Alexander Morozov: The Price Russia Has Paid for Crimea

krym nashGraffiti and counter-graffiti on the parapet of a bridge over the River Spree in downtown Berlin, March 8, 2019. By changing a single letter in the spelling of “Crimea,” “Polina, Lera, German, Roma, Arina, and Vlad” reasserted that “Crimea is ours,” i.e., it belongs to Україна (“Ukraine” in Ukrainian, not Russian), on January 28, 2019. Photo by the Russian Reader

The Price Russia Has Paid for Crimea
Alexander Morozov
New Times
March 11, 2019

The five years that have followed the events of 2014, regardless of whether you refer to those events as annexation, the Russian spring, a Putinist coup, reunification, a homecoming, an historic choice and so on, have emerged as a whole set of consequences powerful in terms of determining history, having a lasting influence, and shaping Russia as a whole, that is, impacting Russian domestic politics, the Russian economy, and the self-awareness of large segments of the Russian populace. These consequences have generated “another Russia,” a country different from the one that existed in reality and people’s minds throughout the previous stages of its post-Soviet progress.

Destroying Eurasianism
Early Putinism was drive by the integration of so-called Eurasia, i.e., the former Soviet republics. Nursultan Nazarbayev, president for life of Kazakhstan, was the man behind political Eurasianism, as we know. During the Yeltsin administration, Moscow was indifferent to the concept. Later, however, the idea that Russia was Eurasia’s leader was made basic Kremlin doctrine.

Moscow’s actions in this respect were alternately gentle and crude, but generally its policies were seen as rational, as attuned to the region’s economic growth and security.

The Crimean adventure completely gutted the Eurasianist policy. It managed to frighten such stalwarts of Eurasian integration as Belarus and Kazakhstan. At the same time, it put paid to notions of “Slavic unity” and inevitably provoked an assault on the so-called canonical geographical domain of the Russian Orthodox Church.

As long as the logbook contained only one point, the war with Georgia, we could say it had been an extravagance. But the occupation of Crimea was the second point, which could be joined in a straight line with the first.  The Kremlin abandoned its policy of cultural and economic expansion, pursuing instead a police of aggression, bullying, and crude displays of superiority.

Not a single neighboring country has recognized Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation. Consequently, Russia has symbolically transitioned from Eurasia to solitude. Putin abandoned Eurasia, going over its head to engage in various unilateral actions in the far abroad. Although Russian university lecturers habitually still rattle on about Eurasianism, the occupation of Crimea has meant that Kremlin, like Zarathustra, has climbed to the top of an imaginary mountain peak, whence it transmits its rhetorical messages, addressed to the void.

Warring with the West
The occupation of Crimea has meant that, since 2014, the perpetual cold war with the west has taken on a more heated, hysterical tone than under the communists in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. During one of his last interviews, in 2014, the late former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, an imperialist politician if there ever was one, said, “Television has been laying it on thick. The propaganda [on Russian TV] suggests we are preparing the populace for war.”

Before the occupation of Crimea, between 2007 and 2014, the period following Putin’s Munich speech, the Kremlin made numerous demands on the west, reacted harshly to any criticism of its polices and actions by international institutions, and sometimes made rather abrupt diplomatic moves. But the word “rivalry” still described all these things. The occupation of Crimea shifted relations with the west into another stage of aggregation known as hybrid war.

The term is quite obviously inaccurate, like any other term containing the adjective “hybrid.” But the key word in the phrase is “war.” It does not matter whether we believe the Kremlin has been conducting a well-conceived and well-coordinated war based more on the power of networks and the internet than brute force or whether we think the degree of coordination has been exaggerated. All observers have argued that the numerous discrete incidents paint a picture of a networked war against liberal democracy, the preparatory stages of a major war to redraw the world’s geopolitical spheres of influence or an attempt to provoke the United States. The occupation of Crimea put Moscow’s relations with the west on a different conflictual footing.

