Monday, September 21, 2020

Putin’s New 'Arctic' Laws Won't Attract Many Workers to the North, Stanulevich Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 20 – In Soviet times, Moscow used a combination of force – the GULAG and the assignment of university graduates to particular locations – and massive subsidies to relocate massive numbers of Russians northward and eastward. Since the end of Soviet times, both of these levers have disappeared.

            As a result, internal migration in Russia has shifted, with people moving south and west, exactly the opposite of what Moscow needs if it is to develop the Russian North and the Russian Far East as it wants or even be certain that it has enough people there to project power and defend against the moves of other countries.

            In recent years, the Kremlin has sought to promote migration to the Far East with its “free hectare program,” but that much ballyhooed effort has not been very successful ( and

            Most recently, the Putin leadership has sought to promote the movement of population to the Far North both to support Russia’s role in the Northern Sea Route and to take advantage of access to natural resources on land as well as on the Arctic seabed that global warming is opening up.

            Three weeks ago, Putin’s package of “’Arctic’ laws” went into effect, but as Regnum commentator Vladimir Stanulevich points out, the shortcomings of those measures and thus the likelihood that they will fall short of Kremlin claims is already very much in evidence (

            He cites two examples of these problems. The First Mining Company and the Ustryan Timber Processing Company face problems. The first is registered elsewhere and is prohibited by those locations from changing its headquarters as the new “’Arctic’” laws would require. And the second works both in the Arctic and outside and thus doesn’t qualify for the subsidies and tax breaks.

            As things stand now, Stanulevich says, small and medium-sized firms might be able to benefit from the new laws if they could get the capital necessary to expand in the North; but large companies like these two won’t – and it is precisely they that the Kremlin if it remains true to its usual course is counting on.

            The laws can and should be changed so that this bottleneck is cleared up, but unless and until that happens, the new laws are not going to lead to the economic development of the region or to the shift in population northward as well as eastward that Moscow has quite rightly defined as a priority.   

Putin has Made Navalny Leader of the Opposition and Possibly Russia’s Next President, Belanovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 20 – Moscow sociologist Sergey Belanovsky who has attracted attention for his accurate predictions about the course of opposition movements in Russia says that by poisoning Aleksey Navalny, Vladimir Putin “with his own hands” has made him the leader of the opposition and possibly Russia’s next president,

            “Until quite recently,” the sociologist continues, “the only significant political brand in Russia was Putin.” The Kremlin leader’s “brand” has weakened but “retains its power because of its political monopoly” (

            No effort to create an alternative brand has been successful, he says. These attempts have been suppressed. But if an alternative opposition brand does appear, then that brand will have a good chance to gain a monopoly position among the opponents of Putin. What Putin has done is to give Navalny precisely that opportunity. 

            Belanovsky says that until the poisoning, he was very skeptical about Navalny’s chances to become leader of the opposition. “But now the situation has changed.” He can’t be attacked anymore – “a Great Power can’t act like a bull in a china shop” – and so he will be able to use that resource to organize the opposition around him.

            As a result of the poisoning effort, Navalny has acquired a monopoly as “the alternative brand” to Putin,” the sociologist argues. At a minimum, “the conditions have been created for him to become that … He has become untouchable and can sharply broaden his activity. I think,” Belanovsky continues, “he will use that opportunity.”

            The Kremlin could try to stop this by promoting another alternative among the opposition, but that is a problematic tactic given that it would be promoting someone who to be credible would have to be an opponent of Putin – and that isn’t an outcome the current Russian ruler would like.

            “Some like Navalny and some don’t,” Belanovsky says. And another, more attractive figure may emerge. But at present, the victim of Putin’s poisoning has no competition as far as gaining the leadership of the opposition is concerned.  His brand as that will only strengthen given that Putin can’t use his preferred methods against him.

            And then the sociologist draws an even more remarkable conclusion: “Not long ago,” he says, he “was certain that Navalny would not become president. But now, I am not so certain about that.”

NEXTA Goes on the Attack in Belarus, Releases Names of 1,000 Siloviki in Brest Oblast

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 20 – The NEXTA telegram channel, which initially positioned itself as a neutral news agency on Belarusian developments but has come to be viewed as “the voice of the Belarusian revolution” (, has now crossed the Rubicon.

            In response to repressive measures by the police in Brest and Brest Oblast, it has published the names of just over 1,000 siloviki there, something that defeats the Lukashenka regime’s efforts to keep its police anonymous and invites defections from their ranks and attacks on them by Belarusian activists ( and

            The telegram channel has published smaller lists in the past, but it promises it will disseminate even more if the authorities engage in more repressive actions against anti-Lukashenka demonstrators and by implication if the powers that be try to shutter NEXTA’s operations. 

