Ilya Shablinsky on nuclear blackmail and noodles on the ears: How the Kremlin Seeks to Split Western Elites and Raise the Degree of Hate within Russia 

6 March 2023

by Ilya Shablinsky, doctor of legal sciences, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Spektr.Press

One of the strategies in Putin’s relations with Western elites – nuclear blackmail – was reaffirmed last week. This strategy was remembered on Monday and it was decided to start the week with it. Medvedev, the deputy chair of the security council who does only what he is told, wrote in a newspaper that if Russia’s existence is seriously put in question, then it would be resolved at the same time as the existence of all human civilization. Medvedev used the word ‘apocalypse’ and asserted that ‘the previous way of life will be forgotten for centuries, until the smoking remains stop emitting radiation.’

What does this mean? Putin and company probably think the Americans and other enemies still don’t get the point. So they need to be even more blunt. It looks like we will see more emphasis on the same theme in the coming months.  This is no joke, of course, and these threats make it even clearer to us who Ukraine and all of us have to deal with today – in the form of the Russian state.

Hardly anyone is expecting a change in the strategy of Western elites. But we should note an important detail. Nuclear blackmail is not only direct intimidation, which the addressees of the threats, given their nature, are obliged to take seriously. But it is also an attempt to divide the Western elites, creating the ground for the strengthening of conciliatory and isolationist sentiments: ‘Is it worth the risk of such a confrontation over Ukraine? and what’s it to us, we’re far away….’ In this respect, Putin’s people are still pinning their hopes on Trump. He has already started campaigning and made some very inarticulate foreign policy statements in Maryland on 4 March – as he had previously done in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Though a few months ago – following public opinion – he called Putin’s military actions genocide. But his words are cheap and carry little weight. The Kremlin has not yet given up hope of reaching a second victory in 2024 for a Republican who sympathizes with dictators.

Still, for now, the elites of the free world are in solidarity. Putin’s threats are already boring. And no one intends to cede a fifth of the territory of Ukraine to him at the moment. But no one is raising the question of the ‘existence of Russia,’ as formulated by Medvedev, either. What is at issue is the restoration of Ukrainian control over its territory within its internationally recognized borders.

However, nuclear blackmail will continue and probably intensify. This is an important part of Putin’s strategy with regard to the surrounding world in the coming months. And this is something new for the world.

And war, indeed, has its own logic, and in accordance with that logic, the appearance of combat drones – probably of Ukrainian origin – has been recorded in a number of Russian cities.  The only noticeable consequence of this attack is probably the fire at the Tuapse oil depot. The attack itself is a demonstration of new capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces, which are gradually building up their arsenal of weaponry.

But the biggest resonance this week was caused by reports of a sabotage group from Ukrainian territory that took control of two Russian border villages, Lyubechane and Sushany, in the Bryansk region for several hours. Members of the group videotaped themselves in front of objects in the villages, fired at civilian vehicles, killing – as we were told by Russian media – two local residents and wounding a child, and then left in the direction of the border. Brief reports of this action appeared in the state-run Russian media, and almost immediately a certain Russian Volunteer Corps claimed responsibility. According to its spokesman, the action was undertaken for a purely symbolic purpose: to demonstrate that ‘Russian people can fight the regime with weapons in their hands.’ He did not mention the local civilians killed (the school stoker and the driver).

Official Kyiv stated that this was a ‘pure provocation,’ and that the Ukrainian military had not sent any sabotage groups to Russian territory. The FSB and Putin labeled the act as terrorism and a sortie by ‘Ukrainian nationalists.’ Opinions were generally divided.

In my view, provocations in the midst of full-scale hostilities are ineffective and usually do not make rational sense. Sometimes they are carried out precisely in order to revive hostilities that have lost their dynamism. In this case, however, the war is in full swing, and the action itself, in two villages in the Bryansk region, really does look like political self-promotion. The Russian Volunteer Corps does exist in real-life is most likely not very numerous and really wanted to make a name for itself somehow. Its leader, a specialist in organizing mass brawls among soccer fans in Russia, Germany, and Ukraine, is suspected of having ties to the Russian secret services. And perhaps not without reason. Would he be so daring as to travel from Russia to Ukraine and back? But that is the essence of the current turbulent times: they are very conducive to the activity of adventurers of any kind. They are very flexible and can change their political views. Not out of material self-interest, but because of the excessive vivacity of their nature. They can consider themselves the defenders of Ukraine, but their actions can be of no use to Ukraine. But in essence, all we know about the incident is a set of video clips.

