Sunday, September 5, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Primorsky Partisans a Precedent for Russia’s Future, Moscow Analyst Argues

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 5 – Although they have been “eclipsed” by the spy scandals, the fires, and “other cataclysms” this summer, a “Novaya gazeta” military correspondent says, the Primorsky partisans represent a far more important precedent for the future of Russia, one that Russians will ignore only at their peril.
In a comment posted on, Arkady Babchenko argues that the actions of the group of armed young men in the Russian Far East earlier this summer have three dimensions, aspects which make those events important as a source of insights about Russia and a dangerous precedent for the future of the country (
First, the military correspondent says, even though the official version that those involved acted simply to seize arms and documents is plausible, the fact that those involved were willing to “die for an idea” and to “kill for it” argues for concluding that they were motivated by more than “material considerations” alone.
Second, Babchenko suggests, “Russia is [currently] so fragmented that it not only does not have a common leader but even a common enemy. Some hate Putin; others, Kasparov; a third group, Tajiks; a fourth, the Caucasians; a fifth, the Americans; a sixth, the democrats; and a seventh, the communists.”
But the case of the partisans highlighted that there is one “universal enemy whom everyone hates – the militia. And now this vector of hatred has been defined. The partisans pointed a finger at the siloviki and said: ‘they’” are the enemy, and the reaction of the population to the partisans’ finger-pointing underscored agreement on that point.
And third, the siloviki themselves “recognized” that was the result of the partisans case. “When in Russia, an individual is killed, no force operations to catch the murders are conducted. [But] when militiamen are killed, then a genuine military-style operation begins,” with more than a thousand men in uniform dispatched and tanks, helicopters and so on employed.
The “most dangerous” aspect of the case, however, is not the attitudes of the population as problematic as they are but rather that “the siloviki have recognized that they were opposed by society felt themselves to be a separate caste,” as online posts by militia officers, some of which Babchenko reproduces, clearly show.
As a result of this conjunction, the “Novaya” journalist says, “who the partisans were, what they wanted and what were their motives are in fact completely unimportant.” Instead, what matters is how society understood the partisans’ “one simple idea – ‘wipe out the militia and save Russia.’”
Russians “accepted this idea,” he continues, and the militia, “the lower level of the powers that be,” understands that Russians have. As a result, there will be more violence, because a Rubicon has been crossed and now “the presumption of the guilt of the siloviki has become almost axiomatic.”
That points to the extension across all of Russia of what is “taking place now in the Caucasus.” That opens the way to something like “civil war,” but tragically not one where the struggle is between the powers that be and a liberal democratic liberation movement for human rights.
Instead, the contending parties will be the current powers that be, including the militia, on the one hand, and “a nationalist religious movement,” on the other, with the latter drawing its support from those who see that one can fight the powers that be and that the population will be on the side of those who do rather than on the side of the militia.
“The basis of any war,” Babchenko argues, “is poverty,” and the situation in Russia today in that regard “is much worse than in the 19th century.” Social mobility is almost completely absent, with “the son of a peasant” knowing that his life is defined by the sequence of “Army, Chechnya, collective farm, vodka and jail.”
Such an individual will never become a Gazprom manager, but “if you were born the son of a Gazprom manager, then you will never go to Chechnya.” This gives birth to “xenophobia and hatred,” attitudes that the powers that be “cannot extinguish” and so instead promotes “xenophobia” in order to distract people.
From the point of view of those in power, it is better that Russians cut up Tajiks rather than burn “armed Mercedes-Benz cars.” And it is better for those in power that “fascists and anti fascists fight with one another than that they fight with [the powers that be]” and that “the masses reflect as little as possible on why they live the way they do” and why the powers live so differently.
But no one, Babchenko says, will be able to “control this process forever. Frankenstein always comes out of the control of the master and begins to hunt him down.” Today, the situation in Russia is “not yet so serious.” But “two or three years ago, when the budget is in deficit” and the regime has to use force to extract more resources, the situation will change.
And unless something changes and soon, something in which Babchenko says he has very little reason to expect will in fact take place, “in Russia we will have a national-Orthodox movement,” paralleling “the national-Islamist movement in the Caucasus.” That is why thinking about the partisans despite all of Russia’s other problems is so important.

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