Have you seen Putin?
The cool kids are already so over Putin's 11-day absence last week and the week before, and even scoffing at those who outlined various scenarios for a coup.
Can't wait to see how all of Illarionov's wild scenarios play out over the coming weeks. Or rather, how they don't.— Devin Ackles (@DevinAckles) March 16, 2015
@DevinAckles it seems easy these days to fool western NGOs and collect money so long as you carry water for the narrative like Illarionov— Niccolo Salo (@SaloForum) March 16, 2015
But not all of us.
@Lena_Mukhina he's still gripping the table too. I wonder what happens if he stops.— Nina Ivanovna (@ninaivanovna) March 24, 2015
Sure, Illarionov makes predictions for things like the Russian invasion of Ukraine on a certain date and it doesn't happen exactly as he said. But, you know, Russia did invade Ukraine -- bunches of times, as I can tell you.
And Illarionov may not have gotten the "coup plot" scenario down pat, but then, it's a closed black box and all you can do is try to think, reason, construct some possible hypotheses and test them in blogs and such.
Putin as we know returned to a busy schedule, not exactly tanned and rested but taut-skinned and newly winsome or getting better at the thousand-yard stare.
This suggests that he is contemplating larger issues. I don't think they are about how Kadyrov is "reined in" because nothing happened other than the handing out of some meddles medals. Reined in from what? Killing Nemtsov? But we don't know that he or his "crime families" have anything to do with this crime at all. They might. But they might not. I don't think the evidence is there, and the newspapers have all fallen silent on the Nemtsov case after yakking up a storm for three weeks with constantly contradicting disinformation.
This birth announcement tying Ramzan demonstratively again to his relative Adam Delikhanov doesn't mean anything other than that a baby was born.
Other excesses? Where? Kadyrov went to the Donetsk Airport and wrested it from the Ukrainians for the DNR. He did what he was told. Well done, thy good and faithful servant.
Twitter is continuing to inject the bot propaganda that goes like this: "Kadyrov is in Jordan, Surkov is in Hong Kong, and Peskov is in Paris." I don't know if Kadyrov went anywhere, and the Hong Kong thing is sketchy in my view. Did Peskov go to Paris? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe it was all Spring Break at the Kremlin.
Everyone pointed to this photograph ostensibly dating Surkov in Hong Kong on March 16 when Putin was missing. But everyone knows you can upload photos any time unrelated to the date.
How can you explain that this account -- which is said to be named for Surkov's literary pseudonym Natan Dubovitsky -- has pictures of Surkov going back months?
Here he is February 16.
So unless he's been away for three months, what gives? Or does he commute there? Does he have family or friends there? He's on a reverse-Snowden itinerary. Does that mean the Russian Embassy there has some kind of staging area -- Western defectors helped to Moscow, Moscow exiles helped to cool off for awhile?
Or does Surkov just upload old pictures there to keep people guessing? You can't know which it is. Surkov was said to be at the Minsk talks which ended February 12, that's all we know. Nothing else.
BTW, those pictures look like they're in Hong Kong but it's not definitive.
1. I found it odd that Surkov missed the big annexation integration treaty with South Ossetia last week. That's supposed to be his portfolio -- he's in charge of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, formally, and Ukraine was a sideline from a previous position. Why wasn't he there for that? Or was he there, but standing behind a pillar and didn't get in the picture?
2. Where's Viktor Zolotov? The reality is, no one knows, because no one really knows if it was normal for this man to always be by Putin, and if his body guards always show up in photos. Maybe they don't. He was reported to have died. But who knows?
3. That brings me to the oddities of the "We're Together" Concert. I can't help but ask: Why is Vladimir Vladimirovich on stage with these clowns? Putin has met with the biker gang head Zaldostanov "the Surgeon" before, of course, but that's like a novelty thing. He used him to soften things up for that Crimean annexation in the early days -- Zaldo went around Simferopol in his leather and chains drumming up demonstrations, made up of people who arrived in cars with license plates from Russia, plus some local people around Aksyonov, paid for as we later learned by Konstantin Malofeyev.
Communist Party of Russia Federation leader Gennady Zyuganov; Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov; Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky; Sevastopol Governor Sergei Menyailo; Putin; Larisa Dolina, singer; Vladimir Konstantinov, head of Crimean parliament; Sergei Aksyonov, head of self-proclaimed Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
Aleksey Chaliy and Sergei Menyailo.
This has got to be one of the most sinister pictures of Putin in his career. There he is as a soloist in a post-modern band with the three back-up singers from the Crimea again.
They all sang the Russian national anthem - and who is that man in between Mironov and Zhirinovsky? I wondered if it was Dmitry Sablin but doesn't quite fit. The uniformed men are the MVD Choir, the same guys who sang that cover of "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk.
