Thursday, October 29, 2020

Russia’s GDP Per Capita Will Fall to Turkmenistan’s Level by 2025, IMF Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 28 – By 2025, the GDP per capita of the population of the Russian Federation will fall another two places among the countries of the world to 70th place into a virtual tie with that of the residents of Turkmenistan, with 12,970 US dollars each compared to 12,850, according to projections by the International Monetary Fund.

            At present, the IMF says, the Russian figure is 20 percent larger than that of Turkmenistan, even though it has fallen 1600 US dollars from a year earlier. But it is projected to continue to fall, even as Turkmenistan’s figure rises over the next five years, the Fund study reports (ehorussia.com/new/node/22011).

            China already exceeds the Russian number but by 2025, its lead will have dramatically widened to 3,258 dollars per capita more. In these and many other cases, the IMF continues, Russia will continue to fall more and then recover far more slowly than these other economies, a pattern that will leave if ever further behind even when it says it is recovering.

            The post-Covid growth of the Russian economy over the next five years will be only half as much as that of the world average of 5.2 percent and more than half of that among developing countries which are projected to have an average rate of growth of 6.0 percent. Among major economies, only Japan is likely to have a lower rate of growth (2.3 percent) than Russia.

Russian Doctors Banned from Talking to Media about Pandemic without Clearance from Their Bosses

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 28 – Vladimir Putin’s government has not gotten the pandemic under control, but it is doing what government’s often do in such situation: it is trying to control the information people get about what is happening. The health ministry has banned  doctors from talking to the media about the pandemic without prior approval from their bosses.

            This measure (snob.ru/news/rossijskij-minzdrav-zapretil-vracham-publichno-vyskazyvatsya-o-koronaviruse-bez-soglasovaniya-s-vedomstvom/) has sparked anger and concern. The Agora human rights group says it will help doctors defend themselves if they run afoul of this order (znak.com/2020-10-28/agora_predlozhila_medrabotnikam_pomoch_v_svyazi_s_zapretom_minzdrava_govorit_o_covid_19).

            One reason many are concerned about this is that his staff is not forwarding to him the information they have about the pandemic and so he is often behind the curve – he doesn’t want there to be any talk about a second wave, for example (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=88397), and without media reports, that situation may get worse (echo.msk.ru/blog/partofair/2732472-echo/).

            The statistics keep rolling in: The government said it had registered 16,202 new cases of infection and 346 deaths from the coronavirus, a new daily record, which brings that total to 26,935 (t.me/COVID2019_official/1856). In some places, the pandemic became much worse while in others, it eased (regnum.ru/news/society/3096640.html).

            Increasingly, officials and media outlets are talking about escaping the current wave not in days or weeks but only next spring (regnum.ru/news/3100937.html). In Moscow, most existing restrictions were extended but the government reported that it would not introduce any new ones (egnum.ru/news/3101568.html, regnum.ru/news/3101590.html, regnum.ru/news/3101600.html, regnum.ru/news/3101606.html and regnum.ru/news/3101615.html).

            Moscow officials also reported that the number of Russians violating these provisions is high and rising,  with 79 percent of theaters, movie houses, and shopping centers recording violations in the last few days (regnum.ru/news/3101713.html).

            Beyond the ring road, the situation is dire in many places with hospitals overwhelmed, running short of medication and having to ask people on the street to help nurses and doctors care for those with the coronavirus (novayagazeta.ru/news/2020/10/28/165253-golikova-zayavila-o-kritichnoy-zapolnennosti-koechnogo-fonda-v-16-rossiyskih-regionah, mk.ru/social/2020/10/28/regiony-zadykhayutsya-ot-uzhasov-pandemii-massovoe-vygoranie-i-ukhod-vrachey.html, regnum.ru/news/3100965.html and newtimes.ru/articles/detail/198258?fcc).

