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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
May 25, 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
Moscow May Preemptively Decide to Boycott Rio Olympics, Inozemtsev Says
Staunton, VA, May 25, 2016 - Much attention has been devoted to the possibility that the doping scandal that has engulfed Russian sports will lead the International Olympic Committee to ban Russian athletes from participating in the upcoming Rio Games and that FIFA will follow and strip Russia of its right to host the 2018 World Cup competition.

But because of those possibilities, there is another, Vladislav Inozemtsev argues: Moscow could unilaterally boycott Rio. “We already took such a decision in the Soviet times which are so beloved by our leadership,” he points out, suggesting that the propaganda explanations for such a step are obvious.

“How can [Russians] take part in competitions organized according to rules dictated by the United States?” Russian outlets will ask. And they will further enquire: How can they do so especially “in Latin America where Panama can’t keep banking secrets?” or “in Brazil where parliament is seeking to impeach a president for stealing from a national energy company?”

The Moscow commentator’s speculation comes at the end of an article in which he argues that the current scandals in the Russian sporting world are anything but unexpected in Vladimir Putin’s Russia and that, for three reasons, they tell far more about what is going on there than almost anything else.

First of all, Inozemtsev says, what Russia has done in sports is a reflection of what it wants to be able to do in all sectors: it wants to create a situation in which “all methods are considered acceptable” and where Moscow’s ability to “violate all rules” is a measure of its having lifted Russia from its knees.

“If it is permissible to send a killer with radioactive polonium to the capital of a European state, if one can seize part of the territory of neighboring countries, it is logical to use doubtful offshores” as a means of recapturing stolen money, “then why in the end should one observe the rules, given that the Kremlin has declared Russian sport a battlefield in politics and ideology?”

Given that today “no one believes Russia about anything” given this approach, no one should be surprised that the international community is focusing more on Russian athletes than on others or that this will continue for a long time to come. That is the true measure of Putin’s achievement, the commentator suggests.


Second, he continues, the only surprise is that it took the world this long to recognize what Moscow was doing at the Sochi Olympics. Anyone who studies the pattern of Russian medal winners in Olympics since the 1970s can see that Russia was losing out over time but suddenly at Sochi won 4.5 times as many medals as it did in the previous games.

Some are inclined to explain this by reference to a home field advantage, but an examination of the fate of other national teams who competed in Olympics abroad and then in one at home does not support that contention, Inozemtsev says. Such teams benefitted some but nothing on the Russian scale.

And third, there is another reason why Russia is doping its athletes to win victories: sports are increasingly a big money operation, and concerns about doping have tracked the rise of money athletes can earn and that host governments can take in. Given the centrality of cash in Putin’s world, it should not surprise anyone that he has been prepared to go for broke.

But the real reason is “the underlying attitude of the Russian political elite to any rules,” he continues. “this elite considers that honesty is something left over from the past, that a man of principle is a fool, and that the one who is prepared to be the most deceptive will win out and become successful.”
Such an approach may work on occasion, Inozemtsev says; but it clearly works best when it is used least often. However, “if such an attitude becomes the only permissible one, then one won’t have to wait very long for problems to arise.” That is especially the case in a field like international athletics.

“Unlike the publication of compromising financial documents,” he points out, actions in that field “are visible and obvious.” Punishments are something that can be meted out by officials and are easily understood by all. If the IOC strips Russia of only four or five medals from Sochi, the country’s ranking will fall from first to fourth or fifth.

Given that that would be only the first step on the road to the disqualification of Russian athletes for the upcoming Olympics, Russian officials have to decide how to react. So far, as the article by Sports Minister Vitaly Mutkov in the London Times shows, they have decided to follow “the best Russian bureaucratic traditions” and blame the athletes “who deceived us.”

That may not be enough, however, to persuade the IOC that Russia should be allowed to take part in the Rio Games. And if it strips Russia of that right, Moscow will have to come up with more effective propaganda, perhaps presenting the CIS Spartakiad in the Russian capital this summer as the “true” Olympics.

That might suit the Kremlin’s needs because in that competition one can be sure, Russian athletes will garner just as many medals as the FSB decides in advance and as the country’s anti-doping agency allows to win through.
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Putin’s ‘Traditional Values’ are Neither Traditional Nor Values, Moscow Commentator Says
Staunton, VA, May 25, 2016 - “So-called Traditional Values’” now being used by the Kremlin to justify all kinds of repressions are neither traditional nor values and have no fixed meaning, Sima Orekhanov says. Instead, they are a confusing “mix of liberalism, communism, sacred knowledge about Hyperborea, fascism and the devil knows what else.”

