Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Activists in More than 20 Russian Cities Demonstrate for Navalny and against Putin

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – The Russian government’s decision to immediately detain Aleksey Navalny on his return to Moscow has sparked plans for a major demonstration in the Russian capital this coming weekend. But it has already led to smaller protests in more than 20 Russian cities “from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad.”

            Most of these were individual actions with supporters of Navalny carrying signs like “Freedom for Navalny, Prison for Putin.” In some places, the authorities ignored them; in others, the powers that be detained them and brought charges. But the geographic extent of the protests must be worrisome to the Kremlin because it highlights Navalny’s network and attraction.

            The Moscow meeting is certain to attract more attention – that is where Russian and foreign journalists are concentrated – but these protests in the regions and republics reflect the attitudes of the more than 80 percent of the population of the country and thus are important as well.

            The exact number of these regional protests on behalf of Navalny is unknown. The two best listings are at 7x7-journal.ru/articles/2021/01/18/navalnyj-spasibo-chto-v-rossii-onlajn-7x7-s-regionalnyh-akcij-v-podderzhku-politika and sibreal.org/a/31050433.html. But they are certainly incomplete because news from many places is slow to come in.

            Besides showing the geographic extent of support for Navalny, these protests and the speed with which they appeared are important in another way: The Kremlin may be able to crush any sizeable protest in any one place, but it cannot effectively suppress numerous demonstrations expressing a common position in parts of the country far from one another.

            Even Putin’s repressive machine is not yet up to that; and consequently, the existence of these “hearths” of Navalny supporters in regional cities may be the best defense those who march for him in Moscow may have – and perhaps even an important defense of the opposition political figure himself.   

Moscow’s Failure to Develop Infrastructure in Russia’s Far East Means Region Won’t Develop and People will Continue to Leave, Shelest Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – Moscow has continued to pour money into the Far Eastern Federal District, but it has done so by following the same path it has pursued in the past – putting more money in existing factories and shuttling workers to and from distant production sites rather than linking them together, Dmitry Shelest says.

            In words that could apply to many parts of the Russian Federation, the IAREX commentator argues, that continuing this approach will neither promote development or hold the population in place as Moscow wants for national security reasons. Instead, the economy will at best stagnate and at worse decline, and people will continue to leave (iarex.ru/articles/79301.html).

            Those continuities, Shelest suggests, have been partially obscured by the pandemic, which kept people from moving and hurt the economy everywhere. Because that was the case, many did not see that in regions far from the center, the failure to develop infrastructure – including roads, airports, hospitals and schools – is the key problem.

            With the easing of the pandemic, the stagnation that Moscow’s failure to change course is producing will become ever more visible; and the number of people seeking to leave the Russian Far East is likely to grow, although it is the case that many of those who remain there now don’t want to leave. But the trends are clear, and Moscow needs to pay attention to them.

            Instead, it seems to believe that its old model is fine and only needs more money, either from Moscow or from foreign firms, to succeed. That is nonsense, and it will soon be seen as such by the people and officials of the region, Shelest suggests.

 

Zakharova Says Angry Trump Supporters Thinking about Taking Russian Citizenship

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – Speaking on Vladimir Solovyev’s program this week, Mariya Zakharova, the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that supporters of Donald Trump, angry at his departure from the Oval Office, are exploring the possibility of acquiring Russian citizenship and even emigrating to Russia.

            She said that social media are filled with comments from American supporters of Trump about how to obtain Russian citizenship, adding that she and others welcome this given what she says is the increasingly repressive situation such people face in the United States (svpressa.ru/politic/article/287410/).

            In reporting this, Dmitriy Rodionov of Svobodnaya pressa says in response: “Is this serious? Possible, there have been a few requests in social media from American supporters of Trump but most likely one is talking at most about a few individuals,” like Steve Siegel or the handful of Westerners who have moved to Russia.

            But even the opening of legal cases against those who tried to seize the US capital on January 6, the commentator continues, is hardly likely to become “a sufficient basis for emigration, all the more to mysterious Russia, about which the majority of Americans know nothing besides that negative information” they have gotten since Cold War times.

            Andrey Koryakovtsev, a scholar at the Urals State Pedagogical University, agrees and points out that “you do not see any political emigration from the US in recent times.” Some people said they would leave when Trump came to office, but few actually did – and those went mainly to Canada, a place Americans are far more familiar with than Russia.

