The Sixth Column

In recent years, the war of ideas in Russian society is on the rise as intensively as the class warfare should have been in Soviet society while approaching the mature phase of communism. It’s no wonder then that President Putin has reignited the use of the almost forgotten phrase, “the Fifth Column.”

When answering a question from a Gazeta.ru correspondent during his annual press conference in 2014, President Putin spoke of “the borderline between the members of the opposition and “the fifth column,” implying an internal conflict difficult to assess from outside. Members of the opposition, even tough ones, fight for the interests of this country in the long run, and “the fifth column” are the people following the instructions of another country and doing work in the other country’s interests.” In other words, opposition members, while carrying out their duties, are playing into the hands of another country’s authority and therefore make up part of “the fifth column.”

If we are to qualify this definition, it begs another question: In what way can we qualify advocates of a strong state who sometimes cross this “inner borderline” divide their patriotic feelings and work for the governments of other countries? Such government officials and their adherents who do these things simultaneously could be called “the sixth column.”  If it seems nonsense for somebody, I’ll explain what I mean.

When someone uses the term “the fifth column,” it explicitly means that its participants are betraying Russia’s interests in favor of Western countries. “Corruption” to the advantage of the West has long been exterminated in the Russian government authorities, and Putin is right on this count: “the fifth column” nearly always consists of “former fair members of the opposition.”

I’m not going to get engaged in disputes on the harm done to Russia, for example, by the European Union, our main trade, and investment partner. Europeans haven’t bought our resources on the cheap, haven’t bribed our officials and haven’t lobbied adoptions of laws they would need.

However, in this administration interests of the country are sacrificed to the East, rather than to the West. It’s done by the effective officials who are paid from the budget and by the experts, who receive the state-provided grants. This is the  “the sixth column,” in my classification.

The most obvious example here is China. This is the country that doesn’t invest much in our economy (as per the Russian calculation methodology it’s $1.69 billion as for January 1, 2016, as per the Chinese one it’s $8.0 billion). As far as technological development, China doesn’t make any sense as Russia’s partner.  China is an industrial country whose interest in Russia is for a source of resources only: in 2015 the proportion of crude oil in total Russian export to China was 51.6%, and it was the highest proportion of such export among the Russian trade partners. And the proportion of exporting machines and equipment was 2.04%.

In some ways, China is our political ally, but Beijing didn’t recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, nor did it support Russia when voting in the UN on the annexation of Crimea. Nevertheless, in September, Russia is going to take part in joint naval exercises in the South China Sea immediately adjacent to the disputed Spratly Islands.

China is a country, in respect of which the Russian authorities have done and are doing the maximum number of concessions. During the last 15 years, China got three different Russian territories in Bolshoi Island, and islands of Tarabarov and Bolshoi Ussuriysky.

Between 2004 and 2010 Rosneft undertook (and supplied) 48.4 million tons of oil to the state-owned Chinese oil and gas corporation CNPC at least a 20% discount. The terms of contract on the gas supply and of the pipeline being constructed exclusively for China are still secret, and the project itself may actually be unprofitable.

It’s also notable that Chinese businessmen received the forest lots for clearance in the Irkutsk region, Zabaykalskiy Krai, and Khabarovskiy Krai, while simultaneously imposing a moratorium on any clearance in their country.

Also worth remembering is the accessibility for Chinese citizens coming to Russia and the near-untouchability of their diaspora (e.g., underground currency exchange shops for Chinese tourists or the right of Chinese to be tourist guides). The Chinese are really untouchable in Russia.

Even if Chinese guides say that Putin is the third Russian Emperor, or if revolutionary Zagorsky is buried in the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, it won’t be considered as a “historical distortion.”  Even in the case of the timber harvesting being done in a predatory way and arousing the anger of locals, it’s very doubtful the environmental police will act to stop it.

We know a lot about the illegal incarceration of Tajik, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and even Vietnamese citizens working in Russia but very rarely do we hear about this fate befalling Chinese citizens, if ever. And even in the case of obvious inconsistency, we are witnessing the appearance of special instructions and orders that would rather infringe Russians rather than Chinese.

All the TV channels tell you that the Western countries are utter threats to you, and no one tells you about the material losses we bear because of China. Dozens of our political scientists for budget money create and publish treatises on the profitability of “turning East” (or turning Russia into Moscow district of the Communist Party of China). In comparison with “the fifth column” rarely making noise on the Internet, representatives of “the sixth column” conduct their pro-China activity at their working places.

