Friday, September 18, 2020

Fewer than One Russian in Seven Favors Annexation of Belarus, Levada Center Poll Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 17 – Only 13 percent of Russians favor the absorption of Belarus into the Russian Federation, two percent more than did a year ago but far fewer than the share favoring a situation in which the two countries would remain independent but have close economic and political ties, according to a Levada Center poll conducted at the end of August.

            These figures are significant in that the Levada Center uses a variety of techniques to get a sample reflective of the Russian population as a whole rather than some other pollsters who are less careful in that regard (thinktanks.by/publication/2020/09/17/levada-tsentr-13-protsentov-rossiyan-za-vhozhdenie-belarusi-v-sostav-rossii.html).

            Thirty-two percent of the sample say that Moscow and Minsk should maintain relations at their current level, up from 28 percent a year ago. Forty-one percent say that they should develop closer economic cooperation, down three percentage points from 2019. But only 11 percent, the same as last year, favor an arrangement in which they would have a common ruler.

            The sociological service also reported that Russians rank Belarus as Russia’s “closest friend” internationally, with 58 percent making that declaration, down four percentage points from 2019. At the same time, only two percent say it is an enemy of Russia, more or less unchanged from a year ago.

            Obviously, under Putin, the opinions of Russians on this matter are hardly determinative; but they do make any drive to absorb Belarus more difficult. And at the same time, these Russian attitudes are an important political resource for those Belarusians who want to maintain their independence.

            Indeed, Belarusians could easily decide on the basis of data like these that the best way for their country to be independent would be to remain a close friend to Russia and that any move away from Moscow might be the thing most likely to trigger precisely the kind of aggressive Russian response they hope to avoid.

            Such a calculus is also something that those in the West who hope for Belarus to become a free and democratic state need to recognize as well rather than continuing to assume as all too many do that taking a position favorable to Moscow by the Belarusian nation in the streets is a betrayal of those goals.

            It may in fact be the only way that they can be achieved, at least as long as Putin is in power in Moscow.

Putin’s Goals for Boosting Life Expectancy Unlikely to Be Met in Far North, Demographers Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 17 – Vladimir Putin’s call to boost life expectancy in Russia to 80 years by 2030 may be achieved in Moscow and a few better off regions, but in the northern reaches of the country, it will be almost impossible, according to Timur Fattakhov and Anastasiya Pyankova, demographers at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.

            In a new article, “Reserves of Growth of Life Expectancies in the Northern Regions of Russia,” they describe the enormous obstacles that would have to be overcome for the Putin goals to be achieved there (Profilakticheskaya meditsina 23: 2 (2020): 89-96 at iq.hse.ru/news/399549079.html, summarized at publications.hse.ru/articles/376061321).

            Not only would officials have to lower mortality from heart attacks, traumas, and murders among the local population, the two Moscow experts say, they would have to significantly reduce alcohol consumption and convince the people to take greater care of their health. 

            Fattakhov and Pyankova say in particular that “in order to bring life expectancies in the North close to those in the better off megalopolises,” the population must be provided with more accessible health care, greater technology, more and better medical personnel, and improved transportation so that people in distant areas can reach hospitals when they need to.

            Life expectancies in the Russian north are 71.4, almost the same as for Russia as a whole where the figure is 72 but far behind Moscow where people can already expect to live to 78.  That means that men in the North on average live 7.9 years fewer than male Muscovites and women in the North live 4.1 years fewer than their counterparts in the capital.

            In percentage terms, people in the North made enormous strides between 2003 and 2016, but the demographers caution that “from a low level, it is always easier to achieve increases than from a higher one.” At the same time, there was real progress in reducing accidents and traumas and lowering alcohol consumption.

            During that period and even now, the ages at which such changes can make a difference are for men in prime working age groups and for women over 65. That is because in the North in particular, the population has not succeeded in ending the impact of infectious diseases on the population.

            According to the two Moscow demographers, much of what remains to be done requires massive social investment and a concerted effort to change life styles, such as alcohol consumption which leads to accidents, suicides, and other deaths, and to make medical care more rather than less accessible.

            Per capita costs of health care are inevitably higher in the North given the low density of the population and the difficulty people there face in traveling to doctors or hospitals.  If Moscow evaluates medical care costs there as it does for the rest of the country, the North will never catch up in terms of life expectancy because premature deaths will remain high.

                Fattakhov and Pyankova do not address Putin’s health care optimization program directly, a program that has led to the closing of numerous medical points in the North as well as other rural parts of the country. But their analysis supports the conclusion that Putin’s policy on that makes the achievement of his life expectancy goals impossible, at least in the North.

