While the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must
February 27, 2015 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Putin's Russia: Like a gangster running a crime syndicate, Putin muscles opponents and assassinates critics. Nonetheless, his bid in Ukraine may be reactionary to NATO edging closer to Russia's borders. As Dan Carlin notes, it's as if Russia began training Mexican soldiers. Meanwhile, everyone needs a hero.
posted by four panels (155 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Could be in NATO, but he playing.
posted by ethansr at 3:51 PM on February 27, 2015


NATO eastward expansion.
posted by Kale Slayer at 3:59 PM on February 27, 2015




Stuck in London, Browder hired a team to fight his case. The same Russian officials arrested his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, after Magnitsky uncovered the money trail and made a complaint. They put Magnitsky in jail and refused him medical treatment. (Magnitsky suffered from pancreatitis and gall stones.) After he had spent almost a year behind bars, guards beat him to death. He was 37 and married with two small boys.

Jesus. I know that klepto-states are bad in the abstract, but when you see examples...

Russia has almost 150MM people, and is apparently not actually governed by rule of law. That's terrifying. More so when you realize that China likely has similar horror stories.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:03 PM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


NATO eastward expansion.

Yes? Was that in doubt? Sorry if I'm missing your implication here.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:05 PM on February 27, 2015


Yeah. Putin took on an extra level of terrifying with the assassination of Nemtsov. His pre-meditated ..."I'm about to be set up with a murder where the opposition will kill one of their own" a year ago...when he's the guy with the intelligence agency's direct number...yup. Terrifying.

(So...what's the world gonna do about him? Buy stuff from him or give him an award? That's how it's usually done, isn't it? )
posted by taff at 4:08 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yulya: “My boyfriend Kirill brought me to the club. I can only say the best about Putin, he’s done so much for the country like no other president”

There have only been two other Russian Presidents.
posted by You Guys Like 2 Party? at 4:12 PM on February 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's amazing how hard some people (and surprisingly that includes some MeFites) fight to show how Russia invading another country is totally not their fault they just had to do it.
posted by Sangermaine at 4:15 PM on February 27, 2015 [19 favorites]


Not sure that's what they're saying. I think that understanding that Russia views Ukraine as falling within its sphere of influence (as the U.S. views Mexico, Canada and the rest of the Western hemisphere as falling within its sphere of influence) is useful background to have when trying to both understand and predict Russian policies and actions with respect to the states on its borders. It's not an excuse, just part of the possible explanation.
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:31 PM on February 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


> There have only been two other Russian Presidents.

And one of them was Medvedev swapping PM/President spots with Putin, so it's really <2.
posted by Westringia F. at 4:48 PM on February 27, 2015


it's as if Russia began training Mexican soldiers

Or if they had been selling arms to Iran to fund rebels in Nicaragua.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:57 PM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's more like as if Mexico signed a free trade agreement with Russia and the US invaded Cabo San Lucas (to protect America's booze cruise heritage and the English speaking expatriot community) while sending a warden from Abu Graib to hire a militia to occupy Tijuana.
posted by ethansr at 5:01 PM on February 27, 2015 [22 favorites]


his bid in Ukraine may be reactionary to NATO edging closer to Russia's borders

More like a reaction to Ukraine edging closer to NATO.

He's got the mindset of a jealous ex, basically. Or, at best, an overprotective parent of a grown child.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:04 PM on February 27, 2015


Chilling tweet about the assassination of Nemtsov:
@chessninja: Says a lot that some of the people leaving flowers at the Nemtsov murder site feel obliged to cover their faces while doing so. They know.
posted by bitmage at 5:41 PM on February 27, 2015 [15 favorites]


[Couple of comments deleted, please don't derail with metadiscussion about what "people around here" are like. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:56 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I fear that that the old pragmatism is fading and the passions of radicals are going to lead us to Armageddon.
posted by humanfont at 6:24 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]




Can be viewed the other way around humanfont but I see your point.
Nemtsovs' assassination is really a terrible thing. Like when RFK was killed. It's becoming a Suslovian nightmare.
posted by clavdivs at 6:35 PM on February 27, 2015


I know it's like, the US never ever ever did militaristic things in countries in the Western Hemisphere because they were being interfered with. Nicaragua? Pfft, they were totally just doing their thang and we didn't give them weapons or anything. We certainly didn't arm juntas and send advisors and train troops all over this hemisphere when we felt invaded by a particular... ideological strain emanating from the Eastern Hemisphere. Certainly not.

Monroe Doctrine? What's that???

I'm not saying I support Putin, not in the least. He's a piece of shit, and I hope the Russian people have a chance for a real democracy without an ex-KGB/FSB autocrat, with a long lineage close to power, running things. But let's not act like the US was some might guarantor of national autonomy, or that we didn't invade countries that started to pursue agendas other than the ones we approved of.

In other words?

"I learned it by watching you!"
posted by symbioid at 7:36 PM on February 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


Quite.
posted by clavdivs at 7:58 PM on February 27, 2015


If anything the U.S. learned all these things from the old European powers like the UK and Russia. The Russians conquered their way to being the largest country by land area in the world.
posted by humanfont at 8:01 PM on February 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


Heya HF, yeah, it's like we're a young country and all. U.S. did some pretty not good things. Remember, it was the Brits who trained the early OSS, in Canada. For some odd reason, a rich old white guy kept us from fighting the nazis, what's up with that? But this Russian nationalism is pretty scary stuff when taking in the calculus of more presicent world issues.
posted by clavdivs at 8:22 PM on February 27, 2015


If anything the U.S. learned all these things from the old European powers like the UK and Russia.

Thank you. America, far from being the "dad" of "I learned by watching you", is if anything a latecomer to The Great Game.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:25 PM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


And that was a bad thing?
posted by clavdivs at 8:37 PM on February 27, 2015




^UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First course, gentlemen?

A double bourbon and a Geiger counter please.
posted by clavdivs at 9:53 PM on February 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


I like Dan Carlin, but I think he's overplaying this hand as are others who want to pin Ukraine on NATO. This is not the script from the Georgia fiasco.

The Bush era neocons definitely wanted to use NATO as part of an overly aggressive move in Georgia. And there was a temptation to push their luck right to the rump Russian state, which backfired. Current NATO state leadership in France, Germany, even Obama, is not obviously in support of the idea of enlarging to Ukraine and Georgia..

Ukraine's territorial integrity and autonomy was negotiated at the end of the Soviet Union, with all parties signing up to it. And the engine here is internal to Ukraine, not driven by NATO states, plus Putin's egotistical drive to restore Soviet stature to Russia and limit the autonomy of neighbouring states. Nothing new in Russian history here.

Russia's plan for Ukraine leaked
posted by C.A.S. at 10:35 PM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


One truly awful thing about this is Ukraine and Russia clearly had quite friendly feelings towards each other before the Euromaidan revolution. I think this was evident even during the invasion of Crimea by "little green men," or "polite men," or whatever, as seen in the encounters between mid-level officers as the Ukrainian military in Crimea was forced to surrender. With all of the recent killing this has clearly changed and the mutual hatred is growing.

The same reforms that Ukraine wanted were also needed in Russia, obviously. Nemtsov clearly new this and was fighting for it. Poroshenko talked about this before the revolution. Perhaps the argument could be made that it was better not to upset the apple cart, but I doubt there was ever a chance for Urkaine or Russia to make such reforms with Putin back in power. Clearly things couldn't be headed more in the opposite direction now. As Nemtsov has said, Putin is now transitioning Russia from a corrupt mafia-style government to a brutal dictatorship.

BBC HARDtalk with Boris Nemtsov & Strobe Talbott

Boris Nemtsov: The Current Political Situation in Russia and Perspective for the Future

I hadn't listened to Carlin before, though I've been meaning to. I find him to be pretty annoying, but he is clearly very knowledgeable and has so much awesome material out there. He seems to me to be a strong believer in sphere of influence thinking, "if Ukraine wants rule of law, an end of corruption and self-determination, too bad for them. Ask the Ukrainians how much they want this stuff now - or two years from now when their country is completely destroyed. They should have been happy as Russia's lap dog and the EU should have told them to fuck off." I think he's kind of a Napoleonic thinker. He sees the world as ruled by powerful countries with massive armies. The West went overboard with liberalism and "the end of history" and made the fatal mistake of failing to respect Russia's sphere of influence. That's fair enough I guess, especially as it appears he is right that Putin is going to destroy Ukraine and massacre tens of thousands of people at a minimum. I would guess if the EU had it to do all over again they would not have offered the association agreement to Ukraine, but once they did and the protests happened it might have been hard to turn back. In hindsight, I agree that the West should have worked for changes under Yanukovych. But if Yanuk actually tried to join the EEU, I wouldn't be so sure the response would have been much different. Ukraine was probably badly in need of one agreement or the other.

Carlin's idea of a Central European union with some sovereignty from Russia and Western Europe is interesting, but I suspect it would have been too weak not to fall under Russia's primary influence, and they seemed not to want that to happen after their Soviet Union experiences.

I've started listening to Carlin's WWI podcasts and they are even more ominous as far as WWIII prospects go, particularly: the mistakes of Kaiser Wilhelm in declaring war on Western Europe so quickly, Germany's overestimation of its own military strength, and the futile attempts at arms control during the late 19th and early 20th century.

In particular, I wonder if NATO is overconfident in their ability to counter Putin if it comes to nuclear war. It is clear Putin means to undermine NATO by bypassing article 5 using GRU to infiltrate and cause civilian uprisings and insurrections among Russian speaking populations and then salami slicing. NATO now has seen Putin's blueprint for this and hopefully is prepared and vigilant in countering it. It seems that the West has been thinking that eventually liberalism will win over Russia and tensions between it and Western Europe will decrease. This is no longer in the foreseeable future as long as Putin remains in power, which could be several decades.

Orthodox Priest Gives Russians One More Thing To Worry About
The Russian literary world barely batted an eye when a little-known writer, Aron Shemaiyer, published a dystopic e-novella, "Machaut and the Bears," last year.

But interest is now picking up, with the revelation that Shemaiyer is the nom de plume of Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the influential spokesman of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Suddenly, the plot of "Machaut" -- which describes the apocalyptic destruction of 2043 Moscow at the hands of Islamists, Ukrainians, and gays -- seems less like the ravings of a lonely keyboard warrior and more like a well-informed window on what scares the Kremlin most.
[...]
"Russia is the third Rome," he says in an interview with the religious website religare.ru.

"Russia is the only center of unenslaved civilization capable of revealing itself as Christian. So our patriotism is not chauvinism or a call of blood...It's primarily an understanding of the importance of our unique Christian mission -- a mission, I'm convinced, that our people have been put on earth to fulfill."
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:18 AM on February 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


I am sad and frightened for my birth country, but I think it muddles the conversation to automatically assume "Putin did it" whenever a political assassination happens. There are plenty of criminal/rogue elements in the Russian government without having to go all the way to the top. To my knowledge, even the Litvinenko and Politkovskaya killings weren't proven to be tied to Putin, despite the fact that everyone always talks about them like there's a smoking gun.

Now, the top leaders might not care that this is going on, but that's a different story.
posted by archagon at 2:46 AM on February 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I fear that that the old pragmatism is fading and the passions of radicals are going to lead us to Armageddon.

As if stability is something desired or even possible in this age! See you on the barricades!
posted by Meatbomb at 3:01 AM on February 28, 2015


Russia is a dying country with several anomalies that are very concerning:

1) Its population is shrinking.

2) It is one of the only countries with a stagnant / decreasing life expectancy.

3) It is a largely empty country that occupies a tremendous land area in Asia and is surrounded by very, very dense countries.

India: 368 people per square km
China: 142 people per square km
Russia: 8.3 people per square km

(for reference, the US has 32 ppskm)

4) It has failed several times to make the necessary transition to democracy that's required for long-term stability, and if anything, is going backward.

5) The result is a very large resource-rich country with a diminishing population and stagnant life expectancy that cannot take the next step in its evolution.

6) In an increasingly crowding, resource hungry world, that is a very dangerous position to be in.

7) The Crimean activities look like Putin needs Russian people. Because he's losing them at home.

8) At some point, Russia will be incapable of defending its borders.

9) Russia is extremely well-armed, and will not take kindly to the barbarians when they come.

10) Perhaps NATO sees a heavily-armed senile old man, staggering toward irrelevance.

The battle Putin is fighting is not to win, but not to lose. From the outside, it literally looks like this is Russia fighting for its life. Not a battle it is likely to win. Much to the benefit of the overpopulated countries that surround it.
posted by nickrussell at 4:38 AM on February 28, 2015 [22 favorites]


I think it muddles the conversation to automatically assume "Putin did it" whenever a political assassination happens.

Even if we agree that Putin might not have had any direct or indirect hand in Nemtsov's murder, how likely do you think it is that anyone in the state apparatus is going to spend any significant time finding, prosecuting, or jailing the murderers? The person who pulled that trigger knows that he won't go to prison for it (though he might end up in a shallow grave somewhere just to tie up the loose ends), and that's as big a problem.
posted by Etrigan at 5:31 AM on February 28, 2015


Interesting graphic from Janes.com: Russia's hybrid war in Ukraine 'is working'
posted by rosswald at 5:54 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't see the relevance of listing all the ways the US has meddled in other country's affairs in this thread. Sorry US MeFites, but not everything is about you. This situation has it's own set of cultural and historical stress points.
posted by dry white toast at 5:59 AM on February 28, 2015 [20 favorites]


> Nemtsovs' assassination is really a terrible thing. Like when RFK was killed.

Yup. While I appreciate the post, sticking unnamed Nemtsov under an "and assassinates critics" link is pretty poor post construction if you ask me. The killing of Nemtsov is huge, huge news and should have been the lead; other links could have been provided as background. Ah well.

> I fear that that the old pragmatism is fading and the passions of radicals are going to lead us to Armageddon.

WTF? What "radicals" do you have in mind here? Putin??

> I think it muddles the conversation to automatically assume "Putin did it" whenever a political assassination happens. There are plenty of criminal/rogue elements in the Russian government without having to go all the way to the top.

Oh, come on. "If only the tsar knew!" Give me a break. Whether Putin literally said "Will no one rid me of this ёбаный Nemtsov" or not, he has spent years gathering more power into his own personal hands than any Russian leader since Stalin; it's ludicrous to think that something like this could happen without everyone involved being aware of what the Leader wanted.
posted by languagehat at 6:21 AM on February 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


And since structural determinism was brought up, two more considerations:
  1. Geopolitics: Russia will not risk losing control of its Mediterranean seaport
  2. Climate: either
    • (A) the Russian leadership really are worried about being swamped by European excess population, which I suppose is possible if they are oblivious to the fact that to any sane Western European most of Russia is basically uninhabitable, or they are taking into account long-term effects of climate change. Or
    • (B) the Russian leadership are reluctant to cede control of Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe
I mock, but of course it is not impossible that Putin himself does engage in this kind of neoclausewitzery. Anyway I see the conversation moved on a while ago.
posted by ormon nekas at 6:30 AM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


"4) It has failed several times to make the necessary transition to democracy that's required for long-term stability, and if anything, is going backward.
posted by nickrussell at 4:38 AM on February 28
"

You make some good points, but this statement in particular, is exteremely paroichal. The idea that democracy is a requirement for a functional political entity smacks of the Clinton-Bush era talking points. China and Russia are perfect examples of thriving countries that do not have, and probably will never have, a functioning democratic system.

Russia is a ridiculously complex entity, and I think that we westerners just keep failing to understand them and thus we see failures in our policy to deal with them. On the other hand what Russia is doing to Ukraine is unnacceptable, but so was the US's dismantling of Iraq, so I guess...
posted by Vindaloo at 6:35 AM on February 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


> Oh, come on. "If only the tsar knew!" Give me a break. Whether Putin literally said "Will no one rid me of this ёбаный Nemtsov" or not, he has spent years gathering more power into his own personal hands than any Russian leader since Stalin; it's ludicrous to think that something like this could happen without everyone involved being aware of what the Leader wanted.

I'm sorry, but I strongly feel that "oh, come on" type arguments are just the flip side of the cult-of-personality coin. People talk like that when they want to reinforce their existing political biases. In truth, the whole system is unstable, corrupt, and self-serving; you won't fix anything by focusing on the figurehead.
posted by archagon at 7:02 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Much to the benefit of the overpopulated countries that surround it.

nickrussell you had me right up to your last point there.
posted by bukvich at 7:05 AM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


> I'm sorry, but I strongly feel that "oh, come on" type arguments are just the flip side of the cult-of-personality coin. People talk like that when they want to reinforce their existing political biases. In truth, the whole system is unstable, corrupt, and self-serving; you won't fix anything by focusing on the figurehead.

