Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Russians Mistakenly Think Vaccines will Restore Life to What It was Before Pandemic, Igor Yakovenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 26 – Like many other peoples past and present, Russians mistakenly think that something like a vaccine will allow them to return to a world exactly like the one that existed before the pandemic, a mistake that opens the way to chaos and confusion once they recognize that there is no going back, Igor Yakovenko says.

            Pandemics have swept across the world many times, although not that recently, the professor at the Russian State Humanities University says. Humankind has always won; but as many prefer to forget, societies have never been the same afterwards as they were before (

            That is even more likely to be the case now not so much because there are more people in the world who may be infected but rather because they are increasingly interrelated, travelling from one place to another and thus subjecting themselves and ultimately others to germs that they would have avoided in the past.

            People also are engaging in more large collective activities than they did in earlier decades and centuries, and those too promise to spread the pandemic and multiply its impact this time around. No vaccine by itself will be sufficient to end this. Instead, people will have to change their ways of life – their travel and more generally “their social hygiene.”

            That isn’t something many want to accept. They are increasingly angry that they have to accept restrictions to fight the coronavirus. What they refuse even to consider, and what governments that focus only on vaccines play to, is that many of the restrictions in travel and contact are going to have to remain in place for a very long time, perhaps in some cases forever.

            If one examines the great pandemics of the past, all of which occurred before the advent of modern vaccines, people had to change their behaviors and societies became very different because of it. Now, many foolishly think that vaccines will preclude such changes, Yakovenko says.

            But they fail to see that the coronavirus is the first and unlikely to be the last pandemic-generating virus and that, if people and governments go back to where they were before the COVID-19 outbreak, they will be able to live just as they did. If they try, the tragedy of 2020 will be repeated again and again.

            This is all the more likely, the Moscow scholar says, because global warming is continuing, the shift away from fossil fuels is happening at different rates in different places, and globalization will continue because all the major countries, however much people complain about this, are dependent on international markets to survive.

            It is time to face up to the difficulties of the future, difficulties, Yakovenko argues, are not going to disappear even if a highly successful vaccine becomes available.

Coronavirus May Make People Infertile, Driving Down Russian Birthrate Still Further, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 26 – The number of births in Russia has fallen by 23.7 percent over the last five years, Anna Kuznetsov, the ombudsman for children’s rights, says, with the fertility rate (the number of children per woman per lifetime) falling over the last three years from 1.62 to 1.5, far below the replacement level of 2.2 (

            The pandemic and the economic crisis associated with this is only intensifying this trend, making it virtually impossible to reverse its current population decline anytime soon, despite Kremlin suggestions that things will soon turn the corner and births will rise because of the government’s continuing pro-natalist policies.

            Lyubov Khapylina, a specialist on social policy at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, says that such pessimism reflects “a number of factors,” including the continuing impact of World War II losses, the demographic “hole” of the 1990s, and also the increasing rarity of large families.

            The pandemic and the outflow of immigrant workers is adding to this trend. But she argues that “the main cause” of falling birthrates in Russia is “the poor material status of families and the growth of poverty,” trends the Russian government has so far failed to counter.

            Looming on the horizon is another factor that may depress Russian birthrates still further. Leyla Namazova-Baranova, the head of the Union of Pediatricians of Russia, says that there is evidence that those who have been infected by the coronavirus may become infertile (

            If that proves to be the case, millions of young Russians might find themselves unable to have children even if the pandemic passes and the economy recovers, something that will case a shadow on the future almost as long as the much-cited World War II losses have.

Kazakhstan has No Official Claims Against Russian Territories but Some Kazakhs Consider Parts of That Country Theirs

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 26 – Moscow makes much of the fact that, unlike itself, the governments of the other former Soviet republics, make territorial claims against it. Kazakhstan is no exception. But if Nur-Sultan doesn’t, it is nonetheless true that many Kazakhs do include such territories in their mental maps of what the borders of their country should be.

            For obvious reasons, neither Russian nor Kazakh media talk much about that: it is too potentially destabilizing. But in a rare exception, Zen.Yandex’s Central Asia page has explored precisely “which territories of Russia, the Kazakhs consider to be their own” (

            Russians and Kazakhs live on both sides of the international border between them, the page says, but because there are many more ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan than ethnic Kazakhs in Russia, “our southern neighbors have fewer causes to advance any demands.” But despite that, “some Kazakhs consider part of their motherland” lands within Russia. 

