September 2015


Gilded Scum: Neo-Stalinism in Putin’s Russia

23 September 2015

The Russian military intervention in Syria to prop up the dictator Bashar al-Assad has compounded the negative world opinion of Russia generated by the violent dismemberment of Ukraine. At home, meanwhile, the Russian regime has taken on a ‘Neo-Stalinist’ flavor, re-starting the distortion of Russian history that began in the early years of Soviet power and intensified under Joseph Stalin’s autocratic quarter-century rule. As it whitewashes the Soviet era’s excesses, the Kremlin gives a passive nod to the unveiling of new monuments to the bloody tyrant Stalin in the interests, presumably, of keeping the Russian masses happy and ‘rallied round the flag’ as young Russian conscripts are dispatched to Ukraine and Syria out of the public eye.

Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin

The failure to achieve Russian society’s total damnation of the tyrant may be due partly to his temporary alliance with the civilized world against Hitler in WWII, and partly to the fact that – among all the 20th century’s most prolific mass murderers – Stalin stands out as having ‘got away with it,’ living to a ripe old age and dying of natural causes while still the undisputed ruler of the USSR. An ordinary, God-fearing Russian trying to make sense of it all might very well conclude that Stalin must have been a righteous leader, ordained by Providence to defeat the Nazis and build the Soviet Union into a superpower. This is perhaps the saddest aspect of the Russian public’s view of the Soviet tyranny. In the Russian Federation, unlike in other republics of the ex-USSR, the state has never carried out a thorough and objective deconstruction of the Soviet past.

The bust of Stalin at his grave in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in Red Square, Moscow

The bust of Stalin at his grave in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in Red Square, Moscow

Stalin died in 1953 and was denounced three years later by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. His embalmed body was removed from beside Lenin’s and reburied behind the Lenin Mausoleum, one tier down from the top place of honor. Some of Stalin’s victims were posthumously rehabilitated, and during the reformist presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-1991), the process of posthumous rehabilitation was re-started and expanded to include many of Stalin’s contemporaries who had been convicted in show trials in the 1930s and executed as enemies of the people. 

Leon Trotsky in 1918

Leon Trotsky in 1918

But Gorbachev’s reform of Soviet historiography did not go far enough. So deeply had Stalinist distortion and propaganda taken root in the minds of Soviet leaders that Lenin’s closest confidant, Leon Trotsky, remained a Soviet ‘bête noire,’ treated as a traitor and villain, beneath contempt in official history even under Gorbachev. An able military leader of the Reds in the Russian Civil War, Trotsky had held some of the highest posts in Lenin’s first Bolshevik government. True, he believed in revolutionary terror and had blood on his hands, but so did many of his contemporaries who received posthumous rehabilitation from Khrushchev and Gorbachev. The truth is that Stalin passionately hated Trotsky, envied him for his talents, was jealous of his closeness to Lenin, and exiled and assassinated him after Lenin died.

Trotsky (left) with Lenin (center) in 1919

Trotsky (left) with Lenin (center) in 1919

Stalin’s hatred of Trotsky long outlived him as a facet of the Soviet state, and for that reason – Stalin’s personal jealousy and hatred – Trotsky has never been generally acknowledged as one of the ‘heroes’ of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia to this day. Trotsky’s exclusion is a legacy of Stalinism, and now that Stalin is enjoying a return to favor in Russia, the righting of the Soviet historical record in Russia looks as remote a prospect as ever. This is only one facet of post-Soviet Russia’s warped society, but it is significant.

Russian leader Joseph Stalin after meeting w. Harry Hopkins, adviser to Pres. Roosevelt, in his office in the Kremlin. (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Observers of Russia may differ on the importance of Stalin’s ongoing return to glory. After all, historiography is a tricky business, and what harm does it do if millions of Russians cherish Stalin’s memory as long as they don’t behave like psychopaths themselves? Russia today is not Stalin’s Soviet Union, and one more historical lie won’t change current reality. For those holding that view, there is probably little that can be done except to say that Russia today might be a much better place if its historical misconceptions were dispelled. Russia’s dysfunctional society is plagued by alcoholism, drug abuse, AIDS and HIV-infection of staggering proportions for a country claiming to be a modern industrialized power. In the 21st century, there is clearly much room for improvement of the so-called ‘Russian Soul.’ 

Below is a recent article entitled ‘Gilded Scum,’ about the return to respectability of Stalin’s memory. It appeared in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, some of whose more prominent writers have been murdered during the period since Putin came to power fifteen years ago. The piece is not directly critical of Putin, but the implications are obvious: the erection of monuments to Stalin in public places – something which should be completely unacceptable – is going on with the current regime’s blessing. The author, Alexey Polikovsky, conveys with anger and passion the nature of his personal obsession with Stalin’s victims… 

Gilded Scum

Alexey Polikovsky ~ Novaya Gazeta / 14 September 2015

Stalin Bust Penza

Golden bust of Stalin in the city of Penza

The folks who put a bust of Stalin on Kirov Street in Penza have memorialized a butcher and sadist who murdered and tortured millions. People were killed monotonously, as if on a conveyor belt, with a shot to the head on execution landfills, and they were tortured in myriad ways, with all the richness of a wild Lubyanka[1] fantasy. I will not be describing the torture here. Whoever wants to will find their description.

