The upcoming G-8 conference, scheduled for July 15-18 in St. Petersburg, is shaping up as the latest battleground in the developing conflict between Putin’s Russia and the West. This summit is "really about Russia," says the BBC, and as far as the West is concerned, it’s all criticism all the time. The barrage of anti-Russian (and, specifically, anti-Putin) propaganda in the Western media has been relentless ever since Moscow refused to get on board the U.S. invasion of Iraq. As punishment for such brazen defiance, Richard Perle demanded that Russia be thrown out of the G-8. More recently, as the Russians decline to kowtow to the Americans (and the Europeans) over Iran (and Ukraine), Vice President Dick Cheney has been ratcheting up the rhetoric, accusing the Russians of "blackmail" when they quite reasonably insisted the Ukrainians had to pay the world market price for their oil and darkly hinting that Putin harbors imperialistic designs on his neighbors.
This last accusation, coming as it does from Washington’s most belligerent warlord, is a classic case of projection: indeed, it inverts the reality, which is that the U.S., not content with one "war of civilizations," is doggedly trying to provoke yet another. Toward this end, the Americans are presently engaged in an all-out political assault on the Putin regime, an exercise in "soft power" they hope will eventually culminate in regime change.
We’ve come a long way since Bush looked into Putin’s eyes and espied the Russian leader’s soul. This time, it will be more of a head-butting than a bonding.
The Americans are after Putin’s scalp for the same reasons they went after Milosevic and Saddam: not for their crimes, both real and imagined, but because he insistently defies them. Instead of bowing to the wishes of the would-be hegemon and its Middle Eastern ally, the Russkis are selling missiles to Damascus and doing business with Tehran. And now, flush with funds from rising oil prices, Putin is flexing his muscles, picking the crippled Russian bear up off its knees. Nothing could enrage the Americans more: after all, they thought they won the Cold War, fair and square. Don’t the Russians know they’re beaten?
Russia is far from "resurgent," in any fundamental sense: the drastically falling birth rate is an indicator of steep decline, not revival. But Putin is putting up a fight. In answer to the U.S. government-funded effort to "export democracy" to the former Soviet republics of the Russian "near abroad," Putin has cut off the foreign funding of Russian "NGOs." A good many of these "non-governmental organizations" are anything but they get direct (and, often, covert) aid from Washington, either from the National Endowment for Democracy, or out of the CIA’s "black propaganda" budget. The Europeans, too, are putting their own cash in the till: they see Moscow (rightly) as a rival power center, Putin’s Byzantium to the Holy Roman Empire of the EU.
In any case, foreign cash, and plenty of it, tipped the struggle over Ukraine in favor of the West’s amen corner, the "Orange" revolutionaries, and birthed similar (albeit much less successful) fifth columns in Belarus and Central Asia. The Russians are slowly being encircled, and in an effort to break out of it Putin’s foreign policy has become more, shall we say, active: i.e., more actively opposed to the American claim to global preeminence.
In the next week or so, Russia will take center stage as the latest target of Washington’s hectoring abuse, and the media chorus has already started. We read here that Russia is the scene of "rising xenophobia," with the clear implication being that Putin is somehow responsible for a growing Russian nationalism that sometimes takes the form of racism and anti-Semitism, "a phenomenon particularly visible in St. Petersburg, where skinheads have attacked and killed several foreigners the past three years."
Yet those very same skinheads are now accorded "dissident" status by the West: they are prominently featured at the "Different Russia" conference, which convened Tuesday in St. Petersburg, right before the G-8 meeting. The conference is meant to set the tone for the summit, and as a showcase for anti-Putin, and implicitly pro-Western figures, such as former economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, who faults the Russians for not moving swiftly enough in the direction of a free market, and other former Kremlin officials (who criticize Putin for not restoring the old socialist system and for cutting back on social services). The conference has been endorsed by all sorts of prominent Westerners and their Russian counterparts, and at least two State Department officials are slated to attend. One wonders if they know, or care, that 20 of the listed participants more than any other single group are identified as members of the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), an ultra-nationalist sect that valorizes Nazism, calls for a Eurasian empire stretching from the Rhine to the Bering Sea, and espouses a form of national socialism that puts a punkish-nihilistic gloss on the familiar German and Italian versions.
