A Russian on the Russia Problem

The Triumph of Weak Will

by Stanislav Dmitrievsky


Translated from the Russian by FinRosForum

Yesterday, I was asked to formulate my suggestions to European politicians who will take part in the next OSCE meeting on the human dimension. The question I was asked was: “What should European politicians do to defend civic society, civic and political activists in Russia?”

I find it very hard to formulate my recommendations. In response, I would like to pose my own question: “What are European politicians prepared to do? Is Europe prepared to give up some of its comfort for the sake of defending, –not just in words but in deed,– the great principles of freedom enshrined in its constitution?”

I have asked this question many times in recent years. There is no direct answer, yet it seems I know the answer. The latest EU resolution on the conflict between Russia and Georgia testifies that the current generation of European leaders lack not only the readiness to defend their declared “democratic values,” but also an elementary sense of self-preservation.

There is nothing but words. A mountain of words, with which Europe tries to hide its own fear of real action. A paralysis of responsibility. A triumph of the weak will.

The clever guys in the Kremlin are not in a hurry. Every time they tighten their stranglehold on freedom, they look at the West with a bashless question in their eyes: “Are you weak?” The response of the West is an endless, non-binding gabble of concern. The Kremlin is content: The “Free World,” with a mere wince, swallowed another bad apple from the KGB. After a while, the bait is set again. And yet again, the Kremlin asks, “Are you weak?”, and the West responds with an inarticulate cackle.

In the eight years since the KGB stopped licking its wounds and came out of its holes, no one has tried to stop it. The snake is slowly creeping into somebody else’s house. Yet the West still tries to convince itself that it is just a harmless black adder, which –albeit a wee inappropriate– is quite useful, and –God forbid!– should not be isolated.

Shortly before his death, [Soviet dissident and civic rights activist] Andrey Sakharov said: “My country needs support and pressure.” Since 1999, we have had neither. As a result, the West has lost almost all ways to influence the political hooligans in the Kremlin.

At the end of 1999, when the “Free World” naively asked, “Who is Mister Putin?”, the West had an ample of mechanisms to stop Russia’s plunge into authoritarianism and save the fragile flowers of democracy in Russia. Europe had not yet tied itself to Russian oil and gas supplies, and the war in Chechnya provided more than enough reason to condemn the reappearance of KGB rule.

“The total and wanton destruction of the city of Grozny, the most striking example of indiscriminate and disproportionate military action which has cost hundreds, if not thousands of civilian lives; continued attacks on the civilian population, ranging from the use of aerial bombardments and other heavy weaponry in densely populated areas to the committal of war crimes by federal troops, including the murder and rape of civilians.” These are not the words of Chechen separatists, but of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Recommendation 1456 (2000)).

Yet the victims of this barbarous war were forgotten. Instead, the “Free World” fed Chechnya to Putin, thinking naively that once he had quenched his thirst with Chechen blood, Putin would promote “democratic values” in other areas. Europe was deaf and blind in all ensuing years of this ignoble conflict. This is just one example:

In March 2001, a mass grave was found near the main military base of Russian federal forces in Chechnya in Khankala. More than 50 bodies were moved to the warehouse of the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Grozny. Most of the bodies found in the mass grave were, however, quickly reburied under a ton of dirt at the bottom of a deep pit.

Most of the victims had their hands tied behind their backs, their bodies bore signs of vicious torture and gunshot wounds. The identity of 26 bodies was recognised; all were those of civilians that had been detained at various times by Russian troops. Yet Europe closed its eyes to all these horrors, while at the same time raising scandal over similar crimes in Kosovo.

As hundreds of Chechens were looking for the remains of their loved ones in the half-destroyed warehouse of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Álvaro Gil-Robles, was visiting Grozny. He visited the military base in Khankala, just a few hundred meters from the mass grave. Yet he failed to visit the burial site and the warehouse, saying that he had “no qualification in forensic medicine.”

