Saturday, April 20, 2019

Ukrainian Presidential Debate Sparks Envy among Russians and Belarusians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 20 – Many commentators have suggested that the greatest threat to the authoritarian regime in Russia would be a Ukraine that successfully navigated the difficult passage to economic development and political freedom, but apparently even Ukraine’s moves in that direction are a problem for the Kremlin.

            That is because, as the SerpomPo telegram channel put it, the chief reaction of Russians to the debates between the two Ukrainian presidential candidates is envy, envy that each of those who watched as many Russians did could decide for himself or herself who won and how they would if they could vote, something not possible in Russia (

            This envy arises, the channel says, because Russians can’t imagine that “Putin would appear on the stage of a stadium with some little candidate and answer why duringhis watch people died in Syria and int eh Donbass, why with him three percent of the oligarchs own almost everything in the country and why 20 million, even by official data, live in complete poverty.”

            Moreover, Russians can’t imagine that Putin would ever fall on his knees in repentance or that the entire stadium would sing the Russian hymn because they know that “Putin unlike Poroshenko never would allow a real candidate to take part in a campaign. A Russian Zelensky would be eliminated at the stage of registration.”

            Radio Svoboda provides a selection of Russian reactions that confirm that SerpomPo conclusions (, and the Charter97 portal suggests that Belarusians felt something very similar and perhaps even more intensely (

            Dmitry Bondarenko, the coordinator of the European Belarus civic campaign, for example, says that “the debates in Kyiv are simply fantastic. One can differ about the presidential candidates in Ukraine, but Belarusians can easily see how elections in a free counry are from elections in a collective farm dictatorship.”

            “Belarusians envy Ukrainians. Bravo, Ukraine!” he says, adding that he has “only one request for the future president Zelensky: don’t invite the departing dictator to your inauguration. Not only will you be happier as a result, but you will hear a bit Thank You from 99 percent of Belarusians.”

Moscow’s Claims of Solicitousness to Its Smallest Nations Not All Theyr'e Cracked Up to Be

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 20 – The Russian government has tried to distract the attention of people around the world from its attacks on national minorities which have their own republics but which have been stripped of the right to require instruction in the language of the titular nationality by playing up stories about what it is doing for the smallest nations.

            One such story is likely to attract international attention on Monday when Russian officials present to the UN their plan to create an alphabet for the Entsy, who, numbering 227, are the smallest of the officially registered numerically small peoples of the Russian Federation (

            That extraordinary solicitousness is likely to attract sympathetic coverage, but it should not get unqualified praise. On the one hand, Moscow hasn’t created an alphabet and thus a literature and education in this language ever before -- even though the government has long recognized the Entsy and taken credit for doing so.

            And on the other, if the Entsy do get a media, it will almost certainly be bilingual in Entsy and in Russian, the policy many Russian officials say is the only way to have a non-Russian press at all but one that will likely accelerate the loss of the non-Russian languages even further  (

            In short, the languages and nations of the numerically smallest peoples of Russia are not being treated better than the others. In many ways, they are being treated even worse, subject to all the restrictions imposed on all non-Russians without the numbers that allow some of the bigger nations to resist.

            Not surprisingly, they are far from pleased as shown  by the case of the Yamal reindeer herder who has been fined for holding a meeting in the tundra but now says he will organize another one despite not having gained official approval to do so (  and

            Not surprisingly and perhaps an omen that his nation does have a future despite official Russian pressure, the reindeer herder used his very own page on Vkontakte to take these steps (

In Komi Republic, ‘People are Burning Bridges -- Literally -- with the Authorities,' Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 20 – Yesterday, after eight months of protesting the plans of the central Russian government to dispose of trash from Moscow in the Russian North, Komi activists set fire to two wooden bridges that were being used to bring in equipment to set up the dump sites. One of their number said that “the people have burned their bridges with the authorities.

            Nikolay Maksimov tells the Activatica portal that “people are burning bridges with the authorities.  Who specifically did this is unknown to us. There are some anonymous partisans. Possibly this is a provocation” (

            But what is known, the Komi activist says, is this: residents have been driven to a state of despair and consequently it is no surprise that some of them “are prepared for radical actions.” In picking up this story, the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal adds that “the Northern Ecological Revolution is continuing” (

            Opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov has weighted in on his Twitter account, suggesting that the authorities had only themselves to blame because they had not been willing to listen to the complaints of the people. He added that the situation regarding trash is deteriorating not only in Arkhangelsk and Komi but in the Moscow suburbs as well (

            Lest this story have legs and become the occasion for copycat actions, Russian officials in Moscow are putting out the word that Moscow has no confirmation of this story as well as the notion that “partisans” did this is “fake news” and that the bridges likely burned as the result of forest fires (