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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
January 22, 2016

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
One Russian in Four Afraid to Tell Pollsters the Truth – and One in Two Say Most Russians Don’t
Staunton, VA, January 22, 2016 -- Roughly a quarter of all Russians -- 26 percent -- are afraid to express their personal opinions to sociologists about current Russian events; and slightly under half -- 49 percent -- say that most Russians are unwilling to do so because “they fear negative consequences for themselves,” according to a new Levada Center survey.

While such findings might appear fall under the logical category of “all Cretans are liars, said one Cretan to another,” they will add fuel to the debate as to how confident anyone can be about poll results from Russia, with some dismissing the findings as inherently flawed and others arguing that they provide at least some guidance.

According to an article in today’s Kommersant, the Levada Center pollsters fall in the latter category, telling the Moscow newspaper’s journalists that such reluctance to tell the truth to poll takers probably doesn’t affect the results as far as Putin’s standing is concerned by more than five percent one way or the other.

Just over half -- 56 percent – of those who said Russians are unwilling to tell the truth said that was the case because people “fear negative consequences for themselves.” Another 20 percent suggested that they did so because the truth was unwelcome or unpleasant for them, and nine percent suggested that respondents “fear disapproval by the pollster.”

Aleksey Grazhdankin, the deputy director of the Levada Center, says “Putin is supported by the silent majority which take part in discussions on social networks or among colleagues less actively than do opponents of the authorities.” At the same time, he continues, “people with opposition views really more often than others are afraid to say what they think.”

Commenting on these findings, Moscow political analyst Konstantin Kalachyev says that the problem of “socially approved answers” is nothing new. It has been around for some time and “is called the spiral of silence. People follow the majority and fear setting themselves apart and answering with ready-made positive mantras.”

He suggests that sociologists can get more reliable results from focus groups or in-depth interviews. And he suggests that another problem, perhaps even larger, is that the answers people give reflect the way in which the questions of the poll takers are formed.

Kalachyev gives the following examples: “One and the same individual may respond to the question ‘How has Putin dealt with the problem of the ruble’s fall?’ with the word ‘poorly’ and say ‘yes’ to the question ‘Do you approve his activity as president?’ Or he will answer positively at one and the same time to questions like ‘Are you for friendship of the peoples?’ and “Do you agree that Russia should be for the Russians?’”
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 20
Staunton, VA, January 22, 2016 -- The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore


Consequently, Windows on Eurasia will present a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the twentieth such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, this week once again, one could have put out such a listing every day -- but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1. ‘Better a Fifth Column than a Fourth Reich!’ Even though the Moscow authorities have refused to give permission for a march in the Russian capital against Ramzan Kadyrov, activists are turning to the Internet to spread their fears and to offer slogans like this one for others to consider.

2. Only a New OPEC-Style Cartel Could Restore Oil Prices and Save Russia, Moscow Analyst Says. According to a Moscow analyst, Russia needs to explore the possibilities of creating a new OPEC-style cartel as a means of boosting the price of oil and thus getting Russia out of its current economic difficulties. 

3. Talk about Putting Off Duma Elections Spreads.  URA.ru reports that some Duma members are now talking about delaying Russia’s parliamentary elections because of the crisis. Campaigns would only get in the way of addressing Russia’s real problems and populist proposals could make the situation worse, they suggest.

4. With Putin’s Russia, An Entry Visa isn’t Nearly Enough.  As new court cases show, many foreigners in Russia entirely legally are finding it difficult to leave the country, an indication Profile suggests that exit visas even for them are being introduced on a de facto basis.

5. Russian Prostitutes Now Bartering Their Services – And Other Signs of Russia’s Distress. The economic crisis has hit many Russian groups, including prostitutes, who have seen demand fall, have been forced to lower their prices, and now are even willing to accept barter arrangements. Other signs of how bad things are becoming include an announcement by the government news agency TASS that it won’t be able to pay honoraria on a timely basis and the requirement that passengers now pay for WIFI at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.  But in a reminder that there is no bad without some good, the collapse of the ruble has pushed up heroin prices on the streets of Russian cities and likely reduced consumption of that illegal drug. 

