Archive for October, 2014

Putin’s Class Of 2014

October 19, 2014

This blog is a repost from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty at


2014-10-19Putin and RussiaThe iPhone-toting hipsters hanging out in their trendy downtown Moscow office are just the high-profile part of the Kremlin’s new youth strategy.

Founded in November 2013, the youth group Set — which means “Network” in Russian — has organized patriotic fashion shows and film festivals, created an alphabet for schoolchildren that highlights the regime’s accomplishments, and painted murals in seven cities on October 7 to mark Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 62nd birthday.

It has focused on attracting urbane and educated young adults — the exact demographic that made up the backbone of the antigovernment street protests that roiled the Kremlin in late 2011 and early 2012.

Grigory Tumanov, a journalist covering Kremlin youth policy for the daily “Kommersant,” recently told “Foreign Policy’ ( )  that Russia’s twentysomethings don’t “know about politics” and “just want to dress nicely and draw graffiti.”

“Here, they’ve made it fashionable to work with the government,” he said.

But the rise of Set is just one side of the story. The other aspect of the Kremlin’s youth strategy is stealthier — and much more consequential.

Over the past 18 months, Putin has been quietly bringing a new cadre of officials to Moscow, reshaping the rank-and-file bureaucracy in his own image.

“The most interesting and exciting process unfolding today is in the lower and middle levels of the power vertical,” historian and Kremlin-watcher Vladimir Pastukhov wrote in a recent article in “There is a massive and rapid rejuvenation of personnel.”

According to Pastukhov, this fledgling new nomenklatura is between 25 and 35 years old, hails mostly from the regions, and comes from relatively poor backgrounds. Their recruitment, he adds, has been connected “either directly or indirectly” to the security services.

“Not that they are all chekists,” he wrote. “But the security services had a hand in their recruitment.”

They were recruited and selected based on their loyalty to the regime and for being “psychologically closer to Putin” than their predecessors. They are also “people without deep roots” who are “ready for anything” that facilitates their advancement.

“So far, their political consciousness is a tabula rasa on which you can draw anything,” Pastukhov wrote. “In these brains, you can download any ideological software. The main thing is that it does not interfere with a successful career.”

Veteran Kremlin-watcher Paul Goble wrote that the “new generation of officials…are more like the Soviet-era nomenklatura than like the people they are replacing.”

The shift, Goble wrote, “one largely taking place without fanfare, will have far-reaching consequences for how Russia is ruled well into the future, even if few at the present time are talking about it.”

The dual-pronged youth strategy seeks to address two problems that have been plaguing the regime since Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012: an urban-hipster creative class that was in revolt and an underclass in the provinces among whom discontent could easily spread.

The Kremlin gave the former shiny new toys to play with and the latter the possibility of upward mobility.

Without overplaying the analogy, this stealthy, managed generational shift in the nomenklatura is somewhat reminiscent of Josef Stalin’s vaunted “Class of 1938,” the cadre of officials who were also brought to Moscow from the provinces in the wake of the purges — and ruled the Soviet Union from the death of Stalin to the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev.

But the analogy may be apt to a degree if Putin faces a revolt among the technocratic wing of the elite, which is becoming increasingly jittery about the economic impact of Russia’s confrontation with — and increased isolation from — the West.

If the current elite balks at Russia’s moves toward greater autarky, Putin may have “no choice but to wage an authoritarian and populist revolution from above,” veteran journalist Ivan Sukhov wrote recently in “The Moscow Times.” ( ) In such a case, he added, “following Stalin’s example looks increasingly attractive if Putin wants to stay in the game.”

And in the event of such an elite purge, Putin’s “Class of 2014,” now filling the lower and middle ranks of the bureaucracy, will be poised to fill the void — just as Stalin’s “Class of 1938” did more than seven decades ago.

— Brian Whitmore

In the picture activists sit near graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summer camp of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi at Lake Seliger this past summer.


October 19, 2014

 I have translated this blog recommended by my friend. The Russian original is at the address:

This morning my daughter, a well-known rolling stone, returned from Poland. To my question about her travelling experience she told me, quite emotionally, about “gorgons”, by which she referred to her travel companions in the train compartment. As regards the “gorgons”, the characteristics was Tanya ‘s own opinion, but I usually trust her estimate of other people.

All the way in the carriage the companions were grooving first on “caddish” Poles.Then they switched over to “sticky-fingered” Ukrainians. When the train was approaching the Byelorussian border, they remembered “shameless” Byelorussians. My daughter (a wise thing!) was keeping unperturbed silence. With all the nationalities picked to the smallest pieces, the patriots started asking each other ruefully: “Why doesn’t anybody love us, the Russians?”

Finally, they took a notice of their compatriot who was staying away from their convivial discussion. They decided to amend the situation and chose what they thought to be a sure-fire theme.

“Hey, sister, what do you think of Barack Obama?”

In cases like that I usually disregard the talk, bury myself in a book and accept what is going on as an inevitable evil, or I puff up in a way a blowfish does. As for my daughter, she only gave a beaming smile and said, “Why Obama? We are Russians, aren’t we? Let’s talk about Pushkin…”

Silence prevailed in the compartment.

Translator’s Note: Pushkin’s great-grandfather, a Black African, was kidnapped and brought to Russia as a gift for Peter the Great.


October 19, 2014

It took me some time to sort out the humor behind Mrs. Obama’s recent “turn-up (= turnip)-for-what” food pun. Of course, there was no problem with my establishing the phonetic similarity between the words 2014-10-19MichelleObama‘turnip” (which the First Lady was holding in her hands) and “turn up.” However, as an ignorant non-American, I had to search the Internet for  Mrs. Obama’s initiative to get kids eating more green, then to find out some info about a Barack Obama impersonator Iman Crosson, who had asked Mrs. Obama the tricky question “How many calories do you burn every time you turn up?!” After that I found a slangy meaning of “turn up” in the Urban Dictionary, and understood that the concept of “turning up” has generally positive connotations in teenagers’ speech, while “turning down” is the opposite of “turning up”, and that the common answer, among teenagers, to the question “Turn down for what?” will be “For nothing.” Finally, I watched D.J.Snake and Lil Jon’s musical clip “Turn Down for What?” In the long run I understood that Michelle Obama had capitalized on Iman Crosson’s usage of “turn up”, associating it with the “turnip” she had advertised as healthy eating, and that at the same time she wittily snubbed her husband’s impersonator for his provocative question by transforming the key word of the musical clip into the opposite (“turn down”).

What I have NOT understood was why the clip ( is popular – so popular that even the First Lady made use of it.

2014-10-19LyudmilaYanukovichI also imagined my American counterpart – a retired Slavic lexicologist – wracking his brains over the former Ukrainian President’s wife’s phrase “Batya, ya starayus’” (“Pa, I’m trying hard”), or deciphering the meaning of the abbreviations ПТХ  and ПНХ . All that may take him some time 🙂


October 13, 2014

2014-10-13hA few Ukrainian artists have launched a project “Warming up Ukraine” in the Kyiv Art Gallery. They say they did it in view of the coming winter and the fears that the Kyivans may be having a rough time without the supplies of the Russian gas. Visitors of the exhibition, which is being held from October 4 till October 26, can learn how to get warm standing next to a cast-iron “burzhuika” (a potbelly stove) painted in blue and yellow colors. They should just take a few books by Vladimir Lenin from the 60-volume edition of his works (available right here) and burn them in the stove. This action is termed “performance.” The term “performance” was not translated into Ukrainian – it was only transliterated, so in Ukrainian it actually sounds as a “long and learned” word, arousing a kind of self-importance in the hearts of the learners who “perform.” Another term which I came to know was “instaliatsia” (“installation”). There were a few “instalatsias” in the Art Gallery. One of them was a bath-tub filled with water and there were a few portable heaters immersed in it. The caption that accompanied the installation ran: “If you wish to turn cold water into hot water, you must heat it.” The quotation was from the speech of Vitaliy Klychko, the world boxing champion turned mayor of Kyiv, who in this way had been explaining to the Kyivans the absence of hot water in the pipes.

