Sunday, May 29, 2022

Russian Scholars who Have Fled Abroad Urge Western Countries Not to Penalize Russian Students

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 13 – A group of Russian scholars who have been forced to leave their homeland either because they face repression there, some having been fired and others unable to work in conditions where academic and political freedoms are not respected, have formed an online Free University abroad.

            Its faculty have now issued an appeal that calls on Western colleagues to terminate all contacts with Russian institutions but to continue to cooperate with individual scholars. Unfortunately, they say, this differentiation does not yet extend to Russian students; and that must change (freemoscow.university/enfree).

            Undergraduate and graduate students [in and from Russia thus] are being punished twice: the administration of their own state universities in Russia expels them for their anti-war statements, and foreign programs expel them for having been students at their universities yesterday.”

Such “disregard for the safety, health, and lives of the students is unacceptable,” the Free University says. “This is the very generation that resists the crimes of the Russian regime to the best of its ability.”

“Two years ago, when the first wave of politically motivated layoffs in Russian universities began, some of us co-founded the Free University. This university operates online and so far mostly in Russian, but it is open to all colleagues and all languages.

“We, Free University professors and other scholars outside of Russia, offer our cooperation in establishing a dialogue with the leadership of universities willing to renounce their rectors' letters and with student organizations that have already signed letters of protest against the Russian Federation's criminal war in Ukraine.

“We share the values of the free world, the values of non-violence. We do not recognize the right of an aggressor state to dictate its will to others. Today, the Russian state has embarked on a path of brutal violence inside and outside the Russian Federation, and we are ready to support to the best of our ability those who are suffering directly or indirectly from this violence.”

For a discussion of just how serious the elimination of academic freedom in Russia has become under Putin, see the discussion by some of the victims at severreal.org/a/intellektualnaya-katastrofa-kak-v-rossii-svorachivayutsya-akademicheskie-svobody/31843513.html.

There weren’t Mass Protests in the 1990s and There won’t Be Any Now, Zubarevich Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 13 – Despite the fact that the economic crisis Russia finds itself in now is similar in size to the one it faced in the 1990s and thus far smaller than the ones in the last 15 years, one must remember that Russians did not go into the streets to protest in massive numbers in the 1990s and are unlikely to do so now, Natalya Zubarevich says.

            The willingness of Russians to put up with disaster and to show patience when other peoples would be protesting is one of the great continuities in Russian history, the Moscow State University economic geographer says, one that reflects far deeper causes than just fears of repression (semnasem.org/articles/2022/05/13/dumaete-novyj-krizis-huzhe-predydushih-tak-i-est-govorit-ekonomist-natalya-zubarevich-glavnoe-iz-ee-lekcii).

            Like the crisis of the 1990s but unlike those more recently, the current crisis is especially severe because it touches all parts of Russian society, Zubarevich continues. There aren’t any winners who can be counted on to support the Kremlin because of that; and prospects for an end to the current situation compared to those in earlier crisis periods are far less certain.

            In such a situation, one in which Moscow has ever less readiness to help the population and ever fewer resources to do so, the best thing Russians can do is hunker down and help one another to survive, a reasonable strategy but one that many will be willing to follow only for so long.

            Once the patience of Russians does snap, then the question won’t be about mass demonstrations but about something far more radical, Zubarevich suggests.   

As Putin’s War in Ukraine Grinds On, Anti-War Underground Appears to be Growing in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 13 – Whenever a government policy is or becomes sufficiently unpopular, some groups at the margins will engage in illegal, underground activities to protest. That is what has been happening in the Russian Federation since the start of Putin’s war in Ukraine. (See this writer’s report on that at jamestown.org/program/an-anti-war-underground-emerges-in-russia/.)

            Such actions typically are the work of individuals or small uncoordinated groups and so do not represent an accurate barometer of social tensions as a whole, but they do indicate just how angry some Russians now are and thus should be monitored, especially as the powers that be are certainly doing everything they can not to report such things.

            In recent days, there is evidence that such actions are on the rise and now include fires at draft offices and railways, hacker attacks on government websites and news outlets, and the spread of fake bomb threats which are forcing officials to empty schools and other institutions as safety precautions (ekhokavkaza.com/a/podzhogi-voenkomatov-i-zheleznodorozhnoe-soprotivlenie-kak-deystvuet-antivoennoe-podpole-v-rossii-/31847738.html and kavkazr.com/a/v-mahachkale-iz-za-soobscheniy-o-minirovanii-snova-evakuiruyut-shkoly-i-detskie-sady/31847914.html).

Current Western Sanctions Reducing Russian GDP by One to Four Percent; Tougher Ones Could Cut It 18 to 25 Percent, Bank of Finland Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 13 – Western sanctions are reducing the Russian GDP by one percent because of limits of exports to that country and four percent by restrictions on purchases from it, the Bank of Finland says. If they were increased to a complete stop, that would hit the Russian economy by 18 percent and 25 percent respectively.

            Those figures show just how serious Western sanctions are now but also how much more serious they could become, suggesting that Moscow could face a situation far more dramatic than it currently does if the West chooses to tighten restrictions further (rbc.ru/economics/15/05/2022/627f8fd29a7947578b64ec78). 

