Tuesday, August 4, 2020

District within Moscow Identifying with Khabarovsk Protests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 2 – Russians in cities across the Russian Federation are identifying with and coming out into the streets in support of the Khabarovsk protests. Among them are the residents of Tushino, a Moscow district with a greater population than Khabarovsk Kray, the Region.Expert portal says (region.expert/tushino/).

            This report is important not only because it highlights the extent to which the federal districts vary so enormously in size with Moscow being the most bloated but also because it shows that within the Moscow agglomeration, there are what can be described as “regionalists” in miniature, yet another reason why Muscovites today generally can’t act as a region.

             As regionalist writers have pointed out before, “the establishment of a full-fledged regionalist consciousness in Moscow as a single city capable of recognizing the interests of other regions and conducting with them a federative dialogue is impossible.” Instead, most people there accept their status as the imperial center.

            But the fact that some in districts like Tushino are now expressing sympathy for Khabarovsk shows that within Moscow’s current borders, there are also regionalist attitudes and that they are on the side of other regions rather than on the side of the Kremlin, Region.Expert continues. 

            And the editors of the portal conclude that “for future (con)federative relations on the (post) Russian space, it would be most appropriate to free Moscow from its functions as the capital and divide the Muscovtie megalopolis into several administrative units” that could function as regions rather than remain locked into an imperial mindset.

Share of Russians Who Think Earth is Flat Falls to Two Percent, VTsIOM Reports


Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 2 – One of the invariable developments during vacation season is that stories which would not have made the cut during the rest of the year are reported and even attended to, be they Russian views about whether the earth is flat or the ranking of regions according to where the most dismemberments occur.

            According to a new VTsIOM poll, six percent of Russians do not know that the earth is a sphere and two percent think that it is flat. The latter figure represents a decline from three percent with that perspective only two years ago (thinktanks.by/publication/2020/08/02/dolya-rossiyan-schitayuschih-chto-zemlya-ploskaya-umenshaetsya.html).

            Other results from the same poll are also interesting: 49 percent of Russians don’t believe the Americans landed on the moon, down from 57 percent in 2018, 66 percent say the government is hiding the dangers of genetically modified foods, down 13 percentage points in the last two years.

At the same time, the sociologists report, 60 percent say foreign agents are rewriting Russian history as part of a concerted effort to destroy the country, down six percent from 2018, and 54 percent say LGBTs are destroying Russian spiritual values, down nine percent over the same period. 

            A second story of this type concerns an effort to rank the federal subjects of the Russian Federation in terms of where dismemberments are most common. Bashkortostan leads with 18 such crimes over the last three years followed by Krasnoyarsk with 16 and then Moscow with 14 (dailystorm.ru/obschestvo/reyting-regionov-gde-chashche-vsego-raschlenyayut-lyudey-piter-ne-na-pervom-meste).

            The Daily Storm survey says that most of these crimes are committed by family members and that in at least some cases, the guilty remain unpunished by a system that seems uncertain how to handle such a bestial crime.  But one thing is certain: there will be more reports about such things in the next four weeks. After that, the news may become more “normal.”

Degtyarov First of New Generation of Regional Leaders in Putin System, Ivanov Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 2 – Despite the travails of his first days in office, Mikhail Degtyarov, Moscow’s appointee as new head of Khabarovsk Kray, represents the harbinger of a new generation of regional leaders, one very different than their predecessors and likely to have unexpected consequences for both Moscow and the regions, Andrey Ivanov says.

            The Svobodnaya pressa commentator says that since 1991, “each decade has been characterized by its own distinctive type of regional leaders, reflecting both the situation in the regions and Moscow’s aspirations to retake control over the entire country (svpressa.ru/politic/article/272408/).

            In the 1990s, regional leaders emerged from among Soviet economic managers and some of them, like Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiyev, and Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel became what was known as “heavyweights” not because they wanted separatism but because they wanted control over their own regions.

            Given the chaos in the country, their success in that regard was important both for the regions and for Moscow, Ivanov continues. But in the first decade of the 2000s, the situation had changed. The political skills such people brought to the table were no longer needed, and Moscow replaced them with “governors general” obedient to the center.

            Since 2010, those often still-powerful figures have been replaced by a generation known as “the technocrats,” men who had not distinguished themselves by anything and seemed interchangeable with one another who would simply do Moscow’s bidding.  At the same time, both Moscow and they promised that conditions would get better.

            But conditions haven’t, and “it isn’t surprising that in certain regions, people began to vote for representatives of opposition parties who do not agree with the Kremlin” and even take to the streets as they have in Khabarovsk and other cities.  Sergey Furgal epitomized this revolt by the population against Moscow’s diktat.

            Khabarovsk residents rejected the argument that only the party of power could maintain stability and guarantee growth given that as far as they could see United Russia and its Moscow representatives could do neither. As a result, they were prepared to take the risk of voting for someone else.

            The Kremlin not surprisingly was not prepared to tolerate such disobedience and removed Furgal, but it quickly saw that it couldn’t simply replace him with some interchangeable United Russia man from somewhere else. Consequently, it decided to plunk for someone from Furgal’s party but not a local.

            The population of Khabarovsk doesn’t appear to be prepared to accept this, but Degtyarov who is a politician represents an effort by the Kremlin to find a way out of the current impasse, giving the Moscow opposition its day in the sun in order to avoid allowing the people to choose their own rulers.

            That is unlikely to please everyone in Khabarovsk or elsewhere, but the  Kremlin has made its choice; and it is likely to try to impose it elsewhere even in the face of increasing popular opposition not so much to this or that party but to Moscow as such, a challenge that Putin clearly feels he has no choice but to suppress.

            Degtyarov represents his effort to calm the situation without using force that might create martyrs or making too obvious concession  that might spark new protests elsewhere. The Kremlin leader is thus acting in a new way, trying to pass through the Scylla of the one and Charybdis of the other.