Monday, November 30, 2020

Moscow to Impose New Limits on Subsidies to Crimea and North Caucasus, Zubarevich Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 28 – The Russian finance ministry is fed up with the repeated requests from the authorities in Russian-occupied Crimea and three republics in the North Caucasus (Chechnya, Daghestan and Ingushetia) for more money and plans to require them to yield control over spending decisions, Natalya Zubarevich says.

            The new rules will mean among other things that the federal subject governments can’t increase the number of their employees or their pay or seek loans from other institutions without Moscow’s advance approval and that they will be forced to deliver regular reports on their situation, the Moscow economic geographer says (club-rf.ru/opinions/2478).

            These federal subjects have become notorious for their lack of fiscal discipline, certain that whatever they do, Moscow will bail them out. But it now appears, Zubarevich says, that that era is at an end and that “these regions which have enjoyed geopolitical priority may have a little less priority” in the wake of the pandemic. 

            The finance ministry may have some success with all these units except Chechnya because as it well known, Chechnya’s chief Ramzan Kadyrov doesn’t apply to the finance ministry for money. He goes directly to Vladimir Putin; and the Kremlin leader has not been known to say no to Kadyrov very often.

Kremlin Using ‘Foreign Agent’ Label in Ways Similar but Fundamentally Different than Soviets Employed ‘Enemy of the People,’ Trudolyubov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 28 – Moscow’s increasing application of the term “foreign agent” to its opponents smacks of the Soviet-era phrase “enemy of the people,” Maksim Trudolyubov says. But while it is superficially similar and designed to exclude opponents from political life, it is fundamentally different because the Russian state does not claim to have absolute truth.

            The Bolsheviks, the Meduza commentator says, believed they were in possession of exactly that; and consequently, for them to label someone an enemy of the people was to charge that person not just with heretical error but also to declare war on that individual (meduza.io/feature/2020/11/28/chem-putinskie-inostrannye-agenty-pohozhi-na-stalinskih-vragov-naroda-a-chem-net).

            That led to denunciations, show trials, mass shootings and the GULAG, but today “we live in another time and in another political reality. The Soviet Communist Party, having driven out and destroyed the former elite, occupied as a result its own social niche. In today’s Russia, the elite in essence occupied the niche of the party” with its own unwritten rules.

            But there was and is one big difference: the new elite “did not bring to society any great doctrine,” setting it at odds with its Soviet predecessor which claimed to “know the course of history and to understand what should be done with the country,” Trudolyubov continue. And so in dealing with its opponents, it only wants to transform them into the outsider or other.

            “The label ‘foreign agent,’ which was introduced in law in 2012, is suitable for this goal: it allows the regime to avoid a conversation on the basis of equality and partially undermines the social support of its opponents given that people are nervous about having any dealings with ‘agents.’”

            But the commentator asks, “is this technology as in Soviet times or in other totalitarian regimes capable of transforming an argument into a war?” The answer is that it won’t be able to because of features of Russian law “which simultaneously make the actions of the powers easier and reduce trust in these actions.”

            The powers that be keep expanding the number of actions that can lead them to classify someone as “a foreign agent,” but they do so mostly for their own careerist interests. After all, they will gain promotion if their statistics on finding such “agents” go up and what could be simpler than adding to that possibility?

            “The laws on ‘foreign agents’ are no better and no worse than a multitude of other weakened norms which hang over the Russian citizen as a potential danger,” the commentator says. This can lead to real misfortunes for individuals, of course; “but it is not so horrific as was the political machine that generated enemies of the people” in Soviet times.

            And that means this: “laws about foreign agents will not be able to finally transform public discussions into a war” as the designation “enemy of the people did.” The new laws don’t induce fear and they haven’t caused Russians to conclude that foreign actors are to blame for their problems.

            Some propagandists may say that, Trudolyubov acknowledges; but when people go into the streets to protest, they are holding the powers that be responsible for the problems not blaming them on some foreign forces or their “agents” inside Russia itself.

Putin, a Careful even Cautious Man, Doesn’t Wear a Mask in Public Because His Base Consists of Coronavirus Skeptics, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 28 – Appearing on Ekho Moskvy this week, Vladimir Pastukhov argues that Vladimir Putin doesn’t wear a mask in public because his base consists of coronavirus skeptics, that the Kremlin will find it far easier to deal with Joe Biden than it did with Donald Trump, and that the real leadership crisis in Russia will come in the late 2020s.

            The Kremlin leader, the London-based Russian analyst says, is a careful and cautious man, especially when it concerns his health. He has remained in the bunker and those who visit him have had to undergo quarantines. But he is also a political animal, and that explains why he doesn’t wear a mask in public (echo.msk.ru/programs/personalno/2748306-echo/).

            Putin is very well aware that his core electorate consists of “covid dissidents” who don’t really believe in the virus and who would be offended if their leader appeared to defer to the experts. Putin does defer in all but the most public of places. There, he doesn’t wear a mask, Pastukhov says, because “he cannot lose face.” 

            According to the Russian historian, Putin “knows and understands his people well,” and therefore he doesn’t put on a mask. Lying behind this, of course, is a national characteristic of Russians, their fatalism, and the notion that if God intends someone to live or die, that is what is going to happen.

            With regard to the approaching change of presidents in the United States, Pastukhov says that the Kremlin should be breathing easier because it will find Biden to be a more rational and considered opposite number than Trump has been because the new man won’t have to prove he isn’t a Russian agent, something the incumbent has always had to do.

