Putin arrives to speak at a meeting in the Grand Kremlin Palace
Commentators in the mainstream media generally seem unclear about Putin’s strategic objective in Syria – some even claim he hasn’t really got one. Putin, they say, is a brilliant tactician but a poor strategist: keeping the west guessing by springing surprises (as in Eastern Ukraine) is an end in itself, but he has no long-term game plan.
Julian Borger, in a quite well-informed piece in yesterday’s Guardian subscribes to this view, noting that
“What appears to be unfolding goes beyond stabilising Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It looks like an effort, in coordination with Syrian and Iranian-backed ground troops, to inflict a lasting military defeat on the rebel coalition which had succeeded in carving out a growing patch of territory in the north-east.
“Although conducted under the banner of a campaign against Islamic State, the evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of Russian targets have been non-Isis groups, some of them supported by the US, others by Turkey and the Gulf states”
This, you would have thought, gives us a very strong clue as to what Putin’s objective is, but Borger doesn’t seem to see it, concluding his piece thus:
“Putin’s mastery of surprise has put him in the driving seat, but there is little sign so far he knows where he’s going.”
Oh no? I should have thought it’s obvious: destroy the democratic non-Isis opposition forces so that the only significant forces in Syria are Assad and ISIS, thus facing the west with a stark choice, based upon the facts on the ground, as created by Russian imperialism: Assad or Isis? And to fight Isis, you’ll have to do a deal with me, on my terms. It has been reported by a credible source that to achieve this end, Putin has been boosting Isis by encouraging radicalised Russian Muslims to travel to Syria
Mark Leonard, in the current New Statesman spells it out in an excellent article that’s not yet available online (I’ll provide a link when it is). Here’s a key section:
Vladamir Putin’s military intervention is is less about defeating Isis than about establishing himself as the ultimate counter-revolutionary leader.
There is a parallel between Putin’s plans for Syria and the long war he fought in Chechnya from 1999 to 2009. The first war in Chechnya, from 1994 to 1996, was between a moderate, largely secular opposition and the Russian state.
In order to win the second conflict, however, the Kremlin started to marginalise the moderates – starting with the legitimate president Aslan Maskhadov – while at the same time helping the factions that did not obey Maskhadov, and which committed kidnappings and were linked to the Middle East. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, Putin sold the Chechnya war to the west as “a common struggle with Islamic terrorism.” In Syria, a similar dynamic was already in motion – Islamist groups having gained the upper hand over the moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army who helped launch the revolution in 2011 – but now Putin is accelerating it, using familiar tactics.
Russian planes have been targeting all of the anti-Assad groups to ensure that there is no strong, non-ISIS opposition. At the same time it appears as though Moscow has been actively helping Isis to swell its ranks. A report in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed that officers of Putin’s FSB (state security) have encouraged radicalised Muslims from Russia, and particularly the North Caucasus, to go to Syria, opening a “green channel” for travel that has made it possible for at least 2,400 fighters to make the journey (another 2,600 jihadis from central Asia are also believed to be in Syria). The newspaper claims that Russian agents are actively handing out special passports to jihadis to make it easier for them to travel.
As for Putin’s underlying -“philosophical” if you like – motivation, Leonard is equally clear and (for me, at least) convincing:
His biggest fear, I think, is not of colour revolutions in Damascus, nor even in Kyiv. It is of one taking place in Moscow. Putin is still haunted by the winter protests of 2012 that were provoked by his return to the Kremlin as president for a third term.
Much of his foreign policy since has been driven by this experience. In February 2014, when Yanukovych was hounded into exile by protesters in Ukraine, Putin feared he could be vulnerable. If his Syrian gamble does pay off, it might just force the west to realise the benefits of autocratic stability.
NB: this confirms my analysis: ‘Isis seizes ground from Aleppo rebels under cover of Russian airstrikes’.
Paul Canning: ‘Russia painting Crimea’s Tatars as ‘ISIS supporters”
Above: ‘Stop The War’ placards outside US embassy, June 2013
By Paul Canning (cross-posted from his blog):
Last winter there were some reports that people had starved to death in Eastern Ukraine. The reason was that humanitarian aid was being stolen by the criminals who run the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk ‘People’s Republics’ (DPR/LPR).The insidiousness of Russian propaganda is shown by what you’ll find if you look for that information, which is widespread Western media reports of deaths being blamed on Ukraine and not the ‘rebels’. This is because Ukraine stopped social payments and because some truck convoys were blocked.
That humanitarian aid to the Donbas was being stolen was the claim of former rebel leader Igor Girkin on Russian TV. Another rebel commander, Pavel Dremov, said that only one in ten of Russian aid convoys actually reached the people. Trucks supposedly delivering aid through Ukrainian checkpoints have been found to be carrying alcohol instead.
International agencies operating in the Donbas have come under increasing pressure. Monitors from the OSCE, there because of agreements signed by the ‘rebels’ and by Russia, have been harassed and had their vehicles destroyed. In April the International Rescue Committee, which looks after refugees, was expelled after being kidnapped and accused of ‘spying’. Aid from the European Union that does get through has been repackaged to appear to come from the ‘republics’.
