I’ll be appearing on Political Vindication Radio at 6:10 pm PST to talk about Putin and the state of Russia. Political Vindication Radio emphatically portends to be “doing the work blue blood Republicans just won’t do.” I’m not sure what that means but having a stanch lefty like myself as a guest should certainly prove to be interesting radio.
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By Sean — 4 years ago
Thus far I’ve been silent on the Russian military occupation of Crimea. I’ve found the deluge of media on the crisis quite overwhelming. I do have a stance: Russia has violated Ukrainian sovereignty, an irony considering Moscow’s often paeans to sovereign integrity. I agree with Mark Adomanis that Russia has made a grave mistake that will cost their economy and international standing. And like him, I don’t support invasions of countries on principle so there’s no reason why I would support Russia on this. I’m not sure if taking Crimea amounts to “a blunder of historic proportions,” however. It’s too soon to assess the final fallout. It’s clear to me that Putin has the upper hand here. The West has little leverage—targeted economic sanctions and visa bans just don’t rattle Putin very much. Ending trade talks, G8 preparations, and other agreements under negotiation will do little. The US and EU just have nothing Putin wants or cares enough about. The Russian president clearly believes he can weather any storm western powers conjure over him. The only measure I think that will put pressure on Putin is if Russia’s elite is targeted. By one calculation 20 of Russia’s richest lost $9.5 billion when the Russian market crashed last Monday. Continued economic dips could mobilize Russia’s elite against their president. The question is when Russia’s elite have enough collective wherewithal, strength and gumption to challenge him.
Putin is going to take Crimea. The question is in what form: as part of Russia or as a protectorate. And to do it, he’s going use the next week’s referendum as the excuse. Basically, he’s going to claim that the Crimeans voted to join Russia. He will assert to no end that it was done “democratically” and “by the law.” Both houses of Russia’s Duma are ready to accept Crimea. Few outside of Russia will recognize the vote, of course. It’s not even legal under the Ukrainian constitution which stipulates any attempt at succession must be put to a national referendum. Whatever happens, Crimea will become a contested sovereign space like other “frozen conflicts” in the region.
This move could also open up a can of worms for Putin. If he’s ready to accept Crimea’s referendum on leaving Ukraine, will he welcome other republics in the Russian Federation to hold votes on succession? Probably not. Still, it’s a potentially dangerous precedent.
Crimea joining Russia is inevitable if only because the referendum ballot is rigged. The ballot asks voters two questions. 1) Do you support joining Crimea with the Russian Federation as a subject of Russian Federation? and 2) Do you support restoration of 1992 Crimean Constitution and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine? There’s a box next to each question indicating a “Yes” vote. There isn’t a place to mark “No.” Further the ballot states, “Ballots left unmarked or marked with both answers will be disqualified.” As Volodymyr Yavorkiy, a member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, told the Kyiv Post, “There is no option for ‘no,’ they are not counting the number of votes, but rather which one of the options gets more votes. Moreover, the first question is about Crimea joining Russia, the second – about it declaring independence and joining Russia. In other words, there is no difference.” Indeed, as Halya Coynash put it: “There is no possibility of voting for the status quo.”
This vote will be a farce for many reasons. There is little time to properly organize or propagate it let alone educate voters on its implications. Plus monitors have to quickly organize and make sure the vote is run without machinations. Schemes might already be in the works. As the Kyiv Post noted, 2.5 million votes have been printed even though there are only 1.5 million voters. The situation is ripe for ballot stuffing. Crimean Tatar leaders are calling for a boycott. But it won’t matter. It’s likely that a small minority of Crimeans will decide the majority’s fate since there’s no minimum hurtle for passage. So on March 16 Crimeans are left with a non-choice: Russia or a protectorate of Russia. There just isn’t any room for no.
Image: BBCPost Views: 1,004
By Sean — 11 years ago
Russian sports is glaringly absent from this blog. Though I’m a big fan of sports my interest is solely on American professional sports, specifically basketball and baseball. I’ve been tempted to comment on a few Russian sports related stories, especially Andrei Kirilenko’s threats to dump the NBA and his lucrative $63 million contract with the Utah Jazz to return to CSKA Moscow. Kirilenko apparently fell back in love with European ball when he helped Russia win the European tournament and was named MVP this summer. There is no doubt that AK-47 can dominate far more in Europe than he can in the States. Kirilenko’s possible move also seems to be spurred by a bit of nationalist calling. “I would like to be where I am needed and right now I feel that my country needs me,” Kirilenko told Sport Express.
