Keep It Like a Secret

Delovoi Peterburg, a business daily, has just published its ranking of Petersburg’s alleged ruble billionaires.

It is no surprise that Putin’s cronies Gennady Timchenko (I thought he was a Finnish national?) and Arkady Rotenberg topped the list of 304 capitalists, with alleged net worths of 801.5 billion rubles and 294 billion rubles, respectively. (That is approximately 11.8 billion euros and 4.3 billion euros, respectively.)

Screenshot, from Delovoi Peterburg, showing Putin cronies Gennady Timchenko and Arkady Rotenberg in the number one and two slots of the business daily’s 2017 ranking of Petersburg’s ruble billionaires

There are lots of other pals of Putin and Medvedev in the top fifty, but I was disappointed to see the personal fortunes of my own favorite Russian super villain, former head of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin, had faded a bit in the past year. He has dropped to the number twenty-six spot in the ranking, claiming a net worth of a mere 37.07 billion rubles, which means that in Old Europe, where Yakunin is now dispensing Russian softpowerish wisdom to decision-makers and academics via his newly opened Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, in Berlin, he would be a regular old euro millionaire, with a measly net worth of 548 million euros.

But we should recall the exposés of Yakunin, his family, and their weath, carried out by the only person in Russian unfit to run for president, Alexei Navalny, and his Anti-Corruption Foundation. In short, Herr Doktor Yakunin, who once had himself declared among the twenty-two “foremost thinkers in the world,” is very nimble when it comes to parceling out his assets to family members for safekeeping, so to speak, and then hiring “cleaners” to make his deservedly bad reputation go away. So who knows how much he is really worth.

Screenshot, from Delovoi Peterburg’s website, showing Yakunin’s number 26 spot in its list of Petersburg’s ruble billionaires.

Another thing that struck me when I surveyed the list was the signal lack of women among the city’s ruble billionaires. Women appear on the list only towards the very bottom, which means they are not really billionaires, but dollar or euro millionaires, at most, and maybe not even that. And there are no more than ten such women in a list of 304 names.

So, the Delovoi Peterburg ranking is not only more evidence of Russia’s extreme wealth inequality—which is a matter of elite practice, if not of explicit government policy—but of the fact that this extreme wealth inequality has an even more extreme gender bias.

Even if Putin crony and Russian oligarch Vladimir Yakunin had named his newish Berlin think tank the “Vladimir Putin Institute for Peace and Freedom,” this would have had no effect, I am afraid, on all the decision-makers and academics who are prepared to rush into Yakunin’s embrace at the drop of a hat, forgiven, as it were, by the squirrelier name he has has chosen, Dialogue of Civilizations.

Yesterday and today, DOC Berlin has been holding a bang-up conference, dealing, like all conferences these days, with the centenary of the October Revolution.

The conference is entitled “Inequalities, economic models and Russia’s October 1917 revolution in historical perspective” and features some speakers whose names you might recognize, people you would never have suspected of wanting to shill for the Putinist soft power machine.

Speakers:

Georgy [sic] Derluguian, Professor of Social Research and Public Policy, New York University Abu Dhabi

Michael Ellman, Professor Emeritus, Amsterdam University

Domenico Nuti, Professor of Comparative Economic Systems, University of Rome “La Sapienza”

Vladimir Popov, Professor, DOC RI Research Director and a Principal Researcher in Central Economics and Mathematics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Beverly J. Silver, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, Director of the Arrighi Center for Global Studies, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA

Andres Solimano, International Center for Globalization and Development

Vladislav Zubok, ProfessorDepartment of International History, London School of Economics, UK

Kevan Harris, Assistant Professor,  Department of Sociology, University of California-Los Angeles, USA

But they are there, holding forth on “revolution” on the Putinist dime, while Yakunin, who clearly loves these powwows (there are tons of videos from past DOC gatherings on YouTube and elsewhere in which this is appearent), and is eager to show he is running the show, laughs his silent “former KGB officer” laugh.

While you are at it, check out this rogues’ gallery of useful idiots. Even if you have only a few toes in the world of academia, as I do, you will immediately recognize several of the people serving Yakunin on his think thank’s “supervisory board” and “programme council.”

Screenshot from the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute website
Screenshot from the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute website

But what about the quality of the research supposedly underway at this so-called research institute? Here is a little sample, the abstract of a paper, downloadable for free, entitled “Church and politics: Russian prospects,” written by someone named Boris Filippov.

