Friday, January 19, 2018

Moscow Preparing to Replace Its Forces in Donbass with ‘Private’ Military Ones, Kyiv Analyst Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 19 – The Russian Duma will soon be taking up draft legislation regularizing the status of nominally “private” military companies, even though such mercenaries are banned by Russian law. And among the first places they may be deployed is Ukraine’s Donbass, according to Kyiv observer Aleksey Kaftan.

            In today’s Delovaya stolitsa, he says that the way the new law has been proposed highlights the problems Moscow faces regardless of whether it legalizes these private armies or not but that the timing represents a Russian response to the Verkhovna Rada’s declaration that Moscow is in occupation of Ukrainian territory.

            On Monday, Kaftan reports, Russian Foreign Minister  Sergey Lavrov expressed his “personal” opinion that Russia needs a law governing private military companies so that the people taking part in them will be “within the legal field and thus defended” by the power of the state (

            On Wednesday a senior Duma member said that the Russian legislature would take up a draft of this measure later this month, an indication Kaftan says that a final version either exists or is close to being drafted.  And yesterday, Putin’s press secretary supported the idea but noted that it wasn’t within the Kremlin’s purview and thus was not a Kremlin initiative.

            There are good reasons for the Kremlin’s public restraint, Kaftan continues. “Having begun aggression against Ukraine, Russia has gotten involved in a series of local wars (Syria, the Sudan, Afghanistan and Libya) in which the application of [regular] armed forces is difficult or undesirable.” Hence it wants to be able to use private military companies instead.

            The death of a private military company contractor will attract less notice and concern among Russians, but Moscow has a problem: its preferred “instrument of Kremlin geopolitics is illegal in the Russian Federation.  Paragraph 359 of the criminal code calls for a punishment of from three to seven years for those who take part in military conflicts as mercenaries.

            Of course, Kaftan continues, in the case of Russia, “the term ‘private’ … is a figure of speech” because if Moscow organizes them they aren’t private and if it doesn’t they aren’t legal.  “In fact, these are state companies with a ‘private’ fa├žade working in the interests of the FSB and GRU.” What Moscow is moving to do is to make that “official.”

            As the Duma deputy pushing the measures observes, “the law will allow getting employees of private military companies to take part in counter-terrorist operations abroad and in actions in defense of the sovereignty of allied governments from external aggression.” They can also be used to defend “various objects” include oil and gas wells and railways.

            In some of these cases, they will be in more or less open competition with regular Russian military units. But “there is a niche in which Russian private military companies will be beyond any competition.” Ruslan Leviyev, the head of the Conflict Intelligence Team, says that they can be used in “the self-proclaimed republics of the Donbass, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and the countries of Central Asia.”

            It is not likely to be a coincidence that this discussion began in Moscow on the eve of the Verkhovna Rada’s discussion of a law on the re-integration of the Donbass.” The Russian government appears to have decided that it will “formally withdraw” its defense ministry and FSB forces from that Ukrainian region and make use of “private military companies” instead.

            But Moscow is making a big mistake if it thinks it can get away with this, Kaftan says. By ensuring that the private military companies are part of the Russian legal field, the Russian government has ensured that everyone will recognize that “Moscow all the same continues to bear responsibility for their actions.” 

Putin Likely Views Mass Protests as an Chance Not for a Maidan but for a Russian Tiananmen, Pavlova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 19 – Many opponents of Vladimir Putin see his build of repressive machinery in advance of the March elections as an indication that he fears a Russian Maidan wants to be in a position to suppress that kind of challenge to his regime, according to US-based Russian historian Irina Pavlova (

            But there is another more plausible reason for Putin’s action, she says. The Kremlin leader is “obviously interested in a show of mass dissatisfaction so it will have the opportunity to brutally suppress it.” Indeed, the Kremlin clearly likes the Tiananmen example because after the harsh reaction of the Chinese authorities, there haven’t been any similar actions.”