You seriously think Putin is just a figurehead? OK, there's no point our discussing it, because we have no common ground. Carry on with your image of a chaotic, leaderless Russia.
posted by languagehat at 7:12 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


> You seriously think Putin is just a figurehead? OK, there's no point our discussing it, because we have no common ground. Carry on with your image of a chaotic, leaderless Russia.

You are being silly and dismissive. All I'm suggesting is that maybe Putin isn't the one directly (or indirectly) responsible for chartering murders left and right, and that painting him in such a light is simplifying the situation in Russia to a dangerous degree. I don't know, maybe I'm wrong. But "oh, come on" is not a cogent argument.
posted by archagon at 7:27 AM on February 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm being dismissive but not silly; from my point of view you're the silly one.

> All I'm suggesting is that maybe Putin isn't the one directly (or indirectly) responsible for chartering murders left and right

Maybe he's not! All things are possible in this chaotic world! Maybe fellow members of the opposition killed him to create a martyr! We can't know for sure, so we play the percentages as we see them. You play your cards, I'll play mine, maybe someday we'll know who held the winning hand.
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM on February 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


China and Russia are perfect examples of thriving countries

Apparently there are many definitions of thriving!
posted by snofoam at 8:43 AM on February 28, 2015


I have a colleague who just returned from Russia and said people there are actually doing quite well. They were busy paying off their mortgages with inflated currency. Except those with Euro denominated loans, who were defaulting. It's hard to imagine things will remain good much longer at this rate, but they're still living off of a long stretch of high oil and gas revenues. China is certainly doing better than it was, and is on its way to being the largest economy in the world.

Imagine if somehow Yeltsin had picked Nemtsov rather than Putin as his successor. I think things might have been quite different, but I guess it's hard to say. Nemtsov clearly believed Putin's leadership after returning to power has been the height of stupidity. God help us if Putin is truly on some sort of religious crusade to crush the decadent European takfirs and create an Eastern Orthodox Christian empire.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:10 AM on February 28, 2015


European takfirs kafir
(oops, I mixed up my jihadi terminology).
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:18 AM on February 28, 2015


I wonder what the "Spheres of Influence"people will say when Russia starts moving in on the Baltic States. It might be hard to blame NATO for aggression against Finland, but I don't Sr that stopping them.
posted by happyroach at 11:55 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I keep thinking "I don't let my 12 year old get away with misbehavior by claiming 'but so-and-so did something bad too'", but apparently I'm wrong.
posted by kjs3 at 12:15 PM on February 28, 2015


You are being silly and dismissive.

Being dismissive is the most polite possible way of responding to mind-blowingly idiotic statements like: "even the Litvinenko and Politkovskaya killings weren't proven to be tied to Putin."
posted by Behemoth at 12:22 PM on February 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wonder what the "Spheres of Influence"people will say when Russia starts moving in on the Baltic States."

They will say the Baltics were wrongly removed from Russia's sphere of influence and should be returned. Poland as well. If they don't like it? "Well, look at Ukraine. Is that what you want?"

They have a point. Do we really want to get into a nuclear war with Russia over Latvia? NATO also tends to pull Western European countries like Germany artificially closely tied to the USA and UK. Is that sustainable? Putin is betting it's not.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:30 PM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


The crazy party of Putin is not so crazy on second sight. He has taken many strategies employed by G. Caesar (tsar). Befriending the fallen for future political chips. More covert then overt political "sensitivities" solved. The use of mass media and the age old activity of making the homeland "home" again. Putin does keep his base happy and sometimes exiles, rather then kill his potential rivals and even his own comrades.

Do not ever underestimate Putin.
We will eventually rob the wrong oligarch.

yeah, did Putin not give the accused killer of AL a TV show?
That's frikkin jejune cold.
posted by clavdivs at 12:31 PM on February 28, 2015


> Being dismissive is the most polite possible way of responding to mind-blowingly idiotic statements like: "even the Litvinenko and Politkovskaya killings weren't proven to be tied to Putin."

I don't see why you have to froth at the mouth and insult me to discuss this issue.

When I was last reading up on Litvinenko and Politkovskaya, I did not find anything directly implicating Putin. Every article about them ends in a question mark. What's more, neither of them was really notable enough to off in such a public way. (Nor was Nemtsov, from what I've been reading.) It seems to me that when the Russian leadership doesn't like someone, they exile them, harass them, or throw them in prison after a phony trial — not shoot them in the back on a public street. There are, however, plenty of other criminal and nationalistic forces in Russia who would relish such an opportunity.

Personally, I find it very dangerous to build a model of the world out of emotional assumptions instead of cold, hard facts. As a country, we've made some terrible decisions in the past because he-said, she-said, and of course.

Of course, I fully admit that I might be wrong (and I'm terrified of the implications if I am).
posted by archagon at 1:51 PM on February 28, 2015




Personally, I find it very dangerous to build a model of the world out of emotional assumptions instead of cold, hard facts.

Problem is the cold hard facts are not disclosed to us little people. Our minds are too small to appreciate the nuance, and our temperaments are too impulsive to not get really pissed off. The jet plane that was reportedly shot down over Ukraine? The principal investigators have signed a non-disclosure agreement.
posted by bukvich at 2:06 PM on February 28, 2015


[Folks, let's have the discussion without the insults and personal stuff, please.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:51 PM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded somewhat of Japan in the early 20th century, inasmuch as it felt badly slighted by the West - amplified by it having tried really hard to be what it thought was expected of a modern nation. It looked to the Western imperial traditions and fought alongside the West in the Great War, then got shafted by not-even-slightly-disguised racism at Versailles. It reacted by ratcheting up the nationalism to incandescent levels, inverting the relationship between the civilian government and the military, and assassinating anyone who had power but wasn't with the programme.

That didn't end well.
posted by Devonian at 3:00 PM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Devonian your linking of events has much to say but shy on referent. No criticism, fine prose.

"I'm reminded" your recollection of
"somewhat of Japan in the early 20th century," an event in Japan "inasmuch...as it" being Japan "felt badly slighted by the West -"

Ok, need to clarify the chronology to the event so I will assume you mean:

"For Heaven's Sake Do Not Embarrass the Administration!"
posted by clavdivs at 4:23 PM on February 28, 2015


"...to build a model of the world out of emotional assumptions instead of cold, hard facts."

I see what you mean. Have you ever heard of the bureaucratic term "Leader Order" to be more precise, verbal orders given and conducted through euphemism but not documented.

I wonder.
From this event, were the shadow has quietly struck and has thus reverted, will the people turn to quiet, a quiet that turns shadows into noise.
posted by clavdivs at 4:42 PM on February 28, 2015


> What's more, neither of them was really notable enough to off in such a public way. (Nor was Nemtsov, from what I've been reading.)

O....K. I think we're done here!
posted by languagehat at 5:07 PM on February 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


It seems to me that when the Russian leadership doesn't like someone, they exile them, harass them, or throw them in prison after a phony trial — not shoot them in the back on a public street

Or they allow an assassination on foreign soil, using a highly controlled and rare radioactive substance to poison someone.

maybe Putin isn't the one directly (or indirectly) responsible for chartering murders left and right, and that painting him in such a light is simplifying the situation in Russia to a dangerous degree

I highly doubt that in Putin's Russia, a rogue security element would be allowed to take such a provocative action, obviously using state resources, in a major capital of the West without Putin's approval. I don't get the ambition to avoid the obvious conclusions here. Putin's Russia has conducted increasingly boundary breaking actions to crush dissent and opposition at home and abroad, including state sanctioned murder. Why fight it?
posted by C.A.S. at 5:33 PM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


> O....K. I think we're done here!

For someone with "language" in your name, you're certainly tight with words. Not sure why you even bothered to reply.

Litvinenko (from Wikipedia):

"Litvinenko regularly told people about his theories relating to the power structures in Russia, and would bombard his contacts with information relating to his theories.[12][43][50] In a report for the Conflict Studies Research Centre, Henry Plater-Zyberk, a lecturer at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom and Russian politics expert, described Litvinenko as a one-man disinformation bureau, who was at first guided by Berezovsky but later in possible pursuit of attention for himself. Plater-Zyberk notes that Litvinenko made numerous accusations without presenting any evidence to give credence to his claims, and these claims which became increasingly outlandish were often accepted by the British media without question.[12]"

To my knowledge, Litvinenko wasn't leaking top secret documents or incriminating evidence. At the time of his murder, his name was out of the spotlight. All of my Russian family were puzzled by the case.