Now, just weeks before temperatures plunge, the rebels have expelled every single international aid body bar the Red Cross – and Russian groups. This includes the United Nations and Médecins Sans Frontières. The Red Cross may be next given that they have been harassed in the past.
According to the UN, this is the situation in Luhansk:
Sick children deprived of essential medications, patients forced to undergo surgery without anesthesia, and food prices so high that many residents can’t afford to eat properly.
The UN also said that when the ‘rebels’ switched pension payments to rubles they “duped” pensioners by rigging the exchange rate.
Said the UN’s Stephen O’Brien:
Some 150,000 people are not receiving monthly food distributions, 1.3 million people’s access to water is at risk, and more than 30,000 people have not received shelter materials and household items they urgently need.
Those most at risk are in the villages and small towns, especially in the east. Well away from Donetsk itself, so unlikely to be seen by Western journalists. Much trumpeted Russian humanitarian aid convoys have time and again been found instead to contain weapons.
So why are the ‘rebels doing this? According to the newspaper News of Donbass it is because of “a new strategy for the external security and counter external and internal threats.” Specifically a “threat posed by these counter-revolution within the republic.”
Just let that sink in. So because of politics, because of ideology, because of paranoia their ‘people’ can be sacrificed?
The mentality that ‘foreign’ organisations must be a threat of course comes from Russia, where numerous human rights and even scientific groups have been effectively closed down after being labeled as ‘foreign agents’. It is also indulged by many in the West who think that Russia is ‘surrounded’ and at risk of a Western supported ‘colour revolution’. Russian TV (all the people in the Donbas are allowed) is devoted to feeding this paranoia so of course a benign humanitarian group like Doctors Without Borders cannot be what the sane people reading this blog post see it as. No, it must be peddling ‘illegal psychotropic drugs’!
But these are the lunatics that the likes of Unite’s Andrew Murray, the RMT union and Stop The War Coalition’s Lindsey German (and many, many others) are supporting. So called ‘anti fascists’ who think the UN will foment counter revolution and who are prepared to see their ‘citizens’ starve or die in agony, the weakest among them first. Thousands will die because of this decision.
It is not like there has not been fair warning aplenty before but this should be the final straw. ‘Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine’ should shut up shop and anyone on the left who continues to back these people deserves to be shunned.
Edited to add: KHRPG reports that:
Ukrainian billionnaire Renat Akhmetov’s humanitarian aid is also not affected by the ban. Jock Mendoza-Wilson from Akhmetov’s Foundation is reported to have suggested that the militants are hoping to receive humanitarian aid from Western countries via Russia. His idea is that the aid would be presented as though from Russia. It seems difficult to believe that western agencies would agree to this, especially given that they would be in breach of Ukraine’s law on temporarily occupied territory if they entered such territory from Russia, without Ukraine’s permission.
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Cross-posted by Paul Canning:
The author of this piece is one of the most respected figures on human rights in Ukraine. She has been fearless is going after all abusers, from all sides.
Her organisation, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, was birthed from the legendary Russian human rights group Memorial. Reblogged with permission.
By Halya Coynash
Jeremy Corbyn, frontrunner for the UK Labour Party leadership and therefore a potential UK Prime Minister, affirms a commitment to human rights on his website. He demonstrates none when it comes to recent events in Crimea, the rest of Ukraine and Russia, and this is not through lack of attention to this part of the world. His assessment of Russia’s annexation of Crimea coincides nicely with that presented by Russian President Vladimir Putin and on Russian television and he has simply ignored grave human rights concerns under Russian occupation.
In February and March 2014 Russian troops seized control and forcibly annexed Crimea. Ukraine was too weak, even with the undoubted support of the Crimean Tatar population behind it, to defend its sovereign territory. The security assurances given by Russia, the USA and UK to Ukraine via the1994 Budapest Memorandum proved meaningless, and Crimea remains to this day under illegal Russian occupation.
The UK’s unwillingness to risk military conflict with Russia is understandable. Corbyn’s justification for non-intervention is much less so. He first expressed his views on March 8, 2014, two days after the leaders who had been installed at gunpoint had announced a largely alternative-less ‘referendum’ on joining Russia to be held ten days later, on March 16. Corbyn did note that “Russia has gone way beyond its legal powers to use bases in the Crimea. Sending unidentified forces into another country is clearly a violation of that country’s sovereignty.” He then added the non sequitur that Russian President Vladimir Putin had called ex-President Viktor Yanukovych “political history” and expressed woolly hopes for a “reduction of tensions”.
He asserts that one must “recognize the history lurking behind the drama”, and that “Ukraine’s national borders have ebbed and flowed with the tides of history”. He then claims significant collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War and states that “their descendants could be seen bearing Nazi insignia and spouting racist slogans in Kiev only a week ago.”