            “Trump was a good find for the Kremlin,” the analyst continues. “I am certain that there were for many years before his presidency very good commercial and non-commercial, formal and informal contacts with Trump. I’m not prepared to say he was recruited but he was under the influence of Putin beyond any doubt.”

            But once he won the American presidency, Trump found himself forced to prove on any and all occasions that he wasn’t a Russian agent and thus, “in a certain sense, he became more Catholic than the pope” as far as dealing with Russia is concerned, routinely taking a harder line than was necessary or than he would have preferred.

            Biden doesn’t have that problem and so doesn’t have to prove he isn’t something that in fact no one could believe otherwise. As a result, the incoming president “at a minimum won’t have to prove he isn’t a Russian agent, and he will thus act rationally.” That should work to Moscow’s advantage.

            At the same time, Russians should give up the notion that the incoming president will devote more attention to Russia. Biden is going to focus on domestic issues like race and overcoming the pandemic. Too many people in Russia suffer not only from fatalism but from the notion that everyone in the world is obsessed with Russia. That just isn’t true.

            And finally, in his discussion of what is taking place in Russia now and when the country will face the period of greatest tension, Pastukhov suggests that however strange it may sound, Russia’s ruling elite is simultaneously acting as if Putin is eternal and as if they must do everything to prepare for when he not longer will be in the Kremlin.

            It is pushing through measures that won’t be needed as long as Putin remains but won’t work when he departs. It is perhaps the case that this reflects a generational struggle between the oligarchs and their children and grandchildren.

            Pastukhov says that in his view the period of greatest tension in the Russian pollical elite will occur between 2025 and 2028. Putin will win the Duma elections next year and the presidential one in 2024, but then he will face problems because of instability in leading countries, economic problems in Russia, and difficulties of implementing the constitutional amendments.

            The latter is critical because Putin put in place not simply arrangements to allow him to stay in office but also to shift Russia from a pseudo-democracy to a corporate state dictatorship in which democratic elements will increasingly be dispensed with, something that has the effect of making any leadership transition even more difficult and potentially explosive.

            The bill for these changes will come due right after Putin is re-elected president four years from now. 

             

Pandemic in Russia May Be Plateauing But at Level Twice as High as in August

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 28 – “Plateauing” is the word of the day, with officials in various parts of the Russian Federation saying they were at or near a plateau in the pandemic but acknowledging the new plateau is twice as high as the one in August (vtimes.io/2020/11/27/kovid-vzyal-novuyu-stupenku-a1679).

            But at the moment, the numbers continue to rise. Officials reported registering 27,100 new cases of infection and 510 deaths, bringing those tolls respectively to 2,242,633 and 39,068, with some places like St. Petersburg being particularly hard hit (t.me/COVID2019_official/2072 and regnum.ru/news/society/3122025.html).

            Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced that the government was distributing 80 billion rubles (1.1 billion US dollars) to 39 especially hard hit regions (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/82068). Talk about tougher measures is sparking both more violations and more complaints from Russians online (regnum.ru/news/3127485.html and regnum.ru/news/3127337.html).

            Moscow is distributing small amounts of the Sputnik-5 vaccine to hospitals but not enough to meet the demand; and the medical supply system is failing to meet the requirements event of apothecary shops in the capital (rbc.ru/society/28/11/2020/5fbf44319a794782c5754f9f and znak.com/2020-11-28/deputat_gosdumy_pozhalovalsya_chto_v_moskve_emu_ne_vydali_lekarstva_ot_covid_19).

            Looking to the future, some medical experts are saying that the majority of Russians will have been infected by the end of the year but adding that this won’t guarantee that they won’t be reinfected unless they are vaccinated (ura.news/news/1052460748), while others are insisting this means not everyone will have to be (regnum.ru/news/3127532.html).

            On the economic front, Accounting Chamber head Aleksey Kudrin says the there is more unemployment ahead and that a third of all small and mid-sized businesses in Russia will close, leading to a million Russians falling into poverty (regnum.ru/news/3127629.html and kp.ru/daily/21712093.5/4329625/).

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

·         Almost half of all Russians suffering from HIV who display coronavirus symptoms are not going to hospitals because they fear they will lose their anonymity. As a result, a larger share of them are likely to develop full-blown AIDS (rbc.ru/society/27/11/2020/5fbf7bb19a7947a0d039c69a).

·         Russian doctors who have been fighting the pandemic for months say that they no longer approach their work with fear but with the conviction that they have the tools they need to cure most of those who come for care (kommersant.ru/doc/4592558).

·         500,000 Russians have taken out insurance policies against possible loss of life from the coronavirus (vedomosti.ru/economics/articles/2020/11/26/848480-koronavirus-prostimuliroval-strahovanie-zhizni).

Gazprom Continues to Focus on Exports Rather than Serving Russian People

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 27 – Over the last five years, Gazprom has laid 9,830 kilometers of pipeline inside Russia, bring gas to 1358 population centers and boosting the share of these having gas and no longer having to rely on firewood, coal or heavy oil from 66.2 percent to 71.4 percent, the editors of Novyye izvestiya report.

            But now it is clear, under the impact of the pandemic and associated economic crisis, that Gazprom intends to focus mostly on developing export pipelines rather than on bringing gas to more Russians despite this having been named a priority by Vladimir Putin (newizv.ru/article/general/27-11-2020/drova-i-ugol-vmesto-golubogo-topliva-gazprom-ne-toropitsya-gazifitsirovat-rossiyu).

            The company and the government behind it are pleading poverty given their recent losses, and there is some truth in that. But at the same time, what this means is that Russia will not come close to meeting Putin’s target of 83 percent coverage by 2030 and that many Russians will thus lack one of the amenities Moscow has long promised them.

