Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Activists in More than 20 Russian Cities Demonstrate for Navalny and against Putin

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – The Russian government’s decision to immediately detain Aleksey Navalny on his return to Moscow has sparked plans for a major demonstration in the Russian capital this coming weekend. But it has already led to smaller protests in more than 20 Russian cities “from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad.”

            Most of these were individual actions with supporters of Navalny carrying signs like “Freedom for Navalny, Prison for Putin.” In some places, the authorities ignored them; in others, the powers that be detained them and brought charges. But the geographic extent of the protests must be worrisome to the Kremlin because it highlights Navalny’s network and attraction.

            The Moscow meeting is certain to attract more attention – that is where Russian and foreign journalists are concentrated – but these protests in the regions and republics reflect the attitudes of the more than 80 percent of the population of the country and thus are important as well.

            The exact number of these regional protests on behalf of Navalny is unknown. The two best listings are at and But they are certainly incomplete because news from many places is slow to come in.

            Besides showing the geographic extent of support for Navalny, these protests and the speed with which they appeared are important in another way: The Kremlin may be able to crush any sizeable protest in any one place, but it cannot effectively suppress numerous demonstrations expressing a common position in parts of the country far from one another.

            Even Putin’s repressive machine is not yet up to that; and consequently, the existence of these “hearths” of Navalny supporters in regional cities may be the best defense those who march for him in Moscow may have – and perhaps even an important defense of the opposition political figure himself.   

Moscow’s Failure to Develop Infrastructure in Russia’s Far East Means Region Won’t Develop and People will Continue to Leave, Shelest Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – Moscow has continued to pour money into the Far Eastern Federal District, but it has done so by following the same path it has pursued in the past – putting more money in existing factories and shuttling workers to and from distant production sites rather than linking them together, Dmitry Shelest says.

            In words that could apply to many parts of the Russian Federation, the IAREX commentator argues, that continuing this approach will neither promote development or hold the population in place as Moscow wants for national security reasons. Instead, the economy will at best stagnate and at worse decline, and people will continue to leave (

            Those continuities, Shelest suggests, have been partially obscured by the pandemic, which kept people from moving and hurt the economy everywhere. Because that was the case, many did not see that in regions far from the center, the failure to develop infrastructure – including roads, airports, hospitals and schools – is the key problem.

            With the easing of the pandemic, the stagnation that Moscow’s failure to change course is producing will become ever more visible; and the number of people seeking to leave the Russian Far East is likely to grow, although it is the case that many of those who remain there now don’t want to leave. But the trends are clear, and Moscow needs to pay attention to them.

            Instead, it seems to believe that its old model is fine and only needs more money, either from Moscow or from foreign firms, to succeed. That is nonsense, and it will soon be seen as such by the people and officials of the region, Shelest suggests.


Zakharova Says Angry Trump Supporters Thinking about Taking Russian Citizenship

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – Speaking on Vladimir Solovyev’s program this week, Mariya Zakharova, the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that supporters of Donald Trump, angry at his departure from the Oval Office, are exploring the possibility of acquiring Russian citizenship and even emigrating to Russia.

            She said that social media are filled with comments from American supporters of Trump about how to obtain Russian citizenship, adding that she and others welcome this given what she says is the increasingly repressive situation such people face in the United States (

            In reporting this, Dmitriy Rodionov of Svobodnaya pressa says in response: “Is this serious? Possible, there have been a few requests in social media from American supporters of Trump but most likely one is talking at most about a few individuals,” like Steve Siegel or the handful of Westerners who have moved to Russia.

            But even the opening of legal cases against those who tried to seize the US capital on January 6, the commentator continues, is hardly likely to become “a sufficient basis for emigration, all the more to mysterious Russia, about which the majority of Americans know nothing besides that negative information” they have gotten since Cold War times.

            Andrey Koryakovtsev, a scholar at the Urals State Pedagogical University, agrees and points out that “you do not see any political emigration from the US in recent times.” Some people said they would leave when Trump came to office, but few actually did – and those went mainly to Canada, a place Americans are far more familiar with than Russia.

            With Trump’s defeat, he continues, Trump supporters face difficult times, less from the government than from private companies, private media and private individuals. If they look to Russia, Koryakovtsev says, it will be only because of what is happening within the US rather than any attraction to Russia per se.

            For that to change, the Russian government will need to decide how it feels about such a trend and what messages it then sends.

            Gevorg Mizayan, an instructor at Moscow’s Finance University, is even more dismissive of Zakharova’s remarks. Her words are “hardly serious.” Americans aren’t going to apply for Russian citizenship because it is “uninteresting” to them “period.” Moreover, they aren’t going to suffer massive repressions.

