Thursday, May 23, 2024

Moscow Set to Slash Number of Company Towns, Ending Subsidies to Places Now So Classified

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 18 – Before the covid pandemic, Russian officials indicated that they believed that the number of places they were then classifying as company towns (monogorody) – 312 -- far exceeded the number that should be put in that category and thus eligible for special subsidies.

            At that time, Moscow officials said they believed that only about half of the places in that list where one industry is responsible for 20 percent of more of employment should remain so classified and thus eligible for subsidies. But the pandemic and then the start of Putin’s enlarged war in Ukraine put plans to revisit this issue (

            Now, Kommersant is reporting, the economics ministry plans to survey these places and drop those that no longer belong on this list and thus reduce their number. The paper notes, however, that the ministry has not specified what the new basis for classification will be (

            But how much of a cut there will be in the number, something that will allow Moscow both to reduce overall spending on such places as well as concentrate the remaining resources on those still on the list is uncertain. But one economics ministry official said recently that he believes only 120 cities should be classified as company towns.

            It is unlikely that economic development has been sufficient to justify dropping almost 200 cities from a category of places that have faced hard times since the end of the Soviet Union. But it is certain that Putin will celebrate such a drop as a triumph of his policies and that his assessment will be uncritically repeated by many both in Russia and abroad.

            In reality, as many studies show, Russia’s company towns overwhelmingly remain part of the dying rust belt and are likely to continue to decay and remain a source of social and even political problems for the Kremlin even if Moscow decides to use a statistical sleight of hand to make itself look better.

For background on company towns and their travails, see,,,, and

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Putin’s Newspeak a Ritualized Language that Keeps Russians from Thinking, Arkhipova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 18 – What political analysts commonly call newspeak is in fact a “formative” language that provides its audience with meaningless phrases so that people will not think about what they are hearing but simply accept what they are hearing, according to Moscow anthropologist Aleksandra Arkhipova.

            She argues that “the task of a ‘formative’ language is that those to whom it is addressed don’t decode anything but remain within the encoding that the originator provides.” The latter gives its audience “meaningless phrases so that those in the audience don’t think about them” ( reposted at

            In this way, Arkhipova continues, “there is no content in newspeak; but ther eis a ritual component.” As an example of this, she gives a recent Russian obituary which specified that “he died heroically at the cost of his life as a result of a missile attack,” a group of words that says little but unites speaker and audience.

            This is very different from Aesopian language, the anthropologist points out. Those who use it assume that their audiences understand everything and will immediately decode what they say while those who use the formative language of newspeak assume that their audiences understand nothing and will simply accept what they are told.

Russian Supreme Court Opens the Way for ‘Ex Post Facto’ Convictions in Extremism Cases

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 18 – The Russian constitution bans ex post facto convictions, that is, it specifies that no one can be convicted of a crime that was not a crime at the time of the action ( But now Russia’s Supreme Court has ruled that restriction doesn’t apply in extremism cases (

            As a result, those in the Russian Federation who follow the law cannot be sure that their actions will not be declared illegal after the fact, a change that opens the way for the state to bring charges against anyone for acting according to the law if it subsequently changes the law (

            The court held that the reason for this exception to the constitutional ban on ex post facto punishment is because if someone posts materials on a website or in social media and those materials remain there even for years afterwards, the state has a legitimate interest in punishing those who fail to take them down and thus can punish offenders.

            This ruling represents a dangerous expansion in state powers at the expense of individual rights even if it is limited to extremism cases and the use of the Internet. But there is a danger that by arguing that the consequences of other actions extend in time as well and thus the constitutional ban on ex post facto laws might be dispensed with more broadly.

            Should that happen, one of the most important legal protections law-abiding Russian citizens have had since 1993 will be gutted; and the state at least potentially will be able to go after anyone for any action even if that action was entirely legal in Russia at the time when it occurred.

Under Guise of ‘Joint Development,’ Putin Sets the Stage for Transferring Russian Land to China, Alksnis Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 17 – At his recent summit meeting with Chinese leaders, Vladimir Putin signed an agreement calling for “the joint development” of disputed islands in the Ussuri River near Khabarovsk. Russian nationalist commentator Viktor Alksnis says this action will in fact lead to the transfer of sovereignty over these islands to China.

            Yevgeny Ivanov, a Nakanune journalist, points out that controversy about the Russian-Chinese border extends back to 1860. In that year, the two countries signed a treaty specifying that the Russian-Chinese border “ran along the southern shore of the Amur and Ussuri rivers” (

            But China views that accord as one of the unequal treaties it was compelled to sign; and since 1991, it has pressed for their revision. In that year, Moscow and Beijing agreed that the border ran in the center of the flow of the rivers, thus transferring some islands, including Damansky where a military clash occurred in 1969, to China.

            Beijing still objected, and in 2004 and 2008, Moscow signed two further agreements which handed over to China one whole island and part of another. Finally, in 2023, the two governments agreed to come up with a joint formula for  deciding precisely where the state border between them passed.

