Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Patriarch Kirill Lays Groundwork for Challenging Primacy of Ecumenical Patriarch

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 18 – Patriarch Kirill of the ROC MP has laid out his case for challenging Patriarch Bartholemew of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople with an eye either to overthrowing the churchman considered primus inter pares among Orthodox or to setting up an alternative Orthodox world under Moscow.

            At a meeting of a Moscow conference on “World Orthodoxy: Primacy and Collegiality in the Light of Orthodox Doctrine,” the Russian church leader extended his criticism of Bartholemew ever since the latter granted autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, something Kirill believes he had no right to do (ng.ru/faith/2021-09-16/100_rel16092021.html).

            According to the Moscow Patriarch, the church since the fifth century has had established rules for such things; and Bartholemew has violated them, an action that is forcing the Russian church as a guardian of order to consider how to respond, a decision about which, he said, will take place at a November meeting of the Russian church.

            According to Andrey Melnikov, editor of NG-Religii, Moscow has three choices: seeking to remove Bartholemew by an appeal to these principles and even bringing him before a religious court, creating a parallel Orthodox world led by Moscow rather than Constantinople, or threatening one or the other but continuing to live with the existing ambiguities.

            The latter is the most likely, the religious affairs specialist suggests; but by speaking of church decisions of 17 centuries ago, Kirill is showing that he is prepared to raise the stakes considerably, a move that promises to increase tensions among the Orthodox patriarchates and may presage new challenges to the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s traditional status.

            Melnikov doesn’t say on this occasion, but it seems obvious that Kirill is seeking ways to recover domestically from what many see as his “loss” of Ukraine and that the Russian patriarch believes that seeking to promote Russian Orthodoxy in this way will stand him in good stead with a Kremlin committed to the building of “a Russian world.”


Plan to Return Russians to Rural North Caucasus Could Prove Explosive

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 18 – At a time when Moscow is considering how to implement Sergey Shoygu’s call for building new cities in Siberia to expand the Russian population there, some in the Russian capital are thinking about similar projects to stop Russian flight from the North Caucasus and even make possible the return of ethnic Russians to that region.

            Since the end of Soviet times, ethnic Russians have left the republics of the North Caucasus in massive numbers, reducing their share of the population to almost nothing in Chechnya and to a much reduced size elsewhere. Most of that flight came from the cities where Russians were most numerous because of industrial development.

            Now, Yegeny Tsots, a Regnum news agency commentator, argues that Moscow should develop centers outside those cities in the highland regions of the North Caucasus. That would allow them to live in one of the most environmentally friendly areas around and of course improve Russian security (https://regnum.ru/news/society/3374447.html).

            Moscow has had little success in holding ethnic Russians in the major cities of the North Caucasus whose political elites are dominated by members of the titular nationalities even if they are appointed by and entirely loyal to Moscow (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/04/moscows-efforts-to-hold-russians-in.html).

            What makes Tsots’ proposal intriguing is that he favors bringing ethnic Russians to new settlements in the mountainous rural areas of the North Caucasus rather than returning them to the cities there. Such flows would reduce the likelihood of conflicts in the capitals but could easily increase them in rural areas.

            On the one hand, the rural populations of the North Caucasus republics are almost homogeneous in their non-Russian composition. Establishing Russian outposts there would resemble the Cossack lines that the Russian Empire created as it expanded into non-Russian areas – and it would certainly be viewed as such.

            And on the other hand, such a move would exacerbate what is already one of the greatest problems in the region: land hunger. As populations have soared, fighting over land has intensified. If Moscow were to introduce ethnic Russians into the mix, such conflicts would be transformed from socio-economic ones to explosive ethno-national ones.

            Because of the near certainty that would be the case, Moscow is unlikely to move quickly in this direction. But the fact that it is talking about it at all reflects the growing fears in the capital that the emptying out of the rural areas of the country is a threat to the country’s national security that must be addressed.

            And because the current regime has no new ideas of how to address this problem, it is reaching back to ideas which circulated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, ideas that worked until they collapsed in the revolutionary upheavals of the first part of the twentieth century.


Name of Russia’s Northern Capital Far from Settled among Its Residents

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 18 – Thirty years ago, the residents of St. Petersburg voted to restore the name their city had had in imperial times, St. Petersburg. But despite that vote and the passage of more than three decades, the city’s residents remain very much divided over what their city should be called.

            The June 1991 referendum did not result in an overwhelming vote for change, with only 54 percent voting to restore the imperial period name and 42 percent voting against. Indeed, had it not taken place when many older residents were at their dachas and therefore not able to vote, it might not have passed (versia.ru/kak-30-let-nazad-leningrad-stal-sankt-peterburgom).