            What is striking, the editors suggest, is the shamelessness of officials in ignoring these plans for the Russian people and instead focusing on export sales from whose earnings the state and its leaders will benefit far more than the population (newizv.ru/news/economy/09-11-2020/gazifikatsiya-rossii-po-novaku-dengi-gazpromu-otvetstvennost-gubernatoram).

            Because most of the remaining population centers without gas are small, protests are likely to be small as well, and the problem is likely to be ignored in Moscow and other big cities. But without gas, many Russians in those places will suffer. And the country as a whole will thus pay a price for this corporate-Kremlin decision.

Moscow Likely to Use Chairmanship of Arctic Council to Build Up that Body’s Secretariat and Cement Russian Influence

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 27 – Moscow will assume the chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year, and there are already indications that it plans to use that position more actively to promote its immediate interests in the North and to enlarge the Council’s secretariat, a move that could cement Russian influence there for years to come.

            The Russian government is already signaling that it plans an activist approach during its three-year term there, scheduling various meetings involving officials, politicians and scholars to discuss the way in which the Council can be used to promote Russian interests (pnp.ru/top/rossiya-gotovitsya-k-predsedatelstvu-v-arkticheskom-sovete.html).

            The Arctic Council includes eight countries – Denmark, Iceland, Canada, Norway, Russia, the US, Finland and Sweden as well as a number of observers, including most prominently China. There has been speculation that Moscow may press for China being upgraded to a full member, something other members appear to oppose.

            But now there is a sign suggesting that Moscow may pursue a different strategy to increase its influence over the body. Russian senator Grigory Ledkov, who also heads the Association of Numerically Small Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East, is calling on Moscow to expand the Council’s secretariat (nazaccent.ru/content/34585-grigorij-ledkov-neobhodimo-usilit-rol-sekretariata.html).

            Ledkov cast his proposal as a means for expanding the ability of the numerically small peoples to play a bigger role in the work of the Arctic Council, but given Moscow’s history of using such support elements to promote its power, it is all but certain that expanding the secretariat there would boost Russian influence.

            And just as the Arctic is becoming ever more important because global warming is allowing for more access, so too any change in the bureaucratic arrangements of the Arctic Council that result in the creation of a larger and permanent secretariat can be counted on to give those who appoint its members a larger say in decisions.

            For the next three years, that is going to be the Council’s chairman, Russia; and so controversies about this possibility are certain to increase. 

 

Chechens Likely to Overtake Bashkirs and Chuvash as Fourth Largest Nationality in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 27 – The all-Russian census now slated to occur in April 2021 is likely to upend the rankings of the non-Russian peoples as far as size is concerned, with some declining significantly and others showing an increase, Ruslan Gabbasov says, arguing that distance from Moscow and religion are the most important factors explaining this trend.

            Those peoples in the Middle Volga who practice Islam – the Tatars and the Bashkirs – may decline but far less than those in that region who remain animist or have adopted Russian Orthodoxy and find it easier to assimilate to the Russians, the Bashkort activist continues (idelreal.org/a/30966566.html).

The Muslim peoples in the North Caucasus are, with the exception of the Circassians, mostly increasing, with the Chechens on tract to overtake the Bashkirs and Chuvash as the fourth largest nationality in the Russian Federation. But religion is not the only factor that explains what is occurring, he says.

Geography matters as well. “If national republics are geographically far from the center of Russia, then the number of their peoples despite the demographic hole the entire country finds itself is growing. And contrarywise, if the national republics are located in ‘the nucleus’ of the country and surrounded by other oblast with predominantly Russian population, the number of the indigenous peoples of the republics is declining.”

That is why some nationalities in Siberia and the Russian Far East are doing better than one might otherwise expect, even when as in the case of the Tuvins, the Buryats and the Sakha, they do not have the advantage of being Muslims who are more traditional with regard to family size and less susceptible to assimilation.

There is little question, Gabbasov says, that fewer Bashkirs will be enumerated in the upcoming census. They aren’t growing in any region as a result of “several interconnected factors” – the economic crisis, unemployment, and lack of confidence in the future, all of which are generating alcoholism, suicides, divorces, and decisions to have fewer children.

Moreover, ever more young Bashkirs are putting off starting a family until they have made a career in Moscow, St. Petersburg or the Russian North; and when they do decide to have children, it is too late to have more than one or two. Neither Ufa nor the World Bashkir Kurultay has been able to convince them to do otherwise.

The Bashkir republic government has failed as well to attract Bashkirs back to the republic or to promote economic development so that Bashkirs will have more reason to have more children sooner. Instead, Ufa has obsessed about the issue of whether Bashkirs will be counted as Tatars in the northwestern portion of the republic.

That is a problem, but it is minor compared to all the other issues, Gabbasov says. And the focus on it appears designed to suggest the regime cares when its failure to act in other areas shows that it doesn’t (cf. windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/05/tatar-bashkir-conflict-over-northwest.html).

“Today,” the activist says, “it is very important that the upcoming census be conducted honestly” so that Bashkirs do not continue to deceive themselves about the extent of their decline. If the numbers are falsified this time, by the following census, it may be too late to turn things around and save the Bashkir nation.

Putin Regime Cuts Back on Release of Data about Quality of Life in Russia, Komarov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 27 – Moscow has always been extremely reticent about the release of data and even decrees in many areas, but over the last several years, Ivan Begtin says, the Putin regime has blocked the release of data that had been available on demographics, health, and well-being, especially at the regional level where it has the greatest operational value.

