Love in a Young Pioneer’s Tie

The cover of “A Summer in a Young Pioneer’s Tie,” as designed by Adams Carvalho

Katerina Silvanova was born and raised in Kharkiv, but moved to Russia at the age of twenty-two. She majored in forestry engineering, but never finished her studies. She has worked in sales all her life. Elena Malisova is a Muscovite and married, and works in IT. The girls [sic] had never been associated with literature, but both have had a passion for writing since childhood. One day, chatting on the internet after a hard day’s work, the friends agreed that they had to do something together. So, the idea of the novel A Summer in a Young Pioneer’s Tie was born.

Musician Yuri Konev arrives at the abandoned Swallow Young Pioneer Camp in the Kharkiv region to encounter the ghosts of his past. Something happened there that turned his life upside down, changing it forever. There he met the camp counselor Volodya, who became more than a friend to the teenager.

Walking through streets of the camp, overgrown with grass, Yura recalls how rapidly and stormily his relationship with Volodya developed, how they had been afraid of what was happening between them. And yet, they had gravitated to each other. The trip to the camp is a new revelation for Yura. He was sure he had buried the past there, that its rebellious echo would never again disturb him . And yet, Konev will have to come face to face again with what already turned his life around once. Apparently, not all the ghosts of the past are willing to hide in memory’s back alleys forever.

Why should you read A Summer in a Young Pioneer’s Tie?

  1. It’s a new extraordinary look at the late Soviet period of history.
  2. It’s a novel about sincere first feelings, cloaked in mystery and shame, condemnation and doubts.
  3. It’s an absolute bestseller, one of the year’s most anticipated and controversial books.

Book Description
Yura returns to the Young Pioneer camp of his youth after twenty years. In the ruins of the past, he hopes to find a path back to the present, to the person he once loved. This story is about the fact that not everything in the USSR was smooth, straight-laced, and impersonal, that there were experiences, passions, drives, and feelings that did not fit into the moral framework leading to the “bright future,” and that this future was not so bright.

Source: LitRes. Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader


Leto v pionerskom galstuke (LVPG) [A Summer in a Young Pioneer’s Tie] is a novel co-written by Elena Malisova and Katerina Silvanova. The book deals with the relationship between two young men, the Young Pioneer [sic] Yura and Volodya, who meet at Young Pioneer camp in the summer of 1986.

[…]

Twenty years later, the musician Yuri Konev returns to the place where the Swallow Young Pioneer Camp was once located, recalling the summer of 1986, which spent there, and his love for the MGIMO student and camp counselor Vladimir Davydov. Yura and Volodya were jointly involved in staging a play, and a strong friendship arose between them, which gradually developed into teenage love. Throughout the book, Volodya refuses to accept his homosexual orientation, periodically insisting on ending the relationship and explaining that he is trying to “steer Yura off the right path” and that he is homophobic himself. At the end of the their stay at the camp, the young men bury a kind of time capsule under a willow tree, agreeing to dig it up in ten years. After parting, Yura and Volodya continue to communicate by correspondence for some time, but after a while they lose touch with each other. In 2006, after finding the time capsule, Yura learns in a letter that Volodya sends him that he had failed to “overcome” his orientation and still loves Yura.

The novel, which was originally posted on the website Ficbook.net, was published by Popcorn Books in 2021. By the end of May 2022, the book had sold more than 200,000 copies, not counting electronic sales. The novel took second place in the list of the most popular books among Russians in the first half of 2022, compiled by the Russian Book Union, and sales of the book amounted to about 50 million rubles. August 2022 saw the release of a sequel, What the Swallow Won’t Say, which takes place twenty years after the events described in A Summer in a Young Pioneer’s Tie.

[…]

Critic Galina Yuzefovich gave a generally positive review of the novel, noting that “life in the Soviet Union differed little from life today, and emotions, relationships, and the desire to love and be loved do not depend on ideology.” Book blogger Anthony Yulai (Anton Ulyanov) rated the novel positively on the whole, noting that the authors keep the reader “in a state of emotional shock due to the alternation of sweet moments with sad ones and an abrupt change in the tone of the narrative towards the novel’s end.”