But to appear on stage with a biker at a function of state? Well, to be sure, he's in the second row. Then there's Zhirinovsky. Again, Putin has met with him in the past and even sort of reprimanded him while acknowledging that he has a constituency. So what's up with celebrating him in the front row? Elevating him to a state function?
The thinking was to have the three party factions of the Duma. But then why isn't Naryshkin, the speaker there? Unless he was way in the back. But it's odd.
All of the cast of characters from the forcible annexation of the Crimea are there, with their gun molls. I still marvel at all this and the very thin patina of legality VVP has put over it. That's what the parliamentary presence and "the people" are supposed to convey, of course -- "legitimacy" with "people's will" and "legislation". That's why Shoigu isn't on stage, let alone the GRU men who Putin admitted had to be brought in to "reinforce" things.
Notice there's only Putin, and only these clowns. Not Ivanov or any other "serious" officials. It's almost like Putin is the wedding general here.
4. And here's where it gets really weird. You know all those right-wing/neo-Nazi/ultra-nationalist groups, right? There's Essence of Time led by Sergei Kurginyan; there's the Eurasianists led by Aleksandr Dugin; there's the Russian National Unity led by Barkashov and so on. So NONE of those extremists are in evidence. They've been banished out of sight (some have had action taken against them, like Dugin fired from his job.)
Except one. One of the most nuttiest in that it promotes a crazy conspiracy theory that Washington runs Putin and the people in the Kremlin are mere puppets of Washington. That's the National Liberation Movement (NOD) headed by Senator Yevgeny Fyodorov.
So here's Putin on stage literally meters away from these loons and their flag. How can the leader of the unfree world be subjected to such risk? These people are the kind that beat up others at demonstrations. Two of them were with Stenin when he was killed in crossfire or killed some other way and got killed along with him -- they were Col. Strelkov's news service. How can Putin appear with Col. Strelkov's news service group, that formed Icorpus.ru?
The other flags I believe are from the All-National Russian Front (ONF) which is (so far) more benign than some of those Surkovian youth groups like Nashi that got nasty. I don't see Fighting Russia there; the yellow-purple-white flag is of North Ossetia? Of course, any of these groups could be in the crowd without flags or outside the camera view but I'm just remarking on what I do see here.. Note that now, there's no Kadyrov/Putin posters as there were at the Anti-Maidan rally on February 21 -- in which Zaldostanov was also involved.
Putin at the "We're Together" rally where NOD flag with St. George stripes and reverse of letters "NOD" in Russian can be seen.
And mind you, it's not as if I somehow can't fathom that Putin is heavily ideological and now hanging out with these equally extreme types. That's not the point. Putin may have other ideological grandfathers he likes better but the point is now, after his disappearance, this is what he chooses to do -- step out with Zhirinovsky and the NOD. Why? What happened? Was he leant on or is he now having to attract hardliners with populist plays like this?
5. Finally, there's the question of whether this picture and others similar to it mean a new or closer role for Ivanov and Rogozin -- who used to be in exile representing Russia at NATO in Brussels but is now home making trouble.
On the question of "is Shoigu sidelined," I had a very unpleasant Twitfight with "Gorse Collectif" an anonymous Twitter account with uneven information -- sometimes interesting and informed, other times rabid and nutty (this account either suffers from the same problem Sybil does or really has multiple players, some of whom drunk-tweet and/or are socialist psychopaths who hate bankers and want to string them up on the lamposts, you know, like some of the DNR does. All of this character's nasty tweets to me are deleted but I don't delete tweets unless they have typos in them or have some factual error.)
In any event, military people on Twitter literally pulling rank over civilians and bustling about acting as if they have greater knowledge of military phenomena in Russia than any of us just don't cut it with me. Why? Because it's a closed society and anybody with good will and some attention span can study it and try to come up with hypotheses. Because the real military experts aren't on Twitter, they're in the battlefield or preoccupied with non-Twitter activity.
And sure, there are real military experts on Twitter, too. But then, they don't tend to behave as badly as the "conflict reporter" gang.
BTW, I had another military expert from Canada block me after literally two rounds of comments because I *gasp* said that Evgeny Morozov was Brezhnevian. This was called "a cheap shot". But I stand by my characterization. Most people still lauding Zhenya are stuck in 2010 when he still was in his Soros and post-Soros phase and his non-comment on Putin and Lukashenka didn't stand out as much. He's now as shrill a Soviet socialist as you will ever hear anywhere -- and this is now newly and more clearly explained here in general. Read what he actually writes and I won't have to explain this for you. It's symptomatic how little good criticism there is of the Internet and tech that somebody can come along with just a Brezhnevian critique of it and no one will notice for the longest time.
