Friday, November 27, 2020

Pandemic has Increased Not Reduced Moscow’s Control over Regions

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 25 – Many expected that Moscow’s decision to make the regions responsible for coping with the pandemic would give them more power to make decisions, but things have not worked out that way. Instead, because these were unfunded mandates, all regions including the better off ones now find themselves more in debt to and dependent on Moscow.

That is the perhaps unexpected conclusion of Aleksandr Zadorozhny, a Znak journalist, who documents it with budgetary figures showing the regions now find themselves in a much worse off situation relative to the center than they were a year ago (znak.com/2020-11-25/kak_izmenilis_otnosheniya_federalnyh_vlastey_s_regionami_iz_za_koronavirusa).

Today, for the first time in the pandemic, Russian officials registered more than 500 deaths from the coronavirus (507); they also reported 23,675 new cases of infection, bringing these twin tolls to 2,162,503 and 37,538 (novayagazeta.ru/news/2020/11/25/165971-koronavirus).

The pandemic continues to spread, but the Kremlin is avoiding calls for a new lockdown, lest its excessive optimism earlier be shown to have been misplaced. Instead, various regions and sectors are clamping down even harder than they did in the spring (regnum.ru/news/society/3122025.html  and profile.ru/economy/poslednij-rubezh-pochemu-rossijskie-vlasti-boyatsya-lokdauna-bolshe-chem-samoj-pandemii-435226/).

Thirty percent of all school pupils are now either on holiday or being given their lessons via the Internet. The education ministry has announced that it has created an education web to help them (regnum.ru/news/3124751.html and regnum.ru/news/3124763.html). New calls to close Russia’s borders are being rejected by officials (regnum.ru/news/3124267.html).

Epidemiologists say that the failure of Russians to wear masks and practice social distancing explains most of the recent rise in the number of infections (regnum.ru/news/3124240.html). In Moscow, police are reportedly stepping up their fines of those who don’t follow the rules (https://forum-msk.org/material/news/16835712.html).

And today as always brought more horror stories about the situation in regions beyond the ring road (e.g., themoscowtimes.com/2020/11/26/siberian-coronavirus-patients-hospitalized-in-dilapidated-ward-a72155 and capost.media/news/obshchestvo/naibolshiy-defitsit-lekarstv-ot-koronavirusa-otmechen-v-ingushetii-kchr-i-chechne/).

Moscow economists said that Russia’s GDP decline will likely be much worse than has been estimated (regnum.ru/news/3124888.html), with the informal sector being hit far harder than the regular economy (regnum.ru/news/3124572.html). Looking forward, about half of company heads in Russia don’t plan to completely shift from in-person operations (regnum.ru/news/3124378.html).

Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related developments in Russia,

·         The Kremlin said that it was concerned about rising pessimism about the consequences of the pandemic (https://regnum.ru/news/3124794.html).

·         The Kremlin added that it has developed sufficient epidemiological defenses to allow Vladimir Putin to travel about the country at will (regnum.ru/news/3124728.html).

·         Ever more doctors warned that Russians will be wearing masks throughout 2021 even with the appearance of the vaccine (kp.ru/daily/21712092/4327853/).

Advocate of Restoring USSR Talks Openly about ‘Soviet Nation’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 24 – In Soviet times, officials and propagandists were very careful never to speak of what many thought was their real goal, the creation of “a Soviet nation.” Instead, Moscow and its minions consistently spoke of the multi-national Soviet people, a term far less freighted at least ostensibly with ethnic and assimilationist meanings.

            But now, nearly 30 years after the USSR fell apart, some Russians who regret that “geopolitical disaster” are speaking openly about the rise and fall of “the Soviet nation,” a reflection both of the decay of ideological standards and the projection back into the past of the notion the Kremlin is now pushing of a non-ethnic Russian nation (rossiiskaya natsiya).

            If such usage becomes widespread, that will almost certainly backfire on Moscow by suggesting that what it is about with its non-ethnic Russian nation is in fact not a warmed over version of the Soviet people many view now view it as but rather a radical assimilationist project which will leave little or no place for the non-Russian third of the population.

            And indeed, a new discussion of “the Soviet nation” by Aleksandr Gaponenko, a Russian economist in Latvia, will only exacerbate such feelings because he argues that it was the creation of “the Soviet nation” by Stalin that allowed the USSR to defeat Hitler and the demise of that “nation” that led to 1991 (imhoclub.lv/ru/material/sovetskaja_nacija_ot_vozniknovenija_k_raspadu).

            According to Gaponenko, “the annihilation of the Soviet nation was for the majority of its members a tragedy,” one that resulted in conflicts and deaths and a shift in the distribution of resources away from what the composition of the population deserves and requires to one serving the interests only of ethnocratic elites.

            “The Russian nation,” he writes, “the former basis of the Soviet nation was divided between Russia and the remaining 14 republics and therefore strongly weakened. The elites who came to power in Russia began to construct a non-ethnic Russian nation on the model of the Soviet nation. However, it did not rest on Soviet spiritual values.”

            “The ethnic elites in the Russian autonomous national republics adopted the course of building their own nations and of seeking to exit the Russian Federation.” Chechnya adopted the most extreme measures in that regard, Gaponenko says; but it was and is hardly the only one interested in leaving.

            After Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, the economist continues, Moscow did succeed in freezing this process, suppressing some of the separatists. “However, the causes of the demise of the Soviet nation have remained unclarified up to now, and the tactics adopted to counter them did not acquire a systemic character and were not that effective.”

