Thursday, September 21, 2017

Kremlin’s De-Monopolization of Force a Threat to the Regime, Latynina Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – The Kremlin’s de-monopolization of force, a step forced upon it by the breakdown of its two previous chief supports, is creating a situation which threatens the regime itself, according to Yulia Latynina, a Russian commentator recently forced to move abroad as a result of violence directed against her person.

            Since the murder of Boris Nemtsov in February 2015, “quasi-state force has flooded Russia,” she says.  Most of those who carried out such attacks remained unpunished even if the evidence against them was overwhelming (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/09/19/73893-yuliya-latynina-kreml-vstal-na-put-yanukovicha-i-maduro).

            The Russian economy remains monopolized by the state: 65 percent of it is in the hands of the government. But “instead of de-monopolizing the economy,” Latynina continues, “the Kremlin has de-monopolized its control of the means of force.”  Why did that happen now? she asks rhetorically. “Because all its remaining arguments [on its behalf] had failed.”

            “Until 2014,” she says, the Putin regime relied on two things to legitimate itself: oil dollars which allowed it to buy off almost everyone, and television which delivered its message and which almost everyone watched.  Those who weren’t bought off or who didn’t watch TV were not numerous enough to worry about.

            In that year, “the oil dollars ran out,” Latynina continues. “Formally, they ended after Crimea,” but she says that she believes that “Crimea was a preventive strike. Patriotism was supposed to replace the oil dollars” in maintaining the loyalty and support of the Russian population.

            But remarkably quickly, television, the chief propaganda arm of the Kremlin, began to lose its ability to define the situation, with ever more people turning away from it to YouTube, Facebook and VKontakte.  Moreover, the average age of those watching television has continued to climb: it is now 63. 

            Any authoritarian regime has two primary resources: the lie and force, Latynina points out.  “When the lie ends, force begins,” and one should not ever suggest that it will be ineffective. In fact, history shows that it can be extremely effective if it is used with sophistication and care.

            But at some point, “the effectiveness of force falls because it has been delegated to para-state structures,” she suggests.  The reason that states like Putin’s do that is because they want to have plausible or even implausible deniability, the ability to insist that they were not involved even when everyone knows they are.

            Ending the state’s monopoly on the use of force, however, entails “other problems.” One is that “in a contemporary state, those bearers of de-monopolized force are primarily the lumpen” because “no one, except the lumpen, dreams about a career as a street thug” and only rarely do they have such a career opportunity opened for them.

            But Putin’s war in the Donbass gave the lumpen a remarkable opportunity.  Many Russian lumpen flocked there because “what had earlier been considered a crime was now considered an act of glory.” The same thing holds for other nominally privatized uses of force in Russia. 

            “When these lumpen receive the chance to engage in force, then the elites begin to feel very uncomfortable -- and that goes for any elites including the financial, governmental and siloviki.”  That is the first thing that happens as a result of the de-monopolization of the use of force and it is no small one.

            The second result is that no one ever commits an act of violence for someone else. People engage in violence “always for themselves,” Latynina says; and as a result, “the de-monopolization of the force strengthen the position not of the Kremlin but of those who engage in such force.” Thus, “Chechnya is not the exception: it is the rule.”

            And it is the height of naivete to think that “any of the enthusiasts of present-day force want to serve the Kremlin. Each of them with the help of force wants to strengthen his own position.”

            A third thing about lumpen-driven force is that it is “especially effective when  it is applied in the name of the Big Lie, God, races, the Bright Future, when people are prepared not only to kill but to die,” and that opens the way to the spread of radical ideologies which may in the minds of some justify such a sacrifice.

            And finally, the Russian commentator says, there is one other aspect of this situation which must trouble the powers that be: any use of force “typically gives rise to a counterforce.  Yanukovich fell not when he began to shoot at the peaceful people but when the people began to shoot back.”

            With regard to this factor, Latynina concludes, recent figures “aren’t in the favor of the Kremlin.” In Omsk last week, 20 people came out to demonstrate against Mathilda, but 7,000 assembled to back opposition presidential candidate Aleksey Navalny.

