Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, presents his newly muscular nationalism as an answer to Western decadence (very much taking a page from Germany’s 1930s propaganda playbook). Wholesome Russian pop music, we are told, is being drowned out to be suggestive lyrics sung by bearded women from Austria. Catalogues of Russian brides are slavered over by sexually frustrated Americans eager to abduct Russia’s young women into the Gomorrah of a cesspool that is the United States. The West has embraced the shameless, sacrilegious, unpatriotic, ungrateful harlots of Pussy Riot as though they were some sort of brave dissident heroines. The Russian Orthodox Church is laboring to give the Russian people a moral grounding of which decades of Soviet communism had robbed them. On the other hand, of course, Putin tells us that the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was a catastrophe for Russia. He aims to fix all of this.
|Putin contemplates some further modifications.|
More than anything else, the photos are a bit depressing. Presumably shot in Luhansk city, the nearby sidewalks in these outdoor shots are strewn with gravel, the photos use drab, abandoned-looking post-Soviet backdrops like a gas station, and one photo (see below) even shows a bikini-clad Filatova sitting spread-eagled on a park bench clutching a champagne bottle, looking like nothing so much as one of the vodka-addled vagrants who people Russian cityscapes in the Western imagination.
Darn. Well, I guess that’s the end of her political career, right? That was certainly the gist of the exultant coverage of the Filatova revelations in the pro-Ukrainian press. But, wait. Not so fast. In fact, not only might this be no problem at all, but it might have been actually planned. By way of explanation, I’d like you to meet the newly appointed Minister of Culture in Lugansk’s unrecognized sister republic in Ukraine’s rebel-run Novorossiya (“New Russia”) region, the Donetsk People’s Republic (D.P.R.).
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|Natalia Voronina, minister of culture for the Donetsk People’s Republic|
Voronina’s husband, the industrialist Aleksandr Kalyusskiy (Александр Калюсский), an habitué of the rebel capital’s hoity-toity “Donetsk Mafia Club,” happens to be the D.P.R.’s Deputy Prime Minister for Social Policy, but this red-headed bombshell also has a law degree and runs her own boutique and fashion line. (Her boutique’s anti-Western, Anglophobic credentials may be in doubt however: Voronina’s spring line last year was called, in (sort of) English, “Lady Batterfly” (sic).)
|Vorinina’s trophy husband: pro-Russian oligarch Alksandr Kalyusskiy|
If the culture ministries of the new “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine are intended to provide their citizenry with “bread and circuses” while their rights are eroded and their once economically productive region is turned into a rubble-strewn war zone, then Filatova and Voronina are well cut out for the job—or, um, well, at least Voronina is.*
*[As of a couple weeks later, Voronina is no longer culture minister. See my report in this blog on this development.]
|Um ... whatever.|
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Though the pugnacious ultranationalist “new Russian” culture that Kremlin propaganda is erecting on the rubble of Ukrainian sovereignty is openly patriarchal, like much of Russian folk culture, there is a high proportion of female politicians in high positions in the zone of Russian expansion, but they feature a suspicious preponderance of visually pleasing ones. Perhaps the most extreme example is Natalia Poklonskaya (Ната́лья Покло́нская) the new attorney general (chief prosecutor) of the Republic of Crimea, installed when it declared independence from Ukraine earlier this year and was subsequently annexed by the Russian Federation.
Poklonskaya, with her doe-eyed, innocent pretty looks, has unexpectedly become a global Internet meme and something of a cult figure in the mostly Japan-based world of the manga and animé subcultures. A March 11th press conference by Poklonskaya posted on YouTube resulted in an explosion of fan art by Internet fans in Japan and China, who made her face into an animé icon in the pedophilia-tinged moé style—doubtless reinforced by her youthful appearance (though 34, she could pass for 14) and her office’s military-style uniform, with a jaunty tie that evokes the school uniforms popular in Japanese manga—and Japanese porn.
|Natalia Poklonskaya’s many moods|
Poklonskaya’s unusual sort of fame has been welcomed by many Russian nationalists, and she famously wielded one press query about her private life by saying, “As the idiom goes, ‘Beauty saves the world.’” But the velocity of the growth of Poklonskayamania has baffled and worried other Russian officials. And the Kremlin has at times tried to contain the problem of floods of inquiries about her, as well as a fake Twitter account in her name. (A Twitter tribute account remains.)
|This is many Japanese middle-aged men’s fantasy, but Crimean minorities’|
nightmare. One way to put it is: the Tatars don’t have a safeword.
