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 Russian Reaction Blog / NovorossiyaTeasers

It has emerged that on February 27, the PM of the DNR Alexander Zakharchenko issued an edict fixing the borders of the DNR at the current frontline.

The document, posted at the website of the DNR’s Ministry of State Security, illegalizes border crossings between the DNR and “territories under the temporary authority of Ukrainian state authority” that occur outside official DNR transit points.

For context, this order was signed at around the same time that Akhmetov’s industrial empire in the LDNR was nationalized.

Since the leaders of the LDNR have little autonomy of their own, this is another datapoint that the Kremlin has decidedly given up on Minsk II, and the plan of shoving back the Donbass into Ukraine in exchange for at least a de facto recognition of Crimea as Russian.

This is a good thing. I have long argued that this “clever plan” was too clever for its own good and was as likely as not to blow up in the Kremlin’s face. In any case, the Maidanists – held hostage by armed nationalists – have themselves have made the issue moot by refusing any degree of compromise.

Ideally, Russia should just recognize the LDNR, for instance, by recognizing the results of the 2014 referendum on self-rule, which won with 89% support (mirroring a 1994 referendum, in which 84% of Donetsk and Lugansk oblast citizens voted in favor of federalizing the country). Since the DNR’s border is now formally just the frontline, it could then be moved arbitrarily; for instance, to the Dnieper.

There have been some minor hints of a decisive solution to the Ukrainian experiment. On March 2, Zakhachenko had made a strange proclamation that the Ukrainian state only has 60 days left to live. According to rumors reported by Igor Strelkov from his unnamed sources in the “elites,” Azarov is already busy “arranging the Ministerial portfolios” of a “liberated Ukraine.”

I don’t put much credence in this. There have been many such scares – both “war scares” and “total surrender” scares – in the past two years, and none of them have ended panning out. This isn’t how Putin works. He reacts to things instead of acting; and he loves leaving things ambiguous and half-done.

Nonetheless, it is obvious that some kind of shift really is occuring. According to more recent rumors, also reported by Strelkov, the increasingly evident failure of Minsk II is moving the Kremlin to solidify the LDNR’s status as a Big Tranistria. However, the LDNR has about ten times as many people as Tranistria, so subsidizing it would be a much greater strain on the checkbook. It therefore has to be made economically self-sustaining.

Thus, according to Strelkov’s sources, a number of processes have come into play.

First, there would have to be a reorganization of cadres in the Republics; to this end, commissions have been sent to the LDNR to assess their administrative, fiscal/economic, and military status. The results aren’t good – understandably so, since their existence was originally planned to be temporary (see above).

LNR PM Igor Plotnitsky is named as a prime candidate for “retirement” – unsurprisingly so, given the dark reputation he has acquired for wacking NAF commanders who came into conflict with him. To the contrary, Zakharchenko may see a rise in his status, becoming head of a united LDNR.

Strelkov has a very low opinion of the advisors to the NAF, and many of them, he claims, will sooon be retired and replaced with more capable people.

The economy is to be made more self-sustaining, so that supporting the LDNR is no longer such a burden on Russia even as the region continued sending taxes to Kiev in the past two years of the conflict. There is already a huge mass of evidence that this is happening. Namely, the nationalization of Akhmetov’s empire, following the Donbass’ blockade by far right Ukrainian militias, and the acceleration of economic integration with Russia, eased along by the recent decision to start recognizing LDNR documents.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Novorossiya, War in Donbass 

Some of the good guys hope and some of the bad guys fear that it is a prelude to recognition of the LDNR.

Some of the good guys fear and some of the bad guys hope that it is a prelude to the final stage of Putinsliv.

