Monday, August 29, 2016

The Power Vertical

Virtual Stalinism

Putin's willing executioner (cartoon by Sergei Elkin, RFE/RL)
Putin's willing executioner (cartoon by Sergei Elkin, RFE/RL)
By Brian Whitmore

Russian officials seem to have developed an execution fetish of late.

One example, of course, is the disturbing video Ramzan Kadyrov posted on Instagram showing opposition figures Mikhail Kasyanov and Vladimir Kara-Murza in the crosshairs of a sniper's rifle.

Another is the bizarre series of animated clips Vladimir Putin's All-Russian Popular Front posted on their website showing the Kremlin leader personally executing several officials accused of corruption.

One is beheaded with an ax. One is cut in half with a buzz saw. One has his head removed by a crane. One is eaten by piranhas. One is vaporized with a laser gun. And another is eaten by rabid dogs.

Putin is no Josef Stalin -- but apparently he likes to play him on the Internet.

"So welcome to the theatre of tyranny. A style of governance which actively encourages the appearance of being tougher and nastier than it really is, and at the same time enthusiastically telegraphs that it could be tougher and nastier still," Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University and expert on Russia's Security Services, wrote recently.

The aim, Galeotti adds, is to make the Kremlin appear "ruthless, unpredictable and downright crazy, so it seems easier to accommodate than challenge it."

Kadyrov's menacing antics and the Popular Front's creepy execution cartoons are the latest illustrations that Putin's regime has indeed fine-tuned the art of creating a virtual Stalinism, a hybrid form of low-intensity terror designed to intimidate and sow fear.

It's a massive psy-op. It sends signals on social media that repression could be on the way -- without really crossing over the line into full-blown tyranny. 

But it passes laws, like the one allowing the security services to open fire on crowds, that indicate that it might just cross that line someday.

And it reinforces this message through a stream of statements from mid-level officials

In an interview this week, for example, Kremlin aide German Klimenko, who advises Putin on the Internet, said Russians should be forced to switch from foreign operating systems like Windows to Russian-made software -- under threat of being shot. "And yes, I am quite serious," he added.

And Igor Kholmanskikh, Putin’s representative to the Urals Federal District, said the Kremlin needs to eliminate Russia's "fifth column" and suggested that opposition leaders should be "flogged in the kitchen."

And sometimes it all goes beyond the virtual and gets very real -- like with the assassination of Boris Nemtsov nearly a year ago. 

Taking out an internationally known former deputy prime minister whom Boris Yeltsin once touted as his potential successor as president suggests that -- just as in Stalin’s Great Terror of the 1930s -- nobody is immune.

And nobody knows who will be next.

And it appears to be working.

In a recent interview with Ekho Moskvy, the respected Russian sociologist Lev Gudkov said that for the first time since the 1980s, "fear dominates society," limiting the ability of many to express their true opinions even to family and close friends.

According to a recent poll by Gudkov's employer, the Levada Center, 26 percent of Russians say they are afraid to express their true opinions to pollsters -- and more than half say they believe others are afraid to express honest opinions.

Russians, Gudkov said, have developed something similar to Stockholm Syndrome, the tendency for hostages to identify with their captors rather than oppose them.

Back in 2012, the venerable human rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva told Reuters that Putin "would probably like to use exclusively Soviet methods, but that's impossible in the 21st century."

It appears that he thinks he has found a virtual equivalent. 

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Nadir N from: USA
February 02, 2016 17:04
I recommend you to watch this part of "Days of Revolt" in order to understand the American version of Virtual Stalinism... In this episode of "Days of Revolt," host Chris Hedges speaks with author, consumer advocate, and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader. Together, they trace the advancement of corporate control in the U.S. political system...
In Response

by: Tony
February 03, 2016 04:56
Maybe, but in the US people aren't getting killed like in Russia. You are really off the topic of the article.
In Response

by: Bo
February 14, 2016 00:58
Per capita, More people are getting killed in Kiev regime controlled Ukraine than in Russia Tony.

