On The Eurasian Express (2)

by Andrew Stuttaford

The Wall Street Journal on the Crimea just before the vote (early reports from the counting indicate a percentage of support for unification with Russia in the mid-90s, a modest haul, I suppose, by Soviet standards):

In Yalta, the posters and leaflets at the “Russian Unity” tent set up beside a Lenin statue in the seaside resort mix paeans to Soviet heroism and invocations of the great and unique “Russian soul.” A priest leads pensioners in a song about the czars.

And the Financial Times on Russia:

Fighting Vladimir Putin has been part of the job for Dmitry Agranovsky. For years, as the Moscow lawyer defended civil rights activists in court, he found himself on one side of the divide and the Russian president on the other.

Until now. As Mr Putin stares down the west over Crimea, Mr Agranovsky stands by him, as does the vast majority of the Russian people. “Revanche for the fatherland!!!!” he tweeted last week. He posted pictures of Russian personnel carriers in Crimea accompanied by a prayer for protection of “our army”. “Rise up, great country! Rise to mortal combat with the fascist dark forces, with the cursed horde!” he wrote in another tweet.

…Ahead of Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, Levada, the country’s most independent pollster, found this week that more than 70 per cent of Russians believe Russian speakers in Ukraine are either in real danger from bandits and nationalists, or at least that their rights are being infringed. According to the poll, 67 per cent see radical Ukrainian nationalists behind the aggravation of the situation in Crimea, while only 2 per cent blame the Russian government.

“A two-week campaign of propaganda and disinformation, unprecedented in post-Soviet times, has created a powerful effect and mass approval of Putin’s policy towards Ukraine,” Levada said. “This tactic to manipulate public opinion . . . has provided a negative mobilisation of a large part of the Russian population and revived its dormant imperial complexes.”

Writing for The American Interest, Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Russia:

[T]he charge of fascism [in this case wielded against anti-Russian forces in Ukraine] carries a particular force in the formerly Soviet space. World War II is the one sacral achievement that must not be questioned in Russia. To suggest that there are those in power in Ukraine who attack its accomplishments or indeed seek to reverse them is to plug into anger. Hence its value as a weapon to the Kremlin. But the record shows that while it would be a stretch to describe today’s Russia as fascist, there are elements in its bloodstream that should disqualify Moscow from so slandering others.

And the failure to hold a Soviet Nuremburg still weighs.

Back to the FT:

“The west is accustomed to thinking the Soviet regime ended in 1991. But symbolically, it lives on,” says Andrey Zubov, a liberal historian…He says that while Ukraine’s moves over the past decade to open historical archives and publicly debate famine and deportations under Stalin allowed the country to shake off its Soviet past, Russia failed to take this step.

That may be too sunny a view of Ukraine’s reckoning with its own complicated history, but there can be little doubt that the country has done far more than Russia to come to terms with its past.

The FT again:

This week over 100 prominent filmmakers, musicians and other artists including Valery Gergiev, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, signed an open letter of support for Mr Putin, stating: “As the fate of our compatriots and the Crimea is at stake, Russian cultural figures cannot be indifferent observers with a cold heart. Our common history and roots of our culture and its spiritual origins, our fundamental values and language unite us forever.”

Meanwhile in Kharkov (eastern Ukraine) pro-Russian demonstrators have been burning books, including, according to this report, works on Ukrainian history, including ones on the genocidal famine engineered by the Stalin regime in the 1930s.

Burning books…