Thursday, December 8, 2016

Two Percent of Russian Young People Said to Be Extremists But 25 Percent More Potentially So



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 8 – As Vladimir Putin says that Russia’s information security must be beefed up and his interior ministry prepares to test all university students in the country for extremism (newsru.com/russia/08dec2016/extremism.html), Russian experts say that about one in 50 Russian young people are extremists and one in four could join their ranks in the future.

            At a session organized by the Resource Center for the Development of Islamic Studies devoted to “blocking recruitment into radical groups,” participants said that “only two percent” of Russian youth are involved with extremist groups (islam-today.ru/islam_v_rossii/eksperty-v-organizaciu-ekstremistskih-grupp-vkluceny-2-molodezi-v-rf-25-gotovy-perestupit-certu/).

            That is not an insignificant number – there are currently 13.8 million Russians between 15 and 24 so two percent of that would be more than 250,000 --  but of greater concern, the experts said, is the fact that “another 19 to 25 percent” of young people display attitudes and behaviors which suggest that they are “prepared to cross the line” into such groups in the future.

            Extremism, the session said, “includes in itself such dangerous understandings and actions as xenophobia, vandalism, the use of force against non-indigenous nationalities, and violations of their rights in the economic sphere.”  And it is often fed by youthful impatience and a tendency to act without reflection.

            “Among the basic aspects of radically inclined youth can be noted aggression, the absence of tolerance and negative attitudes toward specific social groups, the propaganda of these ideas, the lack of acceptance of social norms, the ignoring of the law, and a tendency to act in groups in a demonstrative fashion.”

            The reasons young people join extremist groups, the experts said, lie in their social situation, their broader socio-cultural position and their political status.  Youthful extremism is “less well organized” than that in which adults engage, but young people are likely to be more cruel in their actions because they are less inclined to think about the consequences.

            The Internet has changed the situation in fundamental ways, the experts said. “Now young people live under conditions of virtual reality which leads to the mobilization and organization of specifically extremist groups.” And blocking its spread must involve dealing with that threat as well as with the broader causes in society.

Weakness Not Strength behind Putin’s Plans for Broader Information War Abroad and at Home



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 8 –The new doctrine on information security Vladimir Putin signed this week shows that the Kremlin leader is gearing up for a vastly expanded information war abroad and at home, one that has already brought him enormous by distracting attention from Russia’s fundamental weaknesses and garnering him support for his authoritarian course.

            The document (publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001201612060002) represents a dramatic departure from its predecessor adopted in September 2000 which, as Yevgeny Ikhlov points out, now reads like “a proclamation by the opposition” while the new one is informed by “Soviet and chekist paranoia” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5846D6A410EBD).

            What makes the new document most threatening is not its commitment to the use of information war against the West – that merely codifies what Putin has been doing – rather its treatment of all domestic opposition to the Kremlin leader as the result of the work of unnamed outside agitators who must be blocked and whose “agents” must be destroyed.

            This linking of the two opens the way for still more repression within Russia in the name of fighting Western influences on issues like democracy and human rights and for an even more aggressive foreign policy, one that some Russian analysts are saying means that the country is under an attack that points to World War III and must defend itself.

            As retired FSB Major General Aleksandr Mikhaylov puts it, war now “will begin not with nuclear strikes but above all with information attacks,” attacks Russia is already being subjected to by Western governments and that Putin has shown the way to blocking and turning back against the West (realnoevremya.ru/articles/50217).

            The reason Putin has chosen to fight an information war in this way is not just because he understands how useful it can be in disordering his opponents abroad and justifying all kinds of repression at home but because, as Moscow commentator Aleksandr Nemets points out, he and his country now find themselves in a weak position on other measures.

            In a Kasparov portal commentary, Nemets summarizes his findings that over the last 12 years, Russia has fallen behind the West according to almost all measures, leaving Putin with “ever less space for maneuver” domestically and abroad and prompting him to use propaganda to try to confuse and thus defeat his opponents (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5845667915863).

            The US economy is now 14 times as large as the Russian one, Nemets says; and Russia’s economic potential continues to fall.  It population is declining, covered only by the influx of migrants, and it is degrading, covered only by the Kremlin’s dishonesty and denial of demographic realities.

            Russia’s military potential may have improved somewhat in the last few years, but it too has been declining, the Moscow analyst says, as evidenced by the increasing number of failures in its rocket launchers and the embarrassing saga of its single aircraft carrier and the loss of planes that it can no longer support.

            According to Nemets, “it is [also] easy to draw the conclusion that the military-industrial potential of the Russian Federation is degrading” with much of is productive capacity now out of service, “the number of qualified workers and engineers significantly reduced, and technological discipline falling.”

            “In short,” he writes, “whatever happens in ‘the outside world,’ the internal space for maneuver for Putin’s regime is becoming ever less. The degradation of the underlying potential in many sectors is unstoppable. How long will it be until the beginning of total chaos and disintegration.”

