Even if Moscow’s Meddling is Minimal, Decentralization of Ukraine Seen Involving Real Risks

September 12, 2015
Photo: Vladislav Sodel

‘A Lie isn’t an Alternative Point of View,’ Lithuanian Foreign Minister Reminds the West

Staunton, September 12, 2015

One of the
reasons for the success Vladimir Putin has had in his propaganda efforts is
that he has exploited a dangerous trend in Western media – the proclivity of
many journalists and their audiences to equate “balance” with “objectivity” –
by putting out as an “alternative” viewpoint something that is nothing more
than a lie.

In a comment for the EU Observer
, Linas Linkevicius, Lithuania’s foreign minister, has sharply
criticized this unfortunate pattern and its consequences and has pointed out
that “a lie isn’t an alternative point of view;” it is simply a lie and needs
to be identified as such.

Many in Europe and the West,
Linkevicius writes, tend “to consider propaganda as an exotic bug which only
affects the lives of people far away – in Ukraine, Georgia, [and] Russia. But
carefully-packaged lies are finding their ways to audiences all over Europe,”
as a result of “a systematic and heavily-funded campaign.”
“Saying that the West is immune
because we have a plethora of media outlets isn’t true,” the Lithuanian diplomat
At present, he continues, “large, Russian-speaking portions
of the EU audience, whether in the Baltic states, or in London, get the
Kremlin’s view first and foremost. It’s the result of language limitations or
old media habits. In this sphere, media plurality means plural TV channels all
manipulated by one (Russian) authority.”
The West’s experiences in “past gas
crises involving the Russian gas supplier, Gazprom, should have taught us a
lesson. There is no such thing as diversity of supply if all the routes lead to
one source. And lack of diversity is a security threat.”
“We had the courage to confront
Gazprom’s monopoly in Europe,” Linkevicius says. “Now it’s time to confront
Russia’s infoprom, which has weaponized information in the same way the Kremlin
weaponized energy supplies.”
That requires, the Lithuanian
foreign minister argues, that “we need to start thinking not just ‘what can we
do for them?’ referring to non-EU eastern European states, but also ‘what can
we do to protect ourselves?’…It’s equally important to ensure the
transparency of funding and ownership of media outlets which operate in the EU.”

“Kremlin mouthpieces know how to register in our cities,”
he continues. “They put on a “made in the EU” label, then they begin
to quietly incite hatred, hoping no one will question what they’re doing
because of the holy cow of free speech.”

Some in Europe are waking up to this danger and beginning
to speak out. British officials have declared that “’freedom of speech is not
absolute.’” The European Commission has declared that “limiting freedom of
expression can be a proportionate course of action…to protect the integrity
of public information.” And the European Court of Human Rights has found that “freedom
of speech is not a defense for defamation.”

Thus, Linkevicius says, “we should ensure there is a
level playing field, and the same set of rules, for all of Europe’s media
outlets. No one should be allowed to play rugby on a soccer pitch.”

Earlier this year, he writes, he and his counterparts
from Denmark, Estonia and the United Kingdom called on the EU to “respond to
Kremlin propaganda with a ‘4 As’ approach: ensure information alternatives,
raise public awareness, be assertive on proactive communication of facts, and
request accountability from media outlets.

That has “nothing to do with censorship or with producing
our own propaganda/lies,” he argues. Rather, it involves both providing
alternative sources for Russian-language audiences and changing “our own
thinking. We need to understand that [Russian] propaganda is directed against
all of Europe, not just the east, and we need to start calling things by their
proper names.”

“A [Russian] T-90 tank in Ukraine isn’t just a ‘vehicle,’”
he concludes. “A lie is not an alternative point of view. [And] propaganda is
not a legitimate form of public diplomacy.” Only “our naivete is preventing us
from taking appropriate action, even as the other side advances its undeclared

— Paul Goble

Soon ‘Russia Will Be All that is Left of the West,’ Chudinova Says

Staunton, September 12, 2015

Elena Chudinova, whose 2005 dystopian novel The
Mosque of Notre Dame de Paris
described a Muslim takeover of Europe by 2048,
says that if the current flood of immigrants from the Middle East into the EU
continues, “Russia will remain the only thing left of the West” and that Russia
itself will ultimately be threatened as well.

In an interview given to Komsomolskaya
the Russian novelist says that the migrants constitute “an enemy army”
entering the cities of Europe “without a battle” but rather with the assistance
of Europeans whose tolerance has cost them the ability to defend their culture and

The migrants, most of whom
she says are young men, “want to seize these lands [for their vision of Islam] and
convert the churches into mosques” — although she suggests “these demands “undoubtedly”
will surface only later when it is too late. that “will be a hell, a hell for
all, and chaos” as well.

Russia has escaped this
plague so far, Chudinova continues, because it doesn’t support migrants as
generously as some European countries do and because Russia’s “system of social security is weaker
and medical care worse,” something she says that with regard to this threat,
Russians have reason to be glad.

“But sooner or later,” she
argues, these Muslim immigrants “will come to Russia as well if we do not defend
Europe. Our Land will become infinitely small and, strictly speaking, there
will not be anywhere to run,” a vision that reflects and will reinforce
xenophobic and anti-Muslim attitudes in Russia today.

