Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Pandemic Death Toll in Russia Passes 70,000 But Daily Deaths Fall and More Regions Stabilize

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 26 – Today, Moscow reported registering 562 new deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the toll for the pandemic as a whole to more than 70,000, even though infection rates are falling and officials say that the situation in 60 of the country’s federal subjects has stabilized at various levels while the situation in three is deteriorating and that of 22 is improving (regnum.ru/news/3173449.html and regnum.ru/news/society/3170739.html).

            But many experts say both these overall figures and the numbers Moscow reports each day understate the impact of the pandemic, with many suggesting that the total number of deaths is not 70,000 but 110,000 or more (sovross.ru/articles/2076/50658; cf. the official numbers at t.me/COVID2019_official/2398).

            On the vaccine front, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said that the second and third Russian vaccine would be reaching Russians in the near future (regnum.ru/news/3173523.html and regnum.ru/news/3173380.html). And the health ministry singled out five regions as having handled the rollout of the vaccine especially well (club-rf.ru/news/58715).

            The Russian military announced that all Russian peacekeepers in Qarabagh have received the required vaccinations (regnum.ru/news/3173660.html), and Russian trade officials said that Sputnik-5 will soon be in use in more than 25 countries (regnum.ru/news/3173175.html) and that its export could earn Russia more than oil now does (ng.ru/economics/2021-01-26/1_8066_export.html).

            Domestically, three regions – Bashkortostan, Moscow Oblast and Sakhalin Oblast – now say they are ready to introduce covid passports, something actively opposed by many in the Russian government and the tourism industry (regnum.ru/news/3173157.html and regnum.ru/news/3173055.html).

            On the economic front, Rosstat’s figures for 2020 suggest the Russian economy did not do as badly as many had feared, but the Accounting Chamber warned that the regime’s efforts at price control of basic commodities will lead to Soviet-style shortages (ehorussia.com/new/node/22648 and ach.gov.ru/upload/pdf/Экономический мониторинг 21 января 2021.pdf).  

            Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related developments in Russia today,

·         Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin says that 171 of the 450 members of his chamber have contracted the virus over the past year (regnum.ru/news/3173873.html).

·         The Russian authorities brough criminal charges against several participants in the Navalny protests for violating coronavirus restriction rules (novayagazeta.ru/news/2021/01/26/167405-v-novom-ugolovnom-dele-o-narushenii-sanitarnyh-norm-vo-vremya-mitinga-figuriruyut-imena-yarmysh-alburova-stepanova-kalistratovoy-i-ilyushkina).

·         The number of Russians who have thought about suicide has doubled since the pandemic began with the number who have actually killed themselves going up as well (versia.ru/pandemiya-covid-19-vyzvala-rost-chisla-suicidov).

·         Moscow has announced that as part of its vaccination program for industry, it will be vaccinating migrant workers as quickly as possible so that they can get back to their jobs (pnp.ru/social/v-rospotrebnadzore-utochnili-kogda-migranty-poluchat-privivku-ot-covid-19.html).

·         Real estate firms say there has been no softening in demand for high-end apartments in Moscow, an indication that the pandemic crisis has not hurt their financial positions (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/83269).

Kremlin’s Men in Regions Caught Unawares by Massive Protests Outside of Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 25 – In yet another indication of the decay of the Putin power vertical and its ability to monitor and then control things, Moscow’s representatives in the federal subjects generally were caught unawares by the spread and size of protests there last weekend, “the largest in recent decades,” URA commentator Sergey Leonov says.

            One highly placed source in the law enforcement organs of Chelyabinsk, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Leonov that no one expected 2500 people to demonstrate when the thermometer stood at minus 26 degrees Celsius. “This was the most massive action of the last ten years,” he added (ura.news/articles/1036281831).

            The official said that only about 20 percent of those taking part were young people. The majority were over 30 and included “many respectable people.” That is a matter of concern because such people haven’t gone to protests before, he suggested, although some of his colleagues think people are more angry at local officials than at Putin.

            “A deputy governor of one of the Urals regions confirmed on condition of anonymity that he was not ready for such a mass meeting,” Leonov reports. In places where protests had occurred earlier, officials were; but his oblast wasn’t among their number. And to the surprise of everyone, “a record number of participants” took part.

            According to experts Leonov surveyed, “one of the main causes of the protest is that people now clearly see that there is Moscow the metropolis and regions which are its colonies, where there is no development and people cannot achieve their goals.” According to Russian economist Vyacheslav Inozemtsev, this sense has been on the rise for some time.

            Kirill Tremasov, who works at the Russian Central Bank, says that the pandemic has exacerbated that feeling, given that people can see with their own eyes that the Kremlin is taking care of Moscow but has left them, as a result of Putin’s healthcare “optimization” program without the hospitals and doctors they need.

            Dmitry Zhuravlyev, a Russian political scientist, says that this was a  middle class protest, a cry of anger by a group of people whom Western analysts suggest is the basis for stability in a democratic country but one that has been ignored most of the time by the people in the Kremlin.

            After the protests of 2011-2012, the Kremlin paid some attention to them briefly but then turned to its traditional supporters, government employees. As a result, the middle class is now angry; and these protests, which few  in the regions thought would be so numerous and large, are the result.

 

Moscow’s Plan to License Enlightenment Work Sparks Massive Online Protest Against New Form of Censorship

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 25 – Moscow’s plan to require that those who engage in enlightenment work either face to face or online be licensed by the state is viewed by many Russian intellectuals as a new form of censorship; and some 150,000 of them have signed an Internet petition calling on the authorities to change course.

            Enlightenment activities such as public lectures and discussions have long been a central part of the life of the Russian intelligentsia. Until recently, however, even the Putin regime generally ignored this, focusing instead on specific articles and posts rather than on the phenomenon as a whole.

            But now the Kremlin has introduced a new bill which the Duma has passed on first reading that would require any individual or group to be licensed by the state. Not surprisingly, this move has outraged many Russians and they seek to have the government pull it or the parliament vote it down (nakanune.ru/articles/116688/).

            Astrophysicist Sergey Popov, who is well known for his popularizing work, drafted a petition making those points and putting it on the Change.org portal to collect support. He argues that there is no place for such a licensing requirement and worries that it will have a chilling effect on those who may want to spread their knowledge to the population at large.

            Historian Marina Romanova says that the government’s plan is nothing but “a new type of censorship,” one that will require an enormous bureaucracy to implement and allow the government to target just about anyone it wants who either gives a public lecture or posts anything the regime opposes on the Internet.

            Other activists agree, viewing the measure as the latest move to fight dissent by imposing a Procustean bed on all discussions. Unless those who want to engage in enlightenment activities conform to the new and ever-changing line, they will be deprive of a license or stripped of it and face sanctions.

            Another historian, Stanislav Slivko, says “the authorities are getting their hands on an entire arsenal of means to close or make impossible any unsuitable [in their eyes] unsuitable enlightenment project.” Individual bureaucrats will have the power to throttle anyone they don’t like. Indeed, the whole idea of this is a violation of numerous parts of the Constitution.

            It is unlikely that this protest will slow the adoption of this new repressive measure or keep the authorities from using it. At the same time, the powers that be are likely to be highly selective in doing so, keeping this provision in reserve to use against those they are especially concerned about rather than creating a massive bureaucracy to handle everything.

            And what are the powers most concerned about, the critics ask rhetorically. The possibility that the intelligentsia will play the political role once again that it famously played in advance of the 1917 revolution and the 1991 disintegration of the Soviet system, the Nakanune news agency says.

 

Navalny’s Supporters have Tripled since 2013 but his Opponents Still Consolidated Behind Putin, Levada’s Denis Volkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 25 – Polls show that the share of the Russian population supporting Aleksey Navalny has risen from six percent in 2013 to more than 20 percent now, but at the same time, they indicate that those who oppose him and support Putin amount to about half of the population and have consolidated around him, Denis Volkov says.

            The Levada Center sociologist thus concludes that while “dissatisfaction with the authorities is growing,” no one should expect that to translate quickly into a further decline in the rating of Vladimir Putin (forbes.ru/obshchestvo/419351-obnovlenie-protesta-pochemu-lyudi-snova-vyshli-na-ulicy).

            Navalny enjoys particular popularity among the young who formed a large share of those taking part in Saturday’s demonstrations, while Putin largely retains his hold on older Russians who view Navalny as an agent of the West directed not only against the Kremlin leader but against their country as well, Volkov continues.

            One of the reasons that Navalny’s support is not greater than that is that many of those who took part in the protests were doing so less to show their support of the opposition leader than to indicate their unhappiness and even anger with the bureaucracy and their deteriorating standard of living.

            Again and again, the sociologist says, people in focus groups his center organizes say “the powers don’t listen to people.” Going into the streets is thus one way they hope to change that, but that isn’t equivalent to backing Navalny as an individual politician. Many also wanted to show that they are no longer afraid of the increasingly repressive Russian state.

            But “in parallel with the growth of the number of supporters of Navalny” or at least that of those prepared to march in protests his organization puts together, “the number of his opponents, which today amounts to about half the population of the country (primarily older people), has also increased.

            These people may watch Navalny’s films about corruption, but they do so out of curiosity rather than because they agree with his interpretation of what official malfeasance of this kind means for the country, Volkov says.

            “In favor of Navalny, in the eyes of his supporters and even part of his opponents may be playing his decision to return to Russia. This is viewed as confirmation of his bravery and the correctness of his own position,” the sociologist says. But it hasn’t shaken his opponents who continue to view Navalny as a weapon the West is using against Russia.

            According to the Levada Center expert, “the harsh detentions and routine denigration of the protesters as working for the interests of the hostile West says that the powers that be have nothing to offer those who disagree with its policies.” That is only adding to the number of those who are angry at the regime and consolidating the opposition as well.

            As a result, the opposition is no longer something marginal; but Putin can still count on his base at least for the time being, although an escalation of protests and repression against them may change that, peeling away some of Putin’s supporters and adding to the ranks of his opponents.

Kremlin’s One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Repressing Non-Russians May Backfire Prompting Them to Unite against Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 25 – Tatarstan activists say that Moscow’s moves against VTOTs follow a similar set of moves against Bashkir nationalists and show that Moscow’s “logic” is as follows: Once one declares Bashkirs extremists, then it is required that the same approach be pursued with regard to Tatars (business-gazeta.ru/article/496707).

            Given the enormous diversity of the population of the Russian Federation, it is no surprise that Vladimir Putin, committed as he is to centralization and homogenization has adopted this approach. From his perspective, it is the only reasonable position at least within macro-regions like the Middle Volga.

            But it carries with it two risks which the Kremlin leader does not appear to be aware of. On the one hand, it is perhaps the clearest indication yet that Moscow under Putin intends to destroy whatever rights republics had under the nominally federal system that the constitution proclaims but that Moscow does not respect.

            And on the other, by so doing, it is likely to lead ever more non-Russians to see that they have a common interest in opposing what Moscow is trying to do to them. They have already expressed common views on the denigration of non-Russian languages. They may now form a common front against the new wave of repression.

            In the current environment, that could in turn mean that the non-Russians will become an ever more important component of the pro-Navalny, anti-Putin movement, even though many non-Russians remain skeptical about the opposition leader. For them as a group, Putin is the greater threat, and Navalny promises to be the lesser evil.

            Given that non-Russians now form a quarter or more of the population of the Russian Federation, such a development could add real clout to the rising opposition movement. It could also prompt Navalny and his supporters to adopt a more supportive attitude toward the rights of non-Russians  and non-Russian republics.

Russian Politicians Celebrate Stalin in Ways Even CPSU Didn’t under Brezhnev, Tsipko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 25 – Not long ago, a United Russia Duma deputy said that Russia and Stalin were “united” and criticism of the Soviet dictator and especially comparing him to Stalin undermines Russian statehood, the kind of statement that even CPSU conservatives under Brezhnev seldom permitted themselves, Aleksandr Tsipko says.

            According to the senior Moscow commentator, “we will understand nothing about what is taking place in present-day Russia and how we live and breathe if we do not explain to ourselves why today things are permitted which were not permitted in the USSR after the 20th Congress of the CPSU” (ng.ru/ideas/2021-01-25/7_8065_name.html).

            The Duma deputy who defended Stalin “is hardly a Stalinist,” Tsipko suggests. “And he hardly would like to live in Stalin’s times as he of course knows that had there not been Gorbachev’s perestroika and the disintegration of the USSR, he never would have been able to make his current glorious career.”

            “But he is forced to work for the rehabilitation of Stalin not only to please Putin … but also in order yet again to show that United Russia today is together with the majority of the Russian people in its assessment of Stalin.” That represents a sharp departure from the situation in the 1960s as Tsipko recalls his own experience.

            He was able to stand up and denounce the argument of a senior CPSU official in 1965 without suffering any ill effects career-wise and with that official in fact backing off from his line that “Stalin and the Soviet people are united.” Indeed, it turned out that this official himself was not convinced of what he said.

            According to Tsipko, “Russian politicians who today insist on the rehabilitation of Stalin” don’t want “to revive the Stalinist political machine.” What they are about is something only in the realm of ideology. There they want to insist that “’Russia is not Europe,’” but in their lives, “they do not want to lose the benefits of European civilization.”

            “Undoubtedly,” he continues, “in the USSR at the time of the thaw, which ended in 1968, the instinct of self-preservation, above all the preservation of the spiritual health of the nation was much stronger than in today’s ‘Crimea is ours’ Russia.”  Soviet citizens then had clear memories of what Stalin had been like.

And because that was the case, Tsipko continues, “even leaders of ‘the Russian Party,’ for all their sympathies to Stalin did not risk saying what Aleksandr Prokhanov now says, that Stalin was an expression of the Russian idea.”

Now, “nostalgia for Stalin among ‘the deep Russian people’ is a protest not so much against the stupefying Russian poverty as a protest against the stupefying income inequality which was given birth to by the loans-for-shares actions of the 1990s.” And that means that behind this support for Stalin’s rehabilitation lies “hatred for bureaucrats” and deputies.

It is quite understandable, Tsipko says, that “those for whom Stalin and the Russian state are one categorically oppose the idea of the similarity of Hitlerism and Stalinism and the OSCE decisions which equates crimes the crimes against humanity committed by Stalin and the crimes against humanity committed by Hitler.”

As a result of these attitudes, many view those who speak the truth about Stalin’s crimes as somehow casting doubt on the great achievements of the USSR, the Moscow commentator says. In part, this difference from the 1960s reflects the passage of time: Russians in the 1960s remembered Stalin clearly; now, he is for most a distant figure of their national past.

A more important reason for this recrudescence of support for Stalin, Tsipko argues, is that “we did not decide to carry out decommunization to the end and continue to live in a country where Chapayev is a hero and Denikin and Wrangel are enemies of the people,” a failure that is especially striking given that the peoples of Eastern Europe made a very different decision.

But there is a larger problem and a larger cause: Since 2014, “it has become ever more difficult to find a basis for faith in the future, for faith in another, wiser and more comfortable Russia.” With a vision of a future, it is relatively easy to decide to condemn evil in the past; without it, that becomes much more difficult.

Instead, many want “to idealize their own past and find reasons to justify all that their ancestors suffered. Out of this has emerged the present situation, one in which everything in the past, including the crimes of Stalin, are our own Russian reality.” But those who promote this forget that by tying Russian statehood to Stalin, they are inflicting serious harm on it.

“What kind of statehood and who needs it if for its preservation one must starve millions of people and drive them into the GULAG? What kind of statehood if citizens must be reduced to semi-human state and be prohibited from knowledge about the truth of history?” Tsipko asks in despair.

“How can one respect a country and nation if it is not in a position to call a crime a crime and to condemn at the state levcel the leaders of the country who consciously destroyed millions and millions of people in the name of the class purity of a socialist society? How can one respect a state which during the war didn’t think about losses” assuming there would always be more children.

“I understand,” Tsipko says, “that for patriots of the Crimea is ours generation, there is no problem with the authority of the nation or how the Russian nation looks in the eyes of present-day European peoples. One must remember that the authority of a nation in a global world is not only a moral problem but an essentially economic one.”

 By celebrating rather than condemning “an open sadist and murderer,” Russians are cutting themselves off from the rest of the world and alienating all those within the country who care about truth and justice. Ever more young people in Russia see no reason to remain there and want to move abroad. For them, “Russia has already ceased to be the Motherland.”

“Politicians who consider that talk about the similarity of national socialism is impermissible do not know that they are in the clearest way rejecting the inheritance of the great Russian philosophical thinkers. For all the representatives of Russian religious philosophy of the beginning of the 20th century, it was axiomatic that Lenin was not yet Hitler, but Stalin was.”

“And as soon as you begin to jail those few intellectuals who call for talking about the similarity of national socialism and Bolshevism, you must begin to burn the books of Nikolay Berdyaev, Sergey Bulgakov and Semyon Frank which were published in massive print runs during perestroika,” Tsipko says.

But perhaps some in United Russia will see a more immediate threat, one to their own power, from what they are doing, he suggests. By celebrating rather than denouncing Stalin, they have lost the respect of “practically all of the intelligentsia for whom truth and personal dignity are still dear.”

Latest Protests Far More Massive and Determined than Those of 2011-2012, Navalny Aide Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 25 – Many observers are comparing the Navalny protests of last weekend with the actions in 2011-2012 against the falsification of elections and suggesting that the latest events are less significant than the earlier one, Leonid Volkov, chief of Navalny’s regional staff network.

            But that is “incorrect,” he argues.  On the one hand, the earlier protests were largely confined to Moscow and other large cities while the new ones took place in 150 places across the country and involved 300,000 people (znak.com/2021-01-25/leonid_volkov_o_novyh_mitingah_strategii_oppozicii_i_otvete_vlastyam_na_ugolovnye_dela).

            And on the other, the 2011-2012 actions took place generally with permission of the authorities rather than against them and participants faced far fewer and less draconian punishments – the worst then was a 500 ruble (seven US dollar) fine -- even when they were detained than have the protesters this time around, the aide says.

            Now, Volkov says, the powers that be are arresting people and bringing real criminal charges – “more than 30 coordinators of the Navalny staffs have been arrested, that is practically all of them” – in a transparent effort to end the protest wave by spreading fear among the population.

            In this situation, he says, “the supporters of Aleksey Navalny can answer in only one way: they are not afraid.” They plan to hold protests again this weekend and on February 2 when Navalny is scheduled to appear in court. How large these meetings will be is uncertain, but most of those who back him and oppose Putin remain unintimidated, the aide continues.

            The powers that be having failed to frighten people with what the Kremlin has ordered so far will undoubtedly step up their pressure on Russian society. They may frighten some, but the latest round of protests shows that Russians are ever less afraid of them. Volkov says he can’t be certain that the demonstrations will change things. “I can’t see the future,” he points out.

            But at the same time, the Navalny aide insists that he is certain “that if we do nothing, there won’t be any result at all.”