Murder and torture, executions and ditches, barracks and corpses, denunciations and sadism, camps and famine, skulls and skeletons – all are documented as irrefutable fact in thousands of documents. Also proven – with signatures on hit lists, with orders to ‘beat, beat’ written on reports in red pencil – is the personal and leading role of Stalin in the mass killings and torture. All these documents are in the public domain, and with two clicks on the internet one can access long lists of victims – stretching kilometers – with a residential address and the same note: ‘Shot.’ You can even find out who was taken away from their home – from the house in which they lived – and when. Whoever wants to know can know everything. Whoever intentionally, deliberately doesn’t wish to know the truth about the murdered and the tortured – and whoever praises Stalin – is scum.

The bust of Stalin in Penza is coated in gold paint. This worthless bust should have been painted red and brown, the color of the blood that flowed out of the heads of the people who fell into the execution pits, the color of clots of meat, torn by beatings in NKVD[2] offices, purple and swollen from blows and fractures of arms and legs.

Stalin in his 'Marshal of the Soviet Union' uniform, with members of his Politburo

Stalin in his ‘Marshal of the Soviet Union’ uniform, with members of his Politburo

‘The organizer of our victories’? This smug fool who wore the uniforms of a Generalissimo piled the country with corpses, organizing the death of its citizens by all possible means: bullets, prisons, camps, emaciation from overwork, starvation, scurvy. No one ever exterminated the Russian people and the other nations living here during their entire history the way Stalin did.

He was an incompetent. Everything about this man with the pitted face and narrow forehead screams of mediocrity. His speeches, preserved in the records, are the dull, inarticulate speech of a bureaucrat. His articles and books, which stultified the country in millions of editions, were already dead the moment his flat, undeveloped brain so arduously plucked them out. With pipe in hand and importance on his face he swanned around his office dictating claptrap about socialism and linguistics. He saw himself as a great scientist, at a time when the investigators Khvat and Albogachiyev[3] – one after the other – were torturing and interrogating the great and learned scholar Vavilov[4] for 1,700 hours.

Nikolai Vavilov under arrest in 1940

Nikolai Vavilov under arrest in 1940

The mediocrity of this gold-painted idol is visible in the mediocrity and meanness of his associates and accomplices as well. Asses instead of faces, official stamps instead of words, and a masterful skill of survival amid the filth of intrigue, fit for reptiles and snakes – that is their portrait.

Grigory Zinoviev under arrest in 1936

Grigory Zinoviev under arrest in 1936

He was a sadist. He could not conceal his satisfaction, smiling through his mustache as he learned of how a crying Zinoviev[5] had hugged the boots of his executioners. He liked it that Bukharin[6] – ‘Bukharchik,’ whom he had promised not to touch – begged to be spared from the bullet, and to be mercifully given poison instead. Of course he didn’t give Bukharin poison, because it wasn’t enough to merely kill him. He had to kill him in such a way that he experienced the full horror of execution from his nightmares.

Pavel Rygachov

Pavel Rygachov

His small, vile soul demanded revenge on all who dared open their mouths and oppose him. He ordered the arrest not only of Air Force Commander Rychagov,[7] who had responded to him sharply at a meeting, but also of his wife, the air regiment commander and record-holding pilot Maria Nesterenko,[8] because for her husband there could be no greater torment, no greater humiliation, than to hear the screams of his wife being tortured.

He was a coward. Not only when, in the first days after the outbreak of war, he fled to the dacha in Kuntsevo, but always, in all the days of his long rule, a coward who feared his people. That was why he put them in the Amur, White Sea, Baltic, Vanino, Dzhezkazgan and all the other concentration camps from A to Z. In the coward there lived a paranoid fear of the military and of scientists, peasants and intellectuals, of housewives and even of children, because all these people – simple and sophisticated, strong and weak, funny and sad, Russians and Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews, and even the rare Brazilians who came from overseas to build socialism – all seemed to this wretch to be dangerous in their human nature and human identity. The entire nation was an enemy of the people in his eyes. In fact, the only enemy of the people was him.

Left: An idealized official portrait of the dictator, with smooth skin, chiseled jaw and lustrous hair; Right: The real thing.

Left: An idealized official portrait of the dictator, with smooth skin, chiseled jaw and lustrous hair; Right: The actual rodent.

I don’t want to write about Stalin. People who know more than I do – [Robert] Conquest, [Alexander] Solzhenitsyn, [Anton] Antonov-Ovseyenko – have written volumes on him. Read them. I feel sick at the sound of his name, because it carries with it a putrid smell. From his oily hair to his boots polished by Poskrebyshev[9], he is completely soaked in the putrid stench of corpses from the execution pits. It all stinks of a concentration camp latrine and blood. Everything about Stalin has already been said, and said in such exhaustive detail and with such terrible force that everyone in whom there is a soul, even in a state of infancy, will understand all of it.

Golden bust of Stalin in the city of Lipetsk

Golden bust of Stalin in the city of Lipetsk

And it would be better to avoid the topic or leave it to professional historians, only it can’t be avoided, because right now – today – his busts are appearing on the map of Russia like purulent pimples. Again he is climbing toward us, this Asian dictator with the golden dentures, this executioner with the affectionate smile, signifying nightly arrests, meanness, betrayal, torture, death.

The Americans forced the German burghers into buses and transported them to concentration camps, so that they were compelled to throw up their hands in disbelief: ‘But we didn’t know … ’ They made respectable men in fedoras and long coats bury the naked corpses of prisoners.

We don’t possess the kind of strength needed to put all these intellectually wretched and spiritually impoverished fans of the All-Union executioner on buses and bring them to the firing trenches. That force might have been the state, but it was in pain from the cruelty, lawlessness, meanness and cynicism that Stalin had implanted in the country.

