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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: March 7, 2016

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
How to Understand Putin's Jaw-Droppingly High Approval Ratings - Michael Birnbaum
Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post has an article published today, March 6, "How to Understand Putin's Jaw-Droppingly High Approval Ratings," that goes behind the scenes of public opinion polls to see how Putin gets his 86% rating.

He was able to follow along with a pollster as he trudged through Russia's massive housing complexes seeking people's reactions to a questions about everything from the ceasefire in Syria to the war in Ukraine.

Says Birnbaum about Putin's surge in popularity from 61% before the annexation of the Crimea to 86% after:

It is a development that has flummoxed Western nations and frustrated Russia’s motley band of oppositionists. Some of them say that Russians are too scared to speak their minds to pollsters. Others claim that the poll numbers are manipulated, although most Western polling firms arrive at similar figures.

Birnbaum said people supported Putin himself as a permanent figure in their lives even if their criticism of the economy has increased -- which may ultimately impact their feelings about the Russian leader.

He accounts for Putin's continued popularity by the fact that most people get their news from state TV: 

“Switch off the television, and this popularity would go away in two months,” said Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister who is now a leading opposition politician.

Kseniya Kirillova, a Russian journalist, has commented on the phenomenon of how Russians continue to support Putin despite the economic crisis. She notes that people tend toward conformism, a legacy of the Soviet era which is now instilled in Putin's authoritarian system:

Unfortunately, all instincts of the majority of Russians (most often by virtue of their irresponsibility, inertia and profound fear before the ruthless and unpredictable state machine) are atrophied, except for conformism.  The citizen of a totalitarian state is convinced that he cannot change anything, nor does he have the right; struggle against the state for him is perceived as something like sacrilege, but nonetheless, certain government decisions knock him out of a rut – less often in the realm of morality, more often in the sphere of personal comfort.

Even so, such people are more often bothered by a sense of discomfort than the essence of the decision made by the government. The illusion of comfort and stability for a person of this type is the only compensation for non-freedom and lack of rights and the sense of flimsy protection – the last refuge where he flees from frightening reality. Therefore, his main wish becomes the need not to change the situation and just return to that lost comfort. The main means of such return is the slightest logical explanation for the latest blow to his normal life – that it was correct, true and aimed at his welfare.

She says citizens are particularly swayed by explanations for why they should remain loyal -- for example, their natural critical faculties and sense of survival might question the decision to destroy imported food at a time of crisis, but people were persuaded it was necessary by being reminded of how Russians destroyed food stores in front of the advancing Nazi army in the 1940s so the enemy could not benefit.

Thus state TV is not just about hiding or distorting facts but sustaining a narrative that can account for seeming contradictions.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Planning Major Sea-Based Nuclear Ballistic Missile Test in Arctic

Russian plans to conduct its largest test in 25 years of sea-based ballistic missiles, Bild reported, citing anonymous sources.

RNS.Online, Moscow Times, and other media have reported the story, but only citing Bild.

Bild did not say which submarine would be used in the test, but in a March 2 article, Izvestiya reported efforts for "combat readiness for nuclear missile deterrence" by the Northern Fleet indicated that submarines of the Borey type would be used, and that either the Yury Dolgorukiy or the Vladimir Monomakh would be deployed.

Both of these crafts are 170 meters in length and have up to 100 crew members. They can each release 16 missiles simultaneously. They can be fired from a maximum depth of 65 meters and travel at a speed of 15 knots.

As a recent article in the National Geographic indicates, Russia has taken great strides to claim and conquer the Arctic. Taking advantage of melting ice due to climate change, Russia's ships have been able to gain more access. 
Igor Voronkin resurfaces after a day in the Barentsburg coal mine, a Soviet-era Russian facility at 78 degrees north on Spitsbergen, in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Like most of the 400 other miners
2016-03-07 18:08:52

Igor Voronkin resurfaces after a day in the Barentsburg coal mine, a Soviet-era Russian facility at 78 degrees north on Spitsbergen, in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Like most of the 400 other miners here, he comes from eastern Ukraine, where job prospects are bleak. 