            And finally and most important, were Trump supporters to apply for Russian citizenship, that would only weaken their cause because most other Americans would see that as evidence that they are in fact agents of Moscow. Trumpists are going to stay in the US and fight their battles there. If any do take Russian citizenship, they will be dismissed as “freaks.”

            But Fyodor Biryukov, a member of the political council of the Rodina Party, says that many Trump supporters have the right to be furious given that the 2020 US elections were “the most anti-democratic in the entire history of the contemporary West” and even succeeded in making Russia’s 1996 vote look free and fair.

            But despite that, he doesn’t think Americans will come to Russia in large numbers: First of all, he argues, “we need them more there than here; and second, they wouldn’t like it here.”  Radical Trumpists like to have guns, don’t like high taxes, and spit on political correctness. They wouldn’t fit it.

            “Imagine them in contemporary Russia: disarmed, nude, and censored. The only thing they could count on perhaps would be to become an extra on some Moscow television show.”

            But this raises a bigger question: “In order to make Russia attractive for foreign citizens, Russia must become attractive for Russians. And here there are problems. Polls show that ever more young people want to leave the country, and the size of emigration from Russia is growing, Biryukov continues.

            At the same time, he says that Zakharova is a brave girl who is filling “with distinction” her role as the prima ballerina of the foreign ministry. Her appearance, the Russian politician continues, was foretold by American science fiction writer Norman Spinrad in his 1991 novel, Russian Spring. (A Russian edition appeared the following year.)

            His novel has as its heroine a beautiful Russian woman who loves to dance, as Zakharova is known to. “In the novel, the Russians achieve great successes. I hope,” Biryukov concludes, “that this American prediction will be fulfilled!”


To Implement Constitutional Changes, Duma has Already Adopted 21 New Laws and Amended 154 More, Krasheninnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – The constitutional amendments Vladimir Putin pushed through a year ago were in many cases written in such general terms that they needed enabling legislation to specify what they actually mean, even if, as likely, the Kremlin leader will ignore both the amendments and these laws whenever it suits him.

            But it is still noteworthy just how much legislative effort has gone into adopting new laws or amending old ones in the last six months. Pavel Krasheninnikov, a Duma deputy who was vice president of the group which prepared the amendments, has now provided details on the extent of these changes ( and

            According to him, the Duma has adopted 21 laws specifically in response to the newly approved constitutional amendments and introduced changes in a total of 154 laws. That there is so much new legislation may not limit Putin but the process and the specific provisions of these laws and amendments represent another step toward at least the simulacrum of a law-based state.

Navalny’s Return Simplifies Things: Now Russians are Either for Him or for Putin, Kolesnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – The return of Aleksey Navalny to Moscow and his immediate detention by the powers that be has so dominated the Russian commentariat that it is difficult if not impossible to select out one of its essays for discussion. But New Times columnist, Andrey Kolesnikov, certainly has provided one of the most insightful.

            By its actions, he argues, the Kremlin has “instilled fear” in the opposition, society and in its own ranks given that it has no resources except force to use against a single individual it won’t name and divided the country between those who support it and those who support him. There is no longer any middle ground (

            The powers that be are no longer prepared to engage in any “subtle political games,” allowing Navalny to run for office as it did in 2013.  They thought he’d get only a miniscule percent of the vote. They miscalculated, “and they haven’t committed any more such mistakes.” Instead, they poisoned him and now have detained him.

            This evolution shows everyone, Kolesnikov continues, that the Putin regime is now engaged in “an open civil war of the government and society,” that it is prepared to put at risk the safety of thousands of people at the capital’s airports, and is “creating the basis for a deepening of conflicts” between itself and the Russian people.

            At least potentially, that conflict will be reflected in the upcoming Duma elections. United Russia will have less support, and Navalny’s ratings will only rise. They are now comparable to the ones Gennady Zyuganov’s KPRF gets but it is reasonable to assume Navalny’s will go up which Zyuganov’s will go further down.

            By its actions, the Kremlin has posed a question to society and itself: “Do you want things to be like in Belarus?”  And it has then answered that if society does, the state will “meet [its members] just as the powers that be in Minsk are doing,” without any fear that the siloviki will change sides.  

            “The situation finally has become black and white,” the New Times columnist says. People are either for Putin or for Navalny, with those around the Kremlin leader as much prisoners of this situation as anyone else. They have no choice but to support this repressive approach if they are to survive. They will actively conduct “a war against Navalny.”

            According to Kolesnikov, “in this war,” neither side will hold back. The powers will do whatever they think they have to do to survive; and the population will find ways first of resisting and then of challenging those in the Kremlin. There will be problems with the West for the Kremlin but it has shown that it can cope with them and doesn’t fear new sanctions.

