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Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.
The previous issue is here.
Recent Analysis and Translations:
– Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov Has Invented A Version Of History To Meet His Needs
– Getting The News From Chechnya â The Crackdown On Free Press You May Have Missed
– Aurangzeb, Putin, Realism and a Lesson from History
– Why the World Should Care About the Assassination of Boris Nemtsov
In an interview with Kommersant Vlast [Power], a publication of the business daily Kommersant, Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee, outlined his thoughts on the war on extremism and terrorism and his belief that the US is waging an “information war” and even a “hybrid war” against Russia.
Because the US is spending more on defending Europe and countering Russian aggression, Bastrykin believes a “symmetrical” response is required from Russia — heedless that the US and European programs were induced by Russia’s own aggression against Georgia and Ukraine. He believes a massive vetting of religious and youth organizations is required, along with Internet censorship and further prosecution of “extremism” to cope with the challenge of the West’s “information war.”
Bastrykin said that in 2015, there was “a negative trend” regarding “extremist and terrorist” crimes — yet seems unable to link any of these developments to Russia’s own increased involvement in the war in Syria, where it has backed the murderous Bashar al-Assad regime for years, recently starting a bombing campaign that mainly opposed anti-government rebels under the guise of fighting ISIS.
Bastrykin’s office registered 1,329 crimes of “extremism,” which is 28.5% more than in 2014 (1,034). “Extremism” is growing — and not surprisingly, given that “extremism” is very broadly and vaguely defined — it can involve cases like that of a Parnas activist who made a collage to criticize Putin and included a Nazi symbol in it; or that of TV Rain, which was put under investigation for “extremism” after covering Aleksei Navalny’s expose of Prosecutor General Yury Chaika; or it can refer to nationalist hate speech such as by the web site Sputnik & Pogrom; or even to Islamist extremists associated with terrorist attacks.
Bastrykin didn’t contemplate whether this increase in terrorism might be due to the return of fighters from the Caucasus who joined ISIS, since that would require an admission that a) there might be some left although President Vladimir Putin implied some 2,000 had been killed — out of the 2,700 officially claimed — and b) that some returned, although a recent report from the International Crisis Group said that the FSB had started blocking returns in 2014, long before Russia’s September 2015 bombing campaign began.
Curiously, Bastryki himself reduced the figures in his statement, saying “more than 1,000 Russian citizens went to the Syrian Arab Republic to take part in armed conflict.” He added that 469 criminal cases had been opened up regarding these persons and only 135 of them had been killed “as a result of clashes with Syria government troops.”
“In the last decade, Russia, and even a number of other countries, are living under conditions of the so-called hybrid war, unleashed by the USA and its allies. This war is waged along different lines – political, economic and informational as well as legal. In fact, in recent years, it has moved to a qualitatively new phase of open resistance.”
The most destruction in the world has been the consequence not of Russia’s actions, but the American “information war,” complained Bastrykin.
“By supporting radical Islamist and other radical ideological tendencies, the US completely destabilized the situation in the Middle East.” Bastrykin said the US sponsored “artificially-instigated coups, revolutions and crises” which Europe then suffers from with a deluge of refuges “who preached a qualitatively different socio-cultural traditions and who squeeze out the local population.”
He blamed Western agitation for radicalization as well, saying that the “US manipulated the ideology close to a certain social group through its radicalization.” Because religion, ethnicity and cultural values are so important to people and they are willing to fight to the death for them at times, the US ostensibly went for this aspect in countering Russia. Conversely, the US is to blame also for undermining that people of different confessions and ethnicities supposedly had before the collapse of the Soviet Union, he says:
“The undermining of the ideological foundation of the USSR, he basis of which was laid the principle of the brotherhood of peoples was also initiated from outside and built on the methods of ethnic enmity. It is no accident that in the early 1990s, practically all at once, numerous ethnic emerged — Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia vs. Abkhazia, Northern Ossetia vs. Ingushetia, and Transnistria. At the same time, mass rallies of nationalistically-minded citizens took place in Kiev. Aside from this, the undermining of statehood was waged via anti-Soviet agitation and funding of the political opposition in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia and others.”
Countering Russian Aggression and Supporting European Allies. The Budget includes $4.3 billion for political, economic, public diplomacy, and military support to build resilience and reduce vulnerabilities to Russian aggression among NATO allies and partner states in Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia. As part of that effort the Budget includes $3.4 billion for the Department of Defense’s European Reassurance Initiative (ERI).
We are countering Russia’s aggressive policies through investments in a broad range of capabilities. The FY 2017 budget request will allow us to modify and expand air defense systems, develop new unmanned systems, design a new long-range bomber and a new long-range stand-off cruise missile, and modernize our nuclear arsenal.