6. More than One Million Russians Now Infected with HIV Virus.  In a sign of the Russian government’s misplaced priorities, including spending a higher percentage of its GDP on arms than any other country and cutting medical programs, more than a million Russians are now infected with HIV and many are not being treated.  Other examples of this mistaken set of choices include the government’s shuttering of a program that had been helping Moscow’s homeless and the closure of 340 public libraries in the past 12 months

7. Only Five Itelmen Speakers Left.  Only five native speakers of Itelmen survive, and young people who want to learn the language have had to turn to recordings and the Internet, a statistic that makes a mockery of Valery Tishkov’s upbeat statements about Russia’s support of minority languages and peoples. Meanwhile, in Tuva, officials say that members of that nationality need five languages to be successful. 

8. Kadyrov Wants Forced Psychiatric Treatment of Opposition Figures. Ramzan Kadyrov has proposed incarcerating members of the Russian opposition in psychiatric hospitals much as the Soviets did although he has not yet re-introduced the term “sluggish schizophrenia” to describe their “medical” condition. Russian officials aren’t far behind him: they want to expand the definition of foreign agents to include anyone who criticizes the Putin regime even if he or she doesn’t get money from abroad.  And the FSB in occupied Crimea is now insisting that the postal service report on letters anyone on a list of opponents receives as a way of controlling the opposition. 

9. Academy of Sciences President Tells Putin that Russian Science has Fallen to the Level of Iran’s.  Vladimir Putin’s denunciation of Lenin for laying a delayed action mine that led to the destruction of the USSR attracted far more attention, but at the same meeting, the head of the Russian Academy of Sciences pointed out that Russian science has collapsed over the last two decades and now ranks no better than that of Iran’s, a trend that may be far more fateful for the future.

10. “All Animals are Equal but Some are More Equal than Others.’ In yet another way that the Putin regime is becoming ever more Orwellian, children of well-off parents are now being fed better than those from poor families in some schools. 

11. Birobidzhan Ready to Take in Jews But They Don’t Seem to Want to Come. Following Vladimir Putin’s declaration than any Jews who had earlier left the USSR and now feel uncomfortable in Europe should return to Russia, the leadership of the Jewish Autonomous District of Birobidzhan announced that they were ready to accept all of them. There is only one problem: There are almost no Jews there now, and only one Jew has “returned” to this Jewish “homeland” in recent years.

12. Russian Textbooks Say 2 Plus 2 Doesn’t Equal 5, and Peshkov Says ‘Crimean Question Doesn’t Exist.’  A scandal has broken out over the fact that mathematics textbooks being used in Russia contain fundamental errors of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. In such a country, it is thus perhaps no surprise that its president’s press secretary can declare with a straight face that “the Crimean question doesn’t exist."


13. Duma has a Plan to Make Islamic Terrorism Go Away: Stop Calling It ‘Islamic.’ Duma members have not figured out how to fight Islamic terrorism effectively, but they have come up with one proposal that will make it “disappear.” Some deputies are suggesting that Moscow should ban calling “Islamic terrorism” “Islamic”.

And in addition, here are five other stories in countries neighboring Russia that also may have been missed:

1. Tajikistan Says No One Under 40 Will Be Allowed to Make the Haj.  Dushanbe has been struggling with Islamist radicalism for some time. Now it plans to block any Tajik younger than 40 from making the pilgrimage to Mecca, a move that is likely to help ISIS with its recruiting efforts in that Central Asian country.

2. Turkmenistan Bans Cigarettes.  Ashgabat has announced that it will ban the sale of cigarettes there in the name of economy and public health.

3. Astana Got 802 Kazakh Islamists to Accept Traditional Islam. Kazakhstan officials have announced that they have succeeded in converting 802 followers of radical Islamist groups to accept “traditional Islam.” What this in fact means is far from clear.

4. Ten Percent of Ukrainians Moved Abroad in the Last Two Years, Russian Outlet Says.  A Russian portal says that more than four million Ukrainians have moved abroad to escape violence or find work.

