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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
January 6, 2016

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Kadyrov’s Public Shaming of His Opponents Beginning to Backfire, Memorial Says
Staunton, VA, January 7, 2016 -- Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov has already attracted attention for his calls to hold the relatives of those who protest against his regime criminally responsible for the actions of their family members. But he has also sought to exploit the importance of family ties among Chechens in another way: by public attacking and seeking to shame his critics.

In the short term, the Memorial Human Rights Center says, this method of dealing with dissent in Chechnya is relatively effective precisely because of “the very large role family ties play."

But in the last two months at least, this method has begun to backfire because many family members are outraged at the ways in which the Kadyrov regime is responding to what they see as the expression of entirely legitimate concerns. And like many elsewhere, they are taking to the Internet to express their anger.

As a result, Memorial concludes on the basis of its analysis of several recent cases and the reaction they have sparked that Kadyrov is multiplying the enemies he faces by angering not just those who have originally complained but their extended families and teips as well, something that may presage more problems ahead for his rule.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Patriarch Kirill Names Lay Expert Who has Equated Liberalism and Nazism to Replace Chaplin
Staunton, VA, January 6, 2016 -- Moscow Patriarch Kirill has given Russian Christians on this holy day a clear indication of his intentions for the future: he has appointed Aleksandr Shchipkov, a lay expert who has equated liberalism with Nazism to be the first deputy chairman of the synod’s department for relations of the church with society and the media.

Two weeks ago, Kirill dismissed his longtime protégé Vsevolod Chaplin as head of the synod’s department for relations with society and announced that that department was being folded into another one headed by Vladimir Legoida, sparking concerns among some that the Patriarchate was going to become less active in this area.

But the latest move suggests that Kirill may have used the excuse of bureaucratic reorganization to oust Chaplin and that in fact he intends to be even more active in this public space than before, given that the new appointee will occupy the first deputy’s position in Legoida’s fiefdom.

This move is being welcomed by Russian Orthodox nationalists like the editors of Russkaya Narodnaya Liniya, who in a statement today indicate that their concerns about the consequences of Chaplin’s firing were overstated and that Shchipkov can be counted on to pursue the same line.

They say that Kirill’s decision to name Shchipkov thus constitutes “an important appointment” and that they are entirely happy with it. But if that wing of the Russian Orthodox Church is pleased, others are likely to be less so given the nationalist, traditionalist, and anti-liberal views Shchipkov has repeated advanced in the last several years.

Shchipkov, 58, is the director of the Moscow Center for Social Research, a longtime advisor to the Moscow Patriarchate, a sociologist of religion and a specialist on church-state relations. Among his recent publications, all in Russian, are the following:

The Turning Point (about the Justice of Tradition)” (2013; text

In all these places, he advances a commitment to radical traditionalism and to a future path for Russia that many would call at best obscurantist. But Shchipkov’s views are perhaps most clearly expressed in two recent interviews in the Moscow media.

In April 2015, he told Izvestiya that liberalism is the same as fascism; and a little earlier, he remarked to Literaturnaya Gazeta that “the liberal establishment has crossed a red line and that if you consider yourself an intelligent [member of the intelligentsia], you cannot be a liberal."

Such attitudes and the appointment to a senior Patriarchate position of someone who holds them do not bode well for either the Russian Church or Russia more generally.
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Moscow Must Learn From Five Greatest Historical Mistakes of Russian Leaders, Yevdokimov Says
Staunton, VA, January 6, 2016 -- Svobodnaya pressa commentator Aleksandr Yevdokimov says that it is not secret that Russians “love to ascribe their problems to others,” especially with regard to international affairs given that Russia always has and always will face foreign threats given its immense size and wealth of natural resources.

But unfortunately, he continues, many of Russia’s most serious problems have been and are now the result of “crude mistakes” by its rulers, mistakes that must be acknowledged, avoided in the future and, whenever possible, corrected particularly when as now the country is in crisis.

The commentator points to five such “historical mistakes” by Russian rulers, and both his selection and his remarks about each are suggestive of the policy directions he believes current Russian rulers should avoid and even more important should take in order to win out in the international environment.

The first of these mistakes, he suggests, was the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867, a decision taken by the tsar as part of his effort to find allies after the disastrous Crimean War but one that deprived Russia of an important economic and political base on the North American continent.

This act of “state treason,” Yevdokimov results, was visible as such at the time, but it has become even clearer since then given the rise of the US as an enemy of Russia, its exploitation of Alaska’s wealth against Russia and its positioning of American missiles on the territory of that state.

The second of these five historical mistakes, he continues, was the refusal of the tsarist regime to conclude a separate peace with Germany in the first years of World War I, despite the efforts of Grigory Rasputin to get Nicholas II to do just that. Had Russia done so, it would have lost something but nothing nearly as much as it did by not taking that step.

The third mistake was Stalin’s failure to recognize that Hitler would attack the USSR in 1941. The Soviet leader assumed that Hitler wouldn’t do so and thus continued to fulfill the provisions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact right up to the eve of the German invasion, sending supplies west as Hitler sent his armies east.

