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Volodymyr Ohryzko*: The Demise of Russia: Threat or Opportunity?


Volodymyr Ogrysko Articles

Russia is ‘a dread, droll, and disgraceful place’.

 

—Dmitriy Bykov, a Russian writer [1]

  

Over the last two decades, the development of Russia has led to a number of phenomena that have resulted in sweeping changes both domestically and internationally. While claiming no comprehensive analysis of these events, I will attempt to outline at least the major challenges besetting modern Russia and share my vision of its future prospects.

My analysis will be primarily based on Russian sources, thus avoiding accusations of Russophobia. This, however, is not to say that I agree with the perspective, all assessments, and approaches of the authors cited.

 

 

 1.            Government and Society

 

Presidential dictatorship has become the source of power, reducing other institutions to dust.

—Liliya Shevtsova, a political scientist [2]

 

The years of 2020 and 2021 have marked several milestones in Russia: Amendments to the constitution and relevant legislation, poisoning and persecution of political opponents, human rights violations, press crackdown, social media censorship, etc. have ushered in a transition of the Russian political system to a different quality.

Here is how it is described by opposition figures (I will take the liberty, my dear reader, to save you the bother of analysing worthless victorious tales of Russia’s ‘rising from its knees’, ‘economic stability’ or ‘spiritual bonds’, uttered by both officials and official propagandists. They are almost identical to those of the Soviet times, thus being a manipulation that cannot serve as a basis for even perfunctory analysis. I present some of them just for the sake of illustrating the insanity of the Russian establishment). Although all the cited experts (politicians, scholars, social commentators, cultural figures, etc.) hold differing political outlooks, the diversity of their assessments is undoubtedly of great value, allowing for a much wider view on Russia and a deeper understanding of its domestic processes.

To some experts, the 2020 constitutional amendments put an end to the legitimacy of government and the Russian state itself. This view, for instance, is held by political scientist Valeriy Solovey [3]. P. Basanets, a foreign intelligence service veteran, believes that ‘…by illegally amending the Constitution and resetting the clock on his presidential terms, Putin has carried out a coup d’état’ [4]. According to Sergey Udaltsov, the leader of the far-left movement Left Front, the constitutional amendments are ‘a nasty and hypocritical sting operation aimed at a blatant usurpation of power’ [5].

In turn, expert Yuriy Rarog believes that today’s Russia is ‘an authoritarian regime relying on military, police, and state bureaucracy as well as predominantly oligarchic capital. It stands out for its aggressive foreign policy, bellicose nationalism (represented as Rushism), demagoguery of “traditional” values, including the “correct” church’ [6]. A dictatorial regime is mentioned by political columnist Kiril Rogov: He argues that in 2020, ‘Russia definitively reasserted itself as a dictatorship’ [7]. According to Yuriy Pivovarov, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, modern Russia is an ‘anthropological dictatorship’, dividing people under ‘friend-or-foe’ principle [8].

Other experts are somewhat more emphatic. For instance, Gleb Pavlovskiy, a political scientist, says that Russia’s contemporary development is ‘a velvet fascisation [9]. Igor Yakovenko, a philosopher and cultural expert, shares a similar, albeit far more acute, belief: ‘Putin’s Constitution, approved by tree stump voting on 1 July 2020, is a constitution of a corporate or, simply put, fascist state’ [10].

As for the ‘corporation’ that has seized power in Russia, experts’ views are nearly identical: This is a bloc of security forces combined with local oligarchy. In the words of Andrey Illarionov, a political expert and Putin’s former adviser, in Russia, ‘…all power (political, legislative, judicial, administrative, investigative, financial, and so on) rests with the Corporation of Security Officials (CSO)’ [11]. According to blogger Igor Eidman, when the USSR collapsed, a part ‘… of the empire ruled by former communists called itself the Russian Federation and soon recreated the empire, this time as a gangland’ [12]. Vladimir Ryzhkov, a politician and historian, is of the opinion that ‘…Vladimir Putin is the leader of a certain coalition consisting of chekists, security officials, the military and industrial complex, state corporations, and nominally private oligarchs, also incorporated into the system, that are seeking to restore Brezhnev’s Soviet Union from symbols and rhetoric up to repressive practices’ [13]. In turn, opposition politician A. Navalny, who rose to fame after surviving an attempted poisoning carried out by Russia’s Federal Security Service, explicitly stated that the Russian authorities are ‘a bunch of criminals temporarily vested with power’ [14].

Experts also take cognisance of another essential element of modern Russian statehood, its imperial nature.

As philosopher and social columnist Vadim Shtepa stresses, ‘Those believing that the empire tumbled down together with the collapse of the USSR are still living in a great delusion. The empire has just slightly shrunk in size’ [15]. ‘Russian statehood, dating back to the Muscovite Tsardom of the latter half of the 15th century, has always pursued a path of imperial expansion’, expert in international relations Pavel Luzin says, adding that, ‘Today, it is a colonial empire’ [16].

This is but a small portion of what is said about the country by the Russians whose consciousness is not yet soaked in their government’s propaganda.

Thus, what are the main features characterising modern Russian statehood as seen by Russian experts able to think critically?

1. The Russian government is illegitimate because a coup d’état took place in the country in summer 2020.

2. The current illegitimate government in Russia can be described as authoritarian, dictatorial, and corporate in nature, thus imparting fascist hues to the state or even making it altogether fascist.

3. This state is run by a corporation of security forces and local oligarchs.

4. Russia remains an empire, though somewhat reduced in size.

Are these conclusions sensational? I would not say so. They only confirm that after a very short period of the so-called ‘Yeltsin’s thaw’ Russia returned to its usual state of the reactionary ‘Arakcheyev regime’, authoritarianism, and dictatorship with elements of fascisation. Even the era of ‘sovereign democracy’, with its restrictions and prohibitions far from normal democratic practices, has sunk into oblivion. The government has deprived Russians of any chance to have their own opinion and protest. It has brought them back to the total bondage of submission and disempowerment. Conceivable in the 19th and even 20th century, this is completely anachronistic for civilised countries in the 21st century. The examples of North Korea, China or Belarus are hardly inspiring for the democratic society.

It has become clear that the government and those thinking critically are parting ways. The rift between the two is widening, which the ruling elite is inherently unable to prevent. Unfortunately, we can’t predict when, but this rift will eventually turn into an abyss.

Two different Russias are emerging inside the country.

This is the first profound and systemic issue of modern Russia.

 

1. Быков Д. Дерипаска и измена Родины // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 22 декабря 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/bykov_d/2761932-echo/

2. Шевцова Л. Країна, що йде тонкою кригою // НВ. 3 січня 2021. URL: https://nv.ua/ukr/ opinion/volodimir-putin-2021-shcho-chekaye-rosiyu-v-novomu-roci-ostanni-novini-50133310.html

3. Валерий Соловей // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». URL: https://echo.msk.ru/guests/9032/

4. Басанец П. Обращение к народам России // Каспаров.ru. 14 ноября 2020. URL: https:// www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FAFC47A3B672

5. Удальцов С. В 2021 году у оппозиции есть шанс // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 31 декабря 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/udaltsov/2766952-echo/

6. Рарог Ю. О так называемом «путинизме» // Каспаров.ru. 1 ноября 2019. URL: https://www. kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5DBC7D7C2DF9E

7. Рогов К. Новогоднее: как умирают диктатуры // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 31 декабря 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/rogov_k/2766774-echo/

8. Пивоваров Ю. Сбережение интеллигенции // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 4 декабря 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/yupivovarov/2752782-echo/

9. Бычкова О. Особое мнение. Глеб Павловский // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 30 декабря 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/programs/personalno/2765900-echo/

10. Яковенко И. Конституция фашистского переворота и перспективы России // Каспаров. ru. 21 ноября 2020. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FB82E934D657

11. Илларионов А. КССС и Навальный // Каспаров.ru. 29 декабря 2020. URL: https://www. kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FEB569DB809F

12. Эйдман И. Три империи: российская, коммунистическая, мафиозная // Каспаров.ru. 30 октября 2020. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5F9AE07E2FFE9

13. Соколов М. Есть у оппозиции образ будущего? // Радио Свобода. 20 ноября 2020. URL: https://www.svoboda.org/a/30960285.html

14. Навальный А. Они – кучка преступников, временно облеченных властью // Каспаров.ru. 4 декабря 2020. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FCA08B8BC3DF

15. Штепа В. Новый договор или распад? // Регион.Эксперт. 31 декабря 2019. URL: https:// region.expert/treaty_or_collapse/

16. Лузин П. Метафизика архипелага. Почему нам нужна деколонизация России? // Регион.Эксперт. 5 апреля 2017. URL: http://region.expert/decolonization/

 

 

 2.   Finding State Ideology, or New (Old) ‘Spiritual Bonds’

 

Attempts to continue inventing and introducing a new state ideology pave the way to the final breakup and destruction of Russia!

 

—I. Chubais, a historian [1]

 

Having proclaimed itself the ‘successor’ of the Russian Empire and the USSR, Russia’s current regime faced a need to adopt the old or invent some new concept or idea to rally the country’s population. Imperial tsarism could not be embraced publicly due to Russia’s claim of belonging to the camp of civilised countries. Repeating the Soviet folly about building communism would be beyond the limit of sanity – all the more so given the disproportionate and grossly unfair distribution of social welfare in Russia. But since Russian society is living in a historically constant paradigm, the Kremlin authorities were left with no option other than proposing new ‘spiritual bonds’ under a new name but with the same essence.

Imperialism was replaced with russkiy mir (‘Russian world’) and pobedobesiye (‘victory frenzy’), communism was substituted with ‘imperishable Russian values’, ‘holy Orthodox Rus’, and so on, all thickly oiled in traditional lies and, more recently, fear.

So what is the ‘Russian world’? Ironically, Russians themselves have not quite figured it out. Everything depends on how savvy certain ‘experts’ or politicians are.

For instance, there are those believing that the ‘Russian world’ was born in 862, the year when ‘Rus was founded’ in the city of Ladoga; others suggest that this notion emerged in the 20th century. The most conservatives estimates put the date at the beginning of the 21st century. Let us try and sort it out a bit.

Who are these ‘Russians’ in the first place? After all, the ‘Russian world’ must derive from ‘Russians’. Is it ‘blood’, ‘land’ or faith? How do they, for instance, correlate with ‘Muscovites’, velikorossy (‘Great Russians’) or ‘Soviets’, not to mention Ukrainians or Belarusians? Apparently, contemporary Russian researchers do not have a definite, much less reasoned, response.

According to Russian Wikipedia, ‘there are three theoretical approaches to defining the “Russian world” in [Russian] scientific literature: cultural and civilisational, geopolitical, and religious’.

I have presented some thoughts on the civilisational essence of ‘Russianness’ in my article [2]; therefore, I shall confine myself here only to certain, in my view, important peculiarities in the cultural context of this notion, since their meaning is not limited solely to the culture lens.

Here is what contemporary Russian philosophers Vladimir Pastukhov and Raisa Barash write in considering the topic of the ‘Russian world’: ‘…the formation of a civic nation both in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union happened through the sprawl of eclectic Russian culture, the culture of interethnic engagement based on the Russian language’, ‘in the pre-Soviet period, “Russianness” was not institutionalised’ [3].

In this way, we can conclude that, first, a true ‘Russian’ culture as such has never existed, as it is an eclectic sum of everything that the Russian state has managed to grab during its invasive history and, second, that ‘Russianness’ itself is not really discernible in it. Building on this line of reasoning, a conclusion can be drawn: If there is no ‘Russianness’, there can be no ‘Russian world’. Consequently, it would be too daring to trace its ‘emergence’ back to Ladoga in 853, as the official Moscow ‘historiography’ claims. All the more so when we consider, inter alia, the stale fact, well-known even to schoolchildren, that in 862, i.e. only nine years after Rus had been ‘founded’ according to the Russian version, Kyiv princes led their large armies (6,000–10,000 warriors) to lay siege to Constantinople, the then capital of the mighty Byzantine Empire. At the very least, this means that Kyiv was the centre of not some newly founded settlement (‘three harrows and two barrows’) but a well-functioning state with all the necessary attributes: government, army, tax system, etc. But the point is, Moscow does not have anything to do with it. Suffice it to recall the true date when Moscow was founded: It was as late as the 13th century! There was a huge difference between Slavs with their great state and semi-savage Finno-Ugric tribes. But let us leave conclusions about the ‘birthright’ of Rus on Ladoga on the conscience of modern Russian ‘professors’ (and not only them). Figments and falsehood are their traditional, though stale, bread.

So when did this ‘Russian world’ emerge?

Modern Russian philosopher Sergey Kocherov offers an interesting account of candidates for the position of the ‘founding father’ of the ‘Russian world’ concept, from archeologist Count Sergey Uvarov, playwright Aleksandr Ostrovskiy to philosopher Nikolay Danilevskiy). He concludes, however, that the palm of supremacy should be given to another Russian philosopher, Pyotr Shchedrovitskiy (on a side note, while analysing the topic of the ‘Russian world’, the author agrees with the conclusion made by another 19th-century philosopher, V. Ivanov, that ‘there can be no Russian world without a Russian idea’) [4].

According to P. Shchedrovitskiy, ‘Russian world’ took shape “in the 20th century in response to tectonic historical shifts, world wars, and revolutions around the globe” and is now ‘a network of societies, large and small, thinking and speaking in Russian’ [5].

Well, we can take that as a hypothesis. This infers, however, an opposite logical conclusion: Up until the 20th century or the early 21st century, inhabitants of northeastern territories could not associate themselves with ‘Russians’. For if there is no ‘world’, there cannot be those creating it.

This, of course, raises a lot of other questions. For instance, in what ‘world’ did they exist before and what was it called? What was the basis for the emergence of ‘Russians’ in the 20th century? Who are their direct blood relatives and how did active blood mixing with other, far from ‘saintly’ peoples influence the ‘genuine saintly Russianness’? Is it right to assume in this respect that these ‘Russians’ are omnivorous ‘Finno-Ugric Muscovites’ that also absorbed the genetic codes and memory of the Horde and the many peoples that they subjugated? If ‘Russian’ is a religion then what is the ethnicity of ‘northeastern populace’? And when did that one ‘Russian language’ emerge, if even Vladimir Dahl admitted that ‘the Muscovite dialect was used only by a minor part of the city, almost confined by the walls of Moscow […] Those speaking the dialect sometimes make mistakes […], which, perchance, have snuck from the Tatar language. If to climb the golden domes of whitestone Moscow, one can sweep their eyes over the expanse in all four directions, where people speak differently’ [6]. So how did the Muscovite dialect, limited to the ‘domes’ of the city, manage to become the predominant one in the ‘huge expanse’ of the Russian Empire?

These and other questions related to culture and beyond lie outside the topic of the article and undoubtedly require a separate deep analysis based on new knowledge that became, at least partially, accessible thanks to the collapse of the USSR rather than fictional constructs of the imperial and Soviet epochs. At any rate, answers to these questions may be helpful in understanding what Moscow calls the ‘Russian world’.

