Monday, July 4, 2022

Russians in Small Towns Far from Moscow Live in Another World, Visitor from the Capital Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 14 – Russians who live in major cities and those who live in villages receive a great deal of attention. Together, they form the overwhelming majority of the population. But those who live in smaller cities and towns seldom get much attention, Sergey Nechayev says.

            But if one visits one of them as he, a Moscow journalist recently did, one discovers that Russians living in them live in another world, one that he says is not seen as bad by its residents but rather as something resembling the communism they were promised in Soviet times (

            Nechayev recently visited one such Russian town of 7,000 just east of Bashkortostan and north of Kazakhstan. He doesn’t give its name but relates that it was once twice as large because of the Soviet-era electric generating plant nearby. Now, it is getting smaller as older people die off and younger people move away to find work.

            But those who remain do not feel they are suffering, Nechayev says. Local residents have practically no money and have to make do in a whole variety of ways. There is no longer any hospital or advanced educational institution, and many recreational facilities residents of larger cities take for granted aren’t available.

            Half of the apartments in the city are empty, and they are being offered for sale at roughly the same price as a single square meter of housing in Moscow is going for. Trash blows through the streets, and street lights and fountains no longer work. But despite all this, the Moscow journalist says, “not everything is so bad.”

            “When you come to the town from Moscow, everything for the first few days is appalling,” he says. “And you want to cry out: people, why are you this way? And why are you living so badly.” But then with the passage of time, a visitor recognizes that his initial reaction is wrong.

            Trash, for example, blows through the streets not because people are slovenly but because there are high winds off the steppe; but more important than that, Nechayev says, is this: people in this little town are different. They are like those from another planet. They have different priorities and different ideas about what is good and what is bad.”

            They live quietly and don’t run about. “They do not read newspapers or listen to news about what is going on in the country, they don’t know about fires in Siberia or the details about the military operation in Ukraine, and they watch television only to see old films” and talent shows.

            Their lives are centered on their homes, and they gather together to sing. But they sing the old songs and don’t know any of the ones Muscovites now are listening to. Everyone knows everyone else, and anyone who requiring help needs only to ask. There are no taxis but people in the town can always find someone to drive them to a doctor 55 kilometers away of an airport 103 kilometers distant.

            The townspeople have no interest in politics, they don’t get depressed, and they don’t engage in protest activities. “And why should they protest? They are satisfied with everything … There is no money, but then they don’t have anything to spend it on.” And they take pleasure in clean air, a bright blue sky, and clean water.

            Someone might object that they are satisfied because they do not have anything to compare it with, much as was the case for most during Soviet times. A Zhiguli seemed a great car for those who had never driven a Mercedes or Toyota. And they had good schools and hospitals and could be proud of their country’s space exploits.

            In this little town, Nechayev says, he “suddenly felt that this is how the communism we were promised would look, with happiness being achieved” because people were satisfied with what they had and did not assume they had to strive after more. In Russian cities now, people are unhappy precisely because they always want more. But in small towns, that isn’t the case.

            While visiting the town, the Moscow journalist says, he underwent a change: he stopped watching television and he didn’t even read a French book he had brought with him. And he began to ask himself whether he should throw over everything he has in Moscow and “emigrate to the little town forever.”

Projected Return of Ill-Fated Russian Aircraft Carrier Slips from 2023 to 2024

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 14 – Today, Russian shipyards announced that Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the ill-fated Admiral Kuznetsov will return to service not at the end of 2023 as government media have suggested but rather in early 2024 because it has now turned out that not one but all four of its turbine engines must be repaired or replaced (

            Given the problems the carrier has had in the past, including the collapse of a crane on its deck, the sinking of a drydock in which it was to be fixed, and its massive contamination of the environment, problems that have led many to suggest it should not be fixed but scrapped or turned into a casino, the new date is anything but firm.

            On the Kuzetsov’s past problems, see, and

            On debates about whether the ship should be repaired or scrapped or indeed whether Russia should build an aircraft carrier at all, see, and

Siberia Most Likely Cradle of New Russian Federalism, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 14 – Russia will not become a federation even if liberal groups take power in Moscow because even if the liberals do so, Vadim Shtepa says, they will “under Russian conditions … inevitably evolve in the direction of autocracy.” That means that federalism must come out of the regions, and the most likely region for that to happen is Siberia.

            “The restoration or more precisely the establishment of federalism as a system based on equal and treaty relations among regions is hardly going to take place at the initiative of the Kremlin,” the editor of the Region.Expert says ( reposted at

            The movement for federalism in Russia is going to have to come from outside Moscow, he argues; and the region with “the greatest potential” to lead such a transformation of the country is Siberia, which by its nature, history, and thought is ready for federalism even if the rest of the country has not yet reached that point.

            “In his book Siberia as a Colony, Nikolay Yadrintsev, one of the leader ideologists of Siberian regionalism in the 19th century, compared this gigantic space with America.” For him, it was a new world just like the new world Europeans found across the Atlantic in North America, Shtepa says.

            This sense of itself in Siberia played a key role in the revolutions of the first part of the 20th century and during perestroika; and it continues to this day. “It is no accident,” the Russian regionalist says, that Siberian activists were the first [within the Russian Federation] to speak out against the invasion of Ukraine.”

