Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Central Asian Militaries More Capable than Many Think, Kazakhstan Analyst Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 23 – Many in Moscow and the West dismiss the military forces of the five post-Soviet Central Asian countries, but they are wrong to do so, according to Marat Shibtov, a military affairs specialist at Alma-Ata’s Center for Military-Strategic Research, who says that in most cases, they have far greater defense capabilities than observers think.

            In a major article on the Regnum news portal today, he marshals an impressive array of data about the size of forces, their armaments, government military spending, and combat experience (regnum.ru/news/polit/2313004.html) in order to dispel the image the militaries of this region have and to offer four conclusions:

·         “Despite the existing stereotypes, the armed forces of the countries of the region are not badly armed and have sufficient numbers for current tasks.”

·         “The armed forces of the countries of the region carefully follow current trends in armaments and tactics which are being manifest in present-day local wars.”

·         “Considering that the main danger is the penetration on the territories of the countries there of groups of militants numbering up to approximately 300 people, they have completely sufficient military potential to respond adequately.”

·        “The possible shortage of professionalism can be completely compensated by the firepower of artillery and aviation that even in many population points like Iraq’s Mosul leads to victory.”

The Revolution Looming in Russia will be More like 1917 than like 1991, Pastukhov Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 23 – Twenty years before the Great French Revolution broke out in 1789, Lord Chesterston wrote to his son that he had found during his visit to France “all the signs which [he] had sometime encountered in history and which usually precede a overthrow of the state and a revolution.”

            Vladimir Pastukhov, a Russian historian at St. Antony’s College, cites this when he says that “all the signs which [he] ever encountered in culture and which usually precede the overthrow of the state and a revolution exist now in Russia and are increasing with each passing day” (bbc.com/russian/blog-pastoukhov-41001499).

            He draws that conclusion on the basis of the reaction of Russian commentators and politicians to a rap battle which took place last week between two Russians whose vocabulary and attitudes reflect the following four trends among young people and their elders who are chasing after them:

·         “The universal denial of any rules and conditions, the lifting of every and all taboos, the rejection not only of past culture but of the challenges of culture as such, the cult of wildness and force;”

·         “The poetization of cruelty, the voluptuous relishing of evil, the mockery of victims, the passionate denigration of weakness’;”

·         “The aggressive decades, the pursuit of form at the expense of content, and the exaltation of the symbolic;” and

·         “Moral relativism where there is neither good nor bad but rather cynicism raised to an absolute.”

“All this,” the historian continues, “very much recalls the times of Russian futurism and constructivism with only this difference that futurism and constructivism were all the same to a remarkable degree original Russian formats while rap and other similar trends are deeply derivative.”   

“The so-called ‘battle’” between two young rappers, Fedorov and Mashnov, was far less interesting than the reaction of Russian observers.  Their reaction showed that the television is declining in importance to YouTube for Russian young people and that those born in the last 20 years have become the focus of elite attention.

According to Pastukhov, “the combination of subject and format is generating a chain reaction,” one that clearly suggests that “the fuel of all future revolutions and regime overthrows” can rely on “a renewable source of protest energy” and that this will lead to the outbreak of “a real war.”

Today, “the slogan for Russia is what is good for the young is good for politicians,” all of whom have suddenly begun to display a hitherto hidden love for rap music. “Everyone from Putin to Navalny is ready to sing ‘pioneer songs,’” but the words of the new songs are very different than those of Soviet times.

The message of this new rap is that “your culture is hateful to us, your laws are hateful to us … and we in general hate all of you. Somewhere we have already heard all of this,” in the years leading up not to 1991 but to 1917, Pastukhov says. 

“A revolution matures over the course of decades … but creative people have a surprising nose for revolution. They feel the shifting of the social foundations much earlier than the institutions begin to fall.” And that is clearly what is happening in Moscow now.

“If one judges by the tendencies of the development of Russian culture and the tempos of its evolution into ‘an anti-culture,’ then the end of Putin’s ‘beautiful era’ will occur more according to the scenario of the beginning of the 20th century than according to the scenario of its end, however much one might prefer otherwise.”

And “if ‘the battle’ of Fedorov and Mashnov is really mainstream,” Pastukhov continues, “then I know how the future Russia will be called – ‘a Greater Donbass.’”  A revolution is inevitable, he says, but it will not be a “velvet” one but rather a bloody one carried out by “the real Russian political hardcore.” 

If Putin Were Arrested, Russians who Back Him Now would Disown Him Then, Portnikov Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 23 – The failure of Russians to see that what is being done to others may soon be done to them and to rise in protest means, Vitaly Portnikov says, that “if tomorrow Putin were to be under arrest at his dacha, it would turn out that 90 percent of those who now back him would disown him.”

            The Ukrainian commentator argues that the Russians and especially those often identified as their cultural leaders thus continue to fall victim to the self-justification for going along if they personally aren’t attacked that Pastor Martin Niemoeller described so classically in Nazi Germany (ru.krymr.com/a/28691992.html).

            That of course means that no Russian leader, including Putin, can count on unwavering support however much power he appears to have amassed and that no real solidarity can emerge among Russians to oppose the rise of ever more authoritarianism among leaders who simultaneously recognize that reality and fear it.

            Portnikov takes as his point of departure the reactions of Russian intellectuals to the arrest of Serebrennikov. Some support Putin’s decision to detain him; others don’t. But among the latter there are two groups: the small one whose members view it as part of a larger problem, and the far more numerous one consisting of those who don’t connect the dots.

                The latter fail to recognize that Putin’s war against Ukraine and his arrest of independent-minded directors are all of a piece, and they thus hope, as Pastor Niemoeller warned against, that the wave of arrests will somehow not reach them and that they can continue to get money for their activities from the regime. 

            Those who act in this way, the Ukrainian commentator continues, do not reflect “a culture of self-awareness and analysis of their own spirit and life situation.” Indeed, one should not call them representatives of genuine culture at all.

            Thus, “Tatyana Lioznova filmed ’17 Instants of Spring’ about the Soviet apparats but to the end of her life didn’t understand it. Mark Zakharov filmed ‘Kill the Dragon’” but didn’t get it either. And the list goes on and on, an indictment of those who seek to claim the title of independent intellectuals.

            They do not appear to understand what they are about or at least are prepared to “imitate” culture” much as “Putin imitates political activity when his closest friends fill their pockets with billions.”  Ultimately, however, neither imitation will be persuasive because as Pastor Niemoeller implied, there will always be some who will see through it.