The War on Academic Free Speech in Russia

snowden

Why Should Professors Have Free Speech?
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
November 10, 2019

The desire of certain universities to control the things the public intellectuals they employ as professors say about socially important issues teeters on the verge of censorship and can hardly benefit their reputations, demonstrating only the growing fears of their administrators.

On Friday, the Higher School of Economics made public the decision of its ethics board, which voted seven to one in favor of recommending that Gasan Gusejnov, a linguist employed in the university’s humanities faculty, apologize for his “ill-considered and irresponsible” remarks on his personal Facebook page regarding the “cesspool-like” Russian used by the Russian media. The majority of council members found the statement had caused “serious harm” to the university’s “professional reputation.”

In particular, the ethics board referred to recommendations for university staff members regarding public statements: “If the public statements of employees touch on issues that are matters of considerable public controversy […] it is recommended they refrain from mentioning the university by name.”

However, Gusejnov did not mention his position at the university in the Facebook post that sparked a witch hunt against him on social media and in pro-Kremlin media outlets. Gusejnov said he did not intend to apologize, as he had not yet received an official request to apologize from the university. This triggered a new wave of invective against him.

The persecution of university lecturers and students for political reasons cannot be called something new. In March 2014, MGIMO terminated its contract with Professor Andrey Zubov after his statements about the situation in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. In April 2015, the Smolny Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences at St. Petersburg State University fired political scientist and human rights expert Dmitry Dubrovsky for his public remarks. In November 2016, Alexei Petrov was fired from his post as deputy dean of the history faculty at Irkutsk State University, allegedly, for disciplinary violations, but it was actually a complaint to the prosecutor’s office by a member of the National Liberation Movement (NOD) that led to his dismissal. In March 2018, the Siberian Federal University in Krasnoyarsk forced philosophy lecturer Mikhail Konstantinov to resign after he had shown students Don’t Call Him Dimon, a 2017 video exposé by Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

The right to one’s opinions, even critical opinions, cannot be made dependent on a person’s job. Even with regard to civil servants, the Russian Constitutional Court ruled that their official positions could not be tantamount to a total ban on the public expression of critical opinions, including in the media. It is all the more impossible to train and educate professionals without critical thinking, free discussion, and the exchange of opinions: without these things, learning turns into scholasticism. Lecturers capable of lively, unconventional thought make the reputations of universities.

There have been other such examples in the history of the Higher School of Economics. The university did not react when, in October 2013, Vladimir Putin called Professor Sergei Medvedev a “fool” for arguing that the Arctic should be administered internationally. Now, however, its administrators have probably been forced to yield to the pressure, hoping that by sacrificing individuals it can maintain control over its professors. But this is a precarious path to a questionable goal.

Image courtesy of democraticunderground.com. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Weaponizing Russian: The Gasan Gusejnov Controversy

guseynovGasan Gusejnov. Photo courtesy of Radio Svoboda

Gasan Gusejnov Refuses to Apologize for Remarks About Russian Language
Radio Svoboda
November 8, 2019

Gasan Gusejnov, a lecturer at the Higher School of Economics, has refused to apologize publicly for a post on Facebook in which he called the Russian language “miserable” and “cesspool-like.” According to Gazeta.Ru, the professor believes it would not be ethical for him to respond to the decision of a university commission, which had advised him to apologize.

The ethics commission at the Higher School of Economics recommended the professor apologize for his remarks. They were “ill-considered and irresponsible,” said the commission, which also claimed they had harmed the university’s reputation.

Gusejnov, in turn, told journalists he already given university administrators all necessary explanations and had no plans to apologize to anyone. He stressed that he had written the post as a private individual and had not yet received any official demands from the university.

A lecturer in the humanities faculty and a doctor of philology, Gusejnov published his post on Facebook in late October.

“In Moscow, with its hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Tatars, Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, Chinese and Germans, it is utterly impossible to find anything in other languages, except for the miserable, cesspool-like Russian that this country now speaks and writes,” he wrote.