            The director of Information Culture says that “if earlier, it was much easier to get operational statistics on morality, illnesses, HIV, tuberculosis and so on, now this information to a large extent is not released either at the federal or the regional level” (znak.com/2020-11-27/pochemu_gosudarstvo_skryvaet_vse_bolshe_dannyh_ot_grazhdan_i_chto_s_etim_delat_intervyu).

            This reflects less the coronavirus pandemic than “the absence of checks and balances in the current configuration of power and the absence of mechanisms that can influence the executive branch to release information, Begtin says. Sometimes the regime restricts information so that it won’t be embarrassed, but sometimes it does so by inertia.

            But behind these new restrictions is something even more worrisome, he argues. By not releasing information at the regional level, the center gathers ever more power into its hands. If the regions can’t talk about problems, they can’t address them either – and everything has to go up to Moscow which is what the Kremlin now wants.

            At the same time, the information activist says, there are serious problems at the other end of the spectrum: the Russian government has no clear understanding of the ethical requirement to keep data on individuals private. There is seldom good reason to release such data, but officials do, seeing it as just like any other piece of information.

            Up to now, no Russians have gone into the streets to protest; but that is likely to occur because the amount of personal information being released paradoxically is increasing even as more general information is being cut back. All this needs to be discussed, but the Kremlin doesn’t want it to be because it touches on the nature of the state.

            The current regime’s restrictive approach, Begtin continues, is “more Asiatic than European.” Moscow thinks it can act like Singapore, forgetting that in that city state, public trust in the regime “exceeds 80 percent” while in Russia, the figures on that are much, much lower – and the regime by its clumsiness is pushing them down further.

 

Russian People Want Elected Mayors but Power Vertical Doesn’t

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 27 – Moscow often suggests Russian law precludes having elected mayors in cities, but in fact, the law allows each city to decide whether to do so or not. And as more and more Russians learn the truth, they are trying to restore elections, but United Russia, governors and the Kremlins are largely blocking their efforts.

            A dozen years ago, 73 percent of Russia’s 109 largest cities had elected mayors; now, only 12 percent do, not so much because the law requires it as because governors appointed by the Kremlin don’t want the kind of competition someone with an election mandate receives, local politicians say.

            Besides the capitals, Russians now can now select their mayors by election only in Anadyr, Abakan, Yakutsk, Ulan-Ude, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk and Tomsk. And in the last two years alone, they have lost that right in three others, Yekaterinburg, Kemerovo and Novokuznetsk.

            Officials opposed to elections often argue that elections cost too much, interest in them is too small, and elections can sometimes throw up “odious” candidates who only embarrass the city in question, one candidate says (7x7-journal.ru/articles/2020/11/27/shansy-50-50-kak-zhiteli-regionov-pytayutsya-vernut-vybory-merov-i-chto-etomu-meshaet).

            Pavel Plotnikov, a Just Russia deputy in the Tambov Oblast Duma, says that “the idea of returning direct elections is undoubtedly popular. The last city elected showed that the voters support its backers. But United Russia will hardly support the initiative” because it sees it as a threat to its ability to control everything in the system.

            But it is not just or even so much United Russia that is the leading opposition force. In regions where the governor is a member of another party, such as Oryel where KPRF leader Andrey Klychkov is governor, the party of the governor has taken the lead in opposing direct elections, fearing competition between the governor and the head of the regional capital.

            Sometimes appointed mayors or city managers can do a good job, but in Russia, they are changed so often that they seldom are able to take control of the city administrations, thereby weakening them relative to the regional leadership and Moscow. In some places, there have been five to seven changes in less than a decade.

            “To change the situation,” 7x7 commentator Aleksandra Korobeynikova says, will require a significant change in the balance of forces in parliaments and in Russian politics as a whole.” For the time being, “the current political elite has vertical on the brain” and will seek to eliminate all urban elections.

            There is a basis for optimism, she continues. People want to vote for their mayors; and consequently, efforts to restore voting at this level are a barometer of their achievement of even broader changes. That is what the Kremlin is afraid of; but it is why there is hope for the future after its denizens leave the scene.

Feeling like Second Class Citizens, Many Russians Outside of Moscow Back White Americans who Feel the Same Way, Shulgin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 27 – One can come to feel oneself a second-class citizen for many reasons: having the “wrong” skin color, having been born at the “wrong” time, believing in the “wrong” religion, or even coming from the “wrong” part of the country, Russian commentator Dmitry Shulgin says.

            The most notorious cases typically involve race or religion, but people can conclude they are second class citizens because they are viewed with disdain by elites and are thus humiliated, whether that be the coastal elites in the United States or Muscovites in Russia who view themselves in many ways as peoples apart.

            When that happens, Shulgin says, hurt and anger eventually grows into a political movement. In the United States, this explains why so many white Americans in the central part of the country supported Donald Trump and his campaign against what he said were their oppressors. In Russia, it explains the anti-Muscovite attitudes of many in the regions.

            What is interesting, Shulgin says, is that this common sense of humiliation explains why so many Russians especially beyond the ring road backed those white Americans who felt that they have been reduced to second class status in their own country precisely because Russians who aren’t Muscovites feel the same way (newizv.ru/comment/dmitriy-shulgin/27-11-2020/vyrosshie-v-unizhenii-pochemu-rossiyskaya-obschestvennost-podderzhala-belyh-amerikantsev).

            Shulgin’s observation is intriguing because many Moscow analysts have suggested that Russians as a whole should be supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States because people in Russian have had so many rights taken away from them or never had them at all (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/06/watching-events-in-us-russians-identify.html).