            A recent poll suggests that while support for Leningrad has declined somewhat, support for St. Petersburg has as well, with a striking increase in the share of those who would prefer Petersburg, without the “saint” (nevnov.ru/898731-peterburzhcy-ne-gotovy-menyat-nazvanie-goroda-na-neve).

            Today, 26 percent of the northern capital’s residents say they favor the name Leningrad, nine percent back Petrograd, which wasn’t an option in the 1991 referendum, 38 percent favor St. Petersburg, but 27 percent favor Petersburg without the saint, which also wasn’t an option in the earlier voting.

            Lev Lurye, a journalist and historian who has explored the history of the name, says that this pattern  represents a kind of recapitulation of what happened at the end of the 19th century. Then, as peasants flooded into the city, many of them preferred to call the city just “Peter,” a name that the educated elite felt was insulting to a great city.

            Today’s new residents are happy enough with Petersburg but like their predecessors, they don’t see any reason to add “saint” to its name. At the same time, Sergey Shuvalov, a toponymist, says many in the northern capital again prefer Leningrad because of its association with the blockade of the city during World War II.


Despite Current Dominance of Chekists, Dzerzhinsky Day Passed More Quietly This Year

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 18 – Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police, remains both a unifying and divisive figure among Russians, and that appears to explain three trends in Russian memorialization: the modesty of the celebration of his day, the rise of statues outside the major cities rather than in them, and the conflation of his image with that of imperial heroes.

            Dina Khapayeva, a commentator for Novaya gazeta, suggests that the relative modesty of commemorations of Dzerzhinsky today reflects his dual reputation. On the one hand, few in the current leadership want him demoted but on the other want him embedded in the Russian state tradition rather than a destroyer of it (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/09/17/ivan-dzerzhinskii).

            For many Russians, the demolition of Dzerzhinsky’s statue in front of KGB headquarters in Moscow remains the symbol of the defeat of the August coup. Thus, in the capital, there has been great reluctance to bring back statues of “Iron Felix.” Instead, those have appeared elsewhere in places like Tyumen and Kirov.

            Outside of the capital, Eurasianists and others who welcome the combination of Sovietism and the Russian state tradition have faced less opposition from those who may be willing to see a revival of the latter but still remain deeply opposed to any unmixed restoration of the former.

            When an effort was made to promote the restoration of the statue of Dzerzinsky in Moscow, officials faced such opposition that they were forced to hold a referendum that included two other names as well, Alexander Nevsky and, somewhat unexpectedly, Ivan III, the grandfather of Ivan the Terrible.

            While this was going on, the Officers of Russia appealed to the government for a decision on the removal of the statue in 1991. The Moscow procuracy held that this was “illegal,” a move with potentially far-reaching consequences because if taking down the statue was illegal, then does that mean the suppression of the coup was?

            More than that, this decision raises questions about the legality of Dzerzhinsky’s statue being put up in the first place in 1958 – and, perhaps most important, Khapayeva concludes, the question of questions: “who has the right to decide what symbols of the past and which of the future should stand in the capital of Russia?”

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Putin Cargo Goals for Northern Sea Route ‘Utopian’ and Won’t Be Met, Veselov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 18 – Vladimir Putin’s plans to expand trade on the Northern Sea Route are being undercut by problems in all the sectors his numbers depend upon including but not limited to cutbacks in production of bulk products, problems with the construction of ships capable of sailing the Arctic route, and environmental issues, Maks Veselov says.

            And while Moscow commentator continue to suggest the Kremlin leader’s goals will be met, ever more officials working on the route and experts studying it have concluded that neither the short-term goals for 60 million tons of cargo in 2024 or 110 million tons in 2035 are anything but “utopian dreams,” the Babr journalist says (babr24.com/kras/?IDE=218503).

            Veselov draws that conclusion on the basis of a close examination of the situation in Krasnoyarsk Kray, one of the eight Russian regions with Arctic territories and thus deeply involved with all aspects of the development of the Northern Sea Route. Everywhere one looks, he says, there are serious problems.

            First of all, the three main bulk cargos Moscow planned to form a major part of the shipping program – nickel, oil, and coal – have all had their production targets seriously reduced over the last several years. Because they are producing less, the amount of cargo that they will feed into the Northern Sea Route will fall as well.

            Second, Russian shipbuilding for the route is way behind schedule. Indeed, in the fall of 2020, Rosatom which oversees this part of the project, called for cutting Putin’s 2024 goal of 80 million tons by 25 percent to 60 million because Russia simply won’t have enough carrying capacity to ship more.