Stalin and Molotov “seriously believed all those fairytales” that Hitler told them, Yevdokimov says, a warning about putting too much confidence in the words of any foreign leader.

The fourth mistake was Mikhail Gorbachev’s agreement to the reunification of Germany “without precise guarantees” that NATO would not expand to the east. Such arrangements could have been made, the commentator suggests, pointing to the arrangements for Austrian neutrality prior to Soviet withdrawal in 1955.

And the first case, he continues, involves “the conduct of the market course in the economy of the Russian Federation under conditions of the currently rapid worsening of the international situation.” Moscow is pursuing an “unnatural combination” of market-based ideas even as it claims to be defending the country’s state interests.

That is reflected above all in the “paradoxical” situation under which Moscow is putting its money in the bonds of foreign states even when those states, like the US, are pursuing a policy directed against Russia and in which the country is promoting markets when everything dictates the need for a state-organized economy.

“How can one conduct a liberal course which presupposes privatization and an uncontrolled currency market and hope with this for the concentration of the efforts of the entire society for ensuring a high level of defense capability”? he asks rhetorically, suggesting that no one “will be able to respond” to that.

Under current conditions of ever greater threat, Yevdokimov continues, “the country must shift to a mobilizational model of development whether anyone likes this or not.”

“No one ever will be ensured against mistakes and miscalculations,” he concludes, but everyone who cares about the future must learn from and try to correct them rather than deny their role in the current crisis.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Moscow Patriarchate Church in Ukraine Headed Toward the Dustbin of History, Chapnin Says
Staunton, VA, January 6, 2016 -- The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is headed toward disintegration, and the only question is whether Moscow will simply watch as this happens or take the lead in organizing this change, according to Sergey Chapnin, who was recently fired as editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Patriarch Kirill fears this because the loss of his church’s Ukrainian branch will not only mean that the Moscow Patriarchate will lose many of its bishoprics and parishes but also much of its influence and because he will then “go down in history” as the Russian churchman who lost Ukraine, Chapnin says.

But the looming loss of Patriarchal churchs in Ukraine is interrelated with two other problems that Kirill has in fact created: the overly rapid expansion of bishoprics in Russia which has led to bureaucratism and degeneration and the acceptance of the Soviet past by the church which has led to “Orthodoxy without God,” the Russian version of a civic religion.

Much of this has been hidden in recent years, Chapnin says, because of Kirill’s insistence on loyalty and obedience; but the firing of Vsevolod Chaplin and his own dismissal, Chapnin says, are opening the floodgates of criticism not just of Kirill but of the Russian Church itself, something that will lead to many changes and may make recovery possible.

Thirty years ago, Chapnin says, Kirill himself was someone who campaigned for changes in the Russian Orthodox Church because he recognized that “Orthodox consciousness had been frozen in Soviet times and the Orthodox themselves had been kept in isolation.” He wanted to change that and was even viewed as the supporter of “dangerous” ideas.

And at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, there seemed to be “a certain chance” that the church would come together and take advantage of all the new opportunities that the end of the communist regime gave it, the ousted editor says. But “unfortunately, all this ended in 1994 at a conference when Father Georgy Kochetkov and his community were condemned for ‘liberal experiments.’”

At that time, then-Metropolitan Kirill was harshly criticized by Russian Orthodox nationalists, the same group that now celebrate him in all ways given that he has changed sides from the reformers to that of the conservative and come to share their view that everything is a battle between “us” and “them.”

Now, the results of Kirill’s turn to the right are coming home to roost, Chapnin says; and he suggests that the meeting of the Synod on December 24 when Chaplin was dismissed marks “the beginning of a settling of accounts of seven years” of Kirill’s patriarchate, a process that will affect both the church inside Russia and abroad.

The most obvious reason for that conclusion, he suggests, is that after a period of enormous bureaucratic growth, the Moscow Patriarchate is having to engage in retrenchment because the resources it had have drawn up – and that development is leading to fights among those within the hierarchy.

Under Kirill, the number of bishops in Russia has more than doubled from approximately 70 to about 200, a reflection of the patriarch’s view that “there should be 100 to 150 parishes” in each bishopric so that “the bishops will be closer to the clergy and to the people.” But things have not worked out as planned.

Part of the reason for that is the diversity of the Russian Federation and the difficulties of drawing church borders different from political ones. But a larger part reflects problems of personnel, Chapnin says. Young men, often with minimal training and experience, all too easily rise to the status of bishop; and many of them are not ready for such positions.

“Almost all the bishops who have been installed over the last six years do not have the necessary experience and habits of administration. Some are learnig but some aren’t.” They need to know both civil and canon law, bookkeeping, and the needs and requirements not only of monks but also of the married clergy.”

And the situation has been made worse by the fact that priests are completely subordinate to the whims of their bishops. They don’t have labor agreements and so can’t go to court. “In fact, this is a kind of slavery. If the bishop is good, this slavery perhaps will remain latent, but if he isn’t, he will pressure priests and parishioners” to extract money from them.

