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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
February 23, 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.
Russians Adjust to Increasing Poverty like Frogs to Gradually Warming Water, Kirillova Says
Staunton, VA, February 23, 2016 -- It has long been claimed that a frog who might jump out of a port of boiling water will stay quietly in a gradually warming pot, even though as a result, he will end up dead. In a new commentary, Kseniya Kirillova suggests that Russians are adapting to gradually increasing poverty in their country much like the frog in gradually warming water.

The Kremlin’s playing at being a super power, the US-based Russian commentator says, has led to a situation in which “Russians are beginning to die,” not only in combat but from diseases for which they no longer have any medicines whose import Moscow has banned.

In Kurgan, for example, people are suffering from the flu because there is no Tamiflu. People are desperately trying to find medications; but despite their suffering, Ekaterinburg resident Vera Kuznetsov says, “there are still no protest attitudes in the city” or the region. Others report a similar pattern.

Indeed, their majority, Kirillova continues, they report that as patriotic feelings have fallen off since Crimea, what has taken their place is “silent dissatisfaction, apathy, and at the same time efforts to adapt to the new conditions of growing poverty and increasing numbers of deficit items.

What that means is this: Russians are ever less inclined to blame their misfortunes on the US or the West; but they still have not reached the point of criticizing directly their own government let alone protesting against it. “The majority view the situation as natural” on the basis of the principle that “nothing depends on us,” Urals resident Yury Sibiryanov says.

And that has resulted in a change in what the government’s propagandists are required to do. No longer is it enough for them to blame some outside actor; instead, they seek to provide explanations why, however much people may be suffering as a result of this or that decision, that the decision that was taken was the only possible one.

If Russians believe that there was no other choice and they accept the idea that it is impossible to change anything anyway, Kirillova continues, then adaptation to the existing situation is another form of self-preservation.” That is reasonable for most people most of the time, but it can exert a deadening effect on those who may want to change things.

“Unfortunately,” she says, “in the majority of Russians, most often because of irresponsibility, inertia or a deep fear before the pitiless and unpredictable state machine, all instincts except conformism are atrophying.”

“A citizen of a totalitarian state is convinced that he will not be able to change anything and does not have the right to try.” What he requires is “the illusion of comfort and stability, … the only compensation for unfreedom and lack of rights [and] the last bastion he can run to from a frightening reality.”

And that need has a broader set of consequences as well: “The work of all analytic and media organizations in such a country is directed not at the solution of problems but at explaining why their appearance is a sign of ‘normality’” and therefore something that people must simply come to terms with.

But as conditions deteriorate, the question that arises is this, Kirillova points out. “What in the final analysis will turn out to be stronger: the need of the majority of the people to see the restoration of even relative psychological comfort … or more materialistic needs for the improvement of living conditions and the preservation of their own lives?”

And that in turn means that like the frog, Russians are more likely to choose the former if conditions do not get worse too fast but may choose the latter if they conclude that the situation is deteriorating more rapidly than they can accept official explanations for.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Buryats Burn Russian Flag in Protest against Moscow's Renting Land to Chinese
Staunton, VA, February 23, 2016  -- Hundreds of Buryats have demonstrated against the renting of Russian land to Chinese farmers by burning a Russian Federation flag and declared that “what the Chinese are doing with the land in China itself and near Novosibirsk is an absolute evil,” according to Euro-Asia News.

There had been protests last summer against the renting of land to Chinese farmers both by regional officials and by ethnic Buryats. But the latest demonstrations suggest that the population is even more angry now given that Moscow completely ignored its earlier demonstrations.

Chinese production, the protesters say, “does not pass through any quality control procedures, but as a result of massive Russian corruption, it is turning up on [Russian] tables. And because of its cheapness and the greed of Russian bureaucrats, it is also appearing in kindergartens and schools.”

The Buryats are especially upset that the Chinese farm managers have brought with them their own workers rather than hiring local people and that these people collectively are forming “ghettos in which flourish the importation of drugs, prostitution and other forms of contraband” again at the expense of local people.

“The laws of Russia typically do not operate in these places,” the demonstrators say, adding that unless the situation is corrected, they will “demand holding a referendum on independence.” Moreover, they say, “if the powers that be in Buryatia want to develop agriculture, let them focus on that themselves.”

The Buryats have no love for their southern neighbors because “they know [them] much better than do the local powers that be who are drowning in corruption and inaction.”