            These analysts make a compelling point, but it is a point that gains wide acceptance only among those Russians in the capital or its privileged outposts. Elsewhere, Russians see themselves as victims not of others as the BLM movement suggests but as victims of members of their own nation who have turned on them.

            As events in the US over the last several years have shown, that sense of betrayal may serve as an even more powerful mobilizing tool than the sense of never having had those rights to begin with because another group has denied them to the members of the group discriminated against.

           

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Moscow Plans to Vaccinate 400,000 Military Personnel, 80,000 by End of 2020

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 27 – Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu says that his ministry will vaccinate 400,000 military personnel in the coming months, with 80,000 getting the shots by the end of December (interfax.ru/russia/738943 and themoscowtimes.com/2020/11/27/russian-military-launches-coronavirus-vaccination-campaign-a72168).

            Today, Russia registered a record 27,543 new cases of infection, but new deaths declined slightly to 496 (t.me/COVID2019_official/2064). Moscow city deaths trebled over the last month (themoscowtimes.com/2020/11/27/moscow-reports-300-spike-in-coronavirus-deaths-a72161), and Petersburg officials said people there are dying more often than in other regions (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/11/27/88144-na-dvoih-odno-dyhanie).

            The epidemic continued to surge in most places (regnum.ru/news/society/3122025.html), with officials imposing new restrictions (regnum.ru/news/3126895.html). Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin did say that 50 percent of residents of the capital were now immune, an indication of just how many have had the disease (echo.msk.ru/news/2748602-echo.html).

            School closings and distance learning remain controversial but officials say that they want to extend existing restrictions on Russian school through next year until 2022 (sovsekretno.ru/news/rospotrebnadzor-khochet-prodlit-ogranicheniya-v-shkolakh-do-2022-goda/).

            On the vaccine front, Vektor Labs warned that even those who have been vaccinated can contract the coronavirus infection (rusmonitor.com/slava-rabinovich-horoshaya-vakczina-u-nih.html); it added that its vaccine would be free to Russians (echo.msk.ru/news/2748814-echo.html).

            Meanwhile India has agreed to produce 100 million doses of the Russian vaccine (sputnikvaccine.com/newsroom/pressreleases/rdif-and-hetero-agree-to-produce-over-100-million-doses-of-the-sputnik-v-vaccine-in-india/), and Moscow says that people in CIS countries will be the first foreigners to get the Russian vaccine after Russians themselves (regnum.ru/news/3126860.html).

            But Health Minister Mikhail Murashko undercut the government’s earlier messages by saying that any demand that people everywhere in Russia where a mask is “senseless,” thereby calling attention to resistance to such programs among Russians (regnum.ru/news/3127157.html).

            On the economic front, the interior ministry extended the time foreigners and those without citizenship can remain in Russia until the summer of next year. Many had been in a legal limbo because as a result of the pandemic, they had not been able to travel anywhere (nazaccent.ru/content/34589-srok-prebyvaniya-migrantov-v-rossii-prodlyat.html).

            And Russian banks reported that ordinary Russians have been withdrawing hard currency at record rates (finanz.ru/novosti/lichnyye-finansy/banki-rekordno-teryayut-valyutu-rossiyane-vynesli-so-vkladov-$15-mlrd-1029845538).

            Meanwhile in other pandemic-related developments in Russia today,

·         The Kremlin has been pressed to explain how and why Putin can appear in public without masks or observing social distance (meduza.io/feature/2020/11/27/eto-ne-prosto-takoe-massovoe-beskontrolnoe-obschenie-kreml-ob-yasnil-pochemu-putin-v-razgar-pandemii-hodit-bez-maski-i-zdorovaetsya-za-ruku and lenta.ru/news/2020/11/27/bez_maski/).

·         The Russian government has established a single telephone number – 122 – to handle questions about the coronavirus and the vaccine (snob.ru/news/v-rossii-vvodyat-edinyj-telefonnyj-nomer-122-dlya-voprosov-o-covid-19-i-vyzova-vracha/).

·         New polls show that Russian confidence in the future has plunged to a ten-year low despite vaccine breakthroughs (mk.ru/science/2020/11/27/opublikovany-obnadezhivayushhie-dannye-immuniteta-k-koronavirusu.html and  krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/82039).

Armenians Lost Using Soviet Weapons while Azerbaijanis Won Using Israeli and Turkish Ones, Felgengauer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 26 – In addition to command mistakes on Yerevan’s part, Armenia lost the latest round of the Qarabagh war because it was using Soviet weaponry supplied by Moscow while Azerbaijan won because it was using more modern Israeli and Turkish arms, Pavel Felgengauer says.

            The result of the fighting was thus foreordained because Soviet and Russian arms based on Soviet models are increasingly behind the times in comparison with weapons systems produced by others. That affects the outcome of fighting, but it also will have an impact on Russian arms sale, the military analyst says (rosbalt.ru/world/2020/11/26/1874884.html).

            Moscow enjoys several advantages as far as sales to Third World countries are concerned. It doesn’t have to operate under the constraints Western governments routinely impose, and it is far more ready and able to use massive bribes to get potential purchases to agree to buy the weapons Russian producers offer.

            But when potential purchasers see how poorly the weapons they are being offered perform against those other countries are producing, they are going to be less interested in purchasing what Moscow offers. That will mean that Moscow will either have to increase bribes or offer more advanced Russian models.

            The first of these will only highlight still more just how much at odds with the international order Moscow now is; the second will create the potential for more and more serious conflicts if those who do get cutting-edge Russian weaponry conclude that they will thus be able to fight others armed by Western countries.