The budget quadruples last year’s request for the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) to $3.4 billion in FY 2017 to reassure our NATO allies and deter Russian aggression. This funding supports prepositioning additional combat equipment, conducting additional training exercises, and enabling a continuous brigade-size rotation which will ensure we have three Army brigade combat teams in Europe at all times
While increased funds haven’t flowed yet, Bastrykin believes that it is the US — not numerous provocations by Russia’s air force and navy against its Baltic and Scandinavian neighbors — that has caused “anti-Russian sentiment” in these regions. He also believes the US incited the recent outbreak of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh — which Russia has resisted solving for years.
As a solution to this “encirclement” by the Western “information war,” Bastrykin proposes the following:
“It seems that it is time to put a real obstacle in place against this information war. A firm, relevant and symmetrical response is needed. This is particularly relevant under the conditions of the forthcoming elections and possible risks of the activization of forces destabilizing the political situation. Enough playing at false democracy and following pseudo-liberal values. After all, democracy of popular power is none other than the power of the people itself, realized in its interests. The achievement of such interests is possible only by means of universal welfare and not absolute freedom and arbitrariness by certain representatives of society.”
After the defeat of the coup in August 1991, Russia outlawed any state ideology as such — a kind of “separation of ideology and state” — in its constitution under the Yeltsin reforms, in order to abolish the “leading role of the Communist Party” from the Soviet era.
Since then, nationalists in particular have called for some sort of state ideology nevertheless to be declared. Bastrykin, like other conservatives, believes that such an ideology needs to be declared officially to aid in “ideological education and enlightenment of our growing generation.”
“Precisely such a deliberate firmness toward radical religious and other ideology of this type could knock out the foundation on which modern extremist ideologies are built. With such defense present, even the most lavish financing to destabilize the situation in Russia from outside will be useless.”
Following the model of Ingushetia, Bastrykin also wants to create patriotic youth military clubs, but before he gets to the positive program, Bastrykin calls for:
“a wide-scale and detailed inspection in accordance with federal law of the activity of all religious, national-cultural and youth organizations for which there is a basis to suppose they are involved in banned extremist activity.”
Bastrykin wants to make “falsification of history” — as determined by the state — a crime, and points to the “success” of this effort in Russian-occupied Crimea — where there has been an enormous crackdown on the Crimea Tatar people and the declaration of the Mejlis or parliament as unlawful.
Will Bastrykin, who is only head of the Investigative Committee, and not head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) or the Security Council much less the Kremlin, get to implement his ideas?
The fact that he has been given so much space in a nominally independent newspaper and been reprinted by all the state media indicates that likely he will succeed in implementing at least some of it, especially as Internet censorship and crackdowns on civic groups have already long been underway.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The same prejudiced Eshnik [officer of E-Center or the Interior Ministry’s Extremism Center—The Interpreter] found another swastika 3-4 mm in size in my post of a photo-collage on September 26, 2014 (!!!). Really, of course, this is a special operation to disrupt the visit of Mikhail Kasyanov to Samara Region. Morozov, the head of all the precincts, is calling the precinct agent Sergeyev every hour with detailed instructions. He is evidently being called himself by an FSB agent in the police every hour at the level of chief or deputy chief of the police precinct.
The Parnas party has been plagued with troubles in recent weeks. State NTV aired a sensational broadcast obtained from clandestine taping likely done by Russian intelligence of Kasyanov meeting privately with Natalya Pelevina, a member of the Party’s federal council. This led to allegations of a sex scandal and Pelevina’s resignation from the council for the sake of the party. She has condemned this intrusion of privacy by the FSB as a tactic to knock the opposition out of parliamentary elections in September.
Over the weekend, the Parnas web site was hacked and Pelevina’s personal data and Whatsapp communications were leaked. Pelevina issued a statement on her Facebook page:
“The leaked correspondence and photos from my telephone are a confirmation that the government, by the hands of the FSB and Investigative Committee have long been working together to destroy the opposition and me personally. The state machine is waging war against a woman. Bravo, you are real heroes.”
The state machine is trying to crush a person through your hands and your criminal methods. But you will break your teeth on me.
A Ukrainian journalist who read the files said there was nothing incriminating about any “super grants” in them, and that the party was supported “on Kasyanov’s meager funds.”
In March, Pelevina’s apartment was searched and she was summoned to the Investigative Committee and accused of “discrediting police” in coverage of political prisoners from the May 2012 Bolotnaya demonstration with a grant fro National Endowment for Democracy.
Today, April 17, Pelevina’s apartment was searched again and various electronic devices were seized, and she was taken in for questioning, OVDInfo, the police monitoring NGO reported. She was informed that she is a “suspect” in the Bolotnaya case and under investigation for “financial improprieties.”
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick