05 May 2014

Putin's empire building: the world hasn't gone mad

The world hasn't gone crazy is the title of an important interview that is a must for every Western reader (or leader) trying to understand the (seemingly) inexplicable behavior of Russians. The interview was given by Yuri Felshtinsky, a Russian historian living in the United States. Felshtinsky has authored several books on modern Russian and early Soviet history, including Blowing up Russia (with Alexander Litvinenko[1]) and The Age of Assassins (with Vladimir Pribylovsky).

Yuri Felshtinsky
Follows a rough (Google-assisted) partial translation of the interview, given by Felshtinsky on May 3, 2014. Some passages and some personal parts of the interview, while of possible interest, but less relevant to the main subject, were omitted. A few links and comments were added here and there for reference.

Q: Yuri, has the world gone mad? Or is it just me? I mean Putin's geopolitical aspirations.

The world hasn't gone mad. Only a single country - Russia - went crazy (in terms of Europe and the U.S.). Upon closer examination not all of Russia went mad, only a relatively small group of people who run this country. Then , of course, if we analyze all that happens calmly and objectively, even this group isn't mad. In the medical sense of the word, these people are completely healthy. The problem is that they live in a different world that no longer exists. But they don't know it and are trying to return to a bygone era. In part, they are not to blame. The fact is that this era has gone swiftly, without warning, in 1991. All those people who run Russia today, were grown and formed before 1991. Almost all of them were members of the Communist Party, the Komsomol, "nomenclatura"[8] , some were in the KGB or GRU. And those are [were] quite specific structures. And there was a specific [recruiting] selection, and work in these institutions left a deep imprint. These people did not understand why the Soviet Union is "bad". They sincerely believed that the Soviet Union is - "good" and that some evil force (well, probably America) destroyed this system in 1989-1991.

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And when Putin started ... to create a vertical power structure, to eliminate the Federation Council, to tame the parliament, to change the constitution, to introduce rigid centralization, to eliminate the system of - I don't want to say free, but at least not controlled by the center - local elections and to destroy independent media, no one could understand why he needs it. In March 2014 we understood: for a new round of history, for the revival of the empire. Because it was impossible to jump into this round without becoming a dictator first.

Q: Territorial expansion - is it normal in the XXI century?

It's a long forgotten past. Until 1945 the borders in Europe were constantly redrawn. It is important to clarify that they are not redrawn as a result of friendly merging of states or splitting of states, the borders were rather redrawn between the states in favor of one of the neighbors. I will not give examples now, they are too numerous. But in 1918, and in 1938-1945 period the map of Europe was modified repeatedly. From 1946 to 1991 no borders were changed. And even after 1991, until March 2014, we have witnessed the formation of new European and Asian countries, but we were haven't seen annexations. It is for this reason that Merkel said about Putin that he lives in a different world. Not in the sense that he's crazy, but the fact that he tries to return Europe to a world which was gone in 1945, i.e. almost 70 years ago.

Q: Why do Russian journalists use the token "return of the previously gifted Crimean land" but don't recall Kievan Rus?

Russian journalists today - hired propagandists of the power that be, who carry out orders of the Kremlin. It is surprising that so many people are willing to engage in such unscrupulous work. But it is a fact - a lot of them are. Not a single one that isn't controlled by the Russian authorities is allowed to go on the air or to the newspapers today, "at this critical moment for the country". Some are working for money and some due to their beliefs. Crimea, in general, was only a pretext, a small first step. What is happening now has no relation to objectivity, justice, or to the historical realities. Until March 2014 it was possible to discuss whether Crimea is "native Russian land" or not. After the occupation of the Crimea and the referendum result of 97%, Crimea became Ukrainian ancestral land occupied by Russia. And this land, of course, will have to be returned. The only question is when this will be done.

Q: Why does the longing for a national idea, a return to the Soviet Union in Putin's mind so easily coexist with fascism ?