            Felgengauer points out that Yerevan made several critical mistakes even with the constraints on the weapons systems Moscow was prepared to sell it. On the one hand, it purchased jets that could not deal with drones and that in the numbers Armenia bought could not give it battlefield supremacy.

            And on the other, it failed to acquire equipment that would allow it to monitor what was in fact happening on the ground. As a result, while Azerbaijani forces had real time knowledge of where forces were and thus could respond, Armenia was thrown back to “the age of Napoleon” and could only guess what was going on.

            The results for Armenia were both sad and predictable, and they will be absorbed not only in Yerevan but everywhere else Moscow may try to sell the less-than-modern arms that it usually offers, the independent analyst concludes.

By Forcing Navalny Abroad, Kremlin has Marginalized Him and Thereby Won an Important Victory, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 26 – This week marks the 100th day since the Russian powers poisoned opposition leader Aleksey Navalny and forced him to seek treatment in Germany, from which, despite some early indications to the contrary, he gives no sign of returning, Vladislav Inozemtsev says. And that gives the Kremlin a major victory.

            For a decade, Navalny has been the only person not part of the official hierarchy ranked near the top of the media references; but since his poisoning, he has effectively disappeared. Russians did not protest against what was done to him, and they aren’t focusing on him the way they were, the Russian commentator says (echo.msk.ru/blog/v_inozemcev/2748646-echo/).

            As a result, what looked like it would be a black eye for the Putin regime, with more sanctions and possible protests, has become a political victory, demonstrating that Moscow can isolate its opponents by forcing them to move abroad where they will have little or no influence on the situation in Russia itself.

            The Putin regime and Navalny are incompatible, Inozemtsev says; and if the Kremlin wanted or wants to kill him, it will. Consequently, it is far better for Navalny to remain alive and well abroad rather than to risk being eliminated by returning to the Russia of Vladimir Putin. But the Russian opposition should reflect on what this means.

            On the one hand, Navalny’s message is widely approved but has been weakened by pro-Kremlin media efforts that mean few Russians are going to take action to realize it. And on the other, Putin propaganda has been especially effective in portraying those abroad not as successful activists but as “failures” who should be ignored.

            The message from the Kremlin now is: “we don’t need advice from abroad,” something that allows the powers that be to “destroy that link between the free global Russia and the ever more authoritarian one” inside the country. The forced exiling of Navalny only deepens the gulf between the two.

            At present, Inozemtsev says, Navalny’s “’star’ is fading” and fading fast, yet another way in which Russia lags behind Belarus because the Russian government has broken the connection between those abroad and those at home while the Minsk rulers have failed in signal fashion to do the same.

In Kyrgyzstan, Russian and English Both ‘Migration Languages,’ Shestakov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 26 – Behind discussions in Kyrgyzstan about whether to drop Russian as an official language and boost the amount of English language instruction in that republic’s schools is a stark and for many disturbing reality: both are languages intended to help Kyrgyz leave their homeland and work elsewhere, Igor Shestakov says.

            In this, the Bishkek analyst says, Russian has the advantage because more Kyrgyz go to Russia than to Anglophone countries and their knowledge of Russian gives them an advantage over other Central Asians in Russia (stanradar.com/news/full/42416-kto-i-dlja-chego-hochet-iskljuchit-russkij-jazyk-iz-konstitutsii-kyrgyzstana.html).

            Moreover, Shestakov continues, Russian remains the language of inter-ethnic communication in Kyrgyzstan in general and in its southern regions in particular. But for him as for most Russian speakers, the language issue remains a geopolitical one in which the fate of Russian there is about the fate of Russia’s influence in Central Asia.

            According to Shestakov, Kyrgyz remains in a weaker position and wouldn’t have acquired its current standing if it were not for the fact that over the last 30 years, international funders like George Soros paid for the publication of Kyrgyz language textbooks because Bishkek hasn’t been able or willing to do so.

            That is not how the advocates of doing away with the official status of Russian in Kyrgyzstan view the situation. They have tried twice before, in 2006 and 2010, and they argue that if Bishkek doesn’t take this step, there is a risk that Kyrgyz will not survive because young people are no longer using it.

            Activist Sadirdin Toraliyev tells Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional convention Bishkek must change the balance in favor of Kyrgyz and that one way to do that is to lower the status and thus prestige of Russian among the young. Otherwise, the country will lose what binds it together (24.kg/vlast/174569_vkonstitutsionnom_soveschanii_predlagayut_lishit_russkiy_yazyik_statusa_ofitsialnogo_/).

            The debate taking place in Kyrgyzstan is part of a larger one across Central Asia. IWPR and CABAR have now released a 40-page paper that provides background on the evolution of the use of Russian and titular nationality languages there (cabar.asia/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Policy-Brief_languages_ru.pdf).

 

Are the Events of a Century Ago Repeating Themselves for Russia and Turkey in the Caucasus?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 26 – Few nations are as given to the Russians to considering any new development as the recapitulation of events that happened earlier, with debates about whether that is a tragedy, a farce, or something to be welcomed. Not surprisingly, some Russians are now discussing Armenian events in 2020 in terms of those which happened in 1920.

            Two new articles, one by a frequent commentator on the southern Caucasus and a second by a historian of the Russian special services and their relationship with the Soviet military, are especially interesting in this regard because they likely provide a glimpse into Russian thinking about what comes next in Armenia.