Zakhar Prilepin harshly condemned the book and its publishers on his Telegram channel: “Popcorn Books (which inevitably suggests “porn books”) is are celebrating their triumph and counting their profits. They will regard this post as good fortune, too. That’s what they were counting on. I won’t hide it: I’d burn down your whole office while you’re sleeping at home!” A video featuring a negative review of the book was released by Nikita Mikhalkov. He read aloud an excerpt from the novel and deems its publication a “violation of the Constitution.” He also noted that the abbreviation “LVPG,” as the novel is known among fans, is very similar to “LGBT.”

N.A. Ostanina, chair of the State Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children, sent a request to Roskomnadzor to examine the contents of the book to determine whether a criminal case could be launched against it in the future. A similar request was sent by the news agency RIA Ivan-Chai, but received a negative response.

Source: Wikipedia. Translated by the Russian Reader


A map of the Zina Portnova Memorial Swallow Young Pioneer Camp in 1986, as featured in the novel’s front matter.

“Aren’t you exaggerating?”

Seeing Volodya’s slightly condescending smile, Yurka was embarrassed. He probably thought that Yurka remembered their dance too well and was still jealous, so he was ready to accuse Masha of anything. And if Volodya really thought so, then he was right. Yurka’s ardent desire to jump out of the bushes and catch the spy red-handed was caused precisely by jealousy. But Yurka also had arguments in defense of his theory.

“It’s not the first time she’s been out at night. Do you remember when Ira came to the theater and attacked me, asking me what I’d been doing with Masha and where I’d been walking? And it’s true, no matter where we are, she’s always there. Volodya, we have to tell them about her walks!”

“Deal with Irina first.”

Yurka did go find her almost immediately. All the same, his mood was spoiled, and Volodya was paranoid again, and he constantly froze, listening and looking around and not even letting him touch his hand. And the evening was already coming to an end.

After hastily saying goodbye to Volodya, Yurka returned to his unit and found the counselor. He expected her to frown and scream at him as soon as he walked in. He was already ready to babble excuses, but Ira stared at him in surprise.

“Actually, no, I wasn’t looking for you,” she said. Yurka had already put his hands up to stop his jaw from dropping, when Ira yelled.

“Where have you been, by the way?”

“With Volodya.”

“Did you even notice what time it is?! Yura, who are they playing lights out for?! If you’re going to be late, you have to warn me!”

Yurka fell asleep, struggling with mixed feelings full of anxiety. Volodya was constantly surrounded by girls, but it seemed to Yurka that Masha popped up too often. It must be jealousy after all. And to top it all off, he apparently had been infected with Volodya’s paranoia.

Source: Elena Malisova and Katerina Silvanova, A Summer in a Young Pioneer’s Tie (Popcorn Books, 2021), p. 155, as chosen by the True Random Number Generator. Translated by the Russian Reader


In an industrial block in northeastern Moscow on a recent Friday night, organizers of an L.G.B.T.Q.-friendly art festival were assiduously checking IDs. No one under 18 allowed. They were trying to comply with a 2013 Russian law that bans exposing minors to anything that could be considered “gay propaganda.”

The organizers had good reason to be wary: Life has been challenging for gay Russians since the law passed, as the government has treated gay life as a Western import that is harmful to traditional Russian values and society.

Now Russia’s Parliament is set to pass a legislative package that would ban all “gay propaganda,” signaling an even more difficult period ahead for a stigmatized segment of society.

The laws would prohibit representation of L.G.B.T.Q. relationships in any media — streaming services, social platforms, books, music, posters, billboards and films — and, activists fear, in any public space as well. That’s a daunting prospect for queer people searching for community, validation or an audience.

