Squandering Its Way to Superpowerdom

“Squandering”: Did the US Secretary of State Grasp the Russian Approach to Budget Spending?
The Kremlin Accused the State Department of Tactlessness and Unprofessionalism, Yet Pompeo’s Remarks Were on the Mark
Yevgeny Karasyuk
Republic
December 13, 2018

padrino.jpgVenezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino gives his thumb up as he sits on the cockpit of a Russian Tupolev Tu-160 strategic long-range heavy supersonic bomber after it landed at Maiquetia International Airport, north of Caracas, on December 10, 2018. Courtesy of Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images

Russian’s decision to send strategic bombers on a junket to an airport near Caracas elicited a curious reaction from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who publicly expressed his pity for Russian taxpapers, whose money the Kremlin, habitually disregarding the costs, has been spending on its geopolitical moves.

“The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer,” Pompeo wrote.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded by calling Pompeo’s statement “utterly unprofessional” and even “villainous.” Pompeo’s remarks, which the Kremlin, in turn, dubbed “inappropriate” and “undiplomatic,” were apparently really lacking in nuance: the hardships of Russians, fortunately, cannot yet be compared with the suffering of Venezuelans. But, hand on heart, was Pompeo so wrong when he talked about the losses to the Russian federal budget and lack of oversight?

Russian society has an extremely vague notion about how much the Kremlin’s expansionism has ultimately cost the country. According to calculations made by IHS Jane’s at the outset of Russia’s operations in Syria in autumn 2015, Russia could have been spending as much as $4 million a day. Later, the Yabloko Democratic Party, which is not seated in the Russian parliament, estimated the Kremlin had spent a total of 108–140 billion rubles [between $1.6 and $2.1 billion] on Syria. A more accurate assessment would be difficult to make. Experts doubt that anyone, including the Finance Ministry, keeps tabs on such expenditures. Thus, nobody knows the real cost of Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, argues the Gaidar Institute’s Military Economics Laboratory.

The budget’s fading transparency has been a trend in recent years. In 2016, secret and top-secret allocations accounted for 22% of total federal budget expenditures, a record for the entire post-Soviet period, and much higher than secret allocations in comparable countries, according to RANEPA’s March 2015 report on the Russian economy.

Quite naturally, this state of affairs has not improved the quality of the state’s financial decisions. In terms of effective state spending, Russia ranked nineteenth in a new rating of twenty-five countries, compiled by the Higher School of Economics using data from the World Bank and OECD. Since they are not priorities for the current regime, problems with child mortality and life expectancy were among the reasons Russia ranked so low in the survey: the government spends more on the army than on healthcare—4.3% of GDP versus 3.8% of GDP, respectively. In these circumstances, the chances the Kremlin’s strategic projects in the Middle East and Africa (e.g., the Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique) will be decently funded are always much greater than the national healthcare project, which stipulated increased government spending on cancer treatment. The government nixed the plan over summer.

Since it remains largely Soviet in spirit, Russia’s foreign policy has been categorically blind to history’s lessons. The Soviet Union’s exorbitant geopolitical ambitions and support for fringe regimes around the world left the country with a legacy of mostly toxic multi-billion-dollar debts. The process of writing them off has been disguised as a form of international charity or, speaking diplomatically, official development assistance (ODA). According to RANEPA, writing off the debts of developing countries accounted for 35% of all such “international aid” last year or $425 million. It has been the Russian government’s usual way of doing business. Previously, the Russian government wrote off the debts of Nicaragua ($6.3 billion), Iraq ($21.5 billion), North Korea ($10.9 billion), Syria ($9.8 billion), Afghanistan ($11 billion), and Cuba ($29 billion), among other countries. Venezuela risks joining this sad list. Over the past twelve years, Russia has invested a total of $17 billion in the country.

