Monday, April 22, 2024

Moscow's Muslims Given 2,000 Haj Slots This Year, More than Their Co-Religionists in Any Federal Subject except Daghestan and Chechnya

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 20 – After Saudi Arabia set Russia’ s haj quota this year again at 25,000, the Muslim leadership of the Russian Federation divided those slots among the regions and republics of their country. As in the past, Daghestan and Chechnya were given the most, with 10,000 and 3100 respectively. But strikingly, Moscow city ranked third with 2,000.

            The Saudi number is based on the principle that each country should have a total quota equal to one Muslim for every thousand believers. But the numbers set within the Russian Federation reflect both past demand and a variety of calculations including politics and economics.

            Muslims in Moscow are likely better connected and wealthier than their co-religionists in the North Caucasus. But it is still striking that the city of Moscow was given so many slots, more than Muslims in Stavropol (1100), Kabardino-Balkaria (400), Karachayevo-Cherkessia, occupied Crimea (300), and North Ossetia (180) (

            More than that, this figure is a useful reminder that the Russian capital has become increasingly Islamic in population, something that many Russians are alarmed by and will be even more disturbed by this reminder of the fact that there are in the eyes of the Muslim establishment some two million Muslims there, far more than the Kremlin admits.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Withdrawal of Russian Troops from Armenia Could Prove Even More Fateful than Their Pullout om Azerbaijan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 20 – Russian and international media have devoted enormous attention to Moscow’s decision to withdraw its so-called “peace keepers” from Azerbaijan and to close the monitoring center it had operated with Turkey since 2020 even though it had a mandate to keep them there until 2025.

            But in a certain sense, this decision became almost inevitable after Baku established complete control over Qarabagh and the Armenian separatist regime there disbanded. After all, if there were no parties to keep separate and defend, there was little reason that these forces should remain despite the hopes, expectations and fears of some that Moscow would not pull them.

            Moreover, Moscow desperately needs additional manpower for its expanded invasion of Ukraine; and the 2500 plus Russian soldiers now being pulled out of Azerbaijani territory either directly or indirectly will be able to make a significant addition to the Russian army now fighting in Ukraine.

            Consequently, while some writers have been alarmist about what Moscow has done in Azerbaijan, asking if Russia is “leaving the South Caucasus” and thus leaving it to other powers ( and, such fears seem overblown.

            On the one hand, Baku has long pursued a balanced foreign policy, one that seeks good relations with both Moscow and the West. The departure of Russian troops from Azerbaijan doesn’t change that. And on the other, Baku and Moscow negotiated this departure in advance of 2025 rather than their exit being the result of Baku’s unilateral demands.

            The situation with regard to Russian forces inside Armenia is different. There is a Russian military base there at Gyumri and Russia has been providing border guards for Armenia along its borders with Turkey and Iran since 1993 and with Azerbaijan since the front between Armenia and Azerbaijan stabilized in the mid-1990s.

            Now, with Moscow agreeing to withdraw its “peace keepers” from Azerbaijan because the situation has changed, Yerevan has called on Moscow to follow the same logic and pull its border guards from Tavush Oblast along the Azerbaijani border (

            But Yerevan’s action is not simply an effort to be treated in an equal fashion. In March, for example, Yerevan directly called on Moscow to pull its border guards from the Armenia capital’s airport; and many Armenians have expressed the hope that Russia will ultimately close its Gyumri base.

            And Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has been reorienting Armenia’s foreign policy away from Moscow and toward the West and especially France, breaking with Yerevan’s longstanding one of being closely allied with Russia in order to defend itself against what it fears are threats from Turkey and Azerbaijan.

            Now, some commentators are worried that his efforts to get Russian troops to leave are paving the way for Armenia’s rapprochement with and even membership in NATO, something Moscow completely opposes and will certainly resist (

            If Armenia succeeds in getting Russian troops to leave, that will create a new geopolitical situation in the South Caucasus; if Moscow works to prevent this as it can be counted on to do, that raises the possibility of more conflict within Armenia and possibly between Armenia and its neighbors. 


Demography Now ‘Most Important Constraint’ on Russia’s Long-Term Development, Moscow Economists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 18 – Declining birthrates and longer life expectancies among the elderly by putting additional burdens on Russia’s working age population are becoming “the most important constraint” on Russia’s long-term development, a situation that should lead Moscow to change its policies, Russian economic prognosticators say.

            The number of children born in Russia last year was the lowest this century, these experts say, the result of declines in the number of women in prime child-bearing cohorts, the departure of young men to fight in Ukraine who might otherwise become fathers, and economic uncertainties (

            Because that means Russia’s population will fall, this trend has attracted widespread attention; and it is one that Vladimir Putin hopes to reverse by his maternal capital program. But the economists say that his program is poorly designed and so does not boost the total number of children but rather modifies decisions about the timing of any additional births.

            But as important as that trend is, the various economists Nezavisimaya Gazeta surveyed say, there is a second one that may prove even more significant in the future. Russians reaching retirement age are now living longer and that alone places greater burdens on the working age population.

            Addressing that problem by raising the retirement age, something Putin has tried, is extremely unpopular; and any effort to raise it still further would generate a backlash. But if birthrates remain low and health care allows Russians to live longer, doing something about the burden older people place on the budget will likely force Moscow to change policies anyway.

            This set of problems is hardly unique to Russia, but it is made worse, the Russian economists say, by Russia’s involvement in a war, the flight of many young people to avoid serving there, and a political system that seems to put more faith into its own press releases than in the facts government statistical agencies collect.