Nemtsov, according to what I've been reading over the past few days, wasn't particularly powerful or influential in Russian politics — and probably not enough to get shot in the back of the head in broad daylight.
posted by archagon at 5:36 PM on February 28, 2015


Putin has a track record of taking provocative actions which do not appear proportionate to the threat. This act is well within the range of things his people have done in the past.
posted by humanfont at 5:42 PM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]




Of course, I fully admit that I might be wrong (and I'm terrified of the implications if I am).
posted by archagon.



Getting this at like 4 levels at once so I hear you though you understandably have no idea what I'm saying, this is by design but others may have an idea, without ever having to say a word.

Piece of advice when discussing assassination, being wrong is often the truths desired escape route.
posted by clavdivs at 6:12 PM on February 28, 2015


My issue with Carlin's theory is that he keeps talking about how American NGOs were somehow instrumental in orchestrating the situation in Ukraine, which he backs up with ... essentially nothing. He brings up some recorded conversation where a couple American diplomats talk about who they want to replace the Ukrainian leadership with, and that's basically it. He alludes to a lot more, but doesn't offer anything. This annoyed me, because I like Carlin a lot, and I kind of expected more from him.

Is there any conclusive proof that American NGOs have successfully meddled with Ukrainian politics?
posted by evil otto at 11:04 PM on February 28, 2015


They have a point. Do we really want to get into a nuclear war with Russia over Latvia?

I've a book on my shelf called "We Sang Through Tears", which is a collection of stories from Latvians recounting their experiences the last time Russia decided it wanted some more Baltic coast line.

It is not a pleasant read.

Particularly as someone who has a great grandfather who was Latvian, but thankfully emigrated to Australia in the early 1900s. I sometimes wonder what became of his extended family, his friends, and their families. Then I usually drink too much.

But the telling point is that the Baltic states are members of NATO, so it is less a question of whether we want to get into a nuclear war over Latvia, and more a question of whether Putin wan'ts to chance his arm and risk provoking one.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 1:05 AM on March 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


To my knowledge, Litvinenko wasn't leaking top secret documents or incriminating evidence. At the time of his murder, his name was out of the spotlight. All of my Russian family were puzzled by the case.

Hmmm, the KGB used his pictures of his face on their shooting range targets. He was working with MI6. He was detailing state corruption to westerners.

five things we learned from the Litvinenko Inquiry

Putin ally motive for murder

Here, take your pick of other evidence about the relationship between Putin's FSB and Litvinenko.

Guardian Search Results: Litvinenko

Our little Captain Renault is truly shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here.
posted by C.A.S. at 7:29 AM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]




If what I said comes off as me defending Putin, I regret it. As a Russian, I feel deeply for the turmoil going on in my birth country. Every murder, every imprisonment, every nationalist speech given by Russia's politicians and religious figures hits me right in my soul. I spent hours talking with my folks about the Ukrainian conflict. I bristle every time I overhear the Russian TV blaring in the background. (It's mostly my grandparents who watch it.)

However, I think it's important to also be skeptical. I've frequently spoken to Russians who actually lived through this period. People in their 50s, 60s, 70s. Even those on the liberal side of the fence tend to have a much less scathing view of Putin than Westerners, and if you ask them about the murders, they'll probably attribute them more to systemic corruption than orders given from above. I have to take this into consideration. These are first-hand sources: people who saw this kind of crap happen in their everyday lives. And while I trust Western media to generally be objective, I'm also aware that it distorts the truth in its own limited way.

I suppose I'll go read some of Politkovskaya's books now and see what she has to say.
posted by archagon at 9:34 AM on March 1, 2015


I trust Western media to generally be objective

You shouldn't.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:59 AM on March 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


What's more, neither of them was really notable enough to off in such a public way. (Nor was Nemtsov, from what I've been reading.)

O....K. I think we're done here!
this is actually worth weighing. nemtsov was not a very major figure according to independent polling (45% name recognition, 1% support, 17% mistrust)
posted by p3on at 10:00 AM on March 1, 2015


they'll probably attribute them more to systemic corruption than orders given from above. I have to take this into consideration.

How could that apply to a murder committed with Polonium?
posted by C.A.S. at 10:20 AM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Or, using those very same polling results, you could say that Nemtsov has the 4th best name recognition among opposition politicians. Which is also three spots higher than Alexei Navalny, who is currently regarded by many to be the leader of the Liberal Democratic movement in Russia.
posted by Kabanos at 10:22 AM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]




Wolof: “Russian officials investigating the murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov have claimed Islamist extremists may have been behind his death.
“Friend texts from Moscow: "So everyone here is certain the Americans did it. This country is lost." #Nemtsov”— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) February 28, 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 11:40 AM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


@Vindaloo – An anecdote from Shanghai in 2010:

I sat in the office of [one of the leading multinationals in China]. He worked with a world-class European company and oversaw an office that had started at 20 and now numbered more than 200.

It was the evening before the launch of the World Expo, Shanghai. I had been to the media preview the day before. As we sat over tea, I asked many questions about what the World Expo meant. How it came to be in Shanghai. How it was the economic sister to the political Beijing Olympics.

It's a rare treat to spend so much time with an agile mind as his. After we had dispensed with the formal research interview, we turned to an informal conversation. He wanted to know how I found Europe, coming from America. Specifically, how I found the lack of social mobility in London compared with the fluidity – both up and down – in California.

The topic turned toward Chinese democracy, as which point he stood and walked to the window that overlooked downtown Shanghai. His hands clasped behind his back. He began a monologue about studying at the University of Cambridge, and how he became fascinated by the development of Western democracy. How it evolved. How it dealt with issues of corruption and censorship.

It was at this point he stopped.

"Tell me. In China, it is very obvious that the government censors material. Yet, it is also very easy to skirt. Most Chinese in Shanghai will have a VPN service or router. They will use Facebook and Twitter as if there was no firewall in place. Therefore, the firewall can be said to be aimed at those who do not live in the major cities and are not educated. Perhaps it can be said that a world they cannot have is hidden from them. And everyone knows that filtering happens. It is an open secret. No one expects that their communications are private, or that they have free access to communication.

In America, censorship is much more subtle. Mainstream stories are run, but the media culture colludes, putting sporting news at the top. Or news about Russia. Or China. There is so much media in America, that the important, relevant stories are both published and buried. On one hand, America can stand up and say its democratic and has free press. But that does not mean its citizens are informed by that press. Further, Americans assume that their communications are private. That they are protected. But I assure you, they are not protected. The American government will monitor its citizens' Internet usage the same as China. Only one will admit to doing it, and the other will say that it does not.


That would become prescient two years later, with Edward Snowden. But that day, he continued:

There is no doubt that China will become democratic, for democracy is the only system which can last over time, for it is the only system that can change shape. In America, Australia, and India, you will say that it is democracy which gave rise to economic progress and power. In Europe, you will say that is is democracy that saved colonial societies from collapse, when they no longer had colonies to depend on. Yet the truth is the same. Democracy – self-governance – is the only political system that will last the test of time. And even then, it does not assure that a system will remain intact, it only offers it the opportunity.

As you see in America, democracy can be corrupted by corporate lobbying. In India, you see that democracy is meaningless when faced with limitless corruption. In Europe, democracy ignores the growing population of migrants from the former colonies. So, even within democracy, you can have substantial failures. So it is not a solution, rather it is an opportunity. A foundation.

In China, we have 1.3 billion people. Hundreds of millions live on the coast. They are rich. They know English, they use the Internet, and they are living in a world that their parents could not have imagined thirty years ago. A China connected to the Internet. Hosting the Olympics. Hosting the World Expo. A China that will soon overtake the United States in economic size.

And then we have the other billion people. Who live on the interior. Many of whom are illiterate. Many of whom are superstitious. They are uneducated. They are farmers. They are workers. Can they participate in self-government on an even playing field with those on the coast?

How do you get a man to vote when he doesn't know how to read? How do you offer democracy to a society where the billion would vote to tax the 300 million that generate a large portion of the GDP?

It's not that we don't want democracy. But you tell me how to do it. How would you do it?

The answer is that it will happen over generations. It will happen as people learn to read. It will happen as a culture develops within China to support it. Democracy did not spontaneously emerge in Europe. It took hundreds of years. The fact that Athens existed before the feudal states of Europe shows you that its not a given. I doubt it's a coincidence that democracy returned to the world after the invention of the printing press. And hundreds of years after the invention of the printing press.

So China will be democratic. And it won't take us hundreds of years. Perhaps it will take us a hundred years. Or fifty.

But never forget. There are a billion people out there who cannot govern themselves. I am not proud of it, but it is true.


He didn't look at me again for a long while after that. He spoke, looking out the window. And when it came time to wrap up, he smiled and shook my hand.