The paper is an attempt to make a brief overview of the Russian Orthodox Church’s state in the Post-Soviet Russia. Author notes, that the Church’s role in building civil society in Russia is potentially very considerable, since the Orthodox community’s ability to self-organize is rare for the post-Soviet Russia. He provides abundant empiric material illustrating Christian Orthodox community’s high capacities to contribute to building a prosperous society, for, as he shows, believers have gone much further on the way of consolidation than Russian society as a whole.

Is everyone who is speaking at today’s conference in Berlin and everyone who serves on Yakunin’s supervisory board and programme council kosher with obscurantist Russian Orthodox nationalism masquerading as scholarship? Do all of them know that “Russian Orthodoxy” (as interpreted by Patriarch Kirill and his intemperate followers) is now being used in Russia as an ideological battering ram to quash dissent and difference and reinforce Putin’s seemingly endless administration, as “Marxism-Leninism” was similarly used in the Soviet Union?

Do they know that their generous benefactor Vladimir Yakunin, in one of his other guises, wholeheartedly supports just this variety of aggressive Russian Orthodox nationalism?

The merging of political, diplomatic and religious interests has been on vivid display in Nice, where the Orthodox cathedral, St. Nicholas, came under the control of the Moscow Partriarchate in 2013.

To mark the completion of Moscow-funded renovation work in January, Russia’s ambassador in Paris, Aleksandr Orlov, joined the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, for a ceremony at the cathedral and hailed the refurbishment as “a message for the whole world: Russia is sacred and eternal!”

Then, in a festival of French-Russian amity at odds with France’s official policy since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the ambassador, Orthodox priests, officials from Moscow and French dignitaries gathered in June for a gala dinner in a luxury Nice hotel to celebrate the cathedral’s return to the fold of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Speaking at the dinner, Vladimir Yakunin, a longtime ally of Mr. Putin who is subject to United States, but not European, sanctions imposed after Russia seized Crimea, declared the cathedral a “corner of the Russian world,” a concept that Moscow used to justify its military intervention on behalf of Russian-speaking rebels in eastern Ukraine. Church property from the czarist era, Mr. Yakunin added, belongs to Russia “simply because this is our history.”

—Andrew Higgins, “In Expanding Influence, Faith Combines with Firepower,” New York Times, September 13, 2016

This entry has the title it does, not because I wanted an excuse to insert a recording by a beloved band of my salad days, which I did anway, but because when I draft editorials like this on Facebook, as I often do, I usually endure stony silence from my so-called friends and readers after I post them. It is not that they are usually so garrulous anyway, but I do know they read what I write, because they are capable of responding enthusiastically to other subjects.

Writ large, this stony silence is what has helped Vladimir Yakunin operate his Dialogue of Civilizations hootenanies (usually held annually in Rhodes until the recent upgrade and move to Berlin) under the radar for nearly fifteen years with almost no scrutiny from the western and Russian press and, apparently, no due diligence on the part of the hundreds and maybe thousands of non-Russian academics, politicians, experts, and other A-league movers and shakers who have attended and spoken at these events.

So can we assume, for example, that Georgi Derluguian, Anatol Lieven, Walter Mignolo, and Richard Sakwa (I am only picking out the names of scholars with whose work I am familiar) condone the Kremlin’s occupation of Crimea, the Kremlin’s invasion of Eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin’s downing of Flight MH17, the Kremlin’s repeat invasion and wholesale destruction of Chechnya, during the early day of Putin’s reign, and the Kremlin’s extreme crackdown on Russian dissenters of all shapes and sizes, from ordinary people who reposted the “wrong” things on social networks to well-known opposition politicians, journalists, and activsts shot down in cold blood for their vocal dissent, including Anna Politkovskaya, Boris Nemtsov, and Stanislav Markelov, a crackdown that has been intensifying with every passing year Putin has remained in power?