Russia’s Expenditures on Official Development Assistance (Excluding Humanitarian Aid), 2005–2017, in Millions of Dollars. Sources: OECD, Russian Finance Ministry. Courtesy of Republic

Since it was paid for by the Russian federal budget, which has been running a deficit for the last seven years, Russian officials probably did not see the transatlantic flight of its strategic bombers as too expensive. On the contrary, they saw it as a flashy display of Russia’s military prowess and proof of its influence in the region. However, the government of Nicolás Maduro signed off on the stunt. Subject to growing pressure from creditors and an angry, desperate population, it lives day by day. In all likelihood, it will soon collapse, leaving behind a mountain of unpaid bills and unfulfilled obligations to its allies. If this is the case, can we evaluate the Russian government’s action better than the tactless Mike Pompeo did? Probably not.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ivan Davydov: The Russian Protest Federation

614352f5bad27acc282af798084aa5e3Protest rally in Abakan against plans to raise the retirement age. Photo by Alexander Kryazhev. Courtesy of RIA Novosti and Republic

The Russian Protest Federation: How Moscow Has Stopped Shaping the Political Agenda. Will Ordinary Russians Realize Pension Reform and Geopolitical Triumphs Are Linked?
Ivan Davydov
Republic
September 27, 2018

The people who took to the streets long ago on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue deserve the credit for the reinstatement of gubernatorial elections in Russia. It was a time that would be unimaginable now. There was no war with Ukraine. Crimea had not been annexed. No one had given Syria a second thought. It still makes you wonder why the Kremlin took fright then, albeit briefly. Instead of guessing, we should note it was the capital that led the national protest movement then, confirming yet again the centripetal nature of life in Russia. Over a 100,000 people attended the first two protest rallies in Moscow, on December 10, 2011, and February 4, 2012. Petersburg took second place, sending 25,000 people onto the streets for its February 2012 rally, but no one other city was even close. Protests took place in dozens of cities, including all the major ones, but the best the regions achieved was something on the order of 5,000 people in attendance. In most places, the average crowd numbered around a thousand people.

The opposition failed just like the regime. It transpired the national agenda and the agenda of Muscovites were the same thing. The farther you went from Moscow, the less people were worried about the issues exercising newspaper reporters. Least of all were they worried about their own real problems, about local issues, and thus there was no chance of changing things in Russia.

But the credit for transforming gubernatorial elections into something really resembling elections, albeit quite remotely, must go to the regions. The takeaway message is that the regime’s electoral fiasco in the regions on September 9 is a nationally significant event. The rank-and-file voters there, who cast their ballots for sham candidates from parties other than United Russia as a way of registering their disgust with the local political bosses, have turned circumstances inside out. The regions are now dictating their agenda to Moscow, as governors who seemed invulnerable only recently look shaky, and even Putin himself has been forced to break a sweat.

Airbag
As befits a myth, the Moscow myth that, putting it as succinctly as possible, Moscow is not the real Russia, is not true at all. But, like any good myth with life in it, it is based on real things. As I write this column, water is gurgling in the radiators of the standard Moscow high-rise where I live, because the heating season has kicked off. It is ten degrees Celsius outside, and Moscow’s tender inhabitants would freeze otherwise. Meanwhile, all the news agencies are reporting as their top news item that a place in the queue to buy the new iPhone at Moscow stores will set you back 130,000 rubles [approx. 1,700 euros]. That is expensive, of course, but you would let yourself be seen as an outdated loser at your own peril.

Muscovites protest often, although in fewer numbers than during the fair elections movement. To outsiders, however, protesting Muscovites almost always look like whimsical people who are too well off for their own good. Everyone knows Moscow has wide pavements, new subway stations, the Moscow Central Ring, and perpetual jam festivals and nonstop carnivals on Nikolskaya Street. People who live in places where even today anti-tank trenches pass for roads, and the mayor nicked the benches from the only pedestrian street (urbanism is ubiquitous nowadays, no longer a Moscow specialty) and hauled them to his summer cottage, find it really hard to take seriously people who are up in arms over a new parks whose birches were imported from Germany, and holiday lighting whose cost is roughly the same as the annual budget of an entire provice somewhere outside the Black Earth Region. The residents of “construction trailer accretions” (you will remember that during one of President Putin’s Direct Lines, the residents of a “construction trailer accretion” in Nyagan came on the air to complain) find it hard to understood people protesting so-called renovation, as in Moscow, that is, people who protest the demolition of their old residential buildings and being resettled in new buildings. For that is how it appears when geographical distance obscures the particulars.