BNP members have engaged in provocative "demonstrations," taking over buildings including a church, which they threatened to destroy harassing Russian officials, including Putin, and generally making a spectacle of themselves. Their membership is drawn largely from the disaffected lumpen youth one of the founding members is a member of a Russian punk band. Their Lider Maximo, Eduard Limonov, styles himself the Yukio Mishima of Russian literature, although Mishima would never have allowed himself to become anyone’s instrument, least of all a front man for a foreign power. Limonov, whose abrasively anti-American sentiments come through loud and crude in his novels and other writings, is doing just that.
It isn’t the relatively small and isolated band of Russian "liberals" who are the cutting edge of the new Russian "dissident" movement. As the BBC reports, the goody-two-shoes faction of the anti-government youth are trying to recreate the Orange Revolution, and model their group on the successful Serbian Otpor movement.
"But the organisation with strongest support among anti-government youth the National Bolshevik Party has radical and anarchist tendencies. It combines references to both Nazi and the Communist ideology in its name and symbols. And although its leaders are less blatantly extreme as they were some years ago, they could hardly be described as liberal or pro-Western."
With their theatrical protests, Limonov and his party have become the most outspoken and visible opponents of the Putin presidency. Their brand of "radicalism" goes beyond the traditional periphery of the organized fascist movement in Russia and appeals to the anti-globalist color-coordinated kiddies who think they’re "anarchists" and are merely a mob longing for a leader, any leader, as long as he’s brazenly nihilistic enough.
Limonov certainly fits the bill. His endless novels of navel-gazing negativity and self-hypnotic narcissism are a favorite with the coffeehouse literary set, and his increasing megalomania has made him a cult figure among young people ready to fall for any poseur who comes along, provided his act is associated with some sort of extremism any extremism, left, right, or both at once, it doesn’t matter. Ideas, to these people, don’t matter everything, for them, is an act, an opportunity to exalt and otherwise call attention to themselves. In this context, it doesn’t hurt Limonov that he and a couple of accomplices were arrested and imprisoned for buying weapons. Their plan was to start an armed uprising in Kazakhstan, of all places Limonov spent two years in jail, and was let out after his literary friends made a fuss. Now he’s back, and his NBP is making headlines, and is deeply involved in the "Different Russia" conference the title of which, come to think of it, sounds suspiciously similar to Limonov’s manifesto of NPB doctrine The Other Russia.
This rambling screed is a weird mixture of nihilism, ultra-nationalism, and unintentional humor, in which the author lays out his vision of an authoritarian state, where the Leader rules all and the nation is trained, from birth, for combat:
"Boys and girls will be taught to shoot from grenade throwers, to jump from helicopters, to besiege villages and cities, to skin sheep and pigs, to cook good hot food and to write poetry. There will be sportive competitions, fighting, a free combat without rules, running, jumping."
This rambunctious race of hyperactive "new men" will be hard to keep constrained. They will naturally want to extend their horizons and build a Eurasian Empire on which the sun never sets:
"We will have to leave Russia, to build a nest on the fresh central lands, to conquer them there and to give rise to a new, unseen civilization of free warriors united in an armed community. Roaming the steppes and the mountains, fighting in southern nations.
"Many types of people will have to disappear. Alcoholic uncles Vasias, cops, functionaries and other defective material will die out, having lost their roots in society. The armed community could be called ‘Government of Eurasia.’ Thus the dreams of the Eurasians of the ’30s will be realized. Many people will want to join us. Possibly we will conquer the whole world. People will die young but it will be fun."
In other words, fun for Limonov and his band of demented nihilists, but miserable for the rest of us.
Oh, poor Limonov, beset by the inferiority of modern living, who complains even about the quality of bigotry in his country. The old USSR kept the Russians closed off from the outside world, and had them living in the 19th century, he contends, retarding the country intellectually:
"So why should anyone be surprised that even our anti-Semitism is not modern, by its attributes it lives in the times of ‘The Beilis affair’ (matza, blood of Christian newborns and other Middle Ageisms, when an anti-Semite in the West refutes the existence of gas chambers and the extermination of six million Jews), that our ‘fascism’ copies the Hitlerism of the ’20s, that our ‘democrats’ finally are as insolent as the American liberals before the crisis of 1929 and our rich are insolent and arrogant as the American rich before the world shock therapy of 1917."
