Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Russian Liberals Back Khabarovsk Protesters But Only Up to a Point

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 14 – The Forum of Free Russia, a group that unites Russian liberals inside the current borders of the Russian Federation and abroad, has issued a statement, “We are with You!” as yet another group like journalists in the capital which is a victim or repression and the solution to whose problems are the same (

            Such declarations by the Forum are welcome. All too often, the group has overlooked problems beyond the ring road and taken a hands’ off approach to regionalist and national movements (

            In its latest statement, the Forum does the same thing, treating what goes on in most of Russia as identical in nature to what goes on in Moscow, with their problems arising from the same source and their solutions the same as well. While there are many commonalities, the issues truly are different. But that is not the Forum’s view.

            “We express a sharp protest against the intensifying repressions in Russia,” it declares. “Despite their selective and targeted character, we understand that in the course of the degradation of the Putin regime, repressions may acquire a truly massive and harsh character, [and] we must now attract the world’s attention to what is taking place in Russia.”

            “Everyone carrying out these repressions will be included in ‘the Putin list’ ( …  An in a future free Russia, besides the inevitable lustration, they will face trial. All the authors of repressive draconian laws, heads of force structures, the most odious regime propagandists, and of course, the leaders of the Presidential Administration which coordinates the actions of this mafia conglomerate will face a special Tribunal, which will assess their actions  and assign them just punishment …

“We also express our support to all persecuted civic activists and journalists and also the residents of Khabarovsk who are making use of their right to protest,” the Forum of Free Russia says in conclusion, not surprisingly listing the massive Khabarovsk protests last and on exactly the same level as the others.

In this declaration as in so many others, the Forum fails to recognize that the thinking of people beyond the ring road has gone far beyond theirs. People in Khabarovsk do not assume that changing the cast of characters in Moscow will solve their problems. Instead, they recognize that what is needed is truly systemic change.

It would be wonderful if a future government brought the criminals now in power in Moscow to trial, but it would be tragic if that government assumed that relations between the center and the periphery did not require wholesale revision, including the possibility of exit of some regions.

Many in Khabarovsk and other regions and republics very much doubt as Lech Walesa once put it that Russia can be a democracy in its current borders, and they would prefer democracy rather than maintenance of the current lines on the map (

And the failure of Russian liberals to recognize that possibility both feeds on and has a powerful influence over many in the West who once again as in the 1980s cannot accept that democracy and freedom will require another round of the deconstruction of the Muscovite empire (

As Russian commentator Igor Yakovenko and others have pointed out, people in the streets of Khabarovsk are glad to have support from the liberals but they would like everyone to understand that they don’t see a change in personnel in Moscow as enough: they need real federalism and in its absence a chance for freedom (

“Today in the Far East,” Yakovenko concedes, “there is no political force which could transform the powerful anti-Moscow protest into a struggle for the state sovereignty of this territory.”  But when the economic crisis deepens, the political crisis will also deepen and in the first instance in places far from the capital.

When that happens, “the appearance of a local movement for separation from Moscow will become practically inevitable,” he continues, noting that Putin’s policies have pushed many parts of the country in that direction but are likely to have their first fruits not in one or another non-Russian republic but in the predominantly Russian-speaking Far East.

Banning of Ingush Committee of National Unity Sets Stage for Show Trial of Protest Leaders

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 14 – At the request of the authorities, a justice of the Supreme Court of Ingushetia has banned the Ingush Committee of National Unity for failing to comply with regulations governing public organizations. But lawyers for the group say the justice is wrong: temporary groups like the ICNU don’t have to follow those rules (

            The ICNU was set up in November 2018 to guide the protest movement in Ingushetia in the wake of republic head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov’s deal giving Chechnya ten percent of the smallest federal subject (other than Moscow and St. Petersburg) to Chechnya and thus doesn’t fall under the law on NGOs. Indeed, that law explicitly exempts groups like the ICNU.