            Minsk has been unsuccessful in blocking NEXTA even when it had the assistance of the Russian government. The two did manage to force it off of Facebook, but its Poland-based father-and-son team continue to operate on a telegram channel. With this action, NEXTA has raised the stakes for both the Lukashenka regime and itself. 

            Without a channel like NEXTA, the anti-Lukashenka Belarusians would find it far more difficult to continue to assemble for protests given that the movement has not led to the rise of leaders with networks of subordinates who can bring people into the streets. Instead, people in the Coordinating Committee have been issuing statements to NEXTA and other channels.


Russians No Longer Support Putin’s Destruction of Sanctioned Products, Public Opinion Foundation Poll Finds

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 20 – When Vladimir Putin ordered the destruction of sanctioned products five years ago in the name of promoting import substitution, a majority of Russians supported that policy; but today, in the face of mounting economic problems. 55 percent do not, according to a new Public Opinion Foundation poll.

            Fewer than a third – just 30 percent – support destroying such products, while 37 percent say they should be distributed to the needy. Only nine percent suggest that these products should be put on sale for anyone who can afford them (

            One explanation for this shift is that Russians are paying less attention to the policy of destroying contraband imports than they were. In 2015, 53 percent knew about the program; now, 41 percent say they know nothing about it, compared to only 15 percent who gave that answer five years ago.

            But Putin’s program has been massive: Over the last five years, Russian officials destroyed some 36,000 tons of banned imports; and during the first seven months of this year ago, they burned or buried 1,890 tons of this contraband, Nezavisimaya gazeta continues.

            Many Russians both then and now view foreign products as being of higher quality than domestically produced ones and have doubts as to whether the pursuit of import substitution, something Putin has made a centerpiece of his policies, is necessary or even possible. Most – 81 percent now – say they don’t make purchases on the basis of the national origin of products.

Study of Central Asian Languages by Tsarist Military Laid Foundations for Their Development. Sumarokova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 20 – Soviet linguistic engineering in Central Asia in the 1920s when the four Turkic languages were separated and the one Persian one developed did not as is sometimes assumed happen from a blank slate. Instead, study of these languages by tsarist officers lay the foundation for their growth, Olga Sumarokova says.

            In Soviet times, this role was ignored almost entirely, with only a passing reference to the role of Tatars, Bashkirs, and Crimean Tatars as translators for Russian colonial administrations. But in fact, both in St. Petersburg and Tashkent, the tsarist military was simultaneously training officers in these languages and preparing grammars for them.

            The Rhythm of Eurasia journalist suggests that the role of Muslim translators not only has been overrated but has been whitewashed. According to some Central Asians, they played a negative role in the life of the national languages of the region (

            Much more important and positive for the development of those languages was the opening in 1883 of a subdivision of the Asian Department of the tsarist ministry of foreign affairs to train officers and diplomats in these languages. There was enormous demand for such training. In the first year, Sumarokova says, 50 officers competed for the five slots.

            Those who were accepted were expected to master Islamic law and five languages, Arabic, Turkish, Persian, French and Tatar.

            Fourteen years later, the tsarist authorities established a second center for the study of these languages, the Tashkent Officers School for Eastern Languages, which taught both foreign languages like Persian and Chinese and the various Turkic tongues spoken by the sedentary populations in Central Asia.

            Tsarist officials understood the importance of gaining access to information in these languages given intensifying geopolitical competition over the region; but until the start of the 20th century, Fyodor Kerensky, the head of the Provisional Government in 1917, said, too little was done to promote Central Asian dialects as literary languages.

            Sumarokova’s article is important less because of the information it provides on these institutions than on its suggestion that the Tatars, Bashkirs and Crimean Tatars did not play the entirely positive role in Central Asia many of them still claim and that the tsarist military played a far greater and more positive one than many in Moscow have been willing to acknowledge. 


Elderly Russian Woman Cares for Graves of Harbin Russians who Died After Returning to USSR

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 20 – Thanks to the acclaimed 1999 film, East-West, starring Catherine Deneuve, many know about the brutal treatment the Soviet regime meted out against Russian emigres who returned from the West after World War II; but far fewer know about the much larger and more murderous campaign Moscow conducted against “the Harbin Russians.”

