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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
June 24, 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.
New Anti-Terrorist Acts Means Kremlin is Preparing for War at Home and Abroad, Ponomarev Says
Staunton, VA, June 24, 2016 -   On June 24, the Russian Duma passed on second and third reading the so-called “Yarova-Ozerov law on terrorism,” a draconian measure that means not only that Vladimir Putin’s recent call for improved relations with the West was nothing more than “a special operation” but also and more seriously that he is preparing for war at home and abroad.

That is the judgment of Lev Ponomarev, a longtime human rights activist, who says that in one sense, those pushing this legislation law are correct if Russia has indeed entered “a military period,” one when “it is possible to spit on the constitution” in order to “oppose enemies".

Polls show, he continues, that “about 50 percent of Russians are ready for war and ready to send their sons off to fight.” That of course means that bodies will be returning in large numbers just as they have during the fighting in Ukraine and in lesser numbers in Moscow’s Syrian campaign.

Thus, “the country is prepared for war and it is necessary to deal with ‘the fifth column’” at home.

What is striking, however, is that the Duma’s action comes on the heels of Putin’s declaration that he wants to be friends and to have foreigners invest in Russia only last week. If he signs this measure, Ponomarev says, “it will become clear that Putin in St. Petersburg only carried out a cover operation” and that no one should take his words there seriously.

Instead, the activist says, they should take seriously the fact that “mass purges of ‘the fifth column’ are beginning” and that more Russian aggression abroad can be expected in the coming weeks and months.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Stalin’s Forgotten Victims – ‘the Special Settlers’ – Finally Get a Memorial in Russia
Staunton, VA, June 24, 2016 - The literature on the GULAG is enormous, but that about another group of Stalin’s victims, the spetsposelentsy or “special settlers,” is far smaller, even though several million people, men, women and children, of the “wrong” nationality, the “wrong” religion, or simply the “wrong” place of residence were deported to distant parts of the USSR.

Among those subject to this distinctive kind of punishment were Poles, Romanians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Scandinavians, Volga Germans, Greeks, Italians, Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Meskhetians, Karachays, and Kalmyks, to list only some of the victimized peoples.

Also among the special settlers were members of religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the True Orthodox, and the Seventh Day Adventists, many of whose members had attracted the unwelcome attention of the Soviet state by refusing to join communist youth organizations or serve in the Soviet Army.

Most of these waves of special settlers came during World War II, but others came after, including most notoriously the forced resettlement of Azerbaijanis from Armenia into Azerbaijan and of most Iranians who had been living in Armenia into the Georgian SSR.

Members of these communities were seized by Stalin’s secret police, sent east in cattle cars in which many died, forced to live far from their homes, and denied the right of return until years later, but unlike GULAG prisoners, most of them were confined to villages or regions that did not have all the familiar hallmarks of the camp system.

That makes them harder to classify or even count and has meant that except for those who were members of these victimized groups, they have been often memorialized and less widely studied – although there is Aleksandr Nekrich's Punished Peoples and there have been excellent Russian ones like Viktor Berdinskikh’s Spetsposelentsy: Politicheskaia ssylka narodov Sovetskoi Rossii (Moscow, 2005) and Viktor Zemskov’s Spetsposelentsy v SSSR, 1930–1960 (Moscow, 2003).

Now, that gap in the Russian Federation has been partially filled by a monument activists in the village of Zavodskoye in the Altay Territory who have put up a memorial stone in memory of all those who were “subjected to political repressions, taken away from their native places, and sent there to work in logging."

Initially, Mariya Polivtseva, the initiator behind this effort, says, she and others in the Troitsky district put up memorial crosses and said prayers for the large number of the special settlers who died there and never had the chance to return home. Now they have erected a stone with the simple but moving words, “To the victims of repression.”

Many of those who were resettled there or their descendants came to the ceremony where the stone was uncovered. They shared their memories of this terrible but sometimes forgotten crime and said, according to the report, that they all pray that “our grandchildren will never see what we survived.”
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 37
Staunton, June 24, 2016 - The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore.

Consequently, Windows on Eurasia presents a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the 37th such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, once again, one could have put out such a listing every day -- but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1. Putin Thinks He Won the Football Wars But Many Russians Don’t. Vladimir Putin’s dismissive remarks that a few Russian fans were able to defeat much more numerous British ones suggests he thinks he won the football wars in Europe. But given the poor performance of the Russian squad and the probability that few Russians will participate in the Rio Olympiad, many Russians don’t, with some observing that what the Kremlin leader has spent on sports could easily have lifted at least two Russian regions out of depression. 

2. Russians May Not Be So Forgiving of Putin’s Remarks on US Superpower Status. Many in the West saw Vladimir Putin’s acknowledgement in St. Petersburg that the US is a superpower and Russia isn’t as opening the way for an easing of East-West tensions. But Russians who have been told that the sacrifices they have been making are all about restoring Russia to great power status may not be so forgiving, one Moscow commentator suggests. That he may be right is suggested by the contorted reasoning being used by Putin’s defenders. One has suggested that being a counterweight to a superpower is even a higher status than being a superpower itself.

3. Moscow Plans to ‘Seize’ All Republics of Former Soviet Union, Duma Deputy Says. Yevgeny Fedorov says that “the goal of the Russian Federation is the seizure of all republics of the former Soviet Union and the restoration of the territory of ‘greater Russia’ in its 1945 borders.” Those borders were “illegally violated in 1991,” he adds. Moscow’s moves against Ukraine are “a historical technology” for “the resolution of this task. Fedorov pointedly noted that this is not just his opinion but that of many in Moscow.