               

Russian Regime Exploiting Pandemic to Limit Protests of All Kinds, New Report Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 17 – As soon as the pandemic began, the Russian authorities recognized that they could use it to limit the possibilities of Russians to take part in protests and immediately introduced restrictions in 71 regions, the independent rights group OVD-Info says in a new 3600-word report (ovdinfo.org/reports/svoboda-sobraniy-na-fone-pandemii#2).

            Moreover, the powers that be used the occasion to effectively eliminate the divisions that had existed in Russian legislation between various kinds of public assembly thus allowing the authorities to employ at their discretion punishments intended for one kind of protest against any and all others, Denis Shedov, one of the report’s authors says.

            And while these restrictions supposedly were related to the pandemic, only in 15 of the 71 regions did officials include in their orders provisions that would call for these limits to be lifted when the pandemic ends, thus opening the way for them to retain such controls indefinitely.

            Even when other pandemic-related restrictions like going to restaurants or museums are lifted, these limitations have rarely been at least for any political activity directed against the authorities. For example, in Moscow, one can go back to restaurants but can’t take part in individual picketing if the authorities choose to apply the restrictive order rather than the law.

            Rights activists say that the situation has deteriorated in recent months as officials recognize that they can invoke the pandemic to justify almost any restrictions they want to impose (vtimes.io/news/pandemia-protiv-svobody).

As Coronavirus Numbers Rise, Russians Fear More Restrictions, Forced Vaccination

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 17 – As the uptick in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths continues, ever more Russians fear that the government is about to introduce more restrictions and require vaccinations, an attitude that has prompted officials to deny that they have plans to do either.

            Today the central staff reported that Russian officials have registered 5762 new cases of infection, bringing that total to  1,085,281, and 144 more deaths, upping that toll to 19.061, both higher than they have been since July and sparking worries that the virus is on the attack (t.me/COVID2019_official/1515 and novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/09/17/87133-korona-vozvraschaetsya-na-prestol).

            The Kremlin annou9nced it had no plans to re-impose restrictions but at the same time said that the decision to do so would be made by the governors rather than by the central government (regnum.ru/news/3066364.html and regnum.ru/news/3066719.html).

            One of their number, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin reflected the tough position they find themselves in: He took credit for the fact that 99 percent of pupils are in classrooms but called on businesses to continue distance working (regnum.ru/news/3066739.html and kommersant.ru/doc/4494202?from=main_7).

            Elsewhere, the pandemic continued to ebb and flow with new closures seemingly as common as new re-openings, even as officials declared that the epidemiological situation of the country as a whole was “stable” (regnum.ru/news/society/3064298.html and  regnum.ru/news/3066259.html).

            As far as forced vaccinations are concerned, Prime Minister Mikhail Murashko insisted they would not take place (capost.media/news/obshchestvo/minzdrav-prinuditelnoy-vaktsinatsiya-ot-koronavirusa-v-rossii-ne-budet/ and regnum.ru/news/3065779.html); but ever more experts suggested they are likely given popular resistance (newizv.ru/article/general/17-09-2020/virusolog-vaktsinu-sputnik-v-ispytyvayut-na-lyudyah-v-prinuditelnom-poryadke).  Gamaley Laboratory officials said that the attitudes of Russians toward the vaccine were irrelevant as far as public policy is concerned because the vaccine is still being tested (regnum.ru/news/3065757.html), and Vektor Laboratories said that its vaccine would not provide lifetime protection given mutations in the virus (regnum.ru/news/3066440.html).

            Meanwhile, several over-the-counter medications against the coronavirus went on sale in Russia, likely depressing interest in the vaccine (nakanune.ru/news/2020/9/17/22583938/). Also pushing down interest is the opposition of many Orthodox clergy (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/09/16/87124-udarnaya-doza-apokalipsisa).

            On the economic front, experts said unreported payments to workers had fallen during the pandemic because the parts of the economy where those are the most common had been the hardest hit (regnum.ru/news/3065945.html). Moscow’s effort to boost housing via lower interest rates is clashing with its cutbacks in the construction of low-price apartments (ng.ru/economics/2020-09-17/4_7967_housing.html and babr24.com/msk/?IDE=205017).

            Finance Minister Anton Siluanov reported that the Russian government expects to run deficits totaling 5.4  trillion rubles (80 billion US dollars) over the next three years because of the shadow of the economic downturn sparked by the pandemic (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/80131).

            And in other pandemic-related developments in Russia today,

·         Prime Minister Mikhail Murashkov said that wearing masks and maintaining social distance remain the most important steps Russians can take to prevent a recurrence of the pandemic (regnum.ru/news/3066201.html).

·         A commentator has suggested that Russians, like many other nations, are now divided into two groups, those who try to be careful and those who take pride in not doing so and in showing their readiness to die (newizv.ru/comment/alina-vituhnovskaya-2/16-09-2020/o-transformatsii-cheloveka-v-kovidnuyu-epohu).

·         The expert community in Russia is pressing the government to adopt a negative income tax so that those hit hardest by the pandemic can recover (ng.ru/economics/2020-09-17/4_7967_economics1.html).

Thursday, September 17, 2020

’15 Days Detention isn’t Much’ -- Belarusians Cease to Be Afraid, Vadomatsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 16 – Over the last month, sociologist Andrey Vardomatsky says on the basis of focus group interviews with protesters, Belarusians have ceased to be afraid of the authorities, they do not require leaders to direct them in their protest activity, and are prepared for a long struggle.

            In short, the NOVAK laboratory researcher says, there have been “fundamental changes” in the population and the emergence of a genuine and strong “Belarusian civil society” which no longer believes it needs a strong hand to govern it (belsat.eu/ru/news/grazhdanskoe-obshhestvo-rozhdaetsya-vo-dvorah-v-chem-novizna-i-osobennost-belorusskih-protestov/).

            This new attitude of self-confidence finds its expression in the remarks of many of those surveyed that being detained by the authorities for 15 days is no longer a reason not to protest. Instead, the threat of such punishments is part of life and can even be the occasion for a redoubling of efforts, Vardomatsky says.

            And what is especially important, he continues, is that this process of the formation of an active civil society is occurring in each yard around apartment blocks and thus has become beyond the reach of the central authorities. They can no longer hope to direct or control these shifts in public attitudes.

            In the future, this growth of local cooperation is going to become “the prototype of local self-administration.” But now, it means that the failure of the protesters to achieve a breakthrough is not leading to apathy but to a recommitment to protest as long as it takes to oust Lukashenka and change Belarus forever.

Riga City Council Election Marks ‘Beginning of the End’ of Ethnic Voting in Latvia, Bergmane Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 16 – The results of the August 29 city council elections in Riga suggest “the beginning of the end” of ethnic voting in Latvia, with historically “Latvian” and “Russian” parties promoting other issues and ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians voting less on the basis of their ethnicity than ever before, Una Bergmane says.

            The London-based Latvian scholar says this has shaken “the political landscape of the Latvian capital.” More than that, it has called into question Moscow’s continuing efforts to use ethnic Russians to promote its interests even when they conflict with the interests of the country in which these people live (fpri.org/article/2020/09/riga-a-new-beginning/).

            For the last 11 years, Harmony, a party that has presented itself as an advocate for Rusian speakers, has controlled the city council in Riga, reflecting the fact that most large cities in Latvia have Russian-speaking majorities. And Moscow has celebrated this arrangement as the basis for change at the all-Latvian level and more broadly.

            The rise of non-ethnically based parties like Development/For, Progressives and New Unity reflects a decline in ethnic political polarization in Riga and greater willingness among Latvians, Russian speakers and not, to support left of center views that had been anathema because of their assumed links to Sovietism.

            This combination means that the Riga elections may “indeed be the beginning of the end of ethnic voting there,” a development that if it continues will move Latvian politics away from ethnic divisions and open the way for broader left-of-center political coalitions.

            One characteristic of the August vote, however, calls that into question. Participation at 40.58 percent, “is a harsh reminder that a significant number of the city’s inhabitants feel disengaged from city politics,” Bergmane says. Indeed, she adds, they may represent the disillusionment of many Russian speakers.

            But the decline in participation may also reflect simple fatigue given the controversies the city council has been mired in during recent years. And one can only welcome the fact that “there was no large-scale mobilization driven by ethnic sentiments on either side” and that new non-ethnic forces are going to dominate politics there.  

           

Reactions of Russians to Belarusian Protests Led Moscow to Poison Navalny, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 16 – The Russian government has suggested it had no interest in killing Aleksey Navalny because the opposition leader currently garners only two percent support in public opinion polls; but, Vladimir Pastukhov argues, that ignores the fears many in the Kremlin have that Russians are being inspired by events in Belarus.

