Monday, February 19, 2018

Putin’s Strategy of ‘All Victories, But No Defeats. are Ours’ Degrading Russian Security, Mironov Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 19 – Like crony capitalists elsewhere, Vladimir Putin has promoted “the privatization of profit and the nationalization of losses,” an approach that has played a larger role than falling oil prices or anything else in the continuing stagnation and degradation of the Russian economy, Maksim Mironov says.

            But now the Kremlin leader has extended that idea to foreign policy, insisting that “all victories are ours” but that any defeats are things Moscow has nothing to do with and indeed knows nothing about, an approach that may give tactical advantages but that in the longer term leads to the degradation of the Russian military (echo.msk.ru/blog/mmironov/2150560-echo/).

            Mironov, who teaches economics in Madrid, argues that Putin’s application of a domestic model for foreign affairs was clearly in play during the beginning of the Russian moves in Ukraine. When no one resisted as in Crimea, he proclaimed victory and was celebrated for it; when Ukrainians did resist in the Donbass, he claimed Moscow wasn’t involved.

            This approach has allowed Putin to avoid responsibility for the Donbass and the obvious Russian involvement in the shooting down of the Malaysian jetliner, the economist says; and the Kremlin leader is seeking to extend it to Syria, where all victories are ascribed “to the glory of Russian arms and the genius of Putin personally.”

            But defeats in contrast “are either minimized or even recognized as such” as has been the case with the massive number of deaths of Russian mercenaries on the night of February 7-8.  One can only imagine how Moscow media would have covered the events if the mercenaries had not lost but succeeded in seizing the oil processing facility.

            However, “the operation failed, and Russia by all possible means has tried to separate itself from this defeat: these are not out soldiers, we in general aren’t aware of what occurred there, and so on and so forth.” Many see this as a brilliant play by Putin, and at the tactical level, it may be, Mironov says.

            But just as in the economy where the Kremlin refused to recognize reality and instead after 2008 covered with tax money all the losses of its oligarch allies, this approach is leading to the degradation of the Russian armed forces and for the same reason. 

            If Russia is to be successful, “every defeat should be analyzed. Generals responsible for them must be punished.” If weapons don’t work, they must be changed and so on.  But that is possible only if those in positions of power are honest about what is happening and admit to both victories and defeats.
           
            “In Russia now,” however, “the military take responsibility for victories,” Mironov says; “but none of the military commanders, including the minister of defense take responsibility for defeats.” The presence of mercenary units who do not fight under the Russian flag make that even easier.

                Everyone responded with hysteria when Russian athletes were compelled to appear at the Olympic under a flag other than Russia’s, but they have not recognized that “our military already for many years has been fighting without any flag. The state has intentionally sent them into battle as ‘nothing,’’” ready to disown them if they do not succeed.

            This is extremely destructive over the longer term, Mironov says. “If we want to have a strong and successful army, then the military must fight under the flag of their native country. And generals must take responsibility not only for victories but also for defeats.”  And the families of those who die in that cause must be taken care of.

            Otherwise, the economist says, what Russia will have is “not an army but a band of people with guns from whom you never know what to expect.”

Kremlin Can and Will Exploit Mueller Report Against the US and Against Its Own People, Pavlova Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 19 – Many in Russia and the West who are now celebrating the appearance of the Mueller report on the activities of Russian trolls in the United States media space during the 2016 elections have failed to reflect how Moscow is certain to exploit this report to further repress its critics inside the Russian Federation.

            This report, the US-based Russian historian says, precisely by limiting its indictments to 13 individuals and three organizations who exploited the possibilities of the Internet to try to influence the American election provides Moscow with a real opportunity to turn the tables on those who are praising it (ivpavlova.blogspot.com/2018/02/blog-post_18.html).

            On the one hand, she suggests, Russian commentators will have every reason to play up the notion that “the most powerful country in the world” simply couldn’t cope with a small group of Internet trolls who simply made use of the possibilities for anonymity and duplicity which the Internet offers to many.

            Moreover, Pavlova points out, the Mueller report appears to suggest that virtually unknown Russian trolls “even with 100,000 followers on Facebook could by their texts and advertisements” count the influence of Hollywood actors … who have not thousands but millions of followers” and who with rare exceptions opposed to the man the trolls supported.

            This will give Moscow propagandists the opportunity to ask questions that will make the US look incompetent at best and pathetic at worst, incapable of dealing with the new virtual reality and apparently so weak that a baker’s dozen of trolls could determine the outcome of elections.  Many Moscow mouthpieces have already started to do just that.

            But on the other hand, the Russian historian continues, “the consequences of this step will be very serious for critics of the existing Russian regime who today, without reflecting very much, support with enthusiasm Mueller’s bill of indictment.”  They will sooner than they can imagine have reason to regret their stance.

