Sunday, July 5, 2020

Russia Faces Three Dangerous Trends after Pandemic, Inozemtsev Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 4 – Russia will lag behind the West during recovery from the pandemic, see income inequality at home grow, and risk having these two economic problems become invested with ethnic meaning by the majority and minorities alike, economist Vladislav Inozemtsev says (transforma1.ru/tpost/1rm2jmd8ej-vladislav-inozemtsev-eto-budet-vremya-ot).

            Inozemtsev’s predictions, while dire, are far less so than the often apocalyptic predictions on offer, and it is clear that the daily deluge of bad economic figures coming on top of less than encouraging coronavirus numbers is having an impact not only on analysts and commentators but also on the Russian government.

            The Russian government, faced with both the pandemic and a worsening economic crisis has announced that it will ignore existing limits on its spending in the coming two years but get most of the additional funds it needs from borrowing rather than dipping into the various strategic funds (kommersant.ru/doc/4399880).

            This new willingness to spend more is a welcome sign as are new plans to provide funds to some 500,000 small firms to help them cope with the pandemic and retain employees rather than laying them off. But both are far smaller contributions than other governments are making.  (versia.ru/mishustin-utverdil-vydachu-subsidij-dlya-biznesa-dlya-profilaktiki-covid-19).

            Unfortunately, there is one economic sign that is very worrisome: bureaucratic barriers and the absence of investment funds mean, economists say, that the kind of innovative ideas Russia needs for its economy to recover in the absence of oil price hikes may never be implemented (pro.rbc.ru/demo/5ef9dc839a79472258424c86).

            Today’s official figures on the coronavirus were not encouraging either. There were 8986 new cases, according to the Russian government count, pushing the cumulative total of infections to 674,000, and 168 more deaths, raising the cumulative mortality figure to 10,027 (rbc.ru/society/04/07/2020/5e2fe9459a79479d102bada6).

            Some regions were doing better, others worse, and many were moving to reopen. But in at least one oblast, Sverdlovsk, the epidemiological situation has deteriorated to the worst it has ever been and officials are now considering reimposing the quarantine that they had lifted only weeks ago (ura.news/news/1052439245).

            Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related news from Russia,  

·         Because of the pandemic, the unified state examination for secondary school graduates, scheduled this year to take place between July 3 and July 23 is being handled in different places in different ways depending on the level of the coronavirus threat (rbc.ru/photoreport/03/07/2020/5efee0d99a794705bcbcf926?from=column_13).

·         Ever more Russian parents are angry about the possibility that their children will receive some instruction online and at home, adding to their burdens if as is normally the case both parents work (https://www.rosbalt.ru/moscow/2020/07/03/1852010.html).

·         And one Russian epidemiologist, Academician Feliks Yershov, says that the coronavirus epidemic does not yet meet all the characteristics that are typically associated with a pandemic (mk.ru/science/2020/07/04/pandemiya-kotoroy-ne-bylo-pochemu-stareyshiy-virusolog-rossii-v-nee-ne-verit.html).

Impact of Constitutional Changes on Russian Laws Likely to Be Signaled by New Legislation on Cities


Paul Goble

Staunton, July 4 – Prior to the adoption of the constitutional amendments, many commentators debated how much and how fast they would affect the laws of the Russian Federation, with some suggesting the changes would be relatively small and appear only over time while others argued that the changes would be massive and rapid.

Less that three days after the final vote on the amendments, it appears that those who took the latter position are going to be proved right. According to URA news agency journalist Oleg Toploukhov, the government won’t revise the 2003 law on cities but instead replace it with an entirely new measure (ura.news/articles/1036280581).

If Moscow adopts a similar approach to other sectors, that could point to radical change in the very near future, perhaps even before the September elections. Should that occur, it could simultaneously create new classes of winners and losers and transform the nature of political debate in the Russian Federation. 