After the Commissioner left Grozny, Russian authorities quickly reburied all bodies that were unrecognised, thus destroying all evidence of crime. No forensic examination was carried out, and evidence was buried together with the bodies of the victims, both those who had been recognised by relatives and those that were reburied in an unnamed grave.

The West’s only response to this and similar tragedies was always mere “concern,” which the Kremlin –rightly so– interpreted, at best, as weakness or, at worst, as encouragement to new atrocities. After Chechnya, it was the turn of independent media, liquidation of Russia’s federal system of government, political assassinations, imitations of elections, elimination of political opposition, threats of redirecting missiles against Europe.

It was against this background that Russia was accepted into the elite club of G8. Even after the occupation of the territory of sovereign Georgia, nobody intends to demand Russia’s ouster.

If the leaders of democratic nations are unable to take decisive steps against obvious aggression, what steps can one expect them to take in defence of “civic society”? Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, Yuri Chervochkin, Magomed Yevloyev… They are all dead. I am fully aware that anyone of us, activists of the Russian opposition and human rights movement, may be next. There is nothing that can be done. Russian authorities do not give a damn about what others think and say about them, as long as these thoughts and words are not followed by any action.

Our lives and our liberty do not cost a penny in Russia, and there is no one able to defend us. Personally, I have come to accept this, and strive to continue my work in these conditions. No amount of “concern,” calls to “carry out an independent and impartial inquiry,” and other gullible silliness will change the situation. With its policy of appeasement in regard to Putin, the West has raised a monster over which it has no authority whatsoever. The West does not even want to gain any authority over him.

What should the Free World do in this situation, unless it wishes to end up as a hostage to the extortionists in the Kremlin? I must point out that the struggle for freedom and democracy in Russia, defence of civic society, and opposition to the Kremlin’s bullyish foreign policy are two sides of the same coin. The peoples of Russia and the West have a common enemy: the murderous and feckless regime of Putin and his minions.

In my opinion, the West needs to free itself of stereotypes that limit European policy in the post-Cold War period. The West has been complacent in relation to Russia. It is necessary to recognise the inefficiency of this policy and realise that the Kremlin is no longer ruled by the sweet Gorbie, nor the good-natured, slobbish Yeltsin, but by people who actually regard the West as their main enemy. That is how they were taught in the KGB, and there is no such thing as a former KGB agent.

Multinational institutions or at least individual states in the West need to compile a list of political prisoners in Russia and demand their immediate release. The West needs to condition its relations with Russia on the Kremlin’s observation of this demand. No more talk from Kremlin leaders about “meddling in Russia’s internal affairs;” the West needs to deliver an immediate and stiff rebuke. That would be the real “human dimension.”

If democratic states are not prepared to impose tough economic sanctions against Russia due to their impotence and reliance on Russian energy, the least the West can do is impose “surgical sanctions” against officials guilty of human rights violations and repression of civic society in Russia. There is a whole gamut of measures to defend the “human dimension.” The sanctions should include a ban on entry to countries of the Schengen zone and the United States, as well as freezing the assets of the officials and their relatives in foreign banks.

As a response to the killing of Magomed Yevloyev, [Ingush President Murat] Zyazikov and Interior Minister [Musa Medov] should be denied entry to Europe. As a response to the illegal and cruel repression of another March of Dissent in Moscow, the wife of the Mayor of Moscow, Yelena Baturina, one of the richest women in the world, should have her enormous assets in Europe frozen. Igor Falileyev, the judge who refused parole to Mikhail Khodorkovsky for failing to learn how to sew mittens in jail, should be barred entry to Europe until he repents publicly in front of the Supreme Court in Moscow.

There is an army of prosecutors, police officers, and correctional officers, let alone military officers responsible for the killing of thousands, against whom sanctions should be imposed. The sanctions should be imposed openly and demonstratively, following clear criteria. The West could establish multinational commissions to investigate gross violations of human rights. The commissions could look at human rights violations not only in Russia, but in countries like China, Turkmenistan, and Iran as well.

