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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
June 5, 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.
Kyiv Shouldn’t Have Taken Part in Minsk Talks and Should Renounce Them ASAP, Borovoy Says
Staunton, VA, June 5, 2016 - The Ukrainian government should not have been drawn into the Minsk talks, and its “inexperienced” diplomats should never have agreed to include political questions in any conversation with the Russian aggressor; and now, Kyiv has even more reason to exit the Minsk process, according to Konstantin Borovoy.

The Minsk process so beloved in Europe whose leaders want to freeze the conflict regardless of whether this is good for Ukraine – and it very much does not -- is something Kyiv must renounce and leave, the leader of Russia’s Western Choice opposition party says.

When Minsk began, “the inexperienced diplomats of Ukraine agreed to include political demands; that is, already at the very first stage they allowed the discussion of political demands with the aggressor and everyday terrorists,” Borovoy says; but one doesn’t negotiate with terrorists at least not in public. “No serious country would consider” such things.

In addition to lacking experienced diplomats, Ukraine at the moment of the beginning of the Minsk process did not have “an army which was capable of defending Ukraine.” But what it did have was some members of its foreign ministry who despite everything remain “oriented toward Russia. They too insisted on the inclusion of political components.”

Kyiv should never have discussed let alone agreed to any proposals for changing its constitution and holding elections in occupied territory. And that is even more true now when Ukraine has a capable army and “nationally oriented diplomats.” It is time to stop “this comedy” and behave like a serious country.

That means, Borovoy says, that Ukraine should display the political will to “pull out of this negotiating process” regardless of “possible pressure from the US and EU. It is necessary to declare that negotiating with terrorists is impermissible except to liberate hostages and that events have shown that the regimes in the Donbass are little more than gangsters.

If the current Ukrainian government does not have the will to do that and to take and keep a principled position, the Russian commentator suggests, then there will be a new Maidan at some point and the regime will collapse at least in part because many of its own oligarchs will not be unhappy to see that happen.

In another comment in support of his view that the Moscow-backed rebels in the Donbass are terrorist criminals, Borovoy says that he is confident that when Ukraine does restore its control there, it will find a number of mass graves, the result of the actions of the occupation forces.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Does the Kremlin Fear Repeats of 1962 Novocherkassk Events – and Would It React Equally Brutally?
Staunton, VA, June 5, 2016 - Reports that Russian police are training to suppress working class uprisings appear especially ominous given that they come precisely when many Russians are remembering Khrushchev’s brutal suppression of worker protests in Novocherkassk 54 years ago this week.

Working-class protests against Soviet power occurred frequently in the early days of the Bolshevik regime – the most famous was the revolt of the Izhevsk and Votkinsk arms factory workers in 1918 – but the communist government did everything it could to cover up, distort or at least minimize such things given its notion that it was the representative of the working class.

Consequently, for many Russians, the archetypical working-class protest against Soviet power was what happened in Novocherkassk, a city in Rostov Region, on June 1-2, 1962, in which workers protested price hikes and the KGB backed by the Soviet army moved quickly and brutally against the workers.

On this anniversary, Russian nationalist commentator Petr Romanov describes what prompted the workers of a Novocherkassk factory to protest 54 years ago and how the Soviet security agencies implicitly drawing parallels between the situation then and the one now.

As Romanov notes, in the early 1960s, the economic situation in the USSR was anything but good. There were shortages of meat and bread, and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was forced to take the humiliating step of purchasing grain from abroad. But the population, especially workers and those outside of Moscow, suffered horribly.

At the end of May 1962, the Soviet leadership boosted prices for meat and meat products by 30 percent, even as it changed pay rules so that workers in many factories were paid less. That double whammy meant that many workers could not feed their families even at the subsistence levels they had been.

Throughout the spring of that year, there had been protests in Novocherkassk, but most had been focused on pay cuts and relatively small. But when the price rises, supposedly introduced the Communist Party said “at the request of all the toilers,” went into effect on June 1, workers at a major plant there walked out and were quickly joined by others.
At 10:00 am on June 1, 200 workers had struck, but by 11:00, the number of strikers had swollen to 1,000 and appeared likely to continue to grow and engulf the whole city. The workers said they had only one question for the bosses: “what are we supposed to live on” if pay is cut and prices go up.