“I’m afraid for my future, because with these kinds of developments, it won’t be as bright as I would like it to be,” said a drag artist who uses the stage name Taylor. Taylor’s performance on Friday before a small but enthusiastic crowd tackled themes of domestic violence, mental health and AIDS.

The proposed laws are part of an intensifying effort by President Vladimir V. Putin to cast Russia as fighting a civilizational struggle against the West, which he accuses of trying to export corrosive values.

The Kremlin is coupling the crackdown on L.G.B.T.Q. expression with its rationale for the war in Ukraine, insisting that Russia is fighting not just Ukraine but all of NATO, a Western alliance that represents a threat to the motherland.

[…]

Source: Valerie Hopkins and Valeriya Safronova, “‘I’m Afraid for My Future’: Proposed Laws Threaten Gay Life in Russia,” New York Times, 4 November 2022

The Wagner Group’s Suicide Squad

For several months, inmates in Russian penal colonies have been recruited by the Wagner Group — hundreds, if not thousands of convicts who had several years left in their sentences have already gone to Ukraine. It is likely that many of them have already been killed, but so far only individual deaths have been confirmed. One of them is Yevgeny Yeremenko from Petrozavodsk, who had eight more years left to serve on his sentence. In mid-June, he unexpectedly informed his mother that he was being transferred to another region. In mid-August, two strangers brought her a death notice: Yevgeny had been killed near Bakhmut on July 24.

Around noon on August 14, Tatiana Koteneva, a pensioner from Petrozavodsk, opened the door to two strangers who had buzzed her on the intercom and said they had been “sent by Zhenya.” Zhenya is her 44-year-old son Yevgeny Yeremenko, who had been sentenced to ten years in a maximum security penal colony. He was serving his sentence in Correctional Colony No. 9 in Petrozavodsk. He usually telephoned his mother every week, but she hadn’t heard from her son since early May — except for a strange call in mid-June, when Yevgeny said briefly that he was being transferred to another region.

So the pensioner willingly opened the door to the strangers, invited them into the kitchen, and poured tea. They handed her a reward and her son’s death certificate. “We have come with bad news,” they said, “Zhenya has died.”

According to Koteneva, the certificate, issued by the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, indicated the date and place of her son’s death. He was killed on July 24 in Bakhmut, a Ukrainian-controlled city in the Donetsk Region, which has been heavily fought over all summer.

A call from the train: “Don’t worry, Mom — I’m doing what I have to do”
The pensioner does not know how her son ended up in Ukraine. Between early May and mid-June, he did not call her from the penal colony, although he used to do it regularly. Instead of Yevgeny, the pensioner was once called by a penal colony official and informed that her son was “alive and well, but undergoing punishment.” Koteneva refers to punitive confinement as “the cellar,” and she is sure that her son had been put there.

“[The official] introduced himself, but I don’t remember his name,” she says. “I tried to make an inquiry. He replied that my son had violated some article of the law there, and he had been punished. I said, ‘You tortured him and probably beat him.’ And this one who called me said, ‘There isn’t a scratch or a bruise on him.'”

Only on June 14 did Yevgeny unexpectedly telephone his mother and say that he was being temporarily transferred to another penal colony.

“He called me and said, ‘Mom, we are being convoyed at two o’clock in the morning to another colony,'” recalls Koteneva. “A tumor had formed on his cheek near his nose. He says, ‘There are no doctors here [in Petrozavodsk Colony No. 9], so maybe I’ll get treatment there.’ And that was it. I said, ‘I’ll be expecting a letter from you and the details of where I should send you a package or money.'”

According to her, her son did not say that he was going to Ukraine, probably because he knew that she would be opposed to it.

“I would probably have gone into hysterics and all that to prevent it,” the pensioner argues. “I would have run to the colony and bent over backwards. But I couldn’t get into his head… He’s a grown man. He just said, ‘Mom, don’t worry. I’m doing what I have to do.'”

A week later, according to Koteneva, her son sent an SMS to a friend, asking him to inform his mother that he was alright. He added that the prisoners were still traveling on the train, where “even their watches had been confiscated.”