A resounding “yes!” would be refreshing to hear, but we will never get any response from the members of Vladimir Yakunin’s semi-clandestine fan club. It is their dirty little open secret, and only someone who is uncouth, someone unfamiliar with the ways of the world’s power brokers and their handmaidens and spear carriers, would even think about asking them to reveal it. TRR

 

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The Life of Eygeny

Evgeny Lebedev, publisher of The Independent
Evgeny Lebedev, publisher of The Independent

While having a gander this morning at how Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s premier liberal newspaper, has been covering the Syrian conflict in recent months, I stumbled across this op-ed piece, essentially an open letter to the British establishment, dated November 6, 2015. Published in the (mostly nonexistent) “English version” of the paper’s website and headlined “Britain must make Vladimir Putin an ally in the disaster that is Syria,” the piece is attributed to “Eygeny [sic] Lebedev, Publisher, The Independent, London.”

To cut to the chase, Evgeny Lebedev (his actual name) who has dual UK-Russian citizenship, it transpires in the piece, wants Britain to make common cause with Russia against the Islamic threat, to wit:

“There may be up to 7,000 Russian nationals who are in Syria as a result of being radicalized. Moscow, not a multicultural city in the way that London is, and run by an administration that is much more militarily decisive because it doesn’t put all big decisions to Parliament [sic], is clear: these terrorists must be killed, before they return to Russia to wreak havoc.

“On that point, Britain and Russia should be of like mind. We, too, know that there are many British citizens who have been radicalised and, for unfathomable reasons, decided to flee to this anarchic region and fight against all the things readers of this newspaper take for granted: democracy, peace, civilization.

“We have common cause with the Russians [sic], a common enemy. The biggest threat to humanity today is cancerous, Islamist ideology that is growing fast right across the world—one that claims, with what truth we don’t yet know, to be behind the weekend’s tragic plane crash in Egypt’s Sinai desert.

“Not for nothing did the head of our [sic] security services say last week that the terror threat in Britain is the highest it has been in his 32-year career.

“Destroying this cancer, or plague, at source could hardly be more worthwhile or urgent; and yet, rather than work with the Russians [sic] to do this, we seem intent on cutting ties instead.

“Britain should not be leaving it to the French to mediate between Russia and the West. For all the greatness of this island nation, for all its hard and soft power, there is a laxity in our [sic] approach to the Syrian crisis.”

If you want to find out more about the exciting life of the fine fellow who penned this, avail yourself of Wikipedia’s bio of the man.

I think your eyes should pop out of your head when you realize that the son of a KGB First Chief Directorate spy and Russian oligarch is nowadays a respectable man about town and media mogul in London, the exact same place where his wealthy dad used to do his spying back in the bad old days. But then again, neither you nor I are as worldly as publisher Lebedev and his dad, so what do we know?

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

NODsat

While trying to figure out the nuts and bolts of Russia’s National Liberation Movement (NOD), who organized the alternately comic and dismal “Anti-Maidan” rally on the Field of Mars in Petrograd this past Saturday, I discovered (via their website) that NOD had an affiliate in London, the so-called For Russia Party 

NOD-5840
Anti-Maidan rally, Petrograd, February 21, 2015. Photo courtesy of Sergey Chernov

The For Russians, it turns out, have typed up quite an ambitious platform:

1. Entry of the United Kingdom (UK) into the Customs Union with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus

2. Introduce a visa-free regime between England [sic] and all countries of the Customs Union.

3. Exit of the UK from the European Union, which has been steadily taking on the features of a union of European states based on fascist ideology.

4. Exit of Great Britain [sic] from the aggressive NATO bloc.

5. Entry of Great Britain into an alliance with Russia for the mutual strengthening of their defense.

6. Introduce compulsory Russian language instruction in UK schools.

7. Introduce the teaching of classic Russian and Soviet literature in UK schools.

8. Protect the property of Russian Federation citizens in Great Britain.

9. Introduce free access for the public in both countries to products and goods from both the English [sic] and Russian markets.

10. Make cheap heat and electricity from Russia available to the citizens of Great Britain.

11. Establish May 9 as a public holiday in England.

12. Special rights and protections for Russian speakers in England.

13. Introduce the legislative framework for preventing manifestations of Russophobic propaganda in British media.

You can visit their digs in Covent Garden if you’d like to join up.

__________

__________


Anti-Maidan Actions Shouldn’t Make Putin Feel Secure, Vishnevsky Says
Paul Goble
February 22, 2015
Window on Eurasia

Staunton, February 22 – The Kremlin-organized Anti-Maidan demonstration in Moscow should not make Vladimir Putin feel secure because it was in reality an updated version of the Day of the Black Hundreds, Boris Vishnevsky says, groups organized by the tsarist regime to show support for the autocracy but that later did nothing to defend it.

