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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
August 3, 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.
By Umberto Eco’s Standards, Putin’s Russia is Already In Part a Fascist State, Russian Analyst Says
Staunton, VA, August 3, 2016 - In 1995, the Italian scholar and novelist Umberto Eco identified 14 characteristics of fascism in a paper called "Eternal Fascism." Using his list, Vadim Zhartun says that Vladimir Putin's Russia fits in to the matrix Eco described and thus can be properly described as a fascist state, at least of the "lite" variety.

But at the same time, the St. Petersburg analyst says, Putinism's lack of any credible and sustaining national idea may be sufficient to keep it from becoming a full-blown fascist regime. Indeed, he suggests, it may put Russia on the way to collapse and dissolution in a manner like that of the USSR

Eco's article, originally delivered as a talk at Columbia University, was published and has become something of a classic both because of his own experiences of living under fascism in Mussolini's Italy and because of its utility for measuring threats to liberal democracy. (For Eco's text, see here).

Zhartun considers each of the 14 characteristics Eco identified as part of a fascist state and explored the ways in which Russia corresponds to them.  In all but one, the congruence of Russian realities now and Eco's signs of fascism is either complete or well on the way to becoming so:

1. Forward is Backward.  According to Eco, fascists insist that everything necessary for human life was already discovered in the past and only needs to be properly interpreted by contemporary leaders.  Putin insists that Russia can find all it needs in the various pasts of Russia, which must be combined according to his formulas.

2. Progress is Evil. Eco writes that "the new is not only not needed but is dangerous" in the minds of fascists who are prepared to rely on technical breakthroughs only to maintain or even restore the past.  "That the one is impossible without the other is not important" for them or for Putin, Zhartun says.  "In Russia today a medieval feudal society is being built," using rockets from the Soviet era which unfortunately for it "have begun to fall from the skies more often than in the past."

3. Only Fools Think.  For fascists, members of the intelligentsia are "potentially dangerous" and thus must be marginalized and eventually destroyed.  For Putin, one of his most constant memes is the antagonism between the real people of the workplace and the "creative" ones who cause only trouble by protesting.

4. He who is Not with Us is Against Us.  Fascists view any display of independent thinking as a betrayal and as a challenge to their efforts to stupefy the population.  Putin does the same.

5. The Foreigner is the Enemy.  Fascists, Eco argues, "seek to unify society" by promoting fear and hatred of the outsider. Russia has a long history of doing the same, Zhartun says; but the way in which state television was able to transform Russians' views about Ukrainians from a fraternal people to total enemies represents a breakthrough.

6. Strength is with the Failures.  Fascists have always understood that those who are doing well are less likely to be mobilized against this or that outsider group than those who are not and who need that sense of hostility in order to feel themselves exceptional and superior.  Russians, especially since 1991, are among the latter and have in many cases managed to convince themselves that in the USSR, "ice cream was sweeter, everyone got a free apartment, and Stalin was an effective manager."

7. The Country is Threatened by a Worldwide Conspiracy. Fascists have always explained any shortcomings by pointing to the existence of an active and remarkably effective conspiracy of one kind or another. Again, Putin is using the same approach, the St. Petersburg writer says.

8. Enemies are Simultaneously Strong and Weak.  Fascists invariably portray their enemies as strong so they can blame them for all their problem and "at one and the same time very weak so as to suggest that victory over them is inevitable." Putin's propagandists portray the US as capable of doing anything it wants but being so internally rotten that it is doomed to collapse.

9. All Life is a Struggle. Most people want happiness, but fascists insist that the goal of life is "the uninterrupted struggle for a happy life." Here Russia may fall short of the fascist definition: it has not unifying idea about what it is struggling for, although the Putin regime views struggle as the natural state of affairs and keeps casting about for new enemies.

10. Plebes and Patricians.  "Fascist regimes are like a staircase, with the denizens of each step fearing those who are above them and dreaming of occupying their place" and with the top man viewing everyone below as his servants.  That is exactly the kind of system Putin has been putting in place.