            Today, Gaponenko argues, “as a result of the intensification of foreign force pressure, threats to the non-ethnic Russian nation and the Russian people have arisen again,” and as a result, it is important to look back at how and why “the Soviet nation” was build and then fell apart.

            According to Gaponenko, “a nation is “a community of people who voluntarily follow definite spiritual values and the norms of behavior arising from them. It is constructed on the basis of a simpler social union, the people.” Russia had begun to form one in the 19th century, but it had not yet succeeded and so the country fell apart in 1917.

            “The communist elites began to build a new social community which they later called the Soviet people, although it would be more correct to speak about a Soviet nation,” he argues. With regard to this project, the party was divided into two groups, the national Bolsheviks around Stalin who wanted a single Soviet nation, and the national communists around Trotsky who wanted a multi-national people.

            The national communists won the early rounds of state construction and the country was divided into republics and ethnically based units of a lower order. Because that was so, initially, “the process of building a single Soviet nation was reduced at first to the dissemination of communist ideology among the masses of the population.”

            Gaponenko insists that “this was clearly insufficient in order to hold together the extremely diverse ethnic population of the USSR.” And in the 1930s, Stalin moved to marginalize and destroy the national communists and pursued a policy of national bolshevism toward a single Soviet nation.

            He eliminated the presumptive right of non-Russians to control their areas and insisted on the equality of all peoples in a community which because of size and strength was inevitably dominated by ethnic Russian and Russianized non-Russians who were to form a single “Soviet nation.”

            That required suppressing some non-Russian territories and exiling their populations and the introduction of Russians in others. Without that, Gaponenko says, the Soviet Union would not have won World War II. Unfortunately, he continues, Stalin’s successors forgot his lessons; and they moved back in the direction of national communism.

            That set the stage for the demise of the Soviet nation which had not yet completely formed, the rise of separatist movements, and the demise of the USSR. Gaponenko clearly implies that unless Russian leaders understand this history and take it to heart, the non-ethnic Russian nation will suffer the same fate as the Soviet nation – and with it, the country as well.

 

Regionalist Participants in Free Russia Forum Remain ‘Dissidents among Dissidents,’ Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 24 – A year ago, Vadim Shtepa, editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal, said that at the eighth Vilnius Forum of Free Russia, regionalists and federalists were “dissidents among dissidents,” that is, they found themselves dissenting from those who dissent from Putin’s Russia (leht.postimees.ee/6827442/vadim-stepa-impeeriumi-ja-foderatsiooni-vahel).

            This year’s meeting, which took place virtually because of the pandemic, showed some improvement, he suggests, but unfortunately, regionalists and federalists remain outside the concerns of most of the others who continue to view a free Russia as a single whole rather than as a composite of various regions which seek their own status (region.expert/dissidents/).

            “Nevertheless,” Shtepa continues, issues involving decentralization and de-imperialization are no longer viewed as the marginal issues they once were but as ones that must be addressed if any of the other goals of the larger but still centralist “dissident” community are to be achieved.

            During a session devoted to the recent Putin constitutional amendments, Moscow commentator Igor Yakovenko “completely justifiably noted the need for ‘the regionalization of the opposition,’” but he used the term “’disintegration’” thus showing that he has not escaped the Moscow-centricity he has often criticized.

            The thing is, Shtepa argues, “the regionalization of the country looks like ‘disintegration’ only from the point of view of a resident of the imperial capital. From the point of view of residents of various regions, this process looks completely different.” It is about “self-administration and self-determination.”

            At the roundtable “the dissidents within the dissidents” had devoted to whether federalism could be reborn in Russia, “the word ‘disintegration’ was almost never mentioned.” Instead, those Moscow denounces as separatists showed that they were focused on expanding inter-regional cooperation from Ingermanland to Khabarovsk.

            During the federalism roundtable, something else became obvious: there needs to be a clearer distinction made between regionalism and federalism. They are closely related but they reflect somewhat different sensibilities and thus have somewhat different consequences. It is important to recognize that.

            “If regionalism arises from the internal specifics of a region, federalism expresses its external interest in treaty relations with its neighbors.” They are thus cooperative, but a focus on one without the other can lead to problems. “For example, regionalism without federalism leads to isolationism,” while federalism without regionalism ignores the diversity of the regions.

            If the Free Russia Forum can integrate that understanding into its programmatic discussions, then there is hope that those who are dissenters within it now will find their place; if it can’t, then there is a possibility that the regionalists and federalists will need their own forum, something that will only impoverish and weaken the current one. 

 

Ingush Activists Win Major Victory at Preliminary Hearing – Their Trial will Be Mostly Open

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 24 – Even though prosecutors have sought to conduct the trials of the seven leaders of the Ingush protest movement behind closed doors lest the sessions spark new protests, a judge at the Kislovodsk city court has ruled that the trial will be open to the public and that audio and video recordings can be made.

            The judge’s ruling means that when the trial of the seven resumes on December 1, people in Ingushetia and the world will know more about what the authorities are doing than many had expected, although the court did say that it would close some sessions where “secret witnesses” will testify (fortanga.org/2020/11/sud-po-delu-ingushskih-aktivistov-otkryl-proczess-dlya-smi/).

