Conspiracy Theories and the Novorossiya Enterprise

Conspiracy Theories in the Post-Soviet Space
Russian Review. Oct2012, Vol. 71 Issue 4, p551-564. 14p

Despite the ubiquity of conspiracy theories in the former Soviet Union, there is an almost total lack of systematic research on the issue. The relative absence of writing about conspiracy theories in Russia and the former Soviet Union is noteworthy as, since the Tsarist era, conspiracy theories have found fertile ground across the Russian empire and indeed the Soviet Union, and they continue to abound during in the post-Soviet space. Perhaps it would not be an exaggeration to say that anyone recently doing social science or humanities research on the region will have come across conspiracy theories as a form of historical analysis or artistic expression, as has recently been explored with regard to the novels of Andrei Pelevin. The phenomenon seems to operate in fictional and nonfictional accounts both on the level of popular narratives and, in the case of Russia and some regional governments, in the official discourses of state power. Some of the reasons for the rise in popularity of conspiracy theories in the post-Soviet era will be explored below. In fact, this introductory article serves a dual purpose: both to discuss the theoretical implications of analyzing conspiracy theories in the post-Soviet space and to sketch out a research agenda for what is a largely unexplored field. The latter demands that we attend to questions of what might be specific and especially significant about conspiracy theories in the post-Soviet space, and how the post-Soviet type adds to the emergence of a field of conspiracy theory studies which seeks to understand this apparently increasingly prominent feature of the post-modern world.


How Russian State TV Linked Satanists To Ukraine’s Leadership
Ukraine Unspun
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | August 19, 2014

What do Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov have in common with members of a satanic religious sect based in central Ukraine?

They are all part of a broad movement to destroy the Russian Orthodox Church, according to Russia’s leading state-run broadcaster.

The August 17 report on Rossia 24 begins with news that a devil-worshipping religious sect has received permission from local authorities to build a church, focusing on footage of a lamb that is apparently about to be slaughtered in a ritual sacrifice.

But to reporter Nikolai Sokolov, the wooly ruminant is only the furriest of the many potential victims of the new pro-European Ukraine, which, he says, "is now an ideal laboratory for [religious] sects."

And the trouble, he says, starts at the top.

"Where Kyiv Rus was born the Russian Orthodox Church is losing numbers," he says, referring to the medieval Slavic state that laid the Orthodox foundations for modern-day Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. "Many politicians are of different religions. Oleksandr Turchynov, for instance, combines his activities in the parliament with meetings of Baptists. To them he isn’t just a parishioner, but a spiritual teacher."

There are an estimated 100 million Baptist community members worldwide, but they make up less than 1 percent of Ukraine’s population.

But Turchynov is not the only non-Orthodox believer in power, says Sokolov.

Yatsenyuk is something that may be even worse: "a follower of Scientology," the controversial religious group that Russia has refused to recognize.

Except he’s not. Despite popular online rumors that he is either a Scientologist or Jewish, Yatsenyuk identifies himself as a Ukrainian Greek Catholic — a church that makes up 14 percent of Ukraine’s population.

But perhaps for the purposes of the report it’s a difference without a distinction.

Russian officials and media figures opposed to the government in Kyiv have frequently padded their rhetoric with nationalistic calls to protect ethnic Russians and their Russian Orthodox beliefs, wherever threats may arise.

And some actions by pro-Russian separatists appear to be at least indirectly tied to these religious calls.

In June, a group of local residents and armed Russian Cossacks in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in March, ransacked a Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

And earlier this summer, four leaders of a Protestant church in Slovyansk — then controlled by separatists — were kidnapped from a service and killed some 16 hours later.

— Anna Shamanska with contributions from Glenn Kates


In Russia, Conspiracy Theories Often Ring True
Mark Galeotti
The Moscow Times | Aug. 13 2014

A Kremlin whose instincts are secrecy and misdirection, and which often relies on leaks and innuendo to indicate policy and direct its officials, is the best friend of the Kremlinologist and the conspiracy theorist (arguably two sides of the same tarnished coin). I am, alas, one of this degenerate band of wonks and thus know of what I speak.