The war in Ukraine has also put pressure on the Moscow Patriarchate, Chapnin says. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate had conducted itself correctly for such a long time that many in Ukraine dropped the qualifier “of the Moscow Patriarchate” and simply referred to it as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

It really was such until recently, “the largest and most authoritative church in Ukraine;” and its canonical subordination to Moscow was “not very essential.” “But after Crimea, a reassessment of the role of the church took place: the non-canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate is now considered the national church, and the UOC-MP is called ‘the Moscow church’” – or more pointedly “'not ours.’”

“The problem of self-identification for Orthodox is a very sharp one,” Chapnin continues. “Even in the UOC-MP, there are many parishes which have ceased to recall the Patriarch of Moscow in the liturgy.” And a week ago, the UOC-MP officially and “unexpectedly” declared that its priests have “the right not to honor Patriarch Kirill in this way.”

According to Chapnin, “this is one of the signs of a serious geopolitical catastrophe for the church,” especially since it is now clear that “Moscow cannot in any way influence the situation in Ukraine” and is increasingly only an outside onlooker there.

“It is dangerous to mix religious and national identity,” Chapnin says. These are different things because “the church is above all a community of those who believe in Christ as savior and jointly participate in the liturgy. Everything else including politics, citizenship, nationality and culture must assume a secondary role.”

This has always been a problem in Christianity, but recently it became worse when people began to insist that “the Russian church is on the territory of church and that which unites altogether is the Moscow Patriarchate. This was a beautiful move, but it hasn’t worked.”

At the same time, the ousted editor continues, the ROC-MP has undergone another revolution under Kirill in terms of its attitudes toward the Soviet past. “Today, without any pressure from the outside, the Church recognizes the general secretaries of the Communist Party as great rulers of the Soviet era” and that their achievements overwhelm any misdeeds.

Many in the church have even convinced themselves that Lenin and Trotsky destroyed the church and Stalin rehabilitated it, but “this is not so. In the 1920s, the Church existed both legally and illegally in the catacombs. In fact, it was destroyed in the 1930s” by Stalin, who only changed tactics in1943 because of necessity.

“’The flourishing of the Soviet’ is blocking the formation of contemporary Orthodox culture and a new Orthodox identity,” Chapnin says; and Russian believers must make a choice between praising the Soviet past and rebuilding their faith. This is an “either-or” situation that ultimately cannot be avoided.

“By not making this choice, Russia has fallen into ‘hybrid religiosity,’ that is we are reviving both Orthodox traditions and soviet ones.” Such a mix, he argues, is leading “to the formation of a post-Soviet civic religion which exploits the Orthodox tradition but in its essence is not Orthodox at all.”

Instead, “it is a new version of ‘Orthodoxy without Christ.” Some compare this with America’s civic religion, but there is one important difference: in the US, this religion still has a place for God. In the post-Soviet version, “there is no God.”

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Both Militarist Ends and Totalitarian Means of Kremlin’s Patriotic Program Disturbing, Kirillova Says
Staunton, VA, January 6, 2016 -- The program on political training of Russian citizens over the next five years approved by Moscow four days ago is disturbing both because of its focus on militarism and war and because it calls for the introduction of agitprop techniques that recall some of the worst excesses of the totalitarian Soviet past, according to Kseniya Kirillova.

The document, the San Francisco-based Russian commentator says, defines “no more and no less ‘the spiritual direction’ which in the opinion of its authors ‘will lead to the rebirth of the heroic past of Russia’” by inculcating the lessons of World War II and other conflicts.

Kirillova notes that the document does not say that the past should be respected; it specifies that the past, one “based on the experience of military conflicts,” should be reborn in Russia today and tomorrow.

Exactly what the rebirth of the past means, of course, is something the document does not specify. It is left unclear whether it is really a call for the restoration of the USSR or simply a threat to do so “’if needed.’” But there is no doubt that the report focuses on military themes above all.

Thus, the commentator continues, “it is obvious that the clearly manifested trends seen in 2014-2015 to exploit history and to use it to justify the actions of present-day Russia by historical parallels will only be intensified” now that there is a specific government program specifying what is wanted.

Of at least as great concern, Kirillova suggests, are the ways in which the authors call for the program to be implemented via schools, social organizations, labor collectives, informal groups of young people and individual citizens, a call that suggests a return not only to a focus on the past but to the use of the Soviet past as a model for promoting that.

Those old enough to remember the Soviet past will have some notion about what “’patriotic education in labor collectives’” means and are only left to wonder whether “the new form of the well-forgotten old will include in itself” the kind of meetings at which those who deviate are identified and corrected.

Other revenants from the past also seem likely, as groups for school children reemerge, although it is not entirely clear how one organizes “informal youth groups.” That would seem to be an oxymoron. But it seems clear that “the schools is being transformed from an educational institution into an ideological-training one,” even though the Constitution prohibits an ideology.

Moreover, Kirillova says, the document’s call for more attention to and glorification of soldiers and security personnel seems unnecessary given the central place they occupy in the media of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Other professionals like teachers and doctors could certainly use such a boost more.

But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the document is its call for adopting methods to overcome “negative” attitudes” and efforts at “discrediting patriotic values in the arts.” Such an appeal sounds like a call for censorship and the kind of totalitarian control that many had hoped Russia had left behind.