I hope you have found this conversation interesting.

@bukvich – It's already happening:
Despite Russian concerns, Chinese media predict a new “homestead act” will boost Chinese migration to the Far East.

Russia’s Federal Migration Service is especially wary of an influx of Chinese migrants across the Russia-China border. It has warned that Chinese could become the largest ethnic group in Russia’s Far East by the 2020s or 2030s; last summer a border official said that 1.5 million Chinese illegally entered Russia’s Far East from January 2013 to June 2014.
posted by nickrussell at 1:44 PM on March 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


> However, I think it's important to also be skeptical. I've frequently spoken to Russians who actually lived through this period. People in their 50s, 60s, 70s. Even those on the liberal side of the fence tend to have a much less scathing view of Putin than Westerners, and if you ask them about the murders, they'll probably attribute them more to systemic corruption than orders given from above. I have to take this into consideration. These are first-hand sources: people who saw this kind of crap happen in their everyday lives.

Thanks for explaining; I think I understand better where you're coming from now. I also know a fair number of Russians who lived through the period and have read about lots more; while it's true they're first-hand sources, they're only such for their own experiences, not for what's actually going on in the country and behind the scenes. Russia is (and has always been) a country in which it's hard, sometimes impossible, to know what's really happening; for all the failings of the Western media and occasional coverups, it's a miracle of transparency compared with the Russian media, where even when it's not outright bought by one party or another (these days, that boils down to "by the Kremlin"), it's full of slanted and outright false stories inserted for payment or backscratching, with no indication to the readers/viewers, and primacy is given to making a splash over boring factuality to a far greater extent than in, say, the US. I highly recommend Olga Shevchenko's Crisis and the Everyday in Postsocialist Moscow; she focuses mainly on the pre-Putin period, but the trends in news and popular reactions to it she describes have only intensified since.

For Politkovskaya, by all means read Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy; her anger is contagious and based on solid (and incredibly gutsy) reporting. God, I miss her.
posted by languagehat at 2:28 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Re: Chinese invited to homestead in Siberia. Load google map centered at ~(47.502359,132.879639), mooz, and look at the satellite view. The Russia-China boundary looks like the Haiti-Dominican Republic boundary.
posted by bukvich at 4:42 PM on March 1, 2015




For those who read Russian, here's an excellent post on the subject by Oleg Kashin. I'll translate a brief passage that contains the kernel of his argument:
Все живут в обществе и руководствуются принятыми в этом обществе нормами поведения. У российского общества нулевых-десятых среди прочих норм есть вот такая — все всегда исходят из того, что ничего просто так не происходит, все пиар, все обман, и, в частности, если убит чей-то враг, то это, конечно, заговор против тех, кому был врагом убитый. Такая коллективная привычка, все как-то давно привыкли, что первая версия по умолчанию — это провокация, заговор.

Everyone lives in society and is governed by the norms of behavior accepted in that society. In Russian society of the '00s-'10s one of the norms is this: everyone always proceeds from he assumption that nothing happens simply, just like that; everything is PR, everything is deception, and in particular, if someone's enemy is killed, then naturally it's a plot against that person, the one whose enemy the victim was. That's how the collective mind is in the habit of thinking; everyone has long since gotten accustomed to the idea that the basic scenario, the theory that is understood without even being spoken aloud, is that whatever has happened is a provocation, a plot.
This is the kind of thing Shevchenko talks about in the book I cited above.
posted by languagehat at 6:44 AM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


mark ames has a hot take
posted by p3on at 4:09 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't like Mark Ames at all, but this is worth remembering:
During the Yeltsin era, there were so many assassinations and hits on journalists and political figures that no one can even remember them: Vladislav Listyev, the TV presenter whose assassination hit Russians harder than any other murder I remember from that era, believed to have been killed by Yeltsin’s top “family” oligarch Boris Berezovsky; investigative reporter Dmitry Kholodov, who was killed with an exploding briefcase while investigating Yeltsin’s defense minister; liberal firebrand Galina Starovoitova, gunned down in her apartment stairwell in 1998. We don’t remember any of these murders as the fault of Yeltsin, nor the hundreds killed when Yeltsin sent tanks against his parliament in 1993, nor the tens of thousands killed in Yeltsin’s war in Chechnya. Those murders, and the deaths of millions who went to their graves early from the shock therapy reforms, are the fault of impersonal forces, not free-market liberalism and its western missionaries and funders.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:48 PM on March 2, 2015


I'm not sure it's possible to actually like Mark Ames (does he even like himself?), but he's always worth reading -- I used to read The eXile back in the day, and as annoying and childish as it often was, it was the only news source to reliably push back against the "rebirth of Russia at the hands of the glorious liberals" narrative that dominated the respectable media, and his memory of the '90s serves him well in analyzing what's going on today. Thanks for the link.
posted by languagehat at 6:38 AM on March 3, 2015


Nemtsov and the Smoking Gun, a good overview by Eliot Borenstein: "We will never know, and the reasons we will never know can be found in Nemtsov’s own personal and political trajectory, and in the very manner in which he was killed. Nemtsov’s life and death show us the limits of knowledge in Putin’s Russia."

For those who read Russian, a nice quote from Lydia Chukovskaya showing that the same conspiratorial frame of mind was in evidence forty years ago. (Chukovskaya left her house at Peredelkino and ran into a neighbor who assured her that the poet and translator Konstantin Bogatyryov had been killed by the supporters of Sakharov; Chukovskaya said "What nonsense! They were on the best of terms; why would he want Bogatyryov dead?!" The response: "To throw suspicion on the KGB.")
posted by languagehat at 7:08 AM on March 3, 2015 [2 favorites]




"The fact of the matter is that Russia today, for all its faults, has never been freer" hahahaha! I had to scroll back up to make sure this screed wasn't by Stephen Cohen.
posted by languagehat at 1:00 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Come on, Cohen doesn't deserve that for being one of the few people to question the conventional wisdom neocon hysteria about Russia, does he? I don't think he's ever said anything like ""The fact of the matter is that Russia today, for all its faults, has never been freer"
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 1:35 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


The fact of the matter is that Russia today, for all its faults, has never been freer: it has gone from the era of the gulag, when millions were murdered by the Soviets and many more imprisoned, to a country that is at least half-free...
Presumably, the half that's free is the tan part.
posted by Etrigan at 1:41 PM on March 3, 2015


> Come on, Cohen doesn't deserve that for being one of the few people to question the conventional wisdom neocon hysteria about Russia, does he? I don't think he's ever said anything like ""The fact of the matter is that Russia today, for all its faults, has never been freer"

Oh, probably not, but I find it hard to pass up a chance to bash Cohen.
posted by languagehat at 3:26 PM on March 3, 2015


Regardless of how "free" the peoples of the Russian Federation are... We here in the West seem to be gearing up to falling for the bait that Valdimir has planted in plain sight.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 5:17 PM on March 3, 2015


"Lethal aid"... ugh, talk about doublespeak.
posted by archagon at 5:34 PM on March 3, 2015


Perhaps 'firehose' would be more appropriate?
posted by rosswald at 6:35 PM on March 3, 2015


Maybe in the Fahrenheit 451 sense.
posted by archagon at 8:42 PM on March 3, 2015


Kremlin Murder Incorporated
In 1934, Joseph Stalin, too, ordered a thorough investigation into the murder of a rival: Sergei Kirov, the head of the Communist Party in Leningrad. The NKVD, the precursor to the KGB, orchestrated the assassination on Stalin's order, but the inquiry gave the Soviet dictator a pretext for eliminating other opponents. The search for Kirov's murderers eventually culminated in the Great Terror, a massive purge of Party leaders, military commanders, and intellectuals.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:57 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, you know it's serious when Kirov is mentioned. I would not equate Putin to Stalin but this analogy seems accurate even though Kirov was still in the party. Still, the sentiment appears accurate.
What is that old story about Stalin penciling in the margins of orders ' 6000 is not enough' his aide mis-reading asks if that was 600 or 6000. Stalin pencils in 6001.
The General Dempsey show is of no relief. That is some response. This is going to get out of control for what control is left going.
posted by clavdivs at 12:07 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


What does Boris Nemtsov’s murder mean for Russia?: Brief takes from various sources.

