Friday, February 23, 2018

Is ‘Putin Regime’ the ‘Evil Empire’ of Today?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 23 – One of Ronald Reagan’s greatest contributions to the overthrow of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union was his identification of the USSR as “the evil empire,” a term that outraged Moscow but inspired many within its borders and prompted those beyond its borders to talk about decolonization as something inevitable.

            Now, Nikki Haley, the US permanent representative to the United States, has introduced a term that has outraged Russian officialdom every bit as much Reagan’s words did.  She has referred the government in Moscow as “Putin’s regime,” a turn of phrase that lumps it together with those of Kim in North Korea and Asad in Syria.

            Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebemzya was outraged. “In Russia, there isn’t a regime,” he responded angrily; there is instead “a lawfully elected president and an appointed government.” What is striking, Konstantin Gaaze observes, is that the Russian diplomat didn’t react to Russia being lumped together with them as “the axis of evil.”

             According to the Russian commentator, the reason lies in the clash “between the political languages of the West and of present-day Russia. For Haley, a regime is a legal term; for Nebenzya, as for the entire Russian leadership, it is a political and theological one” (

            Philosophers have been classifying governments since Aristotle’s time, but the word “regime,” Haaze says, “appeared in the late Medieval period” to designate not governments but rather personal behaviors such as diet. It was extended to governments only after the French Revolution when people began to refer to the Ancien Regime.

            Marx and Engels used it in that sense as well, and in Soviet times, “Stalin frequently used this term” both about the arrangements powers made for others and about the specific form of a government in place but not the entire system. In 1947, for example, the Soviet leader made the distinction between system and regime.

            A system, he said, included economics and was the foundation, while “a regime is only a temporary and political phenomenon.”

                According to Gaaze, “negative connotations began to attach to the term ‘regime’ in the second half of the 20th century,” both in Western and Soviet political thought albeit “for different reasons.”  In the Soviet Union, the Kremlin referred to unfriendly post-colonial states as regimes, usually adding the adjective “puppet” or pro-American” to it.

            By objecting to Haley’s use of the term regime for Russia, Nebenzya was doing no more than his Soviet predecessors had, insisting that Putin’s regime is neither “temporary” or “a puppet” of someone else.

            Haley in contrast, “when talking about ‘the Putin regime, had in mind something entirely different. She was talking not about a deficit of legitimacy or about the absence of sovereignty.” Rather the reverse.  She and other diplomats who have now used that term wanted to “stress two things.”

            First, for them, a regime is “a group which has power but which has separated itself from the international community and acts against its interests.” And second, and even more important for them, such a group of people “acts exclusively in its own interests” and “against the objective interests of its own country.”

            “The conclusion,” Gaaze says, “is that the rulers do this exclusively in their own interests. Kim Jong-un, Bashar Asad and Vladimir Putin above all want to rule and keep power and only then do something useful for North Korea, Syria or Russia.”

            That is very difficult for Nebenzya to understand because already for a long time, Russian writers have argued that the interests of Putin and the interests of Russia are one in the same thing. Instead, they have suggested that without Putin, Russia would not exist and that if he disappeared, so too would Russia “as a subject of world politics.”

            Haley’s words represent an indictment of the Russian state; and they show that the US ambassador “is thinking about the interests of the Russian people more than Nebenzya is: Regimes come and go,” her words imply, “but Russia remains and therefore to put all the blame on Russia and not on the Putin regime would be an exaggeration.”

            And her words contain a message for Russians: it is entirely legitimate to “distance oneself from the policies” of the Putin regime which are “harmful for the interests of their motherland.” Putin is not Russia, she suggests; and Russia is not Putin.

Putin Didn’t Keep His Earlier Promises on National Security and Won’t Keep His New Ones Either, Luzin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 22 – Elections in Russia may not be about selecting a leader, but they are appropriate occasions for comparing what candidates have promised in the past and what they have achieved as a way of assessing the probability that they will or even can keep their current promises in the future.

