Sunday, February 28, 2021

Unlike Stalin, Putin isn’t Bloodthirsty and Uses Violence Only When He Feels Threatened, Gallyamov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 27 – Despite all his authoritarianism and other shortcomings, Abbas Gallyamov says, Vladimir Putin has one “undoubted plus” in comparison with Stalin: the Russian president isn’t bloodthirsty, takes no pleasure in mistreating others, and uses force only when he feels a real threat to his position.

            “In the Russian ruling group,” the former Putin speechwriter and now commentator says, “there are many openly tyrannical types who would shed rivers of blood.” Such people are “especially numerous among those who have emerged from the siloviki, but there aren’t many among others such as among the governors” (newsru.com/blog/26feb2021/putin.html).

            Putin isn’t interested in shedding blood for the sake of doing so, Gallyamov continues. “In principle, he could easily transform his regime into something much more bloodthirsty,” especially as there are so many around in and in the population who have forgotten what Stalin was really like and are quite prepared to bring back the Soviet dictator’s approach.

            The regime Putin has established and maintains is hardly gentle, but “all the same, it is far from being Stalinist.” As a result, while politically motivated violence and even murders do occur, this is “the exception and not the rule.” This doesn’t mean Russians should approve that, but they should welcome that the president isn’t inclined in the same direction.

            And “the radical opposition must clearly understand that when it warns about ‘a new 1937,’ most people in the country do not understand what it is talking about. This very strongly interferes with the ability of the opposition to move beyond its current limits, even in a situation when protest attitudes are intensifying and people in principle are ready to oppose the regime.”

            Given how much violence there has been to people like Boris Nemtsov and Aleksey Navalny to name but two, this may seem “a little blasphemous;’ but one must keep in mind that the number of these cases is in the dozens and not in the millions.” And that difference is quantity represents a difference in quality.

            The Russian people recognize this, and the opposition needs to as well. Otherwise, it will alienate rather than attract additional support for its campaign against Putin.

Political Crisis in Armenia May Lead 200,000 More People to Leave, Reducing It to Something like Abkhazia, Vardanyan SaysPolitical Crisis in Armenia May Lead 200,000 More People to Leave, Reducing It to Something like Abkhazia, Vardanyan Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 27 – Ruben Vardanyan, the former owner of the Troika Dialogue investment company, says that the current political crisis in Armenia may lead as many as 200,000 more Armenians to leave their homeland for life and work abroad and even more to think about doing so in the near future.

            If that happens, Armenia risks becoming something like a second Abkhazia, with an ever-weaker economy and a political system incapable of maintaining control of the situation without the intervention one way of another of an outside power, most likely Russia (rbc.ru/politics/26/02/2021/603911009a79478687048143).

            The only way to avoid this, Vardanyan suggests, is for the Armenian diaspora to take a more active role in the country rather than as now sitting and criticizing what is going on, especially in the wake of Yerevan’s defeat at the hands of Baku in the recent fighting over Qarabagh and the formerly Armenian-occupied buffer zone in Azerbaijan.

            Two Moscow experts on Armenia, Gevorg Migzayan of the Finance University and Mikhail Neyzhmakov of the Agency for Political Economic Communications, say that Vardanyan’s projections need to be taken seriously because he is a serious analyst but that there are more ways forward than he suggests (svpressa.ru/society/article/291089/).

            If Armenia continues to lose population at a high rate, some outside power will have to play a role to keep things from disintegrating, Migzayan says. But it is possible in his view that a group of technocrats could come to power in Yerevan, stabilizing the situation and limiting the outflow of Armenians.

            Neyzhmakov agrees, but he adds in addition that Abkhazia has proved relatively stable despite its small population and that Armenia may surprise everyone by proving to be more stable overall as well, even if it suffers from periodic outbursts of anti-government protests. Population size alone doesn’t drive politics, he suggests.

All Aspects of Russian Pandemic Response Distorted by Falsification, 3400-Member Watching COVID-2019 Group Reports

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 27 – An online group, Watching COVID-2019, set up by five experts including Aleksey Raksha and now having 3400 members across the country, has found that official information about no aspect of the Russian response to the pandemic from the development of vaccines to the numbers of infections and deaths is transparent and reliable.