Reality – zero geopolitical significance whatsoever. If there was a serious plan to annex those regions, there would be a mass Russian passport giveaway. In reality, getting a Russian passport is hellishly difficult, even for ethnic Russian refugees in Russia. Astoundingly, there are frequent scandals in which paper-pushing bureaucrats attempt to deport former Donbass militiamen back to Ukraine… and the loving embrace of the SBU. Even the wording of Putin’s ukaz is completely cucked: “Documents handed out to Ukrainian citizens and people without citizenship by organs/organizations that exist in specific regions of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts.

In reality, this is just a modest step humanitarian step in the Donbass, where more and more people are falling into an “undocumented” state due to the difficulty of getting documents from Ukraine. It is the very least that Russia could do for the people who rose in its support and it is shamefully overdue.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Novorossiya, Russia 

Keep those questions coming! My Ask.fm account: http://ask.fm/akarlin88

I don’t always answer immediately, but will come around to it eventually. And repost them here.

Incidentally, it’s also a great way to fulfill a blogging quota. ;)

***

what do you think is the single biggest difference between Russians and Anglo-Saxons?
Books can be written about this, and have been, so I’ll be brief and answer in one word: Honesty.

Specifically, I refer to honesty in relations between strangers. This expresses itself in such behavior as the maintenance of clean public spaces. The impulse to punish bad behavior, even if doing could potentially rebound against yourself. Thanks to this, Anglo-Saxon societies work much better at the micro level, enabling distributed self-government that is both organic and effective. This is impossible in most of Russia. Trying to recreate Anglic systems leads only to nepotism and chaos. You need a “power vertical” to get anything done, and hope that the Tsar is a clever, competent guy who has the nation’s interests at heart and isn’t too psychotic.

***

What kind of space colonies do you support?
Pure computronium.

Seriously, humans are adapted to Earth, down to the nutrients and minerals we take in, and the microbiota we rely upon. All else equal, life in space will be extremely uncomfortable, frugal, expensive, and precaurious. I doubt it is sustainable in principle in terms of EROEI in the absence of massive energy subsidies from Earth.

While I enjoy space exploration in sci-fi as much as the nerd in the neighboring cubicle, I do not think unaugmented homo sapiens is capable of being a space ape longterm.

***

AK, what do you think the endgame for Novorossiya will be? It’s the greatest prize there is. As a putinologist I’m concerned by the lack of aggression, because Putin loves leaving things half-done. Was Girkin-Prosvirnin shobla right all along? Poz and Echatology
I never put much stock in the Putinsliv theories and I still don’t to be quite honest.

It is clear that Putin has chosen the frozen conflict route.

There are good arguments to be made for this approach. Supporting the LDNR might be expensive, both economically and diplomatically, but it’s still a lot less expensive than outright intevention (which appears to have seriously been on the cards up until April 2014). We have to assume that Putin and his team carried out an informed Weighted Average Decision Matrix (or something like that) analysis of the situation and the policies we’re seeing now came out ahead, though perhaps by a thin margin.

The military power of the NAF continues increasing. It now has 40,000 well-equipped troops and (reportedly) 450 MBTs. A year ago, it had no more than 20,000 troops, with just a few dozen MBTs. More importantly, it is a *real* army now, with centralized C&C, whereas a year ago it consisted primarily of independent militias. These can be adequate in defense, but you cannot carry out coherent, large-scale offensive operations with that kind of structure. Prosvirnin and Co. say the purging of the most recalcitrant militia leaders is “proof” that a zrada is nigh. But it could just as plausibly be interpreted as rational, consecutive steps to increase the NAF’s military power. I do not think these changes could have been possible without Russia’s support. Ultimately, why would Russia bother with upgrading the NAF if it planned to give it all back to the junta anyway?

In the meantime, with any luck, the Ukrainian economy will continue to degrade, and Poroshenko finds himself trapped between a rock (the Minsk Accords) and a hard place (the Maidan absolutists and the hardliners of the Far Right), and we will see a collapse into complete chaos, which may finally convince the Western powers to give up on Ukraine and create many other opportunities. But it’s also quite possible that the system will manage to pull through. That is the risk Putin took when he decided against military intervention last April.