            For most of their history, Kazakhs were a nomadic people and did not have the kind of fixed borders that sedentary populations have. Moreover, until the beginning of the 18th century, Russia acquired territory there “indirectly” not through conquest but by promoting vassal relations.

            “But in the 1730s,” the Central Asia page continues, “the construction of the Siberian tract began” and after several decades passed through territories that had been dominated by Kazakh nomads. That opened the way for Russian penetration into Central Asia and beyond.

            Among the territories Russia absorbed that had been part of the nomadic routes of the Kazakhs were Chelyabinsk, Omsk, Orenburg, Tyumen and the Altay. Many Kazakhs who lived there were thus included within the Russian Empire and in the case of those in Orenburg participated in the Pugachev uprising.

            After 1917, the Bolsheviks established the Autonomous Kyrgyz (that is, Kazakh) Socialist Republic within the RSFSR. Orenburg was critical in Bolshevik planning because it divided Central Asian republics like Kazakhstan from the Middle Volga Turkic Muslim republics of Idel Ural.

            (On the continuing sensitivity of what some call “the Orenburg corridor,” see, and

            Some Kazakhs still view this and other regions now within the Russian Federation as properly part of their historical patrimony, but the Central Asia page says that “even the most rabid Kazakh nationalists” don’t suggest that they should absorb more distant areas like those in the Nogay and Kalmyk areas in the North Caucasus where they were once present.


Anniversary of Prigorodny War Far More Important for Ingush People than for Ingush Government

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 26 – The enormous losses in Ingush lives and territory that resulted from the 1992 Prigorodny War with North Ossetia remain a deep wound for the Ingush population which is remembering all those events as the October 30th anniversary of those events approaches.

            The Ingush government too is recalling that war but in a way that only underscores its desire to avoid calling too much attention to it. Republic head Makhmud-Ali Kalimatov directed officials to hold a memorial session but told them to ensure that it would not be so large as to threaten people during the pandemic.

            That is entirely reasonable but the fact that he did so on the fly, at a meeting in Magas airport as he prepared to fly off for meetings in Moscow, underscored his obvious desire not to focus too much attention on this painful event lest it trigger new demands by the Ingush  (

            This attitude was highlighted earlier this month by Kalimatov’s decision to shut down the Ingush Committee to Support Searches for Hostages and MIAs from that conflict, a group that had been remarkably successful not only in its stated goal but in mobilizing Ingush to demand an accounting from North Ossetia (

            The republic head doesn’t want that lest it lead to a renewal of popular protests against his government for failing to follow the republic constitution with regard to border changes in the case of the 2018 deal that led to the loss of ten percent of the territory of Ingushetia, already the smallest federal subject (other than Moscow and St. Petersburg.

            The attitudes of the Ingush people about the 1992 war and about remembrances of it are well reflected in a Portal Six commentary by Elza Tomina, who says that what occurred was a case of “mass terror” by North Ossetian officials against Ingush residents of that republic (в-память-жертвам-этнической-чистки-в-с/).

            She points out that the official media in both republics have remained largely silent about these crimes and that “not one organizer of the ethnic cleansing of the Ingush population in the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia or one participant in the immediate bloody actions has been punished even though their names are well and widely known.”

            “On the contrary,” Tomina continues, the North Ossetian government has not only protected them but continued its repressive actions against the remaining Ingush, harassing them or charging them with invented crimes. These criminal actions are remembered by Ingush too because “the past is always part of the present. That is how human beings are made.”

            She argues as well that many ordinary Ossetians don’t accept their republic government’s anti-Ingush propaganda, yet another reason why Ingush media should not be shy in pointing out its falsehoods.  Only if that is done can both peoples have better relations with each other and thus a better life.


Russia’s Jews Assimilating at ‘Colossal Rate’ But Less than Those in Europe, FEOR Head Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 26 – Aleksandr Boroda, the head of FEOR, says that “there is reason to think” that approximately a million Jews live in Russia, although only a few more than 200,000 are actively involved in Jewish communities. They are assimilating at “a colossal rate” but one that is less than in Europe.

