Monday, May 21, 2018

The Putin Paradox: The More He Strengthens the Vertical, the Weaker It Becomes, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 21 – Vladimir Putin now finds himself in a paradoxical situation, Vladimir Sokratilin says. The more he strengthens the power vertical and gives the siloviki ever greater influence over events, the weaker it and he becomes, as the failure of the August 1991 coup showed.

            Many are overread poll results showing that 90 percent of Russians aren’t ready to take part in protests, the sociologist points out. In fact, the share that is prepared to do so will rise to 100 percent as happened in Volokolamsk and Kemerovo if an event provides a focus for popular discontent (

            At present, he says, “the situation is stable” in the absence of such triggers, “people live quietly, but the level of social tension is dangerously high.” If conditions deteriorate slowly, people won’t go into the streets; but if something like a fire or an accident happens, then they will because they see no other way to press their causes, Sokratilin continues.

            “If in society there are mechanisms which allow for the resolution of such conflicts, then a social explosion won’t occur,” he says. But over the past decade, in the name of building the power vertical, Putin has destroyed most of those mechanism and any popular belief that they can be effective in resolving problems.

            Instead, Russians see a system where it isn’t open politics that decides outcomes but the struggle of clans behind the scenes each of which seeks to use or is very much part of the siloviki. The latter, of course, “have their own interests;” and it is significant that the work siloviki has followed sputnik into international discourse. 

            The rise of the siloviki has occurred, the sociologist argues, because Putin has destroyed democratic procedures and the separation of powers and “what is most important” has created a situation in which officials don’t have to take public opinion into account but rather have to concern themselves only with interested siloviki.

            There is yet another shortcoming in Putin’s system: “no serious official however much he may want to can involve himself with the development of the sector he is responsible for because he is forced to spend all his time on repulsing hostile attacks and conducting his own” as a condition of remaining in power.

            This is a big change from a decade of so ago. In 2008, mayors were still elected in most places. Consequently, when Kondopoga happened, no one ever raised the possibility of resolving it by the use of force.  Officials thought first and foremost “about how to conduct a propaganda campaign, as it was called.”

            But today in Volokolamsk, Russian officials turn to force first, not seeing any need to pay attention to the views of the population.  Indeed, Sokratilin says, “officials are no longer concerned about a feedback loop with the population; they are worried only about their own positions in the system of power.”

            Apologists for this new system “justly say that the people of Russia has never lived as well as it does not,” the sociologist continues. “That is true. But at the same time, the sense of injustice in the organization of the life of society and the alienation of the powers in public consciousness is very strong.”

            When the powers that be think first of all about applying force against those who do protest, that has another consequence which may prove fatal:  The application of limited amounts of force “fight only the most intellectual and well-disposed part” of those protesting. And that means that “the more radical part” remains.

            “Force, unfortunately, gives rise to force,” Sokratilin points out. And as the events at the end of Soviet times show, when the population starts to blame the siloviki for the use of force, the siloviki will begin to calculate whether they should follow orders to suppress the population, knowing they are certain to be blamed and even sold out by the political types.

            “In the USSR, there was also a harsh power vertical and an uncompromising under the rug struggle among the siloviki of that time.  When the political elite used the army as in Tbilisi, the army got blamed.  And that meant that in August 1991, commanders were much more reluctant to be used against the population.

            “What can we expect under contemporary conditions? The suppression of mass risings – this carries with it big risks.”  If passers-by are wounded or killed, the situation can easily get dangerously out of hand.  Many discount this because they do not feel Russians have experienced “the last drop” of oppression.

            But that is a mistake, Sokratilin says, because in fact the appropriate model is one in which the pressure of social tensions is such, that any massive protest that would lead the Kremlin to use force in a massive way could touch off a far greater social and thus political explosion than anyone expects.

            What this trigger will be is impossible to say, just as it was impossible just months ago to predict the rise of protests in Volokolamsk.

‘Tlapqghakakwad’ Overcome – Circassians Mark 154th Anniversary of Genocide

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 21 – History, it is often observed, is written by the victors; but those who look like victors at one point may turn out to be the defeated at another and those who appeared to be the vanquished may come back Phoenix-like and win a larger and longer victory than anyone – including themselves – could ever imagine.