[1] In my view, Moldovan philosopher and historian Sergey Ilchenko has come the closest to defining the notion of ‘Russians’. As he puts it, ‘The Russian Empire relied on two spiritual bonds: the upper part, slammed on the head like an ideological hat, was the idea of Orthodox exceptionalism, the ‘Third Rome’, which was also the last one, as the ‘Fourth will never come’; and the lower part, represented by a body of people, was the dream of ‘freedom’, marching on and on and giving energy for endless expansion. Importantly, there was also scope for expansion, for the endless pursuit of ‘freedom’ gained through annihilating and subjugating indigenous peoples as well as incorporating survivors into the same Orthodox imperial scheme. All of this spawned a specific social kind of an aggressive slave, trembling before their master, who, though often failing to get on with his life without instructions from above, is ready to inflict slavery and violence to neighbouring peoples, seeing their enslavement as an accessible form of his will. This kind is exactly what ‘Russians’ are: neither a nationality nor an ethnicity but solely a society of various captive peoples. As an ethnic group, ‘Russians’ – be they ‘Asians’, ‘Finno-Ugrs’ or ‘Slavs’ – are non-existent. There are only descendants of the different peoples they held captive, coerced into obedience, and incorporated into the system of conquering new territories and enslaving new peoples, and it goes round and round, over and over’ [7].

For us, it is important to understand how this another Russian misunderstanding (pardon the pun) suddenly gave rise to that very ‘Russian world’ – not as philosophical ‘delights’ of certain ‘baffled’ thinkers but as a practical guideline for substantiating Russia’s bellicose foreign policy in new historical conditions.

The answer seemingly lies on the surface: The ‘Russian world’ concept has proved too convenient not to be used in Russia’s traditionally imperialistic interests. Despite being formed, in large part, as a cultural and humanitarian policy aimed at reviving contacts with the Russian diaspora abroad at the beginning of the 2000s, it was transformed into a foreign policy concept of imperial restoration. The matter was took up by Russian ministries of foreign affairs, culture, and, later, defence – to make it more persuasive, at it were. In the post-Soviet space alone, this policy resulted in the war against Georgia (2008), blatant resistance to the European and Euro-Atlantic course of Ukraine and overt aggression against it in 2014, brazen refusal to withdraw Russian troops from Moldova, etc.

The infamous article on ‘one nation’, penned by V. Putin, the ‘father of all post-Soviet nations’, has become the climax of historical ignorance, on the one hand, and the new manifesto of foreign policy bellicosity, on the other [8].

The Kremlin does not care in the slightest that ‘Russianness’ and the ‘Russian world’ were and remain a ‘political mythologem’ [3]. Since the matter at hand was ‘selling’ the concept exclusively to domestic consumers (though slowly, foreign audiences grasped what was being imposed on them), a question arose as to its positive perception. And what were the pre-Bolshevist positive myths that Muscovite history could brag about? Wildling Andrei the Pious? Tyrannous Ivan the Fearsome? Deranged tsar Peter I? Imperial libertine Catharine II? The reactionary ‘Arakcheyev regime’ or gibbets on Senate Square? Slavery in the form of serfdom or demoralising helplessness of the Romanov dynasty? There are also other myths, which concern ‘Russian culture’: ballet, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and so on, but none of them matters to ordinary Russian people. Obviously, one cannot built the ‘Russian world’ – or rather the ‘Russian myth’ – on such examples.

Therefore, the inane ‘Russian-worldly shell’ sorely needed victorious content. In Soviet times, these make-believe ‘victories’ were, of course, abundant. That was why ‘Sovietness’ easily devoured non-existent ‘Russianness’ and, in fact, replaced it. Meanwhile, the communist leadership of the USSR understood the ‘Soviet person’ primarily as the ‘Russian person’. The puzzle came together: the contrived and inglorious ‘Russian world’ quickly turned into a ‘Soviet victory’, and when the latter died away, the former was reborn but this time as ‘heroically Russian’. The ‘heroic’ thing about it, ‘thanks’ to permanent and pervasive propaganda, was ‘victory frenzy’: the horrendous tragedy of World War II, cynically exploited by the Kremlin.

While seeking no final conclusion, I would hazard a guess that the father of ‘victory frenzy’, even dubbed by some experts as the ‘political religion’ of modern Russia, is Putin himself. It was finalised in the arrogant and, at the same time, cunningly cynical phrase: ‘We would have won [in the Great Patriotic War without Ukrainians] anyway because we are the country of winners’. But since real ‘victories’ in Russia were quite scarce (for instance, its GDP per capita is lower than that of Portugal), the Moscow regime needed a ‘victory-frenzied myth’ to rally the population disoriented by the absence of communist fairy tales and real socioeconomic achievements.

Generally speaking, this is the topic covered by famous Russian social columnist I. Yakovenko: ‘It is necessary that we shake off the phobias of the past and refrain from using all the problems inherited over previous centuries in domestic political processes; instead, we have to face the future’, Russian president said, giving his guidance to all the people [from Putin’s speech at the 2021 meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos]. It is noteworthy that this statement was made by that very person who created a real cult of the past, singled out the most blood-stained pages from it, and used them to set up a myth of victory frenzy, equipped with pagan rituals and carnivals of riotous bigotry giving rise to the wildest phobias in society’ [8].

Memory of millions of victims and real care for survivors of the crucible of war were replaced with masqueraded rallies (mums with prams, wearing gimnastorki (A Russian military smock); children from senior kindergarten groups in the uniform of Young Army cadets; portraits of generalissimus Stalin with a halo over his head; ‘immortal regiments’ with field kitchens and soldier’s porridge, etc.), primitive and provocative mottos and symbols, not to mention the self-arrogated right of the last instance in assessing the past and the aggressive reaction to other countries’ approaches to World War II. It can be sadly stated that the propaganda campaign, aimed primarily at the domestic audience, ended with the victory of the regime. Here are just two figures.

Over the last 20 years, pro-Kremlin media have brainwashed Russian people so much that 61 percent of them see the victory in the ‘Great Patriotic War’ as ‘the most iconic event in Russian history’ [3], and 87 percent feel proud of it [9]. I would venture a guess that the ‘victory frenzy’ myth will be unfolding even more actively, constituting, so to say, a positive and bright side of the state ideology as perceived by the Russian authorities, which pin hopes on loyalty instilled in this fashion.

That said, no Muscovite regime, as history has clearly shown, has overlooked the dark side, another ‘spiritual bond’: creating the climate of terror. The scariest moment for any totalitarian government comes when the people no longer considers it a formidable force, when it is able to realistically assess what is happening and make appropriate conclusions. Therefore, quelling the smallest stirrings of freethought was and remains perhaps the most crucial domestic policy task for every Russian dictator.

Putin’s regime is no exception. As the famous Russian politician and historian V. Ryzhkov put it, it is afraid ‘[…] lest even a weak opposition, even a weak civil society should spin out of control, turning into a mass movement and creating for them [the government] a grave political crisis. It was therefore decided to further tighten the screws as much as possible, return to the glorious Brezhnev era, glorious Brezhnev stagnation, shaping the same model of a hardline authoritarian state with ideological censorship and political repressions, which they vividly remember from the 1970s’ [10].

A small (by Russian standards) group of protesters supporting A. Navalny have felt the power of the punitive machine to the fullest. Apparently, the government is taking pre-emptive measures because these protests do not pose a real threat to the regime. As a matter of fact, the patience threshold of Russians is extremely high, which is an inherited ‘servile patrimony’ of Muscovites, well-trained to remain silent to the end. Statistics show that the majority of the population does not support the protest movement, which is thus doomed to fail.

The government also takes full advantage of one more traditional Russian tool: lies. After a very short period of relative truth during Yeltsin’s first presidency, Russia came back to its usual practice of falsehood. Once again, it became the decisive factor of both domestic and foreign policy. The scariest thing, however, is that both sides of the process, the government and the people, treat is as a norm. Famous Russian politician Grigoriy Yavkinskiy gave the following scathing characteristic of the modern political system: ‘Over the last 20 years, the lies emanating from the Russian state and politicians have once again become total. […] Falsehood is an organic element […] of the contemporary eclectic state system, eager to preserve its historical link with the Soviet regime, the deceased tsarist autocracy, and the modern world’ [11].

It is clear that where there is lies, there is imitation. The country is slowly but surely sinking into a parallel world. Everything seems to be there: a parliament, a cabinet, courts, media, and so on, except everyone sees it is a smokescreen concealing emptiness. As human rights champion Aleksandr Khots ably put it, ‘[…] imitation (of growth, intelligence, great power, geopolitical role, vibrant economy, military might) is the essence of Putinism, longing for the USSR but unable to become one’ [12]. Kind of a photo of the late USSR.

It is also obvious that the people, even one as sluggish as this to defend its real dignity and not its ‘imperial victory-frenzied’ version, is objectively tired from the invariable leader. What it needs is just a new face but of the same despotic nature. In this regard, I was appalled at the opinion expressed by aforementioned V. Ryzhkov: ‘[…] a person nominated by Vladimir Putin from among party cadres, the higher-ups, his political bureau would stand the best chance of becoming a leader. The people would be relieved and happy to see this soft transition away from Putin; they are tired of him and pin no hopes on him; the people would gladly vote for any good-looking person proposed by the Kremlin’ [10].

In my opinion, this is a death warrant; not for Putin but for Russia itself.

What conclusions can be inferred from these assessments of the Russian experts?

1. The ’Russian world’ is a philosophical concept having no clear interpretation even among Russian authors themselves. The ‘Russian world’ is indeed a ‘Russian myth’, meant to replace communism as a state ideology.

2. The ‘Russian world’ concept is an ideological rationale for Russia’s bellicose foreign policy.

3. The ‘Russian world’ concept gives rise to a speculative policy of ‘victory frenzy’, through which the government seeks to rally the Russian population around the idea of ‘great Russia’.

4. Despite having successfully brainwashed the population, the Russian government is morbidly afraid of internal unrest, thus ratcheting up repression through brutal violence and total lies.

Another ‘spiritual bond’ that the Kremlin card sharpers have up their sleeve is the idea of ‘Russian traditionality’, ‘imperishable everlasting values’, ‘holy Rus’, etc. In the absence of the ‘ideological unit of the communist party’, the function of spiritual ‘envenoming’ was once again handed over to a ‘non-governmental organisation’, which is a long-time acolyte of the powers-that-be, obeying all of their orders, whims, and caprices without demur. That was – and will continue to be for a while – the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).

Here is what the Russian Telegram-channel Tserkvach writes about it:

 The ROC offers the government its services: support during elections, refraining from criticism between elections, demonstration of full allegiance at the level of assistant bishops and the episcopate. It is not doing what it is supposed to, it does not denounce the vices of government officials, does not seriously bring up the topic of social injustice, hands out medals to corrupt people and even outright criminals. The episcopate has embedded itself into the Russian kleptocratic elite.

In return, the government confers privileges on the ROC: tax exemptions, public funding, the right to freely engage in commerce, to make amendments into draft laws and legislation already in force, to reach out to public officials of various levels up to the president, to go on air using federal TV channels, to use special-purpose transport and guard, to freely carry out mass events, and a lot more [13].

 

According to Russian sources, the modern ROC comprises more than 60 metropolis religious jurisdictions, more than 300 eparchies, over 40,000 people involved in its activities, nearly 37,000 churches and other facilities, 462 monasteries, and 482 nunneries. The ROC receives an annual income of circa $300–350 million, including not only donations and commercial activities but also covert funding from the state budget. Some believe this is an understated figure and put it at $500 million [14].

At any rate, the Kremlin considers the ROC an important ideological ‘envenomer’ of the Russian population. As we can see, there is no shortage of capacity for that role, too. The only question is how many people it concerns and how effective it is.

Based on the data from the official representative of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, ‘In 2019, evening Easter services in Russia were attended by more than 4.3 million people’ [15]. Is this the exact number of Orthodox Christians in Russia? Certainly not. But what matters for us is figures.

Take, for comparison, Russian Muslims. Let us leave Kadyrov’s and Putin’s remarks on the number of Muslims in Russia (30 and 20 million, respectively [16]) weighing on their conscience. However, even the minimal figure given by sources not well-disposed to Muslims suggests that there are least 13 million of them in Russia [17], and that number is rising, both due to natural growth rate and migration from Azerbaijan, Central Asia, and the Middle East. And these are indeed committed believers, although the Russian state does not help Muslims the way it helps the ROC.

The government really does a lot for the ROC: the new version of the constitution contains provisions on traditional family; Orthodox priests have access to all walks of life, from youth to armed forces (for instance, to consecrate nuclear weapons); the primate of the ROC goes on air making tours around the Kremlin to ‘protect’ it from the pandemic; ROC priests enjoys special conditions in organising pilgrimage, which is another kind of indirect financial support, etc. But as we can see, only a small fraction of 58 million official worshippers visit churches.

The question arises: Why so? The answer is that even an ordinary Russian citizen browbeaten by state propaganda can see the insincerity of what is being propagated and what is going on inside the ROC. Another reason might be numerous scandals constantly shaking the ROC from within.

In this respect, it is worth mentioning at least the case of Archiereus Chaplin, a high-ranking person in the ROC, who called for ‘killing Russian political emigrates with missile attacks in countries where they reside, setting up special units modelled on “death squads” for eliminating enemies of the regime in the territories of other states’, argued that ‘large-scale killings of people are allegedly sanctioned by God, as clearly indicated in the Holy Scriptures’, etc. [18].

Another prominent case is Protopriest Smirnov, famed as the founder and leader of the Separate Division, a highly conservative Orthodox movement standing up for ‘family values’ in their most bigoted version. He fought against introducing juvenile jurisdiction and for abortion ban, rightfully earning a reputation of one of ‘the most despicable and mean-spirited zealots, obscurantists, and reactionaries among Russian clerics’ [19].

One could also mention scandals around by no means monastic property in the centre of Moscow owned by V. Hundyayev himself (known as ‘Mikhailov’ in the KGB), persecution of dissenters in the church, particularly Protodeacon A. Kurayev, occultism that has already infiltrated senior church dignitaries, a revolt of schema-hegumen Sergey in Yekaterinburg Eparchy, pedophile scandals in Orenburg and Yakutiya, child molestation in Vologda, exposure of homesexual priests, etc. And these are but a few examples.

It is clear that such ‘heroes’ of the ROC and their unchristian deeds inflict irreparable harm to the image of the Russian church. As historian Alexey Makarkin puts it, all of this ‘strikes a discordant note with the sentiment prevailing among young Russians, thus calling into question the future of the church. […] a more modern-minded part of the population is at variance with the church, considering it too archaic. While maintaining its Orthodox self-identity, it no longer associates itself with the church as an organisation’ [20].

We also cannot ignore the crushing blow that the ROC’s ‘fabric’ suffered after the Ecumenical Patriarchate recognised the canonical independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The ROC has already lost a considerable share of its worshippers in Ukraine. This process, albeit slowly, is gaining momentum, thus objectively leading to the weakening and even a potential decline of the ROC in Russia itself. In the coming years, the Russian church really stands to lose its primacy in the Orthodox world.

Given the slavish role of the ROC in relations with the Russian state, scandals inside the church, and a marked weakening of its influence in global Orthodoxy, one can hardly disagree with the words of Pavel Matveyev, a columnist of Kasparov.ru: ‘[…] this shady business [ROC] is not only wicked – it is rotten to the core, from top to bottom, utterly and completely […] It is not to be reformed, it is to be destructed […]’ [18].

Thus, based on the opinions expressed by the Russian experts, it can be stated that:

1. The ROC is, in fact, a state church because it serves state interests.

2. Due to this, it shares in all the sins of the state: corruption, timeserving, lies, etc.

3. That is why it is rapidly losing a semblance of moral authority it had in the first post-communist years; therefore, Russians do not trust it as much as the Kremlin expected.

4. Due to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine receiving a tomos and the ROC isolating itself in global Orthodoxy, the international clout of the ROC has substantially weakened.

A conclusion forces itself upon us: The Kremlin’s bet on the ROC is a burn card. The ROC will not be able to fulfil the functions entrusted to it by the Kremlin. The rift between Orthodox Christians and the ROC will be deepening because the church leadership is imposing standards and traditions of yesteryear on believers. The ROC, similar to the Russian state which it is faithfully serving, is looking backwards. Such a church has no future.

Consequently, the ideological pillar of Putin’s regime is not strong enough to ensure the regime’s stability. For now, this relationship can be described neither as total rejection nor as unconditional support. The downward trend in Russia’s socioeconomic development could nullify all the ‘achievements’ made on the ideological front. And when ideology crumbles, so does the state.

This is about a profound rift in the outlook that Russian society will not be able to overcome in the foreseeable future. In this respect, an original view on the prospects of the ROC has been offered by controversial Alexander Nevzorov [21].

 

1. Чубайс И. Номенклатура и идеология, прекратить обман России // Каспаров.ru. 12 листопада 2020. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FAD7ECEF1759

2. Огризко В. Чому Росія ніколи не відбудеться? // Українська правда. 13 серпня 2020. URL: https://blogs.pravda.com.ua/authors/ogrysko/5f3577c92b824/

3. Петухов В.В. Русские и «русский мир»: исторический контекст и современное прочтение / В.В. Петухов, Р.Э. Бараш // Полис. Политические исследования. 2014. № 6. С. 83–101.

4. Кочеров С.Н. Русский мир: проблема определения // Вестник Нижегородского университета им. Н.И. Лобачевского. 2014. № 5. С. 163–167.

5. Пётр Георгиевич Щедровицкий: русский мир и транснациональное русское // Гуманитарный портал. 28 серпня 2006. URL: https://gtmarket.ru/library/articles/2508

6. Білоус В. Мова та «наріччє» // День. 26 травня 2016. URL: https://day.kyiv.ua/uk/article/ poshta-dnya/mova-ta-narichchye

7. Ильченко С. Нерожденная империя. Что мешает распаду России и возрождению СССР // DSNews. 19 января 2020. URL: https://www.dsnews.ua/world/vse-eshche-ne-rozhdennayaimperiya-chto-meshaet-raspadu-rossii-17012020220000

8. «Мы – один народ»: статья Владимира Путина «Об историческом единстве русских и украинцев» // RT. 12 июля 2021. URL: https://russian.rt.com/world/article/884684-putin-statyarossiya-ukraina

9. Яковенко И. О докладе Путина Давосскому форуму // Каспаров.ru. 28 января 2020. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=6012F515BCB72

10. Пипия К. Национальная идентичность и гордость // Левада-центр. 17 января 2019. URL: https://www.levada.ru/2019/01/17/natsionalnaya-identichnost-i-gordost/

11. Соколов М. Есть у оппозиции образ будущего? // Радио Свобода. 20 ноября 2020. URL: https://www.svoboda.org/a/30960285.html

12. Явлинский Г. Утрата репутации: отравление ложью // Григорий Явлинский: официальный сайт. 12 сентября 2018. URL: https://www.yavlinsky.ru/article/utrata-reputatsii-otravlenie-lozhyu/

13. Хоц А. От ботокса к яду // Каспаров.ru. 3 января 2021. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/ material.php?id=5FF167405D49F

14. Церквач дал інтерв’ю киевскому изданию theБабель // Telegram. 10 декабря 2018. URL: https://t.me/cerkvach/1229

15. Лузин П. Ритуал подчинения. РПЦ МП как политический субъект и храм как символ господства // Регион.Эксперт. 27 октября 2019. URL: http://region.expert/clericalism/

16. Данные о посетивших пасхальне богослужения в 2019 году // Сова. 29 апреля 2019. URL: https://www.sova-center.ru/religion/discussions/how-many/2019/04/d40953/

17. Сколько мусульман в России // Медина. URL: https://medinaschool.org/library/obshestvo/ istoriya-islama/skolko-musulman-v-rossii

18. «Дутые» мусульмане в России от Кадырова, или Сколько же их на самом деле? // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 2 ноября 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/demography/2734948-echo/

19. Матвеев П. Конец сатанинского попа // Каспаров.ru. 27 января 2020. URL: https://www. kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5E2EC82C2C066

20. Матвеев П. Конец сатанинского попа – 2 // Каспаров.ru. 23 октября 2020. URL: https:// www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5F91FEF180053

21. Макаркин А. Все это диссонирует с настроениями молодежи // Каспаров.ru. 6 февраля 2021. URL: http://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=601E2A68B75C2&fb_comment_id=50038245 62993316_5040742279301544

22. Невзоров А. Конец РПЦ. Как это будет // Youtube. 25 жовтня 2018. URL: https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=cc1pnMsk_6A&ab_channel=%D0%90%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%BA%D1%81% D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B4%D1%80%D0%9D%D0%B5%D0%B2%D0%B7%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B2

 

 3.   Internal Colonialism

 

The real (con)federation and ‘Russia’ are two quite different and virtually opposite phenomena.

 

—Vadim Shtepa, a philosopher and social columnist [1]

 

The name of modern Russia is the ‘Russian Federation’. As you will know, the federal system provides for two levels of sovereignty: federal (all-national) and that of federal entities. Each of them has its own level of competence and responsibility. That is the theory. Russian practice, however, differs from universal human practices even here.

Nevertheless, we should start with a brief historical overview, since the modern Russian ‘federation’ is nothing but a name of what used to be called the ‘Russian Empire’. The majority of its entities were conquered, thus becoming part of it against their will. They were virtually turned into colonies, which gave Moscow the characteristics of a colonial empire. The latter had a peculiarity: Territorial ‘enlargement’ occurred through incorporating territories inhabited, in most cases, by peoples completely unrelated to the population in the metropole. From the very outset, it made the latter ethnically diverse, utterly heterogeneous, and, most importantly, inequitable, since the conquered ‘Aborigines’ immediately fell under the category of second-rate, humiliated, and ‘undeveloped’ people.

Realising that Russia would not objectively be able to hold the subjugated people in the colonial yoke amid collapsing European empires, Bolsheviks resorted to outright lies and manipulations: They proclaimed the generally popular motto of a ‘world federation of free peoples’, which in the realities of the early 20th century became virtually limited to the territories of the former empire. The concept of ‘voluntary unification’ of former colonies in the USSR on a seemingly equal footing with the metropole formally worked out, although this time ‘voluntariness’ was brought to all ‘independent republics’ on the bayonets of Bolshevik hordes.

The real inequality of ‘equal’ republics was obvious from the very beginning. That said, the enshrinement of equality of the USSR entities, the right to have their own legal and executive authorities, armed forces, and even to leave the Soviet Union became a formal novelty. The transition to rigid centralisation at the beginning of the 1930s put a definite stop to all ‘federalist’ theories: The USSR de facto turned into a unitary state with a tsarist-communist governance system bereft of any moral principles and norms. This resulted in unprecedented terror against the peoples of the neo-empire in the political, social, and national fields. The Soviet regime proved to be far more despotic in relation to its new-old colonies than its predecessor, the Russian Empire. Understandably, all of these factors became the most essential prerequisites for the collapse of the USSR.

What conclusions have been made in present-day Russia from such a course of events? It appears that there are none, since they have, in fact, repeated Soviet practices, only now within the borders of Russia.

What is the modern Russian Federation? It is a conglomerate of 83 entities with different status, powers, and levels of responsibility. The federation comprises republics, oblasts, federal cities, autonomous oblasts, and autonomous districts. The ‘new’ Russian federalism is based on the 1992 Federal Agreement, which practically repeated the ‘federal’ construction of the USSR and was signed by federal entities and the federal centre. It was, so to say, a traditional ‘vertical’ agreement, when those at the ‘top’ agreed to accord certain rights to those at the ‘bottom’. That said, large regions mostly inhabited by Russians did not receive any agency.

As already mentioned V. Shtepa puts it, ‘[…] inequality of regions could be observed: Some were allowed to be sovereign republics while others (the majority) remained at the level of unsovereign oblasts and krays, whose basic document are called in a military way, ‘regulations’ [2]. As a velikoross, the author’s logic is entirely clear, since for them there is no difference between a people living on its own land and a population of an artificially created oblast.

At the same time, it is worth mentioning that the Federation Council, which operated during Yeltsin’s presidency, showcased a certain federalist hue, as far as its members were politicians elected in federal entities. However, Putin’s ascension to power put an end to this practice. From 2001 onwards, members of the council have been appointed on orders from the Kremlin.

What was the biggest shortcoming of the 1992 agreement? First of all, it strayed from the subsidiarity principle, i.e. delegating certain functions from federal entities to the federal centre. It is on this principle that democratic federations are based on worldwide. But let us put the question differently: Was it possible in Russia at all? The answer is no, since the political thinking of Russian imperial elites does not envisage anything short of subordination to the imperial centre in administering the country’s outskirts. Therefore, contrary to world practice, the contractual character of the federation has not – and could not – have worked due to the 500-year tradition of imperial governance.

The latter remains unchanged up to this day and, worse still, has assumed exaggerated forms. Federal entities, similar to ‘non-agentic’ regions, are equal in their total political and economic dependence on Moscow. Neither republics nor regions own the natural riches that belong to them, and Russia’s financial system is structured such that they are unable to dispose of their revenues received locally. All the ‘entities’ are de-facto beseechers of all-mighty Moscow, which appoints its ‘overseers’ in all regions, precisely copying Soviet practices of control over the then union republics. Sovereignty declarations or other ‘autonomist’ documents are completely declarative in nature. What is more, in the context of the 2020 constitutional ‘amendments’, any action that can be construed as undermining Russia’s territorial integrity is criminally punishable.

That said, the defining characteristic of a federation à la russe is internal colonialism. Some Russian experts write about ‘colonialism’ within Russia itself, where ‘[…] the “metropolis” […] is not a country colonising other territories (as was the case in Britain, Spain, Portugal, etc.) but in itself a “power vertical”, which considers even its own regions as its colonies’. Reflecting on the history of Russian colonialism, V. Shtepa concludes that ‘… the arrogance of the “metropolis” in relation to the “colonies” in present-day Russia is well preserved. In the “federal” media (although they have nothing to do with federalism because they are concentrated in the capital of the metropolis), one can often come across such definitions of other regions as “provinces”, “periphery”, etc. In real federations elsewhere, such as the United States and Germany, this is absolutely inconceivable’ [3].

It makes sense that this is arousing nationalist sentiments. Here is how Russian chauvinist philosopher K. Krylov comments on the matter: ‘Such [autonomist] sentiments are fueled by the beastly unfair territorial structure and economic system of the Russian Federation, systematic depredation of entire regions, policies hindering development, preferences to ‘non-Russian’ national republics at the expense of oblasts inhabited by Russians. We are living in a disgustingly ordered state, and it is little wonder that people are ready to separate from it’ [4].

Therefore, that makes a typical Soviet colonial remake.

There are several novelties though: Among all the ‘equal’ peoples of the Russian Federation, an even more equal one has emerged, the ‘state-forming people’, whose language is now the state language throughout Russia [5]. It is, of course, about ‘Russians’.

Unlike the USSR, the regional contradictions of modern Russia do not necessarily coincide with the borders of the national formations within it. The emphasis is shifting to territorial autonomies and their interaction with each other as well as between them and the federal centre. A relatively new trend was the revival of regionalist ‘Russian’ movements, which is arguably a resumption of certain practices of the early 1990s. Today, the ‘territorial regionalism’ of Russia’s own territories is gaining momentum, creating new problems for the Kremlin. Self-identification is on the rise not only in the ‘national outskirts’ but also in certain Russian territories.

According to P. Goble, a well-known expert on Eurasian regional policy, ‘Regionalist movements look more promising at this stage than national ones because Russia is an ethnically more homogeneous country than the USSR, and the main contradictions between the regions are economic and spatial in nature [6].

There are more than enough examples of ‘regional awakening’. And that is not just Khabarovsk. Much more serious are the processes that, due to certain circumstances, have not yet surfaced. Let us recall at least two such huge regions of Russia as the Ural and Siberia.

In the words of Russian journalist Ksenia Kirilova, ‘Separatist tendencies in Ural are not as strong as, say, in Siberia, but the level of discontent with the policy of the central authorities here is traditionally high’. This region, and especially Yekaterinburg, has experience in the struggle for autonomy, and protest sentiments ‘even now often resonate with the unforgotten ideas of independence from Moscow’. It is worth recalling that 83 percent of respondents from Sverdlovsk region were in favour of a significant increase in the powers of the local authorities in 1993, the same year when the constitution of the Ural Republic was adopted.

As could be expected, the history of ‘autonomisation’ in Ural quickly ended with the dissolution of the republic. But the Kremlin’s motivation in this case was extremely telling. The entourage of Yeltsin, who, by the way, famously said ‘take as much sovereignty as you can swallow’, believed that ‘if an area with a predominantly Russian population was to gain republican status, that would be a step towards the disintegration of Russia’ [7].

Russian regionalist P. Luzin writes about the reality of ‘Uralism’, substantiating his conclusion with the historical, economic, and cultural peculiarities of this region. ‘The unity of Ural was also shaped by Moscow’s colonial policy towards this large region […] This is, in fact, a paradox of colonialism, when the colonists' perception of their own unity in the face of the metropolis is formed by the metropole itself’ [8].

No less emblematic are the autonomist traditions of Siberia (still referred to as oblastnichestvo in Russian sources). They date as far back as 17th century, but more or less clearly the ideas of separation took shape in the mid-19th century. They were based on two tenets: a) Siberia is an economic and political colony of Russia, and b) Siberians are a separate historical and ethnographic type of Russians or even a separate nation [9]. Although the aspirations of Siberians for a certain autonomy within Russia were not realised in 1905, during the Russian Civil War of 1917–1923, and in the first years after the collapse of the USSR, these sentiments remain popular up to this day.

What are the main causes of Siberian separatism? Russian historian Alexander Sushko mentions the following:

1. ‘unfair distribution of income received from the exploitation of natural resources between Moscow and the regions of Siberia’;

2. ‘policy of the federal authorities […] The Golden Horde took 10 percent from Russia and it was called the Tatar yoke. And what do you to call it when 70 percent is taken away?’;

3. ‘cultural identity of the local population. Some residents of Siberia consider themselves primarily “Siberians” and not rossiyany (Russian citizens) or russkiye (People of Russian origin). Siberians feel like residents of a colony […]’;

4. ‘work from abroad aimed at the dissolution of Russia’ [10].

For now, let us leave without comment the last point of these conclusions as being purely theoretical but worthy of attention. The ones preceding it, however, testify to a certain explosive potential dangerous for Russia’s unity. According to various estimates, more than 20 percent of the population in Siberia supports the ideas of either autonomy or even independent development of the region [11].

And what is Siberia economically? It accounts for 50 percent of the Russian budget, 75 percent of Russian exports, 100 percent of tin, nickel, and platinum, 75 percent of oil, 85 percent of gold, and 90 percent of gas. At the same time, the so far imaginary Siberian Republic is inhabited by a large number of peoples other than Russians, including Yakuts, Tuvans, Khakass, Altai, Shors, Dolgans, Buryats, Evenks, Evens, Nanai, Ulchi, Udege, Nenets, Chukchi, Selkups, Koryaks, Khanty, Eskimos, etc. It remains unknown what form of national self-determination they would choose at a convenient political moment [12].

Analysing the history of Siberian nationalism, A. Sushko draws an interesting conclusion: ‘Political attenuation of Siberian nationalism has always been associated with the strengthening of the state in Russia’ [10]. What conclusion could be drawn if the Russian state becomes weaker, more unstable and increasingly less manageable? Such a development will undoubtedly bolster separatist sentiments and not only in Siberia. Other regions to keep in mind are the Far East (as clearly confirmed by recent events in Khabarovsk) or, for example, Kaliningrad oblast.

Disregard for national aspects would also be carelessly presumptuous. Despite the virtual Russian majority, the factors of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, the Caucasus, etc. cannot be so easily neglected. The point is not even that any of these regions will suddenly declare their desire to leave Russia. The real question is what kind of political explosion this will provoke in the autonomous-minded Russian regions.

It can be assumed that a certain combination of domestic and foreign policy factors, which will lead to the weakening or even inability of the federal centre to exercise effective governance will entail a sudden spike in separatism and an obvious threat to Russia's integrity.

Russian experts believe that ‘true federalism’, i.e. building relations between federal entities on a contractual basis and delegating to the federal centre clear-cut powers determined by federal entities, may well be the only chance to preserve the country’s unity.

Already mentioned P. Luzin suggests that, ‘First, all the existing 83 regions should be equalised in status. This can be done most painlessly by turning regions, oblasts, and autonomous districts into republics within their current borders’, Secondly, he notes that is is necessary that the tax system be reformed so that the regions can manage their budgets [13]. V. Shtepa insists that the only way out of the current hopeless and essentially colonial system of government is a ‘[…] voluntary, equal, and mutually interesting interregional agreement’, which is ‘the absolute opposite of the empire based on the hypercentral role of the capital city [1].

It is clear that such approaches are rejected by the Kremlin. It accuses the whole world of ‘Russophobia’, but, as philosopher and Russian regionalist Sergey Kornev puts it, ‘In fact, the most Russophobic is the dictatorship of the Muscovite Kremlin, which prevents all Russian regions from developing freely’. The point, he continues, is to leave ‘70 regions with predominantly Russian population in the role of cultural colonies of Moscow’. ‘Astonished, adherents of Muscovy ask a question: “Why do we need another 70 Russian projects, 70 new Russian cultures? Isn’t the current museum of wax figures enough?” […] In fact, the question is: “Why should you, the sovereign regions, exist at all? Your role is to supply us with resources and fresh blood. As full-fledged agents of history, you are not needed, you will hinder us, you will push us ”’ [14]. As well-known economist V. Inozemtsev notes, ‘the reluctance of elites to accept the values of federalism has been historically and logically the first fundamental reason for the revival of the Russian imperial structure’ [3].

The problem, however, is not just in the Kremlin itself. Approximately the same ‘centrist position’ is endorsed by representatives of the ‘liberal’ opposition, which infuriates opponents in the regions. They rightfully insist that the ‘liberals’ must move to federalist thinking, i.e. recognise ‘each region’s political identity and the aspiration to establish equal contractual relations’ [15].

Opinions of some regionalists about the capital of the future federation are most unexpected. Many Russians speak out against Moscow. ‘Why do many Russians hate their capital?’ Russian sociologist I. Eidman asks, answering his own question: ‘It is impossible to imagine that the Germans hate Berlin, the British loathe London, the French despise Paris, etc. But the Poles or the Czechs, of course, hated the capital of the Third Reich, the Hindus hated the capital of the British Empire, and the Algerians hated the capital of imperial France. Many Russians, regardless of nationality, perceive Moscow as an imperial capital and see themselves as residents of colonial, dependent territories. Only this can explain the hatred towards Moscow in Russian regions’ [16].

V. Shtepa is vehemently against preserving the functions of Moscow in a renewed federation: ‘Moscow is a concentrate of imperial meanings and symbols, from the medieval “third Rome” to the Soviet stars over the Kremlin. Therefore, without moving the capital away from Moscow, Russia simply will not be able to get rid of the imperial mentality [15]. ‘[…] federal or confederate agreements in Russia are impossible by definition as long as its capital remains in Moscow’ [1].

Even infamous Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who is close to the Kremlin, has called for moving the capital to Siberia [17]. In turn, Yuriy Krupnov, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Institute for Demography, Migration, and Regional Development, has directly stated that ‘Russia’s current capital is laying waste to the rest of the country’ and called it a matter of Russia’s survival [18].

By far not everyone in Russia shares this view because they do not see practical opportunities for radical change due to, first of all, the Kremlin’s political course and come to the conclusion that in the foreseeable future nothing will change in relations between the ‘metropole’ and ‘colonies’. For instance, according to Maxim Artemyev, a columnist of Forbes Russia, ‘It seems that in the foreseeable future the civilisational split between Moscow and the rest of Russia will not disappear. What we should think about is how to prevent its widening’ [19].

So what do we have in the end?

1. Russia’s ‘federalism’ is a fiction. In reality, Russia is a country with a highly centralised system of government.

2. The inequality of Russian regions is formally enshrined along with the ‘national rift’ in the form of the elevation of the ‘Russians’ in comparison with other peoples of Russia.

3. The regions perceive Moscow as a ‘metropole’ and feel themselves as ‘colonies’.

4. In Russia, autonomist sentiments are on the rise. This is most felt in Ural, Siberia, the Far East, and Kaliningrad region.

5. Despite the small number of ‘foreigners’ compared to the ‘Russian’ population, the national factor (Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, the Caucasus, etc.) will have an important role to play in Russia’s domestic political life and may set off a chain reaction in Russian regions.

6. The overlapping of regional contradictions and the Kremlin’s assimilation policy towards Russia’s indigenous peoples will, under certain political circumstances, result in an abrupt weakening of the country’s governability.

 

The territorial and national rift, which was, is, and will remain the Achilles heel of Russia, has every chance to turn into an abyss, destructive for the state.

 The main factor that could spark the collapse of Russia will be Moscow’s inability to govern the regions effectively. The reasons for this are likely to be a combination of two factors: a) sharp deterioration of the economic situation in the country and related popular dissatisfaction in the regions; b) increased economic and politico-military pressure of the West on the Kremlin.

For now, Russia remains what it is: an empire sewn together by rigid centralism. As I. Eidman puts it, ‘Russia is bound together only by centralised violence, barbed wire camps, and torture handcuffs [16].

 

1. Штепа В. Новый договор или распад? // Регион.Эксперт. 31 декабря 2019. URL: https://region.expert/treaty_or_collapse/

2. Штепа В. Либо республики – все, либо не будет ни одной // Регион. Эксперт. 2 ноября 2020. URL: http://region.expert/all_republics/

3. Штепа В. Федерация или сохранение метрополии? // Регион.Эксперт. 21 декабря 2020. URL: http://region.expert/federation-or-metropolis/

4. Азаревич В. Сибирский сепаратизм: от антимонархического заговора до борьбы с Колчаком // Local. 25 мая 2020. URL: https://localcrew.ru/siberianstate

5. Конституция Российской Федерации. Гл. 3. Ст. 68. URL: http://www. constitution.ru/10003000/10003000-5.htm

6. Гобл П. Москва сталкивается с регионалистскими движениями по всей России // Регион.Эксперт. 5 октября 2018. URL: http://region.expert/ regionalist-movements/

7. Кириллова К. Возможно ли возрождение Уральской республики? // Регион.Эксперт. 10 января 2017. URL: https://region.expert/new-ural/

8. Лузин П. Бессмертная Уральская республика // Регион.Эксперт. 7 июля 2017. URL: https://region.expert/immortal-ural/

9. Федоров Ю. Россия между фашизмом и распадом. Киев, 2017. С. 102.

10. Сушко А. Исторические идеи и политические практики сибирского сепаратизма // Вестник Томского государственного университета. 2018. № 426. С. 192–206. URL: http://journals.tsu.ru/uploads/import/1671/files/426_192.pdf

11. Федоров Ю. Указ. работа. С. 111. 12. https://youtu.be/_ipc6Ow5aWk

13. Лузин П. Метафизика архипелага. Почему нам нужна деколонизация России? // Регион.Эксперт. 5 апреля 2017. URL: http://region.expert/ decolonization/

14. Корнев С. Постмосковская цивилизация // Регион.Эксперт. 2 июня 2016. URL: https://region.expert/postmoscow/

15. Штепа В. Почему централистская оппозиция не понимает федерализм? // Регион.Эксперт. 20 июня 2020. URL: http://region.expert/opposition/

16. Эйдман И. Три империи: российская, коммунистическая, мафиозная // Каспаров.ru. 30 октября 2020. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material. php?id=5F9AE07E2FFE9

17. Кремль прокомментировал идею Дерипаски о переносе столицы из Москвы // LENTA.RU. 4 сентября 2020. URL: https://lenta.ru/news/2020/09/04/stolica/

18. Бричкалевич И. Демограф обосновал перенос столицы из Москвы: «Вопрос выживания» // МК. 8 сентября 2020. URL: https://www.mk.ru/ economics/2020/09/08/demograf-obosnoval-perenos-stolicy-iz-moskvy-voprosvyzhivaniya.html

19. Артемьев М. Москва – это навсегда? Реально ли перенести столицу России в другой город // Forbes. 21 августа 2017. URL: https://www.forbes.ru/ biznes/349281-moskva-eto-navsegda-realno-li-perenesti-stolicu-rossii-v-drugoygorod

 

 4.   Economic Impasse

 

It is not the prices that are high, it is us who are beggars.

 

—Alexander Gorny, a blogger [1]

 

Russia’s political prospects are directly dependent on its economic health. Claiming no comprehensive analysis of the state of Russia’s economy (this is not even the subject of a separate article but of fundamental academic research), I will single out only some, in my opinion, essential aspects that will affect the situation in the state itself and its future place in the world economy.

What is the basis of Russia’s modern economy? The answer is known: exports of raw materials, mostly oil and gas. That is exactly what gave famous US Senator John McCain reason to call Russia a ‘gas station masquerading as a country’. Russia receives the lion’s share of its foreign exchange earnings from hydrocarbon exports. What are the emerging trends?

Oil. In 2020, the volume of oil and gas condensate production in Russia decreased by 8.6 percent compared to 2019 and amounted to 512.68 million tons. This figure was the lowest over the last nine years and approached the ten-year low: in 2010, it was 512.3 million tons. At the same time, in the first 11 months of 2020, oil exports decreased by 11 percent to 220.241 million tons. Consequently, revenues from oil exports fell: According to the Federal Customs Service, in January–November 2020, revenues dropped by 40.9 percent year-on-year and amounted to $66.391 billion [2].

Gas. In 2020, Gazprom extracted 452.7 billion cubic meters of gas, exports amounted to 179.3 billion cubic meters. At the end of 2019, production amounted to 500.1 billion cubic meters, exports stood at 199.3 billion cubic meters. Thus, in 2020, Gazprom’s production decreased by 9.48 percent, exports dropped by 10 percent [3]. Gazprom’s problems have even hit the Russian press. These include, in particular, miscalculations in the implementation of the 30-year contract Power of Siberia, which may fall through due to the great Russian ‘cross-your-fingers’ mentality. Gas reserves at the Chayandin field, from which gas will be supplied to China, might simply not be enough. This will result in losses of more than 1.5 trillion rubles [4].

Electricity. Russia has sharply reduced electricity supplies abroad. In the first 11 months of 2020, they fell by 42 percent compared to 2019 and amounted to $426.9 million [5].

The same negative trends are observed in the case of other important items of Russian exports, which has led to a significant deterioration in Russia’s trade balance. According to the Russian customs service, in January–November 2020, the surplus of Russia’s foreign trade fell by 42.7 percent year-on-year, to $92.7 billion. During the reporting period, Russia’s export revenues amounted to $302 billion, a decrease of 21.8 percent. Over these 11 months, Russian imports dropped by 6.8 percent to $209.3 billion. In January–November 2020, Russia’s foreign trade turnover amounted to $511.4 billion, 16.3 percent less than in the same period last year [2].

 

It should, of course, be taken into account that 2020 was marked by a global coronavirus pandemic, a contraction in business activity and therefore cannot be used as a reference point. Generally speaking, it is not about numbers that can fluctuate but about trends that illustrate the avenue of development. The question is whether the Russian economy has a strategic prospect, considering at least two main circumstances that will fundamentally affect Russia’s ability to supplement its budget by exporting energy in the near future.

The point is, first, that in 15–20 years the cost of oil production in Russia may reach $60–70 a barrel, thus making it unprofitable. The reason is the depletion of the existing and transition to the so-called hard-to-tap reserves, which will require large additional investments, as well as lack of cutting-edge technologies in Russia. Whether it will be able to circumvent current sanctions in light of the political trends described above remains highly questionable. It should be added that, as of 2019, only 67 percent of oil fields were profitable. According to the Ministry of Environment of the Russian Federation, ‘In 2025, Russia’s oil industry will start to irreversibly degrade, thus putting Russia at the point of no return’. What is meant here is that by 2030 oil production will shrink by 40 or even 50 percent, leading to the termination of oil exports [6].

Second, which is just as important, the countries that buy energy in Russia today set an ambitious but quite realistic goal of abandoning fossil fuels by the 2040s. In addition, alternative energy suppliers to these countries, particularly the United States, should also be considered, especially if the political component of West-Russia relations is taken into account.

Thus, Russia has little time left to move from a commodity-based to a high-tech economy. That said, there is no reason to hope that this can really happen. In turn, such a course of events will lead to a significant drop in revenues to the Russian budget, with all the relevant social implications.

 In addition, there are several other critical factors that will affect the development of the Russian economy. Their combination with each other and those mentioned above will undoubtedly have a devastating cumulative effect.

These are the demographic crisis and labour outflow. In Russia, it had many names: ‘demographic pit’, ‘demographic catastrophe’, ‘Russian cross’. Some experts even speak of Russia’s ‘extinction’. Its importance is evidenced by the mere fact that in government documents of the last decade it is indicated as the main socioeconomic issue [7].

The question, however, is not about the name or statement but the consequences of this phenomenon. And they are obvious: a powerful blow to the economy, a serious exacerbation of social problems and disparities, risks of the irretrievable loss of ‘cultural identity’ of Russia’s non-Muslim population, threats to the country’s security (because the size of the security agencies is simply not enough to protect the borders), etc. The population decline is particularly sharp in Central Russia, areas without chornozem (fertile black soil), Siberia, the Far North, and the Far East. The measures taken by the government of the Russian Federation do not yield the desired results [8]. According to the Federal State Statistics Service of Russia, the Russian population continues to decline and this trend will intensify at least until 2026 [9].