Chudinova begins her
interview by pointing out that those suffering the most in the Middle East
today – the Christians – aren’t the ones fleeing. Instead, it is the Muslims
and especially those fired by Islamist ideas. Thus, she continues, it is no surprise that there are many ISIS
militants “in the ranks of ‘the refugees.’”

Moreover, she says, those
coming to Europe now are “above all young men … not badly dressed and carrying
all the necessary electronic gear. Yes, there are a certain number of women and
children, but we know what this is about: in the case of difficulties … the
women and children can serve as a shield.”

According to the Russian
writer, the young Muslim men coming to Europe now are not coming to work. No
one should have “any illusions about that.” If they wanted to work, “they would
be settling in Eastern Europe” where they would be safe and be able to find
jobs. Instead, they are going to countries that provide the highest welfare

She says that she finds it
difficult to “imagine how European tax payers will support this social burden,”
but she suggests that “we have already for a long time known what tolerance is
in the medical sense: tolerance is a weakening of immunity.” What is happening
in Europe now is “a colossal weakening of societal immunity” that will destroy
Europe unless someone is ready to take tough action.

Europeans are not yet
afraid, Chudinova says. “Tolerance has gone extraordinarily far.” The only
exceptions are the Catholics because in her words “Protestants have long ago
converted Christianity into a club of interests.” Europe is thus losing its “instinct for
self-preservation, its ethnic orientations, and its self-identification.”

Asked whether some
Europeans may decide to flee Europe, the Russian writer says that among her
friends, “there are no such thoughts.” Instead, they will “stand to the end.
But strictly speaking, there is nowhere for them to go.” When asked if they
might come to Russia, she says: “many are considering” that but “only
theoretically” because Russia has “its own problems.”

— Paul Goble

Moscow’s New Nationalities Agency Taking Power Away from Regions and Their Leaders Aren’t Happy

Staunton, September 12, 2015

One of the reasons
Moscow has always had difficulty in setting up a nationalities ministry is that
if it has enough power to do its job, it will threaten other agencies; but if
it doesn’t, it will remain only a largely decorative body that holds meetings
and makes declarations.

The new federal Agency for Nationality
Affairs is no exception. In the Russian capital, it has not yet been able to
gain enough power to become a threat to other ministries; but beyond the ring
road and with Moscow’s approval, it is taking powers away from regional
officials and they not surprisingly are unhappy about that.
Olga Balyuk describes this back and
forth on the Uralpolit.ru portal. She
notes that the new federal agency “has chosen the Middle Urals to test its new
system of monitoring ethnic conflicts” because of the large number of ethnic
groups in Sverdlovsk Region and because the agency’s head Igor Barinov is from
But the agency’s choice of the
region for its pilot project deprives “regional officials of part of their
authority” and consequently they are anything but pleased, an indication of how
regional officials elsewhere may react if the Agency for Nationality Affairs
seeks to extend its network more broadly.
Up to now, regional governments
controlled reporting about the situation in their areas, something that gave
them a chance to put the best spin on things and thus avoid intervention from
the center. But Moscow clearly feels they have hid too much or acted too slowly
and hence has decided on this new system.
In presenting it to officials of
Sverdlovsk Region, Barinov said that sometimes “the reaction of the authorities”
to conflicts at their early stage has been “inadequate.” That is something that
can no longer be tolerated because, he said, “we see what is happening in
Ukraine where in the course of a short period of time these shattered an
enormous country.”
Vladimir Putin, he continued,
ordered the creation of a new monitoring system which would “not talk about
conflicts only after the fact but warn about them in advance.” He gave that order in 2012, and the regional
development ministry and culture ministry went to work “but nothing came of
their efforts.” Hence the new Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs.”

Barinov said that his agency had
drawn on the work of these two ministries and also on the Russian Academy of
Science, the defense ministry “and other organizations.” It will sign
agreements with regional institutions who will supply data, but it will add its
own and sum up the findings.

“We will relieve the regions of the
task of collecting information which often has been unreliable,” Barinov continued.
And “we ourselves will deal with the information” that will then be sent “upwards.”
In short, while regional officials may supply some information, they will lose
control over how it is processed and evaluated.
Dmitry Savelyev, who heads the agency’s
monitoring administration, says that the new system will focus on “points with
heightened conflict potential.” “Any
public event,” he said, could fall into this category, and his staff will
classify it as being high, medium or low risk of leading to ethnic conflicts.
Had this system been in place in
advance of the Biryulevo events, Savelyev continued, “it would have been
possible to avoid pogroms and mass detentions already at 11:00 am on the
morning of the first day” when there appeared the first reports of people
saying that “’a person from the Caucasus had killed a Russian.’”

Barinov for his part said that he
hoped to have the system up and running in Sverdlovsk by the end of the year.
Then it will be extended to the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Region and Russian-occupied

— Paul Goble

St. Petersburg Scholar Offers 12 Important if Not Obvious Theses on Russia and the United States

Staunton, September 12

Kurilla, a historian at St. Petersburg’s European University, offers 12 theses
about Russia and America and their relations to each other that are in many
cases not immediately obvious but that are more relevant than many of the
assertions made in each country about these things.

