Wednesday, May 29, 2024

West Using Governments in Exile to Undermine Russia and Its Allies, FSB Head Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 25 – Aleksandr Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB, says that the West is forming “so-called ‘governments in exile’ aimed at seizing power in the countries of origin in the event of a deterioration in the socio-economic situation and mass unrest,” an indication that Moscow is infuriated by these bodies and takes them more seriously than many might suspect.

            Speaking at a Bishkek meeting of the Council of Heads of Security Agencies and Special Services of CIS Countries, the Russian spy chief said these groups are designed to promote and exploit conditions that can lead to “color revolutions” that the West hopes to use to overthrow existing regimes (

            Among the most important of these structures concerning groups within the current borders of the Russian Federation are the émigré Congress of Peoples Deputies for Russians, the exile government of Ichkeria, the government in exile of Tatarstan, and the Ingush Committee on Independence.

            Such structures are typically ignored by the West, but clearly they have gotten under the skin of Moscow which is likely to step up its attacks on them and on the support they have in the groups they represent, a move history suggests will be counter-productive for Moscow (

Number of Russians Needing Prosthetic Limbs has Grown Dramatically Since Start of Putin’s War in Ukraine, Official Russian Data Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 25 – The Russian government has been extremely chary in releasing data about the number of killed and wounded in Putin’s war in Ukraine. But the official agency responsible for providing support to those who need artificial limbs and other prosthetic devices has now released data showing documenting just how great the losses Russian forces have been.

            The Social Insurance Foundation now reports the number of people needing prosthetics jumped by 42 percent between 2022 and 2023 after rising no more than seven percent a year over the previous decade ( and

            Obviously, some of this increase is the result of accidents and medical conditions not connected with the war; but if previous increases of seven percent a year are subtracted, that means that more than 80 percent of the increase of some 137,000 invalids is the result of Russian military actions in Ukraine.

            But equally obvious are three other factors which suggest that Russian losses are even higher than the Social Insurance Foundation is reporting. First, there is widespread falsification of such data; second, there is a significant lag time between when injuries are incurred and prosthetics provided; and third, Moscow is making it harder for invalids to get such equipmen (

            For background on Russian statistics concerning invalids since the start of the war in Ukraine, see and


Caricatures – One Feature of Soviet Times Putin Doesn’t Want to Bring Back

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 25 – Caricatures and even entire publications devoted to caricatures first appeared in Soviet Russia in Lenin’s time and continued to appear right up to the end of the USSR, attacking approved targets for humor including under Gorbachev the supreme leader of the country and often providing comic relief for the population.

            But most of the caricature magazines like Krokodil disappeared in the early 1990s and have not been replaced. Fewer official publications carry such drawings; and the Internet has done little to keep this art form alive. More important, there are clear signs that Putin and his system don’t want to see any revival of caricatures, Yury Kondratyuk says.

            Writing in the current issue of Sovershenno Sekretno, the journalist says that caricatures are a dying art form. Most of those still producing caricatures are older men who got their start in Soviet times. There are few young people and almost no women in the field (

            The primary reason for the demise of caricatures in Russia, Kondratyuk says, is the change in the nature of censorship from Soviet times. Now, censors oversaw all media output and so they decided what could and could not appear, removing the burden from editors of making such choices.

            But now, censorship is imposed by closing down publications and other media outlets that violate typically unspoken rules. That means self-censorship is required. Editors and owners can’t afford to have a caricature appear that someone higher up may not like, and not knowing where the precise limits are, such people are inclined to be super cautious.

            Such fears, of course, exist with regard to articles; but they are even greater regarding caricatures because a caricature to be effective will almost always offend someone. Indeed, that is almost the definition of the nature of the genre. And so editors and even more owners are especially cautious.

            As a result, there are fewer and fewer outlets for caricatures; and ever more evidence that Putin doesn’t want to bring back this staple of Soviet life. The result? A grayer life with fewer smiles and less laughter even compared to some of the most difficult times of Soviet history, the Sovershenno Sekretno journalist says. 


Sunday, May 26, 2024

Administrative Borders of Soviet Republics that have Become State Borders of Independent Countries Anything but Regular

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – Except for natural boundaries like the external border of the USSR or rivers and seas, the borders of the former union republics which became independent states were not only frequently changed but were anything but the straight lines that many imagine when looking at small scale maps showing large regions.

            Except in cases where conflicts have broken out, typically on an ethnic basis, neither of these realities have attracted much attention over the last 30 years because the post-Soviet states and the leaders of the international community both insisted that the administrative borders of the union republics must become the state borders of the newly independent countries.

            Despite this and resistance to any talk of changing borders, there is growing recognition that Soviet-era borders were imposed by Moscow for its own purposes rather than being the result of any rational calculations or a reflection of the interests of the population along them (

            But there is far less discussion of just how irregular these borders often were and thus remain and what the consequences of such irregularities have been for the people living there. That makes a new article by journalists from the TengriNews agency of Kazakhstan especially useful (

            Two of its journalists visited the village of Meshchanka on the Kazakhstan side of the Kazakhstan-Russian border in Abai Oblast that is surrounded on three sides by Russian territory, is not connected by road to anywhere else, no longer has a school, post office or business, and lacks internet connectivity.

            Not surprisingly, Meshchanka, which had been a thriving center of agricultural activity in Soviet times, has been losing population ever since and now has only a handful of people left. As the article makes clear, these “last of the Mohicans” will soon leave or die as well and Meshchanka will cease to exist.