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|Gubareva being interviewed at a separatist rally, with St. George’s Ribbon in buttonhole.|
|Gubareva became spokeswoman for her imprisoned husband.|
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This tiny sliver of eastern Moldova along the Ukrainian border, defended by the Russian military and propped up by infusions of rubles from the Kremlin, declared independence in 1991 but has existed in a kind of limbo, serving mainly as a way to prevent Moldova from being absorbed into the European Union (E.U.) or NATO. After the annexation of Crimea, it was Shtanski who became the public face of Transnistria’s effort to get her small, diplomatically unrecognized pseudo-state admitted to the Russian Federation as well.
Shtanski, who is 37, is trained as a jurist and political scientist and has served diplomatic functions in her home republic since its foundation. She was made foreign minister in 2012 and this year was given the added title of Deputy Prime Minister. But she has also attracted attention for dressing in a manner that would not exactly be considered professional in other countries. You’ve never seen Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice, or Hillary Rodham Clinton gussied up like this.
Many, including myself in this blog, have speculated that annexing Transnistria may be a goal of the Putin administration. Though not at all far from Crimea’s western edge and though including the navigable estuary of the Dniester River, Transnistria is still landlocked, and linking it to Russia would probably mean the annexation or control of at least the predominantly-ethnic-Russian and fairly restive Odessa Oblast (activists have already declared it the “Odessa Republic of Novorossiya,” as reported in this blog), with its valuable Black Sea port. Putin may even be contemplating the pros and cons of seizing all of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. That would make Transnistria Russia’s westernmost outpost other than the Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast, at the location of Germany’s former East Prussia province. A race for Transnistria across Ukraine’s soft underbelly might also spark a true Second Crimean War. If so, Nina Shtanski will rise from obscurity to become a major player in global geopolitics.
|It’s Christmas in Transnistria, and Nina Shtanski’s got the whole world in her hands.|
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She is also an Olympic gymnast—a rhythmic gymnast, as the tabloids never tire of specifying—who won a bronze in Sydney in 2000 and a gold in Athens four years later. Her presence as a torch-bearer at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Sochi earlier this year was seen as in some sense a “coming out” and acknowledgement of her personal ties to Putin.
Though she serves in the Duma (parliament), her athletic past hardly qualified her for the position. Like most United Russia deputies, she votes in lock step with Putin as he expands his quest for Eurasian domination. This trophy wife—actually, trophy mistress—of one of the world’s most brutal authoritarian rulers is a decorative figurehead indeed.
|Duma legislator Alina Kabaeva plunks down her designer attaché case|
for another day of pretending to listen to long boring speeches.
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On the other hand, it is hardly the pro-Russian faction in Ukrainian politics that has a lock on beauty and fashion. The pro-E.U. but, most agree, quite corrupt former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko (Ю́лія Тимоше́нко)—who was later imprisoned by her pro-Kremlin successor Viktor Yanukovych and became a hero of the Euro-Maidan movement before running for president again in this weekend’s election (she is not favored to win)—has frequently been called “the world’s most beautiful politician.”
With her trademarked blonde braids, she has been a telegenic constant in coverage of Ukrainian politics. Her stark beauty, while a political asset, has been used against her as well, both by pro-Ukrainian, anti-Moscow groups like the Ukrainian feminist culture-jammer guerilla-theater collective Femen, who have skewered her appearance in nude street demonstrations targeting her corruption—
—and perceived too-conciliatory approach to Putin—
—as well as by pro-Russian mobs and activists in places like Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine, whose loutish misogyny cannot separate their political opposition to her from her status as a sexual object:
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|Ukraine’s former social-justice minister Natalia Korolevska|
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[You can read more about Transnistria, the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar. The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon. Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]
Thanks to William Abernathy, Olga Buchel, and Jeff Groton for alerting me to sources and information used in this article.