The director of the factory, B.N. Kurochkin, made things worse with a Marie Antoinette-like remark: He told the strikers that instead of eating bread and meat, which they now could not afford, they should make do with liver. Not surprisingly, his words outraged the strikers, the director had to flee, and the workers took over the entire factory.

By the evening of June 1, 5,000 workers were on strike, and they moved to block rail connections between Moscow and south Russia and began to march on key institutions, including the bank and CPSU headquarters.

Khrushchev reportedly was told about this strike already at 10:00 am. He ordered the ministers of defense and interior and the KGB to take all necessary measures to suppress the strike and force the workers back to their jobs. The commander of the North Caucasus Military District gave the order to send in tanks to do the job.

Fortunately, as Romanov notes, Lt.Gen. M.K. Shaposhnikov refused to obey that order. He told his bosses that “I do not see before me an opponent who should be attacked by our tanks.” He was removed and expelled from the CPSU. Later, when he was asked what he thought would have happened had tanks been used, he said that “thousands would have died.”

The workers continued to stream into the center of the city, something the authorities sought to block with troops on the bridges; but the workers simply waded across, showing that they weren’t going to be intimidated by just a show of force.

Moscow had already dispatched senior party officials, including Frol Kozlov and Anastas Mikoyan, but when they heard that columns of workers were marching in their direction, they fled to protected military centers, something that apparently the workers discovered and that may have given them courage to continue.

Soviet troops then fired twice into the air and then they fired directly into the columns of workers. Some ten to fifteen workers were killed in this initial action, according to official reports, but the real number was almost certainly higher, especially since it appears that the uniformed personnel fired from rooftops and used automatic weapons against the strikers.

Some of the workers fled, but others sought to break into militia posts in order to seize weapons and free those of their comrades who had already been taken into custody. Again, according to official reports, “more than 30” had been detained. By the end of the second day, 24 workers were dead, and the authorities buried them in places where other workers couldn’t find them and make pilgrimages to these martyrs.

Despite the deaths and arrests, most of the workers continued their strike, apparently terrifying the party command. It introduced martial law, and then Kozlov began to make promises that price rises would be rescinded or at least limited and that wage rules would go back to what they had been.

These promises led some workers to end their strike but others called for killing, in Romanov’s words “not only the leaders [of the factory and city] but also all communists and all those ‘wearing glasses,’” a reminder of the powerful anarcho-syndicalist tradition in Russia denounced by the CPSU as “Makhaevism.”

But despite Kozlov’s promises, the Soviet authorities moved to arrest more people, at least 240 by the end of June 4. And then they began to mete out punishment: seven of the leaders of the strike were executed, 105 others were sentenced to ten to fifteen years in strict regime camps. Only later in Brezhnev’s time were those rehabilitated.

Initially, the Soviet government did everything it could to prevent anyone from finding out about the Novocherkassk rising and the Soviet suppression of it. Reports did make their way into samizdat and to foreign radio stations, but only at the end of the 1980s, under glasnost, did reports appear in the domestic Russian press. Even then, however, these were incomplete.

Even to this day, Romanov says, “many documents from the KGB archives devoted to the Novocherkassk rising remain classified” and beyond the reach of investigators.
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Kremlin has Plenty of Money for Making War but Not for Helping People, Illarionov Says
Staunton, VA, June 5, 2016 - Russian officials from Dmitry Medvedev on down who say that Moscow does not have enough money to index pensions and provide social welfare to the Russian people are simply lying, Andrey Illarionov says. Their own data show that the Kremlin has plenty of money for war, just not for the Russian people.

As he often does, the Moscow economist uses Russian government statistics in this case from the finance ministry to show that the Putin regime has enough money to pay for a massive increase in military spending even as it pleads poverty as an excuse not to help ordinary Russians.

In an Ekho Moskvy post entitled “No Money? Yes There Is!” Illarionov says that the Russian government has launched a remarkably effective campaign to justify the notion that the government doesn’t have the money to pay for welfare problems. “However,” he says, “the Russian government has money” for what it considers more important: war.