One newly approved constitutional amendment specifies that local self-administration are part of a single system of public power and not separate from government power. Vladimir Putin called for this, and most analysts assume this means that governors will assume greater control over cities and that mayors will cease to be elected.

The cities will have few chances to resist this trend as the new law is written, Roman Smirnov, president of the Association of Political Lawyers; and that will mean that a law specifying that will have “far-reach consequences also for the nature of relations between the federal center and the territories.”

“Judging from the way in which the term ‘public power’ is used in the amendments,” Smirnov continues, “this will lead to a continuation of the construction of a single power vertical” and the further centralization of the country away from the federal system the previous version of the Constitution called for.

Another analyst, Nataliya Shavshukova of the School of Local Self-Administration says that the logical next step in this direction would be the doing away with elected mayors, although she said it was not clear whether that would be in the new law now being developed or would occur in yet another one later.

1990s Last Time When Soviet Faith in Sudden Transformation was Widespread in Russia, Kuznetsov Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 3 – Russians who lived much of their lives in Soviet times suffered many traumas which continue to affect them and their interactions with members of the next generation who often don’t understand the sources of their reactions to what is going on now, according to journalist Sergey Kuznetsov.

            “For many people of the older generation,” he writes, “any promise of a bright future or talk that people will miraculously change works like the strongest of triggers,” given that in Soviet times efforts to make good on such promises led to disaster (newizv.ru/article/general/03-07-2020/rozhdennye-v-sssr-kakie-istoricheskie-travmy-nesut-s-soboy-byvshie-sovetskie-lyudi).

            The last time many of that generation believed that a miraculous transformation in a short time was possible, itself a product of Soviet experience, was the 1990s; and the failure of that effort only reinforced the sense among older people that any such promise carries with it the seeds of disaster for a all involved.

            And when younger people defend the 1990s and say that of course there were some negative side effects, what older Russians here is the Stalinist line that when trees are chopped down, the chips will fly and the picture of the world that flowed from that observation springs to mind.

            But that is far from the only trauma Soviet times inflicted on Russians and that defines how they react to discussions now. The Soviet system claimed the right to intervene in all personal matters, including sexual ones, and thus older people perhaps unexpectedly to some see such calls now as opening the way to disaster.

            Freedom of speech was not respected in Soviet times and what one read or said could have serious negative consequences. When people today say “we don’t need such literature” and call for its exclusion, what many older Russians hear is a call for the return to that past and its horrors.

            And the experience of Jews in Soviet times has disposed many older Russians to be suspicious of both negative and positive discrimination, convinced that the latter in which some are given advantages because of past mistreatment will inevitably entail the putting in place of the former.

            “Russian people who lived a large part of their lives in the 20th century thus have as an inheritance from this century many traumas,” the journalist says. “These traumas to this day define their view on life and values. They cause them to feel a strong fear, masked as anger, suspicion, cynicism, and so on”

“Encountering this, one must understand that most often behind these emotions is a trauma.” That needs to be understood in order to make possible a genuine conversation across generational lines. Russians of all ages simply need to recognize this most unfortunate survival of the past.

“Russia and its residents have an enormous and quite unique set of historical traumas, common for all Europeans in the 20th century and common for all residents of the USSR (plus differences for different peoples including Russians). One has no choice but to take this into consideration.”

Three things make Kuznetsov’s observations especially important. First, it makes clear that the reactions to current developments that are often said to be limited to the generation of the 1960s are in fact part of a larger reaction of people who were not part of that generation but rather all those who came of age in Soviet times.

Second, it explains why support for the radical transformations of the 1990s was initially so great and then disintegrated so quickly. In Soviet times, people had no choice but to continue to act as if they believed in what they had been promised. When after 1991, that compulsion disappeared, they turned away as soon as it became clear the transformation wasn’t taking place.

And third – and perhaps most important – it explains the suspicion many older Russians have to any promises about a bright future and thus why political leaders like Vladimir Putin don’t articulate an ideology. They know on their own skins that such promises will be rejected and thus it is better not to make them.