            Up to now, including in 2014 regarding Ukraine, the London-based Russian analyst says, sympathy for the Maidan did not extend much beyond the customary “political watershed between liberals and patriots.” Now, with Belarus, Russian sympathies for the Belarusian protesters are much more widespread (mbk-news.appspot.com/sences/belorusskaya/).

            The Kremlin is very worried about that, and its actions reflect its fears, Paatukhov argues. “Russia is a country serious split into two ideological ‘occupation zones,’ the liberal and the patriotic, whose residents rarely leave the place of their political dislocation.” Between them is “a broad neutral area” whose residents rarely take sides at least in public. 

            In reaction to developments in Belarus, the first two took entirely predictable positions. But what is intriguing and significant is that members of the neutral zone between them started to take positions as well, saying things they may well have felt for a long time but feeling that they must express themselves.

            Such occasions are rare, Pastukhov says; and when they do occur, the Kremlin takes notice because such rare comments by those in the normally silent middle are among the only ways that the Kremlin can actually find out what is going on in “the terra incognita” of “’the deep elites’” who normally keep quiet and thus are assumed to be in the Kremlin’s corner.

            “But when the protests suddenly began in Belarus, these people who had silently followed the abuses of Russian siloviki in Moscow a year ago, began to express themselves” openly because for these people, “when they say ‘Belarus,’ they mean Russia,” and when “they speak the name of Lukashenka aloud, they are saying to themselves ‘Putin.’”

            In response to such statements and they appeared on television and in the central media, the Kremlin had to do something to change the focus. What it did was to poison Navalny; and in response, “the interest of ‘the deep elites’ to the events in Belarus rapidly declined to nothing.” That solved the Kremlin’s problems at least for a time.

            The deep elites were driven back into their horrified silence, and the window of opportunity that their comments had appeared to open between August 10 and August 20 ended. That was enough for the Kremlin to take this action, and Pastukhov suggests that it was this concern rather than any fear of Navalny himself that explains what took place.

Russians Split on Possible Unification of Russia and Belarus, Poll Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 16 – In response to a poll organized by St. Petersburg’s Gorod-812 portal, 51 percent of Russians said they favored Belarus being amalgamated with the Russian Federation, 40 percent said they were opposed, saying that in their view, this would not benefit Belarusians.

            But among the roughly half of the sample of 1800 people, half of those who said they favored unification of the two countries said that they would support it only if Belarusians voted in favor of that step in a referendum (gorod-812.ru/51-proczent-oproshennyh-hoteli-by-obedineniya-rossii-s-belarusyu/).

            Five percent of those who took part said they were indifferent as to whether Belarus would become part of Russia or not. “Let them enter or not enter,” these people said. “We don’t have any borders.”

            Participation in this poll was self-selected by visitors to the Gorod-812 site, a portal that tends to cover developments from a more liberal perspective. Thus, the sample is not random or representative. But it is an indication that support for combining the two countries may be far less that Vladimir Putin or many others appear to think.

            And it thus provides yet another reason to think that the Kremlin is likely to pursue what might be called “hybrid annexation,” the transformation of Belarus into a Russian-controlled satellite formally independent but run in all important ways by Moscow and its representatives in Minsk.

            It is likely that a far larger share of Russians would support that than would back full amalgamation. 

Russian Justice in Ingushetia has Two Faces: One for Officials and Another for Opposition Figures

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 16 – After a period of relative calm in August and early September, the courts in the North Caucasus dealing with Ingush protesters and the efforts of those protesters to call attention to the way in which the same courts deal with Ingush officials have resumed this week.

            An investigation by the Fortanga news agency reported that when Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was head of the republic between 2008 and 2019, few officials were charged with corruption despite evidence that many more were and even fewer were punished in any serious way for their actions (fortanga.org/2020/09/chinovniki-nakazanie/).

            But the courts in Ingushetia and the courts in neighboring federal subjects where many Ingush cases are held adopt a very different and much more draconian approach when Ingush protesters are involved and hand down sentences that are either completely unjustified or so excessive that no one can see them as anything but political acts.

            And when appelatte courts do correct the mistakes of lower courts, they are careful to do so in ways that do not benefit the accused despite widespread efforts to present such instances as evidence of the fundamental justice of the courts and prosecutors in Ingushetia, the North Caucasus and Russia as a whole.

            Today, a Magas court sentenced Rashid Maysigov, who wrote regularly for Fortanga, to three years in the camps after judges refused to accept evidence that the drugs for which he was being convicted had been planted on him by the authorities. His lawyers will appeal (novayagazeta.ru/news/2020/09/16/164309-ingushskogo-zhurnalista-rashida-maysigova-prigovorili-k-trem-godam-kolonii-po-delu-o-hranenii-narkotikov).