            Regions are also suffering economically. Putin has agreed to extend them 10 billion rubles (1.4 billion US dollars) in assistance to help them cope with the pandemic, but he has been unwilling to give more money to their businesses. As a result, many regions face a serious debt crisis (themoscowtimes.com/2020/10/28/russian-regions-face-looming-debt-crisis-a71887 and regnum.ru/news/3101497.html).

            Today, the government introduced its obligatory mask requirement but continued to insist that the vaccine will solve the problem, with various officials adding that it will provide free medications to those who become infected (regnum.ru/news/3101290.html and ura.news/news/1052456266).

            Reports that some Russians who had received the Sputnik-5 vaccine nonetheless came down with the coronavirus infection (rbc.ru/society/28/10/2020/5f9944249a7947bf9965dd34), prompting some commentators to say this is fake news put about by the West to undercut interest in the Russian vaccine (politobzor.net/223939-zapad-gotovit-kapkan-dlya-kremlya-protiv-russkoy-vakciny.html).

            There was a slew of bad economic news: Foreign tourism in Russia is projected to fall by 80 percent this year compared to last (regnum.ru/news/3101732.html). The pandemic has eliminated the possibility that unemployment in Moscow will be seriously reduced (regnum.ru/news/3101283.html).

            Economists say many sectors of the economy need more assistance from the government, but the Kremlin says there is no reason to extend it (regnum.ru/news/3101633.html, newizv.ru/news/economy/28-10-2020/kazhdoy-pyatoy-rossiyskoy-kompanii-nechem-platit-nalogi, regnum.ru/news/3101323.html and ura.news/articles/1036281350).

            And to top this office, Vasily Solodkov, head of the Banking Institute at the Higher School of Economics, says that it may take Russia “not years but decades” to recover economically from the impact of pandemic (regnum.ru/news/3101429.html).

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

·         Government investigators have launched an investigation into a case in Omsk where ambulance drivers unable to find hospitals to take new coronavirus victims dropped them off in front of the oblast health ministry (regnum.ru/news/3101013.html).

·         As a joke, Russian cheesemakers have released a new variety, COVID-19 cheese. It has no taste or flavor (newizv.ru/news/society/28-10-2020/shutka-dnya-v-rossii-poyavilsya-v-prodazhe-syr-covid-19-bez-vkusa-i-zapaha).

·         COVID dissidence is expanding rapidly in Russia in parallel with each new restriction (mk.ru/social/2020/10/28/rossiyane-prinyalis-oskorblyat-umershego-ot-koronavirusa-blogera.html).

·         Despite widespread predictions that the pandemic will ease in the spring, some epidemiologists are saying in fact there may be a third wave and things will get even worse (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/tretja-volna/).

·         And a new study finds that the pandemic has strained the Russian court system to the breaking point, undercutting normal rules and opening the way for abuses against the rights of defendants (ridl.io/ru/rossijskie-sudy-obshhej-jurisdikcii-opyt-pandemii/).

Environmental Disasters Increasingly Frequent and Increasingly Dangerous for Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 27 – Being for clean water and clean air is something many analysts refer to as “a motherhood issue,” that is, as something it is hard for anyone to oppose at least openly. That means that protests against pollution more easily find public support and even the backing of officials.

            According to an investigation by Novyye izvestiya, only a few years ago, most Russians ignored this issue and considered pollution and the handling of trash as the price they would have to pay for economic development. They were especially given to such attitudes because concern about such things are local in character (newizv.ru/article/tilda/15-10-2020/glavnye).

            But today, as a result of an increasing number of environmental disasters and greater coverage of them and local protests against them, ever more Russians don’t know what they should fear most: “metallurgical enterprises, oil fields, new gigantic trash dumps, the import of radioactive wastes from Europe, of even the consequences of the actions of the military.”

            They are beginning to connect the dots, recognizing that what hey had defined as local has an all-national or even international dimension, and officials first at the local level and increasingly at the federal one are calling for the adoption of all-Russia policies rather than agreeing to deal with each incident on a case-by-case basis.

            Novyye izvestiya for its part warns that “ecology is a powerful factor the present-day protest activity of the population” and cites the words of Moscow scholar Ekaterina Schulmann that environmental protests have been growing in number and interconnectedness over the last several years. 