Just as a century ago, demonstrators paid for by the regime or pushed to take part by their employers or officials went into the street to “denounce the revolution, praise autocracy, demand the preservation of the existing order and destroy ‘the enemies of the tsar and Fatherland,’” the Yabloko St. Petersburg city deputy says.

In its current incarnation, “the heirs” of the Black Hundreds denounce the Maidan, praise Putin and demand the destruction of ‘the Fifth Column,’” led by notorious Stalinists, supporters of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, and demonstrating by their slogans – including “’Putin is Better than Hitler’” – their level of sophistication.

Also like their tsarist-era predecessors, the Anti-Maidan organizers are spectacularly unfortunate in identifying themselves in this way, as becomes obvious, Vishnevsky says, if one compares the Maidan and the Anti-Maidan and if one considers how the Black Hundreds groups behaved when push came to shove — and how the Anti-Maidan people are likely to.

In Kyiv, people came into the Maidan “to drive out a corrupt regime.” In Moscow, they “came to the ‘Anti-Maidan’ in order to express their loyalty and support to the powers that be.” They did not demand the regime meet its obligations to the people but only and instead that “the power not change.”

That may sound good to Putin and his backers, Vishnevsky continues, but he ought not to be too encouraged by this.  That is because “when his power begins to shake, not one of those who came to the ‘Anti-Maidan will come out in his defense” – just as a century ago, “not one of the Black Hundreds types came out to defend the tsarist power.”

But if Putin does not care to look that far back in time, he might consider a more recent example, the St. Petersburg deputy says.  None of those who had shouted “’Glory to the CPSU!’” or denounced “’the crimes of American imperialism’” came out to defend the communist regime when it began to fall apart.

Indeed, he suggests, like their predecessors, those in the Anti-Maidan who “equate Putin with Russia” and swear that they will ‘not give him up’” will betray him among the first. If Putin doesn’t believe that” – and he probably doesn’t – “then let him ask Yanukovich,” an even more recent victim of the delusion of those in power about how much support they have.

But there are more reasons for Putin to be worried. The extremist slogans on offer in the Anti-Maidan action, including anti-Semitic tropes that also link it with the Black Hundreds of the end of the Russian Imperial period, the lack of support from those whose names were invoked, and the small size of Anti-Maidan actions outside of Moscow should be of even greater concern.

As Forum-MSK.org points out today, the workers of the Urals Wagon Factory (Uralvagonzavod) who Putin sees as symbolic of his support among Russia’s silent majority and who were referred to be speakers at yesterday’s event in Moscow are anything but enthusiastic about him and his policies.

Lacking new orders, that plant is cutting back production plans and laying off workers, a situation that is replicated at many industrial sites around the Russian Federation and that hardly is an advertisement for the successes of the Putin regime or a reason for workers to give it more than lip service support.

Outside of the Moscow ring road, there were a number of Anti-Maidan actions. But because the PR needs of the regime were largely satisfied by the 35,000-person crowd in Moscow that could be shown on television and because the regional governments now lack the resources to do more, they were very small, in some cases no more than a handful and in others only a few dozen or a few hundred.

The Kremlin may not care a lot about the size – few in the Moscow media and even fewer Western reporters will cover anything outside of the capitals – but it probably should be worried that those taking part were in many cases the very Russian nationalist extremists it has been prosecuting and that their slogans were even more extreme than those in Moscow.

Moreover, the Kremlin’s PR specialists may be nervous about what happened when regional media picked up on that: In many cases, they were not afraid to say that “the meeting in support of Putin … failed.”  That is exactly what a Karelian news agency did.

In Petrozavodsk, the republic capital, the agency said, a meeting had been scheduled as part of “an all-Russian action ‘in support of national leader Vladimir Putin’” with slogans like “’It is [time] to drive out ‘the fifth column.’” But in the event, Vesti.Karelia.ru noted, “only 15 people” came out in behalf of those ideas.

It may be that the men in the Kremlin won’t take notice of this; but there is no question that the people of Karelia will.

Can’t Get There from Here

When the world is a monster, bad to swallow you whole
Kick the clay that holds the teeth in, throw your trolls out the door


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:

9781479860982_Full

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

source: NYU Press (emphasis is mine)

What brought me up short was Vladimir Yakunin’s presence on the roster of the “world’s foremost thinkers.” The only Vladimir Yakunin of whom I was aware was the Putin insider and Russian Railways head, who even back then (in 2013) had already been accused by anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny of having amassed a vast offshore business empire with members of his family.