            Navalny’s own example will free many on the other side from fear, although the way that he is being treated will spread fear in others. “The powers that be are counting on the number of the latter increasing,” something that will drive them to take ever more repressive actions to ensure that outcome.

            Under these circumstances, there will not soon be “any development in the country” because “Russia has reached that stage of unfreedom when its lag behind the world will only increase,” with its politics, morality and culture all combining to make economic development impossible.

            What will happen, Kolesnikov concludes, is that the powers will seek to extract ever more money from the population so that the Kremlin can continue to repress them to an ever-growing degree.

Russia at Risk of ‘Moral Collapse’ Regionally that WHO is Warning about Internationally

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – The World Health Organization warns that humanity is on the brink of “a catastrophic moral collapse” as a result of radical inequality in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines among countries of the world, with wealth ones already getting the vaccine and poorer ones not (

            The Russian Federation now appears likely to face something similar within its borders because the government has provided massive number of doses of the vaccine to Moscow, somewhat fewer per capita for other cities, and only a handful or none at all to many of the regions and republics beyond the ring road.

            Specifically, as of today, 190,000 Muscovites have received their shots, but only 22,349 residents of St. Petersburg have. And elsewhere the figures are in the hundreds or even less, with many deciding not even to bother registering for shots now (, and

            As the pandemic continues to ebb and flow, Russian officials announced that they have registered 22,857 new cases of infection and 471 new coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours, although some suggest any stabilization is “illusory,” the product of reduced testing and reporting during the holidays (, and

            While restrictions have been loosened in some places, in others they are being maintained or even tightened. In Kalmykia, for example, the government has extended restrictions for another month taking them into the middle of February (

            An algorithm developed by the St. Petersburg Center for Intellectual Logistics suggests that over the next 12 months there won’t be any significant reduction in the number of lockdowns, easing of the mask regime, or a return to normal existence for most Russians (

            The defense ministry isn’t reporting the number of infections in the ranks of the military, but it is reporting the number of those soldiers and sailors who have recovered. So far, that number stands at “more than 26,000,” an indication that even with military discipline, the pandemic has spread through many units (

            Today, when Moscow announced the lifting of all restrictions on those who can get the vaccine, consumer affairs chief Anna Popova said that “no fewer than 25 percent” of the population is already immune because it has recovered from the infection. That is less than half the share needed for herd immunity (, and

            She added that she expects 20 million Russians will be vaccinated during the first quarter of 2021. If that figure is achieved, the share of the population immune to the disease would still be below 50 percent (

            Perhaps to boost the chances of Russia reaching that figure, Popova also said that those who have recovered from the coronavirus infection should not hurry to get vaccinated but rather allow others who haven’t been ill to do so first ( Foreign residents of Russia are still not getting the vaccine (

            Moscow remains concerned that neither foreign markets nor Russians have much trust in the Russian vaccine. As a result, it has created an international experts council to evaluate Sputnik-5 and the others in order to boost confidence abroad and at home (, and

            Experts say that those who do get the vaccine will likely receive anti-covid passports from regional governments if not from Moscow ( But public outrage appears to have led the Sakhalin authorities to cancel their plans to introduce special badges for people in that category (

            On the economic front, industries reported that Russian airlines had varied only half as many people in 2020 as in 2019, that clothing purchases fell by 25 percent and that foreign earnings from the sale of gas had fallen 40 percent year on year (, and

            Economists are warning that it will be difficult to track any recovery in Russia’s GDP because there is so little agreement on just how much it fell during 2020, with the government having one figure and experts another and much larger one (

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

·         Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced he had fully recovered from the infection (

·         Registration statistics suggest that the number of marriages in Russia fell sharply because of the pandemic (

·         The United Arab Emirates has begun providing direct assistance to Chechnya to help it combat the coronavirus pandemic (

·         Regional economist Natalya Zubarevich says that there are a few remarkable places in Russia where there are no cases of the coronavirus infection (

·         And controversy has erupted over plans to infect Russians with the coronavirus in order to test the effectiveness of new vaccines and treatments (

Because of Poverty, Russians Even Ready to Invest in Foreign Firms Producing Weapons to Destroy Their Country, Nikiforov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Many have focused on the fact that rising poverty in the Russian Federation has reduced the willingness of its residents to believe Kremlin propaganda, but they have ignored something that may be even more serious: faced with poverty, Russians today are prepared to invest in foreign defense firms that produce weapons that could destroy Russia.