Grigory Mairanovsky

Grigory Mairanovsky

For a long time – for generations – he intimidated people with mass terror. We still feel this fear. He established the profession of the sadist, ready to torture, persecute and kill for a good salary and in hope of a raised pension. His learned sadist Mairanovsky[10] – a colleague of Dr. Mengele – experimented with deadly poisons on living people in laboratories. He engendered and nurtured a breed of zombie that, already for several generations, has harangued us about his ‘greatness,’ his ‘firm hand,’ his ‘wise leadership,’ for which he ruined people – not our grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, but the justified victims of his ‘great deeds.’ It is him, the zombie, putting his gilded idiot on the streets and squares and worshiping him with all the passion of an archaic consciousness.

Bones of NKVD victims exhumed in Kuropaty, Belarus. Records of victims are classified in Belarus, but some estimates of the number executed exceed 250,000.

Bones of NKVD victims exhumed in Kuropaty, Belarus. Records of the number of victims are classified in Belarus, but some estimates exceed 250,000.

Bulldozers dug the pits, wide pits a hundred to nine hundred meters long. Those who sat behind the wheel of the bulldozers knew why they were digging. Inmates were taken from prisons in a ‘Black Maria’[11] at one a.m. Thirty people in a closed vehicle. They were led to the barracks and told that they were going to be doing sanitation work. According to the instructions, they were told of their death sentence immediately before being shot. It was compulsory to match the victim’s face with a photograph taken by the prison photographer. The executioners awaited their hour in a special building, where they drank vodka. The executioner met the victim and carried him or her. He set the victim on the edge of the pit and shot him/her in the head. They did something with the corpses in the pit; during the digging they had located rubber gloves. Then the bulldozer filled the ditch in with dirt.

Oh, and the gardens. We can’t forget to talk about the gardens. The NKVD functionaries demolished the gardens around the ditches and planted apple trees, it seems, and there were also beds with tomatoes and cucumbers. So what? It’s necessary to live. And the houses around the firing range belonged to them by rights. They were working there.

NKVD victims in Kyiv, Ukraine in 1919

NKVD victims in Kyiv, Ukraine in 1919

Millions of murdered people – it’s all only words. Big numbers don’t affect us. For us – living in an age of abundant and continuous information, flowing into eyes, ears and souls – big numbers aren’t surprising. But, reading the execution lists – if you can label this infernal task reading – suddenly, not knowing why, you stumble upon some surname in the unbearably long series of surnames, and you can’t forget. Why is that? It’s a mystery. Suddenly someone’s life just grabs you from out of the pit and won’t let go. And you see his eyes in mid-air. I also have a few of these lives I don’t know what to do with: they’re invisible shadows that have clung to me. I’m looking for at least some information about these people, not to write about them – I have no practical goal for a collection of books or articles – but from a vague sense, which suggests to me that they are asking me humbly and quietly not to forget them.

13-year old Misha Shamonin

13-year old Misha Shamonin

Misha Shamonin was a waif of thirteen. He stole two loaves of bread. Someone caught him at it and called the police. The Criminal Investigation Department arrived and took Misha away. In the Soviet Union it was permissible to shoot people fifteen years or older, and this boy, I think, knew this and was not too afraid. Well, if they put him in a cell and then sent him to an orphanage, he would run away again… But the investigator wanted very much for there to be a shooting, and so he adjusted the date of birth in the documents to make the boy fifteen. You can’t jump out of the ‘Maria,’ traveling through Moscow at night in dark, desolate, marginal Butovo… So Misha Shamonin was killed. In the photograph taken by the prison photographer, he is in someone else’s old coat. The coat is a couple of sizes too big for him. I don’t know the surname of the investigator, and moreover I don’t know the name of the executioner, loudly belching vodka and shooting the boy in the back of the head.

20-year-old Raisa Bochlen

20-year-old Raisa Bochlen

Raisa Bochlen was twenty years old. A girl with a round face – with round, still-childlike cheeks – is looking into the camera of the prison photographer with a strange – and for me unthinkable – inner peace. She is strong, and not afraid. She was born in Harbin, where her family fled from Odessa. They returned to the Soviet Union, probably in 1935, when there was a wave of returns. She was arrested on the same day as her father was. Perhaps because this girl’s face, with her hair over her shoulders, keeps coming back to me with such a painful insistence, I often go to the places in Moscow where she lived. Little Spaso-Bolvanovsky Lane – this is now the 2nd Novokuznetsk. There, in house number 5, apartment 3, lived her father and brother. Her father worked in the ‘Geodesia’ factory; her brother worked on the construction site of the Palace of Soviets. And she lived nearby, on Pyatnitskaya, in a house that now stands there. Maybe here in the communal apartment on Pyatnitskaya, she lived with her boyfriend or husband. How can we know? Surely she ran to nearby Spaso-Bolvanovsky to her dad and brother, according to the Soviet custom at the time of bringing them products that she’d managed to buy: eggs, chicken… She worked as a typist with the management of Glavmorsevputi [a publication ~ Ed.]. She was accused of spying for Japan. She pleaded not guilty. At night, along with the others, she was brought to the Butovo firing range. Her father was shot the same night; her brother, a month and a half later.

These houses, these streets will remember her.

And the area of ​​the three stations remembers Misha Shamonin.