            In a detailed comparison of the events of 1920 and those of 2020 in the region, Aleksey Baliyev argues that “history is repeating itself not as ‘farce’” but rather in ways that provide guidance on how the situation has and will develop (kavkazoved.info/news/2020/11/25/armenia-1920-2020-kogda-istorija-povtorjaetsja-ne-v-vide-farsa.html).

            Like a century ago, the real borders between Turkey and Russia are being decided, something that is obscured by the existence of Armenia and Azerbaijan but that is nonetheless real, Baliyev says, because the outcome of the war now like the outcome of the war in 1920 was not so much about the peoples in the region but the powers behind them.

            Then, Moscow introduced forces to oppose the Turks; and now, it has done so again in the form of its peacekeepers to restrain Turkey’s agents in the Caucasus, the Azerbaijanis, the commentator says. A century ago, agreements were signed only to be rejected; and Baliyev implies that something like that may occur again as the balance of forces shifts.

            Then as now, at the center of the conflict were Qarabagh and Nakchivan. The latter was given to Azerbaijan by the Soviet-Turkish treaty of March 16, 1921; the former had a more complex history. According to Stalin’s aide Mikha Tskhakaya, the best solution – a division of the region along ethnic lines – was not adopted.

            The reason, he argued then, Baliyev recounts, is that “the authorities of Azerbaijan were able to connect these issues with that of the importance of stable relations of the USSR and Turkey.” Consequently, Qarabagh became part of Azerbaijan without an immediate border with Armenia.

            In sum, what happened in 1920 and what is happening again now reflects “a tactical correspondence of interests” between Russia and Turkey, something that was and is definitive but only for a time because of the unwillingness and inability of Western powers who support Armenia to back up their words with real force.

            The other commentary worthy of note comes from Aleksandr Kolpakidi, a historian of the Soviet special forces and of the 11th Red Army which reconquered the South Caucasus for Moscow a century ago. His view of what has happened now is even more negative because of what he argues happened in 1920 (nakanune.ru/articles/116522/).

            In both years, Russia by deferring to Turkey suffered a major failure not only between Moscow and Ankara but in the region. “Azerbaijanis are dissatisfied with us because they consider that we support the Armenians; and the Armenians are dissatisfied because they consider that we didn’t support them enough.”

            But the real tragedy now is not simply that Turkey has won out over Russia but that Russian arms, in the hands of the Armenians who used them, have proved to be anything but reliable and effective, Kolpakidi says. “It is one thing to show cartoons with magic rockets,” he points out, “it is quite another when one must deal with real life.”

            The Kremlin is quite effective doing the first; but the current war shows that that won’t compensate for its technological and geopolitical failings.

‘Orthodox Consensus’ Collapsing in Russia, Uzlaner Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 26 – After the demise of communism with its official atheism, many Russians accepted the idea that “to be a Russia is to be Orthodox,” a view that led many of them to identify as Orthodox even if they did not have any real faith and that contributed to a sense of national unity.

            But that development, known as “the Orthodox consensus,” has now disintegrated, Dmitry Uzlaner says, as a result of corruption and scandals within the Russian Orthodox Church itself and the church’s slavish obedience to the political line of the Kremlin. And as a result, ever more Russians do not accept the necessity of such a link anymore.

            In the latest Novoye Literaturnoye Obozreniye, the editor of Gosudarstvo, religiya, tserkov v Rossii i za rubezhom says that as a result, the church has become a source of conflict among Russians rather than a source of national unity (magazines.gorky.media/nlo/2020/3/konecz-propravoslavnogo-konsensusa-religiya-kak-novyj-raskol-rossijskogo-obshhestva.html).

            This process which began approximately 20 years ago has picked up speed and been punctuated by the controversy around the Pussy Riot case, the willingness of those who had been believers to break with the church in public, the rise of what he calls “a new Russian atheism,” and controversies about church policy and its links with the state.

            That means that the readiness of Russians even to identify as Orthodox has declined, although not yet to the extremely low levels of participation in the church, and that the Kremlin can no longer count on the church to bolster national unity in the way that it expected only a few years ago.

            Perhaps the clearest sign of this trend, Uzlaner argues, is “the phenomenon of former believers.” In all times and places, people have left the church, “but only in the second decade of the 21st century have these former believers been converted into a significant cultural ‘event’” with prominent churchmen among those who have walked away.

            There are three reasons for this: first, the generation that came back to the church in the 1990s is aging and thinking more seriously about ultimate things; second, social media have spread discussions about the church in ways that undermine it; and third, ever more people are willing to speak out about what they are doing rather than simply doing it.

            In part, of course, these reflect trends broader than the church itself, the scholar says; but instead of addressing these trends in a serious way, the official church has simply condemned them and thus, at least in the eyes of some, legitimated the trends and delegitimated the church in the process, thereby further reducing its importance in Russian society.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Ingush Case Clear Example of Kremlin’s ‘Colonial Policy,’ Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 26 – From the beginning, Moscow’s approach to Ingush protests over the deal that gave away 10 percent of the small republic’s territory to Chechnya has been part and parcel of the Kremlin’s “colonial and anti-republic” policies, Vadim Sidorov says. But these policies have backfired, raising the stakes far beyond what Moscow expected.

            The Ingush people went into the streets in the fall of 2018 to protest then-republic head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov’s handing over of republic land to Chechnya. They were supported by the republic’s Constitutional Court. But Moscow decided to crush both that court and the protests as well.

            As a result, the regionalist commentator argues in an essay on the Region.Expert portal, the protests in Ingushetia have changed from being about a specific action to a movement against the Russian government’s entire approach to the republic, its people, and their rights (region.expert/ingush-case/).