Recruitment in the penal colonies: “You finish your service and you get amnestied”
Yevgeny Yeremenko was probably recruited by the Wagner Group and sent to Ukraine as a mercenary. The fact that mercenaries are being recruited in correctional colonies became public in early July, but, apparently, it began in May. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group’s founder, a man known for his proximity to the Russian authorities, personally went to some colonies to persuade inmates to join up. Recruiters promised convicts a large salary and release after six months of combat — to this end, those who agreed to join the mercenaries would have to write petitions asking for clemency.

It is unclear how many people have been marshaled this way, but recruiters, judging by the prisoners’ reports, have already visited between fifteen and twenty colonies, and in each of them a hundred or more inmates have agreed to go into combat. (Although relatives have managed to dissuade some of them.) The head of the Russian Behind Bars Foundation, Olga Romanova, noted that her organization has already received about two hundred appeals from relatives of convicts who have lost contact with them and assume that they have been sent to Ukraine.

Yevgeny Yeremenko. Photo courtesy of his VKontakte page and Mediazona

In June, people really did come to Petrozavodsk’s Correctional Colony No. 9, where Yevgeny Yeremenko was imprisoned, and tried to persuade the inmates to go to fight in Ukraine, convict Marat Najibov told Mediazona. He himself turned down their offer. “You finish your service and you get amnestied,” he says, adding that he does not know exactly where the recruiters were from.

Petrozavodsk lawyer Ivan Varfolomeyev, who represents ten convicts in Correctional Colony No. 9, believes that they were probably from the Wagner Group. “Ten people were persuaded to go to Ukraine, but after consulting with me, no one went,” says Varfolomeyev. I didn’t see [the recruiters]. The convicts asked me what they should do. I said, ‘You have parents, wives, and children — I would not recommend it.’ My clients, at least, are not serving such long sentences.”

The convicts did not tell Varfolomeyev that they had been coerced by recruiters or the colony’s wardens. They talked to the prisoners, as he puts it, “about pies”: they vividly described the benefits to which the inmates would be entitled after being in combat.

“[They were not threatened with] solitary confinement, AdSeg, or beatings,” says Varfolomeyev. “On the contrary, all the offers were tempting.”

Little is yet known about the deaths of the prisoners recruited by the Wagner Group to go to Ukraine. In late July, iStories reported the deaths of three prisoners from Petersburg Correctional Colony No. 7. Their papers did not contain their real names, but only their nicknames. Among the dead was Konstantin Tulinov, nicknamed “Red.” it was about him that filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov spoke in [the 6 August 2022] episode of his program [Exorcist TV] on Rossiya 1. According to Mikhalkov, Tulinov “wanted to atone for his past life,” so he himself petitioned to be sent to the front. In Ukraine, his legs were “crushed,” after which Tulinov “blew himself up with a grenade.”

“And the state responded with gratitude to him for his courageous deed. He was posthumously pardoned and, in addition, was designated a full-fledged combat veteran with all the ensuing benefits and payments,” Mikhalkov assures his viewers.

Olga Romanova of Russian Behind Bars has written that relatives of the recruited prisoners constantly appeal to her organization for help.

“What an outrage! They promised to pay [him] 200 thousand [rubles], but they paid [only] thirty thousand,” she wrote, paraphrasing the kinds of appeals her foundation has received. “And my [relative] was wounded, but [the wounded] are being treated only in the LPR; [they] are not taken to Russia. Help us save him! And then another one was killed near Luhansk; the relatives were not informed, and the body was abandoned in the combat zone so that they wouldn’t have to pay for a coffin.”

The Karelian office of the Federal Penitentiary Service has not yet responded to Mediazona‘s request for information as to how Yevgeny Yeremenko ended up in combat in Ukraine eight years before he was to be released from prison.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the Governor of Karelia, Arthur Parfenchikov, has been publishing posts on his VKontakte page about the residents of the republic who have perished in the war. But he did not even mention the death of prisoner Yevgeny Yeremenko.

