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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
June 25, 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.
Ukrainians’ Strong Horizontal Ties a Serious Weakness When It Comes to Their Attitudes about Russians, Shchetkina Says
Staunton, VA, June 25, 2016 - One of the greatest advantages Ukrainians have relative to Russians is the strength of horizontal ties in Ukrainian society, ties that allow them to cooperate with each other in ways that Russians rarely can, Yekaterina Shchetkina says. But this advantage contains a weakness when it comes to the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian attitudes toward Russians.

On Kyiv’s Delovaya Stolitsa yesterday, the Ukrainian commentator reaches that conclusion on the basis of an analysis of recent poll results that show, despite Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine, a majority of Ukrainians have a positive attitude toward Russia and Russians.

“Our positive attitude toward citizens of the Russian Federation,” Shchetkina says, “contains within itself both a symptom and an element of therapy” because “we are searching for a means which will allow us to avoid the full and pitilessly clear recognition of the reality in which we find ourselves, the reality of a war with a neighboring country.”

Ukrainians not directly involved in the fighting often do not want to admit that there is a war on, she continues. They are sick of war and “the very fact of this war, a war with Russia or still more precisely a war with Russians has become for [them] a deep trauma,” one Ukrainians don’t want to face up to and so focus on other things.

“We do not want this war,” Shchetkina says, because “for us, as before the thought of war with Russians is against nature.” Consequently, Ukrainians simply deny its existence. And that is reflected in the fact that right now, two out of three of them tell surveys that they have “a positive attitude toward Russians.”

Such attitudes are encouraged by Russians who come to Ukraine – and their numbers have increased rather than fallen during the war – and tell Ukrainians that they don’t approve of what their government in Moscow is doing. That encourages Ukrainians in the view that “'not all Russians are Putinoids.’”

What Ukrainians don’t see in the comments of these Russians is that the latter are only interested in themselves and not in Ukrainians as such. “This,” she says, “is the only lesson which we ought to take from these visits. That is, to learn how to distinguish one’s own from that of the other. But this isn’t easy.”

“Our links in the frameworks of ‘a single space’ with Russia as before are significant. And while one would like to write that the Kremlin with its propaganda, the Lubyanka with its operations, and Ostankino with its brainwashing are to blame,” the situation is much “worse” because Ukrainians “have their own reasons to love Russians.”

At the present time, she points out, “Ukrainians relate to Russians much better than Russians do to Ukrainians, despite the fact that they attacked us and not the other way around and despite the fact that they seized part of our territory and not the other way around.” And there are deep psychological reasons for this.

“Unlike Russians, Ukrainians have never loved (and do not love) their own power vertical. They have never trusted (and do not trust) vertical structures.” Instead, for them, “horizontal, ‘human’ ties of family, friendship, and work are much more important.” That helped power the Maidan but it limits their ability to cope with a war with Russians.

These various ties, Shchetkina says, “’tie’” Ukrainians to Russia, “where every other Ukrainian has relatives, where many of our compatriots have worked and continue to earn money, to cure their children, to travel on business, and to interact.” Such “’lower’ ties” were shaken after the Revolution of Dignity but they did not completely disappear.

“As before,” she argues, “we continue to see in ‘simple Russians’ ‘our own,’” and we want to believe that they “do not support their government” when it is carrying out attacks on Ukraine and Ukrainians. But that attitude, Shchetkina insists, is “both a symptom and an element of therapy.”

“It is a symptom of the fact that our statehood is still a project, that we are not ready to face up to the reality of war against it but rather continue to hold on to our links or their illusions.” Thus, if Kyiv won’t speak about a state of war, it is not simply a diplomatic move; it is a reflection of a population “which is not prepared to see Russians as their enemies.”

“We like the Russians are post-Soviet people with a specific form of civic amnesia. However, the civic feelings we are different and we have to deal with that fact,” Shchetkina says. “Unlike us, the Russians have always loved (and love today) their state” and view it as their defense and salvation.

Consequently, Russians “will support it and justify it in everything and to the end. And they will be ready to see enemies” all around, “including [Ukrainians] rather than see it in their own government. Ukrainians are in many ways just the reverse, a great strength but also a great weakness.
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Brexit Puts NATO at Risk Too, Putin Ally Says
Staunton, VA, June 25, 2016 -  Many in both Moscow and the West believe, happily or unhappily, that Britain’s vote to leave the EU will spark similar referenda in other member states and result in the EU’s demise. Some in both, again happily or unhappily, believe it will lead to an end of sanctions on Russia, given that their chief advocate won’t be in the EU any longer.

But a close Putin ally, Boris Titov who is Vladimir Putin’s ombudsman for businesses and entrepreneurs has pointed to an even more serious consequence of the vote, one he and his boss clearly welcome but many in the West should fear: the severing of the European-American link that is most clearly institutionalized in NATO.