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Obama’s Betrayal of Syrian Opposition Should Worry Ukrainians, Piontkovsky Says
Staunton, VA, February 23, 2016 -  The decision of US President Barack Obama to go along with Vladimir Putin on Syria represents a betrayal of the Syrian opposition the US had supported and that should serve as a warning to the Ukrainians that Washington under its current leadership could betray them at any time, Andrey Piontkovsky says.

In his first interview after fleeing the Russian Federation where he likely faced prosecution at the insistence of Chechnya, the Russian commentator outlines to Apostrophe’s Svetlana Sheremetyeva his fears about the interrelationships of Syria, Ukraine and the future of Russia.

Piontkovsky begins by saying his own problems reflected the power of Chechnya and Ramzan Kadyrov and the willingness of Moscow to go along with them lest the situation in the North Caucasus deteriorate still further. Indeed, he says, it is the latest confirmation of what he has long warned about: that Russia is now part of Chechnya rather than the other way around.

Kadyrov “knows that the siloviki have hated him for a long time because they believe that Putin stole the victory from them by giving so much power to Kadyrov and his militants,” Piontkovsky says. Kadyrov tries to demonstrate his loyalty to Putin, his only support, but often does it in ways that only exacerbate his problems in Moscow and with Russians more generally.

Putin also goes along because he needs war and the appearance of victory in war to maintain himself, the Russian commentator says. And consequently, “the most probable explanation of what is occurring is the preparation of society for a full purge of those who are called the fifth column or the so-called liberals by the introduction of martial law.”

In short, Piontkovsky continues, Putin must “gradually prepare the population morally for a [new] great terror.”

Chechnya may again play a role in this, he says. “All of [Putin’s] legitimation rests on the notion that he ‘won’ the Chechen war.” Consequently “to declare Kadyrov an enemy now, to remove him as the siloviki want means to recognize that Putin has deceived us all these 15 years and that all his policy has failed.”

The Russian siloviki want Kadyrov out, he says; and “they are using the murder of Nemtsov which they themselves organized” as an occasion. In short, what is happening in Moscow now is “a very sharp political conflict,” one far more intense than the one “between Yatseniuk and Poroshenko” in Kyiv.

As regards Syria, Piontkovsky says, Putin and Assad have won at least a tactical victory, getting Obama to accept their position that there should be a ceasefire declared even though they insist that they will not stop killing “terrorists” who they define as anyone who opposes the Assad regime.

There are no ISIS forces in Aleppo, but rather “the pro-Western opposition to Assad.” And yet Putin bombed and Assad attacked it, and Washington has gone along. As a result, “Aleppo is becoming a symbol of the crimes of Assad, Putin, Obama and Kerry just as Sarajevo was the symbol of the crimes of Milosevic and the silence then of the West and the UN.”

What Assad, Putin “and unfortunately the US which has in fact joined them” is not a struggle with ISIS but work towards its strengthening.” And that must become “a useful lesson for Ukraine.” Ukraine needs Western support and has some, albeit far less than it requires or should be given.

“But the behavior of Obama and Kerry in Syria should serve as a warning [to Ukraine] that these people will be capable of betraying you at any moment.”

The evidence for that is not only to be found in the ceasefire accord but also in Washington’s efforts to restrain Turkey in the face of Moscow’s provocations. “Both Brussels and Washington are warning Turkey that it cannot count on Article 5” in this conflict.” That is hardly “the role of an ally.” Instead, it helps weaken NATO and helps Putin as well.

Putin is playing poker with the West, Piontkovsky says; and he has won a number of “tactical victories.” But those very victories “pave the way to an enormous strategic defeat,” given the realities of the Kremlin’s losses in Ukraine and ultimately in Syria as well in the eyes of Russians, he continues.

When these perceptions will lead to protests or even a revolution is difficult to say, Piontkovsky suggests, recalling that Lenin in February 1917 said that he and the older generation would not live to see the revolution only to learn the same day that it had broken out over bread shortages in Petrograd. When something similar will occur is hard to predict.

As for himself, Piointkovsky says, he will continue his work because it depends on his computer and Skype and not on where he happens to be living at any particular time.
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Kremlin Fears Any Popular Movement Seeking Regime Change in Ukraine, Radzikhovsky Says
Staunton, VA, February 23, 2016 - Many commentators are speculating that Moscow wants to provoke “a third Maidan” in order to return Ukraine to the Russian fold, but in fact, Leonid Radzikhovsky says, Moscow is constrained from going too far in that direction because it “at one and the same time” fears and welcomes and fears such a popular movement.