Obituaries of Russian Soldiers who’ve Died in Ukraine Highlight Uncertainties of Russians Left Behind, Yeremeyeva Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 18 – Obituaries are written not by the dead but by the living and thus tell more about those still alive than about those who have died, Svetlana Yeremeyeva, who has read hundreds of reports about the deaths of Russian soldiers in the course of preparing her 2023 book, Dead Time, argues in a new article.

            In Novaya Gazeta, she points out that obituaries have only a relatively brief history in Russia. Until the 19th century, low literacy rates and a widespread belief that the individual was less important than the community kept them from appearing in large number. And in Soviet times, the desire to avoid stress individuality kept them formulaic (

            But since the collapse of communism and especially with the rise of the Internet, more and more obituaries are appearing; and their content, Yeremeyeva suggests, provides a useful window into how Russians see themselves and the world of which they are a part by describing the lives of those whose time on earth has ended.

            She provides numerous examples of obituaries of Russian soldiers that have appeared in local newspapers and both on local Internet sites and on aggregator sites that gather death notices from particular regions or have been created to promote a particular image of the war and what Russian patriotism should be about.

            Yeremeyeva says that with regard to present-day military obituaries in Russia, what is most striking is the uncertainty of those who write them. There is no clear and agreed upon way to talk about those who have died because these soldiers’ deaths raise a bigger question -- “why did this death occur? – that cannot be asked at least not yet in Putin’s Russia.

At Least for the Duration of the War, Veterans are to Be Protected from Police Violence, Konstantinov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 18 – Vladimir Putin has talked about veterans of the war in Ukraine as a major source of the future elite of the country. Now, there is a sign that such veterans already are to enjoy a kind of protection from police action that up to now only Kadyrov’s men and senior members of the Russian elite, Daniil Konstantinov says.

            On April 16, Kommersant reported that Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee of Russia, has demanded that police who beat a veteran in St. Petersburg be investigated for possible charges of exceeding their authority and abuse of office, something he rarely does for such police actions against ordinary Russians (

            And what this means, commentator Konstantinov says, is that veterans appear to have joined the privileged elite of the country, those who are untouchable as far as the police are concerned and that until now included only forces loyal to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and the most senior members of the Russian political and economic hierarchies.

            People in those categories, of course, could be arrested if the Kremlin approved, Konstantinov continues; but they generally escaped the kind of physical abuse that Russia’s police routinely visit on all other categories of Russian citizens without any intervention by the Investigative Committee or the courts.

            This development, which is obviously intended to make joining up more attractive and which may not last beyond the war itself, is certain to worry many Russians who already fear that returning veterans, many of whom have criminal pasts may now feel even freer to commit crimes, even violent ones, against other Russians.   

Sufism in Kazakhstan Growing by Adapting to New Conditions, Temibayeva Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 18 – Sufism has existed on the territory of what is now Kazakhstan for more than a millenium. It was largely suppressed by the Soviets, but it was reintroduced largely by ethnic Kazakhs returning from abroad, and now is growing because of its ability to adapt to new conditions, Aygerim Temirbayeva says.

            The Kazakh specialist on religion who recently completed a doctoral dissertation on Sufism in Kazakhstan continues by pointing out that the number of Sufi groups in her country is increasing rapidly and that they are to be found throughout it (

            While some Kazakh officials are against such groups and have brought criminal charges against their leaders, other Kazakh officials welcome Sufism and the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Kazakhstan has been active in supporting the movements via publications and meetings.

            The grave of the founder of Sufism in Kazakhstan, Yasavi, has become a major pilgrimage site with visitors coming not only from around Kazakhstan and from Kazakhs abroad but from Sufis in neighboring countries and other states further afield, the researcher on this phenomenon says.

            A major reason that Sufism is flourishing in Kazakhstan is that it has adapted to contemporary conditions not only by promoting charitable work but also by using the most modern communications technologies. In both, Kazakh Sufis have been able to rely on financial support from their co-religionists abroad.

            The biggest danger on the horizon is that some of the Sufi groups may become radicalized politically and that as a result, the Kazakhstan authorities will decide they have no option but to try to suppress this form of Islam, Temirbayeva concludes.

Russia’s Regional and National Movements Need to Move Beyond Holding Meetings Abroad and Making Bold Declarations, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 18 – Kyiv has helped to promote the idea among a remarkably broad public in the West that the disintegration of the Russian Federation is coming and even that such a development is an essential component of Ukraine’s victory over the Russian invasion, Vadim Sidorov says.

            Given how marginal any such ideas were only two years ago, that is a remarkable achievement, the Prague-based specialist continues. But unfortunately, up to now, the spread of this idea has depended almost exclusively on the holding of meetings of regionalists and nationalists alone (

            These meetings and the declarations they issue are spreading the idea of the possibility of the disintegration of the Russian Federation, Sidorov argues; but they remain almost totally unknown to the peoples of that empire whom the activists taking part in them claim to speak for. If that situation continues, then the future of such movements is bleak.

            On the one hand, Moscow propagandists will exploit such talk to mobilize Russians who fear the disintegration of their country; and on the other, with the notable exception of Chechnya, few if any of the regions and republics these activists claim to speak for will take the next step and form genuine movements that could challenge the Russian state.

            Among the steps these groups need to take, Sidorov says, are the following: the creation of foreign centers to coordinate activities, the development of new ways of communicating with the populations they hope to mobilize, work toward creating structures at home, developing stable financing for both efforts, and participating when possible in the Ukrainian military.

If those steps are taken, then it is entirely possible that the national and regionalist movements “can turn into genuine political forces in the coming years and possibly even months, Sidorov says. But if they aren’t, then these groups will remain the topic of conferences and online discussions that will ultimately be dismissed as irrelevant.