            The new Bank of Finland study says that over time, Russia could reduce the impact of even the most dramatic sanctions but that the greater the sanctions, the longer it will take for Moscow either to develop domestic alternatives or find other countries willing to trade with it and thus make up for losses.

Western Sanctions Make Opening of Corridor between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan Critical for Moscow, HSE Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 13 – In commenting on Vladimir Putin’s call for a fundamental shift in Russia’s transportation corridors from the west to the east and south, Mikhail Blinkin says that two of the most critical are the expansion of links between the Caspian and Azov seas and the opening of the corridor between Azerbaijan proper and Nakhichevan.

            The first of these, the HSE expert on transportation policy says, will require the expansion of the Volga-Don canal; and the second will necessitate a political agreement between Baku and Yerevan over what has become the most contentious issue of their long-running dispute (ura.news/articles/1036284645).

            But the fact that a Moscow expert has linked both projects to Putin’s program suggests that Moscow is likely to now be pressing ahead with its expanded waterways program to link the Caspian and the Black Sea (jamestown.org/program/russia-seeks-to-keep-water-transit-between-caspian-and-azov-seas-open-year-round/).

            And it suggests that Russia will be increasingly ready to side with Azerbaijan against Armenia on the Zengezur corridor, something that could tip the balance between the two in favor of at least moving to open this transit link that will give Baku and behind it Turkey a major geopolitical victory in the south.

            What Moscow will want in exchange is unclear, but it is entirely possible, especially given EU involvement in the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute that the Kremlin will seek to use its backing for the opening of the corridor with the continued presence of Russian troops in Qarabagh and along that corridor.

Moscow Not Carrying through on Threats to Bring Criminal Charges against Russians who Refuse to Serve in Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 13 – The number of Russians who refuse to go to Ukraine to fight in Putin’s war there is unknown with any exactitude, with reports ranging from 500 to 7,000; but one thing is clear: Moscow officials despite their threats to do so have not brought criminal charges against those who do.

            In this, these officials are following provisions in the 1993 Constitution which give Russians the right to act in conformity with their convictions including on questions of military service (trtrussian.com/novosti/sotni-rossiyan-s-nachala-vojny-otkazalis-sluzhit-v-armii-8827653).

            But given the Kremlin’s willingness to violate the constitution whenever that document gets in the way of what it wants to do, the real reason likely is to be found in a political calculation by the powers that be that any such enforcement of orders to go to Ukraine would spark an explosion of popular anger.

            If that interpretation is correct, and no alternative one readily suggests itself, then the Kremlin is very much aware that while Russians are quite prepared to tell pollsters that they agree with Putin’s war in Ukraine, that support is thin and that Moscow can’t count on those who declare themselves loyalists to do what the regime wants.

            That in turn would mean that reports of draft resistance and violations of military discipline by men already in the service are a better indication of just how much or rather how little backing there is among Russians for this war, yet another constraint on the Kremlin and its conduct of military operations there.

Left-Right Differences Not Primary Basis of Divides in Russian Elites, Fomin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 13 – Most analysts of elites focus on divisions based on a left-right spectrum of political views, but in Russia, other factors, such as attitudes toward the West, the Soviet and imperial pasts, and the ethno-national basis of the state, are far more important and have become more so since the start of Putin’s war in Ukraine, Ivan Fomin says.

            The Russian political scientist who specializes on the analysis of political discourse says that by their statements, members of the top Russian elite can be arrayed along an axis extending from radical statists who believe the state must always take primacy to radical eletherists who back human freedom above it (ridl.io/o-shesti-sortah-putinskoj-elity/).

            Neither of these extreme positions is occupied by any member of the elite, Fomin concludes on the basis of the public statements of leaders between 2014 and 2021. And most in fact use some arguments drawn from both sides of this political debate, some more from the first and some more from the second.

            Pursuing that analytic approach, the political analyst says, one finds there are six distinct groups. On the statist side, there are the hardline statists like Bortnikov, Patrushev and Zolotov; moderate statists like Timchenko, Chermezov, Chaika, Matviyenko, Volodin and Shoygu; and soft statists like Siluanov, Nabiullina, Lavrov, and Shuvalov.

            On the more eleftherist side are soft eleftherists like Sobyanin and Kiriyenko; moderate ones like Mishustin and Belousov;.Further on, the eleftherist part of the spectrum contains a small cohort of soft eleftherists with the Sobyanin and Kiriyenko; and a single hard one – Aleksey Kudrin.

            The existence of such ideological shadings among the elite does not point to the existence of a schism within the elite or suggest there is open confrontation at least at present. But it does provide “a better idea of potential patterns of such splits should conditions arise in which they might occur,” Fomin says.

            He suggests four scenarios for the future that might affect relations among these various ideological trends: a stable one in which little or nothing would change and in which conflicts would be minimal, a statist purge in which the hardliners would expel the others from positions of power; the withdrawal of the less statist by emigration; and polarized confrontation.

            Which of these in fact takes place, Fomin suggests, will depend heavily on the length of the war in Ukraine and how it ends. “Under the current catastrophic circumstances,” he says, “the Kremlin may well lack the resources to restore even a semblance of elite consensus, all the more so because such a consensus has never existed at the ideological level.”