But Putin doesn't see the parallel with fascism, or pretends he doesn't. All the others see, because the analogy is too obvious. Merkel sees it, Hillary Clinton sees it, I see it. In March 1938, Hitler sent troops into Austria and a few days later held a referendum, received 97% support and absorbed Austria. In September 1938, he sent troops into the Sudetenland, held a referendum, received 99% of votes and annexed the Sudetenland. This is no different from the Russian occupation of the Crimea in March 2014. It should be noted that "Anschluss" of Austria and the Sudetenland annexation were defined at Nuremberg as a crime of the Nazi leaders, although both annexations were carried out on whole without victims and were supported by the majority of the population of the annexed territories .

Putin and his entourage believe that people are sheeple. Of course they do not believe in democracy (in all senses of the word). Accordingly, much effort has been spent trying to create an ideology for the sheeple, because how could sheeple manage without ideology? In particular, this idea was floated by the Kremlin's chief ideologist and technologist Surkov. He wasnt' able to come up with anything new, although he tried very hard. When they began to promote Rogozin, I felt sad because Rogozin is an unashamed Russian fascist. And indeed, with the appointment of Rogozin as the deputy prime minister in charge of the Russian defense industry, they began to arm themselves seriously, and an ideology emerged: Russian fascism. It is clear that the word is unpopular and it is not used in a positive sense, only in abusive one, and in relation to others (Ukrainians, for example). But the "Nazi" and its derivatives are quite in use in Russia, and to be a nationalist, or to support the "national interest" - it is good and righteous. And even the president himself is not shy to say (in a multinational country, which is the Russian Federation) that he is a Russian nationalist - note, not a patriot, but specifically - nationalist.

So the national idea was formulated by the president: Russian nationalism. Couple this national idea with another confession by Putin - that his biggest personal tragedy was disintegration of the USSR in 1991, and you get March-April 2014. We'll celebrate the Centenary of the First World War by beginning the third. Well, if not in August-September of 2014, then in August-September of 2015 we'll find ourselves in this war. Because Putin is a thug, in classically conventional sense. He "sees everyone in a coffin"[2] and he does not care for the consequences. And not because he's crazy, absolutely not. It is just that they all were that way in the KGB. And the people who are around Putin: Sergei and Viktor Ivanov, Sechin - are exactly the same. For all of them, including Putin, the real life has happened only now; only now they understand why for so many years they licked asses of the Democrats like Sobchak and Yeltsin (because Yeltsin in his soul was a populist, i.e. still a Democrat), then of oligarchs like Berezovsky - Abramovich - Friedman. Spring of 2014 is their finest hour. Watch United States and Europe stunned by Putin's antics, the silent and silenced dissenters in Russia (if not silenced, then simply unheard in the general clamor). And Russian television is clamoring on all channels, in Russian and in English. (And simple-minded Americans, who believed in the normality of Russia, during the same years not only did not create their Russian-speaking TV, but ditched the old existing channels).

The truth is that we are now in the first stage of reconstruction - not of the Soviet Union, of course, but something that is fairer to call the Russian Empire. The whole world today shies the word "empire":  now it sounds proud, but stupid. But this word makes Russians proud. "Back to the empire" - is the slogan of the first period of the Third World War, the battle for Ukraine.

Q: Literature and art are irrational too, but writers and artists do not kill the protagonists of their creations? How do you see the work of journalists in Russia, Ukraine and other countries this spring? ...

Judging by the Russian television, the Eastern Ukraine is Russian territory, temporarily occupied by the enemy, and cultural figures, writers, journalists are quite willing to kill "Ukrainian occupiers." Orwellian five minutes of hatred (from the novel "1984") - is sophomoric compared to Russian news reports about Ukraine. But the words pouring from the screen are delivered by real people, "artists", "masters of the genre". I would award the first prize to writer Alexander Prokhanov[3] for his program "Replica" (channel "Russia 24"), where he eloquently described how Ukrainians, if they are not conquered, will "cut open the bellies of pregnant Russian women" (a quote). If Goebbels had TV, and Himmler - Facebook and Twitter, Charlie Chaplin with his "Dictator" would not have been so terrible to them. They would simply tell how the Czechs and Poles cut open the bellies of pregnant German women - and the story ends here.