(Kirov is neither here nor there; you might as well reference Ivan the Terrible. Putin has little in common with Stalin except his drive for power, and today's Russia has virtually nothing in common with the Soviet Union in 1934. Kirov's murder will probably never be solved, and neither will Nemtsov's, but neither will a whole bunch of others. Wrong tree, no need to bark.)
posted by languagehat at 6:20 AM on March 4, 2015




"Kirov is neither here nor there; you might as well reference"

Yeah, perhaps you should write Khrushcheva also just to set us both straight.
Yeah, I withdrawl all referent to Kirov, apologies.
posted by clavdivs at 8:46 AM on March 4, 2015


Putin has little in common with Stalin except his drive for power

Coke has little in common with Pepsi except its cola-ness.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:56 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Your point being? If Coke turns out to be defrauding customers, might as well arrest the head of Pepsi because it's all the same thing?
posted by languagehat at 10:35 AM on March 4, 2015


Pretty sure you're not really that stupid.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:10 PM on March 4, 2015




> Pretty sure you're not really that stupid.

Probably not, but I honestly have no idea what point you were trying to make. Maybe try being less elliptical?
posted by languagehat at 1:15 PM on March 4, 2015


Putin is just borrowing from Stalin's playbook in this particular case, and revealing his roots as a KGB psychopath. With his high approval rating, he has carte blanche to do what he wants and be himself.

Wikipedia:
In June 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin organized a conference for history teachers to promote a high-school teachers manual called A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006: A Manual for History Teachers, which according to Irina Flige, office director of human rights organization Memorial, portrays Stalin as a cruel but successful leader who "acted rationally", no matter that he executed millions of Soviet citizens. She claims it justifies Stalin's terror as an "instrument of development."
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:44 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I honestly have no idea what point you were trying to make.

Similar things are similar.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:11 AM on March 5, 2015


Deep, man!
posted by languagehat at 10:15 AM on March 5, 2015


Alrighty, let's dig in. What would you say was the root cause of everything that was wrong with Stalin--or, indeed, any tyrant--if not his "drive for power"?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:32 AM on March 5, 2015


Drive for power is a requirement for attaining power in any large enough entity (not talking about town meetings where your neighbors think you'd make a great alderman). Thus, to say "Putin has little in common with Stalin except his drive for power" is basically to say "Putin and Stalin are both leaders, big deal, that doesn't make it sensible to say Putin is doing things a certain way because Stalin did things that way." Putin is a very different man who came up in a very different way (e.g., KGB versus training for the Orthodox priesthood) in a very different time. I'm not sure what you mean by asking what "the root cause of everything that was wrong with Stalin" was, but I'm pretty sure there's no simple answer; for that matter, I'm not sure you'd get two people to agree on what exactly was was wrong with Stalin. People are complicated and history is complicated.
posted by languagehat at 12:13 PM on March 5, 2015


"not talking about town meetings where your neighbors think you'd make a great alderman)."

Odd, both men started in city councils in form or another.
posted by clavdivs at 5:38 PM on March 5, 2015




Can we all agree on that?
posted by Kabanos at 7:12 PM on March 5, 2015




Absolutely not.

"Putin will not live forever, and he has an obvious successor, Dmitry Medvedev"

The Deep Purple crowd will not inherit the Kremlin.
posted by clavdivs at 7:28 PM on March 5, 2015


> Can we all agree on that?

I certainly can. Every national leader who aspires to greatness has always had a Supremely Great Leader to look up to and emulate; in the past it was Sargon, Alexander, or Napoleon, now (for a Russian leader) it's Stalin. Who wouldn't want to rule half of Europe and be treated as one of the two greatest rulers on the planet? That has nothing to do with any particular similarities between the two, it's just historical penis envy.

> Putin will not live forever

Well, now, do we actually know that? I'll bet he'd say different.

> he has an obvious successor, Dmitry Medvedev

Thanks for the laugh! Medvedev is (as his name suggests) a teddy bear who will have exactly as much importance in Russian history as, say, Mohammad Khatami has on Iranian history. (Remember how excited everybody was about Khatami back in 1997? A nice cuddly liberal who was going to produce a New Iran!) Putin's successor will be either whoever Punin imposes or (in the event he kicks the bucket without having imposed anyone) whoever wins the savage struggle for power that will ensue, and I double-damn-guarontee you that ain't gonna be Dmitry Medvedev.

(Also, I remind you that Yeltsin's obvious successor was Nemtsov.)
posted by languagehat at 6:48 AM on March 6, 2015


Judging the Victors: Why Victimhood Is a Bad Fit for Russia, by Mikhail Iampolski. An interesting take on Russia's psychology since the fall of communism; I was struck by this bit, towards the end:
We are all social beings, and we always find our identity in groups. But our identity and behavior depend on the groups that we ourselves have chosen. I’m not a fanatical follower of psychoanalysis, but it seems to me that it makes sense to try to understand the situation with the help of Melanie Klein’s disciple, Wilfred Bion.

Bion proposed that groups come together in a variety of types. He called the first type the “work group,” and gave the name “basic assumption group” to the second. The work group is a collective that develops democratic individuality. Its purpose is to carry out a task, and therefore it assumes both its members’ cooperation and role differentiation. By and large, these are the groups that make up a democratic society. One of the important features of the work group is the capacity for solidarity, without which the group could not carry out its task. In my opinion, it is the primacy of the work groups in democratic societies that explains their capacity for mass displays of solidarity, such as the recent rallies in support of Charlie Hebdo.

Russian society cultivates basic assumption groups (Bion distinguishes various subtypes, such as “dependency groups,” “fight-flight groups,” etc.). These are the groups in which Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position reigns. These are the groups that are based on illusion, and on the denial of individual differentiation. Their primary task is the rejection of the ego in order to merge with some narcissistic primordial unity and become part of a homogenous and undifferentiated mass. Such groups are homogenous on principle; their members are utterly intolerant of any deviation from their single style of thought and behavior. If the work groups have an ideal that is not antagonistic to the ego ideal, the basic assumption groups have an ideal that utterly destroys the ego ideal and takes its place. The ego is crushed by an idealized, narcissistic leader, any attempt on whose authority is understood as an attack on the entire group and all its members. The leader deprives the group of reflexive thought, responsibility, a sense of guilty, and so on. A member of the work group is ready to accept his or her own limits and the difference of the Other, while a member of the basic assumption group aggressively denies both. Such groups are infantile and regressive, and their ideal is total homogeneity, the removal of all difference, and, as the French psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu wrote, the lost paradise of El Dorado. They are often highly destructive and completely subordinate to their leader, and easily move from panic to aggressive messianism.
I'm not crazy about psychoanalysis either, but that seems like a plausible classification of groups.

(I'm also not crazy about Eliot Borenstein's translation of the original article; to take an in-your-face opening like "Быстрая фашизация России..." ['The rapid fascistization of Russia...'] and turn it into the anodyne "The rapid rise in Russian intolerance towards foreigners and democracy..." betrays a truly academic terror of saying anything punchy and memorable. It's true there's no such word as "fascistization," but work around it, for heaven's sake: "Russia's rapid turn to fascism," or whatever. Be bold!)
posted by languagehat at 7:09 AM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mark Ames did a very interesting interview with Doug Henwood for his KPFA show "Behind the News" broadcast on March 5th (mp3 link), where they discuss Nemtsov's history and murder. Ames' Pando Daily piece Boris Nemtsov: Death of a Russian Liberal forms the basis for the interview, but the discussion also goes beyond it (... I know it's been linked to upthread)
posted by Auden at 8:02 AM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Every national leader who aspires to greatness has always had a Supremely Great Leader to look up to and emulate; in the past it was Sargon, Alexander, or Napoleon, now (for a Russian leader) it's Stalin. Who wouldn't want to rule half of Europe and be treated as one of the two greatest rulers on the planet? That has nothing to do with any particular similarities between the two, it's just historical penis envy.

Yes. Penis envy. Not bloodlust. The fact that Putin's hero was responsible for the deliberate starvation deaths of some 2 to 8 million Ukrainians to quash their independence movement is, I'm sure, in no way relevant to the current situation.

You're seriously saying that if Angela Merkel came out as pro-Hitler, that would be totally A-OK, because, hey, who else is a German leader gonna idolize?

Seriously, fuck everything about that.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:23 AM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


The buried Jewish past of Boris Nemtsov.
posted by Kabanos


I was listening the PRI's "The World" the other day, and they had an interesting interview with Mark Galeotti where he said* that it was unlikely Putin ordered or even condoned the hit himself. Rather, he said it was more likely the murder was done by right-wing nationalists, egged on by Putin's rhetoric and the political climate he has created, further incensed because Nemstov was Jewish, and acted on their own accord (though acting on what they thought Putin wanted).