            The news agency provides a aerial photograph of the village and the Kazakhstan-Russian borders which surround it on three sides. It is not clear whether the village might have fared better had the borders been changed, but it is clear that the borders that remain in place look more like administrative ones in rural areas within a large country than state borders.

            And that is hardly surprising given that that is precisely what they were before 1991.

A Real Turning Point in the South Caucasus: Border Guards Replace Military Units Along Newly Delimited Portion of Armenian-Azerbaijani Border

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – In April, Yerevan and Baku agreed on the delimitation of the Armenian-Azerbaijan border in the north the return to Azerbaijan of four villages to Azerbaijani control, an action that sparked protests not only there but in Yerevan and other Armenian cities (

            That led Yerevan to request and Moscow to agree to pull its so-called “peacekeepers” from the region, something the Russian government did as part of its withdrawal of these units from within Azerbaijan now that Baku has established full control over that region (

            But now, Yerevan and Baku have taken the next and most critical step: they have replaced the military units that had been along the pre-agreement line with border guards along the newly established state border between them, a major step forward in the delimitation and demarcation of the border and toward a genuine peace treaty (

            Protests may continue or even expand among Armenians who believe that any territorial concessions to Azerbaijan are an existential threat to the survival of Armenia. But the fact that the government of Nikol Pashinyan has weathered these protests and taken this step toward the creation of a genuine peacetime border is impressive.

            A great deal of work nonetheless needs to be done to make this a border of peace rather than a line separating two armed nations. Armenia will have to build new roads to allow those living along the border the ability to move about freely, and Azerbaijan will have to avoid any actions in the areas it has regained control of that will feed Armenian fears.

            But what has happened is a signal victory for Pashinyan’s policies and for peace in the south Caucasus and deserves to be celebrated as such even though there will be those both in his country and in Moscow who will undoubtedly continue to fan the flames of conflict as further delimitation talks between Yerevan and Baku proceed. 

Call for Banning Niqāb Highlights Problems in Moscow’s Turn to the East and Stress on Traditional Values, ‘Nezavisimaya Gazeta’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 – Only a few years ago, few Muslim women wore the niqāb, a form of dress that covers all of their bodies except for their eyes; but now that has become commonplace and it is no longer a rarity to see Muslim women in Russian cities wearing even chadors which conceal the eyes behind a screen.

            Not surprisingly, this trend has both frightened and outraged many Russians including Valery Fadeyev, the head of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, who says that Moscow should ban the niqab and even more extreme forms of dress not only because they are not traditional to Russia but are part of a dangerous radicalization of Muslims there.

            In his appeal, Fadeyev points to the growing interest in guns by Russia’s Muslims and especially migrant workers from Muslim countries as a threat to Russia’s stability and territorial integrity, a call that has sparked opposition from both Muslim leaders as not only untrue by counterproductive.

            Perhaps the most thoughtful response to this debate comes from the editors of Nezavsimaya Gazeta who place it in the context of larger trends in Russian public life and suggest that Moscow should see both the niqab and calls for its ban as warning signs about the consequences of the regime’s policies (

            Two of the most often proclaimed Kremlin policies are its turn to the east and its commitment to traditional values, the editors write. But these are not unproblematic as the debate about the niqab shows. The situation with regard to the niqab is especially indicative in this regard.

            Many now defending the niqab are relying on Moscow’s turn to the east and suggesting that any ban on this form of dress would undermine Russia’s relations with the east. But if Russia is to be sovereign, the editors continue, then it must be sovereign in both directions. And the regime needs to make that clear.

            “The same goes for traditionalism,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta says. It is an open question whether the niqab is in fact a manifestation of a commitment to traditionalism. Many experts say that in fact it is “a reaction to the extremes of progressivism and represent a completely post-modern idea of zels in the faith rather than to any memory of the past.”

            For that reason, the editors say, “the declaration of traditional values [by the Putin regime] should be clarified. Society needs to know exactly what the traditions of the peoples of Russi are and where the line is between health conservatism and religious fanaticism and between the memory of ancestors and radical obscurantism.”


Number of Political Prisoners Forced to Undergo Psychiatric Treatment has Risen by Five Times Since Start of Putin’s Expanded War in Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 – One of the most noxious features of the Brezhnev era is rapidly being reborn in Putin’s Russia: political prisoners are increasingly being forced to undergo psychiatric treatment, with the number of such victims having increased by five times between 2021 and 2023, Andrey Zatirko of Agentsvo says.

            Drawing on the work of OVD-Info, Memorial and First Department, the journalist says that in the last 18 months a minimum of 33 political prisoners have been subject to punitive psychiatry, with the numbers having rapidly risen and set to rise still further this year (

            Prior to the launch of Putin’s expanded war in Ukraine, the number of such cases was relatively small, averaging three per year between 2013 and 2020, Zatirko says; but with the war and the explosion of cases involving anti-war protesters, forced incarceration in psychiatric prisons has gone up dramatically.

            As horrific as this practice is, Aleksey Makarov of Memorial says, it has not yet reached the dimensions it did in Soviet times. “In the mid-1970s,” he notes, “approximately every sixth individual condemned for anti-Soviet agitation or the dissemination of intentionally slanderous statements was confined” in a psychiatric prison hospital.

            Today, the percentage of such confinements is still much lower and so far most of those forced to undergo psychiatric evaluation and treatment are being held in psychiatric hospitals rather than psychiatric prisons, an arrangement the authorities could easily change if they decided to take more radical steps.