Alas, basketball is not the sport in Russia. It’s football. This is why I’m happy to post this article that Ger Clancy, aka the Irishman sent me about Russia’s upcoming showdown against England. According to Kommersant, tickets for the October 17th match went in a matter of hours. Ten thousand people stood in the rain to snatch up one of the 6,800 tickets on sale at Luzhniki stadium. 570,000 people applied directly to the Russian Football Union for one of the 74,000 available seats.
What is more is that where there are victories in sport, politics is never too far behind. In an attempt to capitalize on Russia’s success on the football field, United Russia has made sure that some of its high profile members will be seated in Luzhniki’s VIP box seats looking to bask in any television camera rays. How Russia’s political parties utilize sport is an interesting topic in and of itself.
But putting that issue aside for now, let’s turn to the real matter at hand: the upcoming match itself.
Last Chance Saloon for Russia at Luzhniki
By Ger Clancy, the Irishman
The Head Coach of the Russian national football team, Guus Hiddink, is a man under pressure. After overcoming a shaky start to his first campaign in charge, including two draws with table-toppers Croatia and a good victory in Skopje, Hiddink is now facing a must-win situation against England in Moscow. Russia’s collapse last month at Wembley has left them two points behind England and anything less than three points for the Russians at Luzhniki Stadium will almost certainly lead to elimination from Euro 2008. Hiddink was hired as Russia coach in the summer of 2006, following a solid performance as boss of Australia in the World Cup, as well a semi-final run with South Korea, in 2002, and Holland (his native country) in 1998. His appointment was high-profile and is widely believed to have been for a six-figure sum. Hiddink’s brief was very simple; drag the Russian national team out of second-world football status. The main reason for his appointment was his ability to make do with limited player resources, as he has done with both Korea and Australia. Although Hiddink has four year contract with the Russian Football Union, ostensibly aimed at preparing the Sbornaya for a crack at a World Cup quarter-final in 2010, failure to reach the European Championships will be more than a disappointment. The disaster at Wembley was a trip down recent memory lane for them and their poorest performance since their 7-1 dismantling in Lisbon under Georgy Yartsev in 2004. But Hiddink can only work miracles with the willing and the believers. The question is can Russia find a resilience and consistency that no Sbornaya has shown since the late 1980s?
Soviet, and later Russian football, has never fully recovered from defeat at the hands of Holland in the final of Euro ’88. At the time the team was loaded with superstars including Vasily Rats, Igor Belanov, Anatoli Demianenko, Renat Dasaeyev, Sergei Alyenikov, Alexander Zavarov and Oleg Protasov. Belanov scored four goals at Mexico ’86 and was crowned European Footballer of the Year six months later. Dasaeyev was widely considered the best goalkeeper in the world at the time. The rest of the team was renowned and feared across Europe. At the height of their powers in 1985, on the way to the World Cup in Mexico, they beat England 2-0 at Wembley in one of the best away performances of the whole decade, and they routed Hungary 6-0 at Irapuato at the finals. Their counter-attacking style was awe-inspiring. The team routinely conceded control of midfield to the opposition and defended using a high-back line a few yards from their box, with a sweeper behind. The Soviets could play percentages with the opposition for two main reasons: the presence of Dasaeyev in goal and Khidiatullin at sweeper, neither of who were easily beaten, and their own potency in attack. They scored countless goals by dispossessing the opposition near the Soviet eighteen-yard line, followed by a lightning break-out up the field of only two or three pin-point, long range passes and a clinical finish at the other end. This was the last golden age in Soviet football.