The regime has skillfully manipulated this gap. Remember the role played by the “real guys” from the Uralvagonzavod factory during the fair elections movement, or the out-of-towners bussed into the capital for pro-Putin rallies on Poklonnaya Hill and Luzhniki Stadium. But the gap functions as yet another airbag for the Kremlin even when it makes no special effort to manipulate it. Moscow is part of Russia when we are talking about national issues and the fact those issues are debated in Moscow as well, but since any sane non-resident of Moscow believes Moscow is no part of Russia, the big issues end up being issues that exercise Muscovites, but do not interest people beyond Moscow.

The Main Political Issue
Alexei Navalny has bridged the gap slightly. His attempt to set up regional presidential campaign offices seemed absurd since everyone, including Navalny, realized he would not be allowed on the ballot and there would be no reason to campaign. He ran a campaign anyway, and his campaign offices turned into local pockets of resistance, into needles that hit a nerve with the regime while simulatneously stitching Russia together and removing Moscow’s monopoly on national politics. His campaign offices are manned by bold young people willing to take risks and good at organizing protest rallies. Of course, even now more people in Moscow attend Navalny’s protest rallies than in other cities, but people have still been taking to the streets in dozens of cities for the first time since the fair elections protests of 2011–2012. Navalny’s campaign offices splice issues that the locals get with national issues, thus producing the fabric of real politics. When I discussed the subject of this column with the editors of Republic, one of them joked Navalny was a “franchise.” The joke has a point, but the point is not offensive.

It was Vladimir Putin, however, who really turned the tide or, rather, the federal authorities, of which Putin is the living embodiment. The pension reform has made it abundantly clear the Russian authoritarian state no longer intends to be paternalist. The state has suddenly discovered what people actually liked about it was the paternalism. Or they put up with the paternalism. It is hard to say what word would be more precise. But they did not put up with it due to its victories on the geopolitical front.

The pension reform has erased the line between the big issues, debated by well-fed people in Moscow, and the real issues that constitute the lives of real people. This is quite natural, since being able to claim Russia’s miserly pensions a bit earlier in life is more important in places where life is harder. Moscow is definitely not the worse place in Russia to live. Despite the myth, Moscow is no heaven on earth, either, but the central heating has already been turned on, for example.

So, even a dull, boring, well-rehearsed formality like gubernatorial elections has become an effective tool of protest. The regime made a single mistake, a mistake to which no one would have paid attention to a year ago. (Since when has vote rigging seriously outraged people in Russia? Since days of yore? Since 2011?) The mistake set off a chain reaction. The new single nationwide election day had been a boon to the Kremlin, its young technocrats, and its not-so-young handpicked “businesslike” governors. If the elections had not taken place simultaneously everywhere, and the fiasco in the Maritime Territory had occurred at the outset of the elections season, it is not clear how powerful a victory the no-name candidates from the loyal opposition would have scored.

Maybe Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky would have had to disband their parties for fear of reprisals from the regime, since, the way they have long seen things, there is nothing more terrifying than success, and nothing more dangerous than real politics.

A Moscow municipal district council member from the opposition can easily make a coherent, meaningful speech about how the war in Syria has impacted the clumsiness of Mayor Sobyanin’s hired hands, relaying the tile in some unhappy, quiet alley for the third time in a single year. The council member’s speech would elicit laughter, and the laughter would be appropriate. But amidst the customary laughter we need to be able to discern the main question of a reemergent Russian politics.

The issue is this. Will ordinary Russians understand—and, if so, how quickly—that the pension reform (the first but not the last gift to the common folk from their beloved leaders) is part and parcel of the mighty Putin’s geopolitical triumphs, their inevitable consequence, rather than a betrayal and a rupture of the social compact, as certain confused patriotic columnists have been writing lately?

