Wednesday, August 17, 2016

More Orthodox than the Patriarch – Why Repression in Russia Gets Out of Hand in the Regions

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 17 – Russians and those who watch Russia have often comforted themselves by invoking Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin’s observation that “the severity of Russian laws is alleviated by the lack of obligation to obey them.”  But as in all things, there is another side to this, and regions taking their cue from Moscow often go beyond the center’s intentions.

            That was brilliantly shown in Victor Serge’s classic 1949 novel, “The Case of Comrade Tulayev,” about Stalin’s Great Terror when the Kremlin started the ball rolling and then regional leaders in their rush to prove themselves more Orthodox than the Patriarch went far beyond what Moscow at least ostensibly intended.

                As Vladimir Putin becomes increasingly repressive and as the Duma adopts ever more repressive laws, it is thus not surprising that some of the leaders in Russia’s regions either because they actually support such policies or because they want to demonstrate their own loyalty lest they be swept aside are taking positions even beyond what the Kremlin likes.

            (But of course, it can’t be excluded either in Stalin’s time or in Putin’s, that some of these actions by regional officials reflect what the center wants but is not prepared to advertise given the reaction of some in Russia and abroad and that they should possibly be read as a testing of the waters of where the supreme leader is heading.)

            These reflections are prompted by the publication in “Novaya gazeta” yesterday of remarks by Samara Governor Nikolay Merkushkin, a United Russian stalwart, who when speaking to a local university audience displayed the kind of paranoid style of thinking that can lead to disasters (

            He told the students that “two weeks ago,” experts found in emails information that the CIA was targeting his oblast as the first move in a broader effort to destroy the Russian Federation. 

            Why has the CIA chosen Samara and not Moscow, St. Petersburg or Kazan? Merkushkin asked rhetorically.  “We consider that the main reason is that we for very long years have been the main polygon for [such] Western experiments” through groups like the Soros Foundation,, “behind which stand the State Department and the CIA.”

            The people and government of Samara must take this “very seriously,” he continued.  At the end of Soviet times, some officials failed to take similar games seriously, denouncing as paranoids those who suggested that was what was going on.  As a result, the Soviet Union fell apart.

            Merkushkin said that he was among those who warned about this both before 1991 and after, and he indicated that he views Galina Starovoitova, the liberal deputy who was murdered in 1998, as one of the agents of influence for Washington.  She was kept from doing her dangerous work only because she was killed, Merkushkin’s words imply.

            The only reason the CIA’s efforts in Russia did not lead to even more disasters, he said, was “the will of the people” who in 1993 voted against the pro-Western course of the Yeltsin government. More recently, they have withstood the CIA-orchestrated fall in the price of oil that was intended to lead to the demise of the Russian Federation.

            But vigilance remains necessary, especially in Samara, Merkushkin concluded, because the CIA and other enemies of Russia are continuing their destructive work, often with Russian allies. The Russian people must sort out the situation, defeat these enemies, and by so doing save Russia.

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