July 14, 2014

Is Moscow Abandoning the Nationalists at home
and the Rebels in Ukraine?

Commentary for 14 July 2014

The Russian-backed rebellion in Eastern Ukraine hasn’t done well in recent weeks. The anti-Kiev separatists have suffered setback after setback, defeat after defeat (and still, there is no Russian invasion). What could Moscow be thinking? Polls show that Russia’s image has been damaged throughout the world after the annexation of Crimea. In Eastern Ukraine Moscow’s surrogates have lost popular support. 

On July 11 The Jamestown Foundation published a piece by military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer who says the pro-Russian uprising in Donbas is about to collapse, with rebel forces evacuating Slavyansk. The informal analysis of the situation, supposedly given by Russian geopolitical analyst Alexander Dugin, is almost identical: “Putin has a sun side and a moon side. The sun side is the one that annexed Crimea while the moon side betrays the children of Slavyansk.” Accompanying this analysis is a story which says that Dugin has been fired from his position as head of the Department of Sociology and International Relations at Moscow State University. According to HungarianAmbience.com, “[Dugin] was removed from the university for political reasons, because certain circles didn’t like his views on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.”

As a Russian nationalist, of course, Dugin wants the Ukrainian nationalists “eliminated.” And this is what he has publicly advocated. This sort of thing was fine while Moscow was riding high on anti-American propaganda in the wake of the heady Crimea annexation. But things have settled down. People have sobered up (well, not literally). Given that Moscow is looking at defeat in Eastern Ukraine, dismissing Dugin makes sense. It is only obvious that Ukraine must be won back with smiles, negotiations, and the usual backroom deals. And so it follows as night follows day that a prominent nationalist loudmouth should be gagged and put at arm’s length for a few weeks or years (depending how the political situation plays out). 

On June 27, in a blog post at VK.com, Dugin wrote: “Dean Vladimir Ivanovich Dobrenkov, Russian patriot, also left his post. What liberals and Atlanticists fought for after so many years, has occurred.” Dugin then referred to his belief in the new Russia, and his opposition to the Ukrainian Nazis “and their extermination of civilians.” He also derided liberalism, the West, and American hegemony, saying his political views were too hot to handle. That is why his post at the university was being taken by Vladimir Zhirinovsky (don’t laugh, please). “I knew what I was doing,” Dugin wrote without irony, “starting a frontal attack on the sixth [sic] column in the Russian government. I knew what to expect when I chose to support the new Russia. I knew what I was doing when I named a number of workers who, in my opinion, are responsible for the failure of our politics and ideology in Russia and Ukraine.” Dugin went on to say that he was never giving up, and would not lay down his arms. “I will fight on, as before, as always.”  

But there is a problem with this story, as all stories out of Russia. In case after case, ideologically important “events” have two sides: (a) they happened; and (b) they did not happen. And so, as if readers are given the option to believe whichever version pleases them, we read at News.ru that Moscow State University officially denies the story of Dugin’s dismissal. It simply never happened, says MSU. 

Once again, and this must be underscored: In Russia all important events have at least two versions (or several). This does not signify a contradiction in the normal sense. This signifies the reader’s choice as to which version to believe. Those who believe that Putin is a strong nationalist will assert that Dugin’s dismissal could not have happened. Those who believe Putin intends to eschew militant nationalism will believe that Dugin has been fired. The actual truth of what happened does not matter.  Everything in Russia is predicated on what the individual observer wants to be true, regardless of the actual truth. As Anna Politkovskaya explained shortly before her death: “What matters [in Russia] is not solving the problems, but controlling what gets reported on television; not reality but virtuality; censorship as a way of not having to tackle difficult matters. The downside is that ubiquitous censorship and constant duplicity mean you have no visible opposition with which to debate the issues on a daily bases.”  [p. 122, A Russian Diary] After all, how can we debate an issue when there are two (or several) different versions of what happened? Analysis cannot advance in a field of non-fact. What is observed is a flexible and multifaceted illusion, amenable to any number of perspectives. The whole thing is ideologically open-ended, and leaves the Kremlin with all options intact. 

In her Russian Diary, Politkovskaya further explained Russian politics in a way that also brings the emerging situation of America politics into better focus: 

This whole system of thieving judges, rigged elections, presidents who have only contempt for the needs of their people, can operate only if nobody protests. That is the Kremlin’s secret weapon and the most striking feature of life in Russia today! That is the secret  … apathy, rooted in an almost universal certainty among the populace that the state authorities will fix everything, including elections, to their own advantage. It is a vicious circle. People react only when something affects them personally…. Until then, if my hut is out of harm’s way, why worry? We have emerged from socialism as thoroughly self-centered people. 

The socialist ethic leaves its mark on every country that dabbles with it. American politics is beginning to read a bit like Russian politics; from the controversy over Obama’s computer-facsimile birth certificate to Global Warming. In every case there are two versions of reality (take your pick). 

Each man will believe what pleases him best. Why trouble yourself to learn the actual truth? Since reality itself has the consistency of oatmeal, the most reputable school of thought takes the position of absolute selfishness. If my hut is out of harm’s way, leave me out of it. If someone like Ann Barnhardt has made a principled stand, that’s her tough luck. If the country is being systematically disarmed, who cares? It’s not my responsibility. The idea that the country will be blown apart by a nuclear bombardment is merely a crackpot idea. Besides, there's no money in such thinking. The foundation of everything is being destroyed, yet the powerful and the celebrated pretend like it’s no big deal. Why not side with the powerful and the celebrated? To borrow a phrase from Karl Kraus, America (like Russia before it) has become “a research laboratory for the destruction of mankind.” (Every monkey, in turn, must see, hear, and speak no evil.)

Enter the false savior of the hour, as ambiguous as other attending phenomena. This is a pesonality Thomas Molnar calls “the counter-revolutionary hero.” Such a figure always comes and “is not a new type.” He reoccurs from time to time, and we can readily identify him. The style and thought of this person are a contradiction, as in the dual reality depicted by Moscow today. His thoughts are at variance with the way in which he must advance. He is practical, and so he continues the revolution. 

He ascribes to it while claiming to oppose it. It is what the Communists call “Bonapartism,” and Americans call the Republican Party. Here is something with two faces. Believe in whichever face you want. The truth doesn’t matter. (For in truth, there is no facing whatever.) 

Has the "Bonapartist" system in Russia, like the Republican Party in America, reached the point of negating itself? Or are we witnessing yet another clever façade -- another matryoshka doll?  To be sure, the Kremlin faces defeat in Eastern Ukraine. Felgenhauer says, “As a last step short of direct intervention, the Russian air force could be preparing for a covert action over Donbas to support the rebels….” He then hints that Russian air intervention could begin “next week” unless there is a ceasefire. Or is it a repeat of the Bay of Pigs? – with the Russians playing the American role, and the Ukrainians as the Cubans?  Or is the crisis going to escalate in keeping with escalations on other fronts?  

It’s going to be an interesting summer.  


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