            In an essay entitled “The Ideology of Indifference. The Problems of the 1990s haven’t Disappeared – They’ve been Transformed,” Oleg Nikiforov, editor of NG-Energiya says that Russians desperate to earn money are now putting their limited savings in a fund that says it earns money by investing in foreign defense industries (

            That fund like some of the pyramid schemes of 25 years ago promises an enormous return, even as its advertising is illustrated with pictures of a nuclear bomb going off. From one point of view, investing in defense industries is rational given the rise of international tensions; but investing in those industries in countries that might use them against Russia is troubling.

            Not only does it raise questions about the rationality of those who would seek to make money even by investing in enterprises working against them, but it also prompts one to ask something about just how effective Kremlin propaganda about the West is for its domestic audiences.

            It may be possible to convince Western audiences that everything in Russia is in “’tip top’” condition, but if this is so, Nikiforov asks, “then why does a Russian reader put money in the American military industrial complex?” The answer, of course, is that propaganda in Russia is not competing against other propaganda but against reality.

            If people become so poor that investing in the defense industries of other countries to make money seems entirely reasonable, that highlights the growth of indifference to the fate of anything larger than oneself and certainly indifference to the fate of one’s country. And that is not something that propaganda alone can cure.

            Instead, Nikiforov argues, the Russian government must take this as a warning sign and invest real money and not just words in alleviating poverty and especially poverty among children or it will face a population increasingly indifferent to the survival not just of the current rulers but of the country as such.

            That there is now so much indifference, the NG-Energii editor says, is why not entirely unreasonably,  “Russian communists are comparing 2021 with 1989.”


Kremlin Claims to the Contrary, Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier Likely to End Its Days as a Casino or as Scrap, Kovalenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – At the end of last year, Russian government outlets repeated their claims that the repair of the Admiral Kuznetsov was proceeding in a timely fashion and that Russia’s only aircraft carrier despite all the problems of the past would be ready to return to full service for the fleet in 2022.

            But photographs show that absolutely no work was done on the vessel during the course of 2020 and that none is going on today, Russian military observer Aleksandr Kovalenko says; and thus, despite all the money being spent and all the hype about progress, there is little or no chance the carrier will ever return to service (

            At present, Russia doesn’t even have a drydock large enough to support necessary repairs and refitting of the ship and so the Kuznetsov in the best case will likely be docked somewhere and be used as a floating casino or in the worst and perhaps more likely case simply scrapped with all its metal going to dumps for possible reprocessing.

            The problems and slow-motion death of the Russian carrier has long been the subject of attention and schadenfreude (,, and

            The problems the aircraft carrier faces are not unique as some defenders of the Russian military try to claim. Rather they highlight far broader problems with the country’s military-industrial sectors, problems that include ensuring adequate funding, corruption, and the Kremlin’s failure to recognize these realities, Pavel Luzin says.

            The independent Russian military analyst says that the Russian defense industry has suffered from many of these problems for years, but the last several have intensified them because of Western sanctions and the need for the government to shift its spending to cope with the pandemic (

            Russian defense firms have tried to cope by increased borrowing from banks, but now they are so overloaded with debt that many will have to use almost any new infusion of cash from the government to service these loans. Only if Moscow gives them significantly more money than it is doing now can they hope to survive.

            According to Luzin, such spending will have to be funded either by having the government make long-term commitments, an approach that it is reluctant to do, preferring to keep control even at the cost of production, or extract still more money from the population, a possible but increasingly risky move given rising poverty.

            As a result, for all the propagandistic bombast about Russia’s military “rising from its knees,” there is a real danger that it will fall back in the coming years and that ever more of its components will suffer the ignoble fate of the Kuznetsov.


Armenia Should Look to China for Help and Adjust Its Policies to Get It, Parvanyan Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 -- Still in shock from its losses in the Qarabagh fighting, Armenia is reviewing its foreign policy priorities, Mger Parvanyan says; and on the of the directions it should be looking as it works to recover from the fighting and boosts is economic and geopolitical position is China even if that requires a change in its foreign policy positions.

            The economist at the Yerevan Center for Political and Economic Strategic Research says that too many Armenians are locked into the past and wondering whether they have no choice but to turn to Russia or might be able to gain support from  Europe and especially France (

            But in a new essay entitled “The Development of Economic Relations Between Armenia and China,” Paranyan argues that the development of such ties is “the real way out of the economic crisis in Armenia.” On the one hand, China could be an important market for Armenia; and on the other, China could invest in Armenia as a bridge to Iran and the Middle East. 

            The pandemic inflicted massive losses on the Armenian economy, and the recent defeat in the war over Qarabagh compounded those. Most likely, the national GDP fell by eight percent over the last year, and in the absence of outside assistance, it is likely to continue to decline in 2021.

            Yet another problem Armenia faces that other countries do not yet is rapidly rising prices, the Yerevan economist says. These could make any moves toward recovery more difficult unless Armenia gets help from outside so that it can restore greater fiscal discipline. The problem is that its traditional partners for various reasons don’t appear to be available.

