectuals. However, the key name here is not the most famous, and it has the penultimate position: Vladimir Yakunin runs Russia’s state-owned railways, and he is a part of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. He also co-founded the World Public Forum, which co-produced the book and which perhaps therefore has some bearing on why he’s among the “World’s Foremost Thinkers”.
As I’ve discussed previously, the WPF holds regular “Dialogue of Civilizations” events involving academics, activists, and religious leaders. The range of those involved is unusually broad – recent events have included input from figures ranging from Noam Chomsky, whose critical view of the place of American power in the world is doubtless congenial to Russia, through to Don Feder, an arch-conservative “family values” fulminator whose social views fit well with Yakunin’s activism on behalf of Russian Orthodoxy. WPF events have also involved Helga Zepp-LaRouche, and it is claimed that Yakunin has cited her husband Lyndon LaRouche favourably. More on all these links here and here. There’s also apparently some interest at the WPF in extra-terrestrial matters.
Another oddity I’ve noted before is that one of Yakunin’s fellow WFP co-founders is a US-based businessman who is closely involved with the neo-Pentecostal sector of the Christian Right, particularly Rick Joyner and William “Jerry” Boykin. More on that here.
* * * * *
Further shocks to my feeble mental health were to come as, intrigued by my chance discovery of the nexus between leftist grandees like Wallerstein and Russian’s head railwayman, I plunged into the weird and distinctly unwonderful world of the Yakuninshchina.
For example, when I visited the website of the WFP-affiliated Rhodes Forum in July of last year, I was greeted by the following surreal collage:
Far be it from me to cast aspersions on Professor Chomsky’s deservedly sterling reputation. In any case, it is clear the positive associations and cultural capital the website’s designers were trying to generate for Yakunin with this juxtaposition, probably made without Chomsky’s permission. (The site seems to have been completely redesigned since then, and the offending collage has vanished.)
But what prevented Chomsky or any other of Yakunin’s many forum guests and co-authors from doing a bit of due diligence into Yakunin and his ilk, and deciding whether their progressive causes and scholarly research were well served by dialoguing or associating with him in any way?
Piskorksi later helpfully turned up in Petersburg again in the autumn, this time not as an “anti-fascist” but as an “elections observer.” He was part of an international team putting its facile stamp of (pre-)approval on a farcical but successful bid to transform the “incumbent,” Putin appointee Georgy Poltavchenko, into a “popularly elected” governor, and, by the by, stack the mostly powerless municipal councils with the right sort of folk. (If, unlike ninety-nine percent of the population and the world, you’re actually interested in how it all went down, read this eyewitness account.)
On the other end, presumably, of the political spectrum, 22 Ideas to Fix the World co-editor Richard Sakwa has recently published a hilarious op-ed in The Guardian arguing that Putin may actually be planning to do an end-around on his detractors and liberalize the regime.
So, the furious networking Yakunin has been doing over the past ten years or so has not been without its dividends.
* * * * *
But the really unfunny thing is that Yakunin has a day job as head of Russian Railways. What have they been up to lately?
Russia analyst Paul Goble explained the likely impact the cuts would have on people in rural and small-town Russia:
The importance of local and regional train service in Russia is far greater than in almost any other country, given the lack of decent roads in much of the country and the availability of critical services only in the oblast capitals. Without train service, for example, diabetics who need insulin face enormous difficulties in getting it in a timely fashion.
Indeed, in some cases, as in Pskov oblast over the last two decades, the increasing difficulty rural residents face in getting to the capital – there the authorities earlier cut back bus service and then snow removal efforts – has sent mortality rates skyrocketing, reducing life expectancy among rural residents by a decade or more.
Now that Russian Railways is posed to cut back rail services elsewhere, a similar pattern is likely to obtain, and a Russian government which claims that it is acting on behalf of ethnic Russians and what it calls “the Russian world” in Ukraine will be harming ethnic Russians at home in the most serious and immediate ways.
Ordinary Russians, of course, didn’t need Paul Goble to help them see how their lives would be drastically altered for the worse, as The Moscow Times reported on February 4:
“I am a schoolboy in Class 11 and I need to prepare for the Unified State Exams. Most students have tutors that live in Tver,” Yury Arakcheev wrote on petition site change.org after local trains from his town to regional capital Tver north of Moscow were canceled.
“A large number of people work or study in Tver and to leave at five o’clock in the morning and returning at 10 o’clock at night is not an option, especially if a person has a family or small child,” Arakcheev said in a petition addressed to the regional governor that has now 7,700 signatures.
Cancellations of suburban trains have launched a wave of popular anger in Russia, a country where social protests are rare.
Last month, residents of a small village in Zabaikalsky Krai threatened to block Russia’s East-West rail artery, the Trans-Siberian Railroad, after suburban train services were cut, local media reported.
Other protests have taken place against the cuts in particularly-badly affected regions.
Opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, currently under house arrest, has repeatedly raised the topic in his popular blog, dubbing the cancellation of train services a “genocide of Russians.”
On Jan. 12 Navalny said in a blog entry that a Facebook post he wrote about the issue was seen by almost 1 million people, making it one of his most popular posts on the social networking site ever.
But what if there is a connection between all his generosity and persistence on the soft-power front and the miseries endured by Yuri Arakcheev and people like him as they try and travel between home and work and school in Russia’s regions? (I won’t even mention the possible connections between those things and allegations of Yakunin’s family’s living large outside of Russia.)
What I mean to say is that it takes a lot of chutzpah to imagine that your academic career or political/moral cause or balance sheet is so earth-shatteringly important that you can’t even be bothered to do an elementary background check on who exactly is paying your junket to sunny Rhodes or using your university press’s good name to publish his cultural-capital-generating vanity volume.
Although in the space of this blog post and with the limited means at my disposal, I can’t strictly get from here to there today, I do mean to suggest that you might have been visiting harm on people like Yuri Arakcheev by pretending none of these considerations mattered or even existed when you were getting ready to hobnob with the world’s “foremost” whomevers, who rarely have to worry about reduced public services.
At any rate, I don’t think anymore, after digging a bit into Yakunin’s high-powered glad-handing, that it is exactly an accident there is so much “confusion” in the west over recent events in Russia and Ukraine.
There are less charitable ways of putting this, but I’ll stop while I’m ahead. I really can’t get there from here yet.