4. ‘Why Isn’t There a Monument to Beria?’ As the dispute over the renaming of a bridge in St. Petersburg continues, with opponents in the northern capital draping the bridge with one of Akhmat Kadyrov’s slogan – “Kill as many Russians as you can!” and others in Chelyabinsk renaming a bridge for one of those who fought against the Chechen leader, one commentator has asked why there isn’t yet a monument to Stalin’s notorious secret police chief Lavrenty Beria who was after all a most “effective manager." One Russian official who might support this is Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky who this week said that Russia needs to declare war on rootless “cosmopolitans,” a dangerous echo of a late Stalinist campaign in which Beria took a leading role.

5. ‘There’s No Money So Let’s Go Shopping,’ Russians Say. In the face of the deepening economic crisis, Russians are choosing to use their credit cards and go shopping, new survey finds. But that tactic will work only for a brief time given that regional governments are running out of money, food and medicine shortages are increasing, and unemployment while largely hidden is going up as well.

6. ‘Mongol Yoke Saved Russia from Becoming European,’ Lavrov Says. Most Russians have been raised to believe that the Mongol yoke was a national tragedy, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says it had a silver lining: it prevented Russia from becoming a European country. Meanwhile, Kazan historian Rafael Khakimov has pointed out that under Putin, Russians are more afraid to violate the historical myths the Kremlin insists on than they are to violate the Russian constitution, and another commentator has suggested that Russians can’t learn anything from history because their leaders don’t believe in facts.

7. You Can’t Die This Week; You’re Not on the Schedule, Perm Officials Say. Health officials in Perm have told hospitals in that Russian region that they are not allowed to report more than one death a week no matter how many there actually are and that they must not send out ambulances more than 11 times again regardless of how many emergency calls come in.

8. Negligence Now the Universal Explanation for Disasters in Russia. If the Soviet victory in World War II is the universal solvent in which all Soviet crimes are supposed to dissolve, “negligence” has become the preferred explanation for all kinds of disasters in the Russia of Vladimir Putin. That observation has been prompted by a report that emergency officials in Karelia ignored a call from one of the children drowned there last weekend and did not send the aid that could have saved many lives.

9. Where is Gogol When Russians Need Him? A Russian businessman has taken a step Gogol would have found hard to top: he’s used an entire village which he owns and the residents in it which he doesn’t as collateral for a loan at a Magnitogorsk bank.

10. Russian TV Sometimes Accidentally Presents the Truth. As a result of what some are certain to call “editorial negligence,” Russian state television broadcast evidence that Moscow is using cluster bombs and other kinds of illegal ordnance in Syria, something Russian officials have long denied. But this is only a blip of its record of lying to Russians and the world, as a new list of the top 240 Russian claims that haven’t turned out to be true shows.

11. Russia’s Regions Must Stop Thinking of Themselves as Moscow’s Provinces, Buryat Says. Too many people in Russia’s regions and republics have accepted the notion promoted by people in the Russian capital that their lands are provinces and their people provincial, according to Mikhail Slipenchuk. That must end if they and indeed the country are to have a better future.

12. Ulitskaya Says Russians Genetically Inclined to Aggression. Many observers have speculated about the reasons Russians especially now under Putin are so aggressive toward their fellow citizens and other countries. Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya says she believes the reason is that they are predisposed in that direction by their genes.

13. ‘Russian State is Like a Dog that It’s Best to Avoid’ – and Other Words of Wisdom from Russian Students. A group of scholars has searched the essays Russian students must write to pass their examinations and identified dozens of pearls, perhaps the brightest of which is that “the Russian state is like a dog; it may bite; and it is best to avoid it altogether".

And six more from countries in the neighborhood of Russia:

14. Russia’s FSB Blames Ukrainian Agents for Problems with Crimean Occupation Regime. The FSB says that many of the problems the occupation regime in Crimea is having are the result of the work of Kyiv’s agents who have penetrated institutions on the Ukrainian peninsula, a charge that provides Russian forces with yet another excuse for their failings and that opens the way for even more repression ahead.

15. Russia’s Deportation Monument a ‘Spit in the Face of All Crimean Tatars.’ Many Crimean Tatars are furious that the occupation forces have used the same sculptor who created the monument to the “polite” people who seized their region to come up with a sculpture in honor of the victims of the 1944 deportation of their nation to Central Asia. Such a choice, they say, represents “a spit in the face” of all of them.

16. Another Stalinist Measure in Russian-Occupied Crimea.  The police in Crimea are now employing a measure long associated with the Stalin period in the Soviet Union by going after and imposing punishments on the children of those adults that have been repressed.

17. Young Men in Tajikistan Taking Kyrgyz Citizenship to Avoid the Draft. Young men in Tajikistan have come up with a new tactic to avoid serving in their country’s military: they are becoming citizens of Kyrgyzstan, something that will do little to improve relations between those two countries or enhance Tajikistan’s security in the face of threats from Afghanistan.

18. Are the Gagauz Outplaying Moscow – or Working for It? Some in the Russian capital are concerned that the Gagauz leader they thought was in their pocket has had a secret meeting with Turkey’s president who has announced that he wants the Gagauz to open a representation in Ankara just as it has done in St. Petersburg. Russian officials have long assumed that the Turkic speaking but Orthodox Gagauz are their reliable ally against the Moldovan central government, but these latest developments suggest that Moscow may have been outplayed by one of its smallest allies. Alternatively, of course, this could be yet another Moscow move directed against Chisinau and its European choice.

19. Kazakhstan Now Absorbing a Million Migrant Workers Every Year. One reason for the recent unrest in Kazakhstan is that that Central Asian country has been absorbing about a million migrant workers annually over the last several years, opening the way for radical penetration given that most of these people are from other parts of Central Asia and sparking problems with the local Kazakh population.