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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
February 2, 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.
Putin Modifies 1992 Yeltsin Decree Ending Russian German Hopes for Full Rehabilitation
Staunton, VA, February 2, 2016 --  Although in the case of occupied Crimea, Vladimir Putin has talked about the need for the full rehabilitation of the peoples of that peninsula who suffered under Soviet rule, the Kremlin leader on Sunday quietly took a step that deprives the ethnic Germans of the Russian Federation of their hopes that they will ever get such treatment.

On the one hand, the timing of this action is a reflection of deteriorating relations between Moscow and Berlin. But on the other, it is completely consistent with Putin’s actions if not his words about non-Russian minorities and about respecting their rights regardless of the Russian Constitution or measures adopted under his predecessor Boris Yeltsin.

What has happened, the portal reports, is that “Vladimir Putin has finally deprived the Russian Germans of the right to the restoration of statehood inside the Russian Federation. On January 31 [he] introduced changes” in Yeltsin’s February 1992 decree about that right.

Putin excluded the words in the Yeltsin decree about the restoration of statehood “as one of the means of the rehabilitation of the people. In another paragraph, ‘the restoration of statehood’ was replaced by ‘the social-economic and ethno-cultural development of the Russian Germans.”

In addition, by his actions, Putin “changed the name of the inter-governmental commission overseeing Russian German issues. It had been called “the Russian-German Commission for the Preparation of a Joint Program of Measures for Securing the Gradual Restoration of the Statehood of Russian Germans.” 

Now that body will be called “the Russian-German Commission for Russian German Issues.”

Between 1918 and 1941, the Russian Germans had their own ethnic autonomy. But on August 28, 1941, following Hitler’s invasion of the USSR, Stalin disbanded that political entity, accused the roughly 400,000 ethnic Germans of being spies and diversionists, and deported them en masse to Kazakhstan. 

As part of Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization campaign, Moscow on August 28, 1964, declared that the charges against the Russian Germans were without foundation and thus “rehabilitated them.” But a few weeks later, Khrushchev was overthrown and the Russian Germans had to wait until the end of the Soviet Union to renew their quest for justice.

In February 1992, many of them – who then numbered approximately as many as had been deported 51 years earlier – believed they were close to achieving their goal with Yeltsin’s decree. But they made little progress in the intervening years, and now Putin has slammed the door to progress, at least as long as he is in office.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Dagestanis Say Closing Mosques Heralds Return to Stalinist Times

Staunton, VA, February 2, 2016 -- Many liberal activists in Russia and abroad see the Putin regimes “tightening of the screws” around freedoms enshrined in the 1993 Russian Constitution as an indication that the Kremlin leader is step-by-step taking Russia back toward the years of Stalin’s Great Terror. 

But others in the Russian Federation have their own measures of the return to the Stalinist past, including many Muslims in Dagestan, the most Islamic republic in the country, who view the closure of mosques by officials as a clear sign of a return to the situation there in 1937.

Those who are taking steps in that direction forget,in the words of one experts cited by Kavkazskaya Politika journalist Faina Kachabekova that “you can’t put out a fire with kerosene.”  If you try, they warn, you will only spread the flames. Closing mosques or repressing imams will only lead “to negative consequences,” the leaders of the Islamic community there say.

In response to the closing of a series of mosques in Dagestan by the secular authorities in the name of fighting extremism, the Makhachkala journal Chernovik hosted a round table about how Dagestanis are reacting and what the consequences will be for them and for the authorities as a result.

Nazhmudin Nazhmudinov, the imam of the Osman mosque, says that the closing of mosques in the name of fighting Salafism has now become a trend, a reflection of what he calls “an incorrect policy” that fails to recognize that closing mosques will have exactly the opposite effect that those who are carrying it out hope for.

Dagestani Muslims are furious, he said, noting that in Khasavyurt alone, nearly 5,000 people, “99 percent of whom are from the youth,” demonstrated against the closing of a mosque there. Things could easily get out of hand, and he suggested that the fact that seven imams have been called in by the authorities for warnings suggests that it will.

“We sense,” Nazhmudinov continues, “that the situation is become more tense as a result of these events. People understand that today they will close one mosque, tomorrow another and so on. The majority see in these methods a return to Stalinist times of 1930-1937.”

Mikhail Shevchenko, the chief editor of Kavpolit, says that the closing of mosques is undermining not only the Muslim Spiritual Directorate but also Sunni Muslims in general. When such things are done without discussion, it only leads those who object to adopt more radical positions.

He calls on parishioners to appeal to the human rights ombudsman and the courts to block such illegal actions by the siloviki.

Irina Staodubrovskaya, a specialist on Islam at the Gaidar Institute of Economic Policy, says that the closing of mosques reflects the fact that there is “no dialogue between society and the authorities … there are no mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts” and consequently things will get worse: “Dousing a fire with kerosene is not the best means of putting it out.”

She urges both Muslims and the authorities to try to find a way to speak with one another before violence erupts. If and when that happens, the scholar continues, “nothing will restore the situation to what it was before.”

And Abakar Abakarov, a leader of the Russian Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus, adds that this problem is not restricted to the last month or to Dagestan. Rather it has been going on across Russia for the last two or three years and has involved the shuttering of more than 15 mosques from Kaliningrad to Ussuriisk. 