            His remarks come in the wake of a report by London’s Institute for Research on Jewish Policy that suggested the number of Jews in Europe today has declined by 60 percent since 1970 to what it was a millennium ago ( and

            The FEOR head says that the situation in Russia is both similar and different from that in Europe. It is similar in that there has been a general decline in birthrates, something that is certain to continue as the population ages. But it is different in that there is neither “the strong growth of anti-Semistism” or loss of roots among all peoples that can be seen in Europe.

            In Russia, the picture is different: More young people are recovering their roots and making these traditions “an inalienable part of their lives.” But at the same time, in Russia too, “the tempos of assimilation all the same are colossal, there are many mixed marriages, and far from all Russian Jews … identify themselves as part of the community.”

            Because that is the case, Boroda concludes, “it would be a mistake” to think that all the problems of the past have been overcome. Instead, “one of our main tasks” even now is to achieve “significant changes in the situation” and attract to the organized community young people and especially young families.

Russians Suffering Trauma of Having Lost a Sense of a Collective Future, Levinson Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 26 – Under Gorbachev, Russians lost their belief that the bright future the communists promised would ever be achieved and focused increasingly on their personal lives rather than those of the country, Aleksey Levinson says. Under Putin, they have further lost any sense that the future can be different than the present, exactly the attitude his regime wants.

            In a lengthy article for NG-Stsenarii, the head of socio-cultural research at the Levada Center says that this condition has left Russians in a traumatic state, one unlikely to be overcome anytime soon but that will likely pass away when an entirely new generation replaces the older ones (

            Over the last 30 years, Levinson writes, “Russians have shown by their answers to surveys that they do not think about the future and in essence refuse to think about it” at least when it concerns more than the personal trajectories of themselves and their immediate families. As to larger groups, few are thinking about them at all.

            “They are not thinking about it because they do not want to but they do not want to because they cannot,” he continues. “This means that in the language of social psychology there is a trauma,” an injury that has been driven so deeply into the subconsciousness of people that they cannot address it openly.

            Russians have lost the idea of a positive collective future twice. The first was with the demise of the idea of a communist future. “The future disappeared and, in its place, appeared a hole” that was only partially filled.

            To understand how that happened, Levinson says, “it is useful to remember that Soviet power was not overthrown by the rising of an angry people. It was not overthrown by anti-communists and anti-Soviets. And even the cursed West was not involved.” In fact, the West “couldn’t believe its eyes” when communism collapsed.

            As expected, “the new power proclaimed a new goal for the future. This was the idea of the construction of a free society on democratic foundations and with market relations. The disappearance of the communist prospect was replaced by the prospect of a market-democratic society.”

            In short, it appeared, one future replaced another. “The democrats believed that the combination of political and economic freedom would mean the automatic entrance into Russia of those social forces which for a long time and successfully have worked in societies with developed democracies.”

            And because they believed this, they failed to notice that those who occupied key positions in the Russian government and economy formed a very different vision of the future and the present than they or society at large had. Those at the top of the government and the economy wanted the indeterminate situation to last so they could act as they liked and enrich themselves as much as possible. They didn’t want to continue to move toward a free society.

            These people, Levinson stresses, “didn’t want ‘to go back to the USSR,’ but they also did not want to move toward a mature democracy and a developed market economy.” Neither served their interest and so they pushed for the present to last as long as possible. As a result, the idea of a future goal was pushed aside.

            This was made possible, Levinson concedes, because he and many others believed that “the preservation of democracy in Russia consisted in the preservation of the power of ‘the democrats’ and not in the preservation of the principles” of such a system. Fearful of a communist return, they backed “democrats” who behaved in undemocratic ways.

            As a result, those in power found it easier and easier to put off any moves to a real democratic and market economy future and retain the current transitional and indeterminate system which has brought them so many benefits. That explains the Yeltsin transition to Putin and why so many, disappointed in Yeltsin, initially were so impressed with his successor.