            That decision follows one in the Zheleznovod city court in Stavropol kray which declared Ingush protester Akhmed Chakhkiyev guilty for his participation in the March 2019 demonstrations.  Because the authorities had kept him behind bars for longer than his sentence was, Chakhkiyev was allowed to leave the courtroom a free man (fortanga.org/2020/09/chahkiev-prigovor/).

            But the most duplicitous and pathetic action by Russian courts involved Zarifa Sautiyeva, the Ingush archivist whom Memorial has declared a political prisoner. Her lawyers 18 months ago appealed an extension of her detention while charges were being investigated. A Stavropol appeals court has ruled that that extension was illegal (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/354205/).

            The sad part of an otherwise welcome decision is that Russian courts have subsequently extended her detention and the decision on an earlier period of her being behind bars, September 12 to December 11, 2019, has no impact on her continuing to be held now.  Her lawyer says he may seek monetary compensation for this miscarriage of justice.

Many in Three Million-Strong Belarusian Diaspora Said Ready to Help Their Country After Lukashenka Goes

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 16 – An appeal by a Belarusian blogger for members of the 3 to 3.5 million Belarusian diaspora to send help back to their country now that Alyaksandr Lukashenka is on the way out has attracted widespread support, signaling a sea change in their attitudes toward their native country.

            A major reason Belarusians have left their country over the past quarter century has been the absence of opportunity and freedom in the repressive regime Lukashenka has maintained. Most Belarusians abroad defined their future exclusively in terms of the countries to which they have moved.

            But now that is changing, and they may become more attentive to what is happening at home, more willing to send money back, more ready to lobby on behalf of their own country, and even more prepared to return. If so, that will make a big difference both financially and in terms of Belarusian identity (newizv.ru/article/general/15-09-2020/belorusskaya-diaspora-za-rubezhom-gotova-pomogat-novoy-vlasti).

            Those who have the experience of strangeness that √©migr√© life often creates are more likely to be nationalistic in their outlooks. That is especially the case because political, social and religious organizations that couldn’t function in Lukashenka’s Belarus can and do function in other countries.

            As a result, while this trend may still be small in the Belarusian case now, it is likely to become more important and have a larger impact on the situation inside that country than many have imagined, especially because the diaspora amounts to more than a third of the total number of ethnic Belarusians in the world. 

Because of Coronavirus, Moscow Reduced Anti-Tuberculosis Effort and Now Faces a TB Epidemic

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 16 – Because officials shifted resources within the medical sector to fight the coronavirus pandemic, Russian doctors significantly reduced their efforts to combat the spread of tuberculosis. As a result, health officials say, the country faces “a more horrific epidemic” later this year, one involving TB (mk.ru/science/2020/09/16/mediki-byut-trevogu-koronavirus-stal-predvestnikom-bolee-strashnoy-epidemii.html).

            Despite that warning, there is little chance that money will be shifted away from fighting the coronavirus, especially as the numbers now are the worst since July. According to authorities, 5670 new cases of infection and 132 new deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours, bringing the respective totals to 1,079,519 and 18,917 (t.me/COVID2019_official/1508).

            But while numbers are rising, officials say Russians are no longer as worried as they were. They have gotten used to the virus as just another unfortunate fact of life (newsru.com/blog/16sep2020/covid.html). The WHO says Russia is still at a plateau despite the uptick (regnum.ru/news/3065070.html).

            One thing that may get the attention of Russians is that some in the government want to boost taxes on cigarettes 20 percent in order to compensate for the expenses Moscow has had to assume to fight the coronavirus and also to make up for declining revenues from other sources (regnum.ru/news/3064471.html).

            Russian medical officials are giving conflicting advice on how long people who have had the virus remain immune and whether they need to be vaccinated with some saying they need to and others dismissing the idea (regnum.ru/news/3064949.html and regnum.ru/news/3064671.html). Another debate has broken out about the level of herd immunity in various parts of the country (sovsekretno.ru/news/okolo-50-zhiteley-nekotorykh-regionov-rf-imeyut-immunitet-ot-koronavirusa/).

            Resistance to vaccinations of any kind remains high. In some parts of the Russian Far East, a third of parents are refusing to have their children vaccinated against the flu. Many will likely refuse to get them inoculated against the coronavirus too when that vaccine becomes available there (regnum.ru/news/3064726.html).

            The Russian government does view the vaccine as a profit center, however. It has announced plans to sell 100 million doses of the Sputnik 5 vaccine to India (rdif.ru/Eng_fullNews/5787/).

            The pandemic continues to ebb and flow across the country, often hitting places officials have been upbeat about only recently (regnum.ru/news/society/3064298.html). For example, Rostov-na-Donu now reports that people are having to wait “several days” for ambulances because of new infections (regnum.ru/news/3065470.html).

            Russians are especially worried about the spread of the virus among pupils in school. Educational administrators say the problem could be solved by distance learning, but government officials and many parents are opposed to that. As a result, children are getting sick and being quarantined (rosbalt.ru/piter/2020/09/16/1863763.html).

            Industry associations report that 82 percent of firms have adopted one or another strategy to fight the pandemic (regnum.ru/news/3065026.html). But Moscow city officials say they have had to cut back work on parks and other public spaces by 75  percent because of the pandemic (kommersant.ru/doc/4493611?from=main_9).

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

·         St. Petersburg officials are encouraging those going to theaters to buy three tickets for each person so that they can guarantee they won’t be sitting next to someone who might spread the virus (regnum.ru/news/3065124.html).

·         Moscow hoped that Russians’ inability to travel abroad would boost domestic tourism, but in many cases, people have just stayed at home and some tourist destinations within the country have seen the number of visitors decline by as much as 75 percent (regnum.ru/news/3064964.html).

·         Russian restrictions on the entry of foreign students is leading many of them, including those from CIS countries, to decide to attend higher educational institutions in countries other than Russia (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/09/15/87099-znaniya-dlya-russkih and cabar.asia/ru/studenty-iz-tsentralnoj-azii-ne-mogut-vernutsya-v-rossiyu-na-uchebu/).

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

37 Percent of Russians Think Russia Now a Great Power, 29 Percent Think It will Be Soon, but 26 Percent Say It Won’t, VTsIOM Poll Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 15 -- Three years ago, 57 percent of Russians said that their country remained a superpower, but now only 37 percent think so, although 29 percent say it may reclaim that status in the near term, VTsIOM reports. More intriguingly, one in four – 26 percent – say that won’t happen (wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&uid=10542).

            Thirty-one percent of Russians say that Moscow should seek to recover superpower status; but 44 percent of them said the country should seek to be economically developed and influential. And ten percent say it should not pursue that goal, with six percent favoring the more limited aspiration of leadership of the post-Soviet region.

The poll also found that 11 percent said the country should promote social policy and improve the lives of Russians, 44 percent believe the government should support business so that Russia can become one of the top ten to 15 countries in the world and ten percent say Moscow should spend less on the armed forces in order to do so.

Some of these issues are the kind where one would expect most people to respond in this way regardless of how they feel, but the share of the Russian population favoring a shift from the use of military means to achieve power to promoting domestic development is significant, especially given VTsIOM’s links to the Kremlin.

Obviously, these results do not mean that Vladimir Putin is about to change course; but these numbers simultaneously will encourage those who want that to happen and mean that the Kremlin leader is certain to find it more difficult not less to promote his drive to recover Russia’s great power status regardless of domestic costs. 

‘Proletarian Internationalism’ Didn’t Exist in the Soviet Union and Its Absence Killed the USSR, Pyatov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 15 – Many Russians accept Vladimir Putin’s argument that Lenin’s support for the non-Russian republics led directly to the demise of the USSR. But at the same time, a large share of them believe to this day that until the end, the population of that former country was informed by “proletarian internationalism.”

            But commentator German Pyatov says “there was no internationalism in the USSR.” Instead, there was “Russophobia, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia,” always at the everyday level and often at the level of government policy. And it was such attitudes that made the survival of the USSR impossible (mk.ru/social/2020/09/15/razveyan-odin-iz-glavnykh-mifov-sssr.html).

            To make his case which extends Putin’s critique of Lenin and adds criticism of Stalin and Brezhnev as well, the Moscow writer focuses on two issues: the policy of “korenizatsiya” (“rooting”) under which the Soviets in the first decades promoted non-Russians at the expense of Russians and Stalin’s and later Brezhnev’s anti-Semitic policies.

            In discussing korenizatsiya, a policy he suggests few know about, he discussed the way in which the Soviets between 1920 and 1932 promoted the Ukrainian language and culture in Ukraine and in the RSFSR wherever Ukrainians lived, weakening the Russian language and Russian culture in the course of doing so.

            The Soviet government did this, Pyatov argues, to suppress the ethnic Russian people, who for the communist dictatorship represented “the greatest danger” and to try to buy off the non-Russians lest they challenge centralist rule. Moscow achieved its first goal but hardly its second. Instead, he says, it sowed the seeds of separatism as a result.

            Not only did the non-Russian republics become more non-Russian and less Russian-speaking but Moscow extended this policy to the Red Army by creating national units using their own languages that “the Bolsheviks considered effective for the suppression of uprisings by ethnic Russian peasants.”

            Moscow turned away from this policy under Stalin, but he launched another mistaken nationality policy based on anti-Semitism, a policy that Brezhnev continued, albeit in less radical ways.

            Pyatov says that he can testify on the basis of his own experience that the de-Russificaiton of education led to disasters. He studied at the Tashkent State Medical Institute in 1983. At that time, 320 of the 400 students in the first class were graduates of rural schools where they did not learn Russian.

            As a result, they took their entrance examinations in Uzbek and did not understand the lectures they were required to attend.

            On the basis of this, he concludes, “the USSR fell apart because there was no internationalism in it. The very system of national republics established by the communists worked not toward internationalism but toward nationalism and contained within it the unavoidable threat of collapse.”

            Pyatov’s article is worrisome because it is far more radically anti-non-Russian than most commentaries on the existing system in the Russian Federation, but it is intriguing because, in contrast to Putin’s words, it suggests that the absence of internationalism was part and parcel of the Soviet system not only under Lenin but under Stalin and even Brezhnev as well. 

 

‘The Language of the Belarusian Revolution is Russian,’ Belogorova Says

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 15 – “The language of the Belarusian revolution is Russian,” Olga  Belogorova says, a product of some of the factors that made Russian so important in Ukraine at the time of the Maidan and of unique conditions in Belarus now and a development that by itself will have an impact on Russians within the current borders of the Russian Federation.

            At the time of the Maidan in Ukraine, the Russian regionalist activist says, “journalists, bloggers, politicians and public figures” there “spoke and wrote in Russian,” only periodically including Ukrainian words or providing translations into Ukrainian in the media traditional and electronic (region.expert/non-state-russian/).

            They used Russian for three reasons: first, many in Ukraine used Russian and the leaders of the revolution wanted to be sure to reach them; second, many Ukrainians who took part in the Maidan did not then speak Ukrainian well; and third, by doing so, “Ukrainian politicians were trying to inform the citizens of Russia about what was taking place” in Ukraine.

            Because Ukrainian activists made that choice, Belogorova says, “many Russians bypassing state media received and receive to this day reliable information about events on the territory of Ukraine, including in Crimea, Luhansk and the Donbass.”  They also came to recognize as lies Moscow’s claims about discrimination against Russian in Ukraine.

            Ukrainians and Russians, she continues, still fight about linguistic differences between them when both are using Russian. Ukrainians insist on “v Ukraine” while Russians demand that people use “na Ukraine.”

            The situation in Belarus now is very different. “Almost always Belarusian politicians appeal to their audiences in Russian, and Belarusian media rarely translate political information into Belarusian as Ukrainian media have.”  There are sites where this happens, but they do not set the weather.

            At the same time, however, Belarusian activists are driven by some of the same calculations that drove their Ukrainian counterparts six years ago. And also like Ukrainian Russian speakers, they differ from Russian speakers from the Russian Federation on some important aspects of the language.

            Belarusians insist the name of their country is Belarus and not Belorussia, the term Russians use. They are “Belaruses” not “Belorusy.” And with increasing frequency, they put the Russian preference in brackets when they use their own. But as of now, “Russian has become the main (or dominant) language of the Belarusian revolution.”

            It is possible that the next generation of leaders there will speak only in Belarusian, especially if Russia intervenes in ways that offend the Belarusian people as Moscow has done in Ukraine.  In fine, Belogorova argues, “whether Russian on the territory of Belarus will alienate people or not depends on the behavior of the Russians.”

            But one thing is already clear or should be, she says. “Russian no longer belongs just to the Russian people living on the territory of Russia or in the diaspora … and it does not belong to the Russian state.” Russians should take pride that others want to use it, and they must accept that the language will change in the process.

            It will develop as other world languages have, with local variants becoming ever more important and the core group of speakers no longer defining how others use it. That has already happened with English, Spanish, French and German. It is now happening in Ukraine and Belarus among other places with Russian.

            In the future, other “Russian languages of non-Russian origin” are likely to appear: “Ukrainian Russian, Belarusian Russian, their mixed forms like Surdzhik and Trasyanka. and of course, our regional Russian languages of the oblasts, krays and republics of the Russian Federation.”

