Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Even Many of Putin’s Backers Now Hate Him, Kasyanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – Many of those who feel they have no choice but to back Vladimir Putin hate him, Mikhail Kasyanov says; but the Kremlin leader’s policies are driving even more people toward open revolt, one that will replace the incumbent not via middle class-dominated elections but by a mass rising.

            In an interview with Galina Ostapovets of Ukraine’s Obozrevatel portal, the man who served as Putin’s first prime minister (2000-2004) offers one of the most negative predictions of what the Kremlin leader’s policies are leading to (obozrevatel.com/russia/planyi-putina-obruchilis-eto-silnyij-udar-on-perezhivaet-i-ne-mozhet-smiritsya-eks-premer-rossii.htm).

            Russians are running out of savings, and the government is not providing them with the kind of assistance they need.  According to Kasyanov, only 43 percent of the 12,000 rubles Putin has promised firms to keep each worker employed will go to the workers; the rest will come back to the government in the form of taxes.

            Putin understands that as people face poverty and hunger, they will become increasingly angry; and to prevent their attitudes from being a threat to him and his regime, he has been adopting increasingly repressive measures, the former prime minister says. But there are limits to how effective those will ultimately prove to be.

            What makes the situation even worse than that during the hungry years at the end of Soviet times is that Putin’s regime has the money to help but doesn’t want to – and because he has so many people working for the state and thus dependent on him, he believes that they will continue to support him no matter what.

            Kasyanov says that he expects the referendum on the constitution to take place in June and to pass. “Before then, Putin will declare everything is fine, that we have defeated all the viruses and done better than the entire rest of the world. Reports a la Soviet Union. All ahead. Hurrah!” And threats to those dependent on the state will ensure him a victory.

             “In Russia, people depend on the powers, and with each year, this dependence is increasing ever more,” the Russian politician says. “Each citizen depends directly on his paycheck. Putin wants to feed people from his hand. He doesn’t want that institutions work on their own” and that people earn money from them. 

            Putin isn’t going to change course because he believes that would make him look weak, something he cannot bear. He will have a pompous parade and he will ban all other meetings because that combination has worked for him in the past and still has the capacity to work for him now.

            Of course, the Kremlin leader will falsify the results of the referendum. Online voting will only make that easier for him because it will be harder for monitors under Russian conditions to check what goes on with the 20 to 30 percent of votes coming in by electronic means or mail. Elections will become increasingly meaningless as a legitimating tool.

            “The majority of people given the existing situation,” Kasyanov continues, “will withdraw into their families, the kitchens and dachas. They will simply survive.” Those in the big cities who protested in the past won’t do so now because the repressive measures will be too great. Putin will block almost everything.

            One must remember that “people are not prepared to defend their constitutional rights, go out into the street and demand that they be observed and respected.” Those who have protested are now afraid, but coming in their place are the increasingly impoverished masses who will ultimately carry through a revolt. “This will be horrific.”

            “The change of power will take place not through elections where the middle class dominates and explains to people how it is necessary to correctly form policy and lead the country out of the crisis.” Instead, it will be led by “hungry and furious people” who will seek to sweep everything away.

            Putin understands this, but his response is to increase repression rather than help the population, and that brings this date ever closer.  He believes he can control the situation, but that is increasingly in doubt. Not only the hungry masses but even “many Putin supporters and backers already now admit that they do not like him.”

            “Some even hate him,” Kasyanov says, but most of them assume there is no choice. As things get worse, they will realize that there is. “The issue is not one of personalities.” A sensible government could be created in a day or two. “That is a small problem” once people realize the fraudulence of the very idea that Putin is forever.

            Ultimately, there is no “irreplaceable” power. “Our country is normal. Russians want to shape their future; the majority already doesn’t expect help from the state. They ask only that it not interfere” as it has been doing.

            “People younger than 60 already do not need the help of the state for survival.” And that gives one confidence, Kasyanov concludes, that “Russia will be able to go along a normal path,” the one it was moving toward before Putin began his efforts to turn the country in an entirely other and dangerous direction.

Monday, May 25, 2020

If Moscow Wants to Keep North Caucasus within Russia, It Must Get Russians to Return and Live There, Chechen Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – Over the last five decades and especially in the early 1990s, ethnic Russians have been leaving the North Caucasus in droves, making the non-Russian republics in that region increasingly homogeneously non-Russian and making their integration with the rest of Russia far more difficult, Abdulla Istamulov says.

            If Moscow wants to keep them as component parts of the Russian Federation, the director of Grozny’s Center for Strategic Research and the Development of Civil Society says, then it is “obligatory” that Moscow encourage ethnic Russians to return to live and work in the North Caucasus (kavtoday.ru/article/5420).

            According to Istamulov, Russians and non-Russians got along fine. Even religion was not an obstacle to large-scale interethnic marriages; and non-Russians took from the Russians many positive attitudes and behaviors. With the departure of the Russians, the non-Russians are increasingly on their own, affected by each other but not by Russians.

            He says that his own positive view of Russians was formed by ethnic Russian teachers who worked in Chechen schools.  For their efforts, Istamulov continues, he is “infinitely grateful.” But now the situation is changed: Russian is taught by non-Russian teachers, and consequently, the values he imbibed in the past are not being communicated.

            Some Russians left because of the instability of the early 1990s, he says, but most left because the values of the Soviet system, values that had held members of different nationalities together, were no longer defended against their critics. People left and not only from the North Caucasus to go where they thought their home was.

            Not surprisingly, that led to radicalization among non-Russians but also among ethnic Russians as well.  The people were impoverished, and populist politicians who told people what they wanted to hear created deep divisions between peoples who earlier had been close, Istamulov says.

            The biggest outflow was between 1989 and 1993. After that time, only those who did not want to leave or who had lived all their lives in the region remained.  Especially likely to remain were those who had married local people. “In practice, we had mixed marriages in every village.”

            Many in the North Caucasus were led astray by the siren song of freedom and independence. “There was no understanding that we are all tied together in economics and politics and that if Russia leaves, Uncle Sam will come via the Turks.”

            “I always told our leaders that if Uncle Sam comes, then gay clubs will come as well. Who will you be then, Chechens? You will disappear. Let’s leave with t hose with whom we have lived. They aren’t banning your faith. You can make a career. It is profitable for Chechens to live in Russia,” the Grozny commentator says.

            It is critically important that Russians come back to the North Caucasus. Earlier programs intended to promote that didn’t work: money allocated for them disappeared without effect, and the wrong people were chosen. More than that, many of these efforts failed to take into account the reaction of local people returning Russians would be competing with.

            There is little doubt that this kind of Chechen declaration of loyalty to Russians is exactly what the Kremlin wants to hear; but Istamulov’s insistence that if the Russians don’t return,  the North Caucasus won’t remain within the borders of the Russian Federation must spark concerns that not everything in that region is to Moscow’s liking. 

Moscow, St. Petersburg May Have Plateaued on Virus But Rest of Russia Mostly Seeing Increases

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 24 – With the coronavirus, Russia is engaged in a real not “hybrid” war, Yuliya Latynina says (echo.msk.ru/programs/code/2647323-echo/); but it isn’t making equal progress across all sectors. The two capitals appear to have plateaued, but many regions are still seeing an acceleration in the number of cases (capost.media/news/obshchestvo/in-russia-only-moscow-and-the-moscow-region-came-out-on-a-plateau/).

            Today, officials said, Russia registered 8599 new cases, bringing the total so far to more than 340,000; and the number of deaths – 154 – set a one-day record (club-rf.ru/news/57238 and

            The situation beyond the ring road is dire. Vladimir Putin and his government have singled out the deteriorating state of the pandemic in Daghestan; but other predominantly Russian regions may be suffering even more. In Yaroslavl, people are so angry at official failures to help, they have appealed to Putin to fire their governor (rosbalt.ru/russia/2020/05/24/1845066.html).

            In contrast to the West where medical professionals who wear masks and suffer lower infection rates. In Russian hospitals, because of a lack of masks and other protective gear, doctors and nurses are suffering disproportionately (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/05/24/85509-perebolevshie-sotrudniki-uzhe-vyhodyat-na-rabotu and svpressa.ru/economy/article/266129/).

            Meanwhile, other pandemic-related news from Russia today includes:

·         Russians are being advised by travel agents not to make plans for vacations this summer because the pandemic’s course is still too unpredictable (versia.ru/letnij-otdyx-poka-luchshe-ne-planirovat).

·         Evidence is mounting that family violence among Russians under quarantine is increasing and that the prospects are that divorces will accelerate too once people can leave their homes (chaskor.ru/article/zaperty_vmeste_46172).

·         Russian export of oil continues to fall, down 25 percent during the first 20 days of May compared to the first 20 days of April (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/76637).

·         Russian officials are discussing the possibility of imposing a ban on private ownership of gold as a means of restraining what they expect to be a spike in inflation once self-isolation protocols end (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/76578).