The Real Russia. Today. Ten years of Pussy Riot
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
- Society: Profiling Pussy Riot, (opinion) Andrey Kortunov looks at Russia’s Millennials, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 delayed
- International: Still a long way from agreement in Brussels, troop confusion in Kazakhstan, (opinion) Fyodor Lukyanov says negotiators might need a jolt, (opinion) Alexander Kolbin demands a new Russian ‘expansionist ideology,’ (opinion) Andras Toth-Czifra says the West needs clarity and a self-assessment, the U.S. Senate readies ’nightmare’ sanctions, the Baltics want more troops, (opinion) Tóth-Czifra tracks Russian rhetoric on Kazakhstani sovereignty, and researchers track westward military transfers from Siberia
- Public policy: (opinion) Dmitry Nekrasov dissects the Kremlin’s ‘myths’ about Western hostile intentions, and Putin’s spokesman challenges the BBC
🍑 Putin’s trigger: Ten years later, Pussy Riot has been forced out of the country almost entirely (44-min read)
In November 2021, the feminist protest group Pussy Riot turned 10 years old. For the entirety of the group’s existence, the Russian authorities (among others) have been trying their damnedest to shut them up. After staging a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in 2012, three Pussy Riot activists were sentenced to two years in prison. After a demonstration at the 2018 World Cup, other Pussy Riot members, who ran onto the field in police uniforms, were arrested — and the group's unofficial spokesman Pyotr Verzilov was promptly poisoned. In the last two years, arrests and prosecutions targeting Pussy Riot activists have only become more frequent. Just last month, members Maria Alyokhina and Lyusya Shtein went on hunger strike while serving two-week stints in jail. Meduza special correspondent Kristina Safonova spoke with past and present members of the group to find out who exactly they were in 2011 — and who they are now.
In a research paper on Generation Y, Russian International Affairs Council director-general Andrey Kortunov argues that Russian Millennials today are more pessimistic on average than their Western counterparts, though the opposite was true until recently (thanks to relatively low unemployment, good upward social mobility, and low indebtedness). Kortunov says Russian Millennials will likely mimic patterns in the West, where the generation has embraced leftist ideology, he says (with some trepidation). It falls to Millennials to revive the Communist Party and Just Russia with new blood and “new forms of political mobilization.” “It’s likely that the Millennials’ main historical achievement as a generation will be the realization of a long overdue ‘leftist turn’ in world politics and economics,” says Kortunov, adding that he hopes it will be “less costly for humanity” than Russia’s experiment with “one of the options of leftist ideas.”
🕹️ Developers in Ukraine postpone sales of computer game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 until December 8 (GSC Game World says the delay is needed “to fulfill our vision and achieve the desired state of the game.” The franchise has sold more than 15 million copies since the first game’s release in 2007.)
Russian and NATO officials convened for talks at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, January 12. The meeting came two days after diplomats from Russia and the U.S. held similar talks in Geneva. Both discussions were largely inconclusive. Washington and NATO are attempting to push back against sweeping security proposals put forward by Russia in December, while also trying to deter Moscow from launching a full-fledged attack on Ukraine. Speaking to the press after Wednesday’s talks, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the two sides remain divided on fundamental issues.
🛡️ Belarusian peacekeeping insignia adds to confusion as UN criticizes Kazakhstan over troops wearing blue helmets (3-min read)
Kazakhstan has come under criticism from the United Nations after troops deployed to protect strategic infrastructure amid a crackdown on protests in Almaty were seen wearing blue helmets reserved for UN peacekeepers. According to UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, Kazakhstan’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations has offered assurances that the issue has been resolved. However, as reported by RFE/RL’s Kazakh service, the presence of forces from Belarus’s peacekeeping company has caused further confusion, as their insignia closely resembles the UN emblem.
⏳ (Opinion) More danger still could be needed for West to grasp seriousness of Russia’s security concerns
Russia in Global Affairs editor-in-chief Fyodor Lukyanov says Moscow has been uncompromising in talks with the U.S. and NATO about European security deliberately to prevent the United States from spinning the dialogue into technocratic negotiations that preserve the general status quo. The dialogue happening now is the most important diplomacy in Europe since Germany’s reunification, says Lukyanov, so it’s no wonder that emotions are running high. Washington insists on limiting the talks with Moscow to concrete issues like Ukraine, but Russia seeks a larger reassessment of continental security principles.
Despite the seriousness of this week’s talks, it could take a “new and quite dangerous escalation” to jolt Russia and the West into seeking new forms of agreement to bridge the current “perception gap.”