The figures on the mechanical outflow of labour, i.e. emigration from Russia, are not optimistic either. According to non-government sources, more than 10 million people have left Russia [10].  Emigration trends, especially among youth, are only scaling up. According to the Levada Centre, in September 2019, more than 50 people of young people wished to emigrate from Russia; in general, this figure amounts to more than 20 percent of the Russian population [11].

One should also mention that Russia ranks second in Europe in the number of divorces and fourth globally in terms of alcohol consumption (which kills about 600,000 people each year). Besides, the country has about 2.5 million people (mostly of young age) suffering from substance abuse [8]. ‘This is it [the Russian government] that allows ‘salespersons’ to alcoholise a nation that already consumes 18.2 liters of pure alcohol per person a year. And it is this government that intercepts only 4 percent of heroin entering the country, which Russia consumes almost as much as the rest of Europe’ [12].

Permanent and pervasive corruption and capital outflows are also bleed the Russian economy white. One can hardly disagree with the conclusions of Russian economists and sociologists, saying that, ’In modern Russian society, corruption is not just a set of private criminal practices carried out by individual officials but a systemic social phenomenon’ [13]. According to Russian experts, about 10 percent of budgetary funds spent by officials do not create added value, and more than 20 percent of funds for public procurement is embezzled [14].

There is one more significant case in point: The Russian population treats corruption as if it were a common thing. This was clearly confirmed by the reaction of Russians to Navalny’s investigation on ‘Putin’s palace’. In the words of Denis Volkov, Deputy Director of the Levada Center, ‘Society as a whole has shown a low-key reaction to the investigation, once again demonstrating its high tolerance for corruption’ [15].

The peculiarity of Russian corruption is that the embezzled funds are not invested in the Russian economy but are usually exported abroad. Difficult  as it may be to determine an exact amount, Russian sources estimate it at one to several trillion US dollars [16]. Expert Yelena Larina argues that the amount of exported wealth is $5 trillion. According to her calculations, it is about $40,000 per each Russian citizen, or about $100–110,000 per family with one child, or approximately $75–80,000 per family of two pensioners. Social disparities are deepening: 71 percent of Russia’s national wealth belongs to 1 percent of its population [17].

It is clear that such a policy of the government is leading to the impoverishment of the population. According to Russian sources, 25 percent of Russians lack money for basic needs, and 39 percent say their salaries are barely enough for it. 42 percent skimp on paid medicine care and drugs, and 36 percent economise on education [18]. In accordance with official data, every eighth Russian is poor [19]. Summing up, economist Igor Nikolaev comes to the following conclusion: ‘… the results are: In 2014–2019 (there are no official statistics for 2020 yet) […] the real discretionary incomes of the population have decreased by 7.4 percent […] people are getting poorer […] Therefore, it is not surprising that they have already developed an acute sense of social injustice’ [20].

Expenditures on the security agencies, which number more than 2.5 million people in 50 structures, remain a heavy burden on the economy. Expenses on the army of above 800,000 people should be taken into account as well [21].

The state of the Russian economy is also negatively affected by international sanctions. According to a study of Bloomberg Economics, the losses of the Russian economy during the period of sanctions (2014–2018) stood at 6 percent of the GDP, as compared to the level it would have reached if the restrictive measures  had not been in place [22]. The new US sanctions on Russia’s sovereign debt are not yet extremely damaging for the Russian economy, but they have a chilling effect on foreign investors. Given Russia's behavior in the international arena, the sanctions are likely to be strengthened.

Renowned economist Mikhail Kasyanov gives quite a pessimistic forecast on the prospects of the Russian economy: ‘In Russia, despite the optimistic forecasts made by the government and announced by Putin, we will not be able to reach the level of 2019 by the end of next year [2021]; we will reach it only by the end of 2022. And what is the level of 2019? This is roughly the level of 2010 because, as you know, starting from 2010 and even more so from 2013, the incomes of the population had been falling every year for seven years in a row. By the end of 2022, exactly in two years, we will return to the level of 2010’ [23].

Most objective economists are inclined to believe that Russia’s economy has entered a phase of long-term stagnation. In this regard, one can’t but agree with the conclusion of economist G. Yavlinsky that ‘the economic policy [of Russia] over the last 15 years can fairly be called a failure’ [24].

What conclusions can be drawn from the above?

1. The volume of the major items of Russian exports generating public revenues may significantly decline in the near future.

2. The demographic crisis in Russia continues to deepen. This creates new extremely menacing economic, security, and social challenges. The measures  taken by the government to overcome it are not effective. Additional ‘aggravating factors’ that are negatively affecting the situation are alcoholism, substance abuse, and emigration.

3. Pervasive corruption, which has become part of the social reality and is eroding public finance, is an insurmountable obstacle to the necessary reforms. Withdrawal of huge sums of money to offshore jurisdictions is bleeding the Russian economy dry.

4. International economic sanctions imposed on Russia for the occupation of Crimea and the war in Donbas and the cost of maintaining these territories are an additional burden on the Russian economy. Expenditures on the maintenance of the country’s military and security forces remain disproportionately high.

5. All of this makes the much-needed transition to an innovative economy virtually unrealistic. And without this, Russia is doomed to economic decline, which is close at hand.

The economic ‘crack’ is, perchance, the most dangerous one in the entire structure of the Russian state. Even a cursory analysis shows that over time it will become increasingly wider, threatening the foundations of Russian statehood. As famous politician L. Shevtsova put it, the current situation in Russia is the ‘inertia of degradation that is turning into a mode of existence’ [25].

 

1. Горный А. Это не цены высокие, это мы нищие, г-н Президент // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 11 декабря 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/amountain/2756042-echo/

2. Нефтяные доходы России упали на 42,7% в 2020 году // Каспаров.ru. 19 января 2021. URL: https:// www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=6005B45132715

3. Добыча газа в «Газпроме» в 2020 году достигла 452,7 млрд куб. м // ТАСС. 2 января. URL: https:// tass.ru/ekonomika/10398881

4. Поляков Е. Мечты срываются «Газпром» теряет 1,5 триллиона рублей и рискует сорвать поставки газа в Китай на миллиарды долларов // LENTA.RU. 10 января 2021. URL: https://lenta.ru/ articles/2020/05/28/the_power_of_lies/

5. Россия резко сократила экспорт электроэнергии в 2020 году // Каспаров.ru. 18 января 2021. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=60057DC8BBE16

6. Закат эпохи «мировой бензоколонки»: цифры и факты // Livejournal. 5 января 2021. URL: https:// zloy-odessit.livejournal.com/3400349.html

7. Указ о национальных целях развития России до 2030 года // Президент России. 21 июля 2020. URL: http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/63728

8. Воронцов А. Демографическое состояние русского народа // Cyberleninka. URL: https:// cyberleninka.ru/article/n/demograficheskoe-sostoyanie-russkogo-naroda/viewer

9. Население России сократилось второй год подряд // РБК. 24 января 2020. URL: https://www.rbc. ru/economics/24/01/2020/5e2ac0d29a794776cb833825

10. «Проект»: Росстат в шесть раз занижает число уехавших из России // Радио Свобода. 16 января 2019. URL: https://www.svoboda.org/a/29713531.html

11. Гончаров С. Эмиграционные настроения / С. Гончаров, Д. Волков // Левада-центр. 26 ноября 2019. URL: https://www.levada.ru/2019/11/26/emigratsionnye-nastroeniya-4/?fromtg=1\\

12. Иноземцев В. Идеальный народ // МК. 1 ноября 2010. URL: https://www.mk.ru/politics/ russia/2010/11/01/541080-idealnyiy-narod.html

13. Коррупция в России: системный анализ // Обозник. 24 февраля 2019. URL: http://www.oboznik. ru/?p=50418

14. Лемешонок О. Влияние коррупционных факторов на экономику России // Cyberleninka. URL: https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/vliyanie-korruptsionnyh-faktorov-na-ekonomiku-rossii/viewer

15. Волков Д. На пределе своїх возможностей // IPG. 16 февраля 2021. URL: https://www.ipg-journal. io/regiony/evropa/na-predele-svoikh-vozmozhnostei-1243/?utm_campaign=ru_227_20210217&utm_ medium=email&utm_source=newsletter

16. Немец А. Casus Belli // Каспаров.ru. 28 декабря 2020. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material. php?id=5FE8D8B30D3FC

17. Грабь награбленное: Запад конфискует офшорне миллиарды российских олигархов // Howtonews. 31 января 2021. URL: https://news-ks.info/grab-nagrablennoe-zapad-konfiskuet-ofshornyemilliardy-rossijskih-oligarhov/?utm_source=smi2&utm_medium=cpc&utm_content=9901364

18. Четверти россиян не хватает зарплаты на основные нужды // Каспаров.ru. 3 февраля 2021. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=601A92C8AFBE4

19. В России продолжают падать реальне доходы населения и расти число бедных // Каспаров. ru. 29 января 2021. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=6013E2FBD5EFC

20. Николаев И. Как сегодня перераспределяется национальное багатство в России // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 26 января 2021. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/nikolaev_i/2779926-echo/

21. Об оптимизации армии: «Это безумие и шаг против интересов России» // Рамблер. 21 октября 2020. URL: https://news.rambler.ru/army/45059559/?utm_content=news_media&utm_medium=read_ more&utm_source=copylink

22. Санкції проти Росії. К.: МЦПД, 2019. С. 20. URL: http://icps.com.ua/assets/uploads/images/files/t_ sankcii_rf_a4_ukr.pdf

23. Михаил Касьянов // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 18 декабря 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/ programs/year2020/2758492-echo/

24. Явлинский Г. Крах Лаврова – Путина // Григорий Явлинский: официальный сайт. 31 июля 2017. URL: https://www.yavlinsky.ru/article/krah-lavrova-putina/

25. Шевцова Л. Країна, що йде тонкою кригою // НВ. 3 січня 2021. URL: https://nv.ua/ukr/opinion/ volodimir-putin-2021-shcho-chekaye-rosiyu-v-novomu-roci-ostanni-novini-50133310.html

 

 

5. Foreign Policy Deadlock

 

In 2020, a new reality came into domestic foreign policy: Diplomacy as a confidential exchange of views in search of a mutually acceptable compromise became impossible in principle […] In these conditions, diplomacy becomes simply redundant.

 

—Alexander Goltz, a journalist [1]

 

 

The psychological acceptability of internal colonialism for Russian elites is entirely compatible with an imperial and colonial foreign policy.

At first, it was seemingly getting off to a good start. On 17 June 17 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin delivered a speech in the US Congress that was considered historic in the West, and for good reason. Yeltsin spoke of the rejection of communist ideology and totalitarianism, advocated freedom, and promised a peaceful foreign policy of a ‘new’ Russia. Exactly eight years later, in June 2000, Putin declared that he ‘could not imagine Russia in isolation from Europe’ and did not ‘exclude the possibility of Russia becoming a member of NATO’.

But something went wrong, since today the West not only does not applaud Russia’s statements but recognizes it as a country violating international law, a ‘dangerous neighbour’, a ‘major threat’ that must be contained and counteracted. The US President calling the President of Russia a ‘killer’ is an unprecedented occurrence in the history of diplomacy. Behind this word stands something more than the attitude towards Putin; it is the declaration of illegitimacy of the system he  has created.

I dare say that this system largely ‘owes’ its existence to the West itself, with its political and financial promiscuity, unwillingness to face the truth, childish naivety and admiration for words, rather than analysis of actions. Not to mention the unbridled desire to earn at any cost, selling its ‘goods’ even to the devil. The West has become a safe place for Russian ‘dirty’ money. As David Kramer, former US Undersecretary of State, put it, ‘It must be acknowledged that our greed and lack of transparency in the financial sector have made the United States an attractive target for Russian capital’ [2]. According to well-known Russian political scientist Andrey Piontkovsky, who is one of a handful of those who can undoubtedly be called the conscience of the Russian intelligentsia, it is a matter of $1 trillion. Who would refuse such investment?!

Unlike the West’s extremely positive approach to Russia over the past 30 years, Moscow has not only never admired but actually envied and even loathed the West for its initiative, success, freedom, dignity, and independence — all of the virtues that were unknown in Russia itself. It is a shame that Western politicians were reluctant to notice this profound gap in worldviews between Russia and the West in the past, as many of them are even now.

The distorted and meaningless perception of Russia by the West, in my opinion, gives the former an opportunity to return to its true essence, the one which has always been there, with the exception of a small ‘Yeltsin’s zigzag’ in the 1990s. And even this of the latter is nothing more than a convention because the Kremlin’s imperialism towards the post-Soviet countries did not disappear: As Yeltsin’s closest associates recall, he wanted a new, somewhat reformed USSR in the form of the CIS but with the same decision-making center in Moscow. And it was only thanks, above all, to the strong opposition of Ukraine that his plans were thwarted [3].

Russia’s rapid ‘imperial homecoming’ was helped by a combination of several factors favourable to the Kremlin during the 2000s. These include high prices for oil and gas on the global market and the accumulation of decent stocks of petrodollars in Russia; the West’s uncritical attitude to blatant human rights abuses both in Russia itself (blowing up of houses with civilians, justifying Chechen wars with horrific crimes by the federal government, persecuting and killing opposition dissidents in Russia and abroad) and abroad (lack of proper response to Russian aggression against Georgia in 2008); the absence in Russia of a civil society capable of influencing the government; the weakness and disorganisation of the Russian opposition, as well as deep-rooted conservatism and chauvinism.

Against this background, ‘rising from its knees’, ‘returning to former greatness’, ‘we can repeat’, and other pseudo-concepts of Russia’s ‘special role’ have once again become the mainstream of the Kremlin’s foreign policy thinking. The idea ofthe ‘Russian peace’ has become a natural fit in the Kremlin’s traditional imperial ideas – not in the cultural and humanitarian understanding but as an aggressive foreign policy doctrine.

However, unlike the USSR, which had a global ideological ‘justification’ of its policies in the form of the cynical and deceitful but attractive for some countries communist ideology that painted a ‘happy future’ for all humankind, today’s Russia can offer the world nothing, not even verbally. The aforementioned ‘Russian world’ cannot ‘work’ anywhere except the post-Soviet space, and even there it is facing significant restrictions. The idea of dividing the world under the new Yalta conspiracy predictably will not evoke any positive reaction in the West. Today’s Russia is not an example in any important area of social life and, therefore, has nothing to make it attractive. It has just shrunk. According to Professor Grigoriy Yudin from the Moscow School for the Social and Economic Sciences, ‘If we compare today’s Russian foreign policy with the Soviet one, the former comes off a loser on one fundamental issue. We have no vision for the future. We can’t offer anything to anyone’ [4].

In fact, not only the concept is missing. There are no longer any foreign policy partners or friends. After the aggression against Ukraine in 2014 and the failure of the Kremlin’s expectations that everything would soon return to ‘business as usual’, Russia found itself in international isolation. Who is left, after all? Several totalitarian-type post-Soviet countries dependent on Moscow in pair with as Iran, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela. The regimes regimes of the Central African Republic and Myanmar may soon become new friends. A very convincing list for a country aspiring for global ‘greatness’!

