Despite Litvinenko Findings, West ‘Will Do As Little As It Can’ Against Putin, Analysts Say

January 26, 2016
Marina Litvinenko, widow of Alexander Litvinenko, makes a statement with her legal representitive barrister Ben Emmerson QC, outside the High Court in central London, Britain, 21 January 2016. EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

Ever More Russians are at Risk of Repression as Putin’s Russia Heads Toward Totalitarianism

Staunton, V, January 26, 2016 — There is an old observation that in a democracy, anything that isn’t prohibited is permitted; in an authoritarian system, anything that isn’t permitted is prohibited; and in a totalitarian one, anything that is permitted is compulsory and any failure to go along can result in arrest or worse.

Judging from recent developments, Russia is rapidly moving from an authoritarian to a totalitarian system; and as a result, two analysts say, ever more Russians are at risk of running afoul of the authorities and subject to repression, a danger signal indicating where Vladimir Putin is taking their country.
In a comment for RFE/RL, Kseniya Kirillova says that “it is becoming ever easier in today’s Russia to end up behind bars only because one thinks differently;” and she offers a typology of the reasons ever more Russians are being arrested for their views than at any time since the end of the USSR.
She says that the number of victims is growing so fast that even the restoration of the Soviet-era Chronicle of Current Events is not capable of keeping up with what is going on. Despite that, “the defenders of the regime continue to assert that there are no repressions in Russia,” either denying that any exist at all or insisting that they aren’t “massive.”
Kirillova offers four categories of such repression based on the reasons behind such official actions, although she is quick to point out that her list is provision and undoubtedly incomplete.
First of all, she says, are repressive actions that the authorities take against anyone who questions their status or authority, actions that constitute a kind of revenge and are intended to dissuade people from repeating such activities. So far, however, like the proverbial fighting an oil fire with water, repression has only spread the problem as far as the authorities are concerned.
Second are official repressive actions against those who are viewed as having “gone over to the other side,” either by supporting Ukraine or complaining about the violation of rights in Russia itself or continuing to maintain contacts with foreigners even when the authorities signal that they must break such ties off.
Third are repressive actions in response to those who accept foreign grants, engage in protests or other forms of anti-government political activity, or call attention to corruption or other problems in the ruling circles. And fourth are those who don’t openly cooperate with foreign organizations but whose work against official malfeasance is especially effective.
Kirillova says that this “system of struggle with those who think differently is far from as consistent and all embracing was it was in Soviet times; therefore, in each of these categories are many exceptions. However,” she writes, “the vector of what is happening shows that the persecution of those who think differently is getting worse with each month.”
And as a result, those who fall into one or another of these categories are in danger “if they continue to live in Russia.”
Moscow commentator Yevgeny Ikhlov even more directly addresses the ways in which what is happening now recalls the totalitarian past. In an article on Vestnik Civitas, he says “one of the main signs of a totalitarian state” has to do with whether it respects the difference between the political and the private.
Totalitarianism obliterates the distinction and makes everything into a political question and thus subject to evaluation and punishment by the authorities. And that is exactly what the Russian justice ministry is doing with its plans to revise the laws governing NGOs. It makes any organization potentially political regardless of what its members actually do.
Thus, Ikhlov says, “the law returns us to the principle of totalitarian statehood, according to which policy is the prerogative of any official, but any influence on his decisions is in effect political activity.” To the extent that happens, the brand “foreign agent” will soon “be replaced by the brand ‘politics.’”
Kremlin’s Demonization of the Word ‘Liberal’ has Made It a Powerful Force, Arkhangelsky Says
Staunton, VA, January 26, 2016 — The demonization of the very word “liberal” by Russian propagandists has had the unintended and unwelcome consequence of legitimating those so described and transforming them from a small group with little influence into a powerful force, according to Andrey Arkhangelsky.