Transparency
The occupation of Crimea has made everything the Kremlin does automatically malicious, so that between 2014 and 2019 the notion of what the Russian presence means has changed completely. Nowadays, everyone looks for Russian fingerprints everywhere. This means that, as in the recent Troika Dialog money laundering scandal, very old deals and transactions are reviewed as well. Russia’s communications with the rest of the world have come under a spotlight, they have been run through an x-ray machine. Things previously regarded as dubious but acceptable have suddenly gone toxic. The Kremlin has gone from being a partner, albeit a problematic one, to a keeper of rat holes and catacombs. Foreign intelligence agencies, financial monitoring bodies, and reporters are now busy, as they once were with the Islamic presence in Europe, segregating what used to be considered the harmless Russian presence as something automatically toxic. However, the hot zone, meaning the people and entities found to have connections with the Kremlin and its malignant plans, has been expanding continuously for the last five years. Clearly, this investigatory work has not reached the midway point. The exposure of the Kremlin will continue for a long time to come.

Sanctions and Consolidating the Elite
The main outcome of international sanctions has been that the truly powerful segment of the Putinist elite has been professionally recounted. Before Crimea was occupied, people also had notions of who was a member of Putin’s inner circle, and they traced the orbits of his clients. But these speculations were a matter for experts and were thus open to debate. Everything has now fallen into place, which is quite important symbolically. The key personal positions of the players who vigorously went on the hybrid warpath are not just represented in political consultant Yevgeny Minchenko’s periodic “Politburo” reports or some murky media rating of the “100 Most Influential Politicians in Russia,” in which actual stakeholders are confused with officials who have no access to real resources. All of them have now been posted on the world’s bulletin board.

The sanctions have also caused the Russian elite to consolidate. Putin’s dependence on the elite has increased, and the so-called collective Putin has stopped being a metaphor, becoming a specific list of people. Of course, Russia’s history is not predetermined: history consists of twists and turns. But the actual collective Putin’s moves are predetermined, of course. The occupation of Crimea made it impossible for it to change course. At each new fork in the road, the collective Putin must turn towards further escalation, while Putin himself can no longer pull the emergency brake.

Novorossiya
Through the post-Soviet period, Moscow relied on the basic notion that there were two Ukraines, left-bank Ukraine and right-bank Ukraine. It was simply regarded as a fact that, in particular, gave rise to various “cultural” and “humanitarian” undertakings, for example, the long involvement in Crimea of ex-Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov and his people.

The occupation of Crimea, however, produced a monstrous historical about-face. In order to pull off its seizure of Crimea, the Kremlin had to support the so-called Novorossiya campaign to divide Ukraine, which has now gone down in Eastern European history. There is no argument that would make these events look any less inglorious than the partition of Poland and the occupation of the Baltic countries. Whatever history holds in story for Crimea, the Kremlin’s outright malevolence towards a neighboring people in the twenty-first century has been recorded in big black letters. The Novorossiya campaign has meant that all elements of the Kremlin’s earlier policies towards Ukraine have inevitably been reexamined. In the light of latter events, they now appear to be only parts of a plan to invade Ukraine.

Intellectual Perversion
Crimea is the poison that for five years has been continuously injected in small doses into the entire system of education and culture in Russia, as well as the mundane ways the country argues about its national identity. The media constantly have to devise, spread, and discuss on talk shows different fallacious grounds for occupying Crimea. This lie has had to be incorporated into school textbooks, movie plots, the system of legal training for civil servants, and all the pores and crevices of public space.

Russian society cannot live with the thought it unjustly annexed part of another country, and it has an even harder time admitting that it has been complicit in the attempt to partition Ukraine.

It has thus been necessary to engage in nonstop production of the rhetorical glue that kept the textbook The History of the Soviet Communist Party from falling to shreds during the late-Soviet period, i.e., the solid, ornate lie that was meant to show the rightness of the party line despite the endless mistakes and violence.

This intellectual perversion itself turns into a huge machine that latter cannot be extracted from the state apparatus without damaging the entire system. The lie machine and the state come to be equated, meaning Crimea has been inflating like a bubble inside the system. It cannot be localized. Every day it dispatches cancer cells in all directions within the tissue of state and society.

What is next? The five post-Crimean years have been much to short a historic period to make generalizations. It is clear, however, that if Putin had not seized Crimea and then organized the Novorossiya campaign, it is scary to imagine the wonderful chances he and his gang of stakeholders would have had at increasing their influence unchecked in a world encumbered by Trumpism and a Europe weakened by Brexit. But now Putinism is not merely a cowboy, but a horse rustler.