I am connected to all Russian channels. There's a war. If you know nothing about what is happening in the world and judge everything only by Russian television, there is such a vile country Ukraine, which is ruled by a junta, and the self-proclaimed government of this vile disgusting country terrorizes the oppressed Russian population. There is another country, America, and a strange community called EU, which, although not as nasty as Ukraine, are also vile and despicable toward the always kind, uncomplaining and harmless Russia - a neighboring state, whose heart aches for the Russians living in Ukraine, and for the careless stupid Ukrainians who fell under the rule of the junta and "fascists", called "Banderovits" or "Benderovits"[4] and these Ukrainians (which Russia still feeds to the tune of billions of dollars per year) do not want to understand that it is better to lie down under Russia and to stop rocking the boat. All this is broadcasted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Russian news channel "Russia 24" broadcasts only about Ukraine and Crimea, about nothing else anymore. Russian TV (for conspiracy called RT[5], so its roots will be not immediately clear) also broadcasts in English.

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Q: Who makes war - Putin alone? What is his real team in this matter? Who aids them outside Russia? What do U.S., Western Europe and the world in general think? That is - not what they say, but what do they really think ? ...

Unfortunately, Putin is not alone. He handpicked his cohorts for 14 years, gathered around him his confidants, people who basically think just like he does - from the KGB-FSB. There is a lot of them on all levels. [follows a list of names I have omitted] - all of them fascists, all of them communists - they forgave Putin all his sins, for a chance to revive the empire and to go to war with the world. There are dozens of small and medium assistants (careerists), government officials (all bribe takers), numerous agents of the FSB, fully activated now, because it is such a critical period for Putin (as he sees it), they even begun to "burn" their agents, i.e. to take the risk of discovery. The biggest problem of Ukrainians is the Russian agents in Ukraine. Because of this, both America and the EU do not know who is reliable, whom to trust, especially in the military and security agencies. It is unclear what secrets and information regarding Russia can be shared with the Ukrainian side. It is unclear with whom to sit at the negotiating table, when the president is not yet elected and formed a government. It is not clear to whom to give money in this situation, who will be responsible for this money. No one wants to give the money to the looters.

Surprisingly, in contrast to the years 1938-1939, everyone understands everything: Obama, who is criticized by many for indecision and softness, European leaders, who are trying, of course, to avoid the economic turmoil in their home countries because of sanctions against Russia. Unlike Putin, broadcasting for hours, Western leaders are laconic. But it is absolutely clear to everyone[6] that what happens is an open aggression against a weak state neighboring Russia, aggression similar as two drops of water to Hitler's and Stalin's 1938-1940 annexation operations. Everyone understands that the "rebellion" in eastern Ukraine is organized by Russia. The petty scam with the Crimea will never be recognized by the world community, no state[7] has recognized Russian annexation of the Crimea. Not to mention the [possible] occupation of eastern Ukraine. So the understanding in the U.S. and in Europe is absolute: what is happening is not about Ukraine, and is not about whether Ukraine is good or bad, whether Ukraine has a corrupt government or not, and whether the Crimea wants to become a part of Russia or desires to remain a part of Ukraine. The essence of what is happening is in Russia and its present government. And all claims will be presented only to Russia.


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[1] If the name Alexander Litvinenko doesn't ring a bell, check this out.

[2] "To see someone in a coffin" is a difficult to translate idiom. Mostly means an ultimate expression of contempt toward a person(s). Once belonged to the criminals' slang, now quite popular.

[3] Not a surprise for me, and I totally agree. This reincarnation of Goebbels in Russian body definitely deserves the prize. Here and here. And here.

[4] A nod in the direction of Putin, clearly not able to remember the name of Stepan Bandera or to pronounce it consistently.

[5] And is a rare nest of vipers, including many a willing Western fellow traveler.

[6] Well, to some people the opposite is quite clear. To the fellow travelers, at least.

[7] Strictly speaking, this is not true, five states (Russia included) did. The list of the states that did, though, speaks for itself.

[8] Another untranslatable term, meaning a status and a position in the Soviet hierarchy, from which a person can't be fired, only promoted upward or sideways.