Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Russian Cities Caught Between Kremlin’s Desire to Have More Immigrants and Local Residents’ Opposition to That


Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 15 – The Russian government wants to have ever more immigrants come to Russia from the former Soviet republics not only because Russia needs them to fill jobs but also because it believes that such people will play a positive role in re-integrating the former Soviet space.

            But residents and officials in the larger cities of the Russian Federation have a different view: They feel threatened by the influx of culturally and increasingly linguistically different peoples, fear that they are a source of crime, and are concerned that some of them are coalescing into ethnic neighborhoods that could eventually become ghettos.

            That tension between what the central government wants and what city people prefer is increasingly on view in Moscow as it heads into an election in which the incumbent mayor Sergey Sobyanin has sought to placate voters there without taking any steps that might offend the powers that be above him.

            Vzglyad commentator Petr Akopov says that the positions of both sides in this debate are understandable.  The Russian state “wants to reintegrate the post-Soviet space geopolitically and economically and is pushing its neighbors toward this with all possible means,” including inviting to Russia workers from them (vz.ru/society/2018/8/15/937080.html).

            But at the same time, he continues, Russians living in the cities to which these workers come are anything but thrilled. Their arrival pushes down the wages of locals in many cases and changes “the inter-ethnic balance” in all cities but especially in Moscow -- and in “a far from good” direction.

            This is not just about an increase in the fraction non-Russians form in the population but in the fact that in the capital in particular, “districts of compact settlement of this or that nationality are forming.” These are “still not China towns or ghettoes,” he says, “but rather ‘regions with a national coloration,” something that hadn’t existed ever before.

            If they continue to form, Moscow will soon become “an entirely different city,” not one in which nationalities will come together to form a single people but one in which each of them  will remain separate, distinct and in some cases hostile to all others. Gradually, he says, the city could become a collection of neighborhoods, “each living as it were in its own pavilion.”

            Akopov insists that this is “not an alarmist scenario.” Rather it is “one of the completely possible scenarios of the development of Moscow. It is clear that neither Muscovites, not Sobyanin, not the federal powers that be want that outcome.” But they have not yet found a way to regulate the influx so that it won’t happen.

            What is important, he concludes, is that the federal government and the cities understand one another and find a compromise, instead of promoting their own very different interests in isolation one from another.

            Just how much of an influx there now is in Moscow was highlighted today by Nikolay Patrushev, the head of Russia’s Security Council. He told a meeting in Oryel that every 13th resident of Moscow is a foreigner, that every fourth one of these is there illegally, and that some of those who can’t find work are turning to crime (kp.ru/daily/26868/3910965/).

Moscow Now Pursuing ‘Forced Integration’ of Belarus into Russia, Sivitsky Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 15 -- Russian actions toward Belarus since 2015 show that Moscow is no longer pursuing the “union deal” it had established with Minsk earlier and instead has placed its bets on the forced integration of its western neighbor into a Russian-dominated state, according to Arseny Sivitsky.

The head of the Minsk Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Researchsays that over the last three years, Russia has conducted itself “in a quite aggressive and unfriendly manner toward its chief ally … despite the fact that Belarus has not violated any of the obligations it has assumed with regard to Moscow (thinktanks.by/publication/2018/08/15/arseniy-sivitskiy-rossiya-vyshla-iz-soyuznoy-sdelki-s-belarusyu-stavka-na-prinuditelnuyu-integratsiyu.html).

Russia’s new policy, Sivitsky says, is directed at subordinating Belarus “to the strategic interests of Russia in the new geopolitical context after the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and then the Russian-American confrontation” and that means “the undermining and then loss of [Belarusian] independence and sovereignty.”

In pursuit of that goal, Moscow has been deploying “various instruments of pressure,” economic, political and military-security. 

Many in Belarus find the Russian actions inexplicable, and they are within the context of the former “deal” between the two countries. But “if on the other hand, Moscow no longer considers Minsk its ally, then the motives behind the Kremlin’s actions toward Belarus are completely understandable.”

And that is where the situation now is. “The Kremlin n longer views Belarus as an ally and prefers unilateral steps directed at undermining the sovereignty and independence of our country, increasing its influence in Belarus, limiting our interaction with the outside world, above all with the West and China and using both formal and informal means to do so.”

In this way, Moscow has effectively scrapped the deal Belarus and Russia concluded in the mid-1990s, a deal in which Minsk agreed not to seek membership in the EU and NATO but rather to integrate into the Russian military-political and economic space and Moscow agreed to provide aid in the form of concessionary prices for energy.

None of that is true now, the security analyst says, and it really hasn’t been true since Moscow invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. He adds that in his view, Western sanctions have done nothing to lessen the aggressive nature of Russian foreign policy which is still being set by hardliners.

Such Russians, Sivitsky says, believe that the West will continue to put pressure on Moscow, that no agreement with it is possible, and that therefore “Russia has nothing to lose and must to the extent its resources permit push its control outward where possible.” Belarus is an obvious candidate for such an advance.

That is all the more so, Sivitsky says, because “now the policies of Minsk and Moscow in foreign policy are diverging in a significant way: Belarus does not want confrontation, while Russia is interested in it just as it is interested in the immediate inclusion of Belarus in a new confrontation process.” 

            He says that he expects Moscow to step up the pressure on Minsk further in the near future, indeed as early as next month, and adds that there is ample evidence that “the Kremlin plans to interfere actively in the domestic political life of Belarus in 2019-2020 when presidential and parliamentary electoral campaigns are slated to take place.”

            “I do not exclude that the Kremlin has already worked out a spectrum of scenarios, beginning with soft ones designed to put pressure on Minsk” to change its line. “Unfortunately,” Savitsky says, “in the near term the relations of the two countries will be very complicated.”

            “Our chief weak point is our economic dependence on Russia,” the Minsk analyst says, and “the Kremlin uses this.” It is virtually certain that it will do even more in the coming weeks and months, leaving Belarus at a minimum in a very unpleasant situation. 

Pro-Putin Russian Grandmothers Call on Americans to Vote Against Democrats in Mid-Term Elections


Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 15 – A group of older Russian women from the Putin Detachments group has filmed a YouTube video in which they call on Americans to vote against the Democratic Party in the upcoming American mid-term congressional elections because “Hillary Clinton has no place in big politics.”

            In broken English, the women declare that they are very worried about the future of America which does not look bright to them and insist that Americans much “free yourselves from slavery [because] your leaders are leading you to hell” and do so by voting against Democratic Party candidates (youtube.com/watch?v=d8BHIR3QnSc).

            They say that as Russians they know what a real leader should look like: Vladimir Putin.  According to the women, he is “an outstanding son of our people” who is “defending the interests of Russia and peace in the entire world.  Under his leadership, the people of Russia is invulnerable,” something that isn’t true of the Americans now.