Therefore, international crises and growing uncertainty do not work in favor of the Putinists, although they do fool themselves when it comes to uncertainty, trying every which way to manufacture it themselves. The Putin gang will never try and play nice again. Any way you slice it, Russia will ultimately have to show the world another gang, because the current gang has proven incapable of accommodating itself to Russia’s long-term place in the world.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin and Alexander Etkind for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Moscow: Migrants, Newcomers and Nomads

Burrow City versus Hipster Urbanism
Sociologist Victor Vakhshtayn on why Moscow is a metropolis for newcomers
Viktoria Kuzmenko
August 1, 2015
Lenta.ru

Why do Moscow residents not trust each other? Why do they not want to live here? Why is Moscow still “rubbery”? Who perverted the concept of hipster urbanism and why? Lenta.ru discussed this with Viktor Vakhshtayn, director of the Centre for Sociological Research at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) in Moscow and a professor at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences[.]

You have repeatedly said that one percent of the population in Moscow trusts each other, meaning this is a society of mutual distrust. But what is Moscow really like in terms of interpersonal communication?

Victor Vakhshtayn: When sociologists talk about interpersonal communication in cities they usually mention two interrelated topics.

The first is the problem of public spaces, places where urbanites meet face to face. It is thought that such spaces shapes the identity of the city, because this is where its inhabitants face each other not as colleagues, friends or drinking buddies, but namely as urbanites. In Moscow, (as, indeed, in many large Russian cities), the problem of public spaces is very serious. In recent decades, they have either been privatized and redeveloped or strategically destroyed. The example of Moscow’s Manege Square, a source of constant concern for the authorities, is telling in this instance. When the Okhotny Ryad shopping center was being designed, the architects were tasked with making it impossible for large numbers of people to gather in this space. The problem was solved elegantly. The square was made the roof of the [underground] shopping center, which, however, did not prevent protesters from spontaneously mobilizing a few years ago.

A city that has no public spaces is rigidly divided into home, work, and transit. Your life is divided among apartment, office, and subway, car or commuter train. Hence the horror of the entryways in Russian apartment buildings, and the specific perception of the city that architects dub “burrowness.” (Bedroom communities are containers for burrows, and the subway is the crossing point between apartment-as-burrow and office-as-burrow.)

Things packed for moving, outside the entrance of a residential house on the outskirts of Moscow. Photo: Grigory Sobchenko/Kommersant

In recent years, much has been done in Moscow to bring public spaces back to life, but now the process of revitalization have stalled. We partly have ourselves to blame: the theme of public space very quickly began to be perceived à la the hipster urbanism of Richard Florida and Jan Gehl, meaning in terms of things like bike lanes, lawns for doing yoga, and eating cotton candy outdoors. The people who returned public spaces as a focus of discussion and planning preferred not to recall that the prototype of such spaces is not the promenade, but the Greek agora and the Roman Forum. Khimki Forest and the field in Troparevo-Nikulino are much more public spaces than Sokolniki Park.

But what about local communities?

The problem of local communities is the second talking point about communication in the city. Two thirds of Moscow’s permanent residents were not born here. More than half of them do not own their own dwellings. The average apartment rental lasts between two and three years. In other words, this is a city of nomads constantly on the move between rented encampments and the steppes of the office blocks. That is why it is nearly impossible to answer a seemingly simple question: how many people live in Moscow? According to official statistics, the figure is twelve and a half million people. But economists have calculated that twenty million people consume food daily in Moscow. It is hardly the case that twelve million people are eating for twenty million.

So the argument that Moscow is overpopulated has to be corrected. The nomads have not overpopulated the steppe. At worst, they have trampled it.

The metaphor of a city of nomads also nicely describes Moscow’s relations with the surrounding areas. When Pavel Stepantsov and I attempted to measure the density of social ties in Moscow and Moscow Region, we discovered that an alienation belt had formed round Moscow. In the surrounding towns, no urban life as such is left. Moscow attracts all the resources (primarily, of course, human resources).