            Some analysts, Nemets points out, suggest that “’everything will end in the course of the year.’” But perhaps, he suggests, it will take two or three. However that may be, “there can be no doubt about its final result” however rosy Putin paints the picture and however brilliantly he makes use of his propaganda war against the West and against domestic opponents.

            There is an old saying among American lawyers that when the facts are against you, argue law; when the law is against you, argue facts; and when both are against you, raise your voice.  Putin has just declared that he is going to raise his voice, something that will intimidate many at home and abroad but that will do nothing to change the underlying situation.

            This is not to minimize what his propaganda war means in either place in the immediate future. Abroad, he will continue to succeed with Western elites who desperately want agreements with him however much he flouts international law and against domestic opponents who already are portrayed as foreign agents who must be destroyed.

            But it does suggest that Putin’s bravado and lies should be seen for what they are rather than accepted as a description of reality. Indeed, the Kremlin leader’s only hope is that the West and most Russians will in fact accept this alternative version of reality and give him victories which he does not and must not win.

           

           

           

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Putin Uses GONGOs to Suggest There’s an Active Public Sector in Russia and to Ensure Life is Hard for Real NGOs



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 7 – Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a key role as an intermediary between state and society in democratic countries. Indeed, their role is so critical that many analysts, especially in the West, equate the level of the presence of NGOs in a society as a measure of its democratization.

            But Vladimir Putin has drawn on a practice that Soviet officials routinely used in the last decades of the existence of the USSR: creating and controlling government-organized NGOs – or GONGOs as they are often known – to promote the idea that his regime is more democratic than it is while marginalizing or even destroying legitimate NGOs in Russia.

            Writing on the Znak portal, journalist Yekaterina Vinokurova says that as a result “a class of pseudo-social activists” has emerged in the Putin era, that this group is interfering with the work of real NGOs, and that Russia as a result is a country of fake ones (znak.com/2016-12-06/klass_psevdoobchestvennikov_meshaet_realnym_obchestvennikam_chto_delat).

            Because of the efforts of the Putin regime, “a significant part” of what many call Russia’s public sector is “not real,” something that may fool some people some of the time but won’t fool everyone all of the time because it has real and serious consequences for the Russian Federation and its people, she writes.

            These groups are only “imitations” of reality and reflect the fact that “the Kremlin being afraid of dealing closely with real social activists is surrounding itself with operetta personages, the most colorful of which is” Putin’s biker friend Aleksandr ‘the Surgeon’ Zaldostanov. But there are others who are having a more noxious impact even if they don’t get the same attention.

            Last year, for instance, the presidential administration chose not to give a grant to the Vera group which supports hospices but instead to fund a biker club which promised to organize children’s games; and it gave money to Anton Tsvetkov’s Officers of Russia group which “in Black Hundreds fashion” has disrupted exhibits without the police interfering.

            And the Kremlin also gave money to a GONGO called “The Truth about Food,” whose purpose is to teach Russians to buy “cheaper Russian goods” so that the country will be less dependent on foreign suppliers. This notorious list, Vinokurova say, could be extended almost at will.

            Of course, there are “imitations” of public activity of “a higher order” such as the All-Russian Popular Front. But even with these added it, “it is difficult to say what good they bring to society.” Nonetheless, the Kremlin now is in a situation from which it will be difficult to get out: Even these imitations may oppose the regime if it doesn’t continue to fund them.

            The Znak journalist spoke with five analysts about this phenomenon. Abbas Galyamov, a political scientist, said that the regime need to stop trying to block real NGOs because if it continues to support GONGOs, no one in Russia will pay any attention to them regardless of their propaganda value abroad.

            Another political scientist, Maksim Zharov, said that the current situation was the result of the Kremlin’s actions in 2009-2011 when it worked hard to destroy real NGOs and then found that there was an empty space to its left.  It decided that it had no choice but to try to create a substitute for the organizations it had closed or gelded. 

            Aleksey Chesnakov, the head of the Moscow Center for Political Conjunctures, said that unless Russia does away with these imitation NGOs, it will be “impossible” for the country to move forward.  But he acknowledged that doing so will be hard even though the GONGOs in fact are nothing more than “ballast” holding back society.

            Konstantin Kalachev, the head of the Moscow Political Experts Group, said it would be harder to do that than many imagine because regional officials would not understand an order from Moscow to “cleanse” the political scene of the GONGOs lest they provoke even more dissent from below or even provoke some in the GONGOs to oppose them.

            And Andrey Kolyadin, a former staffer of the Presidential Administration, said that even that understates the problem.  The only way to get rid of GONGOs would be to conduct a political reform equivalent to that which Mikhail Gorbachev attempted. Given what happened to him and to the USSR, Putin is unlikely to agree to that -- at least voluntarily.