At the same time, there has been little change in the main theatre of hostilities – near Bakhmut in Donetsk region and near Kreminna in Luhansk region – so far. There, the fighting is still mostly positional in nature.

During these same days, Russian missiles continued to destroy Ukrainian cities. Another missile, probably meant for some energy facility in Zaporozhye, hit a multi-story apartment building. Once again. Thirteen people were killed, including a small child. The Russian media, as usual, did not report this as they are only interested in shelling of territories under Russian control.

This nature of the war appears to be the main incentive for the authorities in Russia to strengthen their repressive policy. The vector of this policy was outlined by the dictator himself, speaking at the FSB collegium. Knowing his style, one can guess that he was extremely embittered. In any case, it is obvious that he saw his task as raising the degree of hatred. Putin demanded that ‘the illegal activities of those who are trying to split and weaken our society be identified and suppressed.’ And one more quote: ‘Now, the most active attempts are being made to activate all this scum on our land.’ Of course, he demanded that special attention be paid to the internet and social networks.

They have been paying attention for a long time now. And to the networks, and to the writings on walls, and children’s drawings. Still, let’s get rid of the thesis that all Russians are obediently silent.

In the city of Efremov, Tula Oblast, a criminal case was opened against Aleksei Moskalyov, whose daughter drew a picture of a Ukrainian flag and a woman with a child being targeted by missiles in a drawing lesson at school. In essence, she depicted the situation in Zaporizhzhia.  Her father, who is raising his daughter alone, is now under house arrest, and the authorities have noted several of his anti-war posts on social media. His daughter is currently being sent to an orphanage (‘a social rehabilitation centre’). If the father is imprisoned and deprived of parental rights, his daughter will remain in the orphanage – that’s the prospect.

At the same time, Dmitry Skurikhin, a businessman from the village of Russkoe-Vysotskoe in Leningrad region, was remanded in custody. He knelt down holding a placard that read, ‘Forgive us, Ukraine,’ outside his shop. On the walls of the shop he wrote the names of several Ukrainian cities that have come under fire in these months.

So far, Mikhail Abdalkin, a KPRF activist from Samara, has gotten off relatively easily after he listened to the president’s message in his office with cooked noodles on his ears and filmed the entire action on his phone. So far he is being prosecuted for an administrative offence – he will be tried on 7 March. Well, his comrades-in-arms have promised to expel him from the Communist Party.

In reality, the number of administrative charges for discrediting the army is approaching 20,000. There are about 300 criminal prosecutions.

This number seems set to increase. Last week the State Duma amended Article 207.3 of the Criminal Code, expanding the field of its application and increasing the penalties. Now, there is liability not only for ‘discrediting’ the armed forces, but also ‘volunteer formations, organizations, and individuals who assist the armed forces in carrying out their missions.’ How can this be deciphered? Yes – perhaps the mercenaries from the so-called ‘Wagner private military company’ are also meant. Although the use of the terms ‘volunteer formations’ and ‘private company” is incorrect. These people fight for money, and the entire so-called Wagner PMC is funded from the state budget. So, perhaps it will be impossible to write about these people that they were convicted of murder, robbery or paedophilia.  That offends them. Prigozhin has asked that this no more be written. How could the State Duma refuse to respond? Besides, by ‘persons assisting in the execution’ you can mean, in general, anyone you want. For example, energetic volunteers who force state employees and students to rallies in support of Putin, or Channel One propagandists who demand that Kiev be swept off the face of the earth.

In general, it is impossible to say for sure. After all, no one could imagine that a placard with ‘No W…r’ written on it in the hands of a solitary young woman would be considered discrediting for the army. Let a lone a blank sheet with five stars on it …

Translated by Rights in Russia

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