            Russia and Europe each have their own problems, and many Armenians are deeply suspicious about further Russian involvement given its failure to defend Armenia against Azerbaijan. And Europeans are far away and focused ever more on their own recovery rather than on anyone else’s.

            As if these problems were not enough, Parvanyan continues, there is another and even more “negative” factor at work: “political instability and uncertainty.” Unless those are resolved quickly, Armenia is unlikely to see any growth at all in the coming months even as the economies of other countries make a comeback after the pandemic passes.

            Armenia thus needs to look in new directions for help. The most promising of these is China which could provide both a market for Armenian goods and a source of outside investment. Unfortunately, at the present time, Yerevan “does not have a strategy” for approaching Beijing and thus lags far behind Tbilisi and Baku in that regard.

            Over the last three years, Yerevan has expressed interest in becoming part of China’s “one road, one path” project linking Asia and Europe, but it has not done much to advance that cause. It has also made only limited investments in the Persian Gulf-Black Sea transportation corridor which would make it attractive for Chinese involvement.

            But the biggest problem in this regard, the economist says, is that “big economics is based on geopolitics.” China is not going to help Armenia unless Armenia sides with China on issues of concern to Beijing. To get help from Beijing, Armenia will need to stop speaking out on human rights abuses in China.

            That Armenia could even think of doing so given its longstanding concern with human rights issues and the importance of these to its critically important diaspora underscores just how dire a situation Yerevan finds itself in – and it shows that the outcome of the Qarabagh war may have even larger consequences than anyone is now thinking about.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Soviet Union in 1970s was More Law-Abiding and Humane than Russia is Now, Ingush Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Forty-eight years ago, Ingush activists demonstrated for three days in Grozny, then the capital of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR, to demand the return of the Prigorodny district from North Ossetia. Moscow dispatched soldiers and firemen to disperse them who did so with clubs and water cannon.

            The Prigorodny district had been part of the binational republic before it was disbanded when those Vaynakh peoples were exiled to Central Asia but never restored to them after the Chechens and Ingush were allowed to return. Because its population was predominantly Ingush, the Ingush took the lead in seeking its return, even fighting and losing a war over it in 1992.

            On this anniversary of the 1973 protests, Ingush are recalling that this was not the only example of discrimination they continued to suffer after returning from their deportation. The republic was not allowed to develop economically in order to force young Ingush to leave to find work (

            Frequently, communist officials and the intelligentsia in Ingushetia raised these issue=s, “but no one paid any attention. Then in 1972, 27 Ingush communists sent an appeal to the CPSU Central Committee.” Moscow’s response was to expel the communists from the party and fire them and the intellectuals who signed the appeal from their positions.

            Subsequent efforts to appeal to Moscow brought similar responses. As a result, the Ingush people took to the streets on January 16, 1973 and remained there for three days. They behaved in an “absolutely correct” manner – they even carried pictures of Brezhnev -- and only demanded that the Prigorodny district be returned or combined with Ingush regions in an Ingush ASSR.

            But on the evening of the third day of the protest, the authorities struck back, using water cannot to douse the crowd in freezing weather and forcing it to disperse. Those who took part lost their jobs and those who were party members were expelled from the CPSU after being subject to denunciations by their former comrades.

            The issue didn’t go away, however. Six years later, North Ossetians engaged in anti-Ingush pogroms, which lasted into 1981 because the KGB did not move to stop them as it had moved against the Ingush.

            In a commentary on this anniversary, the Fortanga portal notes that “in 2018-2019, history repeated itself. From October 2018 to March 2019, Ingush again took part in peaceful meetings and also tried to defend their rights.” But on March 27, the powers staged a provocation, arresting more than 200 and bringing criminal charges against 40.

            The subsequent crackdown in Ingusheta has been so severe, the portal says, that “the activity of civil society of Ingushetia has been practically paralyzed. The powers react negatively to any manifestation of activism, harshly blocking it, subjecting NGOs to repression, and arresting the leaders of civil society.”

            “As we see,” Fortanga concludes, “the USSR of 1970s was more human and law abiding.” At that time, public actions were banned, but people who disagreed with the state were not kept in jail for “years” – unlike “unfortunately what is happening in large numbers in the so-called ‘Russian Federation.’”  


Russia Would Gain Geopolitically by Expanding Unblocking Project in South Caucasus, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Moscow’s understanding of the unblocking of transportation routes in the southern Caucasus should be far more expansive than it is, going far beyond what has been announced so far and including a variety of initiatives that could bring Russia important geopolitical benefits, Aleksey Baliyev says.