Neither in the 1990s nor in the 2000s did anyone in Russia view liberalism as an alternative, the Moscow journalist says. It lost out “just like socialism and nationalism.” But now thanks to Russian propaganda, it has firmly “rooted itself” in the consciousness of the population precisely as an alternative to the current system.
That is because he suggests “Russia is so constructed that connotations can shift from a minus to a plus almost instantly.” And “if one takes the negative connotation of ‘liberalism’ away, one thing remains: it is the only alternative” to what Russia is now and therefore powerful because of that.
“A word is stronger than a man, especially in Russia,” Arkhangelsky says. It can do good or harm and often has served as a call to action. But “the word ‘liberal’ was never that popular or widely used in Russia.” Even during perestroika,” he writes, “you didn’t encounter it” in major Russian media outlets.
Instead, it was something that only the intelligentsia used just as they had in the 19th century when they referred to “’journals of a liberal direction.’” Consequently, “in Russia it always mean freedom of thought, a certain freeness of morals, and a deviation from the official course. And that’s all.”
“It almost did not have a political connotation,” and regime propagandists didn’t use it, preferring instead terms like thief, enemy of the people, and rootless cosmopolitan. The fact that the word didn’t become popular in the 1980s or 1990s, Arkhangelsky says, “is a very important fact in and of itself.”
It should have become “super-popular” then “because it reflected the essence of the changes that were taking place.” But there turned out to be a gap between these economic and political changes and changes in public consciousness. Indeed, the word “liberal” only came into its own over the least three or four years when the country was going in a different direction.
“A liberal in its contemporary propagandistic meaning is above all the Other. That is simply his nature; he cannot be otherwise,” a perspective that informs much of what Ramzan Kadyrov and his supporters say. A liberal is thus a synonym for the enemy and for the fifth column.
But as Teodor Adorno pointed out, propagandists can sometimes fall victim to their own propaganda, elevating the enemies they have invented into a force far greater than they are in nature by making them appear to be the only alternative. That is what has happened with the term “liberal,” Arkkhangelsky says.
This transformation was neither expected nor desired by the propagandists. They discovered after the fact that they have legalized and legitimized the word and the concept liberal. And they found that they had spread it as a symbolic alternative to the current regime to the entire population.
Arkhangelsky says he is not writing this up to be cute but rather to call attention to “a certain law of development according to which any attempt at resistance to progress ends by promoting rather than retarding it.” Specifically, the Kremlin’s efforts to demonize liberals have possibly brought forward the day when liberals will matter more than anyone can imagine.
Kremlin has Only Itself to Blame That So Many Countries Want to Bypass Russia, Inozemtsev Says
Staunton, VA, January 26, 2016 — Vladimir Putin’s proclivity for using trade as a political weapon is why all countries along his country’s periphery as well as many further afield are seeking to develop trade routes that bypass the Russian Federation lest they fall victim to that tactic in the future, according to Vladislav Inozemtsev.

In a comment for Ukraine’s Segodnya, the Moscow economist says that a recent example of the Kremlin policy backfiring can be seen in the response of Kazakhstan and Ukraine to Russia’s decision to block the transit of goods between those two countries.
Indeed, Inozemtsev argues, Moscow’s latest use of economic sanctions against its neighbors for political goals has likely “put an end to one of the most ambitious geo-economic projects of the Kremlin,” a new silk road between China and the European Union passing through the Russian Federation.”
By blocking trade between Kazakhstan and Ukraine, “Russia put Kazakhstan, its main partner in the Eurasian customs union in a difficult position” and prompted Astana to reflect just how bad a situation it could find itself if Moscow began to view it as “disloyal.” It could break Kazakhstan unless Kazakhstan finds alternative trade routes.
“Of course,” Inozemtsev says, “Moscow’s decision contradicts the rules of the Customs Union, but the Kremlin has long been accustomed to looking down on its allies,” and they recognize that. And it contradicts Moscow’s own interests because it has strengthened the hands of those who want to participate in China’s Silk Road project that bypasses Russia altogether.
Not long ago Russia was “extremely optimistic” that it would get its way on the path of that project, but now it is clear that Russia won’t have constructed the necessary infrastructure until 2020 – and as planned now, that infrastructure may in fact be inadequate to the task. China and the others can move more quickly, and now they are doing so.
The Russians also thought they had a lock on this because the Russian route would have to pass through only two tariff borders, with the Customs Union and then the European Union. But because of Russian pressure, the others are cooperating in ways that have eliminated whatever advantage that situation earlier appeared to confer.
It is unlikely that the bypass route will ever carry as much as its organizers hope – sea routes will still play an important role – but the Caspian one will cost Russia at least 10 to 12 million tons of cargo every year and cost Moscow one of the levers it has been counting on to keep its neighbors in line.
Despite Litvinenko Findings, West ‘Will Do As Little As It Can’ Against Putin, Analysts Say
Staunton, VA, January 26, 2016 — As horrified as many people around the world are about the British court’s finding that Vladimir Putin was behind the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko, both analysts in both the West and Eurasia say that Western governments “will do as little as [they] can get away with” against the Kremlin leader.

As James Nixey, the head of the Russia and Eurasia program at London’s Chatham House writes, Putin can’t be happy with the findings of the British court but he doesn’t appear to have a great deal to worry about as far as a serious Western response is concerned.

“It is one thing to be a ‘distinctive’ voice in world politics, but another entirely to be outed as a probable murderer – as the final report of the inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko accuses him of being,” Nixey writes, adding that “the Russian response has been a familiar mixture of bluster, misrepresentation and conspiracy theory.”

“Fortunately for the Kremlin, the British government would like to move on too. Its outrage is probably genuine, but there has clearly been a decision to do as little as can be got away with. The actual substance of the British response has so far been confined to freezing the assets of the two accused assassins.”

Russian and Ukrainian analysts have reached the same conclusion, and that is likely to drive policy in both Moscow and Kyiv, with the former deciding that it has little to lose by continuing on as before given the absence of penalties and the latter recognizing that it is far more on its own than the brave words some Western leaders have suggested.

