Monday, February 29, 2016

Continuation of Western Sanctions on Russia Increasingly Depends on Ukraine, Ogryzko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 29 – The maintenance of Western sanctions is contingent upon Ukraine’s willingness to reform itself, according to former Ukrainian foreign minister Vladimir Ogryzko.  If Ukraine does not act, the West will ultimately lift the sanctions; and Ukraine will have only itself to blame for its resulting isolation.

            In a commentary today, the diplomat argues that the West is ready “to forgive us a very great deal both in regard to the Minsk process and to questions related to it if we demonstrate in our domestic policy good tempos, real changes and so on. Unfortunately, this isn’t happening” (

            “The West is terribly afraid of a repetition of the situation of 2005 when such dissension led to the loss of all the achievements of the Maidan. Alas, this influences the attitude of the Est toward Russia which has not missed a chance to cover Ukraine with dirt, to say that we are failures and incapable of living without administration from the outside.”

            Moscow, of course, wants this to come from Moscow and not Washington or Brussels,” Ogryzko adds. But both because of Ukrainian inaction and Moscow’s propaganda effort, “pessimism about the future possibilities of Ukraine is growing in the West,” and thus more questions are being raised about lifting sanctions against Russia.

            “If Ukraine itself does not want to take a tough line, then the question logically arises in the West as to why it should be more Catholic than the pope and do everything for [Ukrainians], the Kyiv diplomat says.  “Alas, this tendency is appearing ever more clearly in recent times.”

            But he concludes on a more optimistic note saying that sanctions will continue for a time; but “this extension cannot be infinite without active moves by Ukraine. If reforms, the struggle with corruption and genuine Ukrainian sanctions against Russia don’t occur, then the currently expected extension of sanctions may be the last.”

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Moscow’s Pursuit of Imperial Greatness May Again End with Disintegration of Russia, Rubtsov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 28 – As the 100th anniversary of the 1917 revolution that led to a partial disintegration of the empire and the 25th anniversary of the 1991 events that led to the demise of the USSR approach, Russia appears to have entered “another round” of a cycle in which the pursuit of imperial greatness “will lead to foreign pressure and internal disintegration.”

            That is the judgment of Aleksandr Rubtsov, the head of the Moscow Center for the Analysis of Ideological Processes, who says this outcome is even more likely because Moscow’s “current imperial pretensions in large measure are virtual and extremely limited in the resources” as far as the resources available to pursue them are concerned (

            In addition, there is a clash between “the sources of today’s hysteria about great power status” and the changing “nature of empire” in the post-modern period.  The first reflects a longing for the past; the second, the fact that “geographic closenss and the occupation of land means much less” than it did in the past.

            Physical geography, Rubtsov continues, “does not have its former importance;” and traditional empires based on borders and control of territory “are giving way to information, financial, technological, research, cultural and other former of empire.”  In this new world, “annexation of territory and hybrid wars don’t give very much.”

            Worse, they are quite expensive, based on “extremely primitive instincts” and mostly are “calculated in terms of their psychological effect.”

            Rubtsov points out that “the disintegration of the USSR did not immediately become the geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” as Vladimir Putin has termed it.  For the first decade or so after 1991, Russians focused on survival, development and modernization rather than on “global greatness.”

            “The new imperial spirit” arose, he continues, partly as a result of propaganda that benefited Putin by distracting the attention of Russians from problems he wasn’t solving and present him as a real leader and partly as “the product of an unconscious striving to compensate” for what Russian really felt was the denigration of their status.

            But the sources are even deeper than that, Rubtsov says, and reflect the way Russian rulers have looked not only at foreign affairs but at areas already within their borders, considering all as either under Russian power and influence or potentially so in the future, he suggests.

             “The idea of rehabilitating a great power spirit matured and was prepared gradually,” he continues.  Moscow’s actions in Serbia, Chechnya and Georgia reflected its growth, “but the official ideology in the main for a long time was concentrated on other themes, on modernization, the overcoming of technological backwardness, and a reduction of dependence on oil and gas.”