            Now, in the wake of the Mueller report, “the Russian authorities on a legal basis, citing this document, have received the right to block any negative comments about Russia from the outside, presenting them as interference not only in their elections but in general in the internal affairs of the country, interference directed at undermining ‘Russian democracy.’”

            And this is without mentioning “the additional problems that await those organizations which up to now the US finances to promote liberal values.”

            Pavlova is right to warn about how Moscow may try to turn the tables on the US and on Russian critics by using the Mueller report.  But there are three caveats to her argument that must be made.

First, throughout his career, Mueller has followed the time-tested model of pursuing a conspiracy, starting from the outside and working in. This is thus the first and not the last report he’ll be issuing. Others will involve the direct links between the Kremlin and the trolls and between Moscow and American political figures.

            Because that is the case, if Moscow does try to exploit the report in the way Pavlova suggests, that effort may blow up in its face.

            Second, Mueller is also almost certain to follow another time-tested model of researching this kind of criminal activity –  by “following the money.”   Someone paid for these trolls and their operation, and in Putin’s Russia, however murky the authorities may try to make it, the only plausible source of such funds is the Kremlin and its allies.

            That too will come out, if not immediately than in the coming weeks and months.

            And third, it is important to remember that in American law – and indeed, in the laws of most countries – those who attempt a crime are held responsible almost as much as those who succeed.  The Russian trolls had some influence on Americans but likely far less than they claim or than others fear. But the key point is that they tried to undermine the American political system.

            For that, they will be found guilty, just as those who try but fail to kill someone will be found guilty as well.

Daghestani Militants Attack Ethnic Russians for First Time



 Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 19 – The shooting that claimed five lives at a Russian Orthodox Church in Kizlyar yesterday represents a dangerous new escalation in Daghestan. For the first time, an Islamist radical there has attacked ethnic Russians as a group, an apparent protest against the new Russian governor intended to get Russians to flee from the North Caucasus.

            Magomed Shamkhalov, a commentator for the OnKavkaz portal, says that “the cynical attack” likely was organized by “forces which have lost access” to stealing form the budget and thus is understand by Daghestanis as “an attack against Vladimir Vasiliyev, Putin’s new man in Makhachkala (onkavkaz.com/news/2121-krovavoe-voskresene-kizljara-boeviki-dagestana-nikogda-ne-ubivali-russkih-javnyi-udar-po-vasile.html).

            The shooter, identified as 22-year-old Khalil Khalilov, used a hunting rifle and killed five women as well as wounding others.  He comes from a predominantly non-Russian region not far from Kizlyar, a city which still has an ethnic Russian majority and in which up to now ethnic Russians have felt more or less at home. 

            Daghestani bloggers suggest, and Shamkhalov agrees, that the attack probably was not orchestrated by radical Islamists as many in Moscow appear to believe but rather by “influential forces who with the arrival of Vasiliya … have lost their access to the budget of the republic to which they had been accustomed for the last quarter of a century.”

            But however that may be, others see the attack as directed at the ethnic Russians of the North Caucasus as a group with the intention of the attacker being to spread fear among Russians and thus lead even more of them to flee the predominantly Muslim region than have in the past deacades.

            In an article in Komsomolskaya Pravda today, Dmitry Steshin, the Moscow paper’s special correspondent for the region, argues that “only churches are holding the last Russians in the Caucasus” and that this attack will reduce the possibility that they will be able to continue to do so (kp.ru/daily/26796/3831461/).

            And still others argue that this attack means that Orthodox churches are not the targets of Islamist terrorists more generally, a conclusion that if true will only push the Moscow Patriarchate and the church establishment into an even more hostile position relative to the Muslim population of the Russian Federation.

            Roman Silantyev, a specialist on Islam with close ties to both the Patriarchate and the Russian government, tells the Nakanune news agency that Sunday’s shooting demonstrates that Orthodox churches not only in the North Caucasus but elsewhere are now “in the zone of risk” and could be attacked by ISIS at any time (nakanune.ru/articles/113711/).

            He too points out that this attack on a Russian church is something unprecedented in Daghestan. “Before this,” Silantyev says, “terrorists attacked all people not making any distinction between Orthodox Christians and Muslims … There were several churches which received threats but they weren’t attacked.” Now the situation appears to have changed.

            Defending against lone wolf militants is extremely difficult, Silantyev says; and in his view, there is only one way to proceed: to hunt down and arrest as many Wahhabis as possible: “the fewer Wahhabis there are in Russia, the less the risk” of a terrorist attack.  If there were no Wahhabis in Russia, he argues, there would not be any terrorist attacks.