Gusejnov’s post sparked a controversy on social media and in the media. Facebook deleted his post for violating its rules. The professor himself later explained that he had meant the language of hatred and aggression used in the media, social networks, and opinion journalism. According to Gusejnov, it was “an extremely dangerous environment and an extremely dangerous tool.”

This week, as the public debate about Gusejnov’s remarks continued, Vladimir Putin spoke at a meeting of the Russian Language Council. According to the Russian president, war had been declared on the Russian language worldwide in order to reduce its space [sic]. As Putin said, this was being done by “boorish Russophobes,” “fringe groups,” and “aggressive nationalists.”

The president did not specify what threats he had in mind. But he did instruct the government to amend the current laws “On the State Language” and “On the Languages of the Peoples of Russia” and create a “single corpus of dictionaries and reference books” that would dictate how all government entities used the language. Putin did not mention Gusejnov in his remarks.

Thanks to Dmitry Kalugin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Neocolonialism

shiyesTo set Russia apart from the pack, Putin is leaning on a unique pitch: that only Russian support can help protect the sovereignty of African countries.

“We see how an array of Western countries are resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail of sovereign African governments,” Putin told TASS on Monday in an interview ahead of the summit, adding that Russia was ready to provide help without “political or other conditions.”

“Our country played a significant role in the liberation of the continent, contributing to the struggle of the peoples of Africa against colonialism, racism, and apartheid,” he said. Although ties deteriorated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, traces remain: the Mozambique flag, for instance, carries the Kalashnikov rifle.
—Evan Gershkovich, “At Russia’s Inaugural Africa Summit, Moscow Sells Sovereignty, Moscow Times, 26 October 2019

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It’s amazing to read nonsense like this some ten or so years after an unbelievable wave of neo-Nazi terror in Petersburg, Moscow, and other Russian cities that targeted, among others, the country’s African community and African students.

I remember going, back then, to a community event where I was told, by one person after another, that none of them went out in Petersburg after dark except by car or taxi.

This is not to mention the fact that all the African leaders lining up for aid from Russia want to know nothing, apparently, about the Putin regime’s attitude to the Russian people, which differs very little from that of colonizers to the colonized. Just look at what is happening right now in Shiyes, for example. [TRR]

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OMON Forces Move to Cut Off Shiyes Protesters from Outside World
Paul Goble
Window on Eurasia
October 29, 2019

Staunton, October 25 — In an ominous move, some 30 OMON officers two days ago blocked the railroad station near where the Shiyes anti-trash dump protesters have made their camp as well as the roads leading to and from it, electric power there and in neighboring villages, and Internet connections with the outside world.

The protesters and their supporters are not sure whether this is the first step towards the closing of their camp or simply another feint in that direction designed to keep them nervous and off balance.

But one thing many of them are sure of is that Vladimir Putin is behind the move and that this is yet another case in which he has made much-covered public promises to defer to the population and follow the rule of law only to move in another direction when attention shifts.

Obviously, there is still some communication between the protesters and journalists; but the ring is being tightened. And as the weather gets worse, it will become far more difficult for the protesters to get the supplies and support they need to continue their protest against the largest trash dump in Europe, one not for their own wastes but for those of Moscow.

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Vera Afanasyeva
Facebook
October 29, 2019

I Am Shiyes! We Are Shiyes!

Imagine that you live in the Arkhangelsk Region. You are strong, independent people, descendants of Russians who were untouched by the Tatar-Mongol yoke and serfdom.

You are not office clerks or anyone’s employees, the more so since there is really nowhere to work. Your native land—its forest and rivers—feeds you. You live off the land and for the land. It is your place in life.

And now the brazen Moscow scumbags who have made billions of rubles from garbage have turned their fat mugs towards your part of the world. After making a bloody mess of the Moscow Region and its neighbors, they have taken a look at your land and licked their chops, deciding to build a landfill there. Your land suits them because it is not so far from Moscow, but it is sparsely populated and invisible from the capital. Your land suits the scumbags.

