Masha Lipman is a frequent commentator on contemporary Russian affairs. She is currently the head editor of the journal Kontrapunkt, a contributor to the New Yorker, and co-editor with Nikolai Petrov of The State of Russia: What Comes Next? published by Palgrave Macmillan.
Jawbreaker, “Chesterfield King,” Bivouac, 1992.
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By Sean — 11 years ago
The diplomatic confrontation between Russian and Britain is hitting a boiling point. In response to the expulsions, Russia said they were “russophobic,” ‘immoral,” and part of “a carefully choreographed action” that could result in a political backlash. Nevertheless, Mikhail Kamynin, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, reiterated Russia’s willingness to cooperate with Britain in the Litvinenko case.
That doesn’t mean that Russia is going to sit idle. Alexander Grushko was quoted in the Guardian saying that Russia will give their response soon adding that whatever it will berespo1 Russian-British business ties will be kept in mind. Russia’s Resources Minister, Yuri Trutnev, told reporters that “I don’t think it makes sense to impose restrictions that would affect the investment climate, because that would be very expensive, including for Britain.” He’s right and the Guardian concurs. There is no way Russian or British elites are going to pump this crisis up far enough so it starts hitting their wallets. For what? Justice? Lugovoi? Pride? There are limits to pride and they usually begin and end with one’s pocket book. As Marsellus Wallace said in Pulp Fiction, “Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.”
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that the crisis will be free of all sorts of historical imagery and comparisons. The Guardian declared that “Cold War Diplomacy is Back as UK Expels Spies” but failed to explain the connection. The Daily Telegraph stated that Britain’s actions hark back to the “depths of the Cold War” when Russian and Britain engaged in tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions in 1985. The article then proceeds to recount the 1985 crisis to suggest continuity.
Russia also pulled out some historical arrows from its rhetorical quiver. One Kremlin adviser, Sergei Markov said that Britain was behaving in an “imperial” manner. Vladimir Zhirinovsky dug deep into the history books saying that Britain’s machinations can be spotted not only in the Crimean War, which Russia lost against Britain, but also in Alexander II’s assassination, and the Russo-Japanese War. Zhiri is always good for a laugh. I’m surprised he didn’t bring up the 1927 war scare over Britain’s proposal to give Germany Danzig and the Polish Corridor in the Western powers efforts to redraw the Eastern European map. Just for fun, if historical allusions must be made, I think that revisiting the “Great Game” of the 19th century is the most promising and often neglected because of the Cold War’s continued hegemony of historical memory.
Andrei Lugovoi has also responded to Norberto Andrade’s claims that he was distracted the night of Litvinenko’s poisoning. Lugovoi called Andrade’s statements “laughable” and either “a lie or stupidity.”
Lie maybe, stupidity, well, that certainly can’t be applied to Mr. Andrade alone. It’s clear that both Britain and Russia are skipping hand in hand down Stupid Lane quite gaily.Post Views: 112
By Sean — 4 years ago
The latest round of US sanctions imposed on Putin’s associates assumes that if you squeeze the oligarchs orbiting Putin, then they will in turn compel him to change his policy toward Ukraine. The idea an oligarchy rules Russia, where the tsar acts as an arbiter over elite conflicts is a staple of Kremlinology. It was Edward Keenan who most systematically put forward this argument in his seminal article “Muscovite Political Folkways.” Then Keenan wrote, “the Muscovite, and later Russian, systems tended to prefer oligarchic and collegial rule, to avoid the single leader, and to function best when the nominal autocratic was in fact politically weak.” Indeed, Keenan’s schematic of this oligarchic rule resembled an atom where the tsar sat and the center and oligarch neutrons and electrons orbited him. Keenan’s argument was significant because it suggested that the idea that Russia was a pure autocracy was a myth. The all-powerful tsar was a fiction perpetuated by the oligarchy to conceal the real and often conspiratorial nature of power in Russia.
Keenan’s argument was and remains compelling. It has also endured. In December, Andrew Weiss wrote of Putinism in the New York Times:
Yet Russia’s oligarchy (that is, the control of the state and economy by a small group of well-placed, extremely wealthy insiders) is alive and well. The supposedly all-powerful Mr. Putin actually devotes much of his time to refereeing bitter disputes between oligarchs like Igor I. Sechin, the head of the state oil company Rosneft, and Gennady N. Timchenko, a co-owner of Russia’s largest oil trading company and an independent natural gas producer. These latter-day oligarchs, many of whom have built vast business empires on the back of longstanding connections to Mr. Putin, are part of a political tradition that dates back to the rapid expansion of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy in the 1400s.
Given events over the last few weeks, does this analysis of Putin still hold? With Crimea are we not witnessing Putin’s transformation into a truly autocratic ruler who is no longer restrained by the oligarchs orbiting him? If this is the case, then the underlining premise of the US sanctions is a miscalculation.