So talking about local communities, as urbanists in Moscow like to do, is just ridiculous in such circumstances. As recent studies by the Moscow Institute of Sociocultural Programs (MISCP) have shown, local ties and identities have been preserved primarily in New Moscow and Zelenograd Administrative District. But these are the areas that are the least urbanized.

Photo: Sergei Kovalyov/Russian Look

The price for the nomadic lifestyle is people’s total mistrust of each other and the place where they live. Moscow is a rare metropolis where parents see their children to the subway and ask them to call when they get downtown. People see their own neighborhoods as more dangerous than the city center, although statistics show the exact opposite: most crimes are committed in the central districts. According to our study “Eurobarometer in Russia” (RANEPA) and the latest research by MISCP, half of Muscovites do not know the neighbors on their landing, much less in their stairwell. More than sixty percent believe that returning home late at night is either dangerous or very dangerous. About a quarter of the Russian population believe that people are not such malevolent creatures, and they can generally be trusted, but in Moscow this figure tends toward zero. (More precisely, only one percent of Muscovites believe people can be trusted.)

Hence the expectations for courtyard culture and local communities as little factory for the production of trust in the city. The argument that we need to work with local communities has become the new ideological cliché (like a few years earlier the argument that we had to make this city an interesting place to live). But I would caution against such community optimism. City and neighborhood are antonyms. As a final illustration, I can give you fresh data from MISCP’s project “Mechanics of Moscow.” It turned out that people feel anxious about their places of residence if they don’t know any of their neighbors by sight and have no acquaintances living in the neighborhoods. The feeling of insecurity wanes if they recognizer neighbors by site and develop a few weak, friendly ties. But when strong ties of friendship emerge in people’s habitat and their number grows, the feeling of insecurity and mistrust of the area is again high. When neighbors and friends are the same people, it is the first sign of ghettoization. In the end, the urban community’s ultimate is the ghetto, not the courtyard.

As a person who considers himself a Muscovite, you think that twelve to twenty million residents is a normal figure for Moscow and doesn’t need to be reduced, that the city and its transport system can serve so many people?

Again, nomads cannot overpopulate the steppe. If you cannot say for sure whether twelve or twenty million people live here, it is strange to speak of overpopulation. Is twelve million people a lot? What about eleven million? How many people is normal? At what point does it begin to be a lot?

It’s not a matter of infrastructure or service, but the impact people make. The economic rise of Moscow in the 2000s was in part an effect of its overcrowding and hyperconcentration of resources.

Photo: Sergei Kovaylov/Russian Look

Okay, your stance on the issue of the number of people living in Moscow is clear. But this raises another topic: the capital’s population is constantly increasing. You yourself mentioned the economic upturn of the 2000s was triggered by the influx of new people in the city. Hence the conclusion: if Russia has this center of gravity that is constantly growing, is it worth leaving everything as it is and keep expanding the city? And then everyone will want to move to Moscow, it will expand, and in thirty years or so, it will be twice as big. In this case, is a metropolis where, thirty years from now, forty million people, for example, a problem? And is it necessary to address this issue, for example, by moving some administrative offices and headquarters of major companies, developing other cities, and making them more appealing places to live?

That’s a good question. But first, let’s deal with the economic history. There was an American urban planner Robert Moses, to whom we owe much of the look of modern New York and the whole despised ideology of modernist urbanism. Moses was a bit like a New York Luzhkov, but with a better understanding of the urban economy. He understood that the main competitive advantage of the metropolis is the hyperconcentration of heterogeneous resources in a limited area. His idols were the density, speed, and mobility that make the city a “growth machine.” The more human, economic, administrative, and cognitive resources  are compressed in one place, the higher the return, the faster the pace of urban development.

Now let me digress a bit. In 1997, a UK parliamentary committee led by Ron Dearing tried to answer the question of why Scottish universities were consistently outperforming English universities on all fronts. It turned out their competitive advantage was historical: the first (“ancient”) universities of Scotland—Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, and St Andrews—were founded as centers of English political influence, and hence they were built in the major cities of the time. Conversely, the English universities of Cambridge and Oxford were established far from the bustle of the city, in the image of the monasteries. When rapid industrialization kicked off in the nineteenth century, urban universities stood to gain due to their location. They become resources for the economic growth of their host cities, and the cities, resources for their development. This is why ideology of hyperconcentration—having the all universities, factories, people, money, and power in one place—is not so absurd and outdated an idea as it might seem to a normal person.

