Friday, September 22, 2017

A Peril for Putin: Bomb Scares in Russia Show No Sign of Letting Up, Officials Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – Over the last 12 days, 400,000 Russians have been evacuated from approximately 1,000 facilities in 80 cities after anonymous callers had warned that bombs were set to go off in them.  Officials, who so far haven’t identified let alone arrested those responsible, say there are no signs the bomb scares are letting up (

            The central government media have devoted relatively little attention to this wave, although a Duma committee is considering tougher penalties for what has now come to be known as “telephone terrorism” and the Kremlin has been forced today to say that it is too early to say anything about what is going on (

            What makes this such a big and serious problem as the emergency services minister said ( is that the authorities have little choice but to evacuate buildings if they receive warnings and that whoever started the calls, others may join in a kind of copycat crime. 

            Consequently, even if the authorities do identify one or another of the callers or those behind that individual or group, others are likely to make use of the same tactic, against which at least for the time being the Russian authorities appear powerless to stop, however much economic damage these evacuations may cause.

            But far more significant than any economic costs, of course, are the political ones. Vladimir Putin has sold himself to the Russian people as a guarantor of order, as someone who ended the “lawless 1990s.” If Russians conclude that he is no longer able to do that, they may conclude that their version of “the mandate of heaven” has passed from him. 

            And that in turn suggests that some opponents of Putin and his regime may continue to make such calls, even if the risks of engaging in “telephone terrorism” are increased, as Russia edges closer to the presidential elections early next year and enters a new and more complicated political season.    

Poklonskaya is the Nina Andreyeva of Today, Ikhlov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – On March 13, 1988, a previously unknown chemistry teacher named Nina Andreyeva published in Sovetskaya Rossiya – or at least it was published over her name – an attack on Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika under the title “I cannot give up my principles.”

            Because of Gorbachev’s absence at that moment, it was distributed by the Soviet news agency and published in most newspapers in the USSR, an indication that it represented an important point of view supported by many in the Kremlin rather than simply the opinion of one chemistry instructor.

            Andreyeva’s article, Yevgeny Ikhlov notes in a commentary yesterday, called into question the efforts of Gorbachev and Aleksandr Yakovlev to make use of Lenin to push aside Stalin and thereby open the way for what they hoped would be a renewal of socialism (

                According to the Moscow commentator, “Andreyeva destroyed the ideological consensus around ‘the renewal of socialism’ in exactly the same way that the Kornilov attack destroyed the unity of the ‘February’ revolutionaries” in 1917.  But it did far more than that, and its broader impact is why it is worth recalling now. 

            “The split of the perestroika people gave the opportunity to radicals (crypto-anti-communists) legally to create their own extra-party social-political movements, ‘peoples fronts in defense of perestroika,’ in the first instance in the Baltic republics,” with all the follow on from that, Ikhlov says.

            Moreover, Andreyeva’s article provided the occasion for a Politburo declaration in Pravda on April 5, 1988, entitled “Principles of Perestroika: Revolutionary Thought and Actions,” that laid down more clearly than anything up to then exactly where Gorbachev and his team hoped to take the USSR.

            Today, Ikhlov continues, a similar situation has emerged.  Duma Deputy Natalya Poklonskaya has called into question yet another “’perestroika’ but already a ‘monarchical’ one.” The Putin regime wants to promote a return to traditionalist values including many taken from the Russian monarchy.

            To that end, it has promoted articles, books, television programs, and films about various Russian leaders from the beginning through 1917.  But to make a film about the last tsar which paints him in an entirely positive light is impossible not only because of the historical record but because he was overthrown by the Bolsheviks among whose heirs Putin sees himself.

            But “happily” someone recalled that there was the story of the romance between the future Nicholas II and the ballerina Mathilda Kshesinskaya, and someone decided that would make the perfect subject for a popular film that would offer the image of “monarchism with a human face.”

            What the present-day “’engineers of political souls’ did not expect” was how the Russian people would react to a portrayal of a tsar (or in this case future tsar) as a human being because in the very archaic world that the Putin regime has promoted, Russians want their rulers to be not human but more than human.

            As a result, yet another “clever plan of the rulers to stupefy the population” failed, and it failed because Poklonskaya spoke to what the popular masses wanted and believed rather than what the Kremlin hoped they would want and believe. The regime has thus put itself in a difficult position.

What remains to be seen is whether it will lead to the formation of genuinely competing groups, as Andreyeva’s article did, and threaten those behind “Mathilda” as much as the Soviet chemistry teacher’s did those behind perestroika.  

Islamization a Response to Urbanization in North Caucasus, Sokolov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – Urbanization in Daghestan and Kabardino-Balkaria has promoted Islamization because those undergoing this process have come to view Islam as a substitute for the rural communities they have lost and a defense against globalization, according to Denis Sokolov of the RAMSCON Research Center.

            This process has different meanings for difference generations and for men and women, for their emigration from the region and for the success of ISIS in the region , he details in his new research on “Fear and Honor of the Family as Fear and Honor of Men” (

            The status of men and women change dramatically with the shift from rural communities to cities, he says, with women gaining independence and status, often becoming the breadwinners and intellectual leaders of families, and men losing status, often without work and depending on their wives for income, Sokolov reports.

            Newly urbanized men often turn to Islam in order to try to restore their dominance, he continues, something that is often supported by older women (but not often by younger ones) who come to view Islam as a substitute for the community norms that have been undermined by modernization and globalization.

            “In the urban space,” he says, “Islam has become an instrument for the restoration and strengthening of the power of men.” But at the same time, “in Islamic families one sees the emancipation of women” as well, with shifting gender roles toward greater equality and partnership even if both accept Islam.

            A case in point is polygamy. In Soviet times, the shortage of men after the war made polygamy in the North Caucasus a logical necessity, Sokolov argues. Then it came to be justified by Islam. The older generation viewed second wives as “lovers” but the younger one wants to involve them in complete families.
            The first generation to grow up in urban areas is especially inclined to turn to Islam for social regulation, he continues. “On the one hand, they do not want to live according to the rules of rural communities. But on the other, the global world frightens them and they are not prepared to live according to its rules. Islam [thus] becomes the regulator.”

            Sokolov makes a variety of other points, three of which are especially intriguing. First, he says, the lack of opportunity for upward mobility by new arrivals from rural areas makes them a receptive audience for ISIS propagandists even if these North Caucasians are not radicalized more generally.

            Second, those in the North Caucasus who were radicalized in the early 2000s often had nowhere to go, a situation that led to a turning inward until they were able to travel to Iraq or Syria but that did not end the influence of radicalizing factors on younger generations in the North Caucasian cities.

            And third, “the several tens of thousands” of North Caucasians now in Turkey, a flow that “has intensified since 2013” are not in the main on their way to fighting for the Islamic State. Instead, Sokolov suggests, they have fled their homeland because they do not feel secure on the territory of the Russian Federation.