Moscovy in the Time of Troubles by S.V. Ivanov (Image: Wikipedia)
This week, Moscow historian Arkady Popov completes his demolition of what he calls the eight myths of the KrymNash [Crimea Is Our] movement with an essay in “Yezhednevny zhurnal” about the claims of the backers of that trend that the occupation of Crimea would be something cost-free.
1. None of 8 myths in Putin’s ‘Crimea is Ours’ ideology stands up to close examination, Popov says
2. Moscow’s claims of ‘historic right’ to Crimea don’t stand up, Popov says
3. Popov demolishes third ‘KrymNash’ myth – that Crimean people freely expressed their will
4. Fourth Putin myth about Crimean Anschluss without foundation, Popov says
5. Fifth myth of Krymnashism – Ukrainian statehood is ‘artificial’ – demolished by Popov
6. Popov demolishes KrymNash myth of ‘Fascist Euromaidan’
7. Seventh KrymNash myth — that annexation was a response to West’s denigration of Russia — baseless, Popov says
There is “something childish” in the assumption that the annexation of Crimea would be cost-free, he writes, because adults know that “one must pay” for what one does; and the costs of the Crimean adventure, he suggests, are becoming ever more obvious in three areas: economic harm, combat losses, and, what is especially serious, “the barbarization” of Russia.
The economic costs direct and indirect of the annexation of Crimea are both easiest and most difficult to specify, Popov points out. On the one hand, there are statistics about specific costs and burdens. But on the other, these statistics are by their nature unreliable, in most cases understated, and occasionally difficult to disaggregate Crimean from other costs.
The Russian government has said that over the next five to six years, Moscow will give Crimea a trillion rubles (160 billion US dollars). That means Crimea will be costing the Russian government more than the entire Far East and all the North Caucasus republics. Only Ingushetia and Chechnya will have a greater percentage of their budgets paid for by the center.
There is no basis for optimism that Crimea will be able to escape from this situation anytime soon, given the collapse of tourism and the economy more generally on the peninsula, Popov says. Overall tourism is down by a third and visitors coming by rail down by 66 times, something air and sea routes cannot hope to make up.
Industrial production on the peninsula is down ten percent over the last year, and construction has fallen by 55 percent. Moreover, the economy has been further disordered by a rash of illegal privatizations, something that the authorities have supported as a means of excluding unwanted outside influences, something it has succeeded in doing.
But the real costs of the Anschluss are broader because of how that action has affected the Russian economy as a whole. Production, incomes and GDP are all down, inflation is up, and Russia’s credit rating has fallen to “junk” status. More and more Russians recognize this and wouldn’t have voted to annex Crimea if they had had the chance and don’t now want to spend so much money on this Kremlin project.
The second part of the costs of the Crimean annexation are human losses, Popov says. While Moscow continues to say that the annexation cost Russia no loss of life, the fact is that Crimea is directly connected to the fighting in the Donbas which has claimed thousands of lives and forced more than a million people to leave their homes.
And the third part of the costs of Crimea, in many ways the most disturbing, is the way in which that action has led to “the barbarization of [Russian] society.” It can’t be measured in dollars and cents or other statistics, but it is much in evidence, extremely serious and widely felt, the Moscow historian says.”
Since Crimea, Russian society has acquired “the atmosphere of a besieged fortress,” Popov says, “and with that have returned almost the entire range of the worst aspects of Soviet consciousness: the cult of force and contempt for law, suspiciousness to those who think differently and hatred of liberalism.”
Things haven’t reached the point of “a real war with ‘Gayeurope,” he continues, but “the murder of Nemtsov shows that the war which has inflamed Ukraine has come to Russia,” because what the Kremlin wanted to achieve in Crimea and the Donbas was first and foremost an indication of what it planned for Russia itself.
The Russian rulers have faced one obstacle on the path of restoring “a neo-Soviet military-totalitarian project,” the lack of an ideology which could “seize the masses” and explain “what we are fighting for.” In Soviet times, people knew they were fighting for communism; but now Russians have learned only relatively recently that “we are building ‘the Russian world.’”
“Judging from the signals coming down from on high,” Popov says, “this will be a marvelous new world where there won’t be any sodomites and transvestites or foreign agents and liberals, where all will study only on the basis of correct textbooks and no one will ask incorrect questions, where there won’t be horizontal social ties but only vertical command ones.”
Of course, this is barbarism, Popov says, and however many claims are made that it corresponds to traditional Russian values, one should remember that these values, those of “barracks patriotism, slavery, and obscurantism,” were denounced by Russian writers already in the 19th century.
But in the current environment, the promotion of such values has been aided by the elimination of the capacity for shame among Russia’s rulers and many of its people. “Khrushchev and Brezhnev sent tanks into Budapest and Prague… but why openly unite Hungary and Czechoslovakia to the USSR?”
They knew how the world would react, and they even turned down the Bulgarians twice when they asked to be absorbed into the USSR. They did so because they wanted to maintain appearances, but now, with the collapse of shame and the emergence of shamelessness, that constraint has disappeared.
“Of course,” Popov says, “the destruction of the culture of shame in Russia began not with Crimea but much earlier,” but “mass shamelessness is the logical price for ‘Crimea is Ours.’ After Crimea ‘everything became possible,’ for all around are enemies and war and in war what shame can there be except avoiding battle?”
In this situation, Russians have seen their identity reduced to that of a tribe and the meaning of their lives to those in a state of war in which primitive energies are released and those who do not want to follow are driven out – much of the educated population – or oppressed.
But that also has entailed a serious additional cost, Popov points out. He cites Nikolay Travkin’s observation that what Moscow did in Crimea “destroyed [Russia’s] reputation as a serious international partner” and meant that no one would any longer trust anything its leaders said or signed.
And that is not just about Putin, Popov says. “Putin came and Putin will leave.” This is a situation in which “all Russia and its people who supported the Crimean ‘thievery’ for a long time forward will be conceived by the civilized world (and not only the Western but the Eastern as well) as a country with which it is senseless to reach agreements with.”
Russia’s isolation after Crimea was highlighted by the vote at the UN on recognizing the Crimean “referendum.” Only ten countries voted with Russia – none of the other BRICS states, only two CIS members, and its remaining “friends:” Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Syria, Sudan, Zimbabwe and North Korea.
The one remaining price Russia may yet have to pay concerns the possibility that Crimea will trigger a shift from its current authoritarian system to full-blown totalitarianism or anarchy. The chances for the former seem quite large, but there are three steps Moscow has not yet made and may not be able to make to get there.
- First of all, it has to come up with a kind of Russian nationalism that won’t lead to the explosion of the country which includes many non-Russians.
- Second, it needs a new “’Iron Curtain,’” something that will preclude Russian development.
- And third, it needs a strong and effective state.
Curiously, this last requirement is one that Russia is not now meeting, as the murder of Nemtsov shows, Popov argues. And consequently, what Crimea is leading Russia to is less likely to be totalitarianism than toward a new Time of Troubles, not “a new Stalin and a new Ivan the Terrible” but something perhaps even worse.
Of course, Popov concludes, the coming time of troubles will not be like that of the beginning of the 17th or of the 20th centuries, but rather something new – “and this will be a worthy repayment for all our achievements” in Crimea.