In a commentary for Apostrophe, New York-based Russian historian Yuri Felshtinsky says that the London High Court’s findings do not threaten either Putin or Patrushev in any way either now or as long as they are in office.

“Can something be done to punish these ‘probable’ murderers?” he asks rhetorically and immediately responds, “no.” As long as Putin is in office as president, he can’t even be banned from visiting England.
Of course, Felshtinsky continues, “this is a formal approach to the issue. Informally … Putin will face certain practical problems with visits to Great Britain.” And others will arise “at international meetings at the highest level because it will now be necessary to shake the hand of ‘a probable’ murderer.”
But that isn’t a problem for KGB officer Putin, the historian says. “He is ready to extend his hand to anyone. And with Putin’s successor as head of the FSB, Patrushev, there is also nothing to be done. He won’t travel to England, and during trips to other countries he will in all cases have diplomatic immunity as secretary of Russia’s Security Council.”
“It is possible to try to punish Putin, Patrushev and members of their families with economic sanctions. But certainly if they have money or property in Great Britain, all of this will have been registered under other names and it won’t be easy to find it even if there is a desire to do so.”
The situation of the two who carried out Litvinenko’s murder, on the other hand, is different. “They won’t be travelling abroad to civilized countries ever again. And most likely they even earlier didn’t keep any money in England.”
“One could broaden the sanctions list and introduce sanctions not only against the participants of the murder but also against Russia as a state because Litvinenko’s murder was a state murder, and in this, one can give free range to the imagination because there is no limit to such sanctions.”
“But it is a big question as to whether Great Britain which without enthusiasm approached the investigation of Litvinenko’s murder all these years will do so,” Felshtinsky says. “Prime Minister Cameron mistakenly considers that Great Britain needs Russia for joint actions against the Caliphate in Syria.”
Moreover and however that may be, the British leader “simply doesn’t want to worsen relations with Russia and Putin.” And consequently, the Russian analyst says, he “is not certain that Great Britain will impose real sanctions against Russia even though all the declarations are quite harsh, including those of Cameron himself.”
“What can one do with a man – I have in mind Putin,” Felshtinsky says “– who started the Second Chechen war in 1999, the war with Georgia in 2008 and the one with Ukraine in 2014, who has not taken responsibility for the shooting down over Ukraine of the Malaysian airliner?”
And thus he concludes that “nothing will be done about Putin despite all his ever-more numerous crimes” until perhaps there is a tribunal in the Hague – and if that occurs, the Kremlin leader’s involvement in the murder of Litvinenko will “hardly be at the top of the list” of charges against him.
Ukrainian political analyst Sergey Taran comes at the issue somewhat differently. He says that the West, believing that “a bad peace is better than a good war,” now desperately wants to lift sanctions against Moscow, not increase them, and thus is prepared to reward Moscow for even taking part in negotiations.
Given that Moscow is now quite willing to “give the appearance of a willingness” to fulfill the Minsk accords, “European politicians have begun to speak about lifting sanctions.” And they don’t want to let the Litvinenko case get in the way of improving relations with Moscow.
“There is nothing new in this,” of course, he continues. And “no one should expect any sensational events because Russia is physically incapable of complete fulfilling the requirements of Minsk 2. It will not withdraw its forces.” Instead, it will lie and say it has fulfilled them when it has not.
But in the current environment that may be enough. The West “wants to incline Russia to talks so that it will cease to terrorize Ukraine,” as if talks were sufficient to do that. “This is a quite passive position, but in it there is a certain sense. The West has given Russia a choice: sanctions or negotiations. Russia doesn’t want sanctions so it shouts about negotiations.”
“Ukraine must understand,” Taran says, “that negotiations are negotiations” and that there is no guarantee they will yield agreements. Moreover, “after the Budapest memorandum, no one in Ukraine has any illusions regarding the reliability of agreements. The main guarantee of security for [Ukrainians] is their own strong army.”
Russian analysts have reached the same conclusions about the West and its desire for lifting sanctions, turning the page on Ukraine, and resuming relations with Moscow regardless of what the Kremlin has done. An article by Aleksandr Nosovich at Rubaltic today is typical.

He points out that the German foreign minister wants to resume the operations of the Russia-NATO Council and the chairman of NATO’s military committee has said that the alliance must cooperate with as well as contain Russia.

Nosovich suggests, because he is writing primarily about the Baltics, that if NATO is serious, it needs to rein in Poland and the Baltic countries rather than encourage these opponents of Russia. But what is most obvious is his clear conviction that time is on Russia’s side, that the West will seek to restore ties with Moscow and that all Moscow has to do is wait.

In that environment, he implies, all talk about doing more now that Putin has been identified as likely behind a murder in a Western capital with radioactive materials is just that, talk and something both Russia and its leader can safely ignore.