Moscow today is a hypermobile city, 1870s Edinburgh and 1950s New York at the same time. I hesitate to say 1930s Vienna, although in some respects, this parallel is also not without grounds. The city’s economic growth in recent decades is not so much the cause as a consequence of the influx of migrants. Moreover, the migrants are very different: they include qualified young professionals willing to work for thirteen to fourteen hours a day to pay for food and rent, and unskilled migrant workers, who have become targets of exploitation unknown in Marx’s time. People who with a contemptuous grimace hold forth today about the “problem of migration” are usually the same people whose incomes and rapid career growth have been secured by the influx of migrants, who took the jobs they otherwise would have had to take.

Photo: Dmitry Dukhanin/Kommersant

Decentralizing Moscow is not just a utopia. It is a dystopia for a city that is a melting pot of people, money, power, and knowledge. As long it is being stoked with firewood, it can afford to grow. Forty million? Even fifty million people is possible if nothing changes. But change is inevitable. It can be triggered by both internal and external factors.

The external factors are more or less clear, and we are now seeing their effect on the city’s economy. The internal changes begin with the question, What it is like to live in a melting pot? What is it like to raise children and ensure a decent life for elderly parents in a melting pot? When such issues arise, then the stage of economic history in which the city is a machine of economic development is over.

Rising prosperity has side effects such as increased expectations for the quality of the urban environment. People no longer want to live and die in an office or on a construction site. The above-mentioned “Eurobarometer in Russia,” recorded an interesting effect two years ago: Moscow’s appeal had begun to rapidly decline, and within Moscow even more rapidly than outside Moscow. A rather remarkable group of potential migrants who put the quality of the urban environment above economic opportunities had taken shape. Economist Sergei Guriev and I then came up with a project: calculating the value of the ruble in Moscow. Because if you make money in a city where you don’t want to spend it, if you feel deeply unhappy and leave whenever possible (for example, on the weekend) for somewhere far away, it is possible that at some point you would prefer to make less money but in better conditions. And then the Moscow ruble is worth less than, for example, . the Petersburg  ruble. Alas, for obvious reasons [Sergei Guriev’s emigration from Russia – Lenta.ru], the project has not been implemented.

This, then, is an interesting point. If the capital’s appeal is shrinking, the quality of the urban environment does not satisfy people, could Moscow in thirty years become a city for migrants only? As you say, one big office, only on a larger scale, where the houses have been turned into dormitories for workers and employees, and Muscovites themselves, no longer wishing to live in this office, en masse become rentiers and depart, for example, to comfortable suburban agglomerations or Thailand? Many are already doing this now. Will Moscow 2045 be a city unfit for normal life?

No, of course not. By 2045, Moscow will be radically decentralized. All the organs of state power will have been transferred to Petersburg and Vladivostok. Left without work, migrants will disperse to other cities and countries, and the residential areas, inhabited mainly by indigenous Muscovites, will all fit inside the Boulevard Ring. People will again visit each other at home and move around the city on foot.

But what will be left for them to do when unemployment is at seventy percent? By the way, there is a remarkable study, done at Columbia University, on how the pace at which men and women walked changed when there was mass unemployment. It was found that during the most severe years of the Great Depression in the United States, men began to walk more slowly around the city, and women, more quickly. Because women, unlike men, did not have less to d0.

Town-planning scale model of Moscow at the VDNKh. Photo: Vasily Shaposhnikov/Kommersant

Both scenarios we have described, yours and mine, are probably products of a morbid Muscovite imagination and have little to do with the urban reality. But yours is more realistic, with suburban Moscow dachas playing the role of Thailand, bedroom districts standing in for workers hostels, and the very meaning of normal life in the metropolis rapidly mutating. It is this situation that brought the ideology of hipster urbanism, probably the best thing that has happened with Moscow in recent years, onto the scene. But this is a separate and a slightly sad story.

I will elaborate on the topic by mentioning two talking points. The first is changing perceptions of law enforcement under these circumstance. According to “Eurobarometer in Russia,” forty-three percent of Moscow residents believe that “the police are a threat to ordinary people, perpetrating lawlessness and violence.” (Fifty-one percent of respondents hold the opposite opinion). This is even more than in the Republic of Dagestan (34%), which holds the second place in our sample.