Ultimately, it is a matter of survival for Russia and for Putin. One of the two must survive. As in the films about the immortal Highlander, only one will be left standing at the end of the day.

Ivan Davydov is a liberal columnist. Translated by the Russian Reader

#MONSTERS

monsters-nonretirement“I could have failed to live until retirement.”

MONSTERS
Facebook
September 18, 2018

A powerful anti-anti-abortion protest took place today in Petersburg, but you will not hear about it in any of the mass media.

monsters-wagner“I could have worked for the Wagner Group.”

Until we fail to put a halt to abortions, which, fortunately, annually do away with enough people to populate the city the size of Petersburg, there is no point in discussing or contemplating anything serious.

monsters-repost“I could have been sent to prison for reposting.”

Russia is not only the land of the dead, which has been said more than once, but it is also the land of the unborn.

monsters-election rigger“I could have rigged elections.”

The Russian Federation not only has a past that never was. It also has a future that will never be.

monsters-kitchen boxer“I could have engaged in domestic violence.”

Russia is a failed state. Russia is a fake state.

monsters-sexually harassed“I could have been an object of sexual harassment.”

All Russians, men and women, are in some respect dead men and dead women, but they are also embryos.

monsters-omon“I could have been a riot cop and assaulted people at protest rallies.”

No wonder the stage of (para)political theater has recently been occupied by such figures: aborted embryos telling us they could have been soldiers, for example, and dead women and men, who worked to the grave, but did not live to see a single kopeck of their pensions.

monsters-channel one“I could have worked for Channel One and hoodwinked people every day.”

Bringing together the dead and the unborn was long overdue. This is just what we have done in our protest. We are MONSTERS, a new group of militants in the field of political art in Petersburg.

monsters-torturer“I could have tortured people in prison with a taser.”

We staged our protest in response to the latest move by the pro-lifers, who played heavy on people’s heart strings.

monsters-15000 a month“I could have earned 15,000 rubles a month my whole life.”

We profess and practice monstrous political art. We thus decided to do something even more sentimental.

monsters-syria“I could have gone to Syria to fight.”

You thus see before you dead embryos. They might not have lived until retirement, but in any case they did not survive until retirement.

monsters-died in orphanage“I could have died in an orphanage.”

#MONSTERS

monsters-installation viewA view of the silent protest on Pioneer Square in Petersburg’s Central District

Translated by the Russian Reader

‘Ere, or, Applied Culanthics

DSCN5744.jpg‘Ere, 2018. Graffiti found in Central Petersburg. Photo by the Russian Reader

This is a soundbite of champagne leftist culanthical research at its worst.

Monstrations are a symptom of a deep crisis of the pro-state nationalist and anti-state liberal discourses that reduce Russia’s complex political reality to two formulaic camps, obliterating space for democratic debate. Could there be an American monstration? One that resists Trump, but also refuses to explain away the phenomenon of Trump by referring to bigots and Russian agents? One that neither demonizes Russia nor justifies the actions of Putin’s regime?

Is Russia’s political reality really all that complex?

Why, if the US is filled with teenagers who can take the stage at a massive rally on the Mall in DC and make inspiring, cogent, coherent speeches, do we need the incoherent, politically feckless, thrift-store surrealism of the Novosibirsk Monstrations?

If we can either impeach Trump, pin him down with a crippling special investigation or, finally, simply fail to renominate or reelect him, why do we need to explain him away or even explain him at all?

What is the difference between Trump and “the phenomenon of Trump”?

If, nevertheless, well-paid, tenured academics force us to explain this “phenomenon,” why can’t we refer to bigots and Russian agents? Are they mere figments of our imagination?

Who does a better job of “demonizing” Russia?

People trying to explain away the phenomenon of Trump?

(By the way, why isn’t it “the Trump phenomenon”? Is “the phenomenon of Trump” more culanthically correct?)

