Friday, June 25, 2021

Russian People Not That Interested in Democracy and Rule of Law but Parts of the Elite Now Very Much Are, United Russia Advisor Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – Dmitry Orlov, a specialist on political communication who advises the United Russia Party, says that polls don’t show that the Russian public is very much interested in democracy and the rule of law but do suggest that parts of the elite very much are, something the ruling party cannot ignore.

            According to him, they are interested in “defense against direct arbitrariness and greater representation of regional and local interests so that the powers that be will consider the opinions of citizens in the development of policies and so that these policies will be more distinctly social” (business-gazeta.ru/article/513578).

            Orlov tells Vadim Bondar of Kazan’s Business-Gazeta portal that the Russian population is balanced between a willingness to pay more taxes to improve the situation and fears that if the current situation remains in place, they will lose their jobs and their future. They are not focused on the larger questions of democracy and rule of law.

            But members of local and regional elites and some in Moscow are currently focusing on these issues because they appreciate even if the population does not that only shifts in the direction of democracy and especially rule of law will allow people to make progress, have their views recognized, and not lose in the future anything they may gain.

            Polls show that ever more Russians and ever more Russian elites feel the country is moving in the wrong direction, Orlov says; but ordinary Russians focus on their immediate concerns while at least some among the elites are beginning to think in broader terms. United Russia has to take both of these things into consideration.

            Addressing the immediate concerns of the population may be easier in some cases, albeit not in all; but meeting the members of elites who want rule of law and democracy will require a more fundamental change in the Russian political system. The regime is thus likely to tack in various directions between these two sets of demands.

            Orlov says the primary elections United Russia has organized are useful in that regard. He adds that the rise of media personalities among the leading candidates also is useful because it reflects a worldwide trend away from lawyers as parliamentarians toward those who have gained attention of the population through the media.

            Some argue that these divisions can be overcome by the imposition of a state ideology, but the Constitution prohibits that. “In fact, however, the ruling class has a real ideology, one based on the ideas of dynamic development and modernization in such a way that the institutions and values which have been formed earlier in society are maintained.”

            No one is making that explicit, but it is one that a large portion of the elites and many in the population, albeit for different reasons, find attractive, Orlov continues, the elites because it promises growth and rising incomes and the population because it suggests the regime will continue to defer to its traditional values.

            According to the political analyst, “social stratification is the most serious problem of the country. More than that, it is the problem of equality of opportunities in several senses,” including territorial between the capital and the regions, gender and the increasing impossibility of people rising from lower classes into higher ones. Obviously, the tax system needs changing.

Some Eight Million Russians Now Homeless with Many Engaged in Begging to Survive

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – Because of the pandemic and economic crisis, the number of homeless Russians has risen to approximately eight million. Most don’t have jobs and an increasing number are now engaged in begging especially in large cities where they sometimes “earn” more in a day than the average Russian does in a month.

            Those are just some of the disturbing findings Znak journalists Igor Pushkaryov and Nikita Telizhenko report on the basis of a survey of the new generation of beggars and of Russian experts on this neglected part of the Russian community (znak.com/2021-06-22/kak_ustroen_mir_poproshaek_v_rossii_territorii_kommunikacii_dohody_ierarhiya_reportazh).

            Beggars and charity toward them have long been a part of Russian life.  Because of that, those beggars who manage to get to the big cities like Moscow often make a remarkable living with some taking in enormous sums, particularly when they organize groups of beggars who give part of their take to the organizer.

            Some beggars now allow Russians to contribute to them with bank cards and then go to ATMs to get the money. Others rely on direct cash transactions, but almost all find themselves in terrible difficulties when the weather gets cold or because they spend their money on alcohol and drugs.

            The government’s social safety net doesn’t catch them. Instead, for many Russians, it has more holes than net; and while the police and other officials are generally tolerant, this arm of officialdom sees beggars less as a group to be helped than as a source of information about what other Russians are doing, the two journalists report.

            There are a few NGOs involved – on them, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/06/moscows-homeless-population-swells-in.html – but they reach only a small proportion of the beggars, both because of official restrictions on the NGOs and NIMBY attitudes and the attitudes of the beggars themselves.