            Instead, as Rimma Polyak of Vestnik Civitas summarizes their findings so far, all government-released data has been falsified or distorted to meet the needs of officials, a pattern that adds to fears about what the real situation is like including the safety of vaccines and makes any assessment based on official data problematic at best (vestnikcivitas.ru/pbls/4250).

            The latest official figures are that over the last 24 hours, there were 11,534 new cases of infection and 439 new deaths, both continuing the downward trend in recent days, despite some continuing hotspots (t.me/COVID2019_official/2525 and regnum.ru/news/society/3195444.html). One result of the downward numbers is that 56 percent of Russians now tell the Levada Center that they don’t fear getting infected (echo.msk.ru/news/2797288-echo.html).

            Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin says he hopes to soon lift restrictions on the activities of elderly residents , and the Russian government says that teachers will be required to get the vaccine, despite suggestions that the process will be entirely voluntary (versia.ru/v-rf-za-sutki-vyyavili-11-534-novyx-sluchaya-zabolevaniya-covid-19-i-439-letalnyx-isxodov).

            One continuing impact of the pandemic in Russia which affects many concerns plans for school graduation testing. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has now issued an order that will simplify the process because of the complications arising from the spread of the coronavirus up to now (government.ru/news/41619/).

            As the pandemic wanes, Russians are focusing increasingly on its economic consequences, especially as inflation has now risen to a five-year high (ehorussia.com/new/node/22881), and surveys suggest that almost ten percent of small and mid-sized Russian firms are on the brink of shutting down operations (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/83996).

 

Unless Regions Become Republics, Russians will Remain Both a Colonizing and Colonized Nation, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 26 – Many believe that within the Russian Federation, the basic division is between the ethnic Russians as the state-forming nation and the non-Russians with their own autonomous republics, but in fact, with regard to escaping from the colonial situation in which both find themselves, the situation is far more complicated, Kharun Sidorov says.

            On the one hand, the Prague-based regionalist commentator says, the ethnic Russians under the system established by the USSR and continued to this day find themselves simultaneously a colonizing force, suppressing the non-Russians, and a colonized one whose own aspirations are suppressed by the imperial state (idelreal.org/a/31119353.html).

            And on the other hand, the non-Russians are divided between those who have republics which are in most cases increasingly dominated by their titular nations and represent proto-states and the many other non-Russians who do not have such institutions and thus are not in a position to advance their national agendas.

            That means that any program for de-colonization of the Russian Federation must address the needs of the Russians and both kinds of non-Russians. For the first, the recipe is relatively easy. The predominantly Russian regions must become republics so that they can serve as representatives of their population rather than be instruments of the imperial rule of others.

            But dealing with the non-Russian portion requires not only being open to the elevation of the status of the non-Russian autonomies and being open to their departure from the Russian state entirely to become independent countries as the union republics did in 1991 but also recognizing the need to find ways to defend non-Russians without republic status.

            Many of them may be too small or too widely dispersed to allow for them to acquire republic status, but they can be recognized as corporate entities which deserve protection against assimilation by larger groups and against becoming spurs for radical nationalism on the part of these larger groups against them.

            Other countries, with India and Great Britain among the most prominent, highlight these possibilities and dangers. India first divided into India and Pakistan (which later split into Pakistan and Bangladesh), and then as a Hindu-dominated state. In this latter form, it sparked more nationalism among the Hindus and less tolerance among them for others.

            And in Great Britain, the position first of the Irish who left entirely and now of the Scots and Welsh who aspire in differing degrees  to self-determination has forced London to be more supportive of their aspirations than it is of English nationalism and its growing intolerance for minorities within it.

            Sidorov surveys these and other models of dealing with multi-ethnic states to suggest that Russians and non-Russians must adopt a different approach than the one they have now if they are to avoid entering into a new cycle in which the dominant Russians will become more nationalistic and the non-Russians of both types less willing to remain within a common state.

            There are figures in the Russian past both can draw on, but unless both Russians and non-Russians recognize how fraught the situation already is, he suggests, the country will enter into a new and explosive period of disintegration, one in which the nationalism of the largest group will be ever more imperialist and that of the smaller ones ever more radical. 

