As the canons boomed in Ukraine, the Russian media became more docile than usual. Some Kremlin critics fled abroad; others were administratively silenced, and overt criticism migrated to social media outlets such as Telegram. Lately, there has been a slight uptick of criticism in outlets catering to the elite such as Kommersant, a newspaper modeled on Western financial dailies.
Below are two recent columns that appeared in Kommersant. The first is a piece by Mikhail Gurevich claiming that Russia with all its protests against Western cancel culture is effectively doing the same to Russian culture figures, who refuse to endorse the war in Ukraine. Gurevich warns that the process could result in both the artists and their audiences abandoning Russia. As a result, the Russian cultural scene abroad could become more vibrant and influential than in Russia itself. Culture in Russia could degenerate into the wooden Stalinist Socialist Realism.
Maxim Yusin, a foreign affairs columnist Kommersant commented on the looming Nordic accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO. Yusin claims that this would be a most ironic result of Putin's special operation. A major justification that Putin provided in defense of launching the operation was that it was needed to keep NATO away from Russia's border by preventing Ukraine's accession to NATO. Now Russia's border with NATO is set to double in size. The Kremlin has achieved the directly opposite result in terms of a key objective. Yusin is not the first to observe this irony; Western commentators have proceeded him. But, this criticism together with the backhanded compliment that Russia does not intend to launch a special operation against Finland, now appears in a major Russian publication.
Below are the two articles, with each preceded by Kommersant's introduction:
"[Kommersant introduction] Russian concerts continue to be canceled all over the world. In June, [singer] Alexander Rosenbaum won't be performing in Israel. Previously, the Russian and Kazakh comedian, Nurlan Saburov was unable to stage his events there. Both had previously spoken either positively or neutrally about the special operation in Ukraine. In the meantime, back in Russia, Maxim Galkin cancelled his concerts, and made a corresponding post in social networks. According to the artist, he had to do this because he was 'banned from performing' in the country. A few days ago, a show by the 'DDT' music band was canceled in Tyumen, because the artists refused to perform in a hall where the letter 'Z' [symbolizing support for the war in Ukraine] was posted. Kommersant FM columnist, Mikhail Gurevich believes that Russian culture will soon be living in parallel realities."
Mikhail Gurevich (Source: Jewishmagazine.ru)
"[Gurevich column begins] At the same time that Roskomnadzor [The Federal Service for the Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media] demands employing the term 'special operation' for the events in Ukraine, there are no such limitations when it comes to cultural confrontation. This is a real war. Hollywood stars film video messages to Russian President, Vladimir Putin, while our artists' concerts are being canceled in Europe. Some artists face obstruction, as was the case with Nurlan Saburov.
"Here, in response, even Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu participated in a struggle against the [politically] incorrect media stars. His letter to the head of the Ministry of Culture, Olga Lyubimova, as it seems, had no official follow up, but the defense department's opinion was clearly heard and taken into consideration upon drawing up the musical repertoire for the radio stations and TV channels. Nominally speaking, everything sounds logical, i.e. they ban us, and we retaliate. In reality, however, the picture is somewhat different. In Europe, primarily groups of activists are engaged in the boycott of tours by Russian artists, while in Russia one can feel the firm hand of the state.
"Our government is fighting on not one, but two fronts simultaneously. On the one hand, they publish lists of Ukrainian performers, who were banned from entering Russia for up to 50 years (!), while on the other hand, an almost official war is declared on the country’s opposition-minded singers, artists, and entertainers. They are the main recipients of the [state’s] main blow. They are victims of the bans and are, in fact, being pushed out of the public sphere (if not out of the country).
"Not even criticism, but a mere refusal to actively support the actions of the Russian servicemen turns into a reason [for applying] the very 'cancellation culture ' that Moscow is so fond of accusing the West of. Any statement, which differs the general line is perceived as almost the work of foreign secret services. Naturally, such statements are followed by the closure of exhibitions (as in the case of Grigory Bruskin), or by dismissal from the Moscow Art Theatre school, as in the case of the playwright, Mikhail Durnenkov. The basic principle of art's humanity, pacifist pathos, rock and roll, and the right to independent reflection through artistic means is questioned at the highest level.
"Such a situation undoubtedly recalls Soviet era censorship, and only modern technology still protects us from a total ban on access to ideologically fallible works of art. However, the sheer speed of what is happening can lead us anywhere. Not everyone will be willing to be creative while under the constant threat of a fine or so-called 'public condemnation' staged at the federal channels.