They have dubbed their future garbage dump, where they intend to transport nearly all the trash from Moscow, an “environmental industrial estate,” but whatever they call it, a garbage dump—a gigantic garbage dump—is still a garbage dump.

The bastards could not care less that the land is yours and gives you life: they have decided to fuck it up, too. They could not care less that it is a buffer zone for sources of drinkable water, that the land is swampy and runoff from the garbage dump will poison the soil, plants, and forests that sustain you and your children, that first the Vychegda River will be polluted and then the Northern Dvina, that previously pristine places will be destroyed.

But the scumbags have run into an unexpected obstacle: you decided to resist. There are not many of you, but you are human beings.

At first, you tried to appeal to the authorities, but you soon realized the scumbags attempting to spoil your land are the authorities.

And so then you simply have tried to keep the scumbags out. You have set up a tent city: you have guarded your land, preventing them from building their landfill. And the station of Shiyes, the place around which these events have unfolded, has become iconic throughout Russia, a place where people have resisted the lawlessness of the authorities.

Honestly, though, it is not just about the garbage dump. The fact of the matter is that you are human beings and you do not want to surrender your land to scumbags. It is a matter of fairness, of justice.

At first, even the local police were on your side, but then the scumbags recruited squads of goons from all over the country to try and handle you. This was what happened during the spring and summer.

But then fall came, and the scumbags realized the time is now. The political storms in Moscow have subsided, winter is on its way, and it will be harder and harder for you to resist.

So the bastards have stepped it up. They have used the Russian National Guard to break your blockade, and they have turned off the lights and the internet in the houses where your children live so the country won’t find about what is happening.

The bastards really want money and if they had their druthers they would kill you and bury you in the northern soil. The only thing holding them back, ever so slightly, is the possible bad publicity.

The bastards have the authorities and the Russian National Guard at their backs. There are only a handful of you.

Can you imagine this?

That is exactly what is happening now in Shiyes, where construction of a landfill has turned into a military special operation, a special operation so important, that martial law, a state of siege, has been imposed in the neighboring village of Urdoma. The special operation has been coordinated by the president’s plenipotentiary representative in the Northwest Federal District, Alexander Gutsan, who recently flew to Syktyvkar. It is so important that Viktor Polonikov, the interior minister of the Republic of Komi, personally visited Shiyes.

This is a real occupation, a war waged against the region’s inhabitants for the sake of huge profits.

The defenders of Shiyes are brave people, but they cannot cope with the Russian National Guard, with the Interior Ministry, with the steamroller of the regime alone.

We should all go to Shiyes and take our stand against the occupiers, but we cannot do this: we are not ready, we are weak.

But we can make it known to the entire country. We can spread the news, and this is also a way of helping, something that is in our power to do.

Tell everyone about what is happening in Shiyes. Write about it: do not be silent!

Today, they are cracking down on the defenders of Shiyes. Tomorrow, they will come for you.

Vera Afanasyeva is a former professor in the philosophy department at Saratov State University and a writer. Thanks to Valery Dymshits for the heads-up. Photo of Shiyes courtesy of Vera Afanasyeva. Translated by the Russian Reader

Spooky Knowledge and the Russian Police State

gabyshevOpposition shaman Alexander Gabyshev was detained while walking to Moscow to exorcise Vladimir Putin. Photo courtesy of yakutia.info

Superstitious Democracy
Pavel Aptekar
Vedomosti
September 20, 2019

The arrest and possible criminal prosecution of self-declared shaman Alexander Gabyshev, who was en route to Moscow to exorcise Vladimir Putin, whom the shaman had dubbed a demon, is less a consequence of Gabyshev’s involvement in protest rallies and more the outcome of a serious attitude toward superstitions and occult practices on the part of high government officials and the security forces.

On Thursday, Gabyshev’s traveling companions reported that security services officers, armed with machine guns and billy clubs, had raided their tent camp on the border between Buryatia and Irkutsk region, where the shaman was spending the night. The siloviki detained Gabyshev and spirited him away on a police bus that took off towards Ulan-Ude.