This is the first of a number of assertions that parrot attempts to discredit Euromaidan made first by Yanukovych, then by Putin. They are to this day pushed by Russian state-controlled media, including Russia Today which Corbyn is on record as praising for objective reporting. The refrain is heard again in an article for Morning Star in April: “The far-right is now sitting in government in Ukraine. The origins of the Ukrainian far-right go back to those who welcomed the Nazi invasion in 1941 and acted as allies of the invaders.”
The narrative Corbyn repeats, both with respect to Euromaidan and to subsequent events, has been repeatedly refuted by prominent Jewish figures in Ukraine and by Viacheslav Likhachev, the main researcher on anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine. It has also been debunked by the results of both presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014, where both far-right parties did extremely badly.
Corbyn’s chief villains in all parts of the world appear to be the USA and NATO. In the above articles written shortly after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, he effectively suggests that Russia is protecting itself against attempts by NATO to “encircle it”. From the Morning Star article, one could forget that it was Russia who breached international law by invading Crimea, and by funding and manning those who were by then already seizing control in parts of eastern Ukraine. Russia’s behaviour was, he claims, “not unprovoked, and the right of people to seek a federal structure or independence should not be denied”. This is how he describes the seizure of government buildings, airports and military units in Crimea by Russian forces.
It is supposedly NATO whose “belligerence endangers us all”, although there was no question back in Spring 2014 of Ukraine joining NATO. Corbyn from the comfort of his North Islington home is against Poland and the Baltic States having been allowed to join NATO, although the Baltic republics are now seriously concerned that even such membership will not prevent Russian aggression.
This, Corbyn will claim, as does the Kremlin-funded Russia Today, is all US / NATO imperialist propaganda.
On a recent interview for Russia Today, Corbyn is reported to have suggested that he would seek closer ties with Russia. He is in interesting company with the same closer ties currently being promoted by a number of far-right parties in Europe including France’s National Front; Hungary’s Jobbik; and Bulgaria’s Ataka Party. It was members of a number of far-right and some neo-Nazi parties who were invited to Crimea to ‘observe’ the March 16 ‘referendum’, and then in November ‘elections’ held by the Kremlin-backed militants in Donbas.
It is obvious why Russia Today ignores or denies the mounting evidence of human rights abuse in Crimea and in areas under Kremlin-backed militant control in Donbas. It is unclear and disturbing why Corbyn is following suit.
The following are just some of the developments that cannot be attributed to US or NATO propaganda.
A serious attack on Crimean Tatar leaders and the Crimean Tatar Mejlis or representative assembly. Crimean Tatar leaders Mustafa Dzhemiliev and the Head of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov have been banned from their homeland. Dzhemiliev’s son Khaiser has been taken to Russia and is facing a lengthy term of imprisonment with his father unable to even visit him. The Deputy Head of the Mejlis, Akhtem Chiygoz has been in detention since Jan 2015 on legally absurd charges of involvement in a demonstration on Feb 26, 2014, i.e. before Russia’s invasion and annexation. The vast majority of Crimean Tatars opposed Russian occupation from the outset and they have been increasingly targeted in repressive measures aimed at forcing them into exile or silence. Chiygoz believes that his ongoing detention is specifically because he has made it clear that Crimea is his homeland and he is not leaving. Russia forced virtually all Crimean Tatar and independent Crimean media to close or move to mainland Ukraine. The investigation into the murder of Reshat Ametov, abducted from his peaceful protest outside parliament and tortured to death has been terminated, and the occupation authorities have made no attempt to investigate the abduction and / or forced disappearances of a number of other civic activists and young Crimean Tatar men.
A Euromaidan activist Oleksandr Kostenko is facing a 4-year sentence on equally absurd charges relating to an alleged incident in Feb 2014, before annexation and in Kyiv, not Crimea. His father has disappeared in mysterious circumstances and all attempts to get the clear evidence that Kostenko was subjected to torture have failed.
The same is true of Russia’s “absolutely Stalinist” Crimean show trial of renowned Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov and left-wing civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko. They, together with two other opponents of Russian occupation were arrested, almost certainly tortured and then taken by force to Russia where Sentsov has now been sentenced to 20 years quite literally for nothing.
At least one blogger is in detention for writing articles critical of Russian occupation. Ukrainians who held a meeting where they laid flowers in honour of the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko and read his works were prosecuted for holding a ‘prohibited symbol’ – a Ukrainian flag. Similar cases of harassment are ongoing.
All faiths except the Russian Orthodox Church are facing repression in Crimea. The same is also true of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics in Donbas.
The list of very serious concerns – of hostage-taking; extra-judicial executions and torture carried out by Kremlin-backed militants in Donbas – is very long.
Does Corbyn really see all of this as the fault of NATO? Does he genuinely believe that Amnesty International, Russian human rights organizations, as well as the slain opposition politician Boris Nemtsov were all duped (or paid?) by NATO when they revealed details of direct Russian military involvement and deaths in Ukraine?