Stalin enjoying a smoke

Their bones are mixed with the bones of other people in the pit. Under-lived lives, lives interrupted by an executioner in brown leather apron and brown leggings, lives which were meant to hold in store love, friendship, a million troubles, morning coffee, evening feasts with friends, college, work, queues in shops, trips to Sochi on vacation, meetings at Pushkin, a game of volleyball, a small dacha in the woods outside Moscow, where it’s so nice to have tea on the veranda.

Author: Alexey Polikovsky ~ Новая Газета

Сволочь позолоченная

*****

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky

Vladimir Medinsky

The resurrection of Stalin as a national hero can be viewed as a symptom of a larger problem in Russia, namely, the general treatment of the revolution that brought him to power. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 retains a ‘sacred aura’ in official Russian consciousness,  as if the massive sacrifices made by the people as a result of the so-called ‘Great October Socialist Revolution’ could not have been for nothing, and therefore life for ordinary people in Russia today can’t really be all that bad. But now it has gone further than a reluctance to criticize. At the end of August, an article by Paul Goble appeared on the Window on Eurasia blog highlighting Russia’s current policy of re-glorifying the Soviet past. Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky is quoted saying that Moscow now faces the task of ‘opposing those who try to denigrate what the Soviet Union accomplished,’ and how people must ‘relate to epic Soviet heroes… in the same way as one does to canonized saints in the church.’ Medinsky is not acting alone. The new policy stems from Putin’s own characterization of the collapse of the USSR as ‘the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.’ Medinsky adds to the sentiment by describing the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 as ‘the most important event of the last two thousand years.’

The city of Pripyat, Ukraine, abandoned as a result of the worst nuclear disaster in history at the USSR's Chernobyl power plant

The city of Pripyat, Ukraine, abandoned as a result of the worst nuclear disaster in history at the USSR’s Chernobyl power plant (Photo: Jason Minshull)

Even supposing Medinsky’s outlandish declaration about the Russian Revolution’s importance is true, it is not true that every ‘important’ event is a ‘good’ one, the memory of which should be preserved and cherished forever. The 1917 revolution in Russia was the ‘midwife’ of unspeakable tragedy on a massive scale and over a protracted period. It ruined the lives of millions and plunged a great civilization into terror, tyranny, famine, war, disease, ecological disaster, squalor and scarcity for generations. After seven decades, the revolutionary state collapsed, bringing yet more suffering and dislocation upon ordinary people as Soviet society disintegrated. And while there may be a sense of the inevitable in hindsight about any genuine revolution, a sense of inevitability should not be confused with a sense of virtuousness. The leaders of the Russian Revolution were sadistic, power-hungry murderers, and their nature amply manifested itself in the development of the Soviet state.

A revolution is a social and political upheaval so profound that it transforms the institutional underpinnings of the state. The state’s legal system itself undergoes a transformation, guided by the new ‘universal’ and ‘self-evident’ principles that the revolution’s leaders propagate. Yet history has witnessed both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ revolutions, and any decent human being should be able to discern between them. Some revolutions result – after a period of uncertainty and instability – in better societies for ordinary citizens. Others change the situation drastically for the worse. The Russian Revolution falls into the latter category.

The English Bill of Rights of 1689

The English Bill of Rights of 1689

The revolution in England in the 17th century (often labeled the ‘Glorious Revolution’), which ended absolute monarchy and introduced a Bill of Rights, was an example of a ‘good’ revolution. Britain went on to become the greatest industrial power in the world, with a legal system of unparalleled sophistication, and, eventually, a leading Western democracy. Similarly, the American Revolution of the 18th century created a system of separation of powers with maximum safeguards against autocracy, and the United States became an economic superpower with a standard of living that rose with breathtaking speed in the 20th century. And there are other revolutions, both before and after these two, that fall into the ‘good’ category.

The Great Chinese Famine of 1958-61 was caused by the economic mismanagement and agricultural policies of the revolutionary Chinese regime

The Chinese famine of 1959-61 resulted from the agricultural policies of the revolutionary regime.

By contrast, to call the Russian and Chinese Revolutions of the 20th century ‘bad’ would almost be to pay them a compliment. They were ostensibly about overthrowing an oppressive capitalist class to make way for a government by the proletariat, and for ‘each according to his need,’ an end to society’s class stratification, and the advent social equality. But the practical result in both cases was totalitarianism and the state-sponsored murder of tens of millions in the name of the official ideology. Their respective societies became more class-stratified than ever – divided between those who belonged to the ruling party and those who did not. Today, both Russia and China are woefully corrupt oligarchies.

'La Guillotine en 1793': a depiction of 'enemies of the people' being publicly executed during the French Revolution (H. Fleischmann, 1908)

‘La Guillotine en 1793’: a depiction of ‘enemies of the people’ being publicly executed during the French Revolution (H. Fleischmann, 1908)

The Russian Revolution has sometimes been compared to the French Revolution, which occurred only a few years after its American counterpart. Though founded on principles of universal liberty and justice, the French Revolution resulted in a reign of terror and the rise of the emperor-dictator Napoleon. It was, in other words, a ‘bad’ revolution. The Bolsheviks modeled themselves after the Jacobins in their belief that state terror was essential to revolution, and that the ends justified the means. Hence, Lenin’s Bolsheviks gave full vent to their cruelty, and instead of Napoleon they produced something even worse: Stalin.