That is because, he suggests, Vladimir Putin is happy to use popular movements to press for Moscow’s goals but is frightened by the possibility that any such mobilization will quickly create an unpredictable and uncontrolled situation or have a demonstration effect in Russia itself.

Moscow’s position about further unrest in Ukraine is ambiguous. “On the one hand, officials are pleased: everything that works against the Ukrainian authorities is good. But on the other hand, they aren’t completely pleased” because any popular movement, especially next door to Russia and in the year of Duma elections and an economic crisis is potentially a horror.

The attitude of the Kremlin now, the Russian journalist continues, is thus “approximately like that of the government of Nicholas I who with horror viewed the 1848 revolutions in Europe.” But the horror now is greater because the events are much closer to home.

The position the Kremlin wants to maintain as far as propaganda is concerned is thus “no sympathy for the Ukrainian authorities” but also not much for its opponents because Moscow wants to stress that “however horrible things are in Ukraine, it would be horrible to change the powers. Any powers, even such a ‘demonic’ and ‘American-spy’ power as there is now” in Kyiv.

That suggests, Radzikhovsky says, that Moscow won’t step up military actions in the Donbas to support such risings. Also arguing for at least temporary restraint is that Putin is tied down in Syria, although he may find his way free to launch new attacks in Ukraine as a result of the Kerry-Lavrov ceasefire accord.

And perhaps the most important argument against a new intervention is that the Russian people are tired of the war and would find it difficult to accept the need to spend more bodies and treasure on a conflict that they have already given so much to. In short, “Putin does not have any sensible plans regarding Ukraine now.”

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Kadyrov Again Blocks Commemoration of Deportation Anniversary
Staunton, VA, February 23, 2016 -- Seventy-two years ago today, Stalin on the invented pretext that Chechen and Ingush collectively collaborated with the German invaders deported almost 500,000 men, women and children of those two Vainakh nations to the wilds of Central Asia, an event that continues to define the fate of both.

But while Chechens, Ingush and all those who care about human rights will recall this event around the world, there is one place where it won’t be marked: in Chechnya itself. There since 2011, Ramzan Kadyrov has blocked any commemoration lest it conflict with the Russian holiday, the Day of the Defender of the Fatherland, and instead required that Chechens in Chechnya mark a memorial day on May 10, the anniversary of the death of his father.

Russian journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza who did stories on the Chechens in the 1990s says that commemorating February 23rd is “the only thing that can unite the people” of Chechnya and thus Kadyrov’s ban on such measures and the arrest of those who seek to remember this event is a horrific mistake.

While there will not be any public events in Chechnya, others are taking place elsewhere. In St. Petersburg last night, there was a meeting devoted to the anniversary in the Akhmatova Museum. The Chechen diaspora in Norway also has scheduled a session for today. And other groups of Chechens in Russia and elsewhere are marking this event.

Naima Neflyasheva, a specialist on the Caucasus at the Moscow Institute of Africa, says that Russia’s and Chechnya’s decision to mark the Day of Defender of the Fatherland instead of to commemorate the anniversary of the deportation is a mark of “a lack of respect and a sacrilege.”

“We have a large multi-national country, in the history of which there have been complicated and dramatic periods. This requires a special delicacy, wisdom and responsibility of the authorities in the setting of memorial dates and calendar holidays,” she says, adding that “the calendar must work to integrate citizens” rather than to divide them.

“It we live in one country, then we must be glad together and grieve together,” she says. “The defenders of the Fatherland deserve to have their own holiday, and in the calendar there are enough days to make a choice, particularly as in the history of the Russian army there are many worthy and significant events” worth remembering.

But marking that holiday in a way that overshadows the anniversary of the deportation is wrong in a double sense. On the one hand, she says, commemorating the deportation should never be treated like a holiday. And on the other, acting as if the deportation never happened or is unworthy of being remembered is “a sacrilege.”

Other Chechens and Ingush agree with her. Among those Kavkaz-Uzel cites are Mairbek Vachagayev in Paris, Israpil Shovkhalov in Moscow, and Akhmed Buzurtanov in Nazran. Said Muskhadzhiyev in Maikop says that what is especially wrong is that the holiday Moscow has ordered has changed its name so many times.

Abdulla Duduyev in Moscow says he is certain that marking February 23rd as a holiday rather than as a memorial day “deeply wounds people who are guilty of nothing” and that as for himself, he “will not celebrate February 23” as Moscow and Grozny want because “this is the day of the greatest and unprecedented tragedy of two peoples, the Chechens and Ingush.”