It is often easy to make far too much of an argument based on far too little data and in the process do little but demonstrate our own biases and assumptions: The Kremlin becomes nothing more than our own Rorschach inkblot test. However, just as the occasional find keeps the prospector at his back-breaking labor sifting pebbles in the stream, regardless of the ratio of fool’s gold to the real stuff, so too the Putinologist rumor mill grinds out enough genuinely valuable insights that it is impossible to ignore it.

Sometimes, we end up joining together dots that actually ought not to be connected. Last week there was a classic case in point when, in two separate decrees, eighteen officials from the Investigative Committee, Prosecutor General’s Office and the Interior Ministry were dismissed from their post.

There were claims that this was a "secretive" move — although it’s hard to see how decrees posted on the presidential website can count as especially covert. Then these individuals were described as "top officials" even though most were middle-ranking figures and regional deputies: Not insignificant, by all means, but hardly movers and shakers.

The rumor mill cranked and it cranked with imaginative vigor. These officials had opposed Moscow’s policy towards Ukraine and were being purged for their disloyalty. It was because of a drug scandal, or a failure to deal with terrorism and separatism. This was about Putin shoring up his control of the security apparatus. Most fancifully, the officials had mooted a coup against Putin.

The truth appears far more prosaic. These decrees typically consolidate batches of promotions and dismissals and the thought that Putin cares about who is the head of logistics for the Siberian district of the Interior Troops or deputy chief of the Investigative Committee’s local office for the Southern Federal District dramatically overstates his micromanagerial tendencies.

Instead, a number of these were officers of retirement age simply leaving the service, others moving to new positions. Insofar as politics played a part — and in Russia, politics always does — it is far more likely that this reflected both local power plays and inter-agency wrangles. This does say something about the way modern Russia works, but in a much less exciting way. "Bureaucrats in uniform constantly conspire against their rivals in the provinces" is a much less dramatic takeaway than "Russian cops revolt against the Kremlin."

The trouble is, often enough the rumors and conjecture turn out to be true. The presence in Ukraine of Spetsnaz special forces operators from the GRU, military intelligence, has long been claimed and suggested. I certainly have felt that the GRU was the lead agency in Moscow’s undeclared war across the border. But in the face of sustained, flat denials from the Russian government, this debate was leading nowhere. Until, that is, photographs materialized showing the memorial in Moscow for a dozen Spetsnaz, all recently killed in Ukraine.

Thus, what so many outside Russia have assumed, that the eastern Ukrainian insurgency may be a rebellion fought largely by Ukrainians but fomented, armed and perhaps even directed by Moscow, suddenly looks that much harder to deny.

Policy misdeeds, from Guantanamo to Saddam Hussein’s mythical "weapons of mass destruction", have helped rationalize the arguments of those who, perhaps disillusioned by their own nations’ politics, are eager to give Putin every benefit of the doubt.

But so too do revelations such as the presence of Spetsnaz in Ukraine reinforce widespread suspicions of Russia. So long as the Kremlin does routinely use deceit as an instrument of statecraft (remember those claims that the "little green men" were nothing to do with Russia?), it empowers and encourages the conspiracy theorists, and should not be surprised when its every statement and pronouncement is greeted with skepticism and scoured for hidden meanings.

Mark Galeotti is professor of global affairs at New York University.


Conspiracy and Alternate History in Russia: A Nationalist Equation for Success?
Russian Review. Oct2012, Vol. 71 Issue 4, p565-580. 16p.

Abstract: In the post-Cold War period conspiracy theories have become more fashionable, both as an element for explaining international affairs and as one for rewriting history. In this latter aspect, they comprise part of a particularly broad genre, called alternate history. Each of these plural histories of Russia has its own proper focus, in terms of its periods of predilection, of its way of formulating the components of identity (religion, race, culture, state, and so on), and of designation of the enemy. However, nearly all of them use the conspirological framework and its presupposed secret manipulation to articulate the dramaturgy of the nation in logical terms. After a contextualization of the broad domain of alternate history, this article enquires into the modes of nationalist types of alternate history and its multiple conspiracies, and looks in detail at one of its ‘textbook cases,’ so-called New Chronology. The principal hypothesis defended here is that the conjunction between conspiracy theory and the rewriting of history makes up one of the main instruments for disseminating nationalist theories in today Russia, theories based on a kind of post-modern, paranoid cultural imaginary.


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