Bust of Robespierre in Saint-Denis, in the Île-de-France province

Bust of Robespierre in Saint-Denis, in the Île-de-France province

Interestingly, the two countries have treated their respective revolutionary histories very differently. In France today, monuments to the leaders of the French Revolution are few and far between. There are no memorials or monuments glorifying Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre in France, for example. There is only a metro station in a Paris suburb bearing his name, a short, slightly crude and oddly drab bust in the city of Saint-Denis, and streets in some cities named after him. These sites acknowledge the importance of the revolution and its leaders to the history of the French republic. They do not mythologize them with tawdry memorials and hagiography.

Statue of Lenin in Kaluzhskaya Square, Moscow

Statue of Lenin in Kaluzhskaya Square, Moscow

In Russia, monuments to Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin still number many. They are situated in places of prominence and honor across the country – in city squares, inside public buildings, on large murals, and so forth in about 50 cities nationwide. They commemorate a man who ordered that ‘red terror’ be implemented throughout Soviet Russia, resulting in widespread torture and murder at the hands of the revolution’s secret police and security services. Lenin’s terror was exponentially broadened and intensified under his designated successor, Stalin. 

A giant Lenin head in the Siberian city of Ulan-Ude

Giant Lenin head in the Siberian city of Ulan-Ude (Photo: Mr Hicks46 – flickr.com/photos/teosaurio/9479515564/)

The ubiquity of monuments to Lenin and other Bolsheviks probably stems partly from an unwillingness by the authorities to pay for their removal or demolition. But it must also be attributed to an absence of any proper airing of the facts in Russia a quarter century after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As such, most Russians live in an intellectual ‘twilight zone,’ painfully forced to somehow reconcile the tyrants and monsters of their country’s past with the formal parliamentary democracy in Russia today. School textbooks and histories in the USSR taught that Lenin was a near-perfect being who was good at everything from math to sports, who loved children and animals, who was superhumanly kind. This image remains largely intact for the purposes of mass consumption. As long as this myth endures, Russia will not emerge from its current crisis, will continue to suffer international isolation, and will find itself regularly at odds with the outside world.

*****

[1] The Lubyanka is the building in Moscow that once served as the headquarters of the Soviet security services, and today houses the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation. Its basement has a notorious history as a venue for torture and interrogation of suspected dissidents and enemies of the state.

[2] The People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, Stalin’s secret police.

[3] Alexander Khvat and Sultan Albogachiyev were officers in the NKVD during Stalin’s rule. As NKVD lieutenants, both took an active role in the interrogation and torture of the Soviet Russian botanist and geneticist Nikolai Vavilov.

[4] Nikolai Vavilov a scientist was best known for his innovations and discoveries in the field of improving the yield of staple crops, such as wheat, corn and cereals. He was arrested in 1940, tortured and interrogated in the Lubyanka, and sentenced to death in 1941. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but he died in a concentration camp in 1943.

[5] Grigory Zinoviev (1883-1936) became a leading member of the Soviet Politburo shortly after Lenin’s death and sided with Stalin against Trotsky in power struggle of the 1920s, forming a triumvirate of power with fellow Politburo member Lev Kamenev. However, after the triumvirate fell apart, Zinoviev lost the power struggle with Stalin, was arrested, and became a defendant in one of the many show trials staged in the 1930s. He was convicted and shot.

[6] Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938) was a leading member of the first Soviet government who eventually became the General Secretary of the Communist International. He sided with Stalin against the ‘United Opposition’ of Zinoviev, Trotsky and Kamenev, but eventually fell out with Stalin over the policy of collectivization. He was tried in a show trial in the 1930s, convicted and shot.

[7] Pavel Rychagov (1911-1941) was the commander of the Soviet Air Force from August 1940 to April 1941. He had flown combat missions against the Germans in the Spanish Civil War. He was awarded the Order of Lenin twice and the Order of the Red Banner three times, and was a ‘Hero of the Soviet Union.’ Immediately before Operation Barbarossa and the start of WWII, he was arrested in Stalin’s purge of the armed forces. He was shot in October 1941 along with twenty other military officers on the same day.

[8] Maria Nesterenko (1910-1941) was a Soviet Air force major who attempted to fly from Khabarovsk in the Russian far east to Lviv in western Ukraine, and although storms prevented her from reaching her final destination, she managed to fly roughly 7,000 kilometers in 22.5 hours. She was arrested by the NKVD shortly after her husband, Pavel Rygachov, tortured and shot without trial.

[9] Alexander Poskrebyshev (1891-1965) was Stalin’s personal secretary, responsible for taking dictation and keeping the dictator’s personal diary. He became the butt of jokes among members of the Soviet leadership, who perceived that Stalin regularly humiliated him.

[10] Grigory Mairanovsky (1899-1964) was a biochemist and developer of poisons who headed Laboratory No. 1 of the NKVD from 1938-1946. He used political prisoners to experiment with poisons and personally participated in NKVD assassinations in the 1940s.

[11] A diesel-electric locomotive or vehicle.

*****

Analysis: Russia’s Coup in Eastern Ukraine

10 September 2015

Putin and ShoyguThe Ukrainian crisis receded from the front pages of Western newspapers over a year ago, and is now at best a footnote compared to other stories, such as the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe. Indeed, as another round of talks were conducted in Minsk on September 8th, it was difficult to find a single mainstream news site or wire service reporting on the negotiations or speculating on their outcome. The most one could hope for was a vague statement from the working group that it was ‘pleased’ with the recent lull in fighting in eastern Ukraine. Little or no progress was reported on the withdrawal of weapons from the front by both sides, but this seems not to have shaken even European sensibilities. Ukrainians, by contrast, follow the talks more closely than outsiders, as the outcome of talks between their country and the government of Russia could signal either a continuation of the tiresome, devastating war or a return to peaceful civilian life.