            With Trump’s defeat, he continues, Trump supporters face difficult times, less from the government than from private companies, private media and private individuals. If they look to Russia, Koryakovtsev says, it will be only because of what is happening within the US rather than any attraction to Russia per se.

            For that to change, the Russian government will need to decide how it feels about such a trend and what messages it then sends.

            Gevorg Mizayan, an instructor at Moscow’s Finance University, is even more dismissive of Zakharova’s remarks. Her words are “hardly serious.” Americans aren’t going to apply for Russian citizenship because it is “uninteresting” to them “period.” Moreover, they aren’t going to suffer massive repressions.

            And finally and most important, were Trump supporters to apply for Russian citizenship, that would only weaken their cause because most other Americans would see that as evidence that they are in fact agents of Moscow. Trumpists are going to stay in the US and fight their battles there. If any do take Russian citizenship, they will be dismissed as “freaks.”

            But Fyodor Biryukov, a member of the political council of the Rodina Party, says that many Trump supporters have the right to be furious given that the 2020 US elections were “the most anti-democratic in the entire history of the contemporary West” and even succeeded in making Russia’s 1996 vote look free and fair.

            But despite that, he doesn’t think Americans will come to Russia in large numbers: First of all, he argues, “we need them more there than here; and second, they wouldn’t like it here.”  Radical Trumpists like to have guns, don’t like high taxes, and spit on political correctness. They wouldn’t fit it.

            “Imagine them in contemporary Russia: disarmed, nude, and censored. The only thing they could count on perhaps would be to become an extra on some Moscow television show.”

            But this raises a bigger question: “In order to make Russia attractive for foreign citizens, Russia must become attractive for Russians. And here there are problems. Polls show that ever more young people want to leave the country, and the size of emigration from Russia is growing, Biryukov continues.

            At the same time, he says that Zakharova is a brave girl who is filling “with distinction” her role as the prima ballerina of the foreign ministry. Her appearance, the Russian politician continues, was foretold by American science fiction writer Norman Spinrad in his 1991 novel, Russian Spring. (A Russian edition appeared the following year.)

            His novel has as its heroine a beautiful Russian woman who loves to dance, as Zakharova is known to. “In the novel, the Russians achieve great successes. I hope,” Biryukov concludes, “that this American prediction will be fulfilled!”

 

To Implement Constitutional Changes, Duma has Already Adopted 21 New Laws and Amended 154 More, Krasheninnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – The constitutional amendments Vladimir Putin pushed through a year ago were in many cases written in such general terms that they needed enabling legislation to specify what they actually mean, even if, as likely, the Kremlin leader will ignore both the amendments and these laws whenever it suits him.

            But it is still noteworthy just how much legislative effort has gone into adopting new laws or amending old ones in the last six months. Pavel Krasheninnikov, a Duma deputy who was vice president of the group which prepared the amendments, has now provided details on the extent of these changes (ura.news/news/1052467501 and ura.news/articles/1036281790).

            According to him, the Duma has adopted 21 laws specifically in response to the newly approved constitutional amendments and introduced changes in a total of 154 laws. That there is so much new legislation may not limit Putin but the process and the specific provisions of these laws and amendments represent another step toward at least the simulacrum of a law-based state.

Navalny’s Return Simplifies Things: Now Russians are Either for Him or for Putin, Kolesnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – The return of Aleksey Navalny to Moscow and his immediate detention by the powers that be has so dominated the Russian commentariat that it is difficult if not impossible to select out one of its essays for discussion. But New Times columnist, Andrey Kolesnikov, certainly has provided one of the most insightful.

            By its actions, he argues, the Kremlin has “instilled fear” in the opposition, society and in its own ranks given that it has no resources except force to use against a single individual it won’t name and divided the country between those who support it and those who support him. There is no longer any middle ground (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/200083?fcc).

            The powers that be are no longer prepared to engage in any “subtle political games,” allowing Navalny to run for office as it did in 2013.  They thought he’d get only a miniscule percent of the vote. They miscalculated, “and they haven’t committed any more such mistakes.” Instead, they poisoned him and now have detained him.

            This evolution shows everyone, Kolesnikov continues, that the Putin regime is now engaged in “an open civil war of the government and society,” that it is prepared to put at risk the safety of thousands of people at the capital’s airports, and is “creating the basis for a deepening of conflicts” between itself and the Russian people.