            At the same time, the court extended the detention of the seven – Akhmed Barakhoyev, Musa Malsagov, Bagaudin Khautiyev, Barakh Chemurziyev, Malsag Uzhakhov, Ismail Nalgiyev and Zarifya Sautiyeva – for another six months despite appeals by Muslim leaders, Memorial and the Council of Teips of Ingushetia that these political prisoners be released (fortanga.org/2020/11/delo-ingushskih-aktivistov-samoe-massovoe-i-bespreczedentnoe/,

fortanga.org/2020/11/duhovenstvo-ingushetii-vstupilos-za-arestovannyh-aktivistov/ and

fortanga.org/2020/11/sovet-tejpov-ingushetii-ukazal-putinu-na-neobosnovannost-arestov-aktivistov/).

            The decision of the Kislovodsk judge is the latest indication of the difficulties Moscow and Magas continue to have in managing this judicial process. On the one hand, they want to prevent the trial from sparking protests in Ingushetia and thus have moved the hearings outside the republic and demanded that the sessions be closed to the public.

            But on the other, the powers that be in both places want to use this massive case to send a message to the Ingush and others that the authorities can and will crack down against anyone who protests anything they do. That requires at least some publicity, and so the authorities clearly desire some coverage.

            Whether they will be able to maintain the balance they desire if there are audio and video recordings of the sessions as well as reports by family and supporters of those charged who may be able to attend the hearings at a court outside of Ingushetia remains to be seen. But the very fact that at least some coverage will be possible should act to constrain what the court will do.

Moscow has Used Police Powers, Penetration, Radical Islam and Russian against Circassian National Movement, Khatazhukov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 24 – Valery Khatazhukov, a leader of the Circassian movement in Kabardino-Balkaria, says that Moscow has used an entire panoply of measures to try to block Circassians from organizing effectively against Russian repression, efforts that have complicated life for the nation but at the same time highlight its growing influence and power.

            In an interview with the Prague-based Caucasus Times, the activist says that Moscow and its representatives in the Caucasus first used its police powers to go after the national movement directly. And then the authorities deployed Circassians prepared to cooperate with them to subvert national organizations (caucasustimes.com/ru/valerij-hatazhukov-o-salafitah-tradicionnom-islame-i-nacionalnoj-kulture/).

            As a result, many of the organizations in the Circassian world that were proud defenders of the nation two decades ago are now mere shells of what they were and work for the Kremlin against the Circassians rather than the other way around, a development that has sown confusion among Circassians and their supporters, Khatazhukov says.

            At the same time, Moscow and its minions in the Caucasus have used two other tools against the Circassians. On the one hand, the powers that be have opened the way for radical Salafi Muslims to operate in Circassian areas, hopeful that this will split the nation along religious lines as the rise of Islamic radicalism has in other cases.

            This tactic has not proven effective, he continues, because few Circassians even among the young are ready to listen to the siren song of the radicals. Instead, they remain committed to the values of khabze, the traditional code of the Circassian nation, and to its understanding of traditional Islam.

            And on the other hand, despite proclaiming that Circassians have the right of return as compatriots, Moscow has effectively gutted that announcement by requiring that Circassians from Syria and elsewhere abroad pass tests in Russian to remain in the country, a language few of them know and do not need in Circassian areas.

            This Russian approach has in fact limited the return of Circassians to the national homeland, but it has backfired because it has radicalized many Circassians who can easily see that Moscow is applying a double standard as far as compatriots are concerned and is committed to an ethnic Russian state rather than a multi-national one in which the Circassians have a place.

            Almost all the problems the Circassians now face in the North Caucasus could be solved if the regional heads were again elected by the population. That would work to the benefit not only of the Circassians but of Moscow because at present “not a single normal person in the North Caucasus wants that Russia fall apart.”

            But Moscow so fears any genuine expression of the popular will that it is taking actions that are working against its interests as well as those of the Circassians and other peoples within the borders of the Russian Federation. “If this situation doesn’t change,” Khatazhukov says, “these processes can lead to the disintegration of Russia.”

Azerbaijan Begins Planning to Restore Rail Link to Nakchivan, Aliyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 24 – President Ilham Aliyev says that he has already issued preliminary instructions on the restoration of rail links between Azerbaijan proper and Nakchivan, a move that will give real content to the transit corridor between the two called for in the November 10 declaration.

            Because such a line will allow for a direct rail connection through Nakchivan to Turkey, this move will have the greatest geopolitical consequences. But at the same time, Aliyev announced that Baku is already working to reopen rail lines to Agdam and adjoining areas it has recovered from the Armenian occupation (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/356872/).

            Although the Azerbaijani president made no announcement at this time, Baku presumably will also be restoring main and branch rail lines through other parts of the formerly occupied territories, a move that will improve economic development in these regions and promote their reintegration into Azerbaijan.

            So far, however, Yerevan has made no announcement about possible plans to give a rail dimension to the transit arrangements the November 10 declaration opens for it across Nakchivan to Iran (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/11/yerevan-wants-transport-route-across.html).

            These are not the only rail lines in the region that now may be reopened. From Moscow’s perspective, perhaps even more important are plans to restore the operation of the trans-reginal links connecting Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Iran as well as to Turkey via Armenia and to the ports of Georgia (stoletie.ru/ekonomika/zarabotajet_li_transsib_zakavkazja_144.htm).

            Because of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, these lines have been largely inoperative for three decades even though, as Stoletiye journalist Aleksey Chichkin says, they were in their combination known already at the time of World War I as “the Trans-Siberian of the Trans-Caucasus.”

            Russia’s Trans-Caucasus railroad was built in stages between 1865 and 1949, with the branch line going to Turkey in 1899 and to Iran in 1911. During the 1930s and 1940s, Moscow build parallel with the Iranian border the line between Baku and Nakchivan through the Megri region of Armenia.

            This rail network allowed for the development of trade, but it was especially important for the supply of war materiel from the West to the Soviet Union during World War II. Trade and passenger traffic expanded after that conflict. Experts predict that trade and passenger traffic will rise 20 percent or more with the restoration of these lines.

            Of particular interest will likely be the development of copper and cobalt mines in Nakhchivan.

            But none of these lines are going to start working immediately, experts say. As much of a third of the route must be completely replaced because the tracks were not maintained over the last three decades. Financing these lines will be critical because only those countries which have or can attract sufficient resources will get the benefits from these railroads.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

It’s Daghlig Garabagh Not Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani Academy of Sciences Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 24 – Those of us old enough to remember the battles to stop Americans from referring to Ukraine as “The Ukraine” and from spelling Kyiv as “Kiev” know how important it is for non-Russians in the former Soviet space to have locations in their countries come from their own language rather than via the Russian.

            The author of these lines still recalls that at a conference at the University of Illinois in the mid-1980s, he was approached after his presentation and told by an elderly Ukrainian that he was a good friend of Ukraine because he had referred to the man’s homeland 85 times and 84 times had avoided putting “the” in front of it.

            Now, with the changes that have arisen from the recent fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the impact of the November 10 joint declaration, Baku has decided to enter the toponymic wars (politobzor.net/225408-v-akademii-nauk-azerbaydzhana-pisat-po-angliyski-nagorno-karabakh-nepravilno-tak-kak-eto-russkaya-transkripciya.html).

            Academician Baba Maggeramli, deputy head of the Institute of Linguistics of the Azerbaijani Academy of Sciences, says that it is time for English speakers to recognize that it is “incorrect” to use the words “Nagorno-Karabakh” to designate a region in the western portion of his country. They shouldn’t be using a term that comes to them via the Russian.

            Instead, the linguistics expert says, they should use the term Azerbaijanis use in the Azerbaijani language and call it either Daghlig Garabagh or perhaps Yukhari Garabagh. Maggeramli says the Azerbaijani council of ministers is already considering a decree making this point, something perhaps especially important now that there are Russian peacekeepers there.

            Azerbaijan is hardly limiting itself to this request. It is also restoring the Azerbaijani names for places Armenian forces had occupied and imposed Armenian names on. Thus, along with many other place names in the region, Shusha is again Shusha and not Shushi as the Armenians had it (kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/83772/posts/46039).

            What the Azerbaijanis are asking for a simple show of respect. Habit may make it hard for some to make the changes they call for; but failure to make them like the Russian insistence that Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is Talin with only one l, is the kind of insult that should not be tolerated.

            The author of these lines by convention has referred to the disputed territory as Nagorno-Karabakh. Now that Azerbaijani scholars have called that out, he pledges to try to remember that it is in fact Qarabagh – and perhaps with as high a percentage as he achieved by not putting a “the” in front of Ukraine so long ago. 

 

Russia Lacks Capacity to Produce Enough Coronavirus Vaccine to Dominate Market Abroad

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 24 – Russia lacks enough pharmaceutical production capacity to produce enough of its Sputnik-5 vaccine to be able to ranks seventh in the world in terms of national producers, even though its price is low (20 US dollars a dose) and effective, Moscow experts say (regnum.ru/news/3123692.html and regnum.ru/news/3123686.html).

            Moscow hopes to expand its productive capacity soon (regnum.ru/news/3123910.html). In the meantime, it will give priority to producing enough for Russian citizens even though they will get the vaccine free and thus not contribute to the profits of the company involved (regnum.ru/news/3123708.html and regnum.ru/news/3123851.html).

            The daily toil continued to rise as even officials acknowledged that the pandemic is dangerous in many places and challenging the control of the authorities (regnum.ru/news/society/3122025.html). The registered numbers continued to go up, by 24,326 new infections and 491 new deaths (t.me/COVID2019_official/2042).

            More independent analysts weighed in and suggested the only numbers that anyone should consider accurate are the excesses of premature deaths, figures that show the pandemic has hit Russia far harder than the daily registration numbers suggest (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/81938).

            A leading Moscow epidemiologist said that it is far too early to speak of having passed the peak in the pandemic in the Russian Federation and that numbers may go up (regnum.ru/news/3123412.html).

Meanwhile, Igor Nikolayev, a Moscow economist, sharply criticized the Kremlin for engaging in all kinds of activities that have nothing to do with addressing the pandemic as a way of suggesting that all is well on that front when in fact it isn’t. The powers seem to think that as long as there isn’t a new lockdown, all is well (echo.msk.ru/blog/nikolaev_i/2746690-echo/).

The situation in many regions is desperate. More than a third don’t have the money on hand to pay for current levels of healthcare, 20 haven’t entered into agreement with the federal authorities to get more, and in some, there are no medical facilities available at all (regnum.ru/news/3123671.html and ura.news/news/1052459925).

Government officials continue to maintain that vaccination will be entirely voluntary and that Putin hasn’t been vaccinated yet because not all tests are done and he is the chief of state (regnum.ru/news/3123859.html and regnum.ru/news/3123573.html).

And a new VTsIOM poll finds that Russians overwhelmingly support wearing masks and maintaining social distance. It did not ask about reactions to a possible new lockdown (wciom.ru/analytical-reviews/analiticheskii-obzor/pandemicheskie-riski-i-kak-s-nimi-borotsja).

On the economic front, almost 50 percent of all Russians have seen their incomes fall since the start of the pandemic, more consumer loans are in trouble, and the IMF has called on the Kremlin to increase support for the economy lest it spiral downward further (regnum.ru/news/3123901.html, regnum.ru/news/3123768.html and rbc.ru/economics/24/11/2020/5fbcb3439a7947eff9b72cf1).

            Looking to the future, some economic analysts say they expect Russian consumers to continue to invest, purchase and pay on line but not to save more than they were (vtimes.io/2020/11/25/covid-no-money-a1441).

            Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related developments in Russia today,

·         The human rights ombudsman says that more Russians are using her hotline than ever before (regnum.ru/news/3123764.html).

·         The pandemic is forcing officials to impose significant restrictions on the appearances of Father Frost and the Snow Maiden, key figures for Russian children at New Year’s (regnum.ru/news/3123420.html).

·         More than 1.6 million Russians have recovered from the coronavirus but still need physical and psychological rehabilitation, experts say (regnum.ru/news/society/3124036.html).

Moscow Plans Inter-Regional Network of Paid Multiple Lane Highways by 2035

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 23 – Roads have been one of the chief bottlenecks for Russian development, with far fewer kilometers of road than the country’s size needed, many population points not connected by paved highways, and the quality of roads so low that they must be repaired almost constantly.

            Russians defend this situation by pointing out that they are a northern country with a severe climate and until recently relied more on railroads than on highways and trucks than most other countries do. But the expression “fools and roads” as Russia’s two great misfortunes remains rooted in the Russian psyche.

            The situation at the end of Soviet times was truly dire.  After Russia became independent, it was still the case that 167 of 1837 district centers did not have hard-surface road connections to oblast and republic capitals and that approximately 250,000 small and mid-sized population centers were not connected to others by paved roads.

            And that does not even take into account that many of these roads were impassable because they were poorly constructed and because the government’s arrangements made it profitable even in the 1990s for companies to build bad roads because they could make more money by repairing them than by doing the right thing in the first place.

            In fact, during the first post-Soviet decade, Russia built only 365 kilometers of new roads, all around or connected to Moscow. The situation elsewhere continued to be a disaster, constraining economic development, raising questions about the territorial integrity of the country, and threatening Moscow’s ability to move its military forces around.

            Since Vladimir Putin came to power, the situation has improved. Between 2000 and 2018, the total length of automobile and truck roads rose from 584,400 kilometers to 1,529,400 kilometers, although some of this was achieved by reclassifying streets and including what had been trucker routes into the highway system.

            As a result, the average speed on Russia’s highway system increased, lowering the costs of moving goods and people from place to place, and safety did as well, with deaths from automobile accidents falling by 26 percent in the last five years alone, a figure Moscow hopes to improve upon by 2024 (lenta.ru/articles/2020/11/23/dorogi/).

            Except in the immediate vicinity of Moscow, almost all these roads are at best two lanes wide and not limited access, meaning that the Russian Federation does not have a highway system like that of Germany with its autobahns or the United States with its interstate highway network.

Now, the Russian government has decided to change that and to use highway construction as a means of escaping the current economic crisis. It has announced plans to build a countrywide network of high-speak, four or more lane highways and to pay for this massive project by making most of them toll roads (futurerussia.gov.ru/nacionalnye-proekty/avtodor-razrabotal-koncepciu-razvitia-seti-skorostnyh-avtodorog-v-rossii-do-2035-g and profile.ru/cars/dorogo-no-bystro-s-pomoshhyu-platnyx-dorog-rossiya-potixonku-proshhaetsya-so-svoej-vtoroj-bedoj-431910/).

Whether it will succeed in this effort, of course, remains to be seen; but the reliance on tolls and the recognition that highway construction can be a motor of economic growth mean that there is perhaps a better chance now than at any time in the past to link more of Russia together with highways and to rely on them the way most other countries do. 

 

’75 Years Ago This Month, Southern Azerbaijan Revolted Against Iran,’ Caucasus Post Recalls

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 23 – Governments and policymakers often invoke anniversaries of past events that provide them with political benefits as the Kremlin has done with World War II. But in Russia, the focus on such anniversaries, especially if they are round ones (ending in 5 or 0), sometimes has a life of its own.

            That makes it difficult to know whether someone is using the anniversary to send a message or whether the desire to mark the anniversary does not reflect any such intention, even though some readers will assume that it does because of its apparent applicability to current events.

            In the wake of the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan that has already echoed among the 20 million plus ethnic Azerbaijanis of Iran, the Caucasus Post has published an article about what it describes as “a forgotten event of Azerbaijani history” (capost.media/special/75-let-nazad-yuzhnyy-azerbaydzhan-vosstal-protiv-irana/).

            Yewvgeny Vyshegorodsky, a journalist at that publication, recalls that “in November 1945, an uprising began in Southern (Iranian) Azerbaijan with the goal of separating it from Iran.” The USSR supported the rising in the hopes of gaining oil concessions from Tehran and blocked the Iranian government from rapidly restoring control.

            During World War II, the USSR and Great Britain occupied Iran to ensure transportation routes to India and from the Indian Ocean into the Soviet Union as well as to prevent Germany from gaining an ally in the shape of the Tehran government. When the war ended, Britain withdrew quickly, but the Soviets did not, hoping to pressure Tehran.

            Leaders of the Azerbaijan SSR saw a chance to expand their republic and promoted the idea of an Anschluss, but Moscow wanted to exploit the Azerbaijanis of Iran only to the point of gaining their own separate country, as is clear from the secret July 6, 1945 Politburo decision, Vyshegorodsky continues.

            On September 13, 1945, the Iranian government appealed to the USSR, the US and Great Britain for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Iran. Great Britain agreed, but the USSR refused to set a date. And on November 18, 1945, Azerbaijanis in Northern Iran rose in revolt. Tehran tried to send its forces to suppress it, but Soviet troops blocked their advance.

            By December 11, all of Iranian Azerbaijan was under the control of the revolt. But pressure from the West and the US in particular at the request of the British, finally led the Soviet forces to withdraw. And on November 21, 1946, Tehran announced that Soviet troops had left and that it had retaken the north.

(For more details, see David Nissman’s The Soviet Union and Iranian Azerbaijan: The Use Of Nationalism For Political Penetration (Westview, 1987). For the ways in which Tehran may read such articles, see https://jamestown.org/program/karabakh-declaration-opens-way-for-iran-to-play-expanded-role-in-caucasus/.)

.

Putin Restoring Soviet Approach to Women on the Cheap, Tyomkina Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 23 – The resurgence of conservative attitudes about gender roles is occurring in many countries, but there is a fundamental difference between what is happening in Western countries and what is happening in the Russian Federation, sociologist Anna Tyomkina says.

            In the West, this rejection of the liberalization of the last two generations has come from below, from various social groups that reject these changes, while in Russia, it is coming from above, from a state that is reimposing the conservative values of Soviet times – and more than that, on the cheap, the professor at the European University in St. Petersburg says.

            And thus what is happening, Tyomkina continues, represents a hybrid return to Soviet attitudes and practices but in a way that shifts the burden from the state to individuals (meduza.io/feature/2020/11/23/mozhet-pokazatsya-chto-konservatizm-rossiyskih-vlastey-malo-vliyaet-na-realnuyu-zhizn-no-on-kazhdyy-den-uhudshaet-zhizn-mnogih-zhenschin).

            “In the Soviet Union, there was no ideal or practice of the homemaker,” she recalls. “Soviet citizens, men and women, worked. That was the ideology of the Soviet state and an economic necessity: families needed two working parents” to manage. At the same time, the Soviet authorities “expected that the woman would combine work with maternity.”

            The state provided some support for women with free medical care, but “in its concern with the birthrate, it did not defend the individual rights [of Soviet women] but rather sought that the Soviet woman would fulfill her ‘duty.’” Something similar is returning, with less support, now, the sociologist continues.

            In Soviet times, “the woman was held to be responsible for work and for the family and children and often bore this responsibility on her own.” The state did not allow for alternatives and incomes were not high enough to allow women to choose to work or not when they had children.

            The end of the Soviet system changed all of this. Sex became a source of satisfaction, and having children became “a personal choice” rather than a duty to the state, Tyomkina says. But that threatened the state, and it rather than civil society as in the West, has become in the last two decades “the main conservator,” the chief agent of turning back the clock.

            There have been three attempts to adopt a law on gender equality – in 2003, 2008, and 2018 – and all have been defeated, with the government arguing that “Russia is a special country, and gender equality ha been brought in from the West and is alien to the national culture. Besides, [it says,] the equality of men and women is written in the Constitution.”

            When the last such bill was rejected, Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said that “deputies later will develop a new law in which the stress will be laid on the labor and social rights of women.” With such language, “the state is again viewing women only or in the first instance as a mother.”

            Most Russian conservatives view gender equality as being about the promotion of LGBT rights, something they oppose. “Any use of the word ‘gender’ is viewed as dangerous for ‘traditional values’” in their understanding. Moreover, having a homogenous population with only one kind of marital relations makes it easier for the state to rule.

            This conservative offensive became especially strong after the events surrounding Pussy Riot in 2012, Tyomkina says. That act alone ensured that for the government, “gender equality finally ceased to be a priority and ideas about women’s rights were reduced to support for maternity and children.”

            To a great extent, she continues, this represents “a continuation of the Soviet hybrid policy, at one and the same time emancipatory and traditionalist,” with the state providing women with benefits because of her role in producing more citizens. But there is a key difference: “the state now is minimizing its spending” to those ends.

            Now, in the imagery of Russian society, “the successful woman is the wife of a rich man. She doesn’t need to work, but she, besides giving birth to children, can be ‘a freelancer,’” who also brings in income. That is a centerpiece of conservative discourse and suggests the state doesn’t need to support her having children.

            But of course, for the vast majority of women in Russia, there are no such possibilities and so if state support declines, the status of women does as well. Moreover, Tyomkina points out, the new conservatism has managed to keep sex education limited or out of the schools altogether.

            Many in the regime fear that sex education will increase the number of LGBT people in Russia and so should be opposed. But it also means that the rising generation learns less about contraceptives, that abortions remain high, and that traditionalist messages about the proper role of women are not challenged.

            Commenting on Tyomkina’s observations, Maksim Trydolyubov of the Meduza news agency observes that “the powers are in a paradoxical way equating the idea of ‘gender’ with that of the defense of the rights of sexual minorities,” something that is leading in Russia to “a unique hybrid gender policy.”

            That policy combines, he says, emancipation when it benefits the state by making women responsible both for working and breeding children and a return to a pre-feminist ideal in which “the man is the breadwinner and the woman in the mother and homemaker.”

Russians Now Think Putin ‘Stability’ May be Even Worse than ‘Wild’ 1990s, Video Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 23 – Vladimir Putin has mobilized support for his policies by saying that they are necessary to prevent Russia from sliding back in the 1990s when Russians suffered economically and psychologically from the collapse of the USSR and all the dislocations it provided. Indeed, that scarecrow has been a major source of his authority.

            Anyone who questions what the Kremlin is doing is routinely challenged with the query “You want things to go back to the 1990s?” But an increasing number of video clips and posts on social media suggest that there has been a shift in public assessments of the past as compared to the present (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/81822).

            The Krizis-Kopilka portal today a clip in which Russians are heard saying that they now face many of the same problems Putin promised to overcome from the 1990s and that as a result, their country finds itself in a situation again with “daily banditism, an economic crisis, a healthcare system which doesn’t work, dedovschchina in the military, and official arbitrariness.”

            One such clip, of course, does not necessarily mean that there has been a sea change in Russian opinion, but the mere fact that Russians are now comparing the present and the past of 30 years ago in a new way means that a major foundation of Putin’s power is decaying and that ever more Russians are going to ask whether his restrictions have in fact been the cure he claims.

Chaykovsky Residents Want Their City to be Part of Udmurtia Not as Now in Perm Kray

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 23 – Most smaller cities in Russia are locked into the regions or republics of which they are a part but the transportation networks that exist, networks that link them to the capital of the federal subject and thus make any talk of shifting them from one subject to another almost unthinkable.

            But there are exceptions, and one of those has now surfaced again in the Urals. Chaykovsky, a city that was established only in 1955 to support the development of a hydro-electric dam to support the development of Votkinsk’s defense firms and named for the Russian composer, wants to leave Perm Kray and become part of the Udmurt Republic.

            On social networks and in the local media, Chaykovsky residents are calling for this change, arguing that with it “many issues would be more easily and quickly solved” because the authorities in Udmurtia are more focused on ordinary people than are those in Perm Kray who care first and foremost about big business (ura.news/news/1052459837).

            They also believe the frequent turnover in governors in Perm has left it less capable of dealing with problems, and they recall that in Soviet times, “Perm offered the Chaykovsky district to Udmurtia, but the latter refused to take it.” So far, the authorities in the two federal subject capitals have remained silent on this issue.

            The possibility has three sources. First, older residents in both places recall that borders among republics and regions were often changed in Soviet times when that served Moscow’s interests or, more rarely, when regional leaders wanted it. (On that, see the current author’s “Can Republic Borders Be Changed?” RFE/RL Report on the USSR, September 28, 1990.)

            Union republic borders were changed nearly 200 times during the Soviet period, and borders among their constituent regions or autonomous republics were shifted, often by very small amounts, far more often than that, as priorities and populations shifted and economic considerations changed.

            Second, Vladimir Putin’s call 15 years ago for the amalgamation of smaller non-Russian republics and districts with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian regions led many in both Perm Kray and Udmurtia to consider how that might work to their respective advantage and to offer plans for redrawing the border.

            In April 2012, some Perm leaders picked up on Putin’s call and urged that Kirov Oblast and the Udmurt Republic be amalgamated with Perm Kray into the political counterpart of the oft-discussed Volga-Kama economic macro-region. But growing resistance to such combinations elsewhere appeared to have killed off that possibility.

            And third, there is the objective reality that Chaykovsky is on the border of the two subjects and far more integrated already in terms of transportation and communication with Udmurtia than with Perm. Its people are far more likely to go to Votkinsk than to Perm, and now, at least some of them would like to take their city and its land with them.

            Moscow is unlikely to welcome their proposals for two reasons. On the one hand, it would strengthen a non-Russian republic rather than undermine it; and on the other, these proposals are coming from below and thus the kind of activism that the Kremlin fears even if it might appear to be proceeding in parallel with its own.

            Chaykovsky is hardly the only such place in the Russian Federation; and it is likely that residents in others feel the same way, convinced that transportation and communications links are more important to their futures than the current lines on the map.

            Perhaps the most important consequences of this are two. On the one hand, the likelihood that such demands will surface is yet another reason for Moscow to go slow in any imposed from above border changes. And on the other, those cities where such demands are made may become new hotspots of dissent with people making demands not only about border but much more.

Russians Should Be Comparing Their Country with Brazil or Turkey not Germany or the US, Zadornov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 23 – Sometimes countries compare themselves with others less developed than themselves and become complacent or at least self-satisfied; on other occasions, they insist on comparing themselves only with countries more advanced and developed than they are and become anxious or critical or their own.

            Examples of countries which insist on comparing themselves with others at a different level than their own are legion, and cases when countries recognize that mistake and correct it are few and far between, although those that make the change from the wrong set of comparisons to a more adequate one regularly show how important that can be.

            At the end of Soviet times, people in the Baltic countries routinely took pride in the fact that they were way ahead of the Soviet republics; but after 1991, they recognized that they needed to compare themselves and their economic and political achievements not with Ukraine or Turkmenistan but with Poland or Portugal.

            That shift in perspective both reflected and intensified their drive to escape from the consequences of the Soviet occupation by eliminating any sense that they could rest on their laurels and by setting standards for them that were appropriate to their level of development and aspirations.

            Russians have always insisted on comparing themselves with the countries of Western Europe and the United States, even though such comparisons show them in less than a positive light and lead to expectations that seldom can be met. Now, Mikhail Zadornov is urging that they change the comparisons they make.

            The former Russian economics minister says that current Russian discussions about the adequacy or inadequacy of government support for business during the pandemic are about how well Moscow is doing relative to Germany, France or the United States (znak.com/2020-11-23/eks_ministr_finansov_rf_o_vliyanii_pandemii_na_ekonomiku_padenii_rublya_i_stavkah_po_kreditam_interv ).

            Russians should not forget, Zadornov says, that “we are not a country whose currency is a reserve currency. We are a country of the developing world and not of the developed world. Therefore, it is not clear why we are always comparing our measures of support with Germany or France.”

            “It would be more correct to compare ourselves with Brazil, Turkey and the Latin American countries where there were not such generous budgetary support of sectors and the population who have suffered as was the case in developed countries. This is a completely different currency situation and a different level of budgetary support.”

            Often, discussions about the imaginary world in which the Russians position themselves are cast in military terms, ones that allow its nuclear arsenal to justify its being a major power like others in the West. But Zadornov’s words are a reminder that those who do so in Moscow are allowing that judgment to color others where it is less justified and even harmful.

            That is not to say, as the former economics minister makes clear, that Russia should not aspire to more in terms of support for business or the population during the pandemic; but it does mean that those debating how much should be offered need to remember where the country really is economically rather than where they imagine it to be.

 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Moscow Hopes Its Coronavirus Vaccine ‘New Oil’ for Russian Economy

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 23 – Ever more Russian officials are expressing the hope that the Sputnik-5 vaccine will be a major moneymaker for the country, with some now even describing it as “the new oil,” something that will help the country’s economy recover in the coming years (vz.ru/economy/2020/11/23/1072006.html and ehorussia.com/new/node/22198).

            Such hopes come as the statistics from the pandemic’s spread remain dire. For the first time ever, the Russian authorities registered more than 25,000 new cases in one day (25,173) bringing the cumulative total to 2,114,502. They also reported that there were 361 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours, upping that toll to 36,540 (t.me/COVID2019_official/2036).

            Ever more evidence is coming in that these figures significantly understate the problem.  A Mediazone study suggests that there have been 120,000 coronavirus deaths in Russia so far and the undercounts reflect efforts by both regional and central authorities to portray the situation as better than it in fact is (meduza.io/feature/2020/11/23/izbytochnaya-smertnost-v-rossii-s-nachala-pandemii-sostavila-120-tysyach-chelovek-eto-v-chetyre-raza-prevyshaet-dannye-operativnogo-shtaba-o-kolichestve-smertey-ot-kovida and zona.media/article/2020/11/23/120k).

            To the surprise of few, Mediazone says that Chechnya routinely provides some of the largest undercounts of any region (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/356803/). Other studies confirm both patterns (capost.media/news/obshchestvo/chislo-zarazivshikhsya-koronavirusom-rossiyan-mozhet-v-10-raz-prevyshat-ofitsialnoe-/ and idelreal.org/a/30960000.html).

            The pandemic continues to spread across Russia, intensifying in ever more places (regnum.ru/news/society/3116623.html and regnum.ru/news/society/3122025.html). Moscow plans to send another 80 billion rubles (1.1 billion US dollars) to the regional governments and has asked them to follow Moscow city’s approach (regnum.ru/news/3122961.html and regnum.ru/news/3122791.html).

            Perhaps indicative of where things are headed was a call by consumer affairs chief Anna Popova to make all recommendations on how to respond to the pandemic legally required especially in the economic sector (regnum.ru/news/3122868.html). Officials said they hope the vaccine will limit the need for that (regnum.ru/news/3122489.html).

            On the economic front, business groups say that government anti-pandemic efforts are already undermining any possibility for the recovery of small businesses (regnum.ru/news/3122667.html). Another depressing factor is that many spheres in which people have shifted to online purchases aren’t going to return to bricks and mortar stores (regnum.ru/news/3122626.html).

            The pandemic has also affected popular attitudes, leading to a sense of economic fatalism, experts say, especially because of the spread of unemployment that few see a way out of (finanz.ru/novosti/lichnyye-finansy/rossiyane-massovo-zakryvayut-vklady-v-bankakh-ottok-prevysil-trillion-rubley-1029830571, krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/81857 and  regnum.ru/news/3122639.html).

            Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related developments in Russia today,

·         Every fifth Russian favors replacing the word “lockdown” with the word “isolation” (regnum.ru/news/3122437.html).

·         Cybercrime has increased by 20 to 25 percent since the start of the pandemic, computer expert Yevgeny Kaspersky says (regnum.ru/news/3122163.html).

·         Infected senior officials are getting  far more rapid and better treatment than ordinary Russians (versia.ru/chinovniki-lechatsya-ot-koronavirusa-ne-tak-kak-prostye-grazhdane).

·         Russian officials have sent in doctors to an Evenk town that decided to isolate itself from the world (nazaccent.ru/content/34549-v-zakrytoe-na-karantin-evenkijskoe-selo.html).

·         Half of the monks in the Valaam monastery are now infected with the coronavirus (ahilla.ru/polovina-bratii-valaamskogo-monastyrya-bolna-kovidom/).