***

What is your opinion of the “Euro-Siberian” empire that some people on the alt-right (eg Guillame Faye) like to put forth?
Bismarck said that Europe is nothing but a geographical expression. Eurosiberia isn’t even that.

Broadly speaking, I support a Europe of independent nation-states. I do not see a problem with extending the common economic space across the Eurasian steppes, in a gradual, unforced way, and at a pace with which its constituent peoples are comfortable with. But I see no point in any grander constructs.

***

The devaluation of many currencies this year has changed global economy a lot. For example, average income in Russia is now about 500 USD per month, almost same as China. And countries like Brazil will be more like third world. What’s your understanding of the effect caused by huge devaluation
In Russia’s case, wage growth has overstripped productivity growth for the past decade, so in this sense devaluation can be considered as an overdue correction. It’s a two-sided coin. Its bad for consumers, especially the richer ones who buy many foreign luxury/brand-name products. On the other hand, its a quick and reliable way of regaining competitiveness, helping lead a recovery in manufacturing as happened in the last huge devaluation after 1998. For instance, Volkswagen is going ahead with plans to build a huge new engine factory in Kaluga.

***

When will you post the next Russian demography article? Paul Golowatschew
Will put this on my to do list. Thanks for the reminder.
 

One of the more frustrating misconceptions Westerners have about Russia – including even many of the more well meaning ones – is that Putin is some kind of nationalist.

He is not. Nor was he ever.

It appeared he might be sort of leaning in that direction in the heady days after Crimea’s return into Russia. For the first time, he even started using the term russkie – ethnic Russians, as opposed to the multiethnic, and about as fictional as “Soviet,” nationality called rossiyane – in some of his speeches. But since then he moved back into old forms and familiar habits, and the wholesale “regathering of the Russian lands” that many (but far from all – it’s complicated) Russian nationalists were salivating after in mid-2014 wasn’t to happen.

This is not, of course, to say that Putin is a bad leader, or anti-Russian, like the real Russian nationalists have always claimed. It is not exactly a secret that yours truly believes he is objectively better for the Russian nation and its ethnic minorities than any plausible liberal or Communist opposition alternative. But apart from being a patriot, Putin is also an ethnic blank slatist. No nationalist of whatever stripe would have allowed large-scale Central Asian immigration into the Slavic Russian heartlands, which even many of my decidedly anti-nationalist and cosmopolitan acquaintances in Russia have complained about.

And most nationalists would have supported Novorossiya to the hilt, Western sanctions and ostracism be damned. Ironically Putin might get damned either way. It doesn’t much matter if you steal $10,000 (Crimea) or $10 billion (Novorossiya and Malorossiya) from a bank. Either way, the (world) police is going after you. I personally don’t fully buy this argument 100%, but it should be stressed that this has been one of the main domestic criticisms of Putin’s Ukraine policy from the Right (which in Russia includes the Hard Left, i.e. the Communists). And these criticisms are arguably far more potent and potentially dangerous for Putin than criticisms from pro-Western liberals for going against the West.

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Egor Prosvirnin, the chief editor of Sputnik i Pogrom, the closest thing Russia has to a US-style Alt Right.

It is in this context that we the see the police search of Egor Prosvirnin’s apartment, and the confiscation of his computer and other electronics.

Egor Prosvirnin is the chief editor of Sputnik i Pogrom (SiP), a Russian nationalist glossy magazine. Unlike most of the Neo-Nazis and liberal nationalists, they are ardent supporters of Novorossiya, and tend to idolize Tsarism and the White movement. Prosvirnin has met with Igor Strelkov on several occasions and SiP has been responsible for raising several millions of dollars in humanitarian aid and in organizing “vacations” to the lush resorts of the Donbass. In this sense, their Novorossiya policy is in line with that of the Communists and the Eurasianist imperialists, and (to a far more limited extent) to that of the Russian state proper.