China is not the only country here, though. Let’s have a look through Central Asia as well. These post-Soviet countries are the closest allies of Moscow, the kin countries (unlike the “fascists” in Ukraine and the Baltic countries). However, demographic trends in these countries are worrying, all the more so since we’re constantly talking about the security of the so-called Russian space. That Russian world was widely represented in this region in 1989: Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians used to make up 44.4% of Kazakhstan, 24.1% of Kyrgyzstan, and 8.6% of Tajikistan. Today, consequently, we see only 21.3% of Kazakhstan, 7.1% of Kyrgyzstan and 0.5% of Tajikistan, and these losses are much higher than that of the losses of ethnic Russian populations in Latvia (the proportion of Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians has decreased there from 37.9% to 32.8%). Due to obvious discrimination and unbearable living conditions, around 4.7 million Russian-speaking people have left the Central Asian region during those years. It’s twice more than Moscow has recently “saved” in an “Ukrainified Crimea.”

And yet “the sixth column” has promoted the alignment with the Central Asian countries, paying practically no attention to the plight of the Russian-speaking people there. It’s well-known how Russia is fighting with falsifications of history in Ukraine, Georgia, and the Baltics, but why doesn’t Russia’s MFA have any emotions regarding Kazakh history books, which claim that “the struggle of the Kazakh people against Russian colonialism was long, starting from the second half of the 18th century and ending in the 90’s of the 20th century”?

Are we really not aware that the abolishment of the frontier control between Russia and Kazakhstan leads to the sharp increase of the drug traffic from Afghanistan to Russia? Or is “the sixth column“ not concerned with drugs? Is drug smuggling better than cheese from the Western countries that we have been smashing for the second year in case it finds its way to our country?

Do we not recall at all the way Russian people live in Turkmenistan? Aren’t we embarrassed with the open nationalist propaganda in Kyrgyzstan? Do we really believe that after Nazarbayev passes away in this neighboring country, the pro-nationalist forces won’t take the power or are we just pathologically afraid to look forward to more than three to six years?

The warriors of “the sixth column” have other favorite fields of concern as well. If we talk about financial matters, we can’t help but remember about the debts of the USSR. As everyone knows, by using heroic efforts in the first half of the 2000s Russia paid off all the debts of the USSR. And what about the money others owe us? It won’t be a secret revealed if I say that practically all those debts were forgiven. And, what is more, I’d like to add, in two time periods – from 2000 to 2008 and from 2012 and further on.

The writing-off sum for this period goes beyond $135 billion, and it equals practically ¾ of the state budget revenues for 2016 by the present rate of exchange.

It could be understood had the great and strong Russia done good to the countries that would ever be poor, such as Haiti or Zimbabwe. But our benevolence was directed to others. For example, in April 2008, President Putin during a visit to Libya wrote off this country’s debt of $4.5 billion. At that time Libya exported oil, receiving $135 million a day, and its foreign currency reserves were $60 billion. In 2003 Mongolia was forgiven for debt totaling $11.4 billion, but in the 2000s it was the country with the fastest growing economy in the world, and Russia didn’t get any access to any profitable contracts for mining in this country. And now, when we don’t have any tools to put pressure on our neighbor, Mongolian colleagues are going to build a hydroelectric power chain on the rivers supplying Lake Baikal.

Vietnam was also forgiven $10.5 billion in debt even with this country being considered to be a new “Asian Tiger” with a GDP of $200 billion as per the market exchange rate and per capita income growth. $2.8 billion of debt was forgiven in Nicaragua though this country could pay us with the shares, for example, of the new canal that is under construction now and may be a competitor for the Panama Canal.

I’m not even speaking about Iraq’s $11.8 billion debt, which we could claim from this client of the U.S., or Cuba’s $32 billion debt, which has actively started its Western drifting.

All this debt forgiveness – shouldn’t this be considered “actively dictated by a foreign state?” And I wonder why “the sixth column” kept a low profile during the time President Medvedev was in office, when during four years, less than $2 billion was being written off, and previously $10 billion was being written off annually?

Not to mention the new “prominent” loan operations – from accidentally failed “high profited floatation” of $15 billion in Ukrainian bonds just on the eve of Yanukovich’s regime falling down to $5 billion credit to the pre-bankruptcy Venezuela, and we had to wait until December 31, 2016 to get $4 billion back. Most likely it’s not the final deadline.

As I see it, this “sixth column” is more dangerous to our country than other “national traitors” the Russian President recalls from time to time. And when I say about it, I act as a member of the opposition, albeit “a tough one, but fighting for the interests of this country in the long run.”

This article first appeared at Gazeta.ru site

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