Or does he not care? This, one assumes, is the case with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who found it lucrative to move to Russia and become a spokesperson for Gasprom. It is likely that Marine Le Pen has similar reasons for supporting Russia’s position on Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
It would be a damning position for a future leader of the United Kingdom.
By Paul Canning (also posted at the author’s blog)
Type ‘fascist Ukraine’ into Google and the first dozens of results all refer to the Ukrainian government and those forces fighting the Donbas separatists.
You will be hard pressed to find any references to the presence of fascists in Russia’s hybrid army in Ukraine. Ones like those pictured above in an astonishing piece of detective work by Dajey Petros.
Petros is a Dutch blogger who has been doing great work using similar tools to those employed by Eliot Higgins’ Bellingcat. Taking content from social media and using various tools to tell a story from it – like the story of the Russian missile which shot down the Malaysian Boeing.
Far right and fascist groups both in Russia and throughout Europe are backing the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk ‘People’s Republics’ (DPR/LPR) in word and deed. They are raising money for them, despite the sanctions. They hold mass rallies and other events. They send representatives to the Donbas to endorse the ‘Republics’. And they send Russians – and sometimes other Europeans – to join the fighting. All with the tacit approval of the Kremlin.
That approval was most sharply on display in March when Europe and Russia’s far right groups came together in a conference in St Petersberg. It was organised by the Rodina party whose leader is a Russian Deputy Prime Minister.
The event’s star was Alexei Milchakov, the leader of the ‘Rusich’ group of rebel fighters. Milchakov is infamous for photographs of him with a Nazi flag and a puppy he had allegedly killed. He has also posed in front of the dead bodies of Ukrainian soldiers.
Naming the separatist fascists
Many fascists were involved in setting up the DPR/LPR, such as Pavel Gubarev, the self-proclaimed first ‘People’s Governor of Donetsk’. His press secretary, Aleksander Kriakov, was described by Donetsk city Chief Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski as “the most famous anti-Semite in the region.”
When separatists took over TV broadcasting towers last year they boasted that:
Here, from Sloviansk, we are inflicting a powerful information conceptual blow to the biblical matrix … to Zionist zombie broadcasting.
They then presented a lecture by former Russian Conceptual Party Unity leader Konstantin Petrov, who the European Association for Jewish Culture (EAJC) describe as a “anti-Semitic neo-pagan national-Stalinist sect.”
In March last year Josip Zisels, Chair of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities in Ukraine, noted that pro-Russian organisations’ websites “have published many anti-Semitic materials which were meant to instigate hatred against the Maidan as being allegedly inspired by the Jews.”
Former DPR Prime Minister Aleksandr Borodai was a writer for the Russian fascist newspaper Zavtra. He opened the DPR’s first foreign ‘consulate’ on the premises of the Moscow branch of the Eurasian Youth Union (EYU), the youth wing of the Eurasia Party, headed by fascist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin. Dugin has openly called for genocide against Ukrainians.
Another prominent Russian fascist in the Donbas is Gennadiy Dubovoy, whose colleagues are shown at the top and immediately above, participating in some sort of bizarre Nazi ritual. (See lots more whacky photos.)
Participating in the ritual are several women and one is Yuli Kharlamova, a presenter on the Russian TV channel ANNA- News and an FSB (Russian security services) agent. Read the rest of this entry »
By Paul Canning (cross-posted with his blog)
Alexander Kolchenko is a left-wing social activist and antifascist who is being held in captivity by the Russian authorities. Along with renowned film director Oleg Sentsov, he was kidnapped by the Russian FSB (ex-KGB) and detained following the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula,. He is held as a political hostage in Lefortovo jail in Moscow and has been charged with committing “acts of terrorism” and “belonging to a terrorist community”.
A call to action has been organised by the French ‘Active Generation: The web activists network‘ and the International Solidarity Campaign For Alexander Kolchenko.
Only strong and massive pressure on the Putin regime, protests around the world would give a chance to set our comrades free. We demand their immediate discharge and the end of their prosecution.
Why is Alexander Kolchenko in jail?
Alexander, who has undeniably proved his antifascist stance over many years, is facing preposterous accusations of belonging to Right Sector, a radical Ukrainian right-wing organization, whose real role in Ukrainian events is blown out of proportion by Russian official propaganda. In modern Russia any activist — left-wing, anarchist or liberal — can be slandered as a member or sympathizer of Right Sector. This situation is comparable to the hunt for nonexistent ‘Trotskyists’ under Stalin, or the McCarthy witch-hunt for communists.
Putin’s authoritarian and nationalist regime, which uses in its propaganda everything from religious prejudices and conspiracy theories to outright racism, shamelessly steals “antifascist” rhetoric. And yet anyone who is considered bothersome is called a “fascist”, even if he/she stands on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
The case against antifascist Alexander Kolchenko and civil activist and film director Oleg Sentsov (investigators enrolled them into the same “terrorist” group) is political. It is meant to intimidate inhabitants of Crimea and prevent any resistance on the peninsula.