            “In the first Putin years, talk about the inclusion in the community of European countries and even about Russia’s membership in NATO continued by inertia.” And similarly, by inertia, people continued to talk about the building of a democratic society. But that was subverted by redefining it as more of the same – in Surkov’s notions about “’sovereign democracy.’”

            According to Levinson, “’the party of the status quo’ became the ruling party and acquired its own ideology.” The Kremlin decided to declare that “we are conservatives” who do not want any change. Russians want what they have and, in contrast to earlier periods, “do not require a future.”

            This was sometimes described as a contract between the regime and the population in which the regime promised enrichment and society agreed not to interfere with the state. “The idea was popular but, in my view,” Levinson says, “it is incorrect.” Neither side was really party to any such contract.

            “The new post-Soviet powers freed themselves” from the paternalistic responsibilities of the Soviet one by continuing to talk about liberalism in the economy, but they returned to the rhetoric of paternalism and reinforced that revival by promoting the idea that Russians could “repeat” their victory in World War II.

            Between the mid-1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, reforms were largely frozen, but then the powers that be “began the demolishing of these institutes,” something that was paralleled by the second destruction of the future as far as Russians were concerned. They simply had any future taken from them by the propaganda of the regime.

            Levada Center head Lev Gudkov has spoken of this as “the abortion of the future,” but Levinson says he prefers to use the term trauma because “people have not noticed the absence of a future,” even though “this trauma influences on other areas of consciousness.”

            The future as a set of goals has disappeared for most Russians because they have accepted the vision of the regime that any future different from the present would be disastrous, a major war abroad or a civil war at home. And thus they do not feel they can hope for anything better than what they have now.

            Russians can talk about the short-term future when things are more or less likely to be what they are now, but they simply refuse to talk about 30 or 50 years out, when the current ruling group will have died and been replaced by something else. They are clearly afraid to think about that prospect.

            Fortunately, Levinson concludes, there are indications that younger Russians are beginning to break out of that traumatic loss of a future. After all, they will still be alive 30 to 50 years hence and thus have good reason to think about what conditions will be like even if their elders will then be beyond caring.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

United Russia Deputy Wants to Restrict News on Coronavirus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 26 – United Russia deputy Gennady Onishchenko, the former chief medical officer of Russia, says that the government must impose tight controls on the media so that untrue stories about the coronavirus pandemic don’t spread (, a step that would likely put in place arrangements that could be used against other news as well.

            Also today, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that Vladimir Putin is being given complete information on the new wave of the pandemic ( But a group of doctors from Kurgan Oblast reminds him in an open letter that regional officials are falsifying the statistics (

            Russian officials registered 17,347 cases of infection in the last 24 hours, a new record, and 219 new deaths, bringing those totals respectively to 1,531,224 and 26,269 ( Moscow media reported that 91 Duma deputies have been infected, with 38 in the hospital, and 17 heads of federal subjects ( and

            The pandemic continued to spread with closures, including shutdowns of schools the order of the day ( and

Moscow imposed new restrictions on public transport: people with high temperatures will not be allowed to ride (

            Onishchenko said that closing down cities would not be necessary during this wave (, but Orenburg Oblast officials recommended people to limit travel beyond their population center limits and extended the self-isolation regime for all over 65 ( and

            The laboratory that developed the Sputnik-5 vaccine says that about 85 percent of those it has been tested on did not experience any side effects (, but despite that, a new poll in St. Petersburg found that 37 percent of Russians won’t get that or any other vaccine (

            Many Russians are misusing antibiotics in an attempt to self-cure the coronavirus, doctors say (, and officials report a critical shortage of key cancer medications  is roccuring (

            On the economic front, the number of regions which have ten percent or more unemployment has risen from six to 13, although the all-Russian rate fell slightly in the last week (  and

            Almost a third of all entrepreneurs say they do not expect their businesses to survive the next wave of the pandemic, ever more of them are seeking to use robots rather than workers, and Russian doctors report that their incomes have fallen during the pandemic (, and

            Russians are not only experiencing pandemic fatigue but are beginning to protest. Some in Novosibirsk demonstrated about the lack of COVID tests in their region, while others in Novosibirsk picketed to complain about what they called “mask fascism” ( and

            But Putin told Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin that he was pleased with the legislature’s work on the economy and social sphere during the pandemic (