Some of Galeotit's statements were a little wishy-washy for my taste ('no one can know anything, everyone just projects their views'), but that theory seemed like the most reasonable explanation I have seen.
---
*the statement I mention seems not to be in the transcript, but is in the audio
posted by rosswald at 9:23 AM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


...Mark Galeotti where he said that it was unlikely Putin ordered or even condoned the hit himself. Rather, he said it was more likely the murder was done by right-wing nationalists

That's also Mark Ames' opinion, from the Doug Henwood interview I linked to (minus the anti-Jewish, pro-Putin angle): right-wing nationalists.

There's another interview with Mark Galeotti (mp3) [Clinical Professor of Global Affairs at New York University, specializing in transnational organized crime, security affairs and modern Russia] at Sean Guillory's "Sean's Russia Blog" which is worth the listen, although I agree with rosswald's "wishy-washy" criticisms.
posted by Auden at 9:43 AM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


that it was unlikely Putin ordered or even condoned the hit himself. Rather, he said it was more likely the murder was done by right-wing nationalists, egged on by Putin's rhetoric and the political climate he has created

Just to reiterate part of Alex Navaly's statement, linked above, in which he says that the actions of right-wing nationalists are much more controlled and orchestrated than would appear on the surface:
That’s enough, repeating the nonsense about how “Boris was killed by an atmosphere of hatred.” … The extremist-terrorist organizations about which I am writing are created not as a reaction to an “unarticulated demand” but directly in meetings at the Kremlin.This is not freelancing, but directly Putin, Nikolai Patrushev [former head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and current secretary of the Security Council of Russia], Sergei Ivanov [chief of staff of the presidential administration], Aleksandr Bortnikov [head of the FSB], Vyacheslav Volodin [first deputy chief of staff of the presidential administrations] and the others there [in the Kremlin]. At such a meeting it was said – make an assignment to do a sensational action.
In other words, an explicitly direct order from Putin is not even needed if there are enough "understandings" down the chain of command to effect what is needed.
posted by Kabanos at 11:49 AM on March 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


> Yes. Penis envy. Not bloodlust. The fact that Putin's hero was responsible for the deliberate starvation deaths of some 2 to 8 million Ukrainians to quash their independence movement is, I'm sure, in no way relevant to the current situation.

You're seriously saying that if Angela Merkel came out as pro-Hitler, that would be totally A-OK, because, hey, who else is a German leader gonna idolize?

Seriously, fuck everything about that.


OK, I thought for a while you were actually interested in having a discussion, but now I see that (little to my astonishment) you are interested only in twisting someone else's words as nastily as possible so you can come out on top, and I'm not interested in playing those games, so you go your way and I'll go mine. If it makes you feel better, I hereby award you the 2015 prize for MeFi Commenter with the Most Trenchant Sense of Historical Morality. You're the boss, boss!
posted by languagehat at 1:58 PM on March 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


"In other words, an explicitly direct order from Putin is not even needed if there are enough "understandings" down the chain of command to effect what is needed"

Yup, the bureau of euphemism. It has been historically documented to be true. To be precise, the leader order, which by design, seeks to have orders of this nature not appear in documentation/recording methods.

"I am just joking. If I were afraid of Putin, I wouldn't be in this line of work."[65]wp

He said this three weeks before his death, let's remember the ammonia attack and the various times he was thrown in jail.
posted by clavdivs at 3:11 PM on March 6, 2015




[A couple comments removed, please cool it.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:00 AM on March 7, 2015


MetaFilter doesn't do Putin-verstehen well :( Thankfully, we have the National Review:

Lenin Meets Corleone - Understanding Vladimir Putin
Attempts to understand Vladimir Putin and the Russian revanchism that now threatens to dismantle the basic security architecture of post–Cold War Europe ought to begin not with reference to Lenin and Stalin, or by digging into one’s dog-eared copies of books by Hans Morgenthau, Samuel Huntington, or George Kennan. To be sure, there is a Leninist component in Putin’s methods, but save that for a moment. At the outset, consider the possibility that the best literary guide to Putin, Putinism, and early-21st-century Russia is Mario Puzo.
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:00 PM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Russia after Nemtsov: Uncontrolled violence - The assassination of Boris Nemtsov leaves liberal Russians in fear of a new wave of violent repression
The anti-Maidan march was the culmination of a long campaign of hatred and intolerance. As Mr Nemtsov said in an interview recorded hours before his death, “Russia is quickly turning into a fascist state. We already have propaganda modelled on Nazi Germany’s. We also have a nucleus of assault brigades, like the [Nazi] SA.” Alexei Navalny, a blogger and opposition leader who was jailed to stop him attending the planned anti-war rally, underlined the emergence of reactionary gangs, “pro-government extremists and terrorist groups which openly declare that their aim is to fight the opposition where the police cannot.”

Such groups are not grass-roots amateurs who have sprung up on a wave of nationalism, but organisations seeded and financed by the Kremlin. The anti-Maidan activists include the leather-clad “Night Wolves” biker gang, who played an active role in the annexation of Crimea and have been patronised by Mr Putin. More alarming are Mr Kadyrov and his well-trained, heavily armed private militia of 15,000 men, who several months ago swore a public oath to defend Mr Putin. “Tens of thousands of us, who have been through special training, ask the Russian national leader to consider us his voluntary detachment,” said Mr Kadyrov. America and Europe have declared economic war on Russia. Although Russia has regular forces, “there are special tasks which can only be solved by volunteers, and we will solve them.” Mr Kadyrov’s men have long roamed Moscow with arms and special security passes.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:00 PM on March 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Vladislav Surkov'’s Secret Speech: How Russia Should Fight International Conspiracies (2005)
(Russia) is a badly illuminated remote area of Europe but not Europe yet. In this regard, we are inseparably tied with Europe and must be friends with it. They are not enemies. They are simply competitors. So, it is more insulting that we are not enemies. An enemy situation is when one can be killed in a war as a hero if there is conflict. There is something heroic and beautiful in it. And to lose in a competitive struggle means to be a loser. And this is doubly insulting, I think.

It is better to be enemies and not ambiguous friends as is the case now! That is somehow what we want.

There is a psychological base here. For 500 years, the country was a modern state, it made history and was not made by history. After all, with respect to all those nations, we differ strongly from Slovaks, Baltic nations and even Ukrainians — they had no state system. People, including Russian politicians of the past, drew them on maps. This explains why we will be those bad children who have disregarded everything. That is why, I think, even the self-esteem element should play its role in the forming of our look at ourselves. And if we speak on whether we have democracy or not — you know, as it is said, [in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Heart of a Dog] devastation is in our heads, and so the same thing is true with democracy, either it is in our heads or it is not.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:53 AM on March 8, 2015


Yeah, :(
Those are some interesting links. What is needed is a baseline for discussion which is apparently what makes Putin do the things he do.
Ready.

"He also initiated a minor cult of Yuri Andropov, the longest-serving KGB boss in Soviet history (1967–1982)..."

Oh there is much more.

"But at the end of the day Putin is, indeed, following through on Andropov's interrupted policies of upgrading the Soviet Union without changing its core. The current state of the Russian economy is the best answer to how this is all working out — growth is grinding to a halt, and even Putin admitted it is down to domestic policies, not global trends. Perhaps "controlled change" worked out in China, and perhaps it could still work out in the Soviet Union in 1984; it is not working anymore in Russia in 2014."

"Suslovian nightmare" sounded whacky but hey. There are so many historical threads to pull there it's mind boggling.
posted by clavdivs at 3:20 AM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Golden Eternity, little gruffy there but not at your persistence for good and informative data. But I'm in like, "I told ya so mode"
Shit is terrifying and let's not forget those who endure it and perhaps be a bit grateful for what remains of free speech.
:|
posted by clavdivs at 3:25 AM on March 8, 2015


Really good NYRB review of Gessen's Putin biography.

Looks like the Kremlin's chosen "narrative" is that Nemtsov was killed because of Charlie Hebdo by proud and patriotic Chechen muslims.

Ramzan Kadyrov: Nemtsov suspect was a 'deep believer' angered by Charlie Hebdo
In an extraordinary statement posted on his Instagram account on Sunday evening, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-loyal leader of Chechnya, said that Mr Dadayev was known to him as a “fearless and brave” “patriot of Russia” who was “ready to give his life for the Motherland” and had served as the deputy commander of a Russian interior ministry battalion based in Grozny.

[...]

Mr Kadyrov hinted at an emerging motive that could be assigned to Mr Dadayev, saying that the suspect was a “deeply religious person” who was “shocked” by the Mohammed cartoons in Charlie Hebdo, the Parisian magazine, and support for printing them.