The most authoritarian of methods are now used in annexed Crimea to repress all discontent. Many people were obliged to leave Crimea because their life and freedom were threatened: lawyers, left-wing activists, students and trade union activists, anarchists, antifascists and Crimean Tatar activists who have fallen victims of ethnic discrimination.
|Sentsov (left), Kolchenko (right)
What threats does Alexander Kolchenko face?
A terrible prison sentence of up to 20 years threatens Alexander for a non-existent “terrorist attack” in which he was not involved. Kolchenko and other Ukrainian political prisoners (such as the more famous Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda (Nadia) Savchenko) are detained only in order to demoralize opposition by show trials. Their freedom is directly linked to the stability of the Putin regime: if we can shake the confidence of Putin in his impunity, the prisoners will be set free.
- There is no hope that Kolchenko, Sentsov and others will be judged fairly by the law.
- Their arrest was unlawful.
- The charges against them are far-fetched.
- It’s not a mistake, the regime knows what it’s doing.
Both men have refused to take part in their trial, which Sentsov called a “concert”. He said at the opening of the trial:
Your Honour, I have already stated that I do not consider this court to be legitimate. We are citizens of Ukraine who were arrested on the territory of our country, and we are being tried on fabricated charges. I don’t, however, feel any animosity to you and other parties to this trial.
A lot of lies have already been spoken here and I therefore feel it necessary to clarify certain things, but I do not plan to later take part in these proceedings.
I consider myself a Maidan activist, but that does not mean that I am a criminal. Maidan was the main deed that I have carried out in my life, but that does not mean that I’m a radical, burned ‘Berkut’ riot police or drank anybody’s blood. We drove out our criminal President. When your country occupied Crimea, I returned there and engaged in the same volunteer work as on Maidan. I spoke with hundreds of people. We considered what to do next but I never called on anybody to carry out actions that could have led to deaths. I did not create terrorist organizations, and I certainly had nothing to do with ‘Right Sector’.
Do they have support from NGOs?
The renowned Russian human rights organisation Memorial has condemned the trial and stated that it considers both men to be political prisoners. Amnesty International is also concerned.
Film director Sentsov has received support from the UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and widely within the film industry. Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in May dedicated its opening event to Sentsov.
The main prosecution witness, Gennady Afanasyev, has confirmed that his ‘confession’ had been extracted through torture. The sole other witness, Oleksy Chirniy, told the Ukrainian consul and his lawyer that his testimony was given under duress. Kolchenko and Sentsov also say they were tortured. The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has suggested that Afanasyev’s retraction may mean that he is now in danger.
Kolchenko admits taking part in a failed firebombing of the office of the United Russia party. However, says Memorial, ‘terrorism charges are “incommensurate both with the damage caused, and with standards of Russian practice.”
We assume that Right Sector is being foisted on the indictment in order to create a primitive media image of a nationalist threat in Crimea.
Russian has imposed Russian citizenship on the pair and they are being prevented from seeing the Ukrainian consul and from being defended by a Ukrainian lawyer.
How can you help Alexander Kolchenko?
We’re asking international left-wing and libertarian forces for help. You can organize and lead actions of protest and solidarity, write letters to Kolchenko, send donations for lawyers and food parcels, help his family. It is also important to spread information about his case. Most of all, we need to dissociate ourselves from any forces that support aggressive expansion of Russian nationalism, even if they cover it up with ‘leftist’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric. Putin’s regime is doing just fine without your sympathy, better save it for those who have become its victims.
When to start?
You can start right now by helping us to spread this text, translating it into other languages and sending it to comrades. We also strongly encourage you to organize demonstrations in support of Alexander Kolchenko and other political prisoners jailed in Russia.
Only strong and massive pressure on the Putin regime, protests around the world would give a chance to set our comrades free. We demand their immediate discharge and the end of their prosecution.
For case updates check the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group website.
This text has been adapted from The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.
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The death yesterday of Robert Conquest, author of The Great Terror, reminds us of the pathetic attempt by public school Stalinist hack Seumas Mine to challenge Conquest’s facts about the death-toll brought about by Stalinism.
The following article by Milne, written shortly before the final collapse of the USSR, appeared in the Guardian of March 10 1990. Until we republished it here at Shiraz (29 September 2012) it was not available anywhere else online, nor is it included in the 2012 book, wonderfully entitled The Revenge of History, made up of the “cream” of Milne’s Guardian columns. Conquest was a right-winger and virulent anti-communist: but he was an objective and thoroughly scupulous historian. Milne’s desperate attempt to challenge Conquest’s estimated death-toll (later verified as substantially correct when the Soviet archives were fully opened in 1991) is, perversely, a tribute to an honest man:
In the preface to the 40th anniversary edition of his pioneering work, The Great Terror (first published in 1968) Conquest stated that in the light of documents released since 1991 from the Presidential, State, Party and Police archives, and the declassification by Russia’s Federal Security Service of some 2 million secret documents:
“Exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, but the total of deaths caused by the whole range of Soviet regime’s terrors can hardly be lower than some thirteen to fifteen million.”