Below is an analytical piece by a Ukrainian author published on the LIGABusinessInform website on the eve of the last round of talks in Minsk. It examines various scenarios that could emerge from negotiations, as well as from the maneuvering of Russian President Vladimir Putin both in America and in the Middle East. Note: while Western reporting seldom labels the Russian-backed separatists as ‘terrorists,’ in Ukraine this is the preferred term for the insurgents and is not used as hyperbole: Ukrainians genuinely view the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) as terrorist entities, not merely for the rebels’ indiscriminate killing and destruction, but for their apparent aim of simply sowing chaos and destruction. As such, the separatists are referred to as ‘terrorists’ throughout the below article.

War or Peace: Why Putin staged a coup among the DNR terrorists

Aleksandr Zakharchenko, President of the 'Donetsk People's Republic'

Aleksandr Zakharchenko, President of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’

The Russian Federation is getting rid of the ‘ideological’ fighters to make the DNR and LNR totally controllable. The military component of hybrid aggression may be frozen.

7 September 2015 ~ Peter Shuklinov / LIGABusinessInform

Alexander Bednov, commonly known as 'Batman'

Pro-Russian separatist leader Alexander Bednov, commonly known as ‘Batman,’ was assassinated by Russian security services in January 2015.

The Russian security forces in the occupied Donbas have created a puppet regime in Donetsk, ready to follow any orders from Moscow. One of the last ideological opponents of Ukraine – Donetsk native Andrei Purgin – has served his purpose and is now deprived of power and influence. At this time there is no blood. A similar process of creating a puppet regime in Luhansk* was completed only after the assassination of the non-Putin-controlled rebel leaders Aleksey Mozgovoy and Aleksandr Bednov (liquidated by the Russian special services at the beginning of the year). The terrorist organizations of DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic] and LNR [Lugansk People’s Republic] are now under Moscow’s full control. What this means, why the terrorists are being advised to flee the Donbas, when the Ukrainian flag will return to Donetsk and Luhansk, what scenarios are realistic, and how Petro Poroshenko’s Plan ‘B’ differs from Vladimir Putin’s plan – this is all in the below article from LigaBusinessInform.

Aleksey Mozgovjy, leader of the pro-Russian 'Prizrak' Brigade, was assassinated by the Russian security services in May 2015.

Aleksey Mozgovoy, leader of the pro-Russian ‘Prizrak’ Brigade, assassinated by Russian security services in May 2015

Why Moscow is getting rid of the ‘ideologicals’

In the DNR terrorist organization, Purgin held the formal position of ‘Head of People’s Council of the DNR.’ Last year the terrorists seized the building of the Donetsk Regional Council, where groups of militants had been gathering, and Purgin actually enjoyed the status of speaker for these groups. Now he has been deprived of this status, and all power at this level of the organization is currently in the hands of the terrorist Denis Pushilin – the right hand of local insurgent leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko – who governs with bandits from the captured Donetsk regional administration. The so-called ‘members of parliament’ among the militants are completely devoid of any influence and will do whatever Zakharchenko orders.

Denis Pushilin was a ringleader of the MMM Ponzi scheme in Russia in the 1990s.

Denis Pushilin was a ringleader of the MMM Ponzi scheme in Russia in the 1990s.

At the talks in Minsk, Purgin was one of two representatives of the terrorists in the political subgroup. Now devoid of power, Purgin is an ordinary member of the organization and will not go to Minsk for talks. Now, a desire to hold a referendum in Donetsk on accession to Russia, which is at odds with the Minsk Agreement and – most importantly – Moscow’s plans, is being attributed to Purgin. According to LIGABusinessInform’s interlocutor at the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Purgin left Donetsk and arrived in Saint Petersburg (Russia) on September 1st – on behalf of Zakharchenko. In Russia, Purgin was to meet with military officials responsible for the delivery of weapons to the DNR terrorists.

Andrei Purgin (Photo: Mstyslav Chernov-AP)

Andrei Purgin (Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/AP)

According to one version, Purgin was confronted with the fait accompli that he should hand over power to Moscow loyalist Pushilin and leave Donetsk. After three days in Saint Petersburg, Purgin went back to Donetsk but was detained by Russian soldiers – Zakharchenko’s ‘personal guard.’ He was thrown into a basement – with his wife and chief assistant, Aleksey Aleksandrov, who held the position of ‘Chief of the Apparatus of the People’s Council’ of the DNR organization – where they were interrogated by members of the FSB [Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation]. According to media reports, after successful negotiations in the basement, Purgin was released.

Moscow has now finally consolidated its power over the DNR terrorists. Within a single day, any decision can be taken. For example, if the Kremlin wishes, a Ukrainian flag could be flying over the regional council in Donetsk. There are no more people like Purgin in Donetsk who could at least try to argue about it. Meanwhile, local residents of Luhansk are already preparing to restore the Ukrainian constitutional system.

Vladislav Deynego, rebel leader in the Lugansk People's Republic

Vladislav Deynego

The representative of the LNR terrorists in Minsk, Vladislav Deynego, has said that the insurgents are ready to return the seized sections of the Ukrainian-Russian border to the Ukrainian armed forces. ‘I do not think that control over the border in Ukraine will somehow change the situation … Of course, we have a little doubt. It will depend on genuine democracy in Ukraine,’ said the rebel.