In the afternoon, the Buryatia Interior Ministry reported, without naming a name [sic], that Gabyshev had been detained by order of a police investigator on suspicion of his having committed a crime in Yakutia, and he would be extradited to Yakutsk. According to sources cited by news agencies and TV Rain, Gabyshev could be charged with extremism.

Gabyshev’s trek to Moscow had already been marred by the arrest of his traveling companions, which partly sparked the unrest in Ulan-Ude that led to a protest rally at which protesters demanded a recount of the recent mayoral election in the city and generated a tactical alliance between shamanists and the Communists.

In our age of smartphones and supercomputers, the attempt to exorcise demons from the Kremlin seems like a joke, just like the possible charge of extremism against Gabyshev: it transpires that occult rituals are regarded as real threats to the Russian state.

We should not be surprised by this, however. Many of our fellow Russians have lost faith in the rational foundations of the world order and the state system. The paucity of scientific explanations in Russian society has been compensated by superstitions and conspiracy theories, which are broadcast by national TV channels, among others.

But that is only half the problem. Such explanations of reality and occult methods are widespread among the highest ranks of the security services, that is, among people who have the ear of the country’s leaders. Cheka officers were intensely interested in occultism in the 1920s and 1930s, an interest shared, later, by the NKVD and the Nazi secret services.

In post-Soviet Russia, arcane practices were promoted by the late General Georgy Rogozin, who served as deputy chief of the president’s security service.

“There are powerful techniques that reveal psychotronics. This is the science of controlling the brain. […] In order to see the trajectory of a person’s life, their ups and downs, it is enough to know when they were born,” Rogozin told Komsomolskaya Pravda in an interview.

In December 2006, General Boris Ratnikov of the Federal Protective Service (FSO) told Rossiiskaya Gazeta that the secret services had tapped into the subconscious of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and detected a “pathological hatred of Slavs” and dreams of controlling Russia. In 2015, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev reproduced this as Albright’s “statement” that Siberia and the Far East did not belong to Russia.

We can only guess what threats the current security forces were able to “scan” (concoct, that is) in Gabyshev’s subconscious.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Burning Too

20190824_WOM905.png

Take a long hard look at this map, especially the upper right-hand corner, and then tell me why Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro deserves a dressing-down from leaders of some of the world’s most powerful countries, while Russian President Vladimir Putin, guilty of the exact same indifference towards the forest wildfires raging over what, as the map suggests, is a much larger area in Siberia and the Russian Far East, has been criticized only by Greenpeace Russia and rank-and-file Russians living in the line of the fires and the enormous smoke clouds generated by them.

What has Putin ever done to deserve this indulgence?

When you have puzzled that one out, try and explain how four [ahn-TEE-fuh] musicians from Washington, DC, wrote the anthem for the summer of 2019 way back in 1989, that is, exactly thirty years ago, when many of today’s hottest climate changers were not even a gleam in their parents’ eyes.

Anytime but now
Anywhere but here
Anyone but me
I’ve got to think about my own life

Anytime but now
Anywhere but here
Anyone but me
I’ve got to think about my own life

We are consumed by society
We are obsessed with variety
We are all filled that anxiety
World would not survive

We gotta put it out, put it out, we gotta put it out
The sky is burning
We gotta put it out, we gotta put it out, put it out
The water’s burning
We gotta put it out, put it out, put it out
The earth is burning

Outrage
But then they say…

Anytime but now
Anywhere but here
Anyone but me
I’ve got to think about my own life

Anytime but now
Anywhere but here
Anyone but me
I’ve got to think about my own life

The world is not our facility
We have a responsibility
To use our abilities
To keep this place alive

We gotta put it out, put it out, put it out
The sky is burning
We gotta put it out, we gotta put it out, put it out
The water’s burning
We gotta put it out, put it out, we gotta put it out
The earth is burning

Right here
Right now
Do it
Do it
Now
Do it
Now
Do it
Now
Do it

Lyrics courtesy of Genius.com

“Really Frightening”: Trees Dry Up and Toadstools Vanish in Karelia After Explosion near Severodvinsk

“Really Frightening”: Trees Dry Up and Toadstools Vanish in Karelia After Explosion near Severodvinsk
Guberniya Daily
August 22, 2019

Residents of Karelia’s Kem District have sounded the alarm. Tree in the district have turned yellow and mushrooms have disappeared after the explosion near Severodvinsk, they claim.