The leaders in the Kremlin will, of course, not sit on their hands. They will soon retaliate. This is where we come back to my main question: What is Europe prepared to sacrifice to defend its own ideals? I exhort you to act and not be afraid! In the long run, Putin and his pygmies cannot win the battle for freedom.

Unfortunately, all my hopes may turn out to be just the rosy dreams of a provincial Russian utopist. Putin and his henchmen will keep having tea with the Queen, the Dutch battalion will keep looking on at the destruction of Srebrenica, and the European Commissioner will keep lamenting for his lack of pathologicoanatomic expertees.

These scenes seem to symbolise current European policy. The sentences meted out on us, the deaths, the defaced cities, and the mass graves still fail to solicit anything but the usual sounds of a disquietened henhouse. Please, I beg you to stop your ritual gestures and empty talk. The Kremlin is laughing at you. Words need to be followed by action. If you cannot act, you had better keep quiet. That would at least be more honest.

I recently received a message: “The European Parliament’s budgetary affairs committee proposed to freeze some 60.5 million euros in financial aid destined for Russia in 2009 under the neighbourhood policy, among other things, to support human rights groups and non-governmental organisations.”

Well done! First Putin declared human rights organisations to be the fifth column of the West and withdrew tax exemptions on grants from foreign funds. As a response to Russian policies in Georgia, the West then decided to punish human rights activists. What a truly asymmetric response! Let me propose that the European Parliament demand that Russia double the sentence on Mikhail Khodorkovsky as a response to the crisis in Georgia. This will certainly be an effective measure, one which the Kremlin will not withstand!

10 responses to “A Russian on the Russia Problem

  1. I have a question:

    If the Russian people themselves know and see the problem – and one has to be blind, deaf and dumb not to see it – why don’t the Russian people themselves fix it?

    Why is it always the fault of “the West” that Russians can’t seem to find a way to have a civil, decent government?

    Russia has always – always – relied on the worst instincts of people in order to form a “strong arm” government, and has always – always – relied on thugs to do the bidding of whoever is in power.

    Russians even invited foreigners to do it, as, for example, in the case of Prussian Catherine (most Russians don’t seem to know that she was actually German/Prussian), or in the case of Stalin.

    The Russians have their wagons in a ditch.

    Instead of getting together to pull the wagon out, they sit and moan about how miserable they are, how it’s the fault of “the West” that their wagon is in a ditch, and how it’s the fault of “the West” that noone will come and get their wagon out of the ditch.

    And, on top of that, we have one rooshan telling everyone not to think “like a Yankee – in a straight line.”

    In Russia, it seems that in order to get from point A to point B, one first goes to point H, then moans about it, then drinks, then to point L, then all over the place – never getting to point B.

    So, my question remains – why can’t the Russians fix a problem that so many of them recognize?

  2. I have to agree with Elmer. The problem is that Russia needs a handbook to do anything more than just half ass. Lenin had Marx’s handbook and the Russians did a fair job at establishing a communist state. Unfortunately, Lenin did not have the hindsight nor the understanding of economics which proves nearly all of Marx’s theories as wrong. So Russia developed a Marx shit hole called the Soviet Union. But you can say they stayed on script. Much better than some other countries. When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no handbook about how to transform a totalitarian state into a thriving Capitalistic Democracy governed by the rule of law. There was only vague passage and cliff notes provided by the likes of Aslund Anders and Harvard economists, who were more interested in lining their own pockets. So Russia failed to follow any real path and as a result we had some messy times in the 1990’s. ( I do not support the Chaos theory, because I was there.) Then we have Putin. He is half the Russian population has been dreaming about for nearly 17 years. They want someone to rule with an iron fist and restore Russia to superpower status. These are more important than rule of law and democracy. Sad but true. And in the end, all the resolve and all the USAID money can’t help Russia if the Russians do not want to help themselves.

  3. I agree that many Russians want to restore Russia to superpower status, but are they willing to make the sacrifices that this would require?

    The Soviet Union was a superpower in terms of its military. However, this came at a price: at least, one-half of its economy was devoted to the military. To return to its “superpower” status, Russians will have to be ready to sacrifice for the cause.