Or are the true demonizers the Putin regime itself, a regime that has been quite demonstrably engaged in setting a new land speed record in sheer gangster nastiness at home and abroad at least since 2014, although we know they started much, much earlier (i.e., when Putin was deputy mayor of Petersburg in the early and mid nineties, and served as Mayor Anatoly Sobchak’s bag man and liaison with dicey “foreign investors” and local gangsters)? // TRR

P.S. The culanthics only go downhill from there.

The banners you see at monstrations state their theme obliquely. In the spring of 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimea, the slogan “Crimea is ours!” dominated pro-government media channels and billboards. The liberal opposition, conversely, stressed that the Crimea was illegally stolen. Meanwhile, monstrations sided with neither of these accounts. On May 1, 2014, the Novosibirsk monstration walked behind the banner “Hell is ours!”, a statement that iconically and ironically challenged the official slogan, but also refused the simplified version of the political events advanced by the liberal opposition. The march united young people with different political opinions, from those who saw the annexation as an isolated unlawful act to those who refused the liberal oppositional story and instead saw the Crimea in connection with other events, including the attempts of the extreme right and ultranationalist movements in Ukraine to hijack the popular Maidan revolution.

Such is the secret of the trendy “third position” in Russian and Russophile “anti-authoritarian leftism”: to side with nobody but other third positionists, to hover high above Moscow, Peterburg, Crimea, Donetsk, Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta or, in this case, the Berkley Hills like angels of history. God forbid the third positionists should ever do something so rash as actually organize a real anti-war movement explicitly and loudly opposed to the Kremlin’s predations in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere.

One, it would involve a lot of needless work.

Two, it could get the third positionists, otherwise accustomed to a heavy schedule of jetsetting from academic conference to art residency to speaking engagement, into a lot of hot water. They definitely do not want to go to prison for any reason, unlike those careless antifascists from Penza and Petersburg, about whom the third positionists mostly have nothing to say, unsurprisingly.

(Russian and Russophilic third positionism requires its adepts to refrain from criticizing Russia’s foreign and domestic policy catastrophes and crimes as much as humanly possible. People who, on the contrary, criticize the current Russian regime’s actions loudly and often are labeled “liberals” and “Russophobes,” the worst words imaginable in the third positionist vocabulary.)

Three, it would mean the third positioniks would have to give up their firmly held conviction, which they share with Vladimir Putin, Alexander Dugin, and Vyacheslav Surkov et al., that all the evil in the world originates solely in the United States and that, however hamfisted and controversial its actions, Russia has only been reacting to the miseries deliberately visited on it by American unilateral imperialism and neoliberalism.

Russophile leftists lap this spiked rhetorical gravy up like hound dogs who have not been fed for a week, so the invitations to appear at conferences and contempory art hootenanies, and contribute essays to “politicized” art mags and cutting-edge scholarly journals keep pouring in. After all, it is what really matters in life, not Syrian children, blasted to smithereens by Russian bombs, or hapless Crimean Tatars, rotting in Russian prisons because they are too stupid to know what is good for them.

Life During Wartime

DSCN5429.jpgRussians at war

 1.
“There’s really no place for self-righteousness in war.”
—Lord Richards, BBC Radio 4, Today, 14 April 2018

Lord Richards said this by way of arguing everyone should give up, permit the butcher Assad to win his genocidal war, and “let the Syrian people [?] get down to the business of rebuilding their country.”

He was immediately followed on the air by a bloke named Frank Gardner, who made the ludicrous claim it was the Russian “intervention” “that prevented Islamic State and the other jihadists from taking Damascus.”

Mr. Gardner was immediately followed on the air by yet another bloke, an MP of some sort, who was just as defeatist, but somehow, unaccountably, thought the “people responsible” for war crimes in Syria “would be held to account.”

Mr. Gardner and the MP was followed by an American teenage girl, apparently a  former member of the Obama administration, who absolved the second coming of MLK, Jr., of all responsibility for the bloodbath.