            More than 21,000 of them were shot when they returned in 1937-1938, another 10,000 were sent to the camps, and even more suffered from the stigma of having lived abroad and somehow remaining suspect their entire lives of being “Japanese police spies,” Yuliya Kulikova of the SeverReal portal says (

            She provides a glimpse into this Stalinist crime via an interview with Margarita Shkarlat, 74, whose grandparents worked in Harbin from late imperial times. Her grandfather died in 1931, but her grandmother, many relatives, and other Russians returned to the USSR from that Chinese city after the Japanese invasion and occupation.

            The Russians returned because the Soviet government appeared to want them: it set up special “simplified procedures” to allow them to acquire Soviet citizenship. But on their return, tens of thousands were killed, sent to the GULAG or exiled to some of the most distant parts of the Soviet Union, including the Komi Republic where Shkarlat still lives.

            Three of the five children of her grandparents were shot, others were sent to the GULAG, and those who survived that were not allowed to declare the real cause of their parents’ deaths until perestroika times. In the Komi city of Ukhta, almost 80 percent of all the graves are those of the repressed, including many from Harbin.

            Until the early 1990s, the cemetery was maintained; but in 1994, its caretaker died. Vandals stole many of the gravestones, making a mockery of signs still up that say the cemetery is “protected by the government.”  Shkarlat says she decided to try to restore at least the graves of the Harbin Russians buried there both those shot and those who survived until later.

            Unfortunately, three years ago, in order to build a supermarket, excavators tore up part of the graves. The skeletal remains were gathered up, but they no longer had any markers to indicate who they were. The Russian woman is convinced that many are people from Harbin and she is trying to save at least the memory of them.

            “Several years ago,” the SeverReal journalist recounts, the activist signed up for computer classes in the hopes that she could put what she has gathered online. But so far, she hasn’t been able to; and she hasn’t had any assistance from the local authorities or the Russian Orthodox Church.

            As a result, yet another part of the history of 20th century Russia is passing into oblivion, that of the once vibrant Harbin Russian community whose members suffered so much when they though they could count on the protection of Moscow.

Coronavirus Coefficient of Infection in Russia Jumps to 1.08

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 20 – While Russian officials continue to downplay the recent upsurge in new coronavirus cases and to argue that the country does not face a second wave of the pandemic, one figure released today undercuts their arguments and suggests that there are bad times ahead, at least in the immediate fugure.

            That statistic is the coefficient of infection, the number of others each infected individual is likely to infect.  As long as it is below 1.0, the infection will ebb; when it rises much above that number, the infection will spread. Moscow had pushed it down below the former figure, but it now stands at 1.08 for the country as a whole (

            Not only is it now above one in the megalopolises like Moscow and St. Petersburg, but it is as high as 1.22 in Voronezh Oblast. The latter figure points to the existence of a pandemic that is still not under control and where the number of new infections and new deaths will be rising in the coming days and weeks.

            Medical experts are suggesting that this new rise reflects how tired Russians have become with the restrictions. Many are letting down their guard, and the results are what everyone can now see (, a situation in which officials say there is no pandemic but hospitals are full (

            Vladimir Putiin unwittingly fed these concerns by suggesting that the military could in short order build enough new hospitals to handle any increase, an implicit suggestion that the pandemic is now producing more victims than his “optimized” health care system can cope with (

            Today, the Russian government reported that it had registered 6148 new cases, the highest figure since July 18. It also reported 79 additional deaths, boosting that toll to 19,418 (

            Russian medical officials continue to react negatively to criticism of their vaccine and say that no authoritative figure disagrees with what Moscow is doing, pushing ahead with mass vaccinations even though the third phase of testing for effectiveness and safety hasn’t been completed (

            At the same time, Russian doctors freely admit that they have no better idea than their counterparts elsewhere how to treat and cure those who become infected. No existing medical regimen appears certain to prevent lethal outcomes, they say (

            With regard to the economy, there was good news as well as bad. The good news is that the pandemic-induced decline in demand for oil and gas may force Russia to develop the rest of the economy (

            But the bad news, according to the Moscow Institute for the Development of a Legal Society, is that by the end of the year, the amount of money employees will be getting in ways that will avoid the tax system is likely to rise by 30 percent as employers seek to avoid taxation (

            Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related news from Russia today,

·         Restaurant operators say the pandemic has not changed their customers’ habits: the latter still prefer to dine out rather than get take-out (

·         The continuing uncertainty of the pandemic has left Russians in a pre-depressive state, according to psychologists. If things continue as they are, many will fall into serious depression (news/news/1052450478).