That seems okay for neolibs, neocons and flat out Russia haters.
In Response

by: Sandy miller
February 03, 2016 15:31
Oh come on to compare the US to what Putin is doing in Russia is out rages to say the least I can't even believe that American would've said something like this but there is no murder and torture in the United States of American citizens or anyone else so keep dreaming
In Response

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
February 03, 2016 20:23
I am not seeing a useful reason for why a person from the US would go to pages devoted to criticism of Russia and criticize the US. It would make a lot more sense for a person supporting Russia to criticize the US to balance, in kind, criticisms against Russia. These are not defenses addressing criticisms of Russia but counter destructive volleys.

And that we should have on this page a sequence of four within a few minutes of each other and against a more random and interleaved posting of pro and con positions argues for a unified source. We could well be seeing an instance of Russian information warfare.

Uffe Dimon Bendtsen, on this page, notes the "conspiracy nutters" with the post from Nadir N, being an example, nevertheless it is in the manner of a counter destructive volley. That is, Russian information warfare could think to make headway by identifying all the US dissension arguments and their identifying groups and pose as someone from such a group in an effort to increase division in the US. This is not news and James Sherr describes Russia's information war well starting on page 60 of his report

The last three posts in the four post sequence, are just throw-away trash, posted as fast as a single person could copy and paste to RFERL. Uffe notes a purpose for trash as attempting to use up page space that could be used for counter arguments. However, we can balance against that by posting replies early to these top posts.
In Response

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
February 04, 2016 03:12
After looking at the counter volley posts 2 through 4 a bit more, the strategy appears to be to resonate with disgruntled factions apparently to throw smoke as a distraction in front the topic at hand. If we can get people to think about their trigger topics instead of the one at hand we can, for those factions, block the opposing message.

And so for these four counter-volley posts we have:

1. An appeal to those worried about the influence of money in government.

2. An appeal to those opposing Israel and that there are Israeli money interests motivating the government.

3. An appeal to environmentalists and those fearing threats of nuclear war.

4. An appeal to those worried about the influx of refugees and toward radicalizing political differences.

That is, by these counter volley posts we can construct the topics and manner in which they are used for information warfare.

by: Alb from: United States
February 02, 2016 17:20
The American way of "Stalinism" is 9/11 event, - this is where all the bloodshed and Illegal deaths that have and are taking place in the Middle East! So yeah the twin towers where brought down in the same way as almost all of the independent experts have said. It's a truly sickening state of affairs. All because of the lust for Power and Insatiable Greed of our Zionists who are already wealthier than most of the planet anyways. I truly hope that the world will one day hear the truth and the Guilty be held to account in the Hague for their war crimes.
In Response

by: Tony
February 03, 2016 04:57
Not sure how that relates to the topic of the article.

by: Mehdi from: UK
February 02, 2016 17:23
The experts and economists all seem to be saying that this year 2016 will be the year it all collapses... which I'm sort of looking forward to... Because it all has to collapse so a new phoenix can rise out of the ashes... OK that's a bit symbolic, but hey its an ok one... yeah we [the whole planet ] need to find a more environmentally and spiritually considerate way of interacting with the natural world around us... Especially, when the western warmongers can not calm down and try to provoke a war with Russia... I think we are powerless to change anything...

by: Miki Nike from: USA
February 02, 2016 17:26
When in the US our so-called leaders enforce what seems to be their own political beliefs on their own people without their consent, those leaders can only be considered as autocrats and dictators, and should be personally held responsible for the consequences of their erroneous decision. The refugee scandal in the West is one prime example of many others.
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
February 02, 2016 20:48
Oh my! Looks like I've upset a whole nest of Whataboutism Trolls! You guys are soooo predictable.
In Response

by: Wal Pyrih from: Australia
February 02, 2016 23:13
Brian, keep up the good work, it really gets up the nose of Putin's trolls. More power to you!
In Response

by: Uffe Dimon Bendtsen from: Frederikssund
February 03, 2016 00:21
Bingo.... It gets so predictable, either it is the flat out "trolling for Russia" types (paid or unpaid) Or it is the "conspiracy nutters" that just jump along, lately the two categories intermingle to a disturbing degree... I don't know if it is "number 5 on the list, just murky the waters", or it is just plain desperation? Either way, there is a silent majority out there that just ignores them more and more... Which have the unsettling effect that it leaves their comments dominant, and, murky the waters... I will bet if one looked at the number of IP adresses and known proxy's and who comments and not, there will be a tale to see... Besides, thanks for the oppinions and reporting Brian
In Response

by: Dan from: Seattle
February 03, 2016 20:14
Right said, usual.
In Response

by: Bo
February 14, 2016 01:00
Brian Whitmore has another ego moment.