“Ten days after [the accident], the vegetation on the islands in the White Sea near the settlement of Rabocheostrovsk took on a very unhealthy appearance. I get the impression the trees, grass, and moss burned flamelessly. Even toadstools and fly agaric, habitues of these locales, have disappeared on the islands. I would like you to clarify whether any tests will be made, what the republic’s government plans to do in general in response to this issue, and how people’s health will be affected,” a user identified as “Irina Kudryashova” wrote in a letter to Karelian Governor Arthur Parfenchikov, which she also posted on the VK wall “City of Kem Public Oversight.

Kudryashova posted the following photos to back up her claims. She also posted a short video entitled “Yak Island Today August 18, 2019.”

In the same thread, someone identified as “Galina Ivankova” wrote that she was “really frightened.”

“Some men from Belomorsk went out to sea, but when they got to Shuyiretskoye there were warships at anchor there and a yellow cloud overhead. They got turned back: they weren’t allowed to go out into the sea. So welcome to Chernobyl Karelia. Thanks to the mad nuclear scientists,” a person identified as “Oleg Bachanov” wrote in another discussion on the same wall.

“The situation is the same on Yak Island: everything withered and dried in no time. In recent years, especially after 2009, I have noticed that, from the north and the northeast, all the woods and grass on the islands look as if they have been covered in brown paint. There are no berries or mushrooms in these patches,” replied a user identified as “Sandro Avtushenko.”

On August 8, a liquid rocket propulsion system exploded during testing on an offshore platform in the Arkhangelsk Region. Eight Rosatom employees [sic] were hurt; five of them were killed. Fearing radiation, residents of Severodvinsk and Arkhangelsk made a run on iodine in pharmacies.

After the explosion, radiation levels were sixteen times higher than normal in Severodvinsk. Higher levels of background radiation were also recorded in Norway a week after the blast.

Translated by the Russian Reader. NB. The original text was heavily edited to reflect the fact that the claims cited in the article were made by four discrete users on a VK community wall in Kem, Republic of Karelia, not by an indefinitely large number of “residents.”

areaThe area of Northwest Russia, encompassing parts of the Republic of Karelia and Arkhangelsk Region, discussed in the article. Image courtesy of Google Maps

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Putin Says No Radiation Threat from Recent Explosion, But Mum on Details of Accident
The Associated Press (via CBC News)
Aug 21, 2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted Wednesday that a recent deadly explosion at a military testing site in northwestern Russia hasn’t posed any radiation threat, but he remained coy about the circumstances of the mysterious incident.

Speaking after talks in Helsinki with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Putin emphasized that neighboring nations haven’t recorded any spike in radioactivity.

“These are the objective data,” he said. “These things can be tracked.”

The Aug. 8 incident at the Russian navy’s range in Nyonoksa on the White Sea killed two servicemen and five nuclear engineers. It was followed by a brief rise in radiation levels in nearby Severodvinsk, but the authorities insisted the recorded levels didn’t pose any danger to local residents.

Russian officials’ changing and contradictory accounts of the incident drew comparisons to Soviet attempts to cover up the 1986 explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

The Russian Defense Ministry at first denied any radiation leak in the incident even as the authorities in nearby Severodvinsk reported a brief rise in radiation levels and advised residents to stay indoors and close the windows. Frightened residents rushed to buy iodine, which can help reduce risks from exposure to radiation.