Oil spills are a big concern, and are among the reasons the environmental group Greenpeace sailed its ship to protest near the oil rig Prirazlomnaya in September 2013. The whole crew was arrested; among the Greenpeace members held was Dmitry Litvinov, the son of the famous Soviet-era dissident Pavel Litvinov who had been imprisoned for demonstrating on Red Square against the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Photographer Denis Sinyakov was also arrested. Finally after three months in prison and intense international protest they were released.

Arctic Our Way: Greenpeace, Gazprom and the Battle for the Shelf

All bordering states dream of unconditional sovereignty over the Arctic where, according to estimates from the US Geological Survey, up to 13% of the world's oil reserves are located (90 billion barrels) and up to 30% of the world's gas (47.3 trillion cubic meters).

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Mar 07, 2016 23:27 (GMT)

Norway, Canada and the US are among the leading countries competing with Russia in the Arctic, but it appears Russia has been the most aggressive and made the most gains to position itself for extraction of oil and other resources.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russians Mark 63rd Anniversary of Stalin's Death with Both Admiration and Protests About Today's Political Prisoners
Over the weekend, Russians marked the 63rd anniversary of Joseph Stalin's death with protests in various cities -- and vandalism in Russian-occupied Crimea.

As we noted, Stalin has made something of a comeback in Russian life as some conservatives and nationalists attempt to restore him as a positive figure for his role in World War II -- which  has been selectively covered given the controversies surrounding Stalin's alliance with Hitler and execution of his own top military leaders.

Blogger Aleksei Nasedkin has an impressive photo essay of a long line of people on Red Square in the snow, waiting to place carnations at Stalin's grave in the wall of the Kremlin. They are not just old people, war veterans and communists as in past years, but many  young people, for whom the return of Stalin is "fashionable," he says, and even religious believers praying over his tomb.

2016-03-07 16:09:05
His blog sparked hundreds of comments, starting with a man who said if Ukrainians still revered the controversial war hero Stepan Bandera, then Russians could do no worse by honoring Stalin.

Even so, inevitably in debates about Stalin, comparisons to President Vladimir Putin's dictatorship are made; a cartoonist put it starkly.

2016-03-07 16:09:48

A poster appeared at a bus shelter near Paveletsky Station with a statement "That One Died And This One Will, Too" that most Russians didn't have a problem figuring out, Chronicle of Current Events reported


But while people carrying flowers for Stalin were welcome on Red Square, a man in a Putin mask was not, Chronicle of Current Events Reported.

Roman Roslovtsev was detained on Red Square on March 6 while wearing a Putin mask, according to his Facebook page.

He was holding a sign protesting the articles in the criminal code that restrict demonstrations and punish vaguely-defined "extremism."

Earlier on February 27 he was arrested while walking in the memorial march for Boris Nemtsov and carrying a sign "Down with the Double". Law-makers have passed an ordinance banning demonstrators from covering their faces. He was also detained February 21 while walking with other activists and on that occasion their Putin masks were confiscated.

Protesters in Yekaterinburg held a memorial for victims of Stalin outside a building where 15,000 were shot in the back of the head in 1937 alone, Robert Coalson reported.

2016-03-07 16:13:15

Protesters in Belarus used the occasion to hold a "political terror watch" and carry posters of Boris Nemtsov.

As we reported, in Russian-occupied Crimea vandals spray-painted the word "Executioner" on the wall by a bust of Stalin outside the local Communist Party headquarters in Simferopol.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Caucasus Emirate Releases Video of Execution of Alleged Russian Spy, Vows Revenge on Putin for Bombing

The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that the Caucasus Emirate, affiliated with ISIS, has released a video showing the execution of an alleged Russian spy and Russian-speaking militants vowing to exact revenge on President Vladimir Putin for bombing Syria.

In a video titled "Profitable Trading" released by the ISIS branch in the Northern Caucasus region of Russia on Saturday, the group's fighters urged Muslims in Russia to join them, claiming that "the Caliphate is already here."

It is the first video the extremist group in the Caucasus has released since it pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in June 2015.

The video begins with a news report which was broadcast on a Russian TV channel about a deadly car bombing that struck the town of Dzhemikent in Dagestan province on February 15, killing two Russian police officers. The video later presents the alleged Caucasus Province militant who carried out the attack. The video claims to show the perpetrator, Abu Abdurahman, speaking about the importance of "striking the apostates." 