            Izabella Yevloyeva, the founding editor of the Fortanga portal and a member of ICNU, explains the situation ( She writes:

            “ICNU was a temporary union. Representative of civil society joined it, unified by a desire to defend the territorial integrity of Ingushetia … Initially, this was an organizing committee of meetings [against the Yevkurov giveaway] which then took the form of the ICNU.

            “It was not registered and the law permits this. There were no legal or any other forms … All the statements of its members, part of whom are under arrest, were directed exclusively toward observing the laws of the Russian Federation. But our judicial system is unique. It can charge anyone for anything. What is surprising is that ICNU was not identified as extremism as the Bashkort group was.

            “Banning ICNU is pressure on the civil society of Ingushetia. Banning, suppressing or pushing about all who one way or another are connected with the Ingush protest is task number one. The powers that be cannot forgive and do not forgive us for our open and public statements against their decisions.

            “In the same way, the Union of Teips was banned. In the same way are being banned other organizations throughout Russia and some of them are now on the list of foreign agents and some are called extremism. In the same way, throughout all of Russia, the powers are going after those who demonstrate, planting drugs on journalists and fabricating cases.

            “The methods for this are common throughout Russia, but the regions and people involved vary. Members of ICNU also understood that they were falling into the all-Russian meatgrinder of pressure on civil society.

            “What will be the ICNU’s future?

            “As the ICNU, it has ceased to exist, but it could become the Ingush Committee of POPULAR Unity. What matters is not its name but its actions. Some members will leave, some will be imprisoned, and some of us are now in exile beyond the borders of Russia.  But one way or another, people will not cease to be agitated by the problem which led to the creation of ICNU and this means it will live.

            “For members of the ICNU, as for the Council of Teips, the decision about the ban does not play any role. The ICNU although perhaps under other names will continue its activity. And the ban is simply the latest act of intimidation by the system.”

            What Yevloyeva does not say but what makes the situation worse is that most of the leaders of the ICNU are in detention and this ban will make it even easier for the powers that be to stage the show trial they seem bent on arranging in an attempt to discredit the Ingush national cause. The Fortanga editor’s words show why there may be a trial but that it won’t have that effect.
            Meanwhile, a court in Grozny, the capital of the Chechen Republic, declared a book by Ingush writer Idris Abadiyev extremist because he has always spoken for the Ingush cause and thus has opposed the actions of Ramzan Kadyrov (

Kremlin Mulls Creation of New Soft Power Agency

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 13 -- Stung by a survey that shows Russia ranking 30th out of 30 countries with soft-power programs, the Kremlin is considering reforming its existing organizations charged with the projection of soft power and possibly creating a new one alongside or in place of Rossotrudnichestvo, the RBC news agency says. 

            That organization, the Federal Agency for the Affairs of the CIS, Compatriots Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation, has too many different responsibilities and, in the view of Kremlin sources speaking on condition of anonymity, hasn’t been successful (

            Among those involved in these discussions are Dmitry Kozak, the deputy head of the Presidential Administration, Yevgeny Primakov, the new head of Rossotrudnichestvo, and representatives of various ministries.  The news agency noted that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the new constitutional amendments adds new tasks to this effort.

            But almost certainly what has prompted these discussions was the finding by the Portland International Consulting Agency that Russia has slipped from 26th place in national soft power efforts in 2016 to 30th out of 30 countries last year, the RBC news agency says in its report about these developments.

No final decisions have been made, but the news agency sources suggest that there will be at least two changes: the agency will be directly subordinate to Vladimir Putin, thus signaling its importance, and will be a state corporation, an arrangement that will allow it to attract money from various enterprises.  

It is possible that the new head of Rossotrudnichestvo is behind these moves. Primakov is known to be skeptical about traditional forms of advancing Russia’s interests in this area abroad, by exhibits and conferences. Others have criticized the agency for its shortcomings relative to American, German, British and French efforts.