Thursday, June 30, 2016

Moscow’s Ideas on Info ‘Security’ Threaten Both Russians and the West, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – The draft Doctrine on Information Security posted this week on the website of the Russian Security Council ( contains provisions which threaten not only the citizens of the Russian Federation but also Russia’s neighbors and Western countries, according to Vadim Shtepa.

            In an analysis of the draft document, the Karelian regionalist who has been forced to leave his homeland and settle in Estonia says that the document shows that Moscow plans not to develop a “contemporary” state but rather wants to assume the role of “’a besieged fortress’” that must oppose “all possible enemies” (

            The draftis filled with contradictions because it contains language talking about the defense of the constitutional rights of Russians and language that suggests some Russians are a threat to the state just as much as outside powers and that the state must defend itself against both.  “It is significant,” Shtepa continues, that it lists “certain ‘internal threats’ in first place.”

            The draft’s formulation of this task is especially disturbing. The document says that the state must ensure “the stable functioning of the information infrastructure of the Russian Federation … in peace time, in a period of immediate threat of aggression, and in wartime as well.”

            It doesn’t specify who the enemies are but does say that “certain ‘leading foreign countries’” are among them because using information technologies they are having “’a negative influence’” on Russia and other countries. Indeed, the draft says that they are “undermining the sovereignty and violating the territorial integrity of other states.’”

            One might think that they were talking in the first instance about Russia’s own actions in Ukraine, “but no, for [the authors of this doctrine], Russia is only a victim.” And it is “indicative,” Shtepa says, that this doctrine was published at the same time that the Duma was passing the punitive Yarovaya package of legislation.

            But there are even more fundamental problems with Russia’s draft information security doctrine, he continues.  The draft specifies that Russia remains overly dependent on Western information technology and that to ensure its security it must overcome that by whatever means are possible.

            But the means it identifies won’t help it to do that. Instead, the doctrine specifies that “the development and perfection of the system of the information security of the Russian Federation will be achieved by the path of strengthening the vertical and the centralization of administration of the forces of information security.”

            Such a formulation shows, Shtepa argues, that the authors of Russia’s new doctrine do not understand what they are talking about. As various Western authors have made clear, “an information society thinks in network categories which are distinguished in principle from the former centralized ‘verticals.’”

            The principles of an information society were laid out 20 years ago in the Declaration about the Independence of Cyberspace” drawn up by John Perry Barlow. Unfortunately, Shtepa says, in Russia today, “this text certainly would be called ‘extremist’” because of its call for freedom on the net.

            To make his points, Shtepa cites the recent remark of Umberto Eco who said that he had looked through some neo-Nazi sites and sites opposing them and found that if one used only the algorithm of counting references to Nazis, the one and the other would both be identified as ideological threats.

            “But Russian ‘warriors against extremism’ operate precisely on such primitive logic and launch court cases for ‘the propaganda of fascism’ against those who publish anti-fascist caricatures.” That reflects their preference for television with its “one-way” delivery of information.

            “The Internet, on the other hand,” Shtepa points out, “with its interactive network connections and multiple identities looks ‘extremist’ to them not out of any opposition ideas it may contain but by its very structure.”  That makes Moscow’s pursuit of its idea of information security a danger for everyone who relies on that medium and that message.

Russia Boosts Itself Not by Talking about Itself but by Denigrating Others, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – Most great powers celebrate their status by pointing to their own achievements; Russia in contrast seeks to boost itself not by doing that – there are too few to mention – but by denigrating other countries, an approach Vladislav Inozemtsev suggests is summed up in the phrase that however bad things are in Russia, they’re “better than in Ukraine.”

            Russian officials “and above all” Vladimir Putin increasingly like to talk about Russia being a great power, the Moscow commentator says; but they do so in a way that raises doubts that “Russian politicians “really believe in the myths they have created” in that regard (

            If Russia’s powers that be really “consider their country to be strong, it would be logical for them to suggest that it occupies leading positions in the world on many if not the majority of measures,” as the leaders of other major powers like those of the United States, Germany and China do, Inozemtsev says.

            But “in Russia for a long time already has been put in place a different kind of discourse, based not so much on the analysis of one’s own achievements as on a comparison of them with what others have been able to achieve.” Such an approach, he says, began in the 1930s and reached its apogee with Khrushchev’s “catch up and surpass America” slogan.

            Unfortunately, subsequent events “showed the illusory quality of hopes for the realization of this beautiful slogan in practice.” The Soviet Union was simply too far “behind” and was falling ever further “behind” as well.  After 1991, Russians had to face up to that lag, even though it made many of them uncomfortable.