"Paradoxically, it may turn out that Russian cultural life abroad soon will be at least as rich as domestically. And those obstructed will travel abroad to meet with the audience, or even travel abroad together with them. No one there will deprive [DDT front man] Yuri Shevchuk of an auditorium or stage the mass return of tickets to Maxim Galkin's show.
"Meanwhile in Russia, one can expect the second coming of [Stalinist] Socialist Realism (along with all its fundamental tenets: nation, ideology, concreteness). Well, we’ve already seen this. As Andrey Makarevich so aptly put it the other day, commenting on the cancellation of the 'Mashina Vremeni' band's performances, 'We have been living for a long time. We will go on living.'"
In an example of Socialist Realism in art, a 1952 painting by Fedor Antonov shows Stalin and the politburo receiving adulation, in the form of flowers from Soviet children (Source: Avmalgin.livejournal.com)
"[Kommersant introduction] Major military exercises with the participation of NATO troops began in Latvia. On April 18, the first stage of the “Namejs 2022” program has started. In addition to Latvian detachments, 3,000 soldiers from the US, the Czech Republic, Poland, Great Britain, Lithuania, and Estonia are participating in it. In March, the alliance proclaimed that due to the special operation in Ukraine, it will redeploy about 40,000 troops to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. This week the Finnish parliament will deliberate on the country's accession to NATO. The media report that Sweden is also thinking about making a similar move. If the two will join the alliance, the length of its borders with Russia will roughly double. Kommersant columnist Maksim Yusin believes that such an outcome would come as one of the most unpleasant geopolitical consequences of the war in Ukraine for Moscow."
Maxim Yusin (Source: Allpravda.info)
"[Yusin's column begins] Against the background of turbulent news from the Ukrainian fronts, important events that are happening in Finland have taken a back seat. Meanwhile, considering Russia's geopolitical position, its strategic stability and security, these events are of colossal importance. Right now, over these days and weeks, the question of Finland's membership in NATO will be decided. That very country, which we used to perceive as a neutral and pragmatic one that for many decades has ideally been able to build relations with its powerful eastern neighbor (first with the Soviet Union and then - with Russia).
"The country plans to join the NATO bloc, which is perceived to be deeply hostile in Moscow (and certainly has become so since the events in Ukraine). Meanwhile, the process of Helsinki's accession to the alliance appears irreversible.
"On April 14, at the end of last week, the government published a report on the changing security situation in Finland given the circumstances of a new era in Europe that emerged after February 24. The conclusion is unequivocal: the country should join the bloc. The same was announced by Prime Minister, Sanna Marin two weeks earlier, "Russia turned out to be not the neighbor we imagined it was.”
"After the government's report, the parliament is the main protagonist. It is up to parliamentarians to decide whether Finland should join NATO. Debates starting next week will be devoted to this issue. By all appearances, there will be no surprises. Almost all the leading political forces and a majority of the parliamentarians are in favor of joining NATO. As it seems, there will be no referendum on the issue. Finnish politicians consider it a waste of time, trusting public opinion surveys. According to the latest one, 61% of Finns are for NATO membership, while just 16% are against it.
"Helsinki's official position on this issue, is expected to be formulated by June 29, when the alliance summit is to be held in Madrid. Further developments are easily predictable. Finland (and, most likely, Sweden) will be admitted to the bloc following an accelerated procedure. It’s hard to believe that any member of the alliance would want to exercise its veto power.
"As a result, the length of Russia's borders with NATO will immediately increase by 1,340 km (i.e. more than twofold). The Alliance (now hostile towards Russia for the long-term) will be close to St. Petersburg, and the military-strategic balance in the Baltic and North Seas will undergo a fundamental change. One of the reasons provided by Moscow for the military operation in Ukraine was the need to move NATO's potential military structure away from Russia's borders. In the case of Finland, the Kremlin received the directly opposite result.
"It’s not yet clear how Moscow will react to such a development. Some officials hint vaguely at harsh retaliatory steps (although not providing any specifics), others in a more peaceable fashion recall that Helsinki, unlike Kiev, has no territorial claims against Russia. Therefore, it cannot drag the other alliance member-states, which are bound by Article 5 of its charter, into a war with Moscow. Consequently, it means that a special operation on the Russo-Finnish border is not on the agenda. And for these times, this is good news."
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (Right) meets her Swedish counterpart Magdalena Anderssen in Stockholm