Sunday, May 26, 2024

Number of Political Prisoners Forced to Undergo Psychiatric Treatment has Risen by Five Times Since Start of Putin’s Expanded War in Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 – One of the most noxious features of the Brezhnev era is rapidly being reborn in Putin’s Russia: political prisoners are increasingly being forced to undergo psychiatric treatment, with the number of such victims having increased by five times between 2021 and 2023, Andrey Zatirko of Agentsvo says.

            Drawing on the work of OVD-Info, Memorial and First Department, the journalist says that in the last 18 months a minimum of 33 political prisoners have been subject to punitive psychiatry, with the numbers having rapidly risen and set to rise still further this year (

            Prior to the launch of Putin’s expanded war in Ukraine, the number of such cases was relatively small, averaging three per year between 2013 and 2020, Zatirko says; but with the war and the explosion of cases involving anti-war protesters, forced incarceration in psychiatric prisons has gone up dramatically.

            As horrific as this practice is, Aleksey Makarov of Memorial says, it has not yet reached the dimensions it did in Soviet times. “In the mid-1970s,” he notes, “approximately every sixth individual condemned for anti-Soviet agitation or the dissemination of intentionally slanderous statements was confined” in a psychiatric prison hospital.

            Today, the percentage of such confinements is still much lower and so far most of those forced to undergo psychiatric evaluation and treatment are being held in psychiatric hospitals rather than psychiatric prisons, an arrangement the authorities could easily change if they decided to take more radical steps. 

Many Russian Media Outlets Set Up Abroad Since Start of Putin’s Expanded War in Ukraine May Close for Lack of Funds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 22 – Many analysts have suggested that the exodus of as many as 1500 Russian journalists after Vladimir Putin launched his expanded invasion of Ukraine in 2022 would ensure that a free Russian media would survive, provide news and information to the homeland, and document what is happening there for the world to see.

            (For a detailed and thoughtful discussion of the way in which this new Russian émigré media have been playing this role and one that makes the case that such media could play an even more essential role if Putin’s repression increases, see the article of Kseniya Luchenko now at the European Council of Foreign Relations at

            But many of these outlets are closing or at risk of closing, the victims of both their own overly ambitious plans that were based on the assumption that they would soon be able to return to a post-Putin Russia and the decision of Western organizations to cut back or even end the grants they had made earlier.

            The latest of these outlets to announce its closure is Ilya Krasilshchikov’s Support Service that was established with high hopes in the summer of 2022 but no longer is receiving the grants it had expected and needs to operate (

            A few émigré outlets are still in good shape either because they are financed by wealthy Russians or continue to get grants, but an increasing number are at risk – and ever more often less because of Putin’s actions than because of the decisions of Western grant-making organizations.

            Given the importance of these outlets for the Russian people and for Western understanding of what Putin is doing, it is critically important that such émigré outlets tighten their belts and prepare for the long haul and that Western grant-making institutions revisit their decisions and support the activities of this increasingly critical branch of Russian media.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Composition of Russian Government Increasingly Resembles That of Soviet Predecessors with Two Major Exceptions, Mitrokhin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 22 – The composition of the 32 ministers who form the new Russian government increasingly resembles governments of Soviet times with two major exceptions, Nikolay Mitrokhin says. There are far more with backgrounds in the security services, and a fifth of them come from places that are no longer part of the country ruled by Moscow

            The Russian scholar at Bremen University notes that eight of the 32 are likely ethnic Ukrainians although the exact number is uncertain because many ministers conceal their places of birth or ethnic backgrounds ( reposted at

            Four of these eight were born in Ukraine, two more of the other 24 were born in Georgia, and one in Belarus, Mitrokhin says. And that means that roughly a fifth were born in former Soviet republics that are now independent countries. There are also more ministers from Tatarstan but not from other non-Russian groups either inside or outside Russia.

            The most striking difference between the Russian ministers now and their Soviet predecessors is “the sharp increase in the share of the descendants of staffers of the security services.” In Soviet times, the government tried to keep such people out of this particular part of the regime.

Putin’s Visit to Harbin Speaks Volumes about Growing Chinese Self-Confidence

Paul Goble

              Staunton, May 20 – During his time in China, Vladimir Putin for the first time visited Harbin, a city in northeastern China near the Russian border that was founded by the Russian Empire in 1898 to house the headquarters of the Russian-owned Chinese Eastern Railroad and became an important center of the Russian emigration after the Bolshevik revolution.

              Because of these Russian ties and because the Russians in the city enjoyed extraterritorial status until 1920, Ivan Zuyenko, a China specialist at Moscow’s MGIMO says, Beijing did not like recalling let alone highlighting this past (

              “But in recent years, the situation has sharply changed,” the Russian scholar says. And now, “Harbin considers itself to be a cosmopolitan city for which the interrelationship of Russian and Chinese civilizations serves as a key element of identity” and even plays up its Russian past to attract tourists and visitors like Putin.

              The Kremlin leader’s stay in Harbin was in complete conformity with all of that, Zuyenko says. Putin laid flowers on the war memorial to Soviet soldiers who died fighting the Japanese during World War II, but he then visited and made a gift to the Orthodox Church of the Intercession, the only operational Orthodox church there (

              According to the MGIMO researcher, the Chinese side had originally proposed that Putin visit the Sofia Cathedral, the largest of the Russian churches there but now a museum and symbol of the city. Putin, however, preferred that he go to a working church and so he visited the Church of the Intercession instead.

              In the course of his visit, Putin met with students and staff of the Harbin Polytechnic and took part in the opening of the Russian-Chines EXPO and then spent the night at a villa on the banks of the Sungari River which was frequently celebrated in the works of Russian émigré writers.

              Putin is not the first Russian president to come to Harbin. Yeltsin visited in 1997; but the first Russian leader’s visit was not a great success. Under the weather and possibly drunk, Putin kept the small group of survivors of the first Russian emigration there waiting for more than an hour and then met wit them for only about 90 seconds (

              What Zuyenko did not mention in his article about Putin’s visit is the way in which Chinese attitudes about a Russian outpost on Chinese territory contrast so sharply with Muscovite ones about any foreign past on Russian territory be it in Kaliningrad or the Russian Far East or elsewhere.

              Unlike Moscow, China is now sufficiently self-confident that it is prepared to call attention to that past rather than see it as something that has to be minimized less it threaten Beijing now or in the future, a completely different attitude that many in the Russian capital in Putin’s time have.    

Sakha Portal Skeptical about New Cooperation Accord with China’s Jiangxi Province

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 20 – One of the almost inevitable sidebars of any visit by a Russian leader abroad is the signing of cooperation agreements between RF regions and the regions of the other countries, something that allows the Moscow media to suggest that more has been achieved than may in fact be the case and that both countries view as a means to present their interests later.

            Consequently, it is no surprise that during Vladimir Putin’s visit to Beijing, the leaders of the Sakha Republic in the Russian Federation and of the Jiangxi Province in China signed such an agreement; but China’s less than positive record in dealing with Sakha has left commentators there skeptical about what this one means.

            Last year, China promised to build new infrastructure in Sakha but then dragged its feet (;  and Chinese experts expressed skepticism that Sakha could achieve greater local control anytime soon (

            Now, Sakha commentators have returned the favor: The Yakutia Future portal said that the new agreement sounds nice but that it is far from clear there is anything much in it for Sakha and its people (

‘Fearing to Repeat Gorbachev’s “Mistakes,” Putin Regime is Repeating Those of Nicholas II,’ Nikulin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 20 – Fearing of repeating what the Kremlin views as “the mistakes of Gorbachev,” Putin and his team are making the mistakes of the last tsar, Nicholas II, increasing repression and engaging in foreign wars without any clear end that are creating a genuinely revolutionary situation, Andrey Nikulin says.

            Indeed, the Russian blogger says, Putin is repeating “step by step the erroneous actions of the last years of the Romanov empire,” angering the population and leading politically conscious people to give up on existing political possibilities and considering revolutionary attitudes ( reposted at

            Nikulin says he really doesn’t prefer such “a revolutionary option [as] it is obvious that an evolutionary, gradual and calm path is better for both a tired and exhausted country and its inhabitant. But that is precisely the direction that Russia is being pushed” by “blind madmen” in the Kremlin.

If Russia is to De-Imperialize, Predominantly Russian Regions Must Play a Decisive Role, Buryat Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 20 – Because the population of the overwhelmingly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays forms such a large percentage of the total, these regions will play “a decisive role” if the country is to de-imperialize, according to Aleksandr Garmazhapova, the president of the Free Buryatia Foundation.

            The activist who now lives in emigration says that there is the potential for this because “many residents of Kaliningrad in the far West and Khabarovsk in the Far East are dissatisfied with Moscow’s imperial policy which is transforming their regions into colonies without any rights” ( reposted in Russian at

            Speaking on a panel at the Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn, she adds that “it is not completely correct” to speak about ethnic Russians as “’an imperial ethnos.’” Moscow has been able to buy off many representatives of non-Russian groups by giving them the feeling that they belong to “’a great country.’”

            That is the primary explanation why “many of them willingly go to fight in Ukraine,” especially given that “the empire is still sufficiently wealthy that it can pay them amounts of money which they would never be able to earn in peacetime in their own republic, Garmazhapova continues.

            She and other participants in the panel – including Dmitry Dubrovsky from Prague, Borislav Bereza from Ukraine, and Anton Shekhovtsov from Vienna – agreed that “the current war of Russia against Ukraine is not just the work of Putin personally but reflects the centuries’ long imperial tradition” of Russia.

            Dubrovsky for his part suggested what the Moscow regime was engaged in a kind of “necropolitics,” that is, “a war of the dead against the living and of the past against the future. Shekhovtsov said he did not see any prospects for he disintegration of Russia anytime soon but did not address the likelihood a new Putin would emerge if Russia remained in one piece.