            Moscow doesn’t own the language. But its use beyond the borders of the Russian Federation can be a valuable resource if the Kremlin does not act in a way that politicizes in a negative way the use of Russian and leads ever more people to turn away from it and from Russia as well.

Quiet in Russia After Elections ‘Deceptive,’ Four Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 15 – Some analysts had expected that there would be protests after the latest elections although most supposed that these regional votes were unlikely to trigger that. But four experts tell Rosbalt’s Aleksandr Zhelenin that the post-election calm all have noticed is “deceptive.”

            Anastasya Nikolskaya, a Moscow sociologist who works with the Beslansky group, points to the low level of participation. Only those whom the regime could force to take part did so in many cases, and she adds that pre-election polls showed high levels of anti-regime anger (rosbalt.ru/russia/2020/09/15/1863610.html).

            In her view, “our society is living with a sense of a serious storm impending,” and the current quiet may only mean that people are saving their energies “in the expectation that something similar may happen in Russia as is taking place in Belarus today.”

            Konstantin Kalachev, the head of the Political Experts Group, says that the victory United Russia won this time was “Pyrrhic” because participation was so low and so its candidates were able to get in with just over half as many votes as they would have needed earlier.  He also noted pro-regime candidates had to hide their affiliation by running as independents.

            He suggests that in the 2021 Duma voting, United Russia will encounter “serious threats” and that its party list may not pass the 5 0 percent barrier and therefore won’t be able to pretend that it should be called “the party of the majority.”

            And Moscow political analyst Aleksandr Kynyev argues that the Kremlin may not have been unhappy with the low turnout not only because that meant the opposition received fewer votes but also because the regime is ever less confident that those it can force to take part will vote as Moscow wants.  He adds that the “three-day” election was to check on them.

            The three agreed that the Navalny poisoning had not had a large impact outside of major cities where the Internet predominates; but they also agreed that the Kremlin continues to make mistakes that ultimately will have consequences. And the three agreed with the view of a fourth analyst, Andrey Okara of the Center for East European Research.

            He said that in Russia today, things are as they often are: “the people is silent but then after some triggering event, there will occur ‘a Russian rising, senseless and pitiless.” 

Electoral Authoritarian Regimes Cannot Be Ousted by Voting But They Can Be De-Legitimized, Gelman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 15 – Russia and Belarus are regimes of “electoral authoritarianism,” Vladimir Gelman says, ones in which elections are organized to legitimate those in power and not allow the opposition to come to power. But if voters cannot hope to overthrow them at the ballot box, they can de-legitimate them by their votes.

            “Electoral authoritarianism” is a special form of authoritarianism, the Moscow political analyst says, one that allow for competitive elections but ensures that only those the regime wants can win, thus exploiting voting to legitimate those in power (newizv.ru/article/general/15-09-2020/vladimir-gelman-elektoralnyy-avtoritarizm-otlichaetsya-ot-diktatury).

            This distinguishes them from “those authoritarian regimes which do not allow elections at all or in which elections are obvious non-competitive as was the case in the USSR before 1989,” Gelman continues. And at the same time, it means that “overthrowing electoral authoritarianism via elections is impossible.”

            But voters can inflict serious harm on regimes of “electoral authoritarianism,” he argues. They can do so by voting for candidates which look to be the most likely to serve as an alternative to the regime because they have a chance to get more votes than do those of the regime.

                What is happening in Belarus shows that rulers who use this system must be careful. Lukashenka clearly thought he could win without difficulty even if he allowed Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to be on the ballot. Had he kept her off, the August vote likely would have been a repetition of the 2015 election. He would have “won” and there wouldn’t have been protests.

            The Belarusian dictator failed to recognize how angry Belarusians are at him and how many were prepared to vote “not so much for her as against him.” 

            “In Russia today,” Gelman says, “the situation with regard to elections is approximately that of the one in Belarus before August 9.” The regime has managed the situation better, but voters have, by using “smart voting,” inflicted harm on its reputation and thus its legitimacy as such.

            Those Russians who live in districts where they can vote for a good candidate in this cause have it easy, but even if the candidates on offer do not include anyone like that, the voters benefit and the regime loses if they vote for anyone even someone who appears noxious whom the regime doesn’t like.

            They aren’t going to overthrow the regime, but they are going to weaken it, as the events in Belarus and in Khabarovsk show.  That is one of the side effects of relying on this form of dictatorship. And it is one that imposes special responsibilities on rulers and on those who would like to see them changed.