11. To Sacrifice Oneself is Beautiful.  Fascists insist that each individual must see as his highest goal the sacrifice of himself or herself for the good of the system. For Russians, there is already "the Cult of Victory, which organically combines within itself the cult of war, the cult of heroism, and the cult of ancestors, a three-for-the-price-of-one like for shampoo at a supermarket."

12. The Cult of the Real Man.  "Sooner or later, fascists arrive at the thought that they can and must get involved in sexual relationships," Zhartun writes on the basis of Eco's argument. "Any deviations from the norm are considered perversions and are persecuted," with women reduced to second class status as bearers of children who will be future warriors.  Russia has been moving in this direction since Putin became president, although it has a long way to go.

13. The Voice of the People. According to Zhartun and Eco, "democracy uses the will of the people to take decisions, while fascism uses them for justifying what it has done." That makes any dissent a crime because "the leader is the only worthy expression and defender of the interests of simple people." Putin's much-ballyhooed "86 percent" support is an example of this tactic.

14. New Speak.  Fascism destroys language in order to destroy thought, presenting the world in black and white terms with no opportunity for nuance or discussion. And it abuses the language in another way: it refuses at least under current conditions to label itself fascist while denouncing everyone it doesn't like as fascist.  That is very much part of the reality of Putin's Russia, Zhartun says. 

Given the close correspondence between Eco’s 14 points and Russian realities, the St. Petersburg analyst says it might seem entirely reasonable to predict that Russia will move toward being a full-blown fascist state. But the lack of an overarching idea and problems with the elite who have so many of their assets abroad make that less likely than some might think. 

Instead, there are likely to be in the Russia of the future pale imitations of the fascist states of the 1930s, with small steps taking the place of larger ones, thus “instead of concentration camps, overly full cells” in detention facilities. Any efforts to go further will simply collapse of their own weight. 

And consequently, Zhartun concludes, “it is possible that a certain moment everything will simply end as ended sometime ago the great, powerful, and indivisible Soviet Union.”

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Weapons from Donbass Flooding Back into Russia, Sparking Growth in Illegal Arms Sales and Violent Crime
Staunton, VA, August 3, 2016 - The black market in Russia for weapons has grown by almost 50 percent since 2012, largely as a result of the influx of guns brought back to Russia by militants who went there to fight but are now returning home, experts say. And that trend in turn has sparked a continuing rise in violent crime in many parts of Russia.

But what may be prove most worrisome is that the weapons coming back from the Donbass are advanced, modern ones; and these are displacing the older and less lethal guns that had been the mainstays of the Russian arms black market, according to Pavel Merzlikin of St. Petersburg’s Bumaga.

Russian border guards have tried to stem this flow, and many militants returning from the occupied Ukrainian territory have been stopped, the weapons they have confiscated, and court cases lodged against them. But despite those efforts, the flow of guns and other weapons from the Donbass into Russia has continued to increase.

One Russian interior ministry source told Mirzlikin many “volunteers from Russia regularly return to their motherland literally ‘loaded down with weapons,’” often Kalashnikovs and Makarov pistols but also landmines and other ordnance as well. Other sources said officials had stepped up efforts to block the flow, making it increasingly difficult to import contraband.

The Russian interior ministry reported that there were as many as 14 million guns changing hands illegally in Russia in 2012. No new data have been published, but Igor Shmelyev, of the Right to Arms movement, says that now that figure may be as high as 20 million.

Given that only 4.4 million Russians have the right to bear arms and they have 6.7 million guns registered as in their possession, that means the guns coming in from Ukraine’s Donbass are going into the black market and being held illegally. One result, is that the number of crimes involving the use of guns went up 25 percent in 2015, Russian officials say.

This year, the number of such crimes has gone up to almost 16,000, 3.4 percent more than for the same period last year. Vladimir Putin personally called for a crackdown on the buying and selling of weapons last April, but it is unclear how much of an impact that appeal has had.