On social networks, the terrorists’ supporters are calling on those militants with blood on their hands to leave Ukraine as soon as possible and go to Russia – while they still can. The blogger colonelcassad has posted comments saying: ‘Whoever wants to leave the LNR and DNR in the direction of Russia needs to hurry up a little. The deadlines for fulfillment of these measures are set for mid-November, but they may happen sooner.’ For the idealists of ‘Novorossiya’ and those not covered by the amnesty (because of serious crimes), it seems like a good time to flee Ukraine.

A chance to end the war this year

Now that he has consolidated his power in Donetsk, there is nothing preventing Putin from canceling the separatist ‘elections’ in Donetsk and Luhansk. Recall that, at the request of Ukraine and the West (and in accordance with the Minsk agreements), elections in the occupied areas of the Donbas must be held exclusively within the framework of Ukrainian legislation, with the participation of the Central Election Commission and Ukrainian political parties and media, as well as OSCE observers. Otherwise, Russia can expect a strengthening of the existing sanctions. To avoid this, Donetsk and Luhansk must actually return to the constitutional fold of Ukraine. The situation could now develop according to several scenarios.

• Positive scenario (end of war): The New Year in Donetsk and Luhansk will be celebrated under the Ukrainian flag. Ordinary local militants will be pardoned, murderers and terrorist leaders will be forced to leave the Donbas, and the local population will finally be able to return to normal life.

• Negative scenario (continuation of war): Russia will stall the Minsk agreements and hold illegal elections in the occupied territories, or else delay the implementation of its part of the agreement until the expiration of Minsk-2 and the vote on extending the sanctions at the end of the year. Then, sanctions against Moscow will not only be extended but also strengthened.

From different perspectives, either scenario can be both positive and negative. Some observers believe that only the second scenario is in the interests of Ukraine. Some view the slow but peaceful Ukrainianization and disinfection of Donbas in every sense as better than a war of attrition. However, any of the options as a whole could meet the interests of Ukraine: it all depends on who implements the scenario, and how.

DNR President Aleksander Zakharchenko (far left), LNR President Igor Plotnitsky (2nd from left) and former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma (2nd from right) in Minsk for talks in September 2014

DNR President Aleksander Zakharchenko (far left), LNR President Igor Plotnitsky (2nd from left) and former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma (2nd from right) in Minsk for talks in September 2014

On Tuesday, Minsk will host the next meeting of the contact group, which will discuss the details of the restoration of the Ukrainian constitutional order in the Donbas. On the eve of the meeting to transfer the situation from the military to the political plane, not only are the LNR terrorists talking about allowing the return of Ukraine’s borders. This idea was also voiced by the ringleader of the DNR, Zakharchenko. ‘There is no reasonable alternative to a political solution of the conflict within the Minsk talks. All the other variants will inevitably lead to senseless death, destruction and economic collapse,’ said the leader of the militants, actually using the words of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

As reported by a LigaBusinessInform source in the negotiating group, last week Ukraine and Russia agreed on the withdrawal from the boundary line of weapons with a caliber less than 100 mm. At the meeting on Tuesday, the decision may take the form of a document. However, there is still no progress on the release of Ukrainians held hostage in the Donbas by the Russian hybrid army. In addition, although the Russians and terrorists have reduced the intensity of their fire, the use of weapons prohibited under the Minsk Agreement continues. At the weekend, five Ukrainian soldiers were injured by gunfire from terrorists. There is something to talk about.

The vote on the preliminary constitutional amendments has given Ukraine the right to demand to demand fulfillment of the Minsk Agreement from Russia and additional support from the European Union and United States. Moscow has still shown no progress, although the Kremlin-initiated coup within the DNR terrorist organization generates cautious optimism that Russia might effortlessly liquidate ‘Novorossiya.’ Restoration of the border and the genuine return of Ukrainian authority to Donetsk and Luhansk will allow for a slow cleansing of separatism from the region. A good example of the local population’s exhaustion with war and economic terror under Russian auspices was a rally in Donetsk of 100-150 against Purgin’s dismissal.

For President Poroshenko, the end of the war is a victory in any event. All public opinion polls in Ukraine show the desire of Ukrainians to end hostilities and return to civilian life. On the other hand, the reintegration of the occupied areas will positively affect the future of Ukraine only in the event that it is carried out under conditions that are strictly Kyiv’s. But if, for example, Moscow manages to pull of a relabeling of its troops as a ‘people’s militia’ within the framework of Minsk-2, and if Ukraine accepts this, it will be an obvious defeat. In this case, the occupied areas become a reintegrated time bomb for Ukraine. However, the prerequisites for such a scenario are not yet visible, and Ukraine holds more trump cards in its hands to defend its optimal scenario.

Who will play whom

If Putin chooses war, the extension of sanctions is inevitable. In this case, changes to the Constitution of Ukraine at the next parliamentary vote will be redacted to remove the Minsk provision. ‘Nobody will accelerate the adoption of constitutional amendments in the second reading … Our international partners are ready to support us. I am now actively working on a plan ‘B,’ without losing hope that it will be possible to maintain peace and sovereignty,’ said President Poroshenko, commenting on negotiations with Russia.

Vladimir Putin with 'Alpha Group' special tasks troops, among the Russian units likely to be sent to Syria

Vladimir Putin with ‘Alpha Group’ special tasks troops, among the Russian units likely to be deployed in Syria

Judging from everything, Putin – who has intervened in the war in the Middle East – also seems to have a Plan ‘B.’ Russian troops have landed in Syria and are fighting on the side of government forces of the Bashar al-Assad regime, against the militants of the Islamic State. As in the case of the war against Ukraine in Crimea and the Donbas, the Moscow authorities are conducting a war that is being kept secret from their own citizens. The Kremlin plan can be formally divided into two scenarios.