The 12 are:
1. “Russia
and America are historically close to one another.” That is, Kurilla says, “both
are variants of Europe,” “both use the political language of Europe for building
societies” different than Europe. And both see themselves as “’new’” countries
who emerged at about the same time in the 18th century.
2. “America to a significant extent was founded by emigres
from Russia and in this part is a projection of Russia and of what it should be
in the opinion of the emigres.” From the last quarter of the 19th
century, “millions of people, fleeing from a repressive state and from
revolution, emigrated from Russia to the US.” They are “an important component
of American identity.” At the same time, “the majority of the emigres have
retained a sharply critical attitude toward the country from which they left,”
and they passed it on to Americans.
3. “Russia and the US share part of their own history.”
Alaska was Russian before it was American.
4. “At each stage of its own modernization beginning from
the middle of the 19th century, Russia operated on the experience
and technology of the US.”
5. “The need to react in foreign policy to one another
always was secondary compared to the support of their own identity; therefore,
this led to problems and time and effort were required to insert new threats
into the existing system of images.” For most of the 20th century,
Russia was “the constituent Other” for Americans in terms of defining
themselves, and “the intensification of anti-American rhetoric in Russia
beginning in 2012 can be explained by the need to find a way out of the
domestic political crisis of 2011-2012.”
6. “The image of Russia in the US has been constructed as a
response to tasks of the domestic ‘agenda.’” Russians view their country as a land of classical literature and music,
“but for many American, it is more important that this is a country with a
talented people and a repressive state,” albeit one which has been an ally of
the US in major wars.
7. “The greatest rapprochement of Russia by the US has
occurred during periods of threat.” Russia
has been “a traditional ally of America in her major wars,” even though the two
countries have been on opposite sites in regional conflicts.
8. “The image of America in Russia is complex.” Each of its components can be accented
depending on circumstances good and bad.
9. “The greatest coming together with the US by Russia has
taken place during periods of Russian reforms.” For both Russian reformers and revolutionaries, the US has been “a model”
for their actions even when they did not acknowledge this or hoped to go beyond
what the US has done.
10. “Russian revolutionaries and reformers, just like emigres
from Russia ‘insert’ into their idea about the US their own ideals.” In fact, the image of the US in Russia is
inevitably “inexact” for precisely this reason; and that in turn is “one of
the reasons” why Russians become
disappointed with the US when they come into direct contact with it.
11. “Americans in the start of each Russian revolution or reform
era experience baseless hopes and then equally baseless but deep
disappointment.” That has happened again and again, and every time it does,
American put part of the blame on themselves with articles and books entitled “’Who
Lost Russia?’”

 12. “In the 1990s, Russia ceased to play the role
of ‘the constituent Other’ for the US, but American remains such for Russia.”

— Paul Goble

Even if Moscow’s Meddling is Minimal, Decentralization of Ukraine Seen Involving Real Risks

Many Ukrainians in the regions fear that decentralization will allow oligarchic clans to take control in some places and that the passivity of Ukrainians will slow reforms, according to the overwhelming majority of analysts surveyed by Kyiv’s International Center for Prospective Research.

The analysts also fear the consequences for the country of decentralization given the un-professionalism and corruption of local bureaucrats and of the launch of this program without much real discussion at the local level, Denis Rafalsky on the Apostrophe portal September 11.

In the opinion of the 56 analysts from throughout Ukraine, Rafalsky says, “the process of decentralization of Ukraine can be completed successfully but it will not occur without problems.” Two-thirds of the experts suggested that decentralization will occur at a moderate pace, while 10 percent said it would go quite quickly and 14 percent said it would only be “imitative.”

“The main factors which could slow reform,” the experts said, “are the passivity of the citizens and the impact of paternalistic attitudes in society.” Other obstacles include the approaching elections, the lack of professionalism and corruption of local officials, and “the unwillingness of the central authorities to give significant financial resources to the regions.”

Rafalsky suggests that “it is interesting that only 18 percent of the sample viewed military operations in the Donbass as a possible obstacle for decentralization, while 75 percent of the experts held the view that “fulfillment of the EU Association Agreement would have a favorable influence on the speed of decentralization.”

Although 91 percent of the experts believe that decentralization will eventually be carried out successfully, significant shares of them see risks ahead: 58 percent say that the reform may allow oligarchs to take control of some regions, and 25 percent say that the reform will give the regions the opportunity to “blackmail” Kyiv.

According to Anatoly Oktisyuk, a senior analyst at the International Center, the reforms have not been widely discussed in Ukraine’s regions.  As a result, he says, while there is significant interest there in financial decentralization – meaning the regions get more money from Kyiv – there has been less concern about political decentralization.

But the two things are necessarily closely related, he says, noting that the experts surveyed fear that any money that goes to the regions without political reforms being in place will end up in the hands of local clans given that neither Kyiv nor the regions have effective control over such flows.

— Paul Goble