Advertisements for guns appear regularly on the Internet, and demand appears to be brisk. According to Merzlikin, “sellers don’t care what purchases plan to do with their purchases.” Some may be collectors, others “nervous” Muscovites, and still others “potential criminal[s].”
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Moscow Seeks to Force Shaky Allies to Crush Protests, Angering the West and Forcing Them Back into Russia’s Orbit, Tsarik Says
Staunton, VA, August 3, 2016 - The Kremlin is now putting in place a new strategy to deal with shaky allies like Belarus and Armenia: encourage protests against their governments in order that the latter will crack down in ways that will alienate the West and force these countries back into Moscow’s embrace, according to Yuri Tsarik.

The analyst at the Minsk Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Questions says that “to frighten the Belarusian authorities with ‘protests, to provoke them to harsh actions, to stop the normalization of relations with the West and then to emerge as the only guarantor of security is [Moscow’s] ‘Crimean’ scenario for Belarus".

Precisely what that would look like in Belarus is now very much on view in Yerevan, where opposition groups and the government have been fighting one another for the last few weeks. That Moscow is applying this strategy in Armenia means that Belarusians must take seriously the possibility that it will soon be applied in their country as well.

Armenia has another critical lesson for Minsk as well. Agreeing to have a Russian military base on one’s national territory is no guarantee that Moscow will not make use of its leverage to destabilize and even replace the government that agreed to that basing, Tsarik continues.

There is some evidence that the Belarusian authorities are taking this analysis seriously. Earlier this week, after largely ignoring the issue for some months, Belarusian state media rose, in the words of the Belaruspartisan portal, “up in arms” about the Russian “patriotic” training camps in Belarus.

(For background on these camps, Russia’s role in them, and the ideological messages they are conveying to young Belarusians, see here and here.)

“Considering that in the media censored by the authorities not one word is spoken by accident,” Belarus Partisan says, “one must conclude that the Belarusian regime is seriously concerned by Russian ‘patriotic’ education of Belarusian youths and possibly also by pro-Russian attitudes in Belarus as a whole.”

But Tsarik’s analysis of the Armenian situation suggests that the instability Moscow wants in a country that isn’t following its line could come from those committed to anti-Russian positions. The only thing Moscow is interested in, according to Tsarik, is provoking a harsh government response that will leave the regimes with nowhere to turn but Russia.
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
18 Countries have Provided Non-Lethal Military Assistance to Ukraine Since 2014
Staunton, VA, August 3, 2016 -  Since January 2014, 18 countries have provided US $164.1 million worth of non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine, with more than 80 percent of that coming from just two countries, the United States which has given US $117.6 million worth of supplies and Canada which has given $23.6 million.

Those figures were provided to Apostrophe from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, which noted that there had been some weapons provided as well, by Lithuania among others, but that data about such transfers remain classified.

The amount of non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine between January 1, 2014 and July 15, 2016 for the 18 in US dollars is as follows, the ministry said:

The United States  $117,573,368
Canada 23,641,521
Poland 5,421,745
United Kingdom 4,975,847
Australia 4,682,498
China 3,400,000
Turkey 1,052,568
Slovakia 774,543
Norway 629,501
France 594,020
The Netherlands 500,000
Spain 258,419
The Czech Republic 245,782
Albania 226,388
Lithuania 116.201
Switzerland 31,928
Latvia 31.125
Denmark 21,300

Commenting on this data, Sergey Zgurets, director of the Defense Express Information Consulting Company, said that this foreign assistance had “a very great political effect at the very beginning of the Russian intervention when it seemed that Ukraine was standing one on one with a nuclear power.”

But “all countries tried not to cross a definite line in order not to provoke Russia to harsher methods of conducting military operations in the Donbass. More than that,” he said, it was important for Ukraine to rely as heavily as possible on its own resources given that it has a sizeable military industry. There have been achievements there but much remains to be done.