AFTER nearly four years of war in eastern Ukraine, and more than 10,000 deaths, reports from international monitors in the region sound like a grim broken record. On January 19th: 340 explosions. On January 20th: 240 explosions. On January 21st: 195 explosions and two middle-aged civilians hit by rifle fire while travelling in a bus near a separatist checkpoint in the town of Olenivka. “One had blood covering the left side of his face and was holding gauze to it and the other had gunshot wounds in his neck and left cheek,” the monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported this week. One of the men ended up in hospital; the other died at the site of the attack.
Tag Archives: Russia
Lenin knew that revolution wouldn’t happen overnight – we must bear this in mind as capitalism fails us today
Perhaps the key achievement of Lenin was that he silently dropped the orthodox Marxist notion of revolution as a necessary step in historical progress. Instead he followed Louis Antoine Saint-Just’s insight that a revolutionary is like a seaman navigating in uncharted territories.
This was Lenin’s answer to the big problem of western Marxism: how is it that the working class does not constitute itself as a revolutionary agent? Western Marxism, at the time, was in a constant search for other social agents who could play the role of the revolutionary agent, as the understudy replacing the indisposed working class: third-world peasants, students and intellectuals; and the excluded … up to the refugees hailed today by some desperate leftists as “nomadic proletarians”.
Donald Trump and his cronies, blustering about the Russian investigation, do not see what is heading their way, Steve Bannon wanted to stress. “They are sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five.” The gathering storm is likely to be even fiercer after the US President’s spectacular falling out with his former chief strategist and close ally.
In Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, about this most extraordinary of presidencies, Bannon has a clear view of the direction special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Trump’s Moscow connections is taking. “This is about money laundering. Mueller chose Weissmann and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to f***ing Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face … They’re going to crack Don Jr like an egg on national TV.”
The new 55-page “America First” National Security Strategy
(NSS), drafted over the course of 2017, defines Russia and China as “revisionist” powers, “rivals”, and for all practical purposes strategic competitors of the United States.
The NSS stops short of defining Russia and China as enemies, allowing for an “attempt to build a great partnership with those and other countries”. Still, Beijing qualified it as “reckless” and “irrational.” The Kremlin noted its “imperialist character” and “disregard for a multipolar world”. Iran, predictably, is described by the NSS as “the world’s most significant state sponsor of terrorism.”
Russia, China and Iran happen to be the three key movers and shakers in the ongoing geopolitical and geoeconomic process of Eurasia integration.
Daniel Gascón: You have described the Russian Revolution as the biggest experiment in social engineering in history, and have also argued that it was the weakness of Russia’s democratic culture that enabled Bolshevism to take root. How do you link the two?
Orlando Figes: You could say that the Utopian nature of the revolution developed out of the idea of Russia being a tabula rasa, a blank canvas onto which revolutionaries could project their utopian ideals of human transformation. That was part of a tradition in Russian revolutionary thinking – not just for the Bolsheviks and anarchists, but more importantly for populists in the 19th century, who thought that because Russia was not developed, in a western sense, with political institutions, civil society, an advanced economy, it could sort of ‘leap over’ the West by becoming a new form of democracy or socialism. That idea is in Alexander Herzen’s writing in the 1860s. And part of that utopian thinking that gets superimposed onto Russia in the 19th century and into the 20th century is also the religious aspect, the idea that Russia had some sort of messianic mission in the world, a mission to save humanity.
Vladimir Putin went on a victory lap of Syria and the Middle East this week, intent on showcasing his ability to secure the upper hand against the US in the region. On a surprise visit to a Russian airbase on the Syrian coast, he demonstratively embraced the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose hold on power Russia’s military intervention has all but saved. “Friends, the motherland is waiting for you,” Mr Putin told a detachment of Russian soldiers. “You are coming back home with victory.”
Meanwhile, in eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus where Russia had announced earlier this year that a ceasefire would take hold, children living under siege are starving. Despite the “de-escalation” deal, Syrian government forces continue to pound the area, backed by Iranian and Russian allies in an attempt to score a decisive victory. These two scenes spoke volumes about Russia’s calculus, and about the realities it has helped create on the ground. That the Russian president has now announced a substantial troop withdrawal must be taken with a barrel of salt. Similar pledges have been made before and remain unfulfilled. On Tuesday a Kremlin spokesperson said Russia would retain a sizable force in Syria to fight “terrorists”. Russia’s definition of “terrorism” in Syria is like that of the Assad regime, which equates it to political opposition.
Moscow, summer 1991. Mikhail Gorbachev is in power. Official relations with the west have softened, but the KGB still assumes all western embassy workers are spooks. The KGB agents assigned to them are easy to spot. They have a method. Sometimes they pursue targets on foot, sometimes in cars. The officers charged with keeping tabs on western diplomats are never subtle.
One of their specialities is breaking into Moscow apartments. The owners are always away, of course. The KGB leave a series of clues – stolen shoes, women’s tights knotted together, cigarette butts stomped out and left demonstratively on the floor. Or a surprise turd in the toilet, waiting in grim ambush. The message, crudely put, is this: we are the masters here! We can do what the fuck we please!
These days, uprisings should be studied with a cold eye and there’s a fine little exhibition on in Paris about the 1917 Russian revolution which casts a dark reflection on the Arab “awakening” we’ve all been observing in the Middle East. It’s an extraordinary display from the “revolution which changed the world”, including posters, photographs and – amazingly – some documents which show just how much the Mencheviks (and the Russian Provisional Government) and then the Bolsheviks tried to enlist the Muslim world – and the Armenians – in their destruction of the Romanov dynasty.
The main take-away of the trilateral, two hour-long Russia-Iran-Turkey summit in Sochi on the future of Syria was expressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin:
“The presidents of Iran and Turkey supported the initiative to convene an All-Syrian Congress for national dialogue in Syria. We agreed to hold this important event at the proper level and ensure the participation of representatives of different sectors of Syrian society.”
In practice, that means Russian, Iranian and Turkish foreign ministries and defense departments are tasked to “gather delegates from various political parties, internal and external opposition, ethnic and confessional groups at the negotiating table.”
Putin stressed that “in our common opinion, the success on the battlefield that brings closer the liberation of the whole of Syrian territory from the militants paves the way for a qualitatively new stage in the settlement of the crisis. I’m talking about the real prospects of achieving a long-term, comprehensive normalization in Syria, political adjustment in the post-conflict period.”