Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Power Vertical

Paranoia As Policy

Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
By Brian Whitmore

Russia, it appears, is quickly becoming a nation of conspiracy theorists.

According to a recent poll, 45 percent of Russians now believe in the existence of a secret global government "that controls the authorities of many countries." Just 32 percent said such an organization did not exist, while 23 percent said it was hard to answer. 

Russians have long been prone to this kind of thing. But suddenly they are seeing conspiracies everywhere.

The United States and Switzerland investigate corruption in FIFA, world soccer's governing body, something long and widely recognized as a problem. An obvious plot, hatched in Washington, to prevent Russia from hosting the 2018 World Cup.

Ordinary citizens in Macedonia become outraged over corruption and abuse of power and take to the streets in antigovernment protests. A clear case of the U.S. State Department fomenting another colored revolution.

And the authorities are actively stoking these attitudes.

"In line with this worldview, Russia's role in the world is to resist the 'global government's' conspiracy," political analyst Leonid Bershidsky wrote in a recent column for Bloomberg.

And to a degree, they believe their own hype. And this is because Vladimir Putin's regime itself operates in a conspiratorial way. For them, governance is just one big "spetsoperatsia," or covert op.

Take the FIFA corruption scandal, for example. Vladimir Putin's remarks hinting that it was a sneaky anti-Russian plot illustrate that he is incapable of understanding that a criminal case could be launched because prosecutors detected criminal activity. In his mind, there just has to be an ulterior political motive.

This is how he operates; this is how the Russian justice system operates, so he therefore thinks this is how everybody operates. Just ask Aleksei Navalny.

Likewise, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's claim that the Macedonian uprising was a Western-sponsored coup reflects the Kremlin's complete negation of civil society. It is unlikely, if not impossible, in their minds, for citizens to independently form voluntary associations to achieve a political goal. There must be a hidden hand.

Since Russia is the land of fake political parties, government-organized NGOs, stage-managed elections, and rent-a-crowd pro-regime demonstrations, then, in the Putin regime's collective mind, everyplace else must therefore operate this way as well.

Much of the regime's recent paranoia can be traced to Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution, and, especially, to Ukraine's Orange Revolution the following year.

"Ukraine’s Orange revolution of 2004-2005 deeply traumatised Russia’s elite, intensifying its sense of insecurity and leading the party of power to interpret world events through its fear of remote-controlled colour revolutions," Ivan Krastev, head of the Sofia-based Center for Liberal Strategies, wrote recently in the Financial Times.

Krastev called the belief that street protests are organized by Russia's enemies "patently delusional" but "far from harmless." In a world where civic activism is on the rise, "this is a formula for endless conflict."

But the conspiratorial mind-set has since been extrapolated. According to Yale University historian Timothy Snyder, author of the acclaimed book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, it is visible in the way the Kremlin is legislating, regulating, and controlling the dissemination of history.

"The way that history is legislated now in Russia is that there is Russian history and there is a plot of everyone else against Russia," Snyder told RFE/RL's Russian Service in a recent interview

"If you learn that history is just everyone in the world working against you all the time without cease for 1,000 years; if that is the history that you learn, it is pretty hard for you to cooperate with the rest of the world."

Which means we could be moving into a very frightening place, indeed.

"Putin and his people are now far outside the realm of the conventional," Bershidsky wrote

"They see themselves as warriors of light in a world suffocated by a Western conspiracy. To them, there is far more at stake than just the regime's survival. That's what makes them dangerous."

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Jack from: US
June 19, 2015 13:11
it is not a secret or conspiracy theory that RFERL is on CIA budget
In Response

by: AlexL from: Switzerland
June 21, 2015 15:32
No, RFE/RL is NOT on CIA budget since 1972 any more, it is on US Congress budget. And even if it were on CIA budget, what would it mean? The truth is the official Russian propaganda disseminate a lot of lies nowadays...

by: Ray Finch from: Lawrence, KS
June 19, 2015 14:10
It’s just not Putin and his coterie who have fallen victim to this paranoia. Having gained control of the country’s national media, the Kremlin has been broadcasting these conspiracy theories 24/7 over the past decade. There is now an entire generation of young Russians who believe that the West (the US in particular) is determined to weaken and enslave Russia. They believe that the current battlefield is Ukraine and the global information sphere. They have bought into the assertion that Russia has only two allies: her army and navy, which must be strengthened at any cost. They have been informed that those who protest are likely traitors and are on the payroll of the CIA. They fully subscribe to the belief that their strong, sovereign leader will bring them to the promised land. Per last week’s podcast, this indeed will be a ‘long war’ to dissuade them from this propaganda.
In Response