The Soviets waltzed to the final of Euro ’88, thumping Holland, England and Italy on the way. However, a Gullit-Van Basten inspired Holland were reborn in the final and beat them 2-0, ushering in a new superpower in European football. From there onwards the decline began. The Soviets qualified for Italia ’90 but were unceremoniously dumped out in the first round out by Romania and Argentina. The defeat to Romania in particular had huge effects on the European landscape. Not only did it signal the end of the road for the USSR as a football power, it shifted the balance of soccer dominance in Eastern Europe from Moscow and Kiev to Bucharest and to a lesser extent Sofia, Belgrade and Zagreb. A re-built Soviet team qualified impressively for Euro ’92 in Sweden (playing there as the CIS) only to tamely bow out at the hands of an already-eliminated Scotland. By this time the Soviet nation had collapsed and at start of the 92/93 season, for the first time ever, a Russian national team was attempting to qualify for a tournament, World Cup USA ’94.
The tale of woe since the birth of the Russian national team has been almost unrelenting. Russia have qualified for four tournaments in the period 1992-2006, and failed miserably on all of the occasions to get out of the first round. Almost always rumors of trouble within the camp surfaced in newspaper articles. This was especially true of 1994, when a players’ spat with coach Pavel Sadyrin soured morale in the team. Both reigns of Oleg Romantsev ended in scandal and recrimination over favouritism to Spartak players and dire performances on the pitch. Their exit from the World Cup in Korea-Japan in 2002 was especially shambolic. The defeat to Japan (which may or may not have helped ignite a drunken riot in Moscow) and the astounding collapse against Belgium brought Russian football to new lows. The incidences where they failed to qualify for tournaments at all were even worse. A last-minute goalkeeping disaster against Ukraine in 1999 not only dumped Russia out of Euro 2000, it gave four points out of six to their bitter rivals. It should also be noted that Russia failed to qualify for France ’98, meaning they went six years without reaching a major tournament – an unheard-of situation for fans of the old USSR in the 1980s.
Russia’s poor showings in the last 15 years are down to a number of factors. In 1992, it was widely thought that the backbone of the Soviet/CIS teams had been Ukrainian and hence any Russia team would struggle without stars from Dynamo Kiev. But this has not been borne out by results. Not only have Russia been awful, Ukraine have been too. Ukraine qualified for nothing until Germany 2006 and even then was one of the poorest teams at the tournament. Their second-round match with Switzerland was probably the single worst finals match ever played. Also, in 1990-1992, the Soviet team disintegrated – there were almost none of the eighties superstars left at that stage. Poor coaching of the national team, in particular a failure to either control strong personalities in the dressing-room or inspire players on the field, has certainly contributed. It is also plain that Russia has been without world-class footballers in key positions for a long time (in particular on the left) and this will hinder any coach. But the chief protagonists in this long dark period are the players themselves. With the possible exceptions of Victor Anopko, Alexei Yevseev and Alexander Mostovoi , no Russian player has performed consistently well through the course of a whole qualifying tournament and finals. It is time the players themselves stood up and firmly took responsibility for their own performances on the field. Through 15 years of dark times, coaches, tactics and all types of variables have changed, but poor showings from the players have remained the same. The match at Wembley was a nightmare from Russia’s past. However, England are already missing players through injury for the rematch in Moscow including Emile Heskey, who tormented the Russians last month. A draw will not be a disaster but realistically Russia need to win if they wish to progress. Both Arshavin and Sychov are dangerous forwards and if the Berezutskiis and Malafeev can hold it together at the back, Russia may just get the three points they need. If the Russian players themselves can get their act together, Hiddink, as wily a coach as one could find, can lead them at last into a new future.
Russia vs England, 17th October 2007 Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow [19:00] MSK.Post Views: 537
By Sean — 5 years ago
Arch Getty’s comment, “Putin in History,” was included in today’s Johnson’s Russia List. I asked him if I could repost it here. He kindly agreed. Full disclosure, Professor Getty was my dissertation advisor and mentor at UCLA.
Putin and Russian History
By J. Arch Getty
An occupational hazard of being a Russian historian is that people often ask “What about Putin?” “What’s going to happen in Russia?” Historians are generally allergic to making predictions, and predicting Russia has a very poor track record; almost nobody predicted the sudden fall of the USSR. But because we are at least somewhat the products of the past, that past may tell us something about the future. So where does Putin come from?