            And third, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the fragility of the Arctic environment is such that Moscow won’t be able to ignore the dangers that spills and other forms of contamination present. Moreover, as the region warms, there will be subsidence form the melting of the permafrost and infrastructure collapse.

            Russia will be able to increase the amount of cargo on the Northern Sea Route in the coming years, Veselov says, but not by anything like what Putin has promised and his pro-Kremlin spokespersons imagine. And it is not impossible that over the next several years, growth will be significantly lower than many now imagine and plan for.

Putin Plan to Attract 500,000 Compatriots Back to Russia by 2030 will Fail, von Eggert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 18 – Until Russian emigres and compatriots associate Russia with freedom, law and security, something highly unlikely as long as Vladimir Putin is its ruler, few of them will return however much of an effort Moscow makes to get them to do so, Konstantin von Eggert says.

            The Russian government has announced just such an effort. The foreign and interior ministries are supposed to convince 50,000 emigres and compatriots to return to Russia every year for the next decade, a move designed in part to cover losses from the coronavirus pandemic (dw.com/ru/popytka-putina-sobrat-razdelennyj-narod-budet-bezuspeshnoj/a-59216310).

            But appealing to these communities has as well “enormous political importance” for Putin, the Russian commentator says. He wants to show the West that his Russia is attractive and that any minor issues like the fighting in the North Caucasus or the imprisonment of dissidents are not something that disturbs Russians.

            His efforts during his first two terms to break with communism by arranging for the reburial of anti-Soviet fighters and thinkers won him support among the descendants of the first and second emigrations, although it did not cause large numbers of them to leave where they had been living and more to Russia.

            With time, the question of emigres became even more important for the Kremlin ruler. They and their return became part of his version of “a new Russian civic identity,” one based on the proposition that Russians must be loyal to the leader of the state, whatever he is called, to save the country and make it great again.

            After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin began to talk about the existence of a Russian world and the Russians as the largest “divided people” on earth. And his propagandists have urged without much success Russians living abroad to leave Estonia because of Russophobes there, to leave France because of Muslims, and to leave the US because of “’political correctness.’”

            These messages may have won the Kremlin some support, but they have not and will not lead people who are living abroad in more or less comfortable circumstances to take a chance and move to Russia with its unpredictable past, present and future, the Russian commentator continues.

            In support of his argument, von Eggert cites the words of the late Sergey Prikhodko who in the 1990s oversaw relations with the Baltic countries for the Russian foreign ministry. At that time, the commentator himself was working for Izvestiya and often interviewed the future deputy head of the Presidential Administration.

            Prikhodko openly said, von Eggert recalls, that “nothing will come” of Moscow’s efforts to get Russians to leave the Baltic countries. “People will still there even if they don’t have citizenship. This is after all Europe, and live is more predictable than it is with us, conditions are certainly no worse if no better, and even with ‘a non-citizen passport,’ one can live not badly.”

Ukrainian Commentator Says Putin Likely Infected with Coronavirus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Sept. 18 – Ukrainian analyst Ivan Yakovina says the Kremlin reporting about Vladimir Putin’s decision to go into self-isolation probably means that he is infected with the coronavirus as it seems highly improbable large numbers of his staff are ill and he would not be (nv.ua/opinion/rossiya-pochemu-putin-na-samoizolyacii-yakovina-novosti-rossii-50184025.html ).

            However that may be, today, for the first time since August, Russian officials reported registering more than 20,000 new infections in one day (20,329). They also reported registering 799 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours as the pandemic continues to ebb and flow around the country (t.me/stopcoronavirusrussia/5725, meduza.io/news/2021/09/18/v-rossii-vpervye-s-avgusta-zaregistrirovali-bolee-20-tysyach-zabolevshih-kovidom-za-sutki and regnum.ru/news/society/3369923.html).

            Moscow oblast replaced Chechnya among the top three regions in terms of vaccination (rbc.ru/society/18/09/2021/61449ef99a79471589865303), and Moscow officials said infections had increased in the capital because of the return of people from their dachas and the reopening of schools (rbc.ru/society/18/09/2021/5e2fe9459a79479d102bada6).

            Muscovites did receive one piece of good news. As people have gotten vaccinated, more of them are using public transport to move about. As a result, those who drive are finding it easier to locate parking spaces when they do drive (superjob.ru/research/articles/113068/parkovatsya-v-moskve-stalo-chut-legche/).

            And a new analysis of Duma operations concludes that the legislature has been working ever more closely with the executive branch in the preparation and approval of laws since the start of the pandemic, a process leaders of both have been encouraging (ridl.io/ru/chrezvychajnoe-zakonotvorchestvo/).