I deliberately do not add China to this list, because it does not consider Russia an equal partner and is only biding its time until it can de facto and de jure take over the territory of present-day Russia east of the Urals. It is only a matter of time and the Kremlin’s forlorn hopes that it might clear up on its own. The Chinese are known for their ruthlessness in such matters. Russia will not be able to resist. Therefore, although Moscow’s tilt towards China and Asia in general can be seen as an alternative to the failure of its Western policy, it poses a real strategic threat to Russia. In fact, it does not add anything new because there is no real difference between being a raw material supplement for the West and for the East.

In such circumstances, the Kremlin should consider measures that would allow it to at least somehow normalise its relations with the civilised world. But what do we hear? One could, of course, ignore the ‘leakage’ of foreign policy programmes in the press through unknown authors like Pyotr Akopov, which deal with the forcible return of the territories of the former USSR [5]. When similar ideas, but on a global scale, are expressed by Sergey Karaganov, a political scientist close to the Kremlin [6], it becomes clear that such publications are not accidental. Russian expert Alexander Skobov referred to Karaganov’s ‘work’ as a ‘manifesto of the new Russian fascism’ [7].

Even more questions about the sanity of decision-makers in Moscow arise when one reads the statements of some high-ranking officials. For example, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, rejecting all norms of diplomatic restraint, directly stated in a ramrod manner: ‘In my opinion, the Russian Federation should move to a two-track approach: total containment of the US in all areas, since US policy is deeply hostile towards Russia and contradicts our fundamental interests. This is the first side, containment. The second side is selective dialogue, involvement of the United States only on those topics that are of interest to us, not on those that are interesting only to them [1]. Of course, one can’t but mention Sergey Lavrov’s statements that Russia has ‘no relations with the European Union as an organisation’ [8], and that ‘Russia’s relations with the West are worse than during the Cold War’ [9].

Against this background, the opinions of some Russian experts, for instance, V. Frolov, on a more pragmatic approach to the post-Soviet countries are more of a way of studying a possible external reaction than a definite course of action.

What is the result of such a ‘wise’ policy? As L. Shevtsova put it, ‘[…] Western community has begun to look for a way to fence itself off from Russia. It must have taken a lot of effort to ensure that only 12 percent of the Swedes, 23 percent of the Dutch, 26 percent of the British, 35 percent of Germans, and 18 percent of Americans today perceive Russia positively. For the West, Russia ceases to be a vexed issue between adherents and opponents. Suspicion of Russia is becoming a unifying factor for the West’ [11]. Now it is not a question of ‘suspicion’ but of direct resistance.

It is also clear that in the post-Soviet space, Russia has lost Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine for good. What is more, without the latter, the concept of a ‘restored empire’ is falling apart.

In such circumstances, going on a ‘foreign policy offensive’ means not being able to adequately assess the international situation, being ignorant of its devastating consequences for the state itself, and pursuing a suicidal policy.

This conclusion is also prompted by a change in the Western approach to sanctions. It is known that even after Moscow’s most egregious violation of all possible international legal norms, which resulted in the occupation of Crimea and part of Ukrainian Donbas, the West was in no hurry to severely punish Russia. Though damaging for the Kremlin’s reputation, the sanctions imposed did not affect its behaviour in any way. Western officials and experts admit that the purpose of the sanctions was to send signals, not to change the system. German Ambassador to Russia Rüdiger von Fritsch, who worked there when Russian aggression against Ukraine broke out, believes that sanctions are a political tool, not a punitive instrument. From his standpoint, they are not intended to change the political framework in any country. Sanctions have three goals: to change certain policies, to draw red lines, and to show determination when the fundamental principles of peaceful coexistence are breached’ [12]. Reaffirming the above position on sanctions, another German politician, Johann Saathoff, a member of the Bundestag from the SPD and, from August 2020, the Coordinator for Intersocietal Cooperation with Russia, Central Asia and the Eastern Partnership Countries, went even further and stated that the dialogue with Russia was needed and that trade with it is was a different matter, so it should not be curtailed. That is why the SPD and J. Saathoff personally support, in particular, the construction of Nord Stream-2 [13].

However, the situation with sanctions is changing dramatically not in Russia’s favour. This is due to the coming to power of the new US President J. Biden as well as a significantly tougher attitude towards Moscow from the UK, Canada, the EU, and NATO. Specifically, the question will be applying not individual but sectoral, or the so-called hellish sanctions, which can quickly inflict destructive damage to the Russian economy and hence to Russia’s political system. The technical and legal aspects of such a step have long been defined. Now it is just a matter of a political decision that Washington can make at any time. In April 2020, the warning made by the US was supported by other allies.

What is the Kremlin’s response? Having no proper answer, it is traditionally using two instruments: propaganda and intimidation.

One can’t but agree with the opinion of A. Khots: ‘A weakening regime, which is based only on repression and has lost in the competition with the West, always clings to ideological wars as a last resort to mobilise the poor everymen’ [14]. The image of an insidious enemy around Russia requires these ‘poor everymen’ to forget about their own rights, the well-being of their families, social benefits, etc., for the ‘defence of the Fatherland’. And to love it more, they  should be more hateful to the enemy.

Cultivation of hatred is, perchance, the first task of propaganda. In her article Hate as a National Idea, psychologist Zara Arutyunyan writes that, ‘Russia loves to cultivate hatred. We always hate someone. The state is promoting the story about the enemy. What is really being peddled, and strongly, is hatred and separation. In our country, every case turns into a holy war. This is an artificial escalation of hatred. It is spilled in the air. Apparently, maintaining hatred had some great idea behind it’ [15].

A separate important area of Russian propaganda is ‘overcoming the greatest catastrophe’ of the 20th century, that is, the idea of restoring the USSR. Revanchism, hegemonism, and imperialism have once again become dominant in Russian political thought. According to American analyst H. Pirchner Jr, ‘Imperialism and Russian aggression are the top problems in the world […] The problem is not limited to Putin. This is a question of imperialist culture, which is historically inherent in Moscow’. Russia is a country where ‘the ideology of imperialism reigns’. [16].

Admittedly, Russian propaganda manages to successfully influence its domestic audience. More than 80 percent of Russians have approved of the occupation of Crimea, which means that the billions of dollars spent on propaganda have done the job. It is very easy to ‘sell’ any foreign policy misadventure to such a people.

I. Yakovenko, whom I have already cited, notes that the Kremlin ‘understands patriotism exclusively as humiliation of other countries and peoples’ [17]. In this respect, Ukraine is a textbook example. For example, Vice Speaker of the State Duma Pyotr Tolstoy went as far as to say: ‘We are discussing the problems of Ukraine because Ukraine is part of Russia. We are discussing the problems of Ukraine because its people are the same Russian people who have been experimented on. This experiment has been completed there, but it has not taken place in our country. In my opinion, that is interesting’ [18]. Such ideas have been ingrained in the minds of Russians for many years. G. Pirchner Jr concludes that ‘propaganda in Russia is becoming part of culture and, unfortunately, a successful one at that’ [16].

However, the Kremlin pays no less attention to propaganda against the EU and NATO. A whole state machine has been formed and is actively working to weaken the unity of these unions, pit Europe against America, disinform and distort reality in Western societies, destabilise their domestic policies by spreading unreliable information, support any radical movements sowing discord in society, etc. Only recently has the collective West become aware of the depth of the information threat posed by Russia and started taking protective measures, which, of course, sparked a backlash from the Kremlin: Suffice it to read the transcripts of briefings by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

Another traditional and quite efficient tool of the Kremlin is banal intimidation, since Russia remains the world’s second nuclear power. And it is not just Putin’s words about his readiness to die in a nuclear disaster and ‘go to heaven’ but also the serious build-up of new weapons and the provocative behaviour of the Russian military near the territories of NATO countries, not to mention Ukraine. There seem to be two goals: to raise the degree of ‘patriotism’ within the country and determine the West’s readiness to take concrete action.

It would appear that with the change of power in the United States, the collective West has abandoned the words about ‘concern’, giving rise to a policy of real containment and counteraction to Russia’s aggressiveness. The ‘brain death of NATO’ has turned out to be merely a beautiful but irresponsible hyperbole. NATO is regaining its leading position in security issues in the North Atlantic and beyond, while reaffirming its obligation to comply with the provisions of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty and restoring the trust of allies. NATO countries have consented to achieve the previously agreed defence spending of 2 percent of their GDP. Plans to withdraw US troops from Germany have been frozen, and new American forces have been deployed in Poland and Romania. NATO has boosted its presence in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, while also stepping up its support for Georgia and Ukraine. It was thanks to the pressure exerted by the US and NATO that Russia was forced to stop the dangerous escalation at the Ukrainian-Russian border in April 2021.

The Kremlin is at a loss to understand that it is not Russia but China that is the main challenge for the US and the West as a whole. The reason is clear: As China was rapidly bulking up economically, Moscow was cutting just as fast, becoming an average regional country. Russia’s extreme import dependence on the West, as well as dependence on supplying its energy resources to the West, makes it too vulnerable and increasingly less interesting. That is why less and less attention is paid to Moscow’s actions. M. Kasyanov puts it this way: ‘Politically, Russia is not a priority for the United States at all, because in the last 15 years we have become an even smaller country than we used to be […] We keep getting  more and more shriveled with each passing year. Plain saber-rattling does not mean that we are becoming stronger and should be more reckoned with. That is not the case’ [19].

Of course, these are only opinions of certain experts and sporadic facts. But  even they reveal a trend: Moscow can no longer pursue its foreign policy goals the way it wants.

What conclusions can be drawn?

1. After the demise of the USSR and the establishment of the Russian Federation, its foreign policy has evolved from liberal pro-Western to openly aggressive. Russia has returned to its imperial essence.

2. This state does not have a meaningful foreign policy concept and cannot offer anything attractive to other countries to be a role model. The ‘Russian world’ is a product with a limited – and futile – range of application. Even Russia’s allies are becoming more suspicious of it.

3. Russia has found itself isolated from the civilised world. Its desire to compensate it by entering into a ‘strategic partnership’ with China is fraught with serious risks: Moscow will not be able to avoid an even greater dependence on Beijing, whose appetites, particularly for territory, will continue to grow.

4. Despite the apparent weakness and impotence of the confrontational policy, Russia continues to intimidate and provoke the West, including Ukraine. Russia's information and propaganda war against the West has taken on a new dimension. Such a policy only encourages the latter to retaliate.

5. The West is adopting a ‘containment’ policy towards Russia. This may result in the imposition of the so-called hellish sanctions that will lead to the collapse of the current political regime in Russia.

It can be stated that Russia, aspiring for equal participation in resolving global problems, has in fact found itself sidelined. This is a natural result of its aggressive policy, a real ‘deadlock’ in its foreign affairs. As G. Yavlinsky has rightfully notes, ‘[…] Russia has turned out to be a country with a negative reputation. A country that has no trust in the world. And this is the collapse of Russian diplomacy and foreign policy. We have poisoned ourselves. Poisoned with falsehood’ [20].

 

1. Гольц А. Итоги года. Окончательная самоизоляция // Ежедневный журнал. 1 января 2021. URL: HTTP://WWW.EJ.RU/?A=NOTE&ID=35720

2. Жигалкин Ю. Внешнеполитическое наследие Трампа. Чем воспользуется Байден? // Радио Свобода. 19 декабря 2020. URL: https://www.svoboda.org/a/31008775. html

3. Романчук О. – К. Медаль за «город Вашингтон», або горе від розуму // Універсум. 2021. № 3–4. URL: https://universum.lviv.ua/data/magarticles/files/2880.pdf

4. Григорий Юдин // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 20 ноября 2020. URL: https:// echo.msk.ru/programs/year2020/2744522-echo/

5. Акопов П. У России нет выбора на постсоветском пространстве // Радонеж. 8 октября 2020. URL: HTTPS://RADONEZH.RU/2020/10/08/PETR-AKOPOV-U-ROSSII-NETVYBORA-NA-POSTSOVETSKOM-PROSTRANSTVE

6. Караганов С. Наступление в войне идей // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 27 ноября 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/statya/2748794-echo/

7. Скобов А. Манифест нового русского фашизма // Каспаров.ru. 4 декабря 2020. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FCA253017264

8. Батманова А. Лавров обвинил ЕС в уничтожении отношений с Россией // РБК. 23 марта 2021. URL: https://www.rbc.ru/politics/23/03/2021/60596d0c9a7947adc1bbb0ed

9. Лавров: отношения с Западом хуже, чем во времена холодной войны // ВВС News. 16 апреля 2018. URL: https://www.bbc.com/russian/news-43786825

10. Neue Zürcher Zeitung. 17.11.2020. 11. Шевцова Л. Время жести // Каспаров.ru. 28 октября 2020. URL: https://www. kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5F9911DDA696F

12. Пфафф Я. «Важливо зберігати спокій» // taz. 18 жовтня 2020. URL: https://taz. de/Gespraech-mit-Ex-Botschafter-in-Moskau/!5718468/

13. Гавалакис Н. «Мы не можем молчать об обязательствах России и не перестанем напоминать ей об этом» // IPG. 12 октября 2020. URL: https://www.ipg-journal.io/ intervju/my-ne-mozhem-molchat-ob-objazatelstvakh-rossii-i-ne-perestanem-napominatei-ob-ehtom-1163/

14. Хоц А. Похвальное слово Холодной войне // Каспаров.ru. 1 января 2021. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FEF2EF505143

15. Арутюнян З. Ненависть как национальная идея // Каспаров.ru. 7 декабря 2020. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FCE1E8DAECB8

16. Тищенко Р. «Ситуація в Росії буде ставати все більш вибуховою» – американський аналітик // Радіо Свобода. 4 листопада 2020. URL: https://www.radiosvoboda. org/a/30930287.html

17. Яковенко И. Россию накрыл вирус деградации // Gazeta.ua. 18 декабря 2020. URL: https://gazeta.ua/ru/blog/54362/rosiyu-nakriv-virus-degradaciyi 18. Яковенко И. Вирусы русофобии // Каспаров.ru.

18 декабря 2020. URL: https:// www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FDB949A959E0

19. Михаил Касьянов // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 18 декабря 2020. URL: https:// echo.msk.ru/programs/year2020/2758492-echo/

20. Явлинский Г. Утрата репутации: отравление ложью // Григорий Явлинский: официальный сайт. 12 сентября 2018. URL: https://www.yavlinsky.ru/article/utratareputatsii-otravlenie-lozhyu/

 

6. Can Russia Become a Democracy?

 

The Russian government, in my opinion, got a purely perfect people, which it will successfully exploit for a long time to come.

 

 —Vladislav Inozemtsev, an economist and a social columnist [1]

 

In today’s Russia, only a minor social group finds this issue alarming – the conscious opposition. I say conscious because the ‘on-call opposition’ is only a convenient and hand-fed tool for the Kremlin to demonstrate Russia’s ‘democracy’.

The goal of the conscious opposition in Russia is to try to change the situation. It criticises the authorities, encourages people to take to the streets for protests and takes part in them, points to the deterioration of the human rights situation, speaks of ‘Russian fascism’, writes appeals, reaches out to the international community, drafts programs for the ‘beautiful Russia of the future’, etc. This is important but not even close to enough. The question is: Will it be able to raise millions in protest that will change the government?