As if this were not bad enough, the teenage American girl was immediately followed on the air by Sebastian Gorka. Oddly enough, his comments were the most reasonable.

They were immediately followed on the air by the ridiculously ubiquitous Anne Applebaum and another bloke with a posh accent (David Stevenson), who didn’t “want to see an all-out war.”

This entire clown circus was preceded by a nice little chat with a “former” Russian general, whose only purpose was to tell the radio audience, “If you so much as scratch one of our buys, you’ll have all-out war.” (I am paraphrasing.)

All of this was camouflaged by an alleged concern for the “people of Syria,” and yet not a single actual Syrian voice was heard all morning.

What disgusting white freaks.

DSCN5424Russians at war

2.
Predictably, various so-called leftists on my Facebook news feed are in high dudgeon today over the milquetoast missile strikes on a few Syrian military facilities carried out overnight by France, Britain, and the US.

These very same people, some of whom are Russian nationals, have had absolutely nothing to say about Russia’s critical intervention in Syria on the side of the country’s war criminal dictator Bashar Assad for the last two and a half years.

How does that work? Russia gets a free pass because it is . . . what? Building socialism in Syria? On the right side of the conflict? Has been suffering so much since the collapse of the Soviet Union that it has the right to bomb whole cities into rubble and occupy neighboring countries without provocation?

No, Russia gets a free pass, especially from Russian leftists, because 99.9999% of the Russian populace knows quite well that their own homegrown dictator, Vladimir Putin, has certain pet projects that are off limits to criticism and protest.

Destroying Syria is one of those pet projects.

So, they are simply too scared to criticize Russia’s absolutely criminal actions against Syrian citizens in Syria, i.e., against people who have never, so far as I know, harmed any Russians at all, especially not in Russia itself.

Hence, when the so-called west makes a feeble, almost laughable gesture to oppose the Assadist-Putinist-Iranian-Hezbollah massacre in Syria, these Russian and Russophile leftists awake from their usual slumber, happily quoting Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn and other great advocates of “peace in our time.”

It never occurs to any of them, apparently, that this is an absolutely demoralizing, pointless, and impossible stance on the matter. They are leftists who unconditionally support fascists and imperialists, and who support other, world-famous leftists who unconditionally support fascists and imperialists. They are thus leading the international leftist movement down the garden path either to utter destruction or utter irrelevance.

Sanders and Corbyn are dangerous clowns. If you don’t get that, you might not be as politically savvy or as leftist as you imagined you were.

At least, if you feel strongly about the issue, make your own arguments as to why it is okay for Putin, Assad, Iran, and the Hezbollah to slaughter Syrians at will, while it is a crime against humanity to toss a few missiles once a year at a few Syrian military bases and chemical warfare production facilities that were given a week’s notice and thus had happily been evacuated long before the missiles actually struck them.

But, no, amazingly enough, pro-Assadist and pro-Putinist leftists almost never make their own arguments, instead cowering behind the drivel spouted by the likes of Corbyn, Sanders, and Tariq Ali.

DSCN5422.jpgRussians at war

3.
Why would any “progressive” or “anti-authoritarian” leftist in their right mind refuse solidarity to the nine Penza and Petersburg antifacists caught up in an insane frame-up, engineered by the folks at Vladimir Putin’s old stomping grounds, the Russian Federal Security Service (the FSB, formerly known as the KGB), who have accused them of being members of a wholly fictional “terrorist community,” codenamed The Network, and charged them accordingly?

I ask this seemingly nonsensical question because, as I was thinking about the kneejerk reaction of various “anti-imperialists,” Russian leftists, and Russophile leftists to last night’s missile strikes in Syria, it suddenly occurred to me this same mob of righteous Marxists has been as nearly as quiet about the so-called Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case as it has been about the Kremlin’s war against Syrian civilians and anti-Assad forces in Syria.

Why should that be? What is the connection between these seemingly unrelated events?