    As it now stands, Putin likes to bluster, but delivers little in terms of substance. They keep announcing every year the latest military marvel that will come out Russia. The “next generation” plane or missile or other piece of military hardware is always close to completion. In reality, they are still coasting on what was achieved in Soviet times.

  4. Anyone with a brain just saves whatever money they can and leaves that demented place.

    They have no guns! How are the people going to change it ?

    Not by all the words of every person in the world…

  5. “Yes, let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness – pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.”
    Ronald Reagan 03/08/1983

    Did something change since?

  6. Kolchak, Russia did indeed have a monumental task before it, as did all of the other ex-soviet republics and satellites.

    The mystery is this: the “soviet elite” learned very quickly how to steal. They now turned into pseudo-democrat political elite, and they did not hesitate to kill and blow people up.

    And Jeffrey Sachs, and Harvard economists, did not help in a positive way. You are right about them wanting to line their pockets, which is atrocious.

    The point is – these people, the “elite,” learned very quickly how to rob and steal through government. And they did not hesitate to kill, because the sovok government already did that.

    Plus, the sovok union created people without scruples, without a conscience.

    Why do the people in Russia tolerate this?

    lowkey, you are right, the smart people leave, especially the Internet brides.

    But do you really need guns? Why can’t the people just get together and say “enough”?

    What’s there now isn’t doing them any good – it’s doing only a select few some “good” through enormous wealth.

    Ghandi changed it. Martin Luther Kink changed it (“an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere”).

    Ireland changed it. Germany changed it. The Czech Republic changed it. Poland changed it. The list goes on.

    Why can’t Russia change it?

  7. What I find fascinating when speaking to ordinary Russians is the importance that they place on the Rossiya being “velikaya.” I for one am not all that interested in Canada being a “great” nation. I, however, want Canada to be a decent country where individuals should have an opportunity to live great lives. How individuals are treated is of greater importance than the greatness of the state. Many Russians, from my experience, place greater emphasis on the greatness of the state over the lives and well-being of individuals in Russia.

  8. I find it hard to criticize all russians for the events that have transpired over the course of almost a century.

    The russians that spoke of freedom and justice, were quickly committed to reeducation camps for simply being “counter-revolutionaries”.

    The eugenic/multi-generational state of fear that the soviet union created explains the lack of understanding of human nature.

    The simple fact is, if you allow people to take care of themselves, and their families. They will do just that. When demand for their product or service becomes more than they can handle, that is when they hire other people that are trying to take care of themselves and their families. It may be slow at times, but it’s an upward spiral.

    The alternative is to deprive the people that have already established themselves of their ability to opperate on an independant level. When a small business is required to pay more in taxes, where does that money come from.

    1. employee wages
    2. employee compensation/benefits
    3. consumer/higher prices
    4. local market employment

    Socialist may think they are doing good, but intentions don’t put food on the dinner table.

  9. Kolchak, you are right about USAID. It only helps people that are willing to help themselves.

    A prime example is between Ethiopia and Somalia. Ethiopia was poverty stricken, and their children were so malnourished that they were unable to swat the flies off of their eyeballs.

    The US was involved in humanitarian efforts in both countries however, the great savior of the 90’s wasn’t willing to sand by principle.

    Ethiopia is now capable of protecting their own interests, while Somalia is not(without international support).

    Bill Clinton’s fuck africa policy has left millions of people to drink water out of their own sewage, and to eat dirt, literally for sustenance.

    The first black president is nothing but a freeloading simpleton. He has caused more harm than he could ever wish to fix.

  10. “I agree that many Russians want to restore Russia to superpower status, but are they willing to make the sacrifices that this would require?”

    I really don’t think that you understand, the US spends more on defense than the entire russian GDP, if you even understand what that is.

    In order to be a first world power, you need a full scale invasion of San Francisco, or if your really serious, any of our liberal states will do.

    They won’t put up a fight, but you can create a beachhead, and when you try to move, then you will have a fight.

    We’ll spot you Maine, California and all of Canada.

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