            Because the number of likely flashpoints is likely to grow in the coming months and years, the paper says, protests are likely to break out in places that have had only a few on other issues in the past, including Chelyabinsk, Norilsk, the Kuzbass, and the Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenets autonomous districts and the Komi Republic.

            Indeed, some are even talking about the possible formation of a green party in Russia, although the barriers to those steps are high and unlikely to be lowered as long as Putin is in power  (ura.news/articles/1036279372 or having regions declare “ecological sovereignty.” But perhaps the most significant development may be the attitudes of officials and politicians.

            While they might like to ignore this issue given their relationships with business and the state, they find it difficult to avoid making comments when the situation becomes dire. That is what has happened in the wake of the Norilsk oil spill (thebarentsobserver.com/en/arctic-mining/2020/10/norilsk-nickel-cynical-corrupt-and-socially-irresponsible-says-russias-top and versia.ru/senator-inna-svyatenko-prinyala-uchastie-v-yekologicheskoj-akcii-vmeste-s-volonterami-mnpz).

            That has two consequences with potentially long-range consequences. On the one hand, it keeps other officials from intervening against the protesters as early and harshly as they might otherwise do given that any crackdown will be unpopular not only in the regions but in the halls of power in Moscow. Such “restraint” gives the movements time to develop.

            And on the other, such official interventions against environmental pollution represent a split in the top elite, one that could open the way for others. What Moscow does not yet seem cognizant of is that environmental protests at the end of Soviet times often grew into something larger, in part because officials were unwilling to be seen as being against clean water and clean air.

            Indeed, the Russian government recently announced a program that will only feed into these two developments. Prime Minister Mikhail MIshustin wants to expand “ecological tourism within Russia.” Such a development will only broaden support for environmental protests (stoletie.ru/lenta/mishustin_vystupil_za_razvitije_ekologicheskogo_turizma_v_rossii_909.htm).

Moscow Treating North Caucasus Republics like Colonies, Khatazhukov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 27 – Many Russians and others as well blame conditions in the North

Caucasus republics on the nations there, blaming them for the authoritarianism of their regimes. But that is not the cause of the situation. These republics began to build serious civil societies in the 1990s, but then Moscow crushed them, Valery Khatazhukov says.

            The Circassian head of the Kabardino-Balkar Human Rights Protection Center says that the reason for this change was not the second post-Soviet Chechen war but rather the Kremlin’s decision to treat Chechnya and the other republics as colonies and test repressive measures there before using them elsewhere (caucasustimes.com/ru/valerij-hatazhukov-kreml-vystraivaet-svoi-otnoshenija-s-severnym-kavkazom-kak-metropolija-s-kolonijami/).

            Indeed, in his view, the second Chechen war was the product of a broader plan by Vladimir Putin to reduce the status of the North Caucasus republics to colonies run by Moscow appointees rather than a self-standing issue. But as a result, all the progress that was made toward democracy, division of powers, and honest elections was reversed, something often forgotten.

            If Putin had not made that shift when he did, the republics of the North Caucasus could have been leaders in the Russian Federation in the march toward democratic legitimacy. But instead, they are now testing grounds for the repressive policies Moscow wants to consider the effectiveness of before extending them to the rest of the country.

            People in the North Caucasus, the Circassian activist says, continue to seek democracy and freedom but they are up against a situation in which Moscow takes their money and sends back its representatives to run them like satrapies and engages in increasingly hyperbolic attacks on those who openly try to achieve progress.

            Khatazhukov does not say but his words surely suggest that those who insist the North Caucasus can only be run this way are engaged in self-serving racist nonsense and that if Moscow would go back to the policies it had before Putin, there would be a serious chance for real democracy in the region. 