by: Leo from: Maryland
June 19, 2015 18:22
The United States is determined to subjugate Russia and if you are literate enough to read say, anything, coming out of Congress or the State Department or most of the Presidential candidates you' d get it pretty quickly. Our country is determined to run the world and you appear determined to ignore that obvious fact. Stop worrying about "young Russians" and their patriotism(sorry it offends your imperialism) and open your eyes and look about the Empire. It's right here.
In Response

by: Ray Finch from: Lawrence
June 19, 2015 19:58
Could you provide a shred or two of evidence to support your claim? Other than the usual whackos on the fringe, I could find no official statements which claim that “the United States is determined to subjugate Russia.” Please enlighten me on these "obvious facts.".
In Response

by: Peter
June 20, 2015 16:50
Take a good look around Russia's borders.Read the agreement between Gorbacov and G.Bush senior on "NATO will not station nuclear arsenal in former Warsaw Pact countries:.There is more missiles in Eastern Europe now than in the whole of western Europe.The pretext was Iran's nuclear tthreat,or was it?
In Response

by: banh from: WYO
June 21, 2015 03:44
Can you "enemy of my enemy is my friend" morons grasp the concept that there are empires forming in the west and the east but that to favor one over the other through your own narrow minded fears will put you in the exact place you fear? You're thinking like a serf Leo.

by: jojnjo from:
June 19, 2015 14:43
Europe should dump Greece if they do any dealing with Moscow; it was simple to see since the first visit of Tsipras to Moscow that there was a deal going on between them even when Putin had mouthed so much that there wasn't. The fact of the matter is that when Putin lies, he's telling the truth. And when Putin is telling the truth, he lies.

For Greece dealing with this scallywag will always lead to Hell & drag the rest of Europe down the same road. Beware, Europe. Give Greece, the "Boot"!

PS. And I wouldn't trust Tsipras...either.
In Response

by: Gunnar from: Trondheim, Norway
June 20, 2015 20:41
No, Putin is not so consistent - if he always lied at least you could trust him to be lying. Also, saying something like that does not really make you look like a rational person, not even to those who already share your views about Putin.

by: Sharik
June 19, 2015 17:34
Brilliantly written!

Spot on, too! "Warriors of Light," is a perfect phrase. It makes any corrupt mafia state very attractive to conspiratorially-minded people of faith all over the world, appealing to the love for the martyr.

by: george from: Belarus
June 19, 2015 19:14
It follows that the Russian Revolution was a foreign conspiracy. Or is that sacred?
In Response

by: Kuzmich
June 20, 2015 01:00
In the case of the October Revolution, it actually was a (German) foreign conspiracy, buoyed by a bunch of drunken sailors.

Then again, Putin's actions too, seem to be directed towards destroying what mangy bits remain of the Russian empire.

So much so, that the only rational explanation for recent events is that Putin is being paid by the CIA to engineer Russia's downfall.

by: Vakhtang from: Moscow
June 20, 2015 03:55
"They see themselves as warriors of light in a world suffocated by a Western conspiracy...-)))

so they do not forget to put their children and relatives on warm places,
build castles and kill political opponents,
avoid criminal responsibility for crimes

something tells me that they want to be "warriors of light" for these reasons not another..

In Response

by: elmer
June 21, 2015 15:44
"warm places" -

Vakhtang knows this well.

And so do Russians, who live in a corrupt Kremlinoid mafia thug territory.

That phrase means - nepotism.

You put your children, your relatives in paid positions of government, which allows them to reap big money.

You don't have to do it directly - you can put someone else's relatives in a "warm place," and someone else can put your relatives in a "warm place."

It is brutal corruption, and a big factor is nepotism - "warm places."

Putler and his children and his young tootsie mistress get palaces.

The Russian people get - the "glory" of Putler.

by: Kris from: Australia
June 20, 2015 06:30
Don't be offended but the US is more paranoid that Russia, China, India and about 30 other countries are conspiring against them because of US invade and commit war crimes policy.

by: Anon from: Latin America
June 20, 2015 08:12
The US failed to investigate corruption at Wall Street that led to the financial crash in 2008, it has failed to investigate Bush and Obama violations of laws (regarding torture and warrantless wiretapping) and yet the author really expects us to believe that the reason that the Prosecutors went after FIFA has to do with corruption? Similarly everyone knows that the color revolutions in Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004 and 2014 all had American footprints and that the last one was a coup . Does the author realize that claims like that above makes him look like a world class propagandist and not a journalist and that it makes him lose credibility. And no i am not a kremlin troll.
In Response

by: Mikhail from: New York
June 21, 2015 17:42
And yes you are exactly a kremlin troll

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or