Two recent events in Moscow – a conference dedicated to the problem of Russophobia and a forum for separatists from around the globe – showcase just how far Russia has cut itself off from the West.
A two-headed eagle at the entrance of Alexander Garden in Moscow. Photo: RIA Novosti
Moscow recently hosted two international forums in quick succession, neither of which helped to bring Russia in from the cold, but only served to increase its isolation.
Russophobia and the information war against Russia
On the last weekend of September, the fashionable Moscow President Hotel. a part of the Russian presidential administration, hosted a gathering of Russian and foreign experts, all of them pious believers in the existence of institutional “Russophobia” — both in the West and inside Russia itself. The name of their conference spoke volumes: “Russophobia and the Information War against Russia.”
One of the main speakers at the forum was the chairman of the Synodal Department for Cooperation between Church and Society, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a well-known clerical radical, who sees a “fifth column” everywhere and defends Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who, in his opinion, “performed the will of the people.” At the forum, Chaplin delivered one of his trademark maxims, implying that Russia should be as self-sufficient as possible.
“Russia’s economy should be Russian, not an extension of the world’s,” he said.
The most dazzling performance of the two-day forum, according to a BBC correspondent in attendance, was delivered by another man of the cloth, former Interior Ministry official Andrei Khvyli-Olinter. He presented his audience with two maps — one showing the countries that supported Germany's Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, the other those that have imposed sanctions against the Kremlin.
The two maps were almost identical, while the mirror opposite is closer to the truth. What’s more, as an example of the ideological contrast between Russian and Western civilization, Khvyli-Olinter presented the respective coats of arms of the City of London and Moscow. The former depicts two dragons facing each other, the latter just one being slain by St. George (the patron saint of both England and Moscow).
On another slide the speaker showed photos of various Western figures (beginning with the Pope), all with one hand raised and index and little finger outstretched. In his view, they are all “Satanists” who pose a threat to Russia. On top of that, the presentations were interspersed with long quotations from the speeches of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The problem of domestic Russophobes
The goal of the forum was twofold: First, to show that the West is implementing a well-organized conspiracy against Russia, the aim of which is to destroy Russian statehood. The foreign guests at the forum happily concurred with that theory, citing numerous examples to back it up.
One of them, Ali Hatem, adviser to the former leader of the French National Front Jean-Marie Le Pen, gushingly stated that, “Russia is at the forefront of the free world” and “the West is not so free.”
The second goal of the forum was to unmask domestic Russophobes, above all, Russian liberals and democrats.
“There are degenerates who curse their Russianness and are embarrassed of it,” said Anatoly Nikiforov, a member of the Expert Council under the Federation Council Committee for International Affairs.
Western liberal values, he said, “infected the national body” in 1991 and the lobbyist of these false values is the “fifth column” with close ties to the West.
Internal Russophobia was a popular topic at the forum. As pro-Kremlin journalist Peter Akopov of online newspaper Vzglyad explained, “There are internal forces bent on recoding Russian civilization and including it in the Western Atlantic project.”
However, on the question of where there are more Russophobes — in Russia or abroad, Akopov was in a minority. The vast majority of forum participants were sure that Russophobia and the information war against Russia were conceived in the West. The dispute between “Westerners” and “Russian populists” has been around in Russia for decades. But the level of acrimony on display today is perhaps unprecedented.
Separatists of all countries, unite
Paradoxically, in the fight against Russophobia, those who support a strong and unified country — the “keepers of the Russian state” — are developing ties with separatist movements around the world. The old Marxist slogan “Workers of all countries, unite” is alive and well — with one word changed.
A week before the forum of anti-Russophobes, the selfsame President Hotel hosted another forum, this time for separatists from around the world, from Hawaii to Catalonia. Among them were “reputed” separatists from Northern Ireland’s nationalist republican party Sinn Fein and the party “Catalan Solidarity for Independence,” plus lesser known “strugglers against oppression.”
One of the most exotic and weird guests, and the main object of press attention, was Lanny Sinkin, who identifies himself as a representative of the “Independent Sovereign State of Hawaii” and “adviser to King Edmund Keli’i Silva, Jr.” In late 2014 he moved to Honolulu to help restore the monarchy in the 50th American state to secede from the U.S.
The self-proclaimed envoy of the Hawaiians had the rapt attention of the eclectic separatist throng, which included a Northern Irish skinhead with arms tattooed up to the shoulder, an African in a baseball cap topped with sunglasses representing the Pan-African international movement “Uhuru,” and a brawny type in a camouflage jacket with a “Novorossiya” stripe on the sleeve, to mention just a few.
“I’ve never seen so many freaks gathered together in one place,” commented Russian documentary maker Beate Bubenec.
Who funded this coven of separatists? According to Russian news agency RBC, the conference was allocated 2 million rubles of public money (almost $ 31,000 at today's currency rate) under the Kremlin-sponsored national endowment for military-patriotic projects and activities, set up by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 1999. As Sinkin admits, he knew nothing about the forum until four days before the start. He received a call, was given some money, and happily came to Moscow.
One might reasonably ask what the Russian authorities hoped to achieve from such a get-together on the eve of Putin’s speech at the UN, where the Russian leader urged the international community to join forces in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria.
Putin’s desire to break Russia’s isolation over Ukraine is wholly at odds with such gatherings of clerical and secular defenders of “spirituality” under the banner of Stalinism, supported by separatists of all creeds and colors. They have the capacity to discredit the Russian authorities just as much as the congress of ultra-nationalists in St. Petersburg that took place in March 2015.
What’s more, support for separatists undermines the territorial composition of the Russian Federation itself. According to Russian law, “public appeals for action aimed at violating territorial integrity” are punishable under Article 280.1 of the Criminal Code.
The maximum penalty under section one of the article is four years in prison, while section two (using media, including the Internet) stipulates up to five years in prison. On Sept. 15 Daria Polyudovaya went on trial in Krasnodar for organizing the so-called “march for the federalization of Kuban.” She is accused of openly advocating separatism and extremism.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Russia itself was threatened with internal disintegration. The threat has receded, but not disappeared. According to human rights activist Alexander Podrabinek, there are still pockets of separatism. A natural hotbed, for instance, is the Kaliningrad region — a Russian exclave bordered by Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea.
In the early 1990s the Baltic Regional Party was established in this detached part of Russia. You can ban a political party (which it was), but not an idea. Last spring, three youths hung a German flag on the building of the Kaliningrad division of the FSB. Simultaneously, an online campaign was launched in favor of joining Lithuania.
One of the main motives for separatist sentiments, according to Podrabinek, is the inequitable distribution of income and the expropriation of regional money by the central government. Not for nothing is the slogan “Stop feeding Moscow!” so popular. Despite producing enormous wealth, the Urals, Siberia and Yakutia say they are fed crumbs. Hence, separatist ambitions are rising all the way from the Urals to the Russian Far East.
As for the wave of bigotry and obscurantism currently sweeping Russia, manifested in the September forums at the President Hotel, its roots lie in the absence of strong political institutions, the weakness of civil society, the degradation of the “fourth estate,” and the almost total lack of any real electoral competition.
For as long as this situation persists, the wishful exhortations of Russian leaders to the international community will sink in the murky waters of protecting “Russia’s unique spirituality,” whose advocates want to take the country back to the past and erect new walls between Russia and the civilized, democratic world.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.