The USSR Died Because Soviet Citizens Ceased to Believe Its Message, Mirovich Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 27 – Debates about the causes of the collapse of the USSR and its disintegration continue unabated. Maksim Mirovich, a contrarian blogger, argues that the real reason is that for a variety of reasons, the explanation for what happened in 1991 is relatively simply: the Soviet Union was an ideocratic state, and its population simply ceased to believe.

            In a new post, he makes four points: First, Soviet ideology itself, something that had taken on the form of a civil religion, no longer was credible for the increasingly educated and urbanized population of the USSR. They dismissed it and simply ceased to believe (newizv.ru/article/general/26-10-2020/prosto-perestali-verit-v-chem-nastoyaschaya-prichina-kraha-sssr).

            Second, Soviet citizens for the first time ever were able to draw comparisons between their own lives and those of people in the West. Moscow’s insistence that they were better off than anyone else was shown to be a myth as people read more or came into contact with the West with the spread of information about it on television and in the streets.

            Third, Mirovich says, the regime itself committed suicide by changing its message from specifically Soviet to one based on “all human values.” If the USSR was not special but rather a country like any other, there was no reason for its residents to support a regime that was keeping them in poverty.

            And fourth, at the end of Soviet times, “a boom” in the spread of information replaced the deficit which Soviet citizens had experienced from the 1920s to the 1950s. People knew more about what was happening elsewhere but also more about what was happening in their own country. That gave them a chance to independently evaluate the situation.

            For these four reasons, which constitute “the arrival of an information society,” the Soviet Union could not survive. By the end, no one believed in it anymore, and as the events of 1991 showed, only a microscopic handful of people were prepared to try to defend what had become indefensible. 

Borders and Enclaves Set Up in Soviet Times Behind Many Conflicts Today, Baliyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 27 – The borders the Soviet government established between republics and the ethnic enclaves it set up within them are “among the chief causes of constant inter-ethnic and inter-state conflicts in the region,” according to Aleksey Baliyev, who writes frequently on security issues for Russian nationalist portals.

            He begins by observing that “almost a third of the European portion of the RSFSR in the 1920s was ‘divided up’ among Ukraine … Belarus and Georgia” and that “no less than a third of the total territory of Western Siberia and the Southern Urals was given to Kazakhstan (specifically the cities of Orenburg, Omsk, Iletsk, Uralsk and Guryev).”

            “Only at the end of the 1920s and in the 1930s was the system able to return to the RSFSR about half of that which it had earlier transferred to other union republics,” Baliyev continues, reading the history of territorial arrangements then as Putin does (stoletie.ru/politika/konfliktnyje_granicy_719.htm).

            (For details on why some Russians have this view and a discussion of some of their assumptions, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/07/stalin-frequently-modified-russias.html  and especially the current author’s “Can Republic Borders be Changed?” RFE/RL Report on the USSR, September 28, 1990.)

            Baliyev points out that this was far from the only ethno-territorial delimitation that the Soviet government engaged in and that its creation of ethnic enclaves and exclaves within union and autonomous republics and even autonomous oblasts, which was intended to ensure “inter-ethnic proportionality” and leave Moscow “the only arbiter” of ethnic disputes.

            That system worked when Moscow was strong but laid the foundations for problems as soon as the central government was weak or distracted. Until the death of Stalin in 1953, these enclaves and exclaves meant little because Moscow, not the union republics whose titular nationality was represented in them, decided how they would function.

            But as the Soviet government weakened after Stalin, republics and the nations they represented began to make demands about relations between the union republics and these exclaves and enclaves. Baliyev cites a 1971 study by the Munich Institute for the Study of the USSR and Eastern Europe on this point.

            That study suggested that the problems such enclaves and exclaves inevitably created when the union republics got involved were kept under control “only by threats and repressions from the side of Moscow.” When those threats and repressions disappeared, open conflict became inevitable.

            There were “about 50” such exclaves and enclaves in existence at the end of Soviet times. More than 30 of them were in Central Asia where they continue to spark conflicts between the countries of the region. There is also a Moldovan exclave in the northwestern part of Odessa Oblast in Ukraine but it has so far led to far fewer problems.