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.

After I attended a Russian sponsored conference in Rhodes last year, a friend and colleague separated from me for many months believing I had fallen in with KGB oligarchs and gangsters,” wrote Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, around the same time NYU Press was rolling Yakunin’s vanity publication off the presses and Navalny was publishing his exposés. (If you think I’m kidding about the vanity business, read the editors’ acknowledgements.)

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:

chomsky yakunin

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?

What really beggars the imagination is how all this useful networking on the part of an authoritarian, kleptocratic regime with growing homophobic and clericalist tendencies has flown under the journalistic radar for over ten years.

* * * * *

On March 30, 2014, Yakunin popped up as the headliner and co-chair of a timely international conference in Petersburg entitled “Neo-Fascism in Europe: 70 Years Later.” As can been seen in a news report aired on local channel TV 100, Yakunin predictably inveighed against the dangers of “Ukrainian fascism,” even as his own country had tens of thousands of troops amassed along the Ukrainian border.BV5A7638

Petersburg governor Georgy Poltavchenko and Vladimir Yakunin (right) at “anti-fascist” conference in Petersburg, March 30, 2014

Liberal city councilman and journalist Boris Vishnevsky broke the curious story that one of the scheduled speakers at this “anti-fascist” conference was renowned Polish neo-Nazi Mateusz Piskorksi.

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?

On New Year’s Eve, they announced they were ending service on hundreds of local routes in Russia’s regions.

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.

Predictably, the uproar has forced Putin to give the minister responsible for transport a televised dressing-down and demand that all local services be restored. Meanwhile, Yakunin has denied any responsibility for the mess.

* * * * *

And who knows, maybe in some sense, despite the charges of corruption and corporate malfeasance leveled by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation against Russian Railways, Yakunin isn’t strictly to blame for this business.

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.

“In the Breast of Mother Russia Speaks a Kind and Loving Heart”

Rich white Americans have so much fun. Here they are thrilling to the duo of Phil Donahue and Vladimir Pozner in Nantucket this past spring.

This is Russian soft-powerism of the highest order. It is strange (or is it?) that Pozner somehow thinks (or does he?) that he went from being a Soviet “propagandist” (as he admits in this conversation) to being a real “journalist” in the post-Soviet era.

And it is amazing that the otherwise skeptical and cranky Donahue has bought into this self-flattery. It is one thing to be more critical of the actions and policies of one’s own government: that is how it should be for any intelligent person anywhere, and especially for Americans, whose country bears more responsibility than most other countries for the world’s current saggy, miserable, often vicious shape. But here Donahue plays second fiddle to the virtuoso Pozner, who by the end of the talk seemingly has everyone in the tent convinced, especially his old TV buddy and the event’s moderator, that the US also bears sole responsibility for the current hyper-reactionary regime in Russia. Pozner accomplishes this with a spiel seamlessly woven from home truths, sentimental journeyings, and charmingly delivered lies or fudges: for example, about how everyone in the Soviet Union were true believers except for a miniscule and thus meaningless dissident movement or that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US and the West engaged only in relentless humiliation of the new “democractic” Russia under Yeltsin.

As Russia’s hook-line-and-sinker self-submersion into extreme right-wing nationalist hysteria continues, expect more of this kind of song and dance from certain Russian liberal and leftist intellectuals. The thought that Putinism 3.0 is entirely their own fault (if only because they have signally omitted to do almost anything about it) or that not all societies in the world today are equally bleak pits of the blackest political reaction, is nearly unbearable to them. Hence, their frantic need to revive the Cold War paradigm or, via Brahminical critiques of its alleged illicit and opportunistic resurgence on both sides of the old divide, their equally frantic attempts to imagine that the choice between the “free” West and the “internationalist” Soviet bloc back then, during the real Cold War, is somehow comparable to a choice nowadays between a bloody mess with occasional breaks in the clouds and a system that already long ago had no redeeming features whatsoever and seems hell-bent on getting much, much worse very quickly.

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The first “spacebridge” or “citizens summit,” between Leningrad and Seattle in 1985, moderated by Vladimir Pozner and Phil Donahue: