Saturday, August 18, 2018

Putin Wants More Good News But Russians Living Under His Him are Getting Ever More Bad


Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 18 – Vladimir Putin says he is concerned about the enormous amount of bad news on the Internet and would like to see more upbeat stories about life in his Russia (svoboda.org/a/29437436.html), but the flood of bad news continues, much of it the product of the Kremlin leader’s own policies.

            The last 24 hours are entirely typical of the kind of bad news that has been coming out of Russia, much of it sourced not to opposite figures but to Putin regime agencies. In addition to stories about Moscow’s pension plans, poverty and increasing income differentiation, the seven stories below stand out:

·         Wage Arrears have Increased 20.9 Percent in Just One Month. A problem Russians may remember from the 1990s is returning in full force: companies aren’t paying their employees for work already completed, with the number not paid having risen by 20.9 percent in just the last month for which data are available (classic.newsru.com/russia/17aug2018/ruwages.html).

·         Russia’s Population Fell by Nearly 90,000 in First Half of 2018. According to Rosstat, the number of people living in Russia declined by 88,700 during the first six months of this year, a reflection of declining fertility rates and the entrance of fewer migrants (newsru.com/russia/17aug2018/rudemography.html).

·         Food Prices Going Up So Fast that Russians May Soon ‘Forget the Taste of Meat.’ Despite official claims to the contrary, inflation is rising dramatically in a sector every Russian relies on: at food stores. Prices for meat in particular are rising so fast that some say many Russians will soon not be able to afford meat and will begin to forget what it tastes like (apn-spb.ru/news/article28771.htm  and rusmonitor.com/vskore-rossiyane-mogut-zabyt-vkus-myasa.html).

·         Regime Wants to Limit Adoptions by Large Families. The Russian government wants to impose strict limits on the ability of families with three children of their own to adopt orphans, something that will likely increase the number of the latter without homes because larger families traditionally have been more willing to take on children than those with fewer (lenta.ru/news/2018/08/17/ludoedstvo/).

·         Ruble Falls 20 Percent But Kremlin Says Everything is ‘Stabilizing.’ The ruble has suffered one of its worst declines against the euro and the dollar in months, but Putin’s press secretary says everything is under control and the situation is “stabilizing” (finanz.ru/novosti/valyuty/kreml-zayavil-ob-absolyutnoy-stabilnosti-posle-obvala-rublya-na-20percent-1027467461).

·         Russian Housing Stock Lags Europe by 15 Years with Millions in Substandard Residences.  According to official statistics, Russians are living in housing that is at least 15 years behind that in Europe. And that means, figures show, that millions live without plumbing or sewage or even heating and in homes that would be condemned as unfit in other countries (lenta.ru/news/2018/08/17/jit_ne_o4en/  and lenta.ru/news/2018/08/17/jit_ne_o4en/).

·         Two Million Young Russians Aren’t in School or in Jobs. New statistics show that two million Russians between the ages of 18 and 24 are not in school or employed. Instead, most remain dependent on their parents for support (polit.ru/article/2018/08/18/neet/).

Russian Activist Living in Ukraine who Helps Kazakh Dissidents Threatened by Astana Agents


Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 18 – One of the many unfortunate developments in the post-Soviet space is that agents from one government manage to operate on the territory of another with apparent impunity in an effort to intimidate, harm or even seize and return dissidents to their country of origin.

            This problem typically exists below the radar screen of the host countries or of the West and that makes a new article by Kseniya Kirillova of Radio Svoboda about a Russian activist who fled to Ukraine in 2014 and now helps Kazakh dissidents under threat especially important (ru.krymr.com/a/rossiyskiy-politbezhenec-o-zapugivanii-kazahstankih-aktivistov-v-ukraine/29439640.html).

            Aleksey Vetrov formed the Nizhny Novgorod Civic Movement in 2011 to coordinate protests there, she writes.  He also took part in demonstrations in Moscow and elsewhere. That brought him to the attention of the siloviki, and he was slated to be arrested. But he learned about that in advance and fled to Ukraine to seek protection.

            The UN commissar for refugees recognized him as a political refugee, but the Ukrainian government did not give him  that status.  He nonetheless continued his civic activity, first for victims in the Donbass and then for political refugees from Kazakhstan who came to Ukraine in the hopes of protection.

            Vetrov is now a leader of the √©migr√© operations of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, a group Astana describes as extremist because it opposes the same problems in Kazakhstan that dissenters face in Russia: “the absence of rotation in power, total corruption, persecution for dissent, and mass tortures in camps that sometimes lead to deaths.”

            Kazakh opposition figures have protested against all these things, but most of them are now either behind bars or in emigration. The authorities in Astana are increasingly trying to silence those abroad through the use of the Kazakhstan special services, Vetrov tells the Radio Svoboda journalist.

            Kazakh dissidents living in Ukraine have reported that they have been followed and harassed by agents from their homeland and say that they have sought protection from Ukrainian officials but without particular success. In at least some cases, Ukrainian officials may be cooperating with Kazakh ones. (facebook.com/100012043548093/videos/454735054937942/).

            The activities of the Kazakh agent network in Ukraine rise and fall with political protests in Kazakhstan. When there are numerous protests, the agents intensify their activities, Vetrov says; when things quiet down now as they have over the summer,  then the agents become less active at least at an observable level.

            Vetrov himself has been the victim of tracking by this agency, and he is worried about his own security in the future. “Because I have been refused official status as a refugee, Ukraine doesn’t guarantee my security,” and the UN program for resettling refugees into third countries was recently closed.”

            “Not having a Russian foreign passport,” he continues, “I myself do not have the opportunity to go to a third country and therefore remain in Ukraine where at the  moment danger clearly threatens.  I am very worried about Kazakhstan special services’ efforts to gain access to information on the computers of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan.”

            And that makes him worry about his own future, Vetrov says. After all, he is “a living bearer of this information.”

‘Overwhelming Majority’ of Urban Ukrainians Patriotic, Poll Finds


Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 18 – Ukrainian nationalism is often viewed as primarily a rural phenomenon, but a new poll conducted by three leading Ukrainian sociological agencies finds that “the overwhelming majority of residents of Ukrainian cities of more than a million residents each consider themselves to be patriots and are proud that they are Ukrainians.”

            That is how Ukrainska Pravda summarizes the results which showed that 86 percent of Lviv rsidents, 64 percent of Odessans, and 62 percent of Kharkiv ones said they considered themselves Ukrainian patriots. Residents said they were proud to be Ukrainian citizens 85 percent, 68 percent and 65 percent respectively (pravda.com.ua/rus/news/2018/08/16/7189462/).

                Only two percent of Lviv residents, eight percent of people in Kharkiv, and 10 percent in Odessa said they were not proud to be Ukrainians, figures that call into question the claims of some pro-Moscow groups that sizeable numbers of people in the cities are less than pleased to be in Ukraine.

            The poll did find greater variation in the attitudes of urban residents to the kind of state system in Ukraine they would like to have. Supporters of a unitary state numbered 80 percent in Lviv but only 46 percent in Odessa and Kharkiv, with support for federal arrangements ranging from eight percent in Lviv to 28 percent in Kharkiv and 44 percent in Odessa.