            But in 2000, with the rise of Vladimir Putin, there was a return to the pattern of boosting oneself by denigrating others. A day before entering the Kremlin, the new leader talked about how Russia could catch up with Portugal, even though at that point it was far behind that European country in terms of per capita GDP.

            Russia came close to doing so in 2013, Inozemtsev says, but then “the rhetoric [offered by the Kremlin] changed again and this time much more radically.” Already with the onset of the economic crisis, it became “fashionable” to talk about the fact that life in Russia “all the same was not as bad as in neighboring countries.”

            But Moscow made comparisons with them because it had fallen even further behind from the major powers of the world in terms of these economic measures. And with the crisis in Ukraine, the Kremlin focused on that country above all, suggesting that the measure of Russia’s greatness was the weakness of Ukraine.

            Such an ideological trope, Inozemtsev continues, raises questions about just how confident Russia’s rulers are about what they are saying and inevitably focuses attention on how unrealistic and unrealizable its “great power” aspirations really are, given the way in which this highlights Russia’s weaknesses rather than any strengths.

             “Can one imagine that the leader of a country who was really confident in himself and in it would use such a line of argument? That Obama in a message to Congress would tell Americans that they should be glad because already now they live much better than their neighbors, the Mexicans?”

            Or that Germany’s Angela Merkel  would tell her countrymen that they should be pleased because Germans live better than Czechs or Hungarians?  Inozemtsev says he has “never heard anything like that and thinks that he will not in the future.” But such efforts to hide one’s own shortcomings by pointing to others indicates that those who make them don’t see their country as they encourage others to see it.

            “Of course,” he concludes, “one can continue to talk about Russia ‘rising from its knees,’ about Russian society being informed by ‘traditional moral values,’ and about [its] ‘weight’ in world politics constantly growing.” But suggesting that Russia is already a world power because on some measures Ukraine is doing worse than it is undercuts all such claims.

Class Differences Now Agitate Russians More than Ethnic or Religious Ones, Levada Center Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – A new poll conducted by the Levada Center finds that Russians are more angry about what they see as growing differences between the rich and everyone else in their country than they are about ethnic or religious differences and tensions among the population (

            That is not to say that Russians do not see ethnic or religious differences as a problem but rather at a time of economic crisis, they are more focused on economic issues and the differences between the behavior of the very wealthy and the rest of the population are more immediately obvious, experts say (

            Three out of four Russians (76 percent) now say that they sense strong tensions between rich and poor, and four out of five (82 percent) indicate that these tensions could spark conflicts. At the same time, however, only half of those (41 percent) said they felt that such tension was currently “’very strong.’”

            More importantly, the share of Russians saying that such tensions are “’very strong’” has risen from 36 percent in 2009 near the start of the current economic crisis to the current level. And Russians remain agitated by ethnic and religious differences: 52 percent say that they feel tensions between people of different nationalities and believe they could spark conflicts. Forty-eight percent say the same about religious differences.

            Anastasiya Bashkatova, the deputy economics editor of “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” unpacks these new data and concludes that rising concerns about social class tension reflect the relative decline in the incomes of Russia’s middle class rather than changes in the relationship between the very rich and the very poor (

            According to experts with whom she talked, the Gini coefficient in Russia, which measures the incomes of the top ten percent of the population as compared to the bottom ten percent, has actually declined since the start of the crisis. Other comparisons of this type confirm the same pattern, Bashkatova says.

            But she notes something very important: Those patterns are true only if one compares the situation now with that of ten years ago or more. If one considers a shorter time period, “the picture is different,” with the Gini coefficient rising since the start of this year and income differentiation increasing. That is what this poll is capturing.

            She cites the conclusions of Lyudmila Presnyakova of the Public Opinion Foundation, who says that those who have suffered least from the crisis are those at the very bottom of the class structure, those who “don’t have enough money even for clothes.”  And that means, she continues, “the relationship between the richest and poorest hasn’t changed, but the middle is becoming poorer, although it is not yet in the situation of the poorest.”

            Nina Kozlova of the FinEkspertiza company offers an additional perspective. She notes that in some sectors income inequality has increased such as in the fishing industry while in others like social services it has remained the same or even decreased relative to where it was before the crisis.

But Andrey Lyushin of Loko Bank probably provides the best explanation for the new numbers. He says that anyone can see differences of wealth if he or she simply takes a walk because now some people are driving luxury cars than are “100 times” the price of the kind of automobiles others have.

When times are tough or when the government cuts back on subsidies or increases the cost of services, that matters more to people, and, he suggests, they feel such income differentiation more strongly.