It is also the closest thing Russia has to a US-style Alt Right, though as with all European nationalist movements, it does not have the Americans’ preoccupation with race, and is far less literate on IQ matters. Its writers tend to be young, socially liberal, supportive of free speech, and unusually familiar with Europe and the US. It has been called “Russian nationalism for hipsters” by several commentators. One anecdote to illustrate this: Dugin, their “Eurasian” antithesis, appears to believe “transhumanism” is some particularly deviant variant of transgenderism. The SiPers, in stark contrast, are familiar with Ray Kurzweil and write articles about Russia’s potential role in the technological singularity.

Sometimes this familiarity with the West leads them down some very questionable avenues in which they overestimate Western wisdom and intellectual vitality. I got the (possibly mistaken) impression that Prosvirnin believes that the European immigration crisis is a devious plot by Germany to enhance its power in Europe, as opposed to Merkel being her usual dithering and feckless self. He is a militant atheist who wouldn’t be out of place at /r/atheism. He regularly cites Stratfor, and more or less reprints its geopolitical analysis. Now Stratfor might be very good at marketing itself as a “shadow CIA” but it is far less competent at actual geopolitics, or even password security for that matter. And the SiP guys are positively obsessed with the concept of “Putinsliv,” that is, the idea that Putin is going to “flush” Novorossiya anytime now. In this obsession, they are a somewhat ironic mirror image of Ukrainian “svidomy” who harp on about peremogi – victories, and zrada – betrayals, and the endless ways in which they morph and coalesce between each other.

But such minor quibbles aside, SiP is an excellent resource that regularly produces quality articles on Russian history and culture as well as on more loaded political topics, and (for Russian speakers) it is well worth its $50 annual subscription price. Its name regardless, it is not particularly anti-Semitic. It just don’t care about Jews very much (which admittedly is equivalent to anti-Semitism in many Western and Russian liberal circles).

Nor, until recently, did SiP appear to have particularly big problems with the Russian state.

What happened?

Russia does not have the First Amendment. It does have Article 282 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes hate speech, like in most European countries. But it is a tool that has been wielded selectively, mostly against politicians of the Neo-Nazi persuasion. Incidentally, the Neo-Nazis as well as the “liberal nationalists” (mostly Krylov and the more famous Navalny) have for the most part been the Russian nationalists most against Novorossiya, seeing it as a sovok creature and praising the Ukrainian junta as the new citadel of the White Nationalist global revolution. (Asking them what they thought of this White nationalist paradise having a Jewish oligarch as Fuehrer and an Armenian sci-fi nerd as Goering was a reliable and entertaining way to trigger them).

Anyway, Article 282… a tool that has been wielded selectively… until now. In that its application against a public figure with no obvious Neo-Nazi connections and a history of support for Novorossiya is unprecedented.

Now to be fair, Prosvirnin has always been staunchly – even rabidly – anti Putin. But this never got him into legal trouble before, so that is unlikely to have been a key motivator now.

The pessimistic explanation – and one advanced by Prosvirnin himself – is that Putin is indeed plotting some great “zrada” (betrayal) against Novorossiya. Naturally, this would excite massive opposition amongst most Russian nationalists, so in this interpretation the confiscation of Prosvirnin’s computer equipment – especially were it to lead to further arrests and prosecutions of Novorossiya supporters – could be the Russian state nipping potential opposition in the bud.

Here is the opinion of one SiP writer, Kirill Kaminets:

Now it should be noted at the outset that SiP doesn’t have a great predictive record. It is been predicting Putinsliv for more than a year now, but during this same period the DNR and LNR have consolidated themselves as functioning states, and the Novorossiya Armed Forces are far more powerful today than they were even in early 2015 during the Battle of Debaltsevo. It would be strange of Putin to have enabled all this, only to “flush” it all down later on. In any case, the Minsk Agreements are failing on all fronts – most of all thanks to helpful Ukrainian nationalists who are the main obstacle to Poroshenko implementing his side of the deal. With Minsk II in its death throes, it would be exceedingly difficult for Putin to commit his “zrada” in any plausibly face-saving way.