5. Estonia’s Russians Name ‘Russophobes of the Year.’ A group of ethnic Russians in Estonia have named a variety of people “Russophobes of the Year.” Apparently, in the group’s view, there are a lot of competitors for this title.

The previous issue of A Baker's Dozen is here.
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Putin’s Attack on Lenin about the Future Not the Past

Staunton, VA, January 22, 2016 - Yesterday, on the 92ndanniversary of the death of the founder of the Soviet state, Vladimir Putin sharply criticized Vladimir Lenin for laying the groundwork for the ultimate demise of the Soviet Union, the latest expression of his belief that the disintegration of the USSR was "the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century."

But the current Kremlin leader is neither an intellectual with a deep interest in history nor a sentimentalist deeply attached to much except his own survival, and consequently, it is worth exploring why he attacked Lenin because typically Putin’s historical discourses are not about the past but rather about where he sees Russia now and what he intends to do in the future. 

Viewed from that perspective, Putin’s words suggest three conclusions: First, like many Russian nationalists and imperialists but in contrast to liberals in Russia and the West, Putin prefers to criticize Lenin in order to avoid condemning Stalin -- even on issues like this one where Stalin rather than Lenin played the dominant role. 

Second, Putin’s attacks on Lenin’s plan for giving some non-Russians autonomy are in fact about Putin’s fears that the existence of the non-Russian republics in the Russian Federation today may play a similar role in that country’s future and his desire to eliminate them. Thus, his speech yesterday likely indicates that he intends to restart his regional amalgamation effort (see Windows on Eurasia). 

And third, Putin’s understanding of the fateful role that autonomy of ethnic groups in Russia shows that there is method to his madness in what he is doing in Ukraine even if some in the West refuse to recognize it: Pushing for “autonomization” there, the Kremlin leader clearly hopes to undermine and ultimately destroy the Ukrainian state

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Putin Confronted with Choice Between Two Kinds of Repression, Ponomaryev Says
Staunton, VA, January 22, 2016 -- Facing the near certainty of more popular unrest, Vladimir Putin now faces a choice between two models of repression, the completely lawless kind advocated by Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov and the nominally legal kind the FSB and other Moscow siloviki organs in Moscow generally prefer, according to human rights activist Lev Ponomaryev.

In a commentary this week for Moskovsky Komsomolets, Ponomaryev says that in fact, the two sides of this argument have entered into “a competition” for Putin’s attention and approval; and the selection of either or a combination of some of both will be disastrous for Russians.

The Kadyrov side of the argument has attracted more attention not only because of his flamboyance but also because of mounting evidence that the Putin regime has used some of Kadyrov’s lawless methods in the past against its opponents. But the activities of the “legal” side of this dispute are equally a matter of concern, the rights activist says.

The Moscow siloviki [army, police, and intelligence] have introduced three measures in the Duma designed to legitimate the actions they may take against the opposition. The first of these, the so-called “’law of sadists’” which would give prison guards greater scope to mistreat inmates, has passed only on first reading, and there is hope that it won’t be approved in the end.

The second measure which has passed gives FSB officers expanded authority to use force against demonstrators without fear of punishment. “Ahead is the struggle for changing this law,” Ponomaryev says. And the third is a draft law which would expand the ability of the police to use force against the population and particularly against women.

“One of the odious” aspects of the draft is that it restricts the use of force by the police only against women who appear to be pregnant; but another more dangerous one is that the legislation makes no distinction as far as the ability of the police to use force between peaceful demonstrations and armed rebellion.

“Rights activists are demanding public discussion and expert analysis of this law by the Presidential human rights ombudsman and the Presidential Human Rights Council,” he says. Because such laws are so dangerous, the choice Putin makes between Kadyrov and the FSB thus will result in “terror against the peaceful population.”

“Is there a way out of this situation?” Ponomaryev asks rhetorically. “Usually people say now because Putin and his entourage have adopted a course on life-long rule – and they see the tightening of the screws as the only way to preserve their power.” If they succeed in intimidating the population by either or both methods, the result will be disastrous.