Whatever innovative forms of anti-Semitism have come out of the NBP fever swamp have yet to show themselves: so far, at least, we just have the all-too-familiar hooliganism of cowardly haters, such as when eight NBP members "stormed the Ulyanovsk Jewish Center screaming, ‘don’t pollute our land,’ smashing windows, and tearing down Jewish symbols as Jewish women and children hid inside. No one was injured, but police failed to respond quickly, arriving 40 minutes after they were called. A member of the extremist National Bolshevik Party later was arrested in connection with the attack."
While such "respectable" figures as Gary Kasparov, Russian chess champion, and former Russian officials serve as front men and notables Stuart Eisenstadt and Carl Gershman lend an American imprimatur to the proceedings the NBP lurks behind the scenes and gets a platform for its odious views. And you can bet your bottom dollar that much if not all of this is being paid for by the American taxpayers for "democracy promotion" in Russia!
If even so much as one penny is coming out of the U.S. Treasury to finance these proceedings, one has to ask: Why on earth are we building up a sinister cult like the NBP? One imagines that people said the same thing about the Afghan "resistance" during the 1980s and nobody listened then, did they? However, one would think that Richard Holbrooke, Dick Morris, and Anthony Russell Brenton, Britain’s ambassador to the Russian Federation all of whom are listed as sponsoring attendees would know better than to get mixed up with a bunch of neo-Nazi thugs.
"A Different Russia," indeed very different, from a look at some of the other members and participants of this strange conference. There is Viktor Anpilov, leader of Working Russia, who lionizes Joseph Stalin, wants to restore the "authentic" communism practiced in the gulag, and characterizes the former regime of Boris Yeltsin as a "Jewish conspiracy." Another luminary in attendance will be Sergey Glazyev, formerly of the Motherland Bloc (Rodina) party, who has been the instrumental figure in forging a left-wing-"patriotic" (i.e., anti-Semitic ultra-nationalist) coalition. As a principal leader of this "red-brown" coalition, Glazyev, a former adviser to Putin, attacked "’certain forces‘ that are appropriating natural rent and ‘spending billions of dollars in order to have a lobby in the State Duma.’" In 2005, Glazyev addressed a congress of anti-Semitic and far-right groups gathered to re-found the infamous Black Hundred of Czarist days. Glazyev will doubtless feel comfortable in the company of fellow conference-goer and speaker Victor Iliukhin, who, in late 1998, declared in the State Duma that a "genocide" of the Russian people had occurred in the 1990s, and that this crime was engineered by the numerous Jews who served under Yeltsin.
Vasiliy Yakemenko, a political consultant allied with the pro-Putin Nashi youth movement, is right when he characterizes these guys as those who have "gathered under Hitler’s banners of national-socialism." "We will put an end to the unnatural union of oligarchs and anti-Semites, liberals and Nazis," he vows, and one can only hope so. But he’s wrong about it being an "unnatural union." It is perfectly natural for these political bandits to band together in a union of the bought-and-paid-for, for all of them are willing to sell their talents, such as they are, and their souls (such as they are) to the highest bidder. And who could outbid the U.S. government?
UPDATE: I note that the issue of U.S. government funding and the National Bolsheviks has already come up. The Washington Post reports:
“The conference was partly underwritten by the National Endowment for Democracy, a private, federally funded organization that promotes democracy world-wide. ‘Our main hope is that it will help promote Russian civil society,’ said Carl Gershman, the endowment’s president. Asked about the controversial presence of National Bolsheviks leader Eduard Limonov, Gershman said, ‘The overwhelming majority of people here are people with long-standing democratic credentials and if they can be here, that’s the best guideline I can follow.'”
The guidelines followed by Gershman and the NED have nothing to do with “democratic credentials,” and everything to do with who can be manipulated to serve the purposes of U.S. foreign policy. Limonov and the National Bolsheviks join a long list of similar sock puppets, including Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress and the Nicaraguan contras, who enlisted as servants of the Empire.