            Again and again, Siberians have promoted a very different vision of the future than that offered by Moscow. By virtue of history and geography, they believe in the value of each region having the power to order its own life while remaining willing to cooperate with all the others, Shtepa says.

            In the future, if this Siberian project emerges from under Moscow’s yoke and shows its stability and effectiveness, the regionalist concludes, it is certain that other Russian regions, west of the Urals, will want to join. If that happens – and Moscow will do what it can to prevent it from doing so – then Russia will have the chance to become a federation and a democracy.

More Freedom Now within Russian Orthodox Church than Many Assume or the Patriarch Wants, Lukin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 14 – There is no question that Patriarch Kirill wants to establish a power vertical within the Russian Orthodox Church equivalent to the one Vladimir Putin has established in the civilian sector, a drive that has led many to conclude that there is very little freedom within the ROC MP.

            But Roman Lunkin, the deputy director of the Institute of Europe who specializes on religious questions, argues that the new generation of bishops in the church is allowing the priests in their sees far greater freedom lest they alienate believers and that this has profound consequences for more than the church (

            Some but far from all new bishops in the church see their role as managers rather than rulers, as people who work with the priests, the parishioners and the civil authorities and media to achieve their ends rather than as “despots” who order everyone about. They recognize that only by being more open in this way can they hope to increase or even hold current believers.

            Having reviewed the statements of some of these new-style bishops, Lunkin draws two important conclusions: “First, within the ROC, there are more freedoms than even experts consider. The clergy has spoken in defense of opposition figures, in support of Belarusians Christians, and against the Russian military operation in Ukraine.”

            Moreover, those who have done so have not been punished in any serious way as would have been the case earlier.

            And “second, within the ROC is maturing a civil society with its own ready-made institutions, parishes and bishoprics, the leaders of whom are sowing hope for the future of the Russian society and state under conditions of any economic and political tests” Russia is facing now or will face in the future.

            Lunkin’s essay, entitled “A Free Bishop in a Free Church,” is undoubtedly overly optimistic as far as the entire ROC MP is concerned. But his words are a corrective to those who accept Kirill’s push for centralism and control as an accomplished fact. Instead, many in the church are moving in a very different direction.


Kiriyenko Article about Costs of Ukrainian War Russians will Have to Bear Quickly Taken Down

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 14 – The Izvestiya website featured an article by Sergey Kiriyenko on June 12 declaring that “all of Russia will restore the Donbass which has been destroyed by the fascists” and this effort will result in at least a temporary decline in the Russian standard of living.

            Very quickly, the article was taken down, although it remains available in the cache. The paper’s information center released a statement in which it “officially” denied even the existence of the Kiriyenko article and suggested that the paper had been the victim of a hacker attack (

            Not surprisingly, this chain of events has sparked widespread discussion in the Russian blogosphere. Anatoly Nesmiyan, who writes under the pen name El Murid, sums it up this way. He says it is “hard to say” whether the officials are telling the truth or whether someone in the Kremlin was concerned about Kiriyenko’s message (

            What the original article said is an open secret, and so it is hard to be sure which version of events is true. All Russians know that they will be bearing the costs of the Kremlin’s actions – that is inevitably the case – but apparently some at the top are very much afraid that being open about that will cause problems. 

Russian Occupiers Now Recruiting ‘Volunteers’ Among Ukrainian Population to Fight Kyiv

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 13 – In yet another sign of the Russian command’s efforts to make up for losses in the war in Ukraine, Russian military commissariats are recruiting “volunteers” to fight against Kyiv, volunteers who experience has shown the Russian army is far more likely to use as canon fodder than its own.

            Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of the occupation administration in Zaporozhe says that his government is compiling lists of those who want to serve in “volunteer battalions … for defense against Ukrainian forces.” But only a few more than 200 men have signed up, an indication that this effort is hardly a great success (

            There is evidence that these men are far from volunteers. Those who sign up are moved to locations in the Russian Federation, something that makes it far more difficult for them to flee. But the Russian occupiers are telling them that they won’t be used in actual fighting, although that is clearly the intent (

            Ukrainian officials have reported cases of Russian efforts to form such units for more than a month, but only now is the Russian side acknowledging them, an indication that Moscow wants to take some pressure off its own units and to suggest to increasingly leery Russians that it is using Ukrainians rather than Russians to fight the war.

15 Percent of Russia’s Wealthiest Likely to Emigrate by End of Year, New Survey Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 13 –Almost one in six of Russia’s 101,000 millionaires – some 15,000 in all -- are likely to leave their own country for residence abroad by the end of 2022, according to a survey conducted by Henley & Partners. That figure is up from 5500 such departures in 2019 and makes Russia the world leader in in terms of the number of the wealthy deciding to emigrate. 

            The share of dollar millionaires who will likely leave Ukraine is even higher in percentage terms, 42 percent, but far lower in total numbers, 2800, because the total of such wealthy people in that country is much lower (

            Henley & Partners says that the wealthy will be leaving other countries as well, including 13,000 from China (including Hong Kong), 8,000 from India, 2500 from Brazil, and 1500 from Great Britain. Countries expecting an influx include the UAE (4,000), Australia (3500), Singapore, Israel, and Switzerland.