            Beijing continued to insist that the islands belonged to China and even published a map showing them as Chinese. Moscow objected to the map but said that the two countries did not have any differences on the border (

            But that clearly was not the case; and during Putin’s most recent visit to China, the Russian side signed an agreement with Beijing on “the principles of the joint development” of border areas. Russian officials suggested that this agreement ends any dispute, but Viktor Alksnis, a nationalist commentator, sees things differently.

            He argues that Russia, being isolated internationally, has little choice but to make concessions to China to keep Beijing in its corner and that talk about “joint development” is simply a ruse that covers what will be the eventual transfer of full sovereignty over the islands in the Ussuri and Amur to China.



Making Putin’s Healthcare Optimization Worse, 20 Percent of Medical Facilities in Russian Regions Don’t Have Even One Doctor

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 10 – Vladimir Putin’s healthcare optimization program has dramatically reduced the number of medical facilities in Russia’s regions, but the situation with those that remain is increasingly critical given that one in every five of these medical “points” at present lacks a doctor.

            This problem has arisen because many regions can’t provide adequate incomes for doctors or the opportunity for them to engage in private practice and because the costs of medical training have risen to the point that those who in rural areas can’t recoup this expense (

            But it also reflects a shortage in the number of doctors in Russia today. The government admits that there are 35,000 too few doctors but most medical experts say that want ads for doctors suggest that the real number is far larger. And a recent poll found that four in ten Russians say they haven’t been able to see a doctors when they need to.

            That means in turn that the doctor shortage is now so large that it is hitting urban residents as well. But the real cost of this shortage is that Russians now see doctors less often than they should and that when they finally travel often hundreds of kilometers to do so, they are sicker and less likely to be cured than would otherwise be the case.

            Moscow has responded with a “rural doctor” program that offers enormous subsidies to doctors who are willing to move to rural areas, but it has had mixed results. Some who take advantage of the money which is paid only to get people to agree to move leave as soon as they can because they do not want to live in impoverished rural areas.


Moscow No Longer Interested in Having Kaliningrad Serve as Russia’s Showcase for the West, Kolchin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 18 – Putin’s appointment of Aleksey Besprozvanny as governor of Kaliningrad shows that Moscow “is no longer interested in having that region play the role of a showcase for Russia in the West,” a role that it played in Soviet times and until recently in post-Soviet times as well, Pyotr Kolchin says.

            The St. Petersburg political scientist says that Moscow expects the new governor to promote the kind of economic development in the noncontiguous region that will increase its integration with the rest of the Russian Federation and to more actively support security interests there (

            Given Besprozvanny’s career in Moscow, Kolchin says, it is likely he will do just that; and that he will not seek to make Kaliningrad into a showcase for Moscow or promote ties with neighboring countries. Earlier governors also had worked in Moscow but many of them became local patriots. Bezprozvanny seems less likely to make any such transition.

Moscow’s Deportation and Denigration of Crimean Tatars Continues, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 18 – Eighty years ago, on May 18, 1944, Stalin ordered the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars from their homeland and the suppression of the Crimean autonomous republic as well. Today, Putin is continuing both policies albeit in a more “quiet” way than his predecessor did, Kharun Sidorov says.

            Today, people around the world recall Stalin’s crimes, the Prague-based specialist on nationality policy says; but they typically have focused less attention on what Putin has been doing with regard to the Crimean Tatars since his Anschluss of their land in 2014 (

            After the occupation, Putin issued a decree which spoke about the rehabilitation of ethnic minorities in Crimea but listed the Crimean Tatars fourth in a list of five, all except for them are true diasporas as they have states elsewhere. And the occupation authorities specified that rehabilitation was to be for individuals rather than nations, Sidorov says.

            Just what the Crimean Tatars now face under Russian occupation is clear if one compares Ukrainian and Russian laws governing ethnic minorities in Ukraine like the Crimean Tatars. Ukrainian law gives the Crimean Tatars special rights as an indigenous people, but Russian law does not.

            Indeed, Sidorov argues, Ukraine’s adoption of a law on indigenous peoples “became one of its ideological challenges to the Kremlin” and served as one of the reasons Putin invaded Ukraine lest Ukraine’s recognition of the special status of the Crimean Tatars be extended to indigenous peoples within the Russian Federation.

            But the Putin regime has followed its Stalinist model regarding the Crimean Tatars in another way: its minions have suppressed Crimean Tatar self-government and some of them have even called for the suppression of the name Crimea because in the words of one Russian official, “Crimea is a Crimean Tatar name.”

            These ideological positions have practical effects, Sidorov says. Since 2014, 50,000 Crimean Tatars have had to flee their homeland not only because of repression but because of the influx of approximately 500,000 ethnic Russians. Consequently, on the 80th anniversary of Stalin’s actions, the deportation continues, yet another reason why the occupation must be ended.