And yet… and yet…

If that is indeed the plan, to decisively close up the Novorossiya project, try to make amends with the junta, and hope they and the Western “partners” forget and forgive Crimea, this is pretty much what I’d be doing in Putin’s place: Harassing and seizing the computers of Novorossiya supporters, using that to build criminal cases against them, discrediting them in the media, and sending them off to prison. So this might conceivably be Step 1 of such an operation. Or it might not be. It probably isn’t.

But then again… back in July of this year, Prosvirnin on his Facebook page – I can’t locate it now, but it was certainly there – predicted that Novorossiya would soon be betrayed (nothing new) and replaced with a propaganda campaign in favor of Russian involvement in Syria, including boots on the ground (very new!).

He even argued that this would be a way of mending US-Russian relations, which certainly cuts against the conventional wisdom – both in the mainstream and the altsphere – that the West and Russia are fundamentally at odds in Syria and that the US is committed to seeing Assad go.

In effect, Russia would doing the “dirty” work of wrapping up the Syrian Civil War with the quiet acquiescence and approval of the West and the Gulf Arab states while they get to wash their hands of it, condemn Russia, take meaningless symbolic actions against it (e.g. requesting that Greece close its airspace to Russian military cargo only for Greece to promptly refuse it), and otherwise quietly shake Putin’s hand and congratulate him with the restoration of order in the Levant and, in the Europeans’ case, for helping end the refugee crisis.

And for all my, and the Saker’s, prior skepticism… some of this does seem to be happening.

Russians tanks and gunships are appearing in the Alawite heartlands. Bases are getting expanded. According to the latest reports from gazeta.ru (an anti-Kremlin publication), Russian military contractors are being sent to Syria to fight for Assad against their will.

It looks increasingly that Prosvirnin must have either guessed very, very well… or that he had very, very senior informants in the Kremlin.

If this version of affairs is in any way accurate, then it appears that Putin is setting himself up for a fail of epic, 1989-like proportions.

My operating assumption is that the US does not tend to honor those of its commitments that are not both written and binding (just ask Gorbachev about NATO expansion). Imagine that Russia “sorts out” Syria, assuming onto itself the opprobrium of keeping “bloody Assad” in power and doubtless taking some military casualties in the process to boot. Assume it also betrays Novorossiya, as Prosvirnin has been insisting it would for over a year now. Assume it does all this on some promise from the US to drop sanctions, accept Crimea, and help reintegrate Russia into the international (read: Western) community.

But why would it?

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on… shame on you, as that old Texan saying somewhere in Tennessee goes. If Putin falls for a trap this obvious, he will have nobody to blame himself. And with an approval rating now presumably in tatters, he will find both nationalists and liberals coming at him with knives unsheathed (unless, perhaps, he takes care of them beforehand).

But it is also this very obviousness that is also the best argument against it. Say what you will of him, but one thing Putin definitely is not, is stupid.

The alternative explanation, and one in line with the theory of the “mnogokhodovka” – the idea or faith amongst pro-Kremlin commentators that Putin has a very devious, multi-step plan for final victory in Ukraine – is that Putin does plan to walk into this trap but to then spring it on the US itself. If so, it would be fascinating to see this play out.

The third, and in my opinion likeliest scenario, is that both Prosvirnin and I are overanalyzing things, that the case against Egor is just what it says on the tin (alleged hate speech in one of SiP’s articles), and that nothing particularly radical is happening in either Syria or Ukraine.

Though in fairness to Prosvirnin, he at least has the benefit of his conspiracy theories being given weight by the heavy, arbitrary hand of the Russian justice system.

 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.