On his Facebook page immediately after the British vote, Titov wrote the following: “It seems that it has happened – the UK is out!!! In my view, the most important long-term consequence of all this is this: the exit will tear Europe away from the Anglo-Saxons, that is, from the United States."

And that in turn means, he says in words that reflect his most obvious hope and the fears of many in the Western alliance that this UK decision “is not the independence of Britain from Europe but the independence of Europe from the US. And from this to a united Eurasia is not very far only about ten years.”

Destroying NATO has been a Moscow goal since Soviet times because Soviet and now Russian leaders recognize that it is the chief integument between Europe and the United States. Without that link and without that organization, individual European countries will have to deal with an increasingly assertive Russia on their own, exactly what Moscow wants.

But the danger to NATO is even more immediate than that, as the Kremlin clearly intends. An alliance in which no one has any confidence is like a religion no one any longer believes, and the Brexit vote will lead ever more NATO members to have doubts about the alliance’s longterm integrity and viability, doubts that have existed since Prishtina.

As diplomats and political analysts have pointed out in many contexts, the most difficult step is often the first one; and once it is made, others will follow. So far, most commentators have been talking about the future of the EU. They should be focusing on the future of NATO as well because the spirit of isolationism is abroad, and it will spread from the economy to security.

If that happens – and no one should ever forget that this is Moscow’s most cherished goal – the countries of Europe will lose the security that the alliance has guaranteed for more than half a century and have to confront a resurgent Russia on their own without any confidence that the West will help them.

The new members in the eastern part of the continent will feel this threat first, but those older ones in the western part and also those in North America will not escape this danger if the forces that gave Brexit forces a victory are not addressed and countered. Despite what many think, it is not just “the economy stupid.” It is something much more than that.

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Draconian New Russian Law Seen Driving Religious Believers Underground Just as in Soviet Times
Staunton, VA, June 25, 2016 - The approval by the Duma of the so-called Yarova-Ozerov package of legislation will among other things drive many followers even of Russia’s “traditional” religions into the underground, leading them to ignore the official leaders of these faiths and opening the way to their radicalization, thus restoring the pattern of the late Soviet period.

And by so doing, Russia’s latest “anti-terrorist” effort is likely to lead to more terrorism rather than less, although some commentators are hoping that the provisions of this draconian new law will be mitigated in the usual Russian way by the impossibility of enforcing it or the unwillingness of officials to do so.

The Yarovaya-Ozerov package – the full text of the final version of which is available here – attracted an extraordinary amount of attention mainly because of its provisions governing the Internet and NGOs with foreign funding.

But the provisions of the measure concerning religious organizations and especially the new limits on missionary activity may have the greatest consequence. At least, that conclusion is suggested by coverage in Kazan’s Business-Gazeta and at the SOVA Center.

Business-News points out that the new law defines missionary activity as “the dissemination of beliefs and religious convictions outside of cult buildings and structures or other places and objects specially intended for divine services, religious respect [such as] cemeteries and crematoria … of through the media and the Internet.”

And the law specifies that the only citizens who are permitted to engage in such activity are those who have been specifically authorized to do so by the leaders of their communities which in turn must be communities registered with the government. Anyone else is subject to fines and, if they are foreigners, to fines and then expulsion from Russia.

Albir Krganov, the mufti of Moscow, the Central Region of Russia and Chuvashia, told the outlet that he did not know how the law could possibly be enforced given that Muslim leaders routinely visit the homes of believers without specific authorization – although he acknowledged there might be a point to imposing such limits on unregistered groups.

The mufti noted that “Protestants had spoken out sharply against this law because it is desirable that such important initiatives be discussed with religious organizations.” The Duma has a special forum for that, but, the deputies did not consult with any religious group. “This was an unjustified step,” Krganov said.

Moreover, the provisions of the law and the failure of the deputies two consult will, he suggested, “lead to the radicalization of Islamic society in the country,” with many “simply going underground and no longer listening to official religious workers.” That in turn will lead to “a split within the Islamic community,” something no one can possibly want.

In its evaluation of the final version of the law, the religious affairs experts at SOVA said that there had been some “small changes” in the language which marginally improved things but that “the repressive character of the amendments had been preserved.” Indeed, in one sense, although SOVA does not mention this, they may have been made worse.

That is because while the final version restricted the definition of missionary activity, it did so in a way that will reinforce the notion of “ethnic” believers, the idea that members of some nationalities are historically Orthodox and others are historically Muslim or Buddhist or something else and one that Patriarch Kirill has frequently supported.

The final version of the law limits restrictions on missionary activity to activities intended to spread a faith beyond those “who are not participants (members or followers) of a given religious union.” If that is interpreted as the Moscow Patriarchate is likely to, it will mean the Orthodox Church can go after ethnic Russians but that no other church will be allowed to.