Russia’s state weather and environmental monitoring agency said the peak radiation reading in Severodvinsk on Aug. 8 was 1.78 microsieverts per hour in just one neighborhood, about 16 times the average. Peak readings in other parts of Severodvinsk varied between 0.45 and 1.33 microsieverts.

The announced peak levels were indeed lower than the cosmic radiation that plane passengers are exposed to on longer flights or doses that patients get during some medical scans.

No detail on weapon tested
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CNTBTO) said earlier this week that several Russian radiation monitoring stations went silent shortly after the explosion in Nyonoksa. Lassina Zebro, the organization’s executive secretary, said Tuesday that the two Russian stations reported to be offline were back in operation and are now backfilling the data.

Observers said that several stations coming offline at the same time appeared to reflect a coordinated effort to conceal the radiation data, which could help identify the technology that was being tested at the time of the explosion.

Putin hailed the victims, saying they were doing “very important work for the nation’s security,” but kept mum on what type of weapon they were testing.

Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom said the explosion occurred on an offshore platform during tests of a “nuclear isotope power source” for a rocket engine, a statement that led some experts to conclude that the weapon undergoing tests was the Burevestnik (Storm Petrel), a prospective nuclear-powered cruise missile first mentioned by Putin in 2018 that was code-named Skyfall by NATO.

U.S. President Donald Trump has backed that theory in a tweet, saying that the U.S. is “learning much” from the deadly explosion. In a tweet, he said, “The Russian Skyfall explosion has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!”

The U.S. worked to develop a nuclear-powered missile in the 1960s under Project Pluto, but abandoned the technology as too unstable and risky.

Putin’s Spectacles of Strength and Security at Home and Abroad

op31-Russia-in-SyriaRamped-up attacks in northwestern Syria by Damascus and its ally Russia have claimed the lives of hundreds since late April. Photo courtesy of AFP and the National

At home and abroad, Russia is using chaos to create spectacles of strength and security
Faisal Al Yafai
The National
July 30, 2019

In two incidents, in the space of one week, the Kremlin has twice sought confrontation where none was needed.

On Tuesday last week, Russia’s fighter jets violated South Korean airspace for several minutes, resulting in a major diplomatic incident as Korean jets fired more than 300 warning shots.

Then, over the weekend in Moscow, thousands of protesters gathered for the second week in a row, sparked by a crude and unnecessary attempt by the municipality to bar independent candidates from the city’s council elections.

Police responded forcefully to the protests, arresting thousands, including Russia’s most high-profile opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, who was imprisoned before being taken to hospital for exposure to an unidentified chemical.

Both situations could have been avoided. Neither were accidents, either. The Kremlin is actively creating confrontations at home and abroad, hoping to find a role in solving the chaos it is sowing.

This was especially clear in the protests.

The spark for the demonstrations came from an unlikely source: a decision by the country’s electoral commission to not allow a series of independent opposition candidates to stand in September’s Moscow city elections. Independent registrations for the elections require several thousand signatures, a usually insurmountable obstacle. But, when two dozen opposition candidates managed it, the electoral commission simply refused to register them.

These elections, it should be noted, are not for the city’s mayoralty, an important position. Instead, they are for seats on the city council, a much smaller prize.

But, even on something that barely matters, the Kremlin is determined to show its power, and show it in a way that demonstrates overt and public contempt for the election process. It is that sense, that Russia’s government is willing to publicly violate the rules, which pushed so many to protest.

That desire to flex the country’s muscles was also on show last week.

In a murky incident, Russian planes flew without warning through airspace where Seoul requires foreign aircraft to provide air identification, and then further violated the country’s air space. South Korean jets tracked the military aircraft and a volley of warning shots were fired.

On the surface, it seems bizarre to provoke South Korea, a country with which Russia has maintained good relations. However, the East China Sea is heavily contested. It was only last month, after all, that Russian and US warships almost collided in the waters below where the incident took place.