The answer is simple. If you pay too much attention to the Penza-Petersburg case and its gory details, you will realize all too quickly that Russia is ruled by a fascist clique of power-hungry ex-KGB lunatics who have somehow persuaded themselves that their greed, corruption, and ultraviolence are a supreme form of patriotism, not an utter degradation of any reasonable notion of governance, justice, and balanced international relations.

Thus, leftists who only get exercised over Syria when the so-called west makes a tiny, milquetoast, one-off gesture of resistance to the Putinist-Assadist-Iranian-Hezbollah killing machine are reluctant to talk too much about the horrifying Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and many other similar cases that never make the headlines around the world, since they would reveal too palpably and obviously the natural affinities between Assad and Putin, two dyed-in-the-wool fascists who believe all resistance and opposition to their perpetual regimes is illegitimate, “extremist,” “terrorism,” etc.

If you are an “anti-authoritarian” or “progressive” leftist, however, it will not do to admit you stand for the same things as Putin and Assad cherish, so you just gloss over their crimes before and during the Syrian revolution, and hope no one will notice what violent criminal thugs they have been from day one, and how their violence and thuggery have only been spreading like wildfireacross their own countries and all around the world ever since they came to power.

DSCN5326.jpgRussians at war

4.
God forbid the Russian people should rise up against their own dictator, Vladimir Putin, and the Chinese, Iranians and Hezbollah, say, rushed to help the Russian dictator put down the uprising. Not only would it be extremely humiliating were Chinese warplanes to bomb ancient Russian cities such as Pskov and Vladimir, were terrorists from Hezbollah and Iranian fundamentalists to murder innocent Russian children, women and men, but the whole world would remember how once upon a time not so long ago the Russians themselves helped the bloody dictator Bashar Assad gut and slaughter a grassroots revolution in Syria. Everyone would thus turn their backs—unfairly—on the Russians fighting to the death for their freedom and remain silent until their dictator, ably assisted by the Chinese, Iranian and Hezbollah killers, would force one half of the Russian populace to take flight to other countries, while killing and enslaving the other half. // TRR

Photos by the Russian Reader

___________________________

Never Think of It, Never Speak of It

DSCN4763“Enigma.” Photo by the Russian Reader

“In the last two weeks, one thousand and forty-two people, including about a hundred and fifty-six children, have been killed in eastern Ghouta, in what human-rights groups fear is a final, all-out offensive to retake one of the few remaining rebel-held enclaves in the country. Bombings by Syrian and Russian planes have been indiscriminate, killing civilians, levelling homes, and destroying medical facilities. Bashar al-Assad’s regime—with the full support of Vladimir Putin and the Russian military—have flouted calls for a complete ceasefire.”
Rozina Ali, ‘It’s Raining Rockets’: Deadly New Syrian-Russian Assault Kills Hundreds in Eastern Ghouta, New Yorker, March 8, 2018

What I really don’t understand is why there isn’t an enterprising Russian or group of Russians who would set up a WordPress blog or a special page on Facebook or VK where they could post translations of foreign press articles about the war in Syria like the article quoted, above. If the Russian media either wants to ignore what is happening there or constantly lie about it, that does not mean the war should be of no interest to Russians opposed to dropping Russian bombs on non-Russia men, women, children, residential buildings, and hospitals that have never done any harm to any Russian men, women, children, residential buildings, and hospitals, and that never thought of doing them any harm.

At this point, I really just don’t get it. The collective silence in Russia when it comes to the Kremlin’s and the Russian military’s crimes in Syria is on the verge of the pathological.

There is not much to be said for the efficacy and vociferousness of antiwar movements in the US, UK, Australia, and the other countries that sent soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan, but it certainly cannot be said that there have not been a relatively large number of people in those same countries engaged either in some kind of peacemaking or awareness raising about what trouble their leaders and armies have caused there and the enormities they have committed.

It’s practically a cottage industry, for what it’s worth.

In Russia, on the contrary, it is as if Syria exists literally in a parallel universe with no connection whatsoever to Russians and their daily lives.