              According to Baliyev, “the very same causes lie at the foundation of today’s conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan: in the Armenian-Azerbaijan border region were established four exclaves of Azerbaijan and in the Azerbaijan-Armenian one three of Armenia.” But both were demolished in 1990-1991 by the two republics “without any mutual agreement.”

            The situation within Nagorno-Karabakh was truly complex in this regard, he argues. In the 1920s and 1930s, five small Azerbaijani enclaves were established and put under Baku’s administration “even without having the status of a national district within the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast!”

            Four of the five were situated near the borders between the Azerbaijani and Armenian SSRs,” which set the stage for “territorial conflicts between Baku and Yerevan. But in the 1990s, all of them were liquidated by Stepanakert without any agreement with Baku. Such actions in the absence of outside rule by Moscow explain why both sides fear not having control.

            If Armenian control of Karabakh (Artsakh) continues, Azerbaijanis have little reason to expect that their rights will be respected, Baliyev suggests; but if Azerbaijan restores its sovereign control of the region, the very same fears animate the Armenians there, one more reason why this conflict has proven so intractable.

            Soviet borders and the creation of enclaves and exclaves represented a compromise with reality, an attempt to ensure that Moscow would be able to manage tensions between various ethnic groups. It was based on the assumption that Moscow would always play that role. Now that it can’t or won’t, the system was certain to give rise to explosions as now. 

Siloviki Want to Counter Spread of ‘Google Jamaats’ in Russia by Engaging in Provocations, Zhuravlyov and Silantyev Say

 Siloviki Want to Counter Spread of ‘Google Jamaats’ in Russia by Engaging in Provocations, Zhuravlyov and Silantyev Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 27 – Islamic radicalism has acquired a new face in the Urals, Rostislav Zhuravlyov says. In the past, it was based on oil and gas workers from the Caucasus who in the 1990s formed criminal groups and used Islam as a cover for their activities. Now, however, what he calls “Google Jamaats” have become predominant.

            The Octagon Media commentator says that the Russian authorities have suppressed the former with new laws and actions but they have not found a way to cut off young people from the Caucasus and Central Asia from turning to the Internet and being radicalized by what they find there (telegra.ph/Anatomiya-uralskogo-vahhabizma-10-27-2).

            He cites Roman Silantyev, a prominent but notorious specialist on Islam, notorious because of his close links with the Russian Orthodox Church, as saying that what is happening in the Urals is now surprise because it is happening elsewhere. Indeed, Silantyev says, he doubts there are any regions of Russia where “Google jamaats” are not forming.

            In the Urals region, however, this is especially obvious because of the ethnic divisions there between indigenous Russians and immigrant workers from the Caucasus and Central Asia. That gives these virtual communities a base and cohesion they may not have in other parts of the country.

            The security agencies, Zhuravlyov and Silantyev say, have so far been able to prevent planned terrorist actions against the oil and gas sector. But they have not been successful in preventing Internet sites from serving as a major recruiting device that is attracting ever more young Muslim oil and gas field workers.

            But Google jamaats are also attracting to their ranks ethnic Russians who feel that their lives have somehow been harmed or left incomplete as a result of problems at home or problems in the workplace. The jamaats play on that, but being Internet based, the closure of mosques during the pandemic has had little effect.

            According to Silantyev, Russian siloviki are pushing to be allowed to stage “provocations,” using penetrating agents to call for action on the basis of words and then move against the potential perpetrators before they can act. So far, Moscow has not agreed; but as the situation deteriorates, Silantyev continues, that may change.

            The Russian security forces are pointing to the successes the FBI has had in the United States where government agents routinely join extremist groups to monitor them and thus be in a position to prevent illegal actions. Clearly, Russian siloviki want the same opportunities, but they want to go even further in promoting the organization of violence in order to block it.

            If Moscow agrees, either by changing the law or changing what is permissible in other ways, the likelihood is that the number of people arrested for actions they did not yet take is likely to rise and anger about this may drive the radicals even deeper into the underground to avoid that threat.