The funeral: “young men” come to pay their last respects and reimburse expenses
Tatiana Koteneva calls the strangers who brought her the death notice “the young men.” They told her that her son’s body was “in an iron coffin in Leningrad, at Pulkovo [airport].” As for additional questions, according to the pensioner, she was told that “everything is classified.” The men did not respond when she asked them who they worked for.

“What can I do now? You can’t bring anything back,” she argued resignedly two days before the funeral. “Well, that’s how it turned out, so that’s how it’s going to be. What matters to me is burying him and having a grave to go to and cry. Things turned out the way they turned out.”

On August 18, Yevgeny Yeremenko’s body was brought to Petrozavodsk by a private driver: the pensioner paid 26 thousand rubles for transportation. Yeremenko’s funeral took place the next day, recalls Marina Gorodilova, a friend of Koteneva, whose son is also an inmate at Correctional Colony No. 9. (This was how she and Tatiana met.)

“The coffin was closed and there was a strong smell of decomposition,” she recalls. “Tatiana Ivanovna stood over the coffin lid the whole time and cried.”

According to Gorodilova, at the wake and the funeral there were none of the military officers or civilian officials who make speeches on such occasions. But in the funeral hall, she noticed “two strange guys.”

“One [was] forty years old, the other [was] younger, both of them [were] powerfully built. They laid the flowers [on the coffin] and took three or four steps back. They stood at attention and didn’t talk to anyone. I picked up my phone and poked it with my finger and out of the corner of my eye I saw that they were watching me — very attentively. Tatiana Ivanovna asked them, ‘Who are you?’ But they didn’t say anything. She then asked again, ‘Do you know Zhenya?’ One of them nodded his head quietly and kept standing there.”

The day after the funeral, Tatiana Koteneva refused to meet with her friend, citing the fact that “the young men” were coming to see her again. A few days later she reported [to Gorodilova] that she had been reimbursed 145 thousand rubles [approx. 2,400 euros] for the funeral.

“Either they hold them [in solitary] before sending them, or they hold those who don’t want to sign up”

Dmitry Gorodilov. Photo courtesy of Marina Gorodilova and Mediazona

Dmitry, Marina Gorodilova’s son, is serving his sentence at Correctional Colony No. 9, where he met the deceased Yevgeny Yeremenko. He has not been in touch with his mother for a month and a half — since July 4 — and she fears that Dmitry, like Yeremenko, was put in punitive detention before being sent to Ukraine. Human rights activists from Russia Behind Bars have spoken of this practice. For example, in Correctional Colony No. 7 in Karelia and Correctional Colony No. 19 in Komi, some convicts at first agreed to go into combat, but then changed their minds. Prison officials then began pressuring them, and some were sent to punitive detention.

“Now it’s the same story: now my Dima is missing,” says Gorodilova. “He doesn’t write and doesn’t call — this has never happened. The lawyer called the prison and asked them whether Dima was there. They said he was there. I went to the colony to visit him, and they said to me, ‘He is undergoing punishment.’ It’s one of two things. Either they are held [in solitary] before being sent [to Ukraine] so that they do not receive information and do not share it with anyone. Or those who don’t want to sign up are held [in solitary, where] they are forced [to sign up].”

Gorodilova is sure that her son would not left officials force him to go to Ukraine even under torture.

“Only if they lie to him or tell him that he would cleaning up after the war, maybe he would agree to sign up. But he’s a guy that won’t sign anything until he reads it. I know that Dima will definitely not agree to it. Even if he is promised his freedom, he will not go to kill people.”

Source: Alla Konstantinova, “Sent down for ten years, enlisted in the Wagner Group, killed in Ukraine: the example of one inmate from Karelia,” Mediazona, 26 August 2022. Thanks to Dmitry Tkachev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Emilia Slabunova: Why Is Nikita Mikhalkov Not in Jail with Yuri Dmitriev?