Siloviki Arrest Ingush Leader They’d Sought for Almost Two Years

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 26 – As the trial of the Ingush Seven wends toward its end with near certain convictions of many leaders of the March 2019 protest against Yunus-Bek Yevkurov’s giving away of 10 percent of the republic’s territory to Chechnya, the powers that be in Ingushetia have arrested another opposition leader who has eluded them for almost two years.

            In the weeks following that protest, the authorities both Ingush and Russian arrested dozens of opposition figures; and by June 2019, the most prominent one still at large, Akhmed Pogorov, a former Ingush interior minister and current vice president of the World Congress of the Ingush People, continued to give the Ingush and Russian authorities fits (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/06/only-two-ingush-protest-leaders-now.html).

            He posted online video appeals and calls for the Ingush diaspora to come to the aid of the republic against rule by Moscow and Magas despite being on the Russian most-wanted list and official claims of his arrest (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/05/pogorov-calls-on-ingush-in-ingushetia.html, fortanga.org/2019/05/ahmed-pogorov-obratilsya-k-zhitelyam-ingushetii/, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/10/ingush-leader-pogorov-still-at-large.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/06/despite-pressuring-his-relatives-ingush.html).

            What was especially infuriating to the authorities and likely encouraging to the Ingush opposition is that it appears Pogorov never left the republic and even continued to live in his own house for most of the period. That the powers that be did not or could not arrest him gave some hope that there were limits to the broad crackdown against civil society there.

            But now, the authorities have arrested Pogorov. He was seized in his own house; and his relatives in reporting the arrest pointed out that while his sons had moved to Moscow, Pogorov himself has been within the republic the entire time and thus could have been arrested if the powers had really wanted to (fortanga.org/2021/02/rodstvennik-rasskazal-o-podrobnostyah-zaderzhaniya-ahmeda-pogorova/).

            Pogorov’s arrest suggests that Moscow and Magas have decided to complete their crackdown in Ingushetia by silencing anyone who speaks out against the rising tide of repression there. His detention will certainly be read as an indication of that by many Ingush and may make it less likely that there will be mass protests against the looming conviction of the Ingush Seven.

            But at the same time, it creates a problem for the authorities. Pogorov at least in principle will have to be tried, and that will create yet another show trial like the one the Ingush Seven have faced that won’t convince anyone of the opposition’s guilt but instead will highlight the fundamental criminality of the regime.

            The powers that be may be able as a result of Pogorov’s arrest to avoid facing mass demonstrations in Ingushetia when the Ingush Seven verdicts are announced, but they will have achieved that at an enormous cost – the further radicalization of Ingush society that Pogorov’s detention is certain to provoke.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Central Asians Moving into Cities but Not Becoming Urbanized, Mamyrayymov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 26 – Measured in terms of the share of the population living in cities, the countries of post-Soviet Central Asia are rapidly becoming urban societies, Talgat Mamyrayymov says; but they aren’t being urbanized in terms of the values. Indeed, since 1991, that process has slowed because so many national leaders have direct links with villages.

            The Kazakh political scientist says that “at the present time in Central Asia lives a primarily marginalized population; that is, it is neither urban nor rural” and do not fit easily into the traditional society of the village or into that of cities and are viewed as outsiders by both groups (platon.asia/central/ob-ot-sut-stvii-gorodskoi-kul-tury-v-tsa).

            “The internal world of the marginal population tends toward a feeling of ‘moral dichotomy, division and conflict,’ one in which old habits have been cast off but new ones have not yet been formed,” Mamyrayymov continues. Thus, the incomplete urbanized may be viewed as an outcast or dissident in the villages, something blocks modernization from spreading.

            “In Central Asia and Kazakhstan,” he argues, “modernization was not completed in Soviet times.” In general, what modernization there was occurred within the local European population most of whose members left after the disintegration of the USSR. But the local populations who moved in to replace them have not yet been transformed by that experience.

            Moreover, the analyst says, there has been “an unrestrained revival of traditional values [from the villages], especially the values of khan-like authoritarianism and the broad spread of the archaicization” of everyone in these countries including urban dwellers. As a result, urbanization has not contributed to modernization.

            These trends have been promoted by senior leaders in many places who themselves are “former peasants and therefore willingly occupy themselves with the revival of traditional values, including the promotion of strata hierarchies and above that pyramid, devotion to ‘the khan,’” or as they see it to themselves.