The video begins with a Russian state news report about a terrorist car bombing in the Dagestanti town of Dzhemikent on February 15, in which 2 police officers and a civilian were killed and 17 people were wounded. The woman newscaster is blurred out.

The Jerusalem Post says "the video claims to show the perpetrator of the Dzhemikent attack, Abu Abdu Rahman."

However the footage does not claim so and actually appears to describe the man as the brother of Abu Abdu Rahman, describing him as a "martyr" and expressing the hope that "Allah will receive his shahid" [sacrifice].

Earlier, authorities gave the name of the young medical student who set off the blast in Dzhemikent as "A. Talibov," whose no nom de guerre was known.

The video has now been removed from YouTube, Google Drive, and VKontakte because it violates their terms of service. The Interpreter was able to review the video.

After an introduction with a jihadist song in Russian used in a number of previous Russian-language ISIS videos, promising a "sea of blood,"  six fighters are shown standing with guns in the forest.

The first speaker is an older man who is said in the caption to be the head [Naib valiya], Abu Yasir. He says he is from the Caucasus South Veliyat [Province]. He tells his fellow Muslims that they "don't need to go away somewhere"; "you can fight at home " because "there is enough rope and knives"; "Russia is a big country, and there are enough infidels."

2016-03-07 11:20:43

He complained that "we have no place where we can practice sharia."  

He tells Muslims who might be watching that if they are unable to make contact with the jihadists, they should "kill infidels anywhere, get a hunting rifle if nothing else."

Pointing to a shell, he says:

"Allah also gave us this metal and Inshallah we will use it against the Taghut [rebels against God] Putin and his accomplice dogs."

2016-03-07 11:21:47

He appeals "especially to those brothers who are in Russia" and says "we're looking for those Russians, so we can use this metal." The militant says:

"From Tyumen to the end of Russia, I know many brothers. There are many brothers who call themselves fellow believers. If you can get ahold of at least a rifle...use it on the path of Allah. We only have one life, brothers, only one life! We will regret it when we stand before Allah if we have not given up this life in the proper way.

What are you waiting for brothers? If you were waiting for the Caliphate, now it has come! If you have joined this Caliphate, that's it, the Caliphate has given the order, no matter where you are, to kill the infidels.

If you listen to the Islamic State news, those Russian infidels are bombing day and night. Do you not see that children are crying... Don't think that the Islamic State achieved such things by just sitting around. No, brother. They built this Islamic State with their lives, in blood, sincere Muslims, brothers. 

We too, if like them, they are an example for us, we must all sacrifice ourselves, our souls, our health, our property, Inshallah, we will not get this territory away, we will not liberate this land from the Taghuts, if we do not like them also take pains, Allah willing, Allah the Merciful, then Allah will give us this, too."

The second speaker, a soft-spoken young man, who, like the others, pledges his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

"Allah in his mercy returned to us the long-awaited Caliphate and made us mighty, and chose for us a caliph, Ibrahim Abu Bakir, let Allah preserve him!

We say to you, in the Caucasus, there are always warriors who are ready to trade their awful life for the eternal... I appeal to our Muslim brothers who have still not come out on the battlefield. Hurry, hurry to great Islam, hurry to the might of Islam, hurry to Allah's shariat [unintelligible]... Don't leave your fighting brothers, the mujahideen, they are in a great position in strength and spirit.

Soon you will hear good news, Allah willing, Allah decides all his affairs, but most people don't believe in that."

Finally, a third speaker is identified in a caption as the brother of Abu Abdur Rakhman, who is described as a martyr. He calls on Muslims "to blow up the Russian infidels" or "do something with them, that is the very pinnacle, brothers, I assure you."

2016-03-07 11:22:44

Next, a fighter executes a grey-haired man in a dark blue down vest and light blue shirt, firing several bullets into his head. He is described as a murtad (apostate) and agent of Russian intelligence.

The next scene shows one of the fighters planting the ISIS flag.

2016-03-07 11:26:11
2016-03-07 11:26:15
In the last scenes, the terrorists are shown walking through woods and a clearing that appear to indicate they are in the North Caucasus, not Syria.
2016-03-07 11:25:48
2016-03-07 11:26:21
-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick