Staunton, January 24 – Vitaly Mutko will likely be forever remembered for his role in the doping and other scandals surrounding Russian sports and especially the Sochi Olympics, but as deputy prime minister overseeing nationality policy between May 2018 and January 2020, he won praise in Russia for his openness and his ability to get more money for numerous projects.
It is an axiom of public life in most countries that if you want positive treatment from journalists, you have to treat them well and do things that are easy for them to cover. Mutko understood that, and as deputy prime minister, he was almost unique in being a senior official whom journalists could reach via cellphone and get comments.
Not surprisingly, this won him plaudits from journalists covering ethnic issues, as one can see from an evaluation of his work in this area by the National Accent portal which focuses on “the nationality question” in the Russian Federation (nazaccent.ru/content/32051-from-auer-harts.html).
But his willingness to interact with journalists had another and more important consequence, one that benefitted his bosses in the Kremlin if not the nearly a third of the Russian population which consists of ethnic minorities: it helped him redirect attention from critical issues affecting larger nations to spectacles and those affecting smaller ones.
And that had the added benefit from Moscow’s point of view of promoting the notion and not just in Moscow or the Russian Federation that the central government there was supportive of many ethnic groups even as its policies were showing it to be anything but regarding the larger and more significant ones.
In its survey of Mutko’s approach to nationality policy, the National Accent portal lists what it sees as his achievements, all of which support that conclusion:
· He succeeded in finding a building and opening a House of Friendship of the Peoples in Moscow.
· He helped write and shepherded through the Duma new legislation designed to protect the numerically small non-Russian peoples of the North by registering them so that others could not claim the benefits they were receiving and by boosting Moscow’s spending on these groups.
· He oversaw the stratification of Cossacks, helping to dramatically expand the so-called “registered” Cossacks, those who cooperate with the regime and are used as guards and to dispel demonstrations, even as the regime continued its campaign against independent Cossack groups.
· He expanded government subsidies for the Roma national cultural autonomy in order to reduce their dependence on wealthy members of that community.
· He expanded support for publications among the numerically smallest non-Russian nations.
· And he boosted the size and budget of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, adding 31 employees to its staff and raising its budget in less than two years by 80 percent.