They haven’t been defined because they can’t be, the Moscow commentator says – each person gives them a different meaning -- but they have entered Russian life and become the basis for all kinds of “specific laws and unwritten rules” that the authorities use to intimidate and repress the population for the benefit of the elite.

In many ways, the commentator suggests, “traditional values are like the architecture of Luzhkov’s Moscow, who attempted to mimic now one style and then another and in the end arose something new and very eclectic, quite ugly and however odd this seems when applied to an ideology which appeals to tradition deeply post-modernist in its essence.”

The “traditional values” now on offer “do not arise from one of the great ideologies of the 20th century. They are not liberalism, communism, fascism and even not conservatism. Being a mutant, they are a combination of pieces from literally all of these and not only these trends of European thought.”

And it appears, Orekhanov writes, that “this is a unique example of an ideology which lacks any strict explanation, theoretical texts, and guides for practical applications and all the other attributes of any philosophical trend.” That is because it arose not as an idea but as a means of repression.

Attempts to link what Putin calls “traditional values” to Russian conservative thought are doomed to fail, he continues, because as another Russian commentator has observed, “classical Russian conservativism was much more syncretic and much less servile” than those who follow this current set of notions.

But in fact, he says, none of the supposed sources for “traditional values” withstands a close examination of that status. “Even Ivan Ilin, ‘Putin’s favorite philosopher,’ isn’t suited for that role [because] he so hated the USSR that he didn’t hide his sympathies for Hitler and after the end of the war hoped to return to Russia in a NATO fighter.”

Nor are any of the conservative thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th century appropriately designated as the sources of “traditional values.” Not Berdyaev, not Leontyev, Not Solovoyev and not Rozanov. As a result, those who are honest about this recognize that these values are “a construct of artificially collected parts of various ideologies.”

Indeed, Orekhanov says, “if thinkers whose ideas are not declared to be part of this ideology were to find out that they were being combined in this way, they would be more than a little surprised and hardly happy about it.”

At the start, “traditional values” were defined by negation. Grigory Yudin of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics has written that this notion arose in response to Dmitry Medvedev’s playing with modernization ideas. And when it appeared the population might rise in support of that and then against Putin, “traditional values” became a weapon against the people.

At first, this development manifested itself in various legislative proposals, open letters and the like. But it quickly moved “from words to action” as in the case of the banning of gay propaganda in the name of defending “traditional” family values.

When the Crimea issue arose, Putin shifted the focus of these “traditional” values from the family to politics, “a strange shift from the sexual to the geopolitical of well-known values” and an indication of how the Kremlin leader saw them strictly in terms of the ways to which they could be used.

Those commentators who tried to make sense of this, Orekhanov continues, quickly fell into terminological and other difficulties. Linking “traditional values” to traditionalism or traditional society illustrated this. The first drove some Russians back to “the exotic doctrine of the French philosopher Rene Genon, who by the way did not use this term.

But Genon was not entirely acceptable. He accepted Islam and viewed “de-secularization and a return to a religious worldview to be part of the return to Primordial traditions. He never supported the Nazis, but his ideas exerted a great influence on the theoreticians of fascism,” Orekhanov says.

Those who turned to the concept of “traditional society” in anthropology and sociology also had problems: those disciplines developed this notion not for a post-modern Russia but for primitive societies. And that got many thinkers in trouble as well.

Perhaps a better way to approach the sources of Putin’s “traditional values” is to consider Michel Houellebecq’s 2015 dystopian novel, Submission, which tells the story of what happens in France after a Muslim government takes power in Paris. The parallels between that and what is taking place in Russia are striking and frightening.

Among the things the Muslim government in France does in Huellebecq’s novel are “an increase in military spending, a reliance on the Abramaic religions with the preservation of religious freedom, the rapid growth of social inequality” and so on as the new regime moves toward the imposition of shariat.

Putin may not be seeking to impose Muslim law, but his notions about imposing “traditional values” on Russia have too many parallels with the Muslim project for comfort.
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Moscow to Launch Campaign to Get 15,000 Russian Scientists to Return Home
Staunton, VA, May 25, 2016 - Hoping to reverse the brain drain that has cost Russia tens of thousands of scholars in a wide variety of areas, a group of scholars working for the Presidential Administration has announced plans to begin a campaign to attract back to Russia 15,000 of the best researchers and then go after luring additional foreign specialists as well.