            She says that members of the Russian opposition who think Putin is more worried about a Maidan than the opportunity to stage a Tiananmen-style massacre and their supporters abroad are deceiving no one but themselves and that they are “’anti-Kremlin dreamers’” who have confused what they want to be the case for what is (

            Pavlova makes four points. First, she argues, “’the dreamers’ incorrectly evaluate the situation in the country.” On the one hand, “the regime is not in stagnation or at its end … it is on the rise.” And on the other, Putin alone is not the problem as many of his opponents think. They face an entire system and a population that is not on their side.

            Second, those who say that “conditions for a peaceful anti-criminal revolution in Russia are now more favorable than ever before,” as Aleksey Navalny says, are offering “an open lie. In Russia, such a revolution both now and in general can be only a bloody one,” however much the regime’s opponents imagine otherwise.

            Third, “the dreamers” are also wrong to constantly talk about how illegitimate the upcoming election is are engaging in “scholasticism” or “open verbal manipulations. In Russia, there is no legal state; there is a state of ‘the dictatorship of law.’ Translating from Putin-Stalinist language, this means that in Russia there is a dictatorship by the will of the ruling group.”

            And fourth, Pavlova says, “’the dreams’ exist in a social vacuum.” They don’t admit the regime has as much support as it does, and they refuse to take note of the fact that “over these decades has arisen a generation of other ‘dreamers, a Stalinized’ one, much more numerous and less refined which is pushing the Kremlin toward changes of an entirely different kind.”

            “The opponents of the Russian regime who regularly predict its rapid demise now must recognize that in the form of the present-day power they are dealing with an intelligence, strong and pitiless opponent … Articles about the rapid collapse of the regime is as it were a kind of narcotic for those citizens dissatisfied with the regime.”

            For a start, Pavlova concludes, they should stop injecting themselves with this drug.

Most People in the West Make Two Fatal Mistakes about Moscow ‘Media,’ Yakovenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 19 – Most people in the West continue to make two “fatal” mistakes about the media in Putin’s Russia, Igor Yakovenko says. They assume that Russians who call themselves journalists are in fact journalists and that Russian propaganda is propaganda in the normal sense.

            “Few in the West understand,” the Russian commentator writes, “what the world is dealing with in the form of the Putin regime and its information arm;” and because of that, they commit “two principled and fatal” mistakes reflecting their willingness to take the claims of Moscow’s representatives at face value (

            On the one hand, Yakovenko points out, people in the West “continue to call employees of Russia media journalists, a practice that automatically converts any measures taken against them into limitations on free speech.” But these people aren’t journalists and thus should not be able to expect the respect given to real journalists.

            “Not a single government media outlet in Russia and also not a single one which adopts a pro-Kremlin position, has any relationship to journalism,” and understanding that must be the basis for the adoption of an adequate response by Europe and the West more generally to what these Russians are doing. 

            He continues: “Not a single employee working [for Russian outlets] should be considered a journalist, and everything connected with the defense of freedom of speech has nothing to do with them.  This also relates to ‘experts’ who live in the studios of Russian talk shows” and spew hatred against the West, Ukraine, and the Russian opposition.

            And on the other hand, Yakovenko says, people in the West need to recognize that “the content of the Russian media” is not propaganda. Those who call it that implicitly put it in the same rank with “political propaganda of any other direction,” including that offered elsewhere now or in the past.

            But “the distinguishing feature of Putin’s information forces from such models as the communist or Nazi versions is that the propaganda of Goebbels and Suslov advanced a definitive ideology, albeit an anti-human one.” Each offered a certain “image of the future” and sought to win people over to its pursuit.

            “In Putin’s Russia,” however, “there is no such ideology and no image of the future. There are not and cannot be any books entitled ‘Putinism.’ The Putin media simply destroys the foundations of all norms, moral, legal and scientific.  It simply sows hatred, lies, crudities and provocations.”

            And “not having any positive program for humanity,” Yakovenko continues, “Putin and his media trade in threats and unpleasantness, using any problems in the world for efforts to destroy it, to sow hostility among people and thus allow them to continue to rule and steal in Russia.”

            Unfortunately,” he concludes, “the world still doesn’t fully understand the nature of the threat it is confronted by in the form of Putinism.”  Failure to recognize another threat in the middle of the 20th century cost Europe and all humanity