            The Rhythm of Eurasia analyst says Moscow is interested not only in highway and rail lines across the Arax into Iran but also in using that step to develop the hydro- and bio-resources of the entire trans-border region between Armenia and  Azerbaijan on the one side and Iran on the other (

            Moscow made major investments in those projects in the 1970s and 1980s but most of them have been put on hold for the last 25 years because of the Qarabagh conflict. The only ones that have gone forward have been those on the Armenian-Iranian border – but that forms only 20 percent of the length of Arax.

            Getting these programs moving again will require Russian leadership and Russian investment, but the benefits to Moscow from doing so will be more than economic, Baliyev argues. They will promote stability in the region and yield important geopolitical benefits to Moscow not only in the southern Caucasus but into the Middle East as well.

            One further unblocking Moscow would like to promote is something that has not yet received much attention since the November 10 declaration. That is the border between Armenia and Turkey blocked by Ankara since 1993. No one is talking about unblocking it now, but Russia would benefit because it could then organize trade east-west from its CIS partners.

            For the immediate future, Russia will undoubtedly concentrate on developing north-south routes via Iran to Pakistan and India and on expanding trans-border supplies of energy with electric power helping to link the countries together and make it more likely that Russia can dominate the area as the arbiter of such sharing. 

Global Warming Undermining Russia’s Position in the North

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Global warming is undermining Russia’s position in the North on both sea and land: the Northern Sea Route will soon be sufficiently ice-free year-round that ships won’t have to rely on Russian icebreakers to traverse it, and pipelines and other infrastructure on land in the Russian North will collapse or force Moscow to find enormous sums to fix them.

            The successful January voyage of the LNG ship Christophe de Margerie from Savetta to the Bering Straits, a distance of 2474 nautical miles, was traversed in just under 11 days without the need of any icebreaker assistance is being celebrated in Moscow as “a step towards year-round commercial shipping on that route” (

            Russian transportation minister Vitaly Savelyev went on to say that the ship’s voyage was “a historical day for the development of the Northern Sea Route and domestic shipping” ( and

            That it certainly is but in a way that the Russian government may come to regret. If ships can navigate this route without the assistance of icebreakers for almost the entire year, Russia’s ability to control passage which it has done up to now because it is the only country with sufficient icebreaker capacity to do so will be much reduced.

            Not only will that mean that countries without icebreakers of their own can take advantage of this route but that those with some icebreakers may decide that investing in significantly more of them is not worthwhile, especially given their cost and long construction times.

            As serious as this development is for Russia, the other impact of global warming – on the more than 60 percent of Russian territory underlain by permafrost – may be even greater. Russians always refer to that as “the eternal permafrost.” But global warming means that it is no longer “eternal,” Oleg Ivanov writes (

            The EastRussia commentator says baldly: “The degradation of the eternal permafrost is gathering sped and threatens global risks both to nature and to the infrastructure erected over it. The harm is already assessed as amounting to billions of rubles. Soon the account will go up to hundreds of billions.”

            As the permafrost melts, the ground turns into swampland and anything built on it – houses, roads, or pipelines – collapses as its foundation sinks into the ground. But that is not the only impact of its melting: it is releasing harmful gases, it is making forest fires in the region more common, and in some cases, people are becoming sick as ancient bacteria emerge.

            Combatting any one of these things would be a challenge to any government; dealing with all of them at once is likely to be overwhelming, especially as an adequate response requires not just propping up old buildings and securing pipelines and roads but making sure that all new construction is designed to withstand this change.

Moscow has Sent More Doses of Vaccine to Argentina than It has to Russians Beyond the Ring Road

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Despite promises that the Russian government will give priority to vaccinating Russians, Moscow has in fact continued to send large amounts of its vaccine abroad for profit. In fact, as of now, it has sent more vaccine to just one country – Argentina – than to all of Russia outside of Moscow (

            Also today, a study appeared showing that the willingness of Russians to get the vaccine when they can depends on how much they trust the authorities. Those that do will; those that don’t say they won’t (

            As the pandemic continues to ebb and flow across Russia, Moscow officials announced that they have registered 23,586 new cases of infection and 481 new coronavirus deaths over the past 24 hours ( and

            Meanwhile, and despite promises to the contrary, some in Moscow are pressing for the government to make getting the vaccine mandatory for all Russians ( or, at the very least, requiring that members of at-risk groups be compelled to do so (

            A major reason for this apparent shift is that Russian experts say that the WHO prediction that the next year of the pandemic will be even harder than the one just passed and that without massive vaccinations the consequences will be deadly both for the population and the economy (

            On the economic front, the news was equally dire. Standard&Poors said it was reviewing with an eye to lowering Russia’s sovereign debt rating because Moscow will likely run serious budget deficits for the next three years, face tougher American sanctions, and will recover far more slowly than Western countries (

Monday, January 18, 2021

Russian Activists Put Up New Memorial to Tsarist Conquerors in Place of One Circassians Succeeded in Taking Down Last Summer

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 16 – Activists from the Russian nationalist Society of the Future movement have erected a memorial of their own devising in Adler to tsarist forces who conquered the North Caucasus nearly two centuries ago, in place of the one that Circassian activists succeeded in having local officials remove last summer.  