Last week Russia’s Investigative Committee floated one of its main theories for Mr Nemtsov’s murder as revenge for comments he made in the wake of the murder of 11 people by Islamist gunmen at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in January. Mr Nemtsov wrote in a blog post two days after the attack that the world was witnessing an “Islamic inquisition” and those who blamed the magazine’s cartoonists were “justifying murder”.
@chessninja: "News search for Hebdo + Немцов (Nemtsov) gets literally thousands of versions on coordinated release on Feb 28, the day after his murder."
posted by Golden Eternity at 3:35 PM on March 8, 2015 [3 favorites]




I've just started a book that looks like required reading if one wants to understand the historical/psychological background to the widespread Russian acceptance of Putin's militarism, Serguei Alex. Oushakine's The Patriotism of Despair: Nation, War, and Loss in Russia. Mark Lipovetsky writes (in a blurb on the back cover):
Serguei Oushakine's The Patriotism of Despair is a revolutionary book, the true subject of which is the collapse of the democratic revolution in Russia. It reveals the cultural and psychological, rather than merely political, reasons for the post-Soviet rejection of Western liberal ideologies and even the mass popularity of aggressively nationalist, racist, pro-Soviet and neotraditionalist discourses and narratives. Oushakine's work encompasses the meticulous analysis of various social groups located in Altai, the Siberian region on the border with China and Kazakhstan, and interviews with neocommunists, leftists, nationalists, and Chechnya veterans and their mothers. This book is especially valuable as it goes beyond worn binary oppositions, instead presenting a coherent—albeit quite unsettling—vision of post-Soviet society that is simultaneously fragmented and united by the trauma caused by the collapse of the Soviet world and seeking various imaginary and real forms of community and solidarity that inevitably turn out to be based upon loss, grief, and absence. This approach undermines both Western stereotypes about Russia and post-Soviet political self-imaging. It offers little optimism, but Oushakine's genuine interest in his personages represents the post-Soviet experience as an exuberantly rich and important facet of contemporary modernity.
And Oushakine writes in his introduction: "In fact, various forms of the patriotism of despair outlined in this book provided a key base of support for the resurgence of Russia's national assertiveness that became so vivid during Vladimir Putin's presidency."
posted by languagehat at 12:29 PM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]




“Military analysis of what Russia really wants reveals nuclear dangers,” Philip Thicknesse, Reuters, 10 March 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 5:21 PM on March 10, 2015


This is quite good so far: Who Is Putin? - Ilya Ponomarev

Ponomarev's views are very similar to Nemtsov. It is devastating criticism. Nemtsov, in particular, was making the point that Putin was chasing away all of Russia's best customers and partners (for natural gas and other Russian goods and services, etc.)

The Russian lawmaker kicked out of the country speaks out about Putin, Snowden, and a Russian collapse
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:24 PM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


@olgatokariuk: "Conspiracy theories abound in Russian-language social media about Putin alleged illness. Reportedly he hasn't been seen in public for a week"
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:01 PM on March 11, 2015




Sorry about the previous link, it's just some crazy Ukrainian music video I came across.

As Another Meeting is Cancelled, Questions Continue to be Raised about Putin's Health
Meanwhile, without confirmation of Putin's condition, and concern that meetings at the Kremlin reported this week in fact took place last week, Russkiy Monitor has gone ahead and published an email received by the editorial office that Putin  had a stroke. The Interpreter has a translation:
A letter arrived in the electronic email box of Russkiy Monitor signed by an anonymous official of the Central Clinical Hospital of the Department of Presidential Affairs in Moscow, in which he reported that among the patients of this elite Moscow hospital, where the top leadership of the Russian Federation are registered, there were rumors that Vladimir Putin was diagnosed several days ago with an ischemic stroke. Even so, the source said that the president was not hospitalized directly at the Central Clinical Hospital.

The editorial board of Russian Monitor cannot confirm or deny the information which might very well be false, however  we must note the fact that the president has not been seen in public since last week, his meeting with the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan was unexpectedly cancelled. Observers note that since Putin has been in power, nothing of this sort has occurred.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:38 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I saw Taibbi say it was all just crazy Internet rumors this afternoon. Putin's Press Secretary has denied them.

My biggest worry is, what if Putin was actually the best man for the job? Can Medvedev keep Putin's constituency together?
posted by ob1quixote at 10:46 PM on March 11, 2015


Maybe he was having an extended prayer session woth father Tikhon before he launches the nukes.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:29 PM on March 11, 2015


I just checked. Putin's not dead.
posted by Kabanos at 12:08 PM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


"We're sorry": careful what you wish for ...

Rumors Fly in Moscow: Coup of Generals, Putin Stroke, FSB Against Chchenya's Kadyrov
In the meantime, the narrative of the Nemtsov assassination continues to unravel as the presumed Chechen assassins complain to two human rights activists that they were tortured into confessing and they expressed fear that they would be murdered like the so-called sixth conspirator. (Who let the human rights activists into the special Lefortovo prison where the suspects are being held?) Special communications helicopters of the presidential administration have been seen landing at the FSB Lubyanka headquarters and at the Kremlin. Respectable newspapers speak of an open rift between the brutal leaders of Chechnya (Kadyrov) and the Russian FSB (Federal security service).
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:21 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


He probably just has a big third eye zit on his forehead and he is embarrassed to go out until it heals.
posted by caddis at 8:13 PM on March 13, 2015


I was figuring it is just another facelift...
posted by rosswald at 8:41 PM on March 13, 2015


Wouldn't he plan that better so he wouldn't have to cancel meetings and send out bogus photographs?
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:44 PM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Perhaps, or maybe there was a complication - who knows? I admit its not a great theory. At this point though it almost seems anything is possible.
posted by rosswald at 9:27 PM on March 13, 2015


Complications from plastic surgery seems like a good best-case theory.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:37 PM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


@Liveuamap: "Kadyrov in his Instagram: 'I'm devoted to Putin, nevermind he is President or not'"

OMG this is a fascinating read: Russia This Week: All the Strange Things Going on in Moscow

@DarthPutinKGB:
"They seek him here, they seek him there
Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
And is that polonium i can smell?"
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:08 AM on March 14, 2015


PUTIN UPDATE
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:23 AM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Schroedinger's Putin: How long since he's been seen.
posted by Kabanos at 7:06 AM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Well, if it seems to be real, it's illusion
For every moment of truth, there's confusion in life
Love can be seen as the answer
But nobody bleeds for the dancer
And it's on and on, on and on..."


"Is he in heaven or is he in hell?"
posted by clavdivs at 7:24 AM on March 14, 2015


Russia Update: Is There a Slow-Motion Coup Under Way?

I bet this is it. Primakov is taking over. Either Putin will become a puppet, or he will be replaced by Primakov and Medvedev by Ivanov. All of the confusion is because Putin isn't taking it well. Actually, Primakov doesn't sound all that bad:
In his speech at the prestigious Mercury Club, where he serves as president, on January 13, 2015 Primakov basically "tore Putin's policy to bits."

- He said Donbass should remain in Ukraine
- He opposed Russia's self-isolation
- He advocated a move away from Russia's role as "the world's gas station" and diversification of the economy
- He acknowledged anti-semitism, chauvinism and neo-Nazis as big problems in Russia
It had to be done; Putin wouldn't listen. One hopes it goes as smoothly as possible. I look forward to a reset in relations between the West and Primakov. He hates neoliberalism. So do many of us. For Christ's let Russia run their economy however they want to. One only hopes Primakov has the sense to shit-can Dugin and Malofeev and the other rif-raf. I'm going to have another beer and watch some Swan Lake.

Or maybe Putin just has the flu ...
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:32 AM on March 15, 2015




I believe Putin actually reported to Nemtsov in Yeltsin's original government. You have to think that some of the more senior people in the "deep state" were actually very fond of Nemtsov, even if they disagreed with his economic policy. He seems like a great guy, and much of what Primakov is saying echos what Nemtsov has said. If only Yeltsin had stayed with Yeltsin instead of switching to Putin as his successor. I just have this tremendous feeling that an adult has just stepped into the room in Russia: Primakov.

Swan Lake is so Beautiful!!! I'm watching this version, which is just one of the first to pop up on youtube (unfortunately Schroedinger's Putin doesn't play the whole thing): Swan Lake - The Kirov Ballet
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:06 AM on March 15, 2015


If only Yeltsin had stayed with Yeltsin Nemtsov instead of ...
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:29 AM on March 15, 2015


Oh, New thread
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:27 AM on March 15, 2015


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