From THE GUARDIAN Saturday March 10 1990
The figure of 25 million deaths that is being attributed to the Stalin regime should be revised in the light of glasnost reports. Seumas Milne analyses new Soviet data that records much lower gulag populations
Stalin’s missing millions
All over South-east of England billboards have appeared in the past week declaring: “Once upon a time there was an uncle who murdered 25 million of his children.” Next to this startling slogan is a photograph of the man who was the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union for a generation, hugging an Aryan-looking Young Pioneer with pigtails.
The advertisement is a trailer for Thames Television’s block-buster documentary series on the life of Stalin, which begins on Tuesday. Forthcoming press publicity will follow a similar theme, setting out the kind of absurdities which could have led to arrest and execution at the height of the Soviet Terror in the late 1930’s.
The programmes come as glasnost has provoked a stream of new information and memoirs about the Stalin era in the Soviet Union itself, 30 years after Khruschev’s secret speech denouncing his former boss led to the first phase of revelations and rehabilitations. For the most part attention in the Soviet media has turned to more pressing problems. But the flood of new horror stories has emboldened an academic and political current which is bent on overturning the consensus view of Hitler and Nazism as the supreme evil of 20th century history.
Not only is it increasingly common for Stalin to be bracketed with Hitler as the twin monster of the modern era, even in the Soviet Union, but in West Germany and Austria a significant “revisionist” academic trend — represented by historians like Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hilgruber, and Ernst Topitsch — goes on to argue that the Stalinist system was actually responsible for the Nazis and the second world war.
Central to these debates is the issue of the number of Stalin’s victims. Controversy about the scale of repression in the Stalin era has rumbled on in Western universities for many years, and has now been joined by Soviet experts who are equally divided. Thames Television, with its 25 million deaths, has opted for the furthest extreme.
Hitherto, the British writer Robert Conquest who in the 1950’s worked for the Foreign Office propaganda outfit IRD, led the field with his view that Stalin was responsible for 20 million deaths. Phillip Whitehead, one of the Stalin series producers, says he is not to blame for the advertising campaign but thinks a 25 million figure can be defended if the Soviet dead in the first three months of the Nazi invasion of 1941 are included on the grounds of Stalin’s negligence.
But even that is not enough for Thomas Methuen, publishers of of the companion book to the series, who bid up the figure to 30 million in their publicity and — in an echo of the German revisionists — describe Stalin as “the greatest mass killer of the 20th century.” The record estimate so far has been 50 million, made in the Sunday Times two years nago.
There are three basic catagories of people usually regarded as Stalin’s victims: first there are those executed for political offences, most of whom died in the Terror years of 1937-8. Then there are those who died in the labour camps or in the process of mass deportations. Finally — and almost certainly the biggest number — there are the peasants who died during the famine of the early 30s.
In the complete absence of any hard evidence from the Soviet Union, estimates for a grand total of all three have been made by extrapolating the number of “excess deaths” from census figures. This process is fraught with statistical problems, including the fact that the 1937 census was supported, and the 1939 census is thought to have been artificially inflated by terrified Soviet statisticians.. Add to that disputes about the size of peasant families and the possibilities for discrepancies multiply.
Among Soviet specialists and demographers in the West, the majority view appears to be that the kind of numbers used by Robert Conquest and his supporters are wildly exaggerated. Prof Sheila Fitzpatrick, of Chicago University comments: “the younger generation of Soviet historians tend to go for far lower numbers. There is no basis in fact for Conquest’s claims.”
Some of the most recent Western demographic analysis, by Barbera Anderson and Brian Silver in the US, estimates that the most likely figure for all the “excess” deaths — whether from purges, famine or deportations — between 1926 and 1939 lies in a range with a median of 3.5 million, and a limit of eight million.
Estimates of that order have found support across a broad range of academic work, from Frank Lorrimer’s pioneering post-war analysis to Prof Jerry Hough’s 1979 study to the 1980s research by the British academic, Stephen Wheatcroft, now at the University of Melbourne. But this growing consensus has been thrown on the defensive by Soviet specialists like Roy Medvedev, who — using the same data — have apparently backed Conquest’s position, or something like it.
When it comes to the famine deaths, an exact figure will almost certainly never be known. But suddenly, after years of working in the dark, specialists are obtainingv some hard Soviet data. Last month, the KGB published for the first time the records of the number of victims of the Stalin purges.
Between 1930 and 1953, the report states, 3,778,234 people had been sentenced for counter-revolutionary activities or anti-state crimes,of whom 786,098 were shot. From his office at the Hoover Institute in California yesterday, Conquest said it was difficult to say whether the figures were right, but he thought “they could be true.”
Even more remarkably, the records originally made by the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) of those held in labour camps and penal colonies during the Stalin years are now becoming available. An article from a “restricted access” Soviet Interior Ministry journal has been passed to the Guardian, which lists the total Gulag populations during the 1930s and 1940s.