Still from the documentary film “Anna from Six to Eighteen” (1993), Nikita Mikhalkov, director

Why Is Nikita Mikhalkov Not in Jail with Yuri Dmitriev?
Emilia Slabunova
Echo of Moscow
October 24, 2017

Tomorrow, October 25, a court in Petrozavodsk will hold the latest hearing in the trial of Yuri Dmitriev, a historian and head of the International Memorial Society’s Karelian branch. I should explain a few things for those of you unfamiliar with the case. Dmitriev established the names of thousands of victims of the Stalinist terror, and has published several volumes memorializing the victims of political terror during the 1930s and 1940s in Karelia. For thirty years, he searched for secret burial sites of Gulag prisoners in the republic, discovering in the process the mass graves of executed political prisoners at Sandarmokh and Krasny Bor. One of the cofounders of the memorial complex at Sandarmokh, Dmitriev has researched the history of how the White Sea-Baltic Canal was built.

Dmitriev was arrested in December 2016. According to police investigators, from 2012 to to 2015, he photographed his foster daughter, who turned eleven in 2016, in the nude, but did not published the snapshots. The only evidence in the case that has been made public is a photograph of his granddaughter and foster daughter running naked into the bathroom. Dmitriev himself has claimed that he took the snapshots of his underage foster daughter as a record of her health and physical growth after he took her from an orphanage, where she had shown signs of being unwell. Dmitriev stored the photos of his foster daughter on his home computer. They were not posted in the internet.

What does Nikita Mikhalkov have do with this, you ask? Because the world-famous filmmaker shot a quite well-known documentary film,  Anna from Six to Eighteen (1993). In the film, Mikhalkov’s eldest daughter Anna responds to the same questions each year over thirteen years. Her responses are edited together with a newsreel of the year’s events. There are shots in which Anna is shown completely nude. It is easy enough to verify this, because the film is accessible on the Web. For example, watch the scene that begins at the thirteen-minute mark.

Mikhalkov won several awards for the film: a Silver Dove at the 1994 Leipzig International Documentary Film Festival, the Grand Prix at the 1994 Golden Knight International Film Festival of Slavic and Orthodox Peoples, and the Prize for Best Documentary at the 1996 Hamptons International Film Festival.

Why has one man been jailed for doing something for which another man has been celebrated? Why can you show your naked daughter to the whole word, while it is a crime to record your foster daughter’s maturation for child protection services and not show the photos to anyone else?

Is it because Mikhalkov supports the current regime, while Dmitriev investigates the crimes of the Stalin regime, restores the names of those who perished in the Great Terror, and unmasks the executioners? It is noteworthy that the day after tomorrow, October 26, is the seventh anniversary of Mikhalkov’s “Manifesto of Enlightened Conservatism,” in which he singled out “loyalty to the regime, the ability to obey authoritative power gracefully,” and consolidating the so-called power vertical as primary values.

Dmitriev’s arrest was clearly provoked his human rights work. Many people in Karelia know Dmitriev as an honest, decent man not afraid to tell the truth, a truth that is sometimes unpleasant to the authorities and law enforcement agencies. The Memorial Human Rights Center has declared Dmitriev a political prisoner.

The Dmitriev case is politically motivated. This is obvious to everyone, including such well-known Russian public figures as writer Dmitry Bykov, musician Boris Grebenshchikov, actor Veniamin Smekhov, writer Ludmila Ulitskaya, and their numerous colleagues who have recorded video messages in support of Dmitriev. Nikita Mikhalkov was not among them.

Russian filmmaker and screenwriter Oleg Dorman speaks in support of Yuri Dmitriev. Published on YouTube, 22 November 2017

In a few days, the country will mark the mournful Day of Remembrance of Victims of Political Repression. Among them will be the victims of the present day.

Emilia Slabunova is national chair of the Yabloko Democratic Party. Thanks to Gabriel Levy for the heads-up. 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