PIR-Center consultant Alexander Kolbin says Russia has struggled with geopolitical “self-censorship” since the USSR’s collapse. The Kremlin, he says, has tried to pursue its national interests without the conceptual framework that underpins the Western and Chinese worlds. Early in Vladimir Putin’s presidency, three crises (U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2001, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004) raised alarms in Moscow about Russia’s potential military, geopolitical, and domestic political vulnerabilities, says Kolbin. Ever since, the Kremlin has been stuck merely “hinting” at a “Russian world.”
“Putin’s ultimatum” on Russian dominance of the former USSR “is a big step in the direction of rejecting national self-censorship,” but Kolbin says the country still lacks the ideological chops to articulate a coherent, attractive framework for expansion. Unlike Washington, London, or Beijing, says Kolbin, Moscow still fears accusations of “geopolitical nostalgia” and “revisionism.” To break free from these constraints, he argues, the Kremlin needs to create a “legitimate basis for the cultural, economic, and military expansion” of its world, formulating “a full set of positive meanings for each instance of expansion.”
Until Russia develops its own such ideology, the “objects of positive Russian expansion” will have no alternative to the doubts about this world already offered by more confident great powers.
Center for European Policy Analysis non-resident fellow Andras Toth-Czifra says NATO can hold discussions with Russia without committing “appeasement,” if they prevent war and have substance. He proposes re-establishing NATO-Russia Council meetings and negotiating various rules on cybersecurity, military drills, and missile deployments. Dialogue gives NATO (or Ukraine) the chance to “spell out in clear terms” the automatic responses to any further Russian aggression, reducing the “protracted ambiguity” that “vexes allies” and “emboldens Russia’s hawks.”
The West, meanwhile, needs to address (1) its own “waning domestic consensuses around democratic values and the principles of international law,” and (2) the EU’s “moribund enlargement policy,” which helps Russia find “allies among the corrupt and the extremist” in disillusioned outsider countries. Toth-Czifra also argues that the West must support Russia’s “battered” civil society. “A democratic Russia is the strongest guarantee of peace in Europe,” he says.
⚖️ U.S. Senate Democrats propose sanctions bill against Russia in case of expanded invasion of Ukraine (The legislation, which has the Biden administration’s support, would target senior Russian state officials, financial institutions, specialized financial messaging services, introduce prohibitions on sovereign debt trading, rescind waivers on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, and add sanctions to Russia’s extractive industries. The sanctions’ implementation would still be conditional on a presidential determination.)
🙏 The Baltic states want more NATO troops deployed on their soil to deter Russia (NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has threatened to consider sending reinforcements to the region if Russia expands its invasion of Ukraine)
🌐 (Opinion) The Kremlin’s ‘spiritual gurus’ have embraced narratives dismissing Kazakhstani statehood, but ‘Russky Mir’ nationalism isn’t the Putin administration’s only guiding principle (political analyst András Tóth-Czifra says the thing to watch will be what rewards Moscow seeks in Kazakhstan for its CSTO assistance)
🔎 OSINT researchers track heavy military vehicles being transferred from Siberia and Far East to Russia’s borders near Ukraine (but there’s apparently no evidence of a National Guard or military police mobilization that would likely be needed for occupying large areas of the country)
Economist Dmitry Nekrasov says Russia’s political leaders have embraced conspiracy theories about foreign powers plotting to break up Moscow’s empire since the Bolsheviks, who used the narrative to argue the legitimacy of Marxism’s “class warfare” ideology. The Kremlin’s adoption of the myth has even made it a self-fulfilling prophecy, Nekrasov says, arguing that Russia’s own leaders either imagined or provoked each supposed threat against the nation. The Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, for example, was actually a mix of formerly subjugated peoples fighting for their independence and Western powers fighting German conquerors. The total aid delivered to the Whites, moreover, was just a fraction of what the Land Lease program later handed Stalin.
In fact, says Nekrasov, “time and time again,” the West acted more mildly “than one would expect in response to the Soviet state’s behavior.” In this history of moderation, he includes the “obligations fulfilled by the Allies” during World War II and America’s decision not to attack the USSR with nuclear weapons. Nekrasov even argues that the Soviet Union’s rapid military build-up in the 1930s paved the way for Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, suggesting that Russia provoked its own most obvious foreign aggressor in the past century.
Except for the Nazis, says Nekrasov, the West has repeatedly tried to stabilize events in Russia during periods of weakness. Moscow has accepted this aid when it needs it, but talk of Western threats returns as soon as the Kremlin feels safe again.
🚧 Kremlin denies report that Putin canceled massive park construction in St. Petersburg (On Monday, the BBC said the president scrapped the plan in favor of building facilities for the future site of Russia’s relocated Supreme Court. Putin’s spokesman says both construction projects are still happening.)