In the short-term, Putin’s perception of society is easy to trace to KGB culture in the Brezhnev era: disruptive or unorthodox events were seen as misguided, incomprehensible, or even mentally unbalanced challenges to order. In short, because Soviet society is perfect, protests must originate with foreign enemies, outside agitators or mental illness, so protestors should be ridiculed and punished. This explains Putin’s ludicrous but characteristic reaction that the 2011-2012 winter Bolotnaia election protestors were dupes responding to Hillary Clinton’s “signal,” his offensive mocking of their white ribbons as condoms, and his reflex to punish demonstration leaders.
But there are historically deeper Russian sources for Putin’s myopic vision and actions. For example, in 1825, following the defeat of Napoleon, noble Russian army officers returned from Paris with subversive French Revolutionary ideas about human rights, elections, constitutions, and the rule of law. In December of that year, they staged a demonstration and abortive coup attempt aimed at overthrowing the Russian monarchy. The “Decembrist Revolt” was quickly put down by royal power deployed by the new tsar, Nicholas I.
From the official side, tsar Nicholas I (like Putin) could not understand what was happening. Nicholas was so perplexed that while harshly punishing the Decembrists, he (unlike Putin) had jailhouse conversations with several of them in order to understand their motivations. But like Putin, Nicholas’ world view prevented him from seeing that society was changing. He responded with the official slogan “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality,” a conservative statement that, by the way, Putin could embrace. Instead of understanding the changes around them, both rulers quickly deployed punitive state power against the ringleaders. Since society was basically sound as it was, one could nip change in the bud simply by decapitating it, right?
It seemed that nothing came of the 1825 revolt. Disappointed observers ridiculed the dilettante noble demonstrators for being unable to transform their opposition into a real revolution: They had no mass support. They were poor planners and organizers. Some of them even overslept or got lost that day and missed the action altogether. In the long run, however, seeds had been planted. The poor, marginalized and imprisoned Decembrists of 1825 would inspire later generations of Russian reformers and revolutionaries of all stripes who gradually attracted broader social support and who eventually brought down the monarchy in 1917. Reformers and revolutionaries would later glorify the memory of the hapless Decembrists as forerunners who planted the seeds of change but could not live to see their flowering.
Today’s protesters are also ridiculed and belittled, especially by leftists both in Russia and the west, for not becoming more. But in the long view (which we historians are trained to take) change in Russia has always come very slowly, and one wonders if in a future Russia people will not look back at the Bolotnaia and even Pussy Riot demonstrators as the beginnings of something big, something that took a while to mature. Even if we scoff at their lost potential, let us also not forget that these recent demonstrations for democracy were unprecedented in their scale. They dwarf the Soviet dissident movement of the 1970s and 1980s which, as it turned out, planted much smaller seeds.
Both Nicholas I and Putin represent an old Russian tradition whereby the monarchy doggedly refused to understand or compromise with change. Nicholas’ unbending obsolete vision and inflexibility would do much to radicalize later Russian reformers. Like him, his great-grandson Nicholas II would also be inherently unable to understand the forces for social change around him, and he and the monarchy were eventually swept away by the 1917 revolutions. Nicholas I, Nicholas II, Brezhnev and Putin just didn’t get it. They were constitutionally unable to understand society and how it changes.
They all had silent majorities behind them at one point. Today, some 65% of the population supports Putin, compared with 1% for demonstration leader Navalny. But the long clocks of change were and are ticking, even if few notice at the time. Today it seems that Putin has an unchallenged upper hand and has never been stronger. On the other hand, the Bolotnaia protesters, Pussy Riot women, and possibly leaders like Navalny seem to be fading into obscurity, oblivion and prison. But in the future, the historical results of today’s impotent protests and Putin’s reaction to them could look very different.
It is possible that Russian strongman monarchy is built into Russian political culture. But it is just as possible that its days are numbered. Polling support for Putin is inversely proportional to educational levels, which are broadly rising. These protesters may mark something big, something ultimately decisive. Putin’s clock is ticking, but he has inherited the deafness of all Russian monarchs. And even if he could hear the ticks he wouldn’t know what to do about them.
J. Arch Getty is Professor of History at UCLA. He is the author of several books on Russian history, including Practicing Stalinism: Boyars, Bolsheviks and the Persistence of Tradition, (Yale University Press, 2013) will be published in July.Post Views: 726