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

·         Civility is breaking down along generational lines as people are compelled to live with restrictions in public transport and elsewhere (

·         Pediatricians report that children who are infected with the coronavirus may have their sperm production affected permanently (

·         Officials report that Russians in isolation called doctors twice as often as they did before that restriction was imposed (

·         Moscow judges are violating procedural rules to process the enormous number of fines that have been imposed for violations of pandemic rules (

Now that Russian Constitution has Been Amended, Republic Basic Laws Being Rewritten

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 25 – Each time the USSR or the Russian Federation adopted a new constitution, the basic laws of the republics had to be rewritten to bring them into correspondence with it.  Now that the Russian Constitution of 1993 has been fundamentally changed by amendment, the same process is beginning again.

            How this is being carried out in many places may be indicated by what is known or more precisely what is not known about the situation in Mari El. There, in July, officials announced a commission to rewrite the constitution; but in the months since, its meetings have been behind closed doors and nothing more has become known (

            This secrecy is disturbing because it represents a sharp departure from the last redrafting in the mid-1990s when participants say the process was quite open with deputies, officials and ordinary residents expressing their views at meetings and in the media. And these discussions were ensured by a law on the Constitutional Assembly of Mari El, adopted in February 1995.

            Once a draft was prepared, it was subject to an all-republic discussion, in which participants offered 1270 proposals for modifications. And the republic parliament included some 120 of these in the final draft. In short, the process was both open and inclusive, a departure from Soviet practice and very different from what is happening now.

            The fact that the open process of 1994-1995 is not being repeated at least in Mari El leads to three disturbing conclusions. First, the Kremlin does not want discussions about the constitutions of the republics to lead to new demands for real federalism and declarations as earlier basic laws had of the sovereignty of the republics.

            Second, instead of making the adoption of a new republic constitution a major event, Moscow is clearly playing it down, part of an effort to avoid comparisons between the republics, on the one hand, and predominately ethnic Russian oblasts and krays, on the other. Obviously, avoiding any talk about republic sovereignty is a way to avoid talk about its lack elsewhere.

            And third, and perhaps most ominously, at least some in the Russian capital may republic constitutions to disappear as yet another step to the downgrading of the republics to the status of federal subjects like all others. As long as the republics have constitutions, that is harder to do. Consequently, how Moscow orchestrates the rewriting of republic basic laws may prove fateful.

Russia's Failure to Become a Democracy Reflects Seven Major Mistakes by Democrats, Yakovenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 25 – Many people effectively excuse the Russian state from becoming a democracy suggesting, falsely, that the Russian people are incapable of living under such a system; but the real reason Russia has not yet made the democratic transition lies in seven major mistakes those who want democracy have made, Igor Yakovenko says.

            First, they have fallen into the trap of focusing more on their leaders than on institutions which encourage dialogue between temporary heads of their groups and the members of their groups, thus replicating again and again exactly what those in power have been doing, the Moscow commentator says (

            Second, they have bought into the idea that if the economy is privatized that will inevitably lead to democracy and thus neglected to focus on creating democratic institutions. As a result, “the Russian communist empire has been transformed into the Russian fascist empire.”

            Third, Russian democrats have remained Moscow-centric, something that has rendered them incapable of fighting the imperial nature of the Putin state and in fact provides it with a certain unintended protection.

            Fourth, those favoring democracy have often chosen quick and simple decisions without reflecting on their long-term consequences. This avoids “the complex political work” which democracies require but almost inevitably leads to authoritarianism.

            Fifth, the participants and even leaders of nominally pro-democracy movements appear and then disappear, failing to put in the longer-term effort that the transition from authoritarianism to democracy requires in every case.

            Sixth, the pro-democracy groups are distinguished by the absence of democracy within their ranks.  And seventh, “the low prestige of party activity leads to the exodus of the more active and ambitious politicians and activists to the organs of executive power,” thus handing to the opponents of democracy the leaders they need to block democratization.

            Those who want democracy in Russia need to recognize certain realities, Yakovenko says. There are three forms of protest – voting, street protests, and protests after emigration. They must work together with each part assuming responsibility for the collective effort rather than as now at cross purposes.

            Moreover, the leaders of these three groups must be ready for a post-Putin Russia. It will happen suddenly, and only those who have a clear program will have any chance to produce radical change. That will require both a detailed list of goals and a simple slogan Russians can rally around, he continues.

            Unfortunately, at present, those who want to see Russia become a democracy have neither. 

Rapidly Growing Town Near Moscow ‘on Brink of Revolt’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 25 – Every day three Russian villages cease to exist, but most pass away quietly when the last residents die (, but a town near Moscow may go out with an explosion because officials have failed to respond to its rapid growth by providing key services, Pavel Khaustov says.  

            Having grown from fewer than 2500 residents in 2000, Goluboye now has 20,000, the Novaya gazeta writer explains, but the authorities have not opened a single school and only one kindergarten despite constitutional guarantees, leaving people there with little hope and a great deal of anger (

            Goluboye has grown from a rural village to a bedroom community for Moscow, and people have come for its lower rents and promises that the authorities will soon provide basic services like schools. But while the rents remain lower than in the city, the services available to those who pay them have not become available.

            According to Khaustov, that has left the rapidly growing town “on the brink of revolt.” The authorities have not moved apparently because there are private schools and private kindergartens available, but those have tuition rates far beyond the ability of most residents of Goluboye to pay.

            For more than three years, residents have been complaining to officials about the situation, but they have been put off with formal responses that include ever-changing explanations for why the school situation hasn’t been solved. Now, the regional officials are blaming the pandemic for the lack of money.

            But at the same time, these same officials have helped churches to be built and roads improved, the latter so that residents of Goluboye can take their children to schools elsewhere and still get to work on time. They have opened a public kindergarten this fall but still no schools, residents say.

            In the face of this official indifference, obfuscation, and delay, the people of Goluboyev have decided to begin an open-ended act of protest. They say that they don’t expect any miracles, but they hope that by protesting they can attract the attention of Moscow and others and at least get a school or two.

            Whether they will succeed or not, their decision to protest in this way, a decision likely to be echoed in other villages and towns as well, creates a whack-a-mole problem for the powers that be. They may be able to address the problems of one village or town without changing the system, but they will be able to address the problems of all of them only if they do.

            Consequently, what may seem a small and unimportant action sets the stage for broader and more fundamental changes, changes demanded by people who have read the Constitution thanks to Putin’s amendment process and know that their rights include having a public school near where they live. 

Pandemic Weakening ROC MP Nomenklatura and Strengthening Community of Believers, Sitnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 25 – The coronavirus pandemic has weakened the church nomenklatura not only by infecting and killing so many of its members but by highlighting the sad reality that the Moscow Patriarchate has become little more than the branch office of the state and, unlike in Soviet times, has done so voluntarily, Mikhail Sitnikov says.

            In a commentary for Credo.Press today, the religious affairs journalist says that many fundamentalists have drawn apocalyptic conclusions from the pandemic, seeing this plague as ushering in the last days but far more Russian believers have come to recognize that they can be Christians without “’the effective managers’” of the hierarchy (

            They have reached that conclusion, Sitnikov says, both because they have been forced by the pandemic to self-isolate and maintain their religious life on their own, reducing still further the number of people attending services, and because the church itself has failed to speak for Christ, preferring instead to follow the Russian state.

            The pandemic has decimated the clergy of the Russian church like nothing since the purges of 1938, he continues. In many places, there won’t be any priests or even bishops to serve once the pandemic finally passes; and consequently, the genuine believers in the laity will have to continue to make their own way.

            And that is leading many Christians in Russia to draw the conclusion that “even if one doesn’t count COVID-19, something unusual is taking place in the world.” They have recognized that “today the ROC MP is not the same religious organization which bore that name two or three decades ago.”

            Without being forced, the ROC MP has sacrificed the role it should have assumed when the fall of communism made it possible to once again proclaim the truth of Christ. Instead, it has all too willingly accepted “its status as ‘the ideological department of the empire.’” The pandemic has clarified that reality for many believers, Sitnikov says.

            But within that tragedy, there is hope, he continues. Russian believers as a result of the pandemic are increasingly on their own; and they are increasingly aware that they can set the weather for the future of faith in Russia. It will not be the priests and hierarchs but the believers among the people who will form the church of Christ in Russia.