            Today, Circassians around the world mark what they call tlapqghakakwad – the Circassian word for “death of the nation” – the anniversary of Russia’s expulsion and killing of their ancestors in 1864 after more than a century of resistance to Russian imperial advance into the Caucasus.   

            That act of genocide by the Russian state reflected the desire of its rulers to have the land the Circassians lived on but without the Circassians, an example of the extrapolation of the infamous comment of a Russian general that “Russia needs Armenia; it doesn’t need Armenians.”

            By that Russian action more than 150 years ago, the Circassian state was destroyed, the Circassian nation decimated, and the Russian empire extended, certainly appearing seeming to appear to justify Russian claims of victory and the Circassian recognition that they had suffered tlapqghakakwad or “death of the nation.”

            But in fact, the Circassians who now number more than five million in the diaspora in the Middle East, Europe and North America and who count more than 500,000 people in their traditional North Caucasus homeland that the Russian state has carved up have come back to life and can look beyond 1864 in which they and not the Russian oppressors will be the victors.

            Mobilized by the contemptible decision of Vladimir Putin to hold the 2014 Olympics on the killing fields of Sochi where the ancestors of today’s Circassians were murdered, brutalized and expelled, the Circassian community both at home and in the diaspora is stronger than it has ever been.

            That can be seen in the demonstrations and commentaries by Circassians this week. (Among the best are  and  But it can be even more clearly observed in the actions of the Circassians chronicled by one of their number in an important new book. 

            In Circassia (Xlibris, 2017), Adel Bashqawi, a retired pilot who was born in Amman, traces the history of his people from antiquity up to the struggles of today. (It is from him that the current author has learned so much about the Circassians and it is from his book that I learned the Circassian word tlapqghakakwad.

            But his book and the history of the Circassian people points to another conclusion: those who have been defeated at one point or another can come back in triumph.  And on this sad anniversary of Russian oppression, I am confident that Bashqawi’s subtitle Born to Be Free captures far better what is going on among the Circassians than anything else.

            A nation that remains committed to freedom cannot be defeated, however many defeats it suffers. And I believe that Circassians will again be victorious and free once again while those who thought they had committed “the death of a nation” 154 years ago will be seen as the ultimate losers. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pan-Mongol Sentiments Re-Surfacing among Buryats

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 20 – It has long been an axiom of Eurasian analysis that pan-Mongolism emerges only when Russia and/or China are weak. That has certainly been true in the past, but with Mongolia now a much more independent country than ever before in modern times, it may be time to modify the assumptions underlying that approach.
            Three recent developments suggest that: First, Moscow has forced the liquidation of the office of the plenipotentiary representative of Buryatia in Ulan Bator, apparently fearful that it was promoting the restoration of closer ties between the two Mongol peoples than the Russian government is prepared to tolerate.

            Instead, it has concentrated any ties between the Buryat Republic within the Russian Federation and the Mongolian government through a single official in the Russian embassy in Ulan Bator, an individual who is known to be a vocal opponent of Buryat national causes (

            Second, despite this, Buryat officials and Buryats more generally are intensifying their contacts with their Mongol counterparts, seeking Moscow’s permission for expanded ties with Mongolia and urging the Buryat government to promote Mongol language classes in the republic’s schools (

            The latter if successful could lead to a rapprochement between the two Mongol languages, Khalka and Buryat, and thus help promote the view widely held by many Buryats to this day that they are part of a broader Mongol nation, something that already informs the statements of some Buryat activists (

            And third, the self-described Pan-Mongol Party in Emigration based in Baku is using the Internet to reach out to Buryats in particular. It has become more active following the decision of the Buryat Republic parliament to disband the republic’s supreme court in order to save money and increase efficiency (

            Arguing that this move is but the latest step in Moscow’s campaign to destroy Buryat statehood, the party calls on all Buryats “to struggle with all their forces until complete victory.”  Specifically, it declares that “we do not recognize the collaborationist powers in Buryatia as legitimate” and declares that Russian government is “an occupation administration.”

            “We appeal to the world community to recognize Buryatia as an occupied territory, we consider that the Buryat-Mongol ethnos is being subjected to political and cultural genocide,” and, it declares, “activists of the Buryat national-liberation movement in emigration are the only legal power on the territory of Buryatia.”

            The party makes clear its final goal: “Buryatia will be independent!”