The goal of the Russian government is traditional – to retain power. In the case, the toolkit is a bit different and includes cementing the political space and repressions. The government does not need democracy, it is dangerous for it. The Kremlin’s view of democracy has been frankly and even cynically expressed by Vladislav Surkov, a former adviser to the Russian president: ‘An overdose of freedom is lethal for a state’. Surkov believes that Putin has not abolished democracy but combined it with the ‘monarchical archetype of Russian rule’. ‘This archetype works. There is enough freedom and enough order in it’ [2].

What about the goal of the Russian population? We will come back to it a little bit later.

So, how does the conscious opposition see the situation?

For instance, here is what L. Shevtsova writes about today’s Russia: ‘Lack of alternative; popular fear that Russia will repeat the fate of the USSR; paralysing epidemic – all of this maintains stability. As soon as development threatens it, the authorities put Russia in a state of decay. When you rot, there is no strength to revolt, and what decomposes cannot collapse. It can rot indefinitely […] Russia […] is trying to freeze itself in the past. A lonely state, a cowardly political class, a demoralised government, and a population tired of it. Such is our current landscape’ [3].

Another Russian expert, Vladimir Pastukhov, a research associate at the University College of London, has a similar view of the situation: ‘In 2020, the regime gave up false shyness and began to demonstratively savour violence. The era of ‘police KGB-exhibitionism’ has come: Now all evil is always big and splashy. Navalny’s poisoning is primarily about that. From something shameful, forced, used out of necessity and on the sly, violence has turned into a universal, outright, and demonstrative method of public administration […] Sheer violence – unbridled and unabashed – is the true constitution of Russia in 2020’ [4].

Aforementioned A. Khots argues that the system built under Putin will logically lead to the collapse of Russia because it is doomed to stagnation, not development: ‘Putinism, which has ‘frozen’ the empire in half-life, is intuitively clamping down on attempts to turn a hand-picked sham parliament into a genuine legislature (sham parties into real parties, etc). The price of such a ‘freeze’ is degradation, police arbitrariness, persecution of opponents, blocking of any form of development and, eventually, the inevitable collapse of the empire’ [5]. In another article, he emphasises that: ‘The fascisation of Putinism and the Cold War with the civilised world are a sign of a historical finish line’ [6].

Writer Dmitriy Bykov draws attention to the fact that Russia has become an autocratic country in which the leader has absolute power: ‘ […] modern Russia is indeed a country without prospects. It has but one prospect: to be mothballed for an infinitely long time […] We now have a total autocracy, where the parliament is totally faux and where everything hinges on one person’ [7].

As if making a conclusion, social columnist O. Melnikov states: ‘Strategic collapse is on every front: in foreign and domestic policy, military structure and defense industry, economy, science and education, medicine and culture. The fact that the current order is glued together by threats, repressions, and propaganda can prolong its existence but cannot give the country a future’ [8].

The way I see it, that paints quite a bleak picture. And how does the ‘deep people’ react to it? That is really interesting.

As V. Inozemtsev argues, ‘In Russia, “democracy” or “a country without crooks and thieves” are perceived positively as an abstract ideal, but they do not generate willingness to fight for this ideal. The authorities are stepping up the pressure on society, filing lawsuits, throwing people into prisons on the grounds invented by “secret” witnesses – but there is still no backlash’ [9].

Another expert, Dmitriy Oreshkin, refers to people’s reluctance to react to restrictions of liberty: ‘If you are sitting under a bench, then sit there silently and wait until someone throws you a bone to suck on. Otherwise, you are fighting for your rights. To do this, you need to be aware of them specifically. We do not know how to do that. As a nation, we have not yet learned to realise our rights as the basis of our existence. The reason is that we do not have a culture of private property. We do not have a culture of protecting our rights […]’ [10].

Journalist Ksenia Kirillova makes an interesting observation about the popular sentiment: ‘Judging from the public mood, Russians’ resentment about the current situation is becoming increasingly leftist, which in the ‘time of troubles’ may lead to an upsurge in public support for radical left populists of the Bolshevik breed. However, it is very difficult to conceive that the Russian “deep people” will see representatives of the liberal opposition as its leaders’ [11].

Indicative and at the same time dreadful in this regard is the position of many Russians, most candidly described by blogger O. Gorny: ‘Russians are hypothetically ready for such a course of events [transition of power from Putin to his successor]. For them [n.b.], impoverished stability is more important than the destruction of the country and the catastrophe that will accompany powerlessness’ [12].

What is the reason for such a public reaction – or, more precisely, lack thereof – to the open onslaught against people’s rights and for willingness to accept the arbitrariness of the regime?

Russian experts highlight several circumstances.

According to I. Eidman, ‘Russia does not exist and has ever existed as a country of a single political nation’ [13].

In addition, I. Yakovenko contends that Putin’s regime has no ideology: ‘[…] it has neither an ideology nor an image of the future; instead, it has a mythology. In other words, the difference between ideology and mythology is that ideology is an image of the future, whereas mythology is an image of the past. As we can see, mythology replaces ideology quite well’ [14].

On the other hand, there is imperialism that has permeated all of Russian society and even the leaders of the ‘liberal opposition’. As noted by Vadim Zaydman, ‘[…] as much as Navalny and his followers assure us and the Western political establishment that he has given up every vestige of imperialism and nationalism, imperialism is incurable; once a chekist, always a chekist, once an imperialist, always an imperialist’ [15].

However, there is a deeper reason to be found in certain traditions of the people. Here is what both Russian classics and modern authors have written about it.

In his article On the Russian Peasantry, which came out in Berlin in 1922 but was never published in the USSR, Maxim Gorky (Aleksey Peshkov) provides some interesting characteristics. Given that in the early 20th century Russia was a predominantly rural country, his assessment can generally be extrapolated to the vast majority of society, since the working class was also recruited from the Russian peasantry.

M. Gorky believed that the Russian peasant – i.e. the people – is convinced of the legitimacy of lawlessness, of the zoological naturalness of anarchism’. ‘It would seem that the nomadic instinct in the Russian peasant has not yet died out; he sees the work of the plowman as a God’s curse and suffers from ‘wanderlust’. He has almost no – at any rate, a very poorly developed – fighting desire to get a foothold at the chosen point and influence the environment in his interests […]’.

M. Gorky argued that the specific worldview of Russians and their behaviour stemmed from the vastness of Russian territory, which allowed them to flee from the state and live in isolation from social processes for centuries. He shared the opinion of Ukrainian historian Mykola Kostomarov, whom he for some reason called Russian, that ‘opposition to the state existed in the people, but because of too vast geographical space it was expressed by fleeing and escape from the burdens imposed by the state on the people, rather than by active resistance or struggle’.

Taking this idea further, M. Gorky noted: ‘The boundless plane on which the wooden and thatched villages are closely huddled together has the poisonous property of eviscerating men and sucking out his desires. The peasant goes outside the village, looks into the emptiness around him, and after a while he feels that this emptiness has flowed into his soul. Nowhere around can you see lasting traces of work and creativity. Manors of landlords? They are few and far between, and enemies live in them. Cities? They are far away and not much more culturally sophisticated than the village. All around is an endless plain, and in its centre there is a pathetic little man, thrown on this boring land for hard labour. The man is saturated with a sense of indifference that kills his ability to think, remember his life, and develop ideas from his experience! Characterising the peasantry, a historian of Russian culture said: ‘Many superstitions and no ideas’. Citing an unnamed foreigner who studied the lives of Russians, the author agreed with his conclusion: ‘This people has no historical memory. It does not know its past and does not even seem eager to know it’.

M. Gorky considered cruelty to be another defining feature of Russians:  I think that Russians have a unique sense of particular cruelty in the same way the English have a unique sense of humor: a cold sort of cruelty that seeks to explore the limits human resistance to suffering and to study the persistence of life. One can sense a diabolical refinement in Russian cruelty; there is something quite subtle and refined about it’.

Based on his own observations, the author concluded that Russian cruelty was not a manifestation of the sadism of certain individuals. In reality, it was a social norm: ‘If such acts of cruelty were the expression of the perverse psychology of a few individuals, they would not concern us here; they would be material for the psychiatrist rather than for the historian. But I am concerned here with human suffering as a collective entertainment’. Touching upon the topic of cruelty during the ‘revolution’, and in fact a civil war in Russia that was unleashed by the Bolsheviks, M. Gorky states: ‘I explain the cruelty of revolutionary forms by the exceptional cruelty of the Russian people’.

Similarly, the author described the educational level of Russians, their ability to analyze events, and laziness in a not really approving tone. In particular, he noted: ‘[…] the Russian peasant […] is an illiterate person not accustomed to thinking […] This is an environment of semi-savage people. […] The whole of the Russian intelligentsia […] has manfully attempted to set on its feet the ponderous Russian people, lying lazily, negligently, and lucklessly on its soil – the whole intelligentsia is a historical victim of a people vegetating on a fabulously rich land on which it managed to live astonishingly poorly. […] Talking with believing peasants, looking closely at the life of various sects, I saw first of all an organic, blind distrust in the search for thought, in its work, I observed a state of mind that should be called skepticism born of ignorance’.

M. Gorky also took notice of the moral virtues of Russians: “Yes, the Russian peasant has not distinguished himself with benevolence. It can be said of him that he is not spiteful: He remembers neither the evil he does nor the good done  by others in his favour’ [16].

This is a somewhat unexpected frankness from a connoisseur of Russian souls.

As if picking up the baton, another Russian writer Nikolai Nikulin wrote what I would call dreadful words about the future of the Russian people culled by World War II: ‘That was a stupid, senseless murder of our soldiers. I should imagine that this selection of the Russian people is a time bomb: It will explode in a few generations, in the 21st or 22nd century, when the mass of scum culled and nurtured by the Bolsheviks gives birth to new generations of their own kind’ [17]

Modern Russian researchers of the ‘mysterious Russian soul’ also endow their compatriots with very painful traits.

Social columnist P. Matveyev writes about ‘the well-known qualities of the Russian people since Pushkin’s time: laziness, lack of curiosity, reluctance to engage in self-education as well as a constant proclivity to dishonor and treachery. These disgusting qualities are the main impediment on his way to self-improvement and the emergence of a sense of personal responsibility for everything that happens, with itself and around it’ [18].

Anton Orekh, a columnist for the Echo of Moscow radio station, points out that Russia is inhabited by ‘[…] millions of crass, ignorant people, people with a lot of fears and great distrust of everything’ [19].

Analyst V. Pastukhov offers a non-trivial view of the role of the Russian people in the current internal political processes. His analysis of modern Russia allows us to better grasp the depth of the crisis and, at the same time, the impasse in which this country has found itself.

In particular, V. Pastukhov emphasises that talks about a new Russia are meaningless. In his opinion, Russia has not changed at all compared to its past literary perception. Today’s Russia is still the same, unchanged. ‘[…] It [Russia] has remained in its usual orbit. Putinism is ‘median Russia’, Russia as it is (La Russia com'è), which is as far from the bottom as it is from the surface’.

V. Pastukhov asks the question: Why has this happened? He then goes on to give what I would call an interesting answer. The expert argues that the reason for Russia’s invariability is its people. Rather, a large part of it, which lives by age-old hidebound notions of the world, does not want to change, and sees only enemies around. This is what ensures the stability of the regimes that have ruled Russia for centuries.

Speaking about today’s Russia, V. Pastukhov points out that ‘the main component of the system ensuring its stability was the “insoluble” large cluster of everymen. It is the existence in Russia of such a large rudimentary social formation, not subject to the destructive influence of ‘ideologies’, that has become the unbearable burden, which time and again prevents Russia from leaving its traditional historical orbit. This time, it has done it again. The thrust of the Russian intelligentsia (the notorious 14 percent) was simply not enough to bring such a monstrosity into a higher orbit. The fact that Putin and the clans he has consolidated have clung to this monstrosity is another matter. If it were not for him, there would be someone else. And there will be more if this massive block of ‘social permafrost’ remains unmelted’.

The author describes this ‘social permafrost’ without any particular admiration. Like his predecessors, V. Pastukhov notes the features of the Russian people which it can hardly be proud of: ‘The stability of Putin’s regime is premised on the impenetrable loyalty of the masses. That is where the real bottom is. This mass is guided not by ideas but by prejudice. Its interests do not go beyond its local world. It adores power as the source of all the goods it values and at the same time hates it because those goods flow past it. It social ideal is to “go from rags to riches” without changing anything in essence. It dreams of being ‘on top’ and is happy when it sees the former powers-that-be splayed out ‘in the bottom’. It is greedy, voracious, poorly educated, and envious. It sees Navalny’s investigations as a club of film tours around other people’s palaces and dreams of living just like the heroes of these investigations. It is a true demiurge of the regime, although not its beneficiary’.

The core of this ‘permafrost’ is the peasantry, raped and digested by the Soviet system, which mimicked others but has not changed in its patriarchal and conservative essence: ‘Who is this? This is our old historical acquaintance: the Neolithic (patriarchal) peasantry, expelled from their strongholds, passed through the furnace of collectivisation and industrialization, pressed by the city into a dusty ice but kept intact in its mental archetype – pragmatism, limited outlook, “short range of trust”, legal nihilism, and others’.

The author’s conclusion on the prospects of liberalism in Russia is also logical. He denies such a possibility because ‘Putin’s regime has no liberalism in its genesis and never, even after Putin, will Russia return to this path on its own. You can’t go back to where you haven’t been’.

Disagreeing with the conclusions of some Russian experts on the similarity of the modern political system in Russia with the corporate-fascist system, V. Pastukhov notes that in fact ‘the state system is based not on fascism but on modernised serfdom, exploiting the remaining peasant mentality of the Russian people. In contrast to European fascism [the current state system], when on the wane, is converts not into liberalism but into a wild Russian turmoil’ [20].

What does this tell us?

1. The conscious Russian liberal thought doubts the reality of democratic change in Russia.

2. There are three main reasons:

- reluctance of the authorities to carry out any democratic reforms;

- weakness of the liberal opposition;

- lack of popular desire to change their usual way of life in view of certain features of the national mentality of Russians.

3. The current political regime in Russia has no prospects. In its current form, this state is doomed to further decline and collapse.

One can’t but agree with V. Pastukhov’s opinion: ‘Putin’s Russia does not have such an exit strategy [from the crisis]. Modernised serfdom is feral violence bereft of constructiveness. It is anti-institutional, it does not buttress anything but breaks everything within its reach, leaving in its wake fear and deception as the only two real social bonds.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust – this is the historical formula of the current Russian government’ [20].