            To the extent they draw that conclusion, the ROC MP will only be able to recover its formal dominance if it changes course. And if it doesn’t, that institution will become increasingly irrelevant to the people and to the faith, however much support it receives from the Russian state and however wealthy its hierarchs become. 

Chechens Turned to Islam to Find Justice But Circassians Already had It, Bzegezhev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 25 – Russians and other outsiders are accustomed to lumping together all the peoples of the North Caucasus, except for the North Ossetians, as Muslims, but what it means for each of them to be a Muslim varies widely depending on the nature of their cultural code before Islam arrived and whether it provided justice, Askhad Bzegezhev says.

            Writing on Moscow’s Snob portal, the Circassian commentator says he always was struck by the fact that Russians call all Circassians Muslims while none of his relatives, friends or acquaintances go to mosques or wear the hijab or otherwise behave as Russians expect Muslims to (

            He argues that he has now found the answer in a study which asked various peoples of the North Caucasus to complete the sentence “to be a real Muslim means …” (

            The typical Chechen answered: “To be a real Muslim is for me everything. To be a truly happy man. To be closer to paradise. I am proud that I am a Muslim.” But the average Circassian said something very different: “I know I am not a Christian. I am not a Muslim. Do not cry at each step that you are a Muslim.”

            “But at the same time,” the Circassian said, “I certainly do not know that I am not a real Muslim (for me this is not the most important thing in life).” For him, being a Muslim means more “to be an Arab and live in one of the Arab countries.” Bzegezhev says that this difference has important historical roots.

            Citing Amiran Urushadze’s 2018 book, The Caucasian War. Seven Histories, the Circassian writer argues that the Chechens and most other North Caucasians accepted Islam because they were committed to the idea of justice but did not have a well-developed and widely shared doctrine about how that was to be achieved.

            Customary law, the adat, did not provide that, and so they were ready to accept Islam whole. But the Circassians were and remain in a different position. Their khabze code, “unlike the adats, including not only legal norms of customary law but a code of honor, moral norms, and religion, although not Islam but their own.”

            “The Circassians had their own God and called him Tkh’a. This is God with capital letters,” and not some pantheon of divinities.” The heroes of the Nart sagas were mythical but still human beings “and you wouldn’t call them gods.”  Because of their attachment to Tkh’a, many outsiders called them pagans “who then came to Islam.”

            But “from all appearances, this was not the case: scholarship again has turned out to be a hostage of Euro-centrism,” Bzegezhev continues. The difference between Chechens and Daghestanis who turned to Islam to find justice and Circassians who already had their own divinity and a moral system and did not need it in the same way remains enormous.

            Various groups tried to impose “not only Islam but also Christianity” on the Circassians, but it didn’t work. “Their own faith remained stronger,” and even today, Circassians whom others call Muslims still refer to God almost exclusively through their own name for the divine, Tkh’a.” 

            Specialists on the North Caucasus have long been aware of this, but it is important that such an idea should appear in the Russian mass media in Moscow. For far too long, Russians and others have failed to recognize that the pre-Islamic past defined what becoming Muslim meant and means. Bzhegezev’s article will help them overcome their mistake.

Minsk Fighting Losing Battle Against NEXTA

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 25 – A Minsk court has declared the NEXTA Live telegram channel extremist because of its calls for mass protests against the Lukashenka regime and, in anticipation of what the site’s organizers were certain to do, that NEXTA Live will remain extremist even if it changes its name.

            But in finding NEXTA Live, the court did not find that channel’s sister channels, NEXTA and LUXTA extremist, thus opening the way for the channel which has become a mainstay for communications among Lukashenka’s opponents to continue to function (  and

            This decision comes on the heels of the opening of a criminal case against NEXTA’s founder, Stepan Putilo, who lives in Poland and operates these combined resources from there is thus is unlikely to be extradited or prosecuted (

            The Belarusian powers that be clearly think that they can intimidate people from sending materials to the site and thus limit its activities; but this pattern highlights that in the Internet age, the ability of regimes to achieve their ends with such extremist lists is far more limited than they imagine.