Indeed, press accounts say that Putin’s decision to take Crimea was ad hoc and made with the counsel of a shrinking group of advisors from the security apparatus. As Shawn Walker recently reported in the Guardian:
Despite the staunch support for the move in Russia’s parliament, it is clear the decision to seize Crimea was taken by a very small circle of people. Russian newspapers reported that all their government sources had been taken completely by surprise by the move.
The president now takes counsel from an ever-shrinking coterie of trusted aides. Most of them have a KGB background like the president and see nefarious western plots everywhere.
They are also less likely to hold any assets abroad. Consider this with Putin’s calls over the last year for Russia’s elites to renationalize their assets so they wouldn’t be vulnerable to the west. Indeed, some in the Russian press argue that the US sanctions will strengthen Putin’s grip over the elite rather than loosen it. Now he has the patriotism card at his disposal along with “I told you so” to any elite who feels the financial pinch from sanctions. The sanctions could also be inducing a patriotic fervor causing Russian elites to pull their money out of the west. The last time something like this happened was at the outbreak of WWI in 1914. In fact, in a television interview, Yuri Kovalchuk, Putin’s so-called banker and US sanctions victim, warned other oligarchs that “people intuitively understand which side of the barricade a business is on.” He added:
“You can have an apartment abroad or a villa on the (French) Riviera. Fine. The question is, where is your home? And one’s home is not just money. Where is your family, where do your children go to school, where do they work? . . . And what sports team do you sponsor? Businesses are different – one might sponsor, say, a serious soccer team in the premier league, another a sandlot (unorganized) team. That’s not important – the question is, where is the team – here or outside your country?”
While there have been rumors of elite grumbling and dismay at Putin’s actions, none have said a thing publicly. Why? Because Putin holds all the cards. With Crimea he has the power and a patriotic public behind him. He is no longer beholden to oligarch whispers. And perhaps thanks to US sanctions he can further subordinate the “fifth column” in the elite and become a true autocrat.Post Views: 546
By Sean — 11 years ago
Seventy years ago today the infamous Operational Order No. 00447 was approved by the Politburo of the Soviet Union. The Order launched, according to the document, “a campaign of punitive measures against former kulaks, active anti-soviet elements, and criminals.” In the appending memo to Stalin’s personal secretary, A. N. Poskrebyshev, M. P. Frinovsky, then deputy commissar of the NKVD, wrote, “I ask that you send the decree to members of the Politburo for their vote, and please send an extract of relevant items to Comrade Ezhov.”
Dated 30 July 1937, the document outlines which groups would be subjected to “punitive measures,” how they would be carried out, and provided execution and arrest quotas for every oblast and autonomous republic.
The document split those subject to “punitive measures” into two categories. The document reads:
- “To the first category belong all the most active of the above mentioned elements [kulaks, former Whites, criminals, Mensheviks and other anti-soviet parties, fascists, religious sectarians, etc]. They are subject to immediate arrest and, after consideration of their case by the troikas, to be shot.
- To the second category belong all the remaining less active but nonetheless hostile elements. They are subject to arrest and to confinement in concentration camps for a term ranging from 8 to 10 years, while the most vicious and socially dangerous among them are subject to confinement for similar terms in prisons as determined by the troikas.”
Quotas for the first category range from 100 (in Komi ASSR and Kalmuk ASSR, for example) to 5000 (in Western Siberia, Moscow oblast, and Azov-Black Sea). Estimates for the second category ranged from 300 (again in Komi and Kalmuk) to 30,000 (Moscow).
The quotas were merely guidelines for execution and arrest. Considering that they all end in zeros says that the Party had no idea how many “anti-Soviet elements” roamed the country. The quotas were merely estimates presumably made from local NKVD reports. The quotas give a total estimate of 50,950 in the first category and 167,200 in the second category. A grand total of 218,150 persons. The order essentially transfered almost all criminal proceedings to NKVD troikas in 1937-38. According to figures released by the Russian Government in 1995, troikas handed down 688,000 sentences or 87% of all criminal sentences in the USSR in 1937 and 75% in 1938. A total of 681,692 people were sentenced to be shot in 1937-38, with 92.6% of those sentences handed down by troikas.
What is interesting about the Order is where it placed the power to deem an individual (and/or their family members) subject to “punitive measures.” Troikas (three man commissions) were to comprise of commissars of the republic’s NKVD or by regional departments. The minutes of the troikas investigation were the sole legal basis for a person’s execution or arrest. The day to day implementation of the mass operations was essentially outside the purview of central organs. Stalin basically handed local NKVD agents the power to wipe out their local rivals. And a bloodbath ensued. Most of the victims of this blind terror were regular people, most without any political connections at all.
An English translation of Operational Order 00447 can be found in J. Arch Getty, The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939, p. 473-480.Post Views: 467