There isn't any hard facts to claim that Shoigu is "sidelined". Someone who just led bunches of big exercises, including with nukes, all over Russia, scaring the Baltics and the Nordics, isn't exactly "sidelined". Sitting on the side doesn't mean sidelined in a system where the minister of defense is only one of the federal ministers. The Kremlin chief of staff (Ivanov), not anything like the White House chief of staff in Washington (has way more power) and Rogozin, as a deputy prime minister for defense, simply outrank the defense minister.
Victory Day is often a day when tanks and such are paraded but it isn't as much about "defense of the motherland" as it is about keeping the memory alive of Soviet victory, social programs to support veterans, involving young people in remembering their relatives' sacrifices -- it's an ideological day, not a military day so much although obviously strength has to be conveyed.
To be sure, if the operating theory (via Anders Aslund among others) is that Putin is allied with the MVD, the FSO, Kadyrov, various other forces, and having trouble with the FSB, then the question of "the army" is then whether they are with him or not. I personally simply do not believe in the army as a force in Russian politics such as to stage coups. It's the GRU -- military intelligence -- the FSB, and the Kremlin who run the Ukrainian war, not "the army". They didn't decide it and don't do anything but take instructions. They may hate that and may rebel but not by toppling Putin. There has never been a military coup in Russian history. I may be totally wrong and will have to eat my hat if there's one now for the first time. But I'm just saying what history and current events show us. There's not been a single public incident of rebellion from the brass over Ukraine whatsoever.
It's much, much MUCH easier to show the ROC's lack of total buy-in; note that they are NOWHERE NEAR the stage or the event of "We're Together". What, they're not together? Or -- as I've pointed out since I've been enlightened on this subject by a USCIRF expert -- the ROC has HALF its parishes in mainland Ukraine -- and that does not mean in Crimea.
I don't know if it means anything that all the top heads of state -- Ivanov, Sobyanin, Naryshkin, etc. -- were at the ROC Encyclopedia meeting when Putin was gone, but none of them were at the Crimean concert.
The main thing I've been trying to figure out about Putin's first speech on the day he was back was what he meant by these people supposedly dissing World War II memories. And the answer is: the Ukrainians, whose parliamentarians have even called for not celebrating Victory Day. Because they see it as a Soviet/Russification type of holiday and they aren't totally wrong. There's also those other bugabears, evil American neo-cons -- this time, Paula Dobriansky, of Ukrainian background, from the Bush administration who was singled out for hating today by Sputnik International. That relates to inclusion of some Latvians in a parade that Sputnik thinks are fascist -- because they need to distract from those fascists in St. Petersburg.
One of the problems of Kremlinology (which I'm not licensed to practice as I only have a BA and a certificate in area studies) is that no one can agree what the set of "proofs" would be for phenomenon X or Y.
So for example, what would the set of proofs be that would prove Kadyrov was "out of control" or "reined in"? So far, it's just palavar because no one really does have a set of proofs. Let me suggest that Putin -- answering Sobchak, not speaking on his own steam -- saying it was against the law to burn down houses does not mean a damn thing. Because the houses kept being burnt down. Because the offices of the lawyers who complained were burnt down. Because Sobchak was harassed. And now look who is forced to leave the country. Is it Ramzan, to Jordan, or Sobchak to Italy? That's why all of these blanketing assurances are so lame saying that a) Kadyrov is to blame for the Nemtsov murder and b) it's all taken care of now by Putin who handed out medals and warned him.
We know that Kadyrov in Chechnya, like rulers of other regions, had to suffer cutbacks because he announced a cut on salary as many others did, including Sobyanin and the Moscow Mayor's office. What would be another sign we could all agree on? Kadyrov selling his expensive cars? The fact is this is a closed society, the illusion of social media "openness" is just there to dissemble and distract and we are no more wise to what's going on than we were before we studied Kadyrov's Instagrams, although I do think the fronting of former/actual FSB Alfa officer Daniil Martynov means either some sort of deal has been made with the FSB -- but it might mean just the opposite.
If I were Kadyrov, Jr. I'd be heavily mindful of the supposed unfriendly atmosphere around him now, recall his father's untimely death in an explosion on May 9 in 2004, and ask myself if, like the Ukrainians, maybe May 9th isn't a holiday I should celebrate. But that cannot be because it cannot be. So I imagine lots of K-9 dogs will sweep the stadium area...oops, no, not only do Muslims not like dogs, in fact I, a Catholic don't like them, either. But the Kremlin has introduced them, however, here's a tweet from 2013:
Sniffer dog by the Kremlin this morning ahead of today's torch relay pic.twitter.com/D5qUxrvRaq— Steve Rosenberg (@BBCSteveR) October 7, 2013