            After Putin returned for a third term, it became obvious to all that escaping dependence on the sale of oil and gas abroad had failed as a political project and that “dependence on the export of raw materials had only grown.”  That made the promotion of imperial pride and ensuing foreign aggression especially useful as ways of distracting attention.

            But there is much in the current cycle that recalls earlier ones, Rubtsov says. “Such is the evolution of the idea of empire in Russia: a strong power with a clear imperial mission – a place des armes of world revolution – a bastion of progress and hope for humanity” and as a result disasters for the population because those in power ultimately have nothing else to offer them.

            “The imperial spirt compensates for the lack of resolution of real problems and informs domestic policy, including modernization of a post-Soviet type,” he concludes.   But the retreat from modernization categorically raises the question about the survivability of the empire even in its residual form.”

            Whether Russia can break out of this vicious circle is an open question, Rubtsov says. “The symbolism of dates doesn’t mean anything, but ahead are the anniversaries of the disintegration of the USSR and of a revolution which almost put a cross over the [Russian] empire.”

Russians’ Values ‘Normal but Weak’ not ‘Strong but Abnormal,’ Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 28 – Many are inclined to believe that Russians strongly hold “abnormal” values; but in fact, sociologist Ella Paneyakh says, the values they hold are quite normal but they are only weakly attached to them.  As a result, there often occur sudden and otherwise apparently inexplicable changes in the goals and directions Russians take.

            And because Russians’ attachment to these values are relatively weak, the St. Petersburg scholar says, they are even more profoundly affected by the institutional arrangements that those in power may impose and go along as a survival strategy rather than seek to assert themselves on the basis of their own value systems (

            The values Russians have, Paneyakh says, are well within the range of the universal values other nations have; but “the problem is that [these values] are weakly held” and thus far less likely to be the basis for action if those in power demand that Russians act according to other values.

            She bases her conclusions on the cultural map of the world produced by Ronald Inglehart and his team on the basis of the World Values Survey that has been conducted since the early1980s, a survey that found that Russia “however strange this may seem” is a secular society similar in that regard to Hungary, Belgium and France.

            That survey showed, however, that Russians were significantly less attached to “self-expression values” than people in developed countries. Instead, as tended to be the case with less-developed countries, they were more attached to what Inglehart and his colleagues called “survival values.” But in neither case were they complete outliers, Paneyakh says.

            Thus, for example, Russians displayed far lower levels of trust in others than most more developed countries; but they had roughly the same level in this regard as the French, the Hungarians, and the Poles. According to many analysts, the sociologist says, “a high level of trust arises in those societies where there are developed legal systems.”

            The explanation for that is very simple, Paneyakh says. “if institutions function poorly, people do not trust one another and consequently there does not arise sufficiently effective economic cooperate and economic growth is restricted.”

            With regard to self-assertion, she continues, “it is surprising but a fact that sociologists who have conducted corresponding measures have found that Russians value self-assertion even more than the British do, but at the same time, they highly value stability” – and that affects the manifestation of what they value when institutions are weak.

            From this, Paneyakh draws the following conclusion: Russia isn’t being held back by some kind of “’incorrect’” values that don’t work with well contemporary economic ones but rather by something else. And that is this: the values of Russia are quite normal but they are weakly held and do not feel that they can act on them under existing conditions.

            She gives as an example of this the case of judges who in Russia are part of the bureaucracy rather than an independent agency. Consequently, they behave according to the rules of bureaucratic life rather than according to the principles of law, something that makes each case different and eliminates the predictability people need to act on their principles.

            Paneyakh draws three “practical conclusions” for her findings. First, Russians have “completely ordinary values” common to European civilization. Second, these values are manifested or not depending on Russian circumstances and thus will become more often displayed if the circumstances change.

            And third, any change in the political, social or economic system in Russia to be meaningful requires not just the change of individuals in roles that now exist but a change in the system of roles as a whole. For European values to be manifest in Russia, Russian institutions must be replaced by others.

            Paneyakh concludes that this may have a positive consequence for Russia: If institutions are radically transformed, Russians will be able to accept that without serious conflicts because they are not as attached to these institutions as tightly as many assume and because their values are what they are.