            This trend has gone so far, the analyst argues, that in some places, even those who live in urban areas reject the modernized forms of city life because they see these social arrangements as antithetical to their own nation’s wellbeing. Longtime urbanites “stigmatize” such incompletely urbanized residents and refer to them with various pejoratives.

            That is one of the reasons why Central Asian countries continue to have a propiska (registration) system so that the longtime urbanites can keep themselves separate from the latest arrivals, an arrangement that also means that the latter are less likely to become urbanized and modernized, Mamyrayymov says.

            That has left the cities of Central Asia to be “without an urban culture,” but a city without that culture is “a fiction incapable of performing the functions of the city regarding industrialization” or modernization more generally. Overcoming this is going to take a long time, almost certainly more than a generation.

            But if such non-urbanized city dwellers continue to dominate the scene, the countries of Central Asia will not be able to modernize no matter what else they try, the analyst concludes.

 

Russians’ Passivity Welcomed by Regime Puts Country on Way to Failure, Scholars in Regions Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 26 – The widespread notion among Russians that nothing depends on them and that officials will take all the necessary decisions, an attitude that officials promote for their own interests, is sometimes dismissed as unimportant, a group of scholars from Russia’s regions say. But in fact, that attitude has put the country on the road to failure.

            Using ideas on how such passivity leads to national failure offered in 2012 by US scholars Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their book, Why Nations Fail, and developed earlier this year by Knife commentator Aleksandr Shertobitov in an essay entitled “Elites are Not Enough,” three of them interviewed several experts on this issue.

            Yevgeniya Sibirtseva, Yevgeny Malushev and Yekaterina Malysheva spoke with Aleksandr Romanovich, a specialist on public attitudes, sociologist Sergey Patrushev, sociologist Anna Ochkina, and urbanist Svyat Murunov about the links between social passivity and state failure (7x7-journal.ru/articles/2021/02/26/eto-osnovnaya-prichina-pochemu-my-zhivem-imenno-tak-pochemu-zhiteli-nichego-ne-reshayut-i-kak-eto-tormozit-razvitie-rossii-i-regionov).

            Romanovich says public activism promotes the development not only of individuals and society but of the country; and the absence of such activism in Russia means the country can’t form a civil society or have economic modernization. When Medvedev was president, people talked about civil society all the time. Now that term has “disappeared” from everyone’s lexicon.

            The major reason for the passivity of Russians is their belief, encouraged by the powers that be, that they can’t do anything on their own and that officials can make all the decisions needed. If people believe that, they will become ever more passive; and that is what has been happening.

            To be sure, Russians will organize to defend specific things; but that isn’t enough. The authorities can make concessions without creating a genuine exchange of ideas that will promote civic activism, Romanovich continues.

            Patrushev says the powers have encouraged Russians to believe that decisions are only to be made by others, aristocrats and communists in the past and professional managers now. “But democracy does not presuppose decisions by professionals. Rather, it presupposes decisions which satisfy the interests of people as to what is correct and incorrect.”

            A majority of Russians want change, but they don’t know how to achieve it. And a large share of them thus believe that some new “good tsar,” perhaps Aleksey Navalny, needs to come and put things right. They do not see themselves as part of this process, and they would likely exit from politics quickly if a Navalny or someone like him took power.

            Ochkina makes the same point and says that even those who want change now view protests as something objectionable that they don’t want to take part in. Replace the leader and then all will be well, they think. And they thus fail to understand that they must be a part of decision making for it to be effective.

            But Murunov puts it most clearly: “In Russia, he says, a unique situation has taken shape: practically everyone wants change, but no one can realize it.” Most look for some kind of a savior who will be a good tsar in place of a bad one. They do not see themselves as continuing actors in politics, economics and society.

            Because they think only in the short term, most officials are delighted with this situation, forgetting that without the input of citizens, the decisions of those in power will increasingly degrade because those with power will ignore the realities they need to take into consideration to make good choices.

            For things to change, he argues, the powers must “cease doing everything themselves” and instead of issuing bans and prohibitions, they must pass laws that include words like “one could,” “it would be welcome,” “it is permitted,” and “try.” So far, there is little evidence that the powers are ready to do that or the population to demand it.

            As a result, the prospects for Russia are anything but good.