Under Vladimir Putin’s two decades of leadership, the role of the Russian state has shrunk. Although he often harks back to the glory days of the Soviet Union, in fact, the Russian state today does substantially less for citizens than its predecessor. Most housing is owned by private companies and landlords.* The idea that the state would provide the “flat, car and dacha” of Soviet lore is long gone.

Instead, Mr. Putin offers security and spectacle. He creates an idea of a world in turmoil, which only his government is able to defend ordinary Russians from, and offers visible displays of the protection he provides.

The intervention in Syria amply demonstrates this. First, the necessity of intervention, of Russia’s forces fighting beyond their country’s borders to stop a threat to the homeland. Second, the spectacle of a train full of tanks and guns looted from the Syrian battlefield touring the length and breadth of Russia, often accompanied by Soviet war songs.

There is no room for subtlety, either. The train departed from Moscow on a military holiday and returned on May 8, Victory Day in Russia, which commemorates the end of the Soviet war against Nazi Germany.

Mr. Putin behaves similarly on a personal level. On the same day as the street protests in Moscow, he was filmed descending in a two-man submarine to the bottom of the Gulf of Finland. In doing so, he projected himself as a strongman politician, able to control the unstable forces of the world by pure brawn and daring.

The Putin state needs these spectacles and this chaos, whether on Russia’s streets or beyond them. They demonstrate to a watching world a Russia that is more than a regional power, one that is a global player, able to cause global incidents from Salisbury through Syria, and on to South Korea. They also demonstrate to the Russian public that only the state can keep them safe.

With a weakened economy, poor relations with the West, and a war in Syria that drags on without end, the Kremlin is setting up clashes to create a place for itself at home and abroad.

Yet there is a danger in manufacturing conflicts because they can easily escalate out of hand. Even small skirmishes have the potential to expand unpredictably.

There was, for example, no guarantee that the South Korean incident would have ended peacefully. One miscalculation by either side in the skies above the Korean Peninsula, and there could have been serious consequences.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Mr. Navalny has been taken ill and his doctors believe he could have been poisoned. What started as a minor attempt to exclude candidates from a meaningless election has escalated first into the biggest street protests the Russian capital had seen in years, and the world watching to see whether an opposition politician had been brazenly poisoned in custody.

That is the problem with chaos: once unleashed, it is difficult for anyone, even the Russian state, to bring under control.

* This is the only false note in an otherwise powerful, impeccable analysis. Given the extraordinarily high number of Russians who own their own flats and dachas, legacies of the post-perestroika giveaway privatization of the country’s housing stock and the late-Soviet period, respectively, it seems dubious to claim, as Mr. Yafai does here, that landlords and private companies own most of the housing in Russia. Maybe this would prove true if we looked carefully at ownership statistics, but I am nearly certain Mr. Yafai has not done that. // TRR

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UN reports 400,000 Syrians displaced since Idlib offensive started in April
Deutsche Welle
July 26, 2019

The UN says there has been a “dramatic escalation” in violence since Syrian forces started an operation to retake Idlib province. Human rights chief Michelle Bachelet regretted “international indifference.”

More than 400,000 people have been displaced in northwestern Syria since the start of a government offensive to retake the region in late April, the United Nations said Friday.

David Swanson from the UN’s humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) said more than 2,700 people have died during the “dramatic escalation” in violence in Idlib province.

Russia has been helping government forces loyal to President Bashar Assad with airstrikes, despite an international truce.

UN reports persistent pattern against civilians

UN Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet criticized “international indifference” at the number of civilians dying in attacks on schools, hospitals, and other civilian targets.

“These are civilian objects, and it seems highly unlikely, given the persistent pattern of such attacks, that they are all being hit by accident,” she said.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had registered 39 attacks on health facilities and at least 50 attacks on schools. More than 740 civilians have been killed in those strikes, it added.

Intentional attacks are war crimes

“Intentional attacks against civilians are war crimes, and those who have ordered them or carried them out are criminally responsible for their actions,” Bachelet said.

Forces loyal to Assad have retaken around two-thirds of Syria’s territory.

The country’s civil war has claimed the lives of more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it began in 2011.