“Any sober individual understands that when we close a salafi mosque, we play into the hands of radical preachers. They move from one apartment to another, and six months or a year later, this can lead to an uncontrolled situation.”

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Putin, Trapped Between War and Revolution, Will Choose War, Ikhlov Says
Staunton, VA, February 2, 2016 -- There are two possibilities in Russia today: either Vladimir Putin is in control of events or he is their prisoner, trapped between war and revolution. As bad as the first would be, the way the world has gone to war in the past suggests the second may be even worse. Tragically, that is the situation Putin has put himself in now, Yevgeny Ikhlov says.

As history shows, the Moscow commentator says, “wars do not always begin with carefully prepared strikes.” They often happen because leaders have acted in ways that reduce their room for maneuver and leave them with no obvious or at least acceptable option but to go to war.

That is exactly where the German general staff in the run up to 1914; and it is exactly the same one Putin is in now, “irreversibly sliding toward war because [the Kremlin leader] has consistently blocked all possibilities” for changing course that do not appear to him to be a worse option for himself.

Putin’s first move toward a situation in which he would be confronted with a choice between war and revolution in fact occurred when he made war on the oligarchs and the bureaucracy and promoted “paternalistic” ideas about his rule which allowing “unprecedented growth of social stratification,” Ikhlov says.

“The gap between the social divide, the expropriation of independent business by the Putin ‘oprichniki,’ the elimination of competitive politics on the one side and Bonapartist (in the spirit of Napoleon III, of course) and of demagogically constructed Putinism inevitably had to become the start of a major social-political split,” he continues.

This split was very much in evidence in the demonstrations of December 2011, demonstrations that made a war in Ukraine an attractive option. But that war had the effect of prompting the West to declare “a second Cold War,” something that began small but has expanded over time.

When the Donbass descended into chaos, Putin chose “crypto-intervention.” That and the shooting down of the Malaysian jetliner made everything worse, the Moscow commentator says, and the Second Cold War was unleashed in earnest. The collapse of oil prices and sanctions forced Putin to play on xenophobia.

But it also put in him a position where the only way he could get out of one war “was through another, the air blitzkrieg in Syria,” Ikhlov says. But the logic of that attack which involved Russia in a conflict without any “rational goals” led to confrontation with Turkey. And that too has followed its own “unfolding logic.”

Putin can’t retreat in Syria without having his entire foreign policy called into question, something that could destroy his regime at home. If he could make domestic reforms, that might save him. “But when reforms replace foreign policy adventurism and then there follows collapse and defeat, it is difficult to imagine a better detonator for a revolution.”

The Kremlin leader could compensate for a retreat in Syria by an escalation on the Ukrainian front – scrapping Minsk 2, recognizing the DNR and LNR [Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics], and “openly introducing forces there, as was done in Georgia in 2008. But that would have real and dangerous consequences, Ikhlov says.

“It would convert Russia into “an outcast” and lead to “the appearance in Ukraine of American soldiers sent their by the next president of the US. And it is far from certain that such a foreign policy sharpening would prevent the growth of dissatisfaction within the country” because none of its domestic ills are being addressed.

What will Putin do in this situation? He has “never decided to shift finally to the model of a besieged fortress,” as some of his advisors want “because it would involve not only the purge of a ‘fifth’ and ‘sixth’ ‘column’ but also the nationalization of the oligarchy, a forced credit amnesty and other left of center measures.”

According to Ikhlov, “Putin will not decide on show purges of the ruling nomenklatura because he knows the lessons of history and above all that it is difficult to keep such anti-elite terror in bounds.” But that is only one of Putin’s dilemmas for which there is no obvious or at least acceptable answer.

For example, “Putin cannot rein in Kadyrov” first and foremost because “this would be a moral victory of the liberal opposition, the most consistent opponents of his regime.” And he dare not do so lest Kadyrov in the event show himself unwilling to follow orders to leave and use his own resources to fight for himself.

“The logic of the slide toward war is overwhelming” for Putin, Ikhlov says. Anything he would do at home to cover retreats abroad would put his regime at risk. “And so, only war remains,” not perhaps in Ukraine where “even a conventional one would be too much” as “the fate of Milosevic” shows.

Putin would like to keep things bubbling right “at the edge of war,” but Ikhlov suggests that he does not have the ability to control events that well. Instead, the commentator suggests, “Putin has created a situation in which in principle he cannot win.” Therefore he will seek a war elsewhere and at present that means Turkey.

“In the best case, “this will be limited to military hysteria. In the worst,” to the use of Russian forces. But that will give Turkey the possibility of appealing to NATO under Article 5 and also to close the straits. Thus, Putin will discover that “Russia will be able to fight with Turkey only with nuclear weapons.”

Any threat of that will bring the UN Security Council into play, Ikhlov says; and Putin will stand finally between war and revolution. The Kremlin leader already “understands perfectly how he has run away from revolution in Crimea and the Donbas and from the Donbas to Syria and that he will be able to avoid a new protest upsurge only with a Turkish war.”

It wasn’t what he planned; but it is the only way, Ikhlov says, that the Kremlin leader believes he can save himself – and that is his most important task.