Originally collated for Khrushchev in the 1950s, the figures show how the camp numbers rose relentlessly from 179,000 in 1930 to 510,307 in 1934, to 1,296,494 in 1936, to 1,881,570 in 1938 at the height of the Terror. The population fell during the war, but reached its peak in 1950 when 2,561,351 people are recorded as detained in camps or colonies.
These figures published openly here for the first time are huge: but they are a long way from the 19 million camp population estimated by Robert Conquest. The Soviet report records that an average of 200,000 were released every year, and puts the death-rate in the camps at 3 per cent a year per on average, rising to more than 5 per cent in 1937-8. The camps were mostly emptied of political prisoners after Stalin’s death.
Are the figures credible? In the context of the current political atmosphere in the Soviet Union and the fact that they were in a restricted publication, it seems improbable that they have been tampered with. Of course, they do not cover the famine and other disasters. But they do begin to add credence to the mainstream academic view that the deaths attributable to Stalin’s policies was closer to 3.5 million than 25 million.
Why do numbers matter anyway? After all Robert Conquest may be out by a factor of five or 10, but the repressions were still enormous.
If, however, a figure of 20 million or 25 million becomes current currency, it adds credence to the Stalin-Hitler comparison. Already, anyone who questions these figures — even in the academic debates — is denounced as a “neo-Stalinist.”
As the Irish writer Alexander Cockburn who started what turned into a highly emotional exchange last year in the American journal, the Nation, puts it: “Any computation that does not soar past 10 million is somehow taken as being soft on Stalin.” And by minimising the quantitative gulf between the Hitler and Stalin killings, it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war.
JD adds: This last comment (“it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war”), suggesting that Conquest’s aim was to down-play Nazi genocide, is a simply despicable piece of Stalinist guilt-by-innuendo against Conquest, a proven and consistent anti fascist (which is more than can be said for the tradition Seumas belongs to). It demonstrates just how well the contemptible Milne has leaned from the filthy, lying methodology of Stalinism.
Yevgeniy Zhuravel interviews Kirill Medvedev (above), a Moscow-based poet, translator, and activist. He is the founder of the Arkady Kots band.
YZ: Can you tell a bit about yourself and how did you became a leftist? It seems that in Russia till recently it was not a common political choice.
KM: I became a self-conscious leftist at the beginning of the 2000s. There is a rather typical scenario for that generation of the Russian left, which emerged mostly from the Soviet intelligentsia of different levels of prosperity. Many of us were still able to spend our childhood under still rather comfortable conditions, so we were able to absorb the humanistic code of the Soviet intelligentsia, and then suddenly found ourselves in the historical hole of the 90s, when this code turned out to be not only redundant, but simply made survival difficult. Some of our parents had believed that shock therapy and total privatisation are the necessary stages on the way to democracy, others voted for the failed Communist Party, and some became quickly disappointed and depoliticised. The new left emerged from this trauma, but not out of a desire for revanche, but with the feeling that both nostalgia for Soviet times and jolly anti-Sovietism, which brought most of the intelligentsia to support Putin, are dead ends; that if one wants to be a citizen and a political subject, some hard work is required in order to build a new political culture and environment. Sometime during 2003-2004, I started getting an idea that maybe this thankless job—being part of the left—is not the worst way to spend the next decade or two.
YZ: The band that you are a part of is called Arkadiy Kots, after the Russian translator of “The Internationale”. Who are the people in the band, why this particular name was chosen and what musical and political traditions do you follow?
KM: The name seemed to be appropriate because Kots was simultaneously a poet, a translator, an activist and a sociologist; he wrote a study on the Belgian unions from the beginning of the 20th century. Such synthesis is interesting to us. Oleg Zhuravlev, with whom we founded the group, is a well-known young sociologist, member of the “Public Sociology Lab” collective, which does research on the recent protests in Russia and Ukraine. They just published a book in Russia, which will be released in Holland soon. Nikolay Oleynikov is a member of the renowned art-group “What has to be done?”(Chto Delat?). His work is related to antifascism and gender problems. In fact, in the Free Marxist Press, we published his collection “Sex of the Oppressed”, the discussions of sex and politics. If Oleg brings to the group the spirit of research, Nikolaj the spirit of militant queer carnival. Anya Petrovich and Misha Griboedov are more professionally connected to music: they are practically the musical directors of the group, fighting, for example, with my horrible unprofessionalism. Gosha Komarov, an activist of the Worker’s Platforms, which unites the most workerist (proletarian) part of the left radicals, is a multi-instrumentalist. This is the backbone of the group, we are all convinced communists, but, as it happens, we occasionally end up playing with people who do not share our views, which gives us some openness and a chance not to turn into a sect.
We translate a lot to Russian – from Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to old Italian anarchist songs. We write songs based on poems of Russian poets and write our own: “Be Involved in Political Struggle”, “It is not shameful to be a worker” etc., which hide uneasy reflections about our own political subjectivity.