            The Circassians viewed the removal of the monument then as a major victory, one that inspired other nations across the Russian Federation. The Russians now hope that re-erecting a memorial will send the opposite message, encouraging all to celebrate the victory of Russian imperialism and accept the new order.

            (On the earlier conflict over the memorial to tsarist forces, see and

            The Russian activists erected their memorial on January 7, but within the next 48 hours, opponents of their action had removed portions of the temporary monument. Adler city authorities stood aside, and yesterday, the Russian nationalists restored their memorial to where it had been (

            In order to mobilize support for the defense of their monument and the erection of similar memorials elsewhere in the North Caucasus, the Society of the Future has launched an online petition calling for just that. As of today, the petition has collected just over 7500 messages of support.

            Experts warn that erecting monuments to tsarist conquerors in  the North Caucasus is like waving a red flag in front of a bull in that it will not intimidate anyone but rather spark an enraged response ( 2021 is less than three weeks old; and a result of the Society of the Future’s actions, monument wars about the past seem set to begin in earnest. 

Soviet State Terrorism in Riga in January 1991 Must Not Be Overlooked or Forgotten

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 16 – This past week marked the 30th anniversary of the Soviet attack on Lithuanian protesters at the TV tower in Vilnius; and the coming week includes two more anniversaries from the last days of the USSR, the 31st anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Azerbaijan (“Black January”) and the 30th anniversary of the Soviet killings in Riga, Latvia.

            Because Vilnius and Baku featured both far more deaths and far more drama and because the Soviet attack on demonstrators in Riga occurred as the international military campaign against Saddam Hussein was in high gear, the Latvian events are far more often overlooked and now forgotten by the two others bracketing it.

            That is a horrific mistake. While the Soviet attack on Azerbaijan was so brutal that it can be said to have marked the end of any possibility that the USSR could survive and the one on Lithuania captured the imagination of the world as the death knell of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, the attack on Riga was emblematic of the viciousness of Soviet forces.

            Coming just one week after Vilnius, the attack on Riga was less deadly but far nastier. Those the Soviet forces killed in the Lithuanian capital were fired on because the soldiers thought they were defending Soviet property. The places where they died were concentrated in a small area.

            But in Riga, the Soviet units occupying the interior ministry fired almost randomly into the park, killing people far from one another and thus in no way a threat to the Soviet occupiers. If one walks through the park in the Latvian capital now, one sees the stones which mark where they fell and where any pretense of a justification for the Soviet system fell away.

            These stones marking where the Latvians were killed must be remembered forever by all people of good will everywhere of what a truly horrific system the Soviet Union was even at the end and of what Gorbachev, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, did to his own population in his failed effort to keep himself and the CPSU in power.


Pandemic has Lowered Importance of Corruption as Political Issue in Tatarstan, Kazan Survey Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 16 – The pandemic has reduced the importance of corruption as a political issue for Tatars, who are now too tired from the pandemic to try to find ways of avoiding giving bribes although they say they currently are giving fewer bribes to doctors and teachers and more often to officials of local government bodies than a year ago.

             According to a poll of some 4,000 people ordered by the Tatarstan Presidential Administration, residents of the republic are devoting less attention to the problem of bribery than they did before the pandemic. Before it, eight percent said bribes were a matter of major concern, but today only 5.9 percent do (

            Outranking bribery as a focus of public concern, the survey showed, were high prices for consumer goods (73.2 percent this year as against 58.4 percent last), low pay (37.9 percent as compared to 34 percent), and problems of employment (29.9 percent now, down from 47.7 percent in 2019).

            While concerns about bribery have receded, roughly the same percentage – 8.6 percent as opposed to 8.5 percent a year ago – said they had found themselves in situations where bribes were demanded or expected. Moreover, 52 percent said they would give bribes if they were demanded rather than try to find away around doing so.

            The biggest impact of the pandemic on this issue was that Tatars were more likely to be asked for and pay bribes to ease their domestic situations rather than as in the past to gain access to better medical care or educational opportunities for their children.

            But on a positive note, the survey found that 44.6 percent of the sample said they would not pay bribes on principle, up from 27.2 percent before the pandemic; and 36.6 percent said they could solve problems without using corruption. At least part of this shift reflects better enforcement: 6.5 percent said they feared criminal sanctions, up from 3.3 percent a year ago.