            Facing massive popular opposition to its approach, the Kremlin behaved as colonial powers typically do: it changed its man on the scene but did not change its policies. And the new man continued “the former colonial anti-Russian policy” and helped organize the mass repressions against the leaders of the protest movement.

            Had Moscow been willing to compromise, had it backed down only a little, the situation in Ingushetia would have quickly calmed down, Sidorov suggests. But instead, “the Kremlin raised the stakes.” After first accusing the activists of participating in unsanctioned meetings, it accused them of creating an extremist organization, a far more serious “crime” under Putin.

            Over the last two years, more than 500 Ingush have been subjected to charges of various kinds. More than 40 have been charged with crimes that have serious consequences. And now seven collectively face the worst charges of all, including two elderly men and a young woman, Zarifa Sautiyeva.

            There was no need to keep these people behind bars for years, but Moscow did so in order to challenge the customs of the Caucasus and show to all that it will do what it wants regardless of the law, constitution or good sense. That unfortunately is what colonial powers do, especially when challenged.

            Another characteristic of the Putin era’s approach to those who oppose it is to hold them behind bars and then try them in courts far from their real homelands to try to deprive them of a sense of support and to break their will. In this too, Sidorov says, “the Kremlin has decided to act in the ‘best’ traditions of colonialism.”

            “But” – and this is the most important thing – “whatever sentence such courts hand down,” the result will be the conviction not of the seven who face charges but of the Russian imperial colonial system “which has transformed the Russian Federation into a farce” by its unconscionable actions.

            Not surprisingly, almost all the attention of the outside world to what is taking place in Ingushetia is now focused on the trial of the seven slated to begin on December 1. But even as the wheels in that process grind on, Moscow and its Magas representatives continue to move against others as well, against one individual and one organization today alone.

            Siloviki arrested Magomed-Bashir Ozdoyev in Nazran for his role in the protests, immediately moved him to an isolator in Kabardino-Balkaria and had a court in Nalchik order his detention for two months (fortanga.org/2020/11/magomed-bashir-ozdoev-zaderzhan-po-delu-o-mitinge-v-magase/, fortanga.org/2020/11/sud-vynes-reshenie-ob-areste-magomed-bashira-ozdoeva-vopreki-dovodam-zashhity/, fortanga.org/2020/11/magomed-bashir-ozdoev-zapodozren-v-primenenii-nasiliya-na-mitinge-v-magase/ and kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/356927/).

            Meanwhile, a Magas district court summoned Murad Bekov, head of the Council of Teips of the Republic of Ingushetia, an organization that was set up after the authorities banned the Council of Teips   of the Ingush People in April 2019. The powers say this is the same group; its members say it is a new one and not subject to the earlier ban (fortanga.org/2020/11/murad-bekov-poluchil-povestku-v-sud/).

Russians Eating More Bread Because They Can’t Afford Meat – and Moscow Doesn’t Get It, Economist Warns

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 26 – Because of the pandemic-exacerbated economic crisis, Russians are increasingly being forced to buy bread rather than meat, fruits and vegetables, but tragically, economist Nikita Krichevsky says, the powers that be in Moscow don’t understand what is happening (regnum.ru/news/3125661.html).

            Officials are telling themselves that Russians will put up with this forever, making do with bread rather than meat; but that is the kind of self-deception by those who are in charge will at some point collapse with potentially disastrous consequences for the country, the economist adds.

            Today, Russia set records in the number of new infections – 25,487 – and new deaths – 524 (t.me/COVID2019_official/2058). Most of the increase reflects the spread of the pandemic, but part of it is the product of decisions by regional officials to report more accurately after Putin called for them to do so (idelreal.org/a/30970151.html and regnum.ru/news/3126330.html).

            The pandemic continues to spread across the country with most places getting worse rather than better and forcing the government to pull 10 billion rubles (150 million US dollars) from reserve funds (regnum.ru/news/society/3122025.html and znak.com/2020-11-25/mishustin_poruchil_vydelit_iz_rezervnogo_fonda_10_milliardov_na_vyplaty_medikam).

            Polls show broad support for giving priority to the construction of new hospitals and clinics, after many of them were closed in recent years by Putin’s “optimization” program (nakanune.ru/articles/116540/). In many regions, hospitals no longer have enough beds for those infected (regnum.ru/news/3125900.html).

            Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has extended some restrictions until mid-January but at the same time has pledged that he does not plan to shut down the capital again (regnum.ru/news/3126168.html and rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=88541).

            The Kremlin said it was not yet prepared to give an exact date for the start of mass vaccinations against the coronavirus, but officials did announce that the vaccine developed by the Vektor Laboratories was beginning clinical trials (regnum.ru/news/3125966.html and           

regnum.ru/news/3125443.html).

            On the economic front, Russians are buying far fewer New Year’s trees than last year, and in some regions, officials are saying that business there will not recover before 2022 at the  earliest (regnum.ru/news/3125475.html and regnum.ru/news/3125716.html).

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

·         Some analysts are worried about the possible start of an updated “parade of sovereignties” now that Kazan officials have said they may restrict the sale of medicines to local people (regnum.ru/news/3125766.html).

·         Aleksandr Myasnikov, perhaps Russia’s leading TV doctor, says that he expects the coronavirus to return each year just like flu (regnum.ru/news/3125362.html).

·         Ever more medical students are being deployed to hospitals to treat patients, often under minimal supervision (7x7-journal.ru/articles/2020/11/26/studenty-meduniversiteta-v-orenburge-o-rabote-vmesto-terpevtov-vo-vremya-pandemii).