Artem Oganov, a specialist on computer design of new materials, tells Moskovsky Komsomolets that the best estimates are that since the early 1990s, Russia has lost between 100,000 and 200,000 scientists and that it must reverse that flow to develop its research capacity.

One reason for optimism that such a program will work, the scholar continues, is that “over the last several years,” approximately 1,300” Russian scientists have in fact come back. But the ratio of those leaving to those returning must be cut and then reversed and that is why the number 15,000 was decided upon.

“We don’t want all to return at once but only those with the greatest prospects and successes,” Oganov says. “Fifteen thousand such people” now working in the US or other countries and including both “venerable” scientists and those who have won fame more recently “can ensure a sharp jump forward of Russian science and technology.”

Asked whether such scientists would want to return to anywhere but Moscow and St. Petersburg, the computer specialist said that universities and research institutes in the provinces should compete with each other to attract scientists back rather than simply assume they’ll go only to the capitals.

Higher salaries will be the major attraction, Oganov continues, but he suggested at least some of the scientists will be attracted back because of the high cost of education for their children and of housing for themselves. What is most important, however, he says, is that Russia be viewed as a prestigious place to work, much as China became in the past.

Asked how Moscow could be sure of getting the right people, the scientist says that “we are composing certain lists” of those Russia most needs and wants. Presumably they will be offered higher salaries and greater benefits than the others.

What this program is most about, Oganov suggests, is to change the image of the country “from a poor undeveloped state without prospects from which everyone is leaving” into something people will want to be part of. After Moscow attracts back the Russian scientists, he says, the next task will be to hire a large number of foreign specialists to work with them.
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Moscow Must Stop Understating Islamist Threat inside Russia, RISI Expert Says
Staunton, VA, May 25, 2016 - Russian officials, who often describe what are obviously ethnic and religious conflicts as “criminal” or “domestic” disputes in order to protect their own reputations, are doing Russia no favors because their approach has led to a dramatic underestimation of the threat Islamist groups now pose to the country, according to Galina Khizriyeva.

Khisriyeva, a specialist on Islam in Russia at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI) that is part of the Presidential Administration, says it is critically necessary that officials stop misleading their bosses and the public and accept the advice of experts who are very much aware of the threat.

Many Russian officials, she says, believe that “the fewer manifestations of extremism and terrorism on the territories under them and the less people write and speak about them, the better for them.” That may protect their jobs for a time, but it does nothing for the security of the Russian Federation.

These officials don’t want to listen to experts who tell them about problems and they don’t want to describe clashes as ethnic or religious, preferring instead to talk about “domestic” disputes. But “this of course is not simply flattering to themselves but a very dangerous and short-sighted position!”

Experts notice things that point to problems ahead, like graffiti or articles in religious or ethnic media outlets, problems that all too many officials prefer to minimize by suggesting they are the works of individuals not groups. But by taking this position, they allow these “individual” phenomena to grow into something much worse.

Khizriyeva also points out that it is also a mistake to deny the connections that exist between Islamist extremism and Russophobia given that the former uses the latter to “destabilize Russian society” and thus create a situation in which it has the chance to expand and achieve its goals.

Russia needs to copy the experience of countries where officials are encouraged, even required to listen to experts on religious and ethnic extremism. She gives as an example Israel. Unfortunately, she says, such practices are “extremely rare” in Russia and officials turn to experts “not before but only after events.”

Cooperation between experts and officials needs to be expanded in Russia, and the basis for that is for each to recognize the competence of the other. They are not the same: officials have the ability to act but they often do not know what they should act against or what the problems are. Experts are far more likely to know those things, Khizriyeva says.

As an example, the RISI scholar notes that “today experts are seriously studying the problem of the influence of Turkish Islamists in a number of regions of Russia,” but in doing so, they have encountered official reluctance to talk about this threat and an unwillingness to recognize how large a threat it has become.

She concludes her interview by giving six pieces of advice to officials:

· First, officials should develop a network of agents.

· Second, they should avoid classifying inter-ethnic and religious conflicts as “domestic” clashes.

· Third, “they should more actively work with diasporas, communities and ethnic and religious organizations.”

· Fourth, they should monitor Muslim publications for Russophobic and anti-Russian tendencies.

· Fifth, they should make sure that all mosques and prayer houses are registered. The unregistered ones are a threat.

· And sixth, officials should “devote particular attention to apartments and houses where several young men from Muslim regions live, often illegally.”

If officials do that and listen to the expert community, Russia’s national security will be enhanced. If they don’t, then it and they will suffer.
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