            At least potentially, that conflict will be reflected in the upcoming Duma elections. United Russia will have less support, and Navalny’s ratings will only rise. They are now comparable to the ones Gennady Zyuganov’s KPRF gets but it is reasonable to assume Navalny’s will go up which Zyuganov’s will go further down.

            By its actions, the Kremlin has posed a question to society and itself: “Do you want things to be like in Belarus?”  And it has then answered that if society does, the state will “meet [its members] just as the powers that be in Minsk are doing,” without any fear that the siloviki will change sides.  

            “The situation finally has become black and white,” the New Times columnist says. People are either for Putin or for Navalny, with those around the Kremlin leader as much prisoners of this situation as anyone else. They have no choice but to support this repressive approach if they are to survive. They will actively conduct “a war against Navalny.”

            According to Kolesnikov, “in this war,” neither side will hold back. The powers will do whatever they think they have to do to survive; and the population will find ways first of resisting and then of challenging those in the Kremlin. There will be problems with the West for the Kremlin but it has shown that it can cope with them and doesn’t fear new sanctions.

            Navalny’s own example will free many on the other side from fear, although the way that he is being treated will spread fear in others. “The powers that be are counting on the number of the latter increasing,” something that will drive them to take ever more repressive actions to ensure that outcome.

            Under these circumstances, there will not soon be “any development in the country” because “Russia has reached that stage of unfreedom when its lag behind the world will only increase,” with its politics, morality and culture all combining to make economic development impossible.

            What will happen, Kolesnikov concludes, is that the powers will seek to extract ever more money from the population so that the Kremlin can continue to repress them to an ever-growing degree.

Russia at Risk of ‘Moral Collapse’ Regionally that WHO is Warning about Internationally

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – The World Health Organization warns that humanity is on the brink of “a catastrophic moral collapse” as a result of radical inequality in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines among countries of the world, with wealth ones already getting the vaccine and poorer ones not (https://echo.msk.ru/news/2775784-echo.html).

            The Russian Federation now appears likely to face something similar within its borders because the government has provided massive number of doses of the vaccine to Moscow, somewhat fewer per capita for other cities, and only a handful or none at all to many of the regions and republics beyond the ring road.

            Specifically, as of today, 190,000 Muscovites have received their shots, but only 22,349 residents of St. Petersburg have. And elsewhere the figures are in the hundreds or even less, with many deciding not even to bother registering for shots now (regnum.ru/news/3166212.html, regnum.ru/news/3166188.html and regnum.ru/news/3166387.html).

            As the pandemic continues to ebb and flow, Russian officials announced that they have registered 22,857 new cases of infection and 471 new coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours, although some suggest any stabilization is “illusory,” the product of reduced testing and reporting during the holidays (t.me/COVID2019_official/2365,  regnum.ru/news/3166268.html and regnum.ru/news/3165836.html).

            While restrictions have been loosened in some places, in others they are being maintained or even tightened. In Kalmykia, for example, the government has extended restrictions for another month taking them into the middle of February (regnum.ru/news/3165510.html).

            An algorithm developed by the St. Petersburg Center for Intellectual Logistics suggests that over the next 12 months there won’t be any significant reduction in the number of lockdowns, easing of the mask regime, or a return to normal existence for most Russians (sibreal.org/a/31046832.html).

            The defense ministry isn’t reporting the number of infections in the ranks of the military, but it is reporting the number of those soldiers and sailors who have recovered. So far, that number stands at “more than 26,000,” an indication that even with military discipline, the pandemic has spread through many units (regnum.ru/news/3166335.html).

            Today, when Moscow announced the lifting of all restrictions on those who can get the vaccine, consumer affairs chief Anna Popova said that “no fewer than 25 percent” of the population is already immune because it has recovered from the infection. That is less than half the share needed for herd immunity (regnum.ru/news/3166027.html, regnum.ru/news/3165979.html and echo.msk.ru/news/2775528-echo.html).

            She added that she expects 20 million Russians will be vaccinated during the first quarter of 2021. If that figure is achieved, the share of the population immune to the disease would still be below 50 percent (znak.com/2021-01-18/golikova_v_pervom_kvartale_etogo_goda_vakcinu_ot_koronavirusa_poluchat_20_mln_chelovek).

            Perhaps to boost the chances of Russia reaching that figure, Popova also said that those who have recovered from the coronavirus infection should not hurry to get vaccinated but rather allow others who haven’t been ill to do so first (kp.ru/daily/27227/4354017/). Foreign residents of Russia are still not getting the vaccine (regnum.ru/news/3165565.html).