I also liked a huge stock of chopped wood in the hall. When piled up in our Aunt Manya’s shed, it was “just wood.” On the premises of the art gallery it becomes an object of art.

2014-10-13broken chairVisitors are encouraged to come to the Gallery with their own firewood and more works of communist classics. Living on the 16th floor of an apartment block I don’t have much of wood except for the remains of a chair that collapsed last summer under my weight. I have also got the selected works by Marx, Engels and Lenin. However, I prefer keeping their works in my possession and reading them as a utopian fiction or historical belles-lettres – while sitting next to an electric heater (which I bought in view of the coming winter) and looking up the iPad for economic and political terms specific for the bygone times.DSC04760-B


October 12, 2014

2014-10-12NemtsovBoris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition leader, commented on Putin’s decision to withdraw 17,600 troops from the Ukrainian border to their permanent deployment deeper in Russia (the Russian text is at ). For a moment one can give a sigh of relief and draw some conclusions. The conclusions are terrible for Putin, says Boris Nemtsov. None of the goals set by Putin has been reached. The project Novorossia is closed.

  1. Putin was going to bind Ukraine to Russia by forcing it into joining the Russian-controlled Custom’s Union. The result is just the opposite: Ukraine has chosen the European vector and will never return into the orbit of Putin’s influence.
  2. Putin’s aim was Ukraine’s neutrality and its non-alignment. In this Putin has suffered a complete failure. It’s quite clear now that Ukraine will have long-term and close ties with NATO. At the moment joint military exercises of NATO and Ukraine are going on, and the military and technical cooperation between Ukraine and the North-Atlantic alliance is developing.
  3. Putin hoped to get the Ukrainians’ respect, but has only turned them into his long-standing enemy. In addition he received an obscene nickname that became widely popular.
  4. Putin’s initial plan was to establish the so-called Novorossia stretching from Donetsk in the East to Odessa in the West. Eventually, he has managed to capture only a smaller part of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the very East of the country.
  5. Putin hasn’t managed to make an inland corridor for delivering supplies to Crimea through Mariupol. Ethnic Russians in Mariupol were digging trenches to stop the Russian army’s advance.
  6. While Crimea was captured without firing a shot, 4,000 people have been killed on both sides in the Ukrainian East (Putin expected it would be a cakewalk).
  7. Putin’s idea was that the Russian economy would not be affected. However, the flight of capital amounted to 100 billion dollars, the ruble plummeted losing 20 per cent of its value (40 rubles for a dollar as of today), and a double-digit inflation for food products set in. Deprived of investments and innovations, the Russian economy is getting stagnant.
  8. Putin thought he would get a support on the part of Russian chauvinists. At the moment they are extremely angered by his policy and label him as a “traitor.”
  9. Putin’s ambition was that he should be recognized in world politics. In the long run, he has become an outcast. Russia’s membership in G8 has been suspended, Putin is not welcomed anywhere and sanctions are imposed on his accomplices. Nobody, except the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan, communicates with him, but even those are in favor of Ukraine preserving its status quo as a unified country. The two also demand money from Russia. Mr. Lukashenko, the Belarus leader, got into the limelight when, after receiving his annual 3.5 billion dollars from Russia, he opined that Russia should be divided between Mongolia and Kazakhstan :-).

10. The only thing that Putin wanted (and managed) to get was his high political rating with the        Russians – the rating which is being whipped up by the jingoistic hysteria and cynical lies. However, it isn’t going to last long. After a while people will see that the prices have gone up but their incomes haven’t. Putin will not be able to point the finger at Obama all the time. (When you point the finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you :-). Putin is said to have out-performed everybody, but, in the first place, he has outwitted the Russians themselves.

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