Moreover, it is simply not true, the economist says, that the country’s reserve fund is running out. As of May 27th, it amounted to US $389 billion, $21 billion more than on January 1. But that is less striking than the rise in military spending that the Russian government openly acknowledges.

In recent year, military spending as risen from 1.3 to 3.7 trillion rubles ($19 billion to $56 billion) and now accounts for 23.8 percent of government expenditures and 4.6 percent of Russia’s GDP. Even adjusted for inflation and exchange rates, Russian military spending has gone up 75 percent over a period when the Russian GDP has risen only 5.4 percent.

Put in more personal terms, the Russian government is spending “more than 25,000 rubles” ($381) on war for every man, woman and child in the country, an amount that if it were even partially redirected could save most social programs, including the promised indexing of pensions against inflation.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
‘Who are the Anonymous People Terrorizing Those Who Criticize Putin?’
Staunton, VA, June 5, 2016 - As disturbing as the Putin regime’s abuse of the Russian legal system is, going after its online critics, even more frightening is the rise of what might be called “hybrid” repression: the use of anonymous people goaded by the regime and its allies to attack Putin critics with force outside of the law.

Such people and the fact that in almost no case is any official effort made to find them creates a dangerous new situation, one in which individuals who go online and engage in any discussions which the Russian regime doesn’t like may face not only legal jeopardy but more immediate personal threats as well.

Tracking such things, just like tracking Putin’s “hybrid” war with its “little green men,” is difficult, but Novaya Gazeta correspondents Aleksandra Garmazhapova and Nataliya Zotova, correspondents for Novaya Gazeta in St. Petersburg and Moscow, respectively provide some details on how this emerging system works by examining several recent cases in the northern capital.

She begins by asking “who are these people who threaten reprisals against anyone who permits himself to criticize the president of Russia, the party of power, and the government on the Internet?” That question has become urgent, Garmazhapova argues, because “they have already passed from [threats] to actions.”

On the night of May 31, persons unknown set fire to the car of Yuliya Chernobrodova, a translator, who had earlier attracted verbal attacks for her writing against Putin on the Internet and who had been forced to change her avatar several times in order to hide from these people. But because of a dark site that tracked this, her enemies were able to find her and burn her car.

When she received the earlier threats, Chernobrodova did what any citizen would think to do: she turned to the police. But the police refused to help her because they said she had not provided any concrete details of a threat. Had they been willing to take up the case, they would have found what they needed to bring charges easily enough.

The St. Petersburg translator began her own independent investigation and she discovered that her personal details had been put on a site Kto Est' Kto (Who is Who at [currently down] that allowed those who wanted to attack her to find out where she lived and worked and other details about her personal life including her banking data. That is clearly what those who burned her car had done.

She is not the only object of attention of this site, says Garmazhapova, pointing to an earlier attack on another Petersburg resident who had criticized Putin on the web. Someone “anonymously” posted his photograph and details that allowed some unknown people to attack him. Others have suffered a similar fate, being attacked or having their cars burned.

In each case, these attacks have not been solved, but those who carried them out or sympathized with them have gone online to post new threats to those who criticize Putin and his regime. The implication of these attacks is that more things will follow and that if people persist in criticizing, the consequences will become even worse.

Chernobrodova and her husband tried to reassure their friends and relatives by pointing out that at least they had not been killed “That is already a good thing,” adding that “the most important thing is that such things” like the burning of their car “not be repeated with others” because as they point out, “this is not the first such case.”

Earlier in April, another Petersburg resident had suffered the same thing: his car was burned after he criticized Putin online. And after unknown persons did that, they posted new threats against him and his wife on his personal Internet account. These cases are spreading fear among many and leading to demands that the shadowy sites that support such actions be closed.

Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition Duma deputy, has called for closing, and Yabloko deputies in the St. Petersburg city assembly have sent a letter to the chief of the city’s police force asking for expanded investigations of these attacks. So far, although the site appears to be down, it's not clear if authorities have taken action, a position that only makes these attacks more disturbing.