            Moscow remains concerned that neither foreign markets nor Russians have much trust in the Russian vaccine. As a result, it has created an international experts council to evaluate Sputnik-5 and the others in order to boost confidence abroad and at home (rosbalt.ru/piter/2021/01/18/1882645.html, vtimes.io/2021/01/18/vaktsinatsiya-doverie-dorozhe-faktov-a2568 and regnum.ru/news/3165911.html).

            Experts say that those who do get the vaccine will likely receive anti-covid passports from regional governments if not from Moscow (club-rf.ru/detail/4840). But public outrage appears to have led the Sakhalin authorities to cancel their plans to introduce special badges for people in that category (znak.com/2021-01-18/na_sahaline_peredumali_vydavat_beydzhi_vakcinirovannym_ot_koronavirusa).

            On the economic front, industries reported that Russian airlines had varied only half as many people in 2020 as in 2019, that clothing purchases fell by 25 percent and that foreign earnings from the sale of gas had fallen 40 percent year on year (kommersant.ru/doc/4652888, krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/83119 and lenta.ru/news/2021/01/18/neft/).

            Economists are warning that it will be difficult to track any recovery in Russia’s GDP because there is so little agreement on just how much it fell during 2020, with the government having one figure and experts another and much larger one (profile.ru/economy/kak-rossijskaya-ekonomika-budet-opravlyatsya-ot-posledstvij-koronakrizisa-590264/).

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

·         Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced he had fully recovered from the infection (regnum.ru/news/3165965.html).

·         Registration statistics suggest that the number of marriages in Russia fell sharply because of the pandemic (regnum.ru/news/3165652.html).

·         The United Arab Emirates has begun providing direct assistance to Chechnya to help it combat the coronavirus pandemic (regnum.ru/news/3165591.html).

·         Regional economist Natalya Zubarevich says that there are a few remarkable places in Russia where there are no cases of the coronavirus infection (newizv.ru/article/general/18-01-2021/natalya-zubarevich-v-rossii-est-chudesnye-mesta-gde-kovida-prosto-net).

·         And controversy has erupted over plans to infect Russians with the coronavirus in order to test the effectiveness of new vaccines and treatments (babr24.com/msk/?IDE=209429).

Because of Poverty, Russians Even Ready to Invest in Foreign Firms Producing Weapons to Destroy Their Country, Nikiforov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Many have focused on the fact that rising poverty in the Russian Federation has reduced the willingness of its residents to believe Kremlin propaganda, but they have ignored something that may be even more serious: faced with poverty, Russians today are prepared to invest in foreign defense firms that produce weapons that could destroy Russia.

            In an essay entitled “The Ideology of Indifference. The Problems of the 1990s haven’t Disappeared – They’ve been Transformed,” Oleg Nikiforov, editor of NG-Energiya says that Russians desperate to earn money are now putting their limited savings in a fund that says it earns money by investing in foreign defense industries (ng.ru/style/2021-01-18/16_8059_style.html).

            That fund like some of the pyramid schemes of 25 years ago promises an enormous return, even as its advertising is illustrated with pictures of a nuclear bomb going off. From one point of view, investing in defense industries is rational given the rise of international tensions; but investing in those industries in countries that might use them against Russia is troubling.

            Not only does it raise questions about the rationality of those who would seek to make money even by investing in enterprises working against them, but it also prompts one to ask something about just how effective Kremlin propaganda about the West is for its domestic audiences.

            It may be possible to convince Western audiences that everything in Russia is in “’tip top’” condition, but if this is so, Nikiforov asks, “then why does a Russian reader put money in the American military industrial complex?” The answer, of course, is that propaganda in Russia is not competing against other propaganda but against reality.

            If people become so poor that investing in the defense industries of other countries to make money seems entirely reasonable, that highlights the growth of indifference to the fate of anything larger than oneself and certainly indifference to the fate of one’s country. And that is not something that propaganda alone can cure.

            Instead, Nikiforov argues, the Russian government must take this as a warning sign and invest real money and not just words in alleviating poverty and especially poverty among children or it will face a population increasingly indifferent to the survival not just of the current rulers but of the country as such.

            That there is now so much indifference, the NG-Energii editor says, is why not entirely unreasonably,  “Russian communists are comparing 2021 with 1989.”