Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Kremlin’s ‘Turn to the East’ Limiting Options of Tatarstan and Other Non-Russian Republics Now and Possibly Moscow's in the Future

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 13 – Like the other federal subjects, Tatarstan since the start of Putin’s expanded war in Ukraine has lost numerous Western trading partners and forced to cooperate ever more closely with China, where the central issue is not economic advancement but security in the event of attacks Moscow can’t block, Ruslan Aysin says.

            Until Putin’s expanded invasion of Ukraine, the Turkey-based Tatar commentator says, Kazan hoped to use such ties with the West to boost the economy and to act more independently of Moscow (

            Other republics shared that vision albeit to a lesser extent; but now, they like Tatarstan have lost that option and are more at the mercy of the Kremlin or more precisely of the Kremlin’s ally China than ever before, a situation that has reduced them from aspiring applicants to join the modern world to subordinate figures in a world of the past, Aysin continues.

            Putin may be happy that his war against Ukraine has undermined the aspirations of the republics and their ability to pursue them, but he may be far less pleased if China succeeds in displacing Russia as the only serious trading partner they have and their only hope of providing genuine security.

Given Russian Response to Terrorist Attack, Central Asian Countries are ‘Moving Away' from Moscow, Gorevoy Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 13 – Moscow has always assumed that the Central Asian countries would remain in its corner because of their authoritarian leaderships and the lack of an obvious place to go, but following Moscow’s reaction to the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack, the five countries of that region are “moving away from Russia,” Ruslan Gorevoy says.

            Indeed, the Novaya Versiya commentator argues, it is now possible to say that Moscow has “lost” Central Asia in much the same way that it has lost the Baltic countries and Moldova and that, if the Kremlin doesn’t change course and do so quickly, the problems arising from that loss will be even greater (

            Moscow has no one to blame but itself, Gorevoy suggests. Its flaunting of its use of terror against Central Asian executors of the attack, the racist comments of senior officials like Aleksandr Bastrykhin about Central Asian migrants as enemies of Russia, and the Russian government's moves to expel those migrants have outraged both the governments and peoples of the region.

            Senior Tajikistan officials, for example,  denounced the Russian use of terror against their nationals publicly and to the face of their Russian counterparts (

            But even more, Gorevoy continues, some are sending arms to Ukraine, refusing to honor Russian credit cards lest they run afoul of Western sanctions, and planning to hold joint military exercises in June “without Russian participation and not in an OCST format” (

            It is going to be extremely difficult for Moscow to reverse course, he says; but unless it does, the Central Asian countries are going to leave Russia’s orbit probably forever, something Central Asian analysts concur with ( and that China, Turkey and the West are certain to exploit.

            Indeed, the Moscow commentator suggests that this may be the most important fallout from the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack, fallout of enormous geopolitical importance that happened because Moscow officials played to and played up the nationalist, even racist attitudes of many Russians about Central Asians.

Local Resistance Spreads and Intensifies to Moscow’s Amalgamation Plans in Yamalo-Nenets AD

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 13 – Vladimir Putin’s earlier plans to reduce the number of federal subjects by combining poorer non-Russian republics with better off and predominantly ethnic Russian regions have long been on hold because of local opposition and fears in Moscow that fewer but larger federal subjects may be a greater threat than more numerous and smaller ones.

            But that has not stopped the Kremlin leader from promoting the amalgamation of cities and districts within both regions and republics as part of his general optimization campaign intended to save money and tighten control over both local populations and regional political elites.

            Few of these actions have attracted much outside attention, not only because they are typically far from Moscow, involve only small groups of people and do not generate much protest but also because there is a long tradition extending back to Soviet times of combining areas for demographic, economic or political purposes.

            (For background on this tradition of Russian statecraft and suggestions about its extent, see this author’s “Can Republican Borders be Changed?” RFE/RL Report on the USSR, September 28, 1990, pp. 20-21, reproduced at

            Now, however, as a result of opposition by local people and local officials, two of Moscow’s plans for amalgamation of villages and districts in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Oblast are in trouble; and Moscow has been forced to put them on hold and promise public hearings (

            While ethnic Russians form more than 60 percent of the population of this oil and gas autonomous district, most rural areas are dominated not by them but by members of the Khanty and Mansi nationalities, many of whom clearly fear that amalgamation is a plot to reduce their influence and put them under tighter ethnic Russian control.

            Thus, the fight over district amalgamation in Yamalo-Nenets is likely to prove a bellwether as far as broader efforts by the Kremlin to combine larger federal districts. That is because while Moscow will get its way if it insists, any such victory may prove Pyrrhic, given its consequences not only for other amalgamations but also for Russia’s oil and gas production.

‘Replacement’ Conspiracy Thinking Spreads in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 13 – The right-wing notion that elites are promoting the replacement of the indigenous population of various countries with immigrants of a radically different social and cultural background, an idea that some call “replacement theory,” has arrived in Russia where it has become part of the debate on restricting the role of migrant workers there.

            Like in the West, those who promote this idea say that the immigrants, with their higher birthrates, will soon form a large enough fraction of the population to dominate the indigenous population. And some of the more extreme advocatess of this view suggest that such “replacement” is a form of genocide.

            Oleg Pakholkov, a former Duma deputy, argues, according to commentator Yury Muhin, that “Russians are dying out. Not Russia but Russians. Russia isn’t going anywhere, but on the territory of the former USSR, they will be replaced by Asians and Caucasian, possibly even Chinese” (

            “In my native village of Potapov,” Pakholkov says, “which was built to fee the capital of atomic energy, Vologodonsk, today in the first grade of schools, there is only one Russian girl. All the rest are not members of the titular peoples of Russia: they are Turks with Russian passports.”

            Such attitudes and the readiness of Russian politicians to promote them in the wake of the terrorist attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall venue do not bode well for the future of inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in the Russian Federation. But they may serve as yet another bridge between Putinist Russia and rightwing groups in the West. 

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Appellate Courts Lengthening of Sentences in Political Cases Sends Chilling Message to All Russians, Shlosberg Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 12 – Decisions by Russian appellate courts to lengthen the sentences initially imposed Lilya Chanyshev, Boris Kagarlitsky, and Oleg Orlov are part of disturbing effort by the Kremlin to sent a disturbing and repressive message to all Russians, according to opposition politician and commentator Lev Shlosberg.

            On the one hand, it shows that the powers that be “control the decisions of courts even after they have ruled; and on the other, it highlights the reality that someone on top now has the power not only to direct court decisions but to make them even tougher if the Kremlin wants that outcome (

            The Putin regime has not yet returned to a period of mass executions, Shlosberg notes; and so it is lengthening the terms and worsening the conditions of detention as a surrogate, confident that in the information age, that will work. After all, when “one person is convicted, the fear that inspires will paralyze millions.”

            The cruelty of the regime is thus in clear view because it shows that the regime reserves to itself the right to declare that in this or that case, the courts “didn’t impose” enough of a sentence or severe enough conditions. And that cruelty could easily be extended beyond the political to the population as a whole.

Latent Disloyalty among Russians Now So Great It Could Explode in Kremlin’s Face in a Crisis, El Murid Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 12 – Over the last two years, the number of Russians who refuse to answer pollsters’ questions has soared, a trend that calls into question all claims the Kremlin makes about popular support for the Putin regime and one that means latent disloyalty in the population could explode in a crisis, Anatoly Nesmiyan who blogs under the screen name El Murid says.

            Two years ago, only 30 percent of Russians answered all the questions pollsters put to them; now only six percent do, El Murid continues. “Under conditions of the most severe terror and the threat of imprisonment, the level of self-censorship has literally increased exponentially” (

            Russians are now “reluctant to answer dangerous questions to strangers even when they are promised anonymity;” and that in turn “calls into question the results of all surveys since those who refuse to do so do that not because of their loyalty but rather precisely because of the opposite,” he says.

            And that means that “polls which reassure the powers that be because they show the overwhelming majority supports any adventures of the leadership should not deceive anyone.” Today, Russian “realities are in fact completely different” and in the event of a crisis could have profound consequences “if someone more serious than Prigozhin … completes what he started.”

            In the absence of such a challenge, of course, the state can maintain itself through terror and this latent opposition doesn’t matter very much. But if such a challenger does appear, then all bets are off because the large latent opposition will suddenly come forward and support the insurgent against the existing powers that be.

            That in turn explains both the fears of officials who want to keep themselves in power and the hopes of those who hope to turn them out and bring change to Russia.

Russia Not Finding New Oil Fields where Cost of Production is Less than Sale Price, ‘Vedomosti’ Reports

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 12 – In 2023, Russian geologists identified fewer new oil fields than in any year of the last six; and most of those were either too small or too inaccessible to be profitable, Vedomosti reports. As a result, the production of new fields will amount to only one month of Russia’s domestic needs.

            This failure is forcing Russian oil producers to drill ever more wells in fields first developed in the Brezhnev era, the paper says; but even that has not been able to boost production by more than one percent (

            What that means, experts in the field say, is that Russia has only “nine to 17 years” until there is “a complete exhaustion of profitable reserves of oil” and that any expansion in production will take place only if oil prices soar from their current levels or if Moscow is willing to subsidize such production while taking a loss.