Never think of it, never speak of it. TRR

If Wishes Were Horses

DSCN4101There is a good chance this ordinary young Russian woman will be middle-aged by the time Putin finally leaves office. Photo by the Russian Reader

“Syria is a shocking, baffling mess. For ordinary Russians, it is a waste of men and money. For a watching world, appalled by scenes of relentless brutality and cruelty in Ghouta, Aleppo, and a thousand other towns and cities, it is Putin’s mess. It’s up to him to fix it.

[…]

“Putin faces a presidential election on 18 March. If Russia were a functioning democracy, not a corrupt oligarchy, he could be out on his ear.”

I want to make one tiny correction to Simon Tisdall’s otherwise fine, correct sentiments, as published on February 25 in the Guardian. Syria means absolutely nothing to “ordinary Russians.” To be more precise, there is absolutely no empirical evidence whatsoever it means anything to them at all.

If it does mean anything, however, it may not mean what Mr. Tisdall would want it to mean, as evidenced by the 30,000 people who turned out in Voronezh on February 8 for Russian fighter pilot Roman Filippov’s funeral.

Except for singular voices like Igor Yakovenko’s, which I have linked to, above, Russian society and its famed intelligentsia have been ear-shatteringly silent about the Kremlin’s predations on behalf of the Syrian butcher Bashar Assad since they kicked off in September 2015. Although there were fairly large demonstrations, especially in Moscow, to protest the Kremlin’s criminal adventures in Ukraine, there has not been a single notable mass protest in Russia against the Kremlin’s war against ordinary, absolutely innocent Syrians.

The only protest against the Syrian massacre in Russia I know of was a picket that occurred somewhere in Moscow during the last two years, witnessed by almostno one, and attended by almost no one. A reader of my Facebook news feed told me he had heard about it or perhaps even attended it himself. He wrote about it to me by way of saying there were, in fact, protests in Russia against the Kremlin’s Syrian horrorshow.

Try not to laugh or cry after you have read the previous paragraph.

We should thus conclude that most “ordinary Russians” do not care a whit about ordinary Syrians and their hellish ordeal. Or they have bought hook, line, and sinker the Kremlin’s stinky lie that it has been targeting only “terrorist groups” in Syria. It’s one or the other. There isn’t a third option, as “ordinary Russians” like to say.

You should know, however, that the Kremlin enacts this same stinky lie (about “combating terrorists”) on the home front, yet only a few more “ordinary Russians” get worked up about it.

So, the problem is not just Putin and Syria, although were there ever an international tribunal on war crimes in Syria, he and his immediate Kremlin underlings and Russia’s top generals would be the only Russians legally liable to prosecution. Just as collective punishment is outlawed by international law, there really is no such thing as collective guilt.

It is equally true, however, that the vast majority of Russia’s 144 million people have been letting Putin and his satraps do as they please for the last eighteen years without so much as a peep.

You can put this down to state propaganda, the Soviet legacy or whatever you like, but it is a frightening, unmovable fact.

For now, the perennially hopeful would counter me, saying that someday, perhaps soon, things will change.

I would like to count myself among their number, but on March 18 Putin will have himself installed as Russia’s president for life de facto.

Why is this? Because Putin knows that, at this dreadful point in Russia’s history, even if he once again, after his new term as president runs out in 2024, handpicked a successor from his inner circle of loyalists to sub for him as president for six years, so he could reinstall himself as president in 2030, just as he once handpicked Dmitry Medvedev to do the same prestidigation act in 2008, that person probably would have to denounce him and his personality cult sheerly for reasons of political expediency, that is, if the “substitute” president wanted a freer hand in shaping his own administration for good or for ill, much as the Stalinist loyalist Krushchev did after Stalin’s death.

After twenty-four years of Putinism, the country would want the “substitute” president to denounce Putin and all his ways as fiercely as a drunkard wants a drink.

It is just too bad it does not have the will or the means to dismantle the Putinist tyranny now. The consequences of six more years of Putinism for Russia and the world will be dreadful. TRR