Putin addressing the UN General Assembly in happier times

Putin addressing the UN General Assembly in happier times

The main scenario is connected with the participation of Putin in the UN General Assembly in the United States, where he intends to deliver a speech on the war against terrorism. The meeting will take place on September 15th. This is not an official visit, only a formality connected with the principles of the UN’s work. The United States has not invited Putin, and Barack Obama is not planning any meeting with the head of the aggressor state. However, it is possible that during the visit, Putin will try to meet with someone from official Washington. Russia, through diplomatic channels, is apparently already trying to introduce its package of proposals: the destruction of the Islamic State in exchange for the restoration of Russia’s position in the world. And, of course, the easing of sanctions.

  • Ukraine’s Plan ‘B’ (presumably): Introduction of peacekeepers in the Donbas and forcing Moscow to make peace on Ukraine’s conditions; extension and strengthening of sanctions against Russia; total blockade of the Russian-occupied areas of the Donbas.
  • Russia’s Plan ‘B’ (supposedly): Participation in hostilities against the Islamic State in order to achieve Russia’s return to the club of international players, which will help to lift some of the sanctions imposed for the war against Ukraine, while continuing efforts to achieve reintegration of the occupied territories of the Donbas on its own terms.
Syrian government troops patrol Homs after a shelling

Syrian government troops patrol Homs after a shelling

The benefits for the USA and the Middle East are that, in furthering the personal interests of Putin, Moscow can destroy as many Russian soldiers and officers in Syria as it wants: public opinion in Russia will not be affected because of total control of the media. Moreover, Russia can equip a coalition against the Islamists, also without damaging public opinion. On the contrary, participation in hostilities in the Middle East would probably even increase the Putin’s ratings: Russians love the grandeur and approve of death for the tsar. Russian media have already begun to justify and promote the actions of the Russian dictator, without forgetting to add that, officially, there are of course no Russians in Syria. For the West, this could be a convenient option: to destroy the threat of ISIS at the hands of the Russians.

However, so far Putin’s games are being received coolly in Washington. US Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to say that the participation of Russian troops in the war in the Middle East could lead to a further escalation of the conflict in Syria, the death of many civilians, an increase in the flow of refugees and a risk of confrontation with the anti-ISIS coalition. Kerry’s words about ‘the risk of confrontation with the coalition’ speak to the fact that the allies do not intend to permit Moscow’s large-scale entry into the Middle East. This is the second branch of Putin’s plan. Obviously, this is a scenario in which the presence of Russian troops helps Moscow to adjust the balance of power in the Middle East conflict. This is just as it is, for example, in the Donbas, where ‘unknown’ Grad missiles fired from multiple rocket launchers strike first on one side, then the other. We cannot exclude attacks on infrastructure, as the region produces a lot of oil.

Security personnel loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (Reuters/Alaa Al-Marjani)

Security personnel loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (Reuters/Alaa Al-Marjani)

In addition, the constant presence of Putin’s troops in Syria will help protect the regime of Syrian dictator Assad in the future. Already Russian troops in Syria are fighting not against the Islamic state, but against opponents of Assad who had earlier initiated a revolution in the country – essentially a Maidan – which the regime decided to repay with tanks and artillery. Russia is defending its ally. And it is far from established fact that it would go further and fight ISIS.

The fundamental question

Today, a trilateral meeting (Ukraine, EU, Russia) is being held on the issue of Ukraine’s implementation of European standards within the framework of the EU Association Agreement. Association of Ukraine with the European Union is a matter of the economic interests for Moscow. These interests might have been one of the causes of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Definitively entering the Association Agreement (the economic part as of 1 January 2016) into force without taking the Russian Federation’s demands into account will mean that Ukraine permanently moves out from under the influence of Russia and into the economic orbit of the EU. The loss of the Ukrainian market for the Moscow authorities and the binding of Ukraine to the European market mean a loss of Russian economic leverage: integration into the Moscow-led Customs Union will be impossible for Ukraine.

Even before the meeting, Moscow said it would propose that the technical regulations of the European Union should be introduced by 2025, not only in Ukraine, but in Russia – concurrently. The idea looks extravagant. The position of Ukraine and the European Union remains unchanged: no revisions to the signed Association documents. The Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine, Trade Representative Natalya Mykolska, declared that Ukraine was preparing for the meeting with a clear understanding that a break with Russia was inevitable. ‘We are looking to compensate for the possible closure of the Russian market to Ukrainian exports,’ she wrote, explaining that tripartite consultations were part of the Minsk Agreements.

Free trade between Ukraine and the EU should have been developed from October 2014. However, in September 2014, after Russian troops invaded Ukraine near Ilovaisk, the parties agreed to postpone introduction of the agreement’s provisions until 31 December 2015. During this time, the Kremlin has only confirmed the futility of speaking to it about the economy. A new meeting will obligate it to do nothing. Presumably it will end with the same thing: nothing.

~ Peter Shuklinov

Война или мир. Зачем Путину переворот у террористов ДНР

* The city of Luhansk is referred to as ‘Luhansk’ (the Russian pronunciation) in the context of the pro-Russian separatist ‘Lugansk People’s Republic.’ In all other contexts it is written as ‘Luhansk,’ the Ukrainian name.

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