 

1. Владислав Иноземцев о культуре вранья и отсталой продажности // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 23 декабря 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/spektr_ press/2762134-echo/

2. Анисимова Н. Сурков назвал «передозировку свободы» смертельной для государства // РБК. 18 июня 2021 URL: https://www.rbc.ru/politics/18/06/2021/60cca5039a7 947ec62bd964a

3. Шевцова Л. Самотня і неприкаяна. 10 тенденцій, які вплинуть на Росію в 2021- му // НВ. 22 грудня 2020. URL: https://nv.ua/ukr/opinion/rosiya-shcho-chekaye-kreml-irosiyan-v-2021-roci-ostanni-novini-50131472.html

4. В. Пастухов. Год модернизированного крепостничества. Что дальше? // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 3 января 2021. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/ pastuhov_v/2768324-echo/

5. Хоц А. Агентура света // Каспаров.ru. 4 января 2021. URL: https://www.kasparov. ru/material.php?id=5FF2BEE87E5AA

6. Хоц А. Похвальное слово Холодной войне // Каспаров.ru. 1 января 2021. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FEF2EF505143

7. Быков Д. Как долго это может продолжаться? // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 11 декабря 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/partofair/2756538-echo/

8. Мельников А. Под прессом // Каспаров.ru. 18 декабря 2020. URL: https://www. kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FDBB67D1BF65

9. Иноземцев В. Сто дней одиночества // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 27 ноября 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/v_inozemcev/2748646-echo/

10. Орешкин Д. Нам нечем послать ответку // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 11 декабря 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/partofair/2756192-echo/

11. Кириллова К. Новый Сталин? Чего ждать от России после Путина // Каспаров. ru. 7 декабря 2020. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FCE6CF36870C

12. Горный А. Владимир Владимирович, назовите имя преемника. Мы тонем Вася! // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 31 октября 2020. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/ amountain/2734510-echo/

13. Эйдман И. Три империи: российская, коммунистическая, мафиозная // Каспаров.ru. 30 октября 2020. URL: https://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5F9AE07E2FFE9

14. Соколов М. Есть у оппозиции образ будущего? // Радио Свобода. 20 ноября 2020. URL: https://www.svoboda.org/a/30960285.html

15. Зайдман В. Президент Навальный // Каспаров.ru. 25 декабря 2020. URL: https:// www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FE4C3EC93151

16. Горький М. О русском крестьянстве // Русская жизнь. 8 июня 2007. URL: http:// rulife.ru/mode/article/68

17. Никулин Н. Воспоминания о войне // LiveLib. URL: https://www.livelib.ru/ quote/610607-vospominaniya-o-vojne-n-n-nikulin

18. Матвеев П. (Полу)остров Крым // Каспаров.ru. 17 ноября 2020. URL: https:// www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FB25F34CBE3B

19. Орехъ А. Путин съел чижика // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 21 апреля 2021. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/oreh/2825726-echo/

20. Пастухов В. Год модернизированного крепостничества. Что дальше? // Радиостанция «Эхо Москвы». 3 января 2021. URL: https://echo.msk.ru/blog/ pastuhov_v/2768324-echo/

 

7. What Is Next?

 

After the inevitable collapse of Putin’s regime, Russia will no longer have the resources to preserve the empire, and the country will cease to exist within its current borders.

 

—Igor Yakovenko, a philosopher and culturologist [1]

 

As has already been noted, while writing this article, I consciously took into account the opinions of Russian experts and practically did not analyse the views of their Ukrainian and Western colleagues. At the same time, of course, I relied on the musings of those who could be at least roughly classified as more or less conscious in light of their attitude to the topic of Russian imperialism. Regrettably, the vast majority of ‘liberals' in Russia are real imperialists.

That said, assessments of the liberal, albeit extremely small and non-influential, part of Russian society provide a better understanding of trends in the development of modern Russia. The ‘liberals’ are right: Russia is now ruled by a military junta — permanent members of the Russian Security Council — mostly made up of security officials. This is a somewhat modernised copy of the Politbureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a body led by the president and appointed by him that de facto runs the country.

However, what modern Russian ‘liberals’ really lack is a sober and honest view of Russia’s prospects. Instead, they are willing to engage in outright ‘Manilovism’, all sorts of ‘dreams’ about the ‘beautiful Russia of the future’, refusing to face the truth.

And the truth, unfortunately, is bitter. It lies in the fact that this country really will have no prospects if it does not radically change its domestic and foreign policies. The cracks in its state foundation are becoming deeper, the structure is beginning to fall apart, and the ideological ‘bonds’ are turning into ‘bondage’.

It can be stated that 2020 is a decisive year in Russia’s development, since in the political terms, Putin’s regime has crossed the main red line, bidding its final farewell even to the allusion to democracy.

The ‘Russian world’, religious bigotry, and ‘victory frenzy’, premised on total propaganda, falsehood, and fear, have formed the ideological foundation of the regime. Chronic economic stagnation, unprecedented corruption, and growing poverty, combined with a demographic catastrophe, alcoholism, and substance abuse have made the prospects for Russia’s social development illusory, at least for the near future. Regions and ‘national’ entities feel like colonies of Moscow. This state of affairs runs the risk of turning into a prolonged confrontation between the centre and the entities of the federation, which it has never been and is unlikely to be in the future.

Aggressive foreign policy, especially in the post-Soviet space and towards the EU and NATO countries, has plunged Russia into a dead end on the world stage, making it a de facto international pariah. Not only is Moscow no longer perceived as a partner, it has been recognised as a direct threat and a decision has been made to launch a ‘containment policy’ against it. The West’s declared readiness for ‘dialogue’ is more of a ritual dance than a practical offer. In the global dimension, Russia has ceased to be a priority for it. Its place has been taken by China. Moscow’s only argument is nuclear weapons and politico-military blackmail.

What could save Russia, at least temporarily? I would formulate this as the ‘policy of three Ds’. At the same time, it will result in the so-called Russian paradox.

This policy includes:

- democratisation (rejection of totalitarianism within the country);

- decolonisation (establishment of a real federation, not its formal shadow, as  it is today);

- de-imperialisation (cessation of aggressive policy in the world).

Is such a course of events possible? I make bold to say that it isn’t. This will not happen, either under the current Moscow’s regime or after Putin’s departure. Why? Because not only the top of the ruling class does not want this but also the vast majority of the Russian population, which is accustomed to living in such a modern (and in fact, historical) paradigm and does not seek serious changes.

And now let’s fantasise a bit and assume that thanks to some miraculous power, all of these processes have nevertheless happened. What will we have in the end? In my opinion, there will be only one thing: The essence of Russia will disappear. It will simply dissolve in itself, since, as I have already mentioned, Russian society is not receptive to democratic principles; imperial thinking is rooted in it. It does not understand and does not seem willing to understand what self-government is, because it needs a ‘firm hand’.

Thus, what in countries with a traditionally European mentality determines development and social progress will go into meltdown in Russia. This, in my opinion, is the main ‘Russian paradox’: The desire to change Russia according to democratic patterns will inevitably lead to a change in its basic values. A democratic, law-based, and peaceful state does not correspond to the ideas of the majority of Russians. They do not want such a Russia! Therefore, it is not really worth hoping that this state will change on its own due to internal development, i.e. by natural evolutionary path. To see it happen, one will have to wait for decades, if not centuries.

Does this mean that Russia is doomed? Strategically, the answer is a definite yes. Modern aggressively authoritarian Russia really has only one prospect: to degrade politically and economically, to continue to be a global threat, to destabilise the democratic world, to wage wars, and to organise provocations.

The only question is how long will this agony last and what to do with such a state today?

To many, such a wording of the question will seem wrongful. After all, there is a country and the population that lives there. That is correct, but only as long as this state adheres to the norms of international law and coexistence. For violating them, Germany was punished after World War II, underwent denazification and democratisation, and only later was it able to unite and return to a civilised family of nations (unlike Russia, postwar Germany was not an empire and did not need another ‘de-’ – internal decolonisation. This is a specific feature of modern Russia).

Similarly, today’s Russia should be punished for its crimes against international peace and security, human rights abuses, support for dictatorial regimes in the world, international terrorism and its sponsorship, extrajudicial executions and political assassinations, provocations and genocide, even against its own people, etc.

All it takes is find out when and how this punishment should take place.

Here we come to the main question: Does the collective West have political will and is it ready to apply it to Russia?

In practical politics, as always, there are two options – the soft and the hard.

The first one in this case would mean leaving everything as it is: taking piecemeal measures, expressing ‘concern’, imposing ineffective sanctions that cannot change the regime while expanding mutual trade and urging the Kremlin to change its position by offering ‘dialogue’. Put otherwise, avoiding fundamental decisions.

The purpose of such a policy is clear: to de facto support the Russian economy in a state of deep stagnation and to control its development through the imposition or lifting of sanctions, whilst allowing the regime to continue to exist. From an economic point of view, this prospect is favourable for the collective West.

Probably the most important argument in favour of this line of Western behaviour is the controllability of Russia’s nuclear arsenals and the impossibility of using them without Moscow’s authorisation.

However, this approach also has obvious drawbacks, since Russia’s aggression, its attempts to undermine the international position and unity of the West, its interference in its internal affairs, the pursuit of a line to formalise spheres of influence, etc., are still there. And given that Moscow considers such a policy of the West a weakness, we can predict that this malicious activity of Russia in relation to the latter will only gain new momentum.

In reality, such a line of the West is more of a policy of ‘deferred decisions’, which is dangerous because it depends on Russia’s unpredictability and the consequences of its actions.

The same applies to events in Russia itself. Given the trends in the country’s political and socioeconomic life as well as domestic policy, the West will simply not be ready to a force majeure, in case it comes, just like it was not ready to see the USSR collapse.

In fact, it seems that as of today, it is this ‘evolutionary’ line of Western behaviour that prevails. Unfortunately, there are few politicians like Churchill, de Gaulle, Reagan or Thatcher. Sad as it is, the Western political elite has grown accustomed to thinking small and is seeing the lack of leaders able to make strategic decisions. Hopefully, this will not last forever. In this respect, the coming to power of the new US administration is somewhat reassuring.

For there is another course of action. It stipulates that the supreme political leadership of the West will decide on the inexpediency (because of the threat to its strategic interests) of the existence of aggressive Russia as a major factor in global insecurity and destabilisation.

Such an option should necessitate a change in the philosophy of relations between the West and Russia: from futile attempts to ‘attract’ the latter to the civilised world to replacing it with a number of states that with the effective support of the West in a short historical period would form a circle of independent, peaceful, non-nuclear international legal entities. The population of national formations and regions would finally get a chance for a gradual transition to the construction of modern states, the priority of which will be economic development and the well-being of the people rather than aggression.

In fact, the collapse of the USSR should be taken as an example. After all, none of the new post-Soviet countries (except Russia) is undermining international peace, violating international law or waging a war against its neighbours, except when Moscow creates these conflicts. It can be safely predicted that the disappearance of aggressive Russia from the political map will sharply reduce the number of conflicts and sources of international tension in the world, since the paramount goal of Russia’s foreign policy is to create conflicts and then take part in their ‘settlement’ on its own terms.

Russia is not just an ‘Evil Empire’ but the personification of World Evil. To overcome it, in addition to changing its perception of Russia, the collective West must also develop a plan of concrete and comprehensive measures to counter Russia, including economic, political, diplomatic, military, regional, national, cyber, outreach, and other necessary components. They need to be actively implemented over the next 10–15 years. Obviously, this is not about the use of armed forces, preventive strikes, sting operations, etc.

In fact, the goal is such a combined use of these measures that would eventually encourage the regions of Russia and national formations in its territory, led by the conscious opposition, to initiate radical changes in domestic and foreign policy of this state. There has to emerge something like a new ‘perestroika movement’, which will objectively lead modern Russia to sharing the fate of the USSR. Because the unity of today's Russia can be maintained only by authoritarian, forceful methods. Here we have once again returned to the ‘policy of three Ds’, which can be implemented only with external support.

Such a course of events will, among other things, set in motion the process of self-identification of the population of the new states, which, in turn, will all bury the Russian imperial syndrome and claims to world hegemony once and for. All the regions and peoples of present-day Russia will benefit from this, including Russians, who will finally be able to feel like a separate ethnic group. Muscovy will return to its more or less historical ethnic borders but will remain one of the largest countries in Europe.

It is clear that the ‘nuclear issue’ will play a major role in the implementation of such a scenario. Its solution will require from the collective West very clear and honest security guarantees to all the newly established states. But repeating the case of the Budapest Memorandum is not an option. NATO or its individual members will be obliged to guarantee the security and territorial integrity of the new states. An extremely advantageous side effect will be the strengthening of NATO’s global role, which must also undergo a transformation from a regional to a global security system.

A significant reduction in nuclear arsenals on a global scale will also become feasible.

The collective West will also face an essential task: to establish truly mutually beneficial economic cooperation with the newly independent states, to become a guarantor of the fair use of their natural resources. It is to be expected that the sovereignty of the territories will contribute to their economic growth, as today they are the economic colonies of Moscow. It will also be in line with the interests of the West.

As a result, Russia will no longer be a challenge to the West and will enter the circle of friendly states jointly counteracting the real threat that will objectively stem from Southeast Asia.

Some Russian and Western analysts paint a third possible scenario, which is that after Putin’s departure, his successor(s) will offer Washington their surrender in exchange for retaining their privileges to plunder Russia and continue to export capital to the West, thus supporting the latter’s economy and using the benefits for their own purposes.

Tactically, this approach really has certain advantages because everything will remain unchanged, and no serious effort will be needed to transform the Russian territory, establish contacts with new international actors, and solve the problem of nuclear disarmament in Russia. It is also a chance to ‘rewind’: to put an ultimatum to the new Moscow authorities on the return of Crimea and Donbas, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Transnistria; Ukraine and Georgia's accession to NATO; cessation of subversive activities against the EU and NATO countries as well as in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and further down the well-known list. Moscow will be compelled to accept it. Many problems will be solved but not all.

However, such a decision will mean another strategic loss for the West. It will repeat its previous mistake when it sincerely believed Boris Yeltsin’s promises about building a peaceful and democratic Russia. Even the most ardent putinverstehers can see how that turned out. This time, it will be the same. In a while, Russia will return to its natural state – totalitarianism and aggression. Without pressure from outside, this state will never change from inside. But the all-conquering cynicism may well prevail.

Instead, the policy of Russia’s ‘managed disintegration’, despite its complexity, multi-level tasks and difficult implementation, will lead to profound and positive global change that will turn the North Atlantic and modern Russia into an area of stability, security, and economic growth. It is under such circumstances that the time will come to implement the so far completely illusory concept of ‘security and development from Vancouver to Vladivostok’. Otherwise, everything will go back to the way it was before.

I have no doubt that, saddled with internal problems, Russia will cease to exist even if the current inefficient sanctions are maintained. This will happen over the next short period of time. The only question is the price the civilised world will pay for it. Ukraine has already laid on this altar thousands of lives of its citizens, millions of crippled destinies, and huge economic losses. The collective West can now buy its way out only with a few hundred billion dollars, which in the long run will be recouped through economic benefits of cooperation with the new post-Russian states.

Yes, it is a challenge. And it requires a new vision of the world order that is worth fighting for. Only one question arises: Is the collective West able to understand that such a prospect is in its highest strategic interest and to act accordingly?

The time has come for the new political elite in the West, which will not look down at its feet, struggling to win the next election, but will raise its head high and look beyond the horizon. It should be led by visionaries. Not many but at least a few! Otherwise, the cost of political short-sightedness and unwillingness to make strategic decisions will be painfully high.

There is always a choice. As well as responsibility for it…

 

Typographic emphasis is taken from the author’s original version.

 

_________

*Information about the author:

Amb. Volodymyr Ohryzko – Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine (2007-2009), CEO, Centre for Russian Studies, Ukraine

02.02.2022 12:59:00