            In an interview with the Znak portal today, Pavel Luzin, a military specialist with the Intersection journal, says the promises Vladimir Putin made in 2012 about national security ( have not been kept (

Among Luzin’s key points are the following:

  • Putin promised to improve military research and development but he has overseen a degradation of basic science and without that no significant improvements were possible in the military sector.

  •  Putin promised to buy significantly more advanced weapons but in fact he spent only about half as much as he said he would and ever less of it on modernized weapons.

  •  Putin promised to revive the military-industrial complex, but it has decayed as a result of sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine and Moscow’s loss of access to parts and equipment from Ukrainian plants.

  • Putin promised to redirect the Russian military to meet emerging threats but instead has simply doubled down in focusing on NATO and the West even though there is no indication that any attack will come from there. This may prove a self-fulfilling misconception.

  • Putin promised to build an invulnerable anti-missile system but there is no evidence that he has made much progress toward something that is probably impossible in any case.

  •  Putin promised to revive and modernize the country’s military industrial plants, but six years later, most of them remain “’walking dead,’” perhaps still on their feet but incapable of meeting production targets or deadlines.
  • Putin promised to end corruption and improve efficiency in defense plants but, “everything remains as it was.”

  •  Putin promised to attract more young people into defense industries but the best and the brightest aren’t going or are leaving as soon as they can.

  • Putin promised to move in the direction of a professional army with 70 percent of all uniformed personnel being professionals by 2017 but in fact only 38 percent are.

  • Putin promised to restrict the use of force abroad to only those places vital to Russia; but in Syria, he has been forced to defend his intervention by suggesting that it provides a testing ground for new weapons.  That is “the logic of cannibals.”

Unfortunately, Putin hasn’t learned from his mistakes and is likely to continue to make them, Luzin says. It is entirely possible he will bomb Libya and send in mercenaries – Moscow has enough of them and they are cheap and expendable. But there is one big problem: conducting such a war requires that the population feel it is justified.
“Remember your history,” the commentator says, “even Soviet conquest operations against Poland, Finland and the Baltic countries were based not only on the force of arms and propaganda but on a mass faith in the correctness and necessity of what was taking place.”  Putin’s challenge would be to recreate that if he can.

Russians More Positive about Cheka and KGB in Part Because Putin Regime has Suppressed Their Critics

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 22 – A new Levada Center poll showing that Russians currently associate the Cheka and KGB more with the defense of the state than with state terrorism reflects many things, sociologists say, but one of the most important, Denis Volkov says, is that the current regime has suppressed those who have criticized these organizations in the past.

            The share of Russians who associate the Cheka with political terror and repressions has fallen in the new poll to 12 percent, down from 23 percent in a 1997 survey. Instead, the share viewing the organs as legitimate defenders of the state has grown (, prompting questions as to why this trend has occurred.

            Levada Center sociologist Denis Volkov suggests that this development is connected “with the general increase in the legitimacy of the state and force structures after the Crimean referendum and the war in Syria, the absence of criticism of the work of the special services on TV and the overwhelmingly positive image of Chekists in films and television programs” (

            In his view, the state hasn’t come up with “a complex program about improving the imge of the special services,” but what it has done is to put pressure on those organizations which are involved with the history of political repressions.” In 2014, for example, it listed Memorial as a foreign agent, limiting its influence among many Russians.

            Nikolay Mironov, the head of the Moscow Center for Economic and Political Reforms, suggests that the increasing approval for what the organs did in Soviet times reflects a growing demand among Russians for order and justice. But he argues that “the theme of repressions has not exhausted itself: many view the Soviet punitive system negatively and don’t want it back.

            And Leonty Byzov of the Moscow Institute of Sociology says that the new attitudes are nothing more than “the typical syndrome of defensive consciousness.” By a margin of two to one, Russians blame their problems on foreigners rather than anyone else, the result of propaganda about the country being “a fortress besieged by enemies.”

            In that environment, any institution that fought foreign agents is going to be viewed more positively; but that hardly speaks to a long term or irreversible change.