His favorite trolls are the likes of Elmer.

BTW, Mark Galeotti is a troll under the guise of academia.

by: Joe
February 03, 2016 03:37
Brian's right. You can tell because all of these supposed westerners can't get their prepositions down.

I'd also remind the trolls that Stalin executed many Groups including those who did his dirty work. If I were a friend or family member of a troll id suggest s/he find new employment before things get too nasty and there is no turning back
In Response

by: Sharik from: Helsinki
February 04, 2016 08:26
Ha Ha, Yes! Well Done!
Spot on, very funny, frighteningly accurate.

And it's quite true, Trolls. Joe's right. Just look at what Stalin did to his crucially important Soviet soldiers who went though the trouble to learn German to fight the Wehrmacht. They didn't make it home after the war was over, although WWII couldn't have been won without them. If they weren't executed outright, the unlucky ones were shipped off to GULAG camps to be worked to death alongside Tatars, Bulgars, Latvians, Mordvins, and they died as slaves alongside many, many millions of others. There are not enough Euros in the Russian Federation to pay you trolls for your inane, stupid, life-threateaning work. You idiots, don't you know your family is also in danger?

Yeah, too true, Joe.
It's all too true.

by: Tony
February 03, 2016 04:53
The poll says 26% are afraid to honest answers from polls is interesting in that they weren't afraid to answer that question. The real number is likely higher.

There are also the officials that die sort of mysteriously and get jailed for tax evasion and other easily trumped up charges.

by: Robert B from: California
February 03, 2016 08:09
Prof. Galeotti's comments on Putin's behavior and its motivation fit the pattern that Masha Gessen describes in her book, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. As an undersized boy in rough and tumble post WWII Leningrad, Putin learned that if he acted totally nuts and out of control bigger, stronger boys would back off from confrontations. It worked for him then; it appears to be his modus operandi now, especially after he escaped any meaningful consequence for savaging Georgia in 2008. Now he has what he wants -- the West wondering if he will go ballistic literally and not just metaphorically. Let's hope the West remains firm. Let's also prey that Putin still knows he has an act and has not descended into actual psychotic madness.
In Response

by: Bo
February 14, 2016 01:01
Gessen is another fruad.

by: Kerry from: US
February 03, 2016 16:55
“We are dealing with a criminal undertaking at a global level … and there is an ongoing war, it is led by the United States, it may be carried out by a number of proxy countries, which are obeying orders from Washington …

The global war on terrorism is a US undertaking, which is fake, it’s based on fake premises. It tells us that somehow America and the Western world are going after a fictitious enemy, the Islamic state, when in fact the Islamic state is fully supported and financed by the Western military alliance and America’s allies in the Persian Gulf. …

They say Muslims are terrorists, but it just so happens that terrorists are Made in America. They’re not the product of Muslim society, and that should be abundantly clear to everyone on this floor. … The global war on terrorism is a fabrication, a big lie and a crime against humanity.” – Dr. Michel Choissudovsky (Canada).

by: Vasil from: Kiev
February 03, 2016 16:57
In the West the grip that corporate media has on the minds of the masses is very strong, and it does a great job at keeping the world ignorant and oblivious to events and concerns being raised by many experts, in various fields, from all over the world.
The New World Order is the supposed goal of a handful of global elitists who are pushing for a one world government and a heightened national security state. In order to accomplish this goal, this group uses false flag terrorism and the fear of global threats to impose increased security measures on domestic populations (like Bill C-51) to justify the invasion of other countries (like Iraq and 9/11, for example).
False flag terrorism is run by covert operations designed to deceive and manipulate in such a way as to appear as though they had been carried out by groups, nations, or entities other than those who actually planned and executed them.

by: Dr J from: USA
February 03, 2016 23:03
I hate to see Putin compared to Stalin or Hitler. Mobutu seems much closer to me.
In Response

by: Bo
February 14, 2016 01:05
Porky Poroshenko is right up there in corruption under a regime where many have good reason to fear for themselves if they don't tow a certain line.

BTW, there's a Ukrainian poll saying most Ukes in Kiev regime controlled areas rate Lukashenko as their favorite world leader. Hint: they like an authoritarian leader whose country seems secure and not so corrupt.

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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