            As a result, the Belarusian events are likely to remain the first Internet revolution, and NEXTA to stay a key player in them. (For background on NEXTA and its role, see,,,, and

Monday, October 26, 2020

Moscow Won’t Dip in to Reserve Fund to Fight Pandemic Unless Oil Prices Tank, Siluanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 25 – Russian finance minster Anton Siluanov says that Moscow has no plans to dip into its national welfare reserve fund to fight the coronavirus and its economic consequences unless the price of oil declines precipitously, a clear indication of the Russian leadership’s priorities (

            Many Russians would certainly say that such reserves should be deployed precisely in circumstances like the one they find themselves in, but the central government believes in husbanding them against an even worse threat – perhaps to itself? – and isn’t willing to disburse money to help the people.

            The coronavirus numbers remain dire. Today, the authorities registered 16,710 new cases of infection and 229 new deaths, bringing those totals respectively to 1,513,877 and 26,050 ( A number that promises more trouble ahead was released today: Russia’s coefficient of distribution is now at 1.05 (

            New closures, including of schools (despite Moscow’s denials), continue across the country ( and Also today, Muslim leaders in the North Caucasus said they would suspend all religious services if pandemic numbers continue to rise ( and

            But new restrictions and increasing demands that Russians wear masks are provoking protests this weekend ( and

            Increasingly officials are warning that the pandemic won’t end until the end of next year and suggesting that Russian doctors may have to test Russians for the virus for several years after that ( and   

Russians are increasingly turning to pharmacies to self-medicate despite risks ( and Healthcare professionals are simultaneously warning of long-term consequences and arguing no one should get the vaccine until it is shown to be completely safe ( and

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

·         A videoclip showing an overcrowded morgue has gone viral, forcing the health ministry to issue an explanation ( and

·         Russians who suffer from heart attacks or other emergencies are dying before ambulances, overwhelmed with coronavirus calls, can reach them (

·         And Russian commentator Igor Eidman expressed bluntly what many people think about Putin’s response to the coronavirus: his “pathological cowardice which defines everything else. A coward is afraid of others and so is aggressive and cruel. A coward fears that telling the truth will result in punish and so is constantly lying. And a coward is afraid of competition and surrounds himself with mediocrities” (

MI-6 Head Warned Ukrainian President There’s a Russian Mole in His Office, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 24 – When Vladimir Zelensky visited London earlier this month, he was met by Richard Moore, head of Britain’s MI-6 intelligence service. In that meeting, Andrey Piontkovsky says, the Ukrainian leader was told London has convincing evidence that the head of the Kyiv leader’s office, Andrey Yermak, is a Russian agent.

            The US-based Russian analyst who has warned about this danger for some time tells interviewer Kseniya Kirillova that the British would not have taken the unprecedented action of having an MI-6 chief brief a foreign head of state unless it wanted to warn about something as important as this (

            Piontkovsky sees this meeting as confirmation of his warnings and those of many in Kyiv about the extent of Russian penetration at the highest levels of the Ukrainian government.  He adds that his knowledge of Yermak’s code name reflects his own “insider information from Moscow, from people close to Putin’s ‘bunker.’”

            But, he continues, “the actions of Andrey Yermak speak about this much more than any operational pseudonyms. He consistently harms the national interests of Ukraine by fulfilling ‘the desires’ of Moscow.” Moreover, “Ukraine’s security will always be under enormous threat as long as such an individual has such serious influence on the president.”

            At the same time, Piontkovsky says he is encouraged by the emergence in Kyiv of “a patriotic consensus” including members of Zelensky’s own party and the fact that Yermak did not accompany his boss to Brussels and London, an absence that opened the way to positive steps in both places.

            Unfortunately, on Zelensky’s return to Kyiv, Yermak reappeared at a meeting the president had with his military commanders so the battle is far from over. It is important to remember that “Zelensky is not an enemy of Ukraine, but he is an actor” who has adopted roles and then changed them and who lacks a deep understanding of foreign policy.

            And because of this lack and because of his “paranoid hatred” to his predecessor whom he wants to be as different from as possible, Piontkovsky says, people around Zelensky, like Yermak, are able to have untoward influence over the direction of his policies. Western intelligence agencies understand that. Ukrainians must as well.