Over time, he continues, Russia “will step by step be transformed into something like North Korea, a nuclear outcast.” Alternatively, there will be a mass rising to overthrow the government but the chances that such an action would be peaceful are “very small. Both variants thus look catastrophic.”

Such outcomes could be avoided if the government changed its economic policy, shifting resources from the military to social needs. But that has been obvious for a long time and there has been no movement in that direction rather in the reverse. And there needs to be a new cast of leaders who “are not corrupt and have the political will to carry out these measures.”

Given the authoritarian nature of Russia today, only Putin can make such a decision, Ponomaryev says. The problem is that “all talk that the president is good and the boyars are bad is suitable only for television propaganda.” At the same time, however, Putin was elected more or less honestly and has the support of a large majority.

“Therefore, demanding his retirement which seems completely just can’t be fulfilled … and is premature.” But there are demands that can be made and steps that can be taken. The Russian government can and should be reconstituted, and the opposition must prepare diligently and in a cooperative manner for the 2016 Duma elections to push for that.

Some may think these reflections are “naïve” given Putin’s 85 percent support in the polls, but the thing is, Ponomaryev says, is that this “does not remove responsibility from the 15 percent who don’t agree. That is not a small number, especially if one considers that the 85 percent are not a monolith but on the contrary an inert mass.”

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Putin is a Murderer But World Will Deal with Him as It Did with Hitler and Stalin, Goldfarb Says
Staunton, VA, January 22, 2016 --  The British investigation into the death of Aleksandr Litvinenko has shown that “Vladimir Putin is a murderer,” Aleksandr Goldfarb says; but the consequences of this for international politics are unlikely to be “very dramatic” although world leaders will now have to face up to the nature of the man with whom they are in contact.

In a comment for the Apostrophe news agency, Goldfarb, who helped Litvinenko escape from Russia and settle in Great Britain, says that “no one will begin a war with Russia” over this. But “the findings of the London court are significant.” They define how Putin and his Russia will be remembered a century from now.

“A hundred years from now when our descendants will study the history of the rule of the second president of the Russian Federation,” he writes, “there will appear in the books three important ‘achievements’ of Putin – the annexation of Crimea, the shooting down of the Malaysian Boeing [MH17], and the murder of Litvinenko.”

Now, Goldfarb suggests, even the ostracism of Putin by world leaders is unlikely given that “in the international political arena, ‘politics is politics.’” World leaders will shake Putin’s hand just as they did with Hitler  and Stalin, “although for them this ended poorly.” But that doesn’t mean that it won’t have consequences.

British Prime Minister David Cameron “has already said that well, we will deal with any kind of regime, including the Russian, but now we know precisely what Putin represents,” Goldfarb says. He does not add, but all people of good will can only hope that other world leaders will be similarly chastened by that the English investigation has shown.

On January 21, London’s High Court released a 329-page final report on its investigation into the death of Litvinenko in November 2006. In releasing it, Judge Sir Robert Owen concluded that Litvinenko’s murder “was probably approved" by Putin.

Thus, Goldfarb says, it has now been “judicially established” that “Putin is a murderer;” and however much he and his regime deny it, “facts remain facts” – and Putin’s responsibility has been shown.

“It is important to understand that the Litvinenko case is not only a political one but a criminal one as well. Putin gave the order to kill a man with whom he was personally acquainted. And the motive of the Russian leader was simple: Sasha Litvinenko helped Western special services to uncover the links of Putin and his entourage with the Tambov criminal group which was involved in drug trafficking throughout Europe.”

“Killing Litvinenko for Putin,” Goldfarb continues, “was not simple an act of state but a personal one,” and he calls on everyone to remember that “a criminal is a criminal whatever position he occupies.”

The former Soviet dissident says that this outcome was largely thanks to the efforts of Litvinenko’s widow Marina and that the report “undoubtedly is a major emotional and moral victory” for her. “Thanks to her,” he concludes, “now the entire world has been shown that Putin is a criminal and a murderer.”

No one can ever look at him again in the same way.
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