Another talking point is who in Moscow feels most like Muscovites. According to our data, it is not people who were born in Moscow, but those who came here over ten years ago. They have the strongest Muscovite identity. They are the most active users of the city (from museums and exhibitions to citywide celebrations). It is they, rather than the notorious hipsters, who have shown the most lively response to transformations of the urban environment in recent years.

The main thing to remember is that these people arrived in Moscow ten to twenty years ago not for a “normal” life but for the sake of self-realization. And it is they who now define Moscow.

I understand that you are not a big fan of hipster urbanism. What is bad about it?

To be honest, today I regret that a few years ago I came up with the phrase hipster urbanism. Then it was necessary to more accurately capture the object of our study: the impact on specific urban spaces of the metaphor of the city as a stage, which had gained a foothold in the language of policy makers and officials. I naively supposed that if this concept were terminologically defined in an academic paper, the risk of erosion would be minimal. However, the phrase hipster urbanism caught on first as a cliché in critical journalism, then as a self-designation. Sergei Kapkov [Moscow’s former culture head] then decided to give a lecture on hipster urbanism. Some people in Samara, responsible for the reconstruction of the embankment, authoritatively reported they were working in terms of hipster urbanism. These words can stand for anything today. They do not refer to anything specific and only vaguely link Kapkov’s Moscow and abstract hipsters in a loose associative unity.

Photo: Konstantin Kokoshkin/Russian Look

Essentially, the modern city is less an arena where social groups, stable community or collective agents clash, and more an arena where languages, models of representation, and different urban ideologies clash. The metaphor of the city is the hard core of ideology; it determines how people see urban space, and what decisions they take in regard to it. Imagine officials from two rival departments at a planning meeting on “mayor’s Tuesday” dealing with city parks. For the some of them, the city is a giant organism in which the parks have been the given the place of “green lungs.” The parks are tasked with producing oxygen. Accordingly, they should be financed in terms of the number of green spaces. For the other officials, parks are public spaces, the city’s “stages.” And they should be financed according to the number of activities staged there, the number of people who attended them, and the public eventfulness they generate. The conflict of metaphors will have real consequences for the city.

At some point, the hipster metaphors—city as stage, city as generator of experiences, city as a set of events—suddenly comes into competition with the two Big City metaphors of the twentieth century: city as growth machine (modernist urbanism) and city as generator of inequality (Marxist urbanism). Moreover, in Moscow the hipster ideology beat out the other ways of thinking about the city for a short period. This is a very curious phenomenon that remains to be researched.

My criticism of hipster urbanism concerned the rhetorical strategies it employed (the way it substituted societal [obshchestvennye] spaces with “public” [publichnye] spaces, its use of vague clichés like creative class and livability), its blind spots (its inability to discuss, for example, migration), and its superficiality and unbending utopianism.

But today, it must be recognized, it is a quite workable ideology that changed the look of the city. Now, when a very different rhetoric and semantics has engrossed the minds of city managers, hipster urbanism looks like the last conquest of public policy. It reminds us of those glorious times when decisions were still determined by the clash of metaphors and ways of thinking, and even city managers needed to answer the question, What is a city?

Under these new cultural circumstances, I will defend the achievements of hipster urbanism to the last.

People relaxing on Olive Beach in Gorky Park. Photo: Alexander Miridonov/Kommersant

How do you think the city has changed under the impact of newcomers from the Russian provinces and migrants?

That is a funny way of putting the question. You used the words migrants (apparently from Central Asia) and newcomers (apparently from the provinces). I do not want to upset you, but the newcomers are also migrants, and the migrants are also newcomers. And, given the statistics I cited above, the category of migrants and newcomers must encompass two thirds of the adult population of Moscow, including the Russian president and the mayor of the capital. I find it difficult to answer the question of how their migration has impacted the image of our city.

In general, the notion of the city and migrants as two opposing forces (something like the Eternal City of Rome and the barbarians besieging it) is mistaken, to put it mildly. Because the city equals migration. This just applies to Moscow a bit more than to other Russian metropolises.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade ASK for the heads-up.