            Analysts suggested that a major reason bribes to teachers and medical personnel had fallen was that it is far harder for educators to solicit bribes in an online environment and far more difficult for doctors to do so when there is so much focus on the medical care system because of the coronavirus pandemic.



New Kazan Study Expands Debate on Bashkirization of Tatars

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 16 – Many studies have documented that in Soviet times, people living in one or another union republic in Central Asia chose or were forced to identify with the titular nationality of their place of residence rather than maintaining their own ethnic self-consciousness.

            Less attention has been devoted to the way in which the same process occurred in some of the autonomous republics within the RSFSR. But that issue has heated up in the Middle Volga where some Tatars say their co-ethnics in Bashkortostan were forcibly “Bashkirized,” a claim that Bashkirs generally reject.

            New the Kazan Marjani Institute of History has published a book-length study on the subject, something that will certainly expand this debate, especially in the months leading up to the delayed Russian Federation census, and possibly exacerbate relations between the two closely-related Turkic peoples.

            The book, Tatars of the Ufa District (in Russia, Kazan, 2020) discusses the history of Tatar settlements in the eastern portion of Tatarstan and also in Bashkortostan, Udmurdia, and the Orenburg region. Its editor, Radik Iskhakov, has now discussed its findings with the IdelReal portal (

            He notes that one of the sources of discord about the origins of various groups is that in tsarist times, Tatars were counted because they were members of a social stratum that paid certain kinds of taxes while Bashkirs were not because at certain periods they were not and did not. When the latter did become taxpayers, they were often referred to as “new Tatars.”

            When the Soviets took power and abolished the social strata and then insisted that everyone define himself or herself as a member of one nationality, this led to complications, Iskhakov says, complications that were compounded by the fact that both Tatars and Bashkirs were not fully consolidated but included many sub-ethnic groups, many little studied.

            According to the historian, the book is being published as an academic study and “is not intended to exacerbate inter-national or other tensions.” It is based on a recognition that many, including Akhmet-Zaki Validi-Togan were members of one nation by birth but members of another by personal decision.

            But if Kazan does not intend the book to affect ethnic relations, the way the institute plans to present the volume may have unintended consequences. Iskhakov says that the book will be distributed “among all interested people, including the Tatars of Bashkortostan.” It has already been presented at a conference of Tatars in eastern Tatarstan adjoining that republic.

Russia Gearing Up for Expanded Military Competition in Space, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 16 – Only four countries currently have the capacity to disable or destroy the satellites of others – the United States, Russia, China and India – but Russian experts expect that others will join them in the next decade, prompting Moscow to commit to developing and deploying more satellite killers now and in the near future, Igor Voron says.

             Moscow is not talking much about this, the Russian security analyst points out; but occasional media reports about the capabilities of new defensive systems show that the Russian authorities are worried about military competition in space and taking steps to avoid suffering defeat (

            For most of the last 60 years, the USSR and the United States were the only players in this new geopolitical game, with each matching the innovations with steps of its own. But in the 1990s, two things happened: Russia fell behind and other countries entered this new environment.

            Over the last 15 years, Moscow has made significant steps to improve its situation; and in doing so, it has focused not just on responding to what the US is doing but also on having the capacity to respond to activities by other powers, either those already taking part in this competition or likely to enter it soon.

            Voron provides details about what is publicly known about Russian satellite killers and concludes that both American actions and the entrance of new players in space are going to force Moscow to devote ever more resources to remain in a position to take out satellites and counter any challenges to itself or that might force it to intervene otherwise in new conflicts.

Moscow Outlet Reminds Its Readers about Existence of Armenian Region in Georgia


Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 16 – Azerbaijan is not the only neighbor of Armenia with a significant ethnic Armenian population. Georgia is as well, Zen.Yandex’s Subjective Guide portal says; and that country’s Javakhetia district is over 90 percent Armenian. As such, it is another potential flash point in the South Caucasus.

            But as the Moscow outlet concedes, Georgia and Armenia have fought only one war in their long histories, even though the borders between them have been changed by outside conquerors, including the Russians (

            Indeed, what makes the appearance of this report disturbing is that Moscow has talked about using the Javakhetia issue against Georgia at the time of the 2008 Russian invasion, the 2014 Crimean Anschluss when borders seemed more fluid, and again in 2018 when relations between Russia and Georgia deteriorated (, and

            For a Moscow outlet to be talking about this now suggests at least three disturbing possibilities: first, that some in Moscow think that they can fold this issue into broader discussions on the South Caucasus, second, that Russia wants to exacerbate ethnic problems in Georgia on its own, and third that Moscow hopes to again use Armenia against its neighbors for Russian purposes.