Overall we try to juxtapose maximised aesthetic openness with a clear political message, to get out of the boundaries of the radical left, subcultural milieu. Right now we are working on an album devoted to the history of the worker’s movements, from Luddites to Zhanaozen, with a support of Confederation of Labour of Russia, whose congress we recently opened with our Russian versions of songs “Bread and Roses” and “Power in a Union”, and gave a concert after the end of it.
YZ:You started the Free Marxist Press publishing house back in 2008. How did it evolve? What did you print recently and what are the plans?
KM: It all had started with samizdat (DIY?) books – “Why I am a Marxist?” by Ernest Mandel, Pasolini’s “Communist Party – to the Youth”, “Marxism and Feminism” by Marcuse etc. Later on we started making small press runs at print shops. Producing a book from A to Z—translation, formatting, cover design, printing, binding, distribution – for me personally was an important experience, though a little bit exotic, mixing the spirit of completely unalienated creative work a la William Morris, on the one hand, and the productionism of the 20s, on the other. Being engaged in the material production of a book one gets into a very special relationships with a text which it contains. Read the rest of this entry »
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Cross-posted from Paul Canning‘s blog (17 July 2015):
|#MH17 victims of #RussiaInvadedUkraine Mo, Evie and Otis Maslin
A year ago today hundreds of Western bodies tumbled out of the sky in the middle of a European war zone.
Nobody predicted the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 but with hindsight they could have. The war in Eastern Ukraine was at a turning point. Despite a corrupt and crumbling army and 92 thrown together groups of ragtag militia, the Ukrainians were turning the tide on the rebels.
But if it was not obvious that the exact same ‘little green men’ scenario played out in Crimea was being played out in the Donbas it should have by the time that the first planes started getting shot down. The fighter jets started going down and then the high flying transport planes.
Those transport planes were being shot down by some very sophisticated weapons, ones that took a lot of coordination and a lot of training to operate. They did not, to turn around Putin’s joking phrase, from when he was still pretending that those in Crimea were ‘local volunteers’, ‘come from a shop’.
We now know thanks in large part to the work of one British man, Eliot Higgins, almost beyond all reasonable doubt, that MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile system. This means a Russian crew, precisely because of the training required to operate such a system and Higgins just said that his Bellingcat team now have Russian names and have provided them to the official investigators, the Dutch Safety Board, where he is an official witness.
How could they know Russian names? Because those Russians posted the evidence themselves, on social media. After the jump watch the film by Vice News’ Simon Ostrovsky where he follows up on evidence gathered by Higgins of one Russian soldier’s presence on the Donbas battle fields. Ostrovsky finds the exact same spots where one soldier took his selfies. That soldier was from Buryatia, a Russian region whose people are Mongols. Hence the soldier got noticed in Eastern Ukraine.
After MH17 the tide turned back and the rebels with their Russian ‘volunteer professional assistants’ ensured that the war did not end last August but carried on, as it still does today, Minsk ‘peace’ or no ‘peace’.
10% of Ukraine lost, 6000 dead and over 2 million displaced.
Russia has come up with five, to date, explanations for MH17, none blaming themselves of course and some out of science fiction. One by the Defence Ministry is described by Bellingcat as Russia’s “Colin Powell moment”.
That moment when the former American Secretary of State went before the UN Security Council to argue for war on Iraq has become a poster for Russia’s lavishly funded international propaganda TV network RT. You may have seen it on the Washington Metro or on London’s Tube. But just as the West tolerates RT so does Western media have ‘balance’ and thus MH17 will remain ‘he said, she said’ until the official report comes out in three months time.
That ‘balance’ and essential fairness which underpins our Western societies is used against us by Russia. Their security services and their ‘political technocrats’ know full well that with something like MH17 they can muddy the waters enough that many in the West won’t blame Russia. They can somehow wriggle out of this.
The FSB and the Kremlin will find willing partners on both the left and the right but they will also find unwitting ones like journalists. Journalists such as one Mike Kelly writing today for the Newcastle Chronicle. (Newcastle is where two of the British victims hail from.) Kelly presents MH17 as a tale of ‘versions’ and he condemns the ‘squabbling’ over whodunnit, comparing this notion of his with the ‘quiet dignity’ of today’s memorials.
Putin could not have said it better – in fact he has said it with his talk of the politicisation of the MH17 inquiry. But just as climate change is not about ‘sides’ of equal veracity neither is MH17, to say otherwise is to damn the whole profession of investigative journalism and to sign up to the Russian propaganda meme of there being no such thing as the truth! And it is no service to the victims’ loved ones to pretend otherwise.
Tomorrow Ukraine will disappear from people’s radar but come October we know what the Dutch report will say. Not because we are arrogant but because others have done the hard work.
Even when we then have a Russian war crime spelt out in black and white I predict we will still hear the siren voice of appeasement, from the left and from the right. Business will still go on and London palaces will still be bought with corrupt money.
- Others than Higgins have of course investigated. Two are James Miller and Michael Weiss and they have a long read at the Daily Beast spelling out how come we know Russia dunnit.
Watch Simon Ostrovsky’s astonishing report tracking down one Buryat soldier to one of Russia’s remotest regions:
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