18 of 19 Federal Subjects with Above Average Xenophobia are Predominantly Ethnic Russian, Drobizheva Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – Eighteen of the 19 federal subjects that have xenophobia levels above the country-wide ones are predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts, Moscow, and St. Petersburg, Leokadiya Drobizheva says; only one non-Russian republic – Bashkortostan – makes this list.

            The head of the Moscow Center for Research on Inter-Ethnic Relations says that in all these places “more than 20 percent” of the population feel negative attitudes about members of other ethnic communities, in large measure because of variations in the influx of gastarbeiters  (nazaccent.ru/content/25427-93-zhitelej-rossii-ne-stalkivalis-s.html).

            In other comments, Drobizheva points out that women on the whole are more tolerant than men, 59.2 percent and 40.8 percent respectively but that women and men who are extremely intolerant toward others are almost the same, 50.6 percent of Russian men and 49.4 percent of Russian women.

            She also reports that the level of tolerance varies among people depending on education: 51.9 percent of managers and highly qualified specialists view themselves as tolerant, while only 23.6 percent of skilled workers and only 4.3 percent of unskilled laborers do so.

            Overall, those who consider themselves tolerant are more satisfied with life than those who don’t, but Drobizheva notes that there wasn’t a perfect correspondence between standard of living and attitudes toward members of other national communities, as many had expected to find. 

Kremlin hasn’t Learned that Backing Both Sides in Domestic Conflicts Leads to Trouble, Vinokurova Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – The Russian authorities haven’t yet learned from something that happens to them again and again, Znak commentator Yekaterina Vinokurova says. “You cannot, with one hand, struggle against radical extremists and, with the other, use them for your very own goals.”

            Instead, they seem to think, she continues, that because one side is useful on one occasion and another on another, the authorities are best off if they get involved in the organization and promotion of both.  But that ignores the very real possibility that the situation can get out of control if others exploit the situation (znak.com/2017-09-20/ekaterina_vinokurova_o_dolgoy_druzhbe_kremlya_s_politicheskimi_radikalami).

                Some not under the direct control of the state may engage in copycat actions and crimes, and it may even happen, Vinokurova says, that at a meeting the authorities have approved because they think they control the organizers, some young man “who has a pistol in his rucksack” may participate and act in more extreme ways than the powers want. 

            The Russian security agencies have been doing this for a long time as did their Soviet predecessors, but “in recent years, the authorities have placed their bets on radical-conservative groups because this was situationally needed for the struggle with the dominant liberal trend in the media and cultural space.”

            Obviously, the Znak commentator says, “radical believers will be very useful in punishing Pussy Riot … but the burning of movie theaters will continue” because even if the authorities can control the Christian State radicals, “other groups” not under the control of the state will get involved in doing the same thing.

            (Another recent case highlighted the same problem: the authorities couldn’t really do much to stop the Muslim demonstrations in Moscow, Grozny, and St. Petrersburg about the genocide of the Rohingja in Myanmar because they were too heavily involved with those who organized them. People were detained but very quickly released, Vinokurova points out.)

            According to the Znak commentator, “the ideal outcome from the specific case with the radical ‘believers’ and ‘Mathilda’ would be to insist that representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church play the role of a moderator.” Given everything the state does for the church, that doesn’t seem too much to ask.

            The authorities should ask the church to have all priests call on their parishioners to “stop organizing protests against the showing of the film ‘Mathilda.’ To save face, for example, they could simply ask their flocks not to go to this film … they could call the Tsar-Battlers a destructive sect,” and the state could sent Natalya Poklonskaya on a long trip.

            Perhaps, she could make “a lengthy international tour to establish inter-parliamentary cooperation in South America or with the penguins of Antarctica.”

            Unless the Kremlin learns that it can’t play both sides of the street, she suggests, it will continue to organize groups that may be useful to it in the short term but that very quickly will cease to be because some of their members or others with similar views believe they can act even more radically because the state has their back.

            Eventually, Vinokurova says, that will lead to disaster and not just as is so far the case to a continuing series of embarrassments.