            As a result, this lumpen underclass is likely to continue to grow unless and until a more concerted effort is made not just to get these people out of sight by pushing them around but by creating structures that will provide them with jobs and housing so that the current situation isn’t repeated again in the next generation.

Last Two Bi-National Republics in Russia on Brink of Fateful Territorial Dispute

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – The last two binational republics in the Russian Federation, Kabarino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia, are currently locked in a dispute over several thousand acres of pasture land that both claim. Because the two consist of one Turkic and one Circassian nation, this territorial dispute inevitably will take on an ethno-national dimension.

            Indeed, there is a chance that the conflict over such a relatively small space could lead to the kind of mobilization that would tear about the two republics and lead to a reconfiguration of them into a single Turkic and single Circassian republic, despite Moscow’s abhorrence of both possibilities.

            Consequently, what currently appears to be a much smaller issue than the ones behind the protests in Ingushetia over the border deal with Chechnya and the current conflict between Chechnya and Daghestan over Chechen claims of land Makhachkala also claims could quickly get out of hand.

            KBR officials say they sent a proposal on delimiting the border to KChR several years ago; but in response, the KChR government sent back a very different map, one that included within KChR land the KBR says is part of its territory, Sergey Zharkov of the Prague-based Caucasus Times, says (caucasustimes.com/ru/mezhdu-kabardino-balkariej-i-karachaevo-cherkesiej-voznik-territorialnyj-spor/).

            In the past, many Karachay farmers had worked this land even though it was recognized as part of the KBR. When Moscow began talking about delimiting the borders, most of them moved back into their own republic. But some didn’t and attempted to root themselves by signing rental agreements.

            These farmers, Ibragim Yaganov, a KBR expert says, now occupy approximately 3,000 hectares of KBR pasture land; and what appears to have happened is that the KChR leadership has decided to back them by suggesting the border must be redrawn to show this as part of the KChR.

            The Karachay farmers would be part of a Karachay majority if that happened while they would become part of a Turkic minority if the lands in question were to be designated as part of the KBR where the Circassian Kabards are the dominant ethnic community. And so the issue is au fond an ethnic one.

            But that ethnic issue is exacerbated by two other factors. On the one hand, Zharkov says, many of the farmers have not paid the rent they agreed to, angering the local landlords. And on the other, land is becoming increasingly scare in both republics not only because of population growth bur also because of grain production to produce vodka.

            That last factor is critical because farmers are being forced to shift from herding to producing grain or being driven off the land entirely by rising crop and thus land prices, something that is unsettling traditional family and clan arrangements among all the nationalities there.

            The Caucasus Times commentator points out that the seven subjects of the North Caucasus Federal District have 27 administrative borders between them and with adjoining federal subjects. Of these, only nine – just one in three – were delimited and demarcated before the pandemic suspended such efforts.

            Now, as the pandemic promises to ease, there is a real danger that conflicts will arise in many of these places. The situation along the KBR-KChr border may soon become one of the most serious even though it has attracted almost no attention in the past especially since the two governments say they won’t move without getting public approval for what they do.

            In the past, that has been a recipe for doing nothing. But Moscow is demanding they get their borders in order now. That demand will either have to be rescinded or the border issue could become the most important anti-Moscow mobilization tool available to local people in the North Caucasus ever.

‘Turkish Bases Already Exist in Azerbaijan’ – Azerbaijanis Debate the Issue

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – Ever since the end of the latest round of Armenian-Azerbaijani fighting last year and the insertion of Russian peacekeepers in Qarabagh, Azerbaijanis have been talking about the possibility of the establishment of Turkish bases on their territory to balance Moscow and ensure Azerbaijan’s independence of action.

            Those discussions expanded after Turkish President Redcep Tayyip Erdogan said several weeks ago that the November and January declarations do not preclude the opening of Turkish bases in Azerbaijan, although he added that this was not an issue of immediate concern but one that needed thorough discussion with all parties involved.

            The Azerbaijani government and Azerbaijani politicians have treated this possibility with extreme care, generally preferring not to say anything lest doing so provoke a Russian reaction in the form of greater support for Armenia and an expanded Russian presence in Qarabagh. But the Azerbaijani people have gone on line to weigh in both for and against the idea.

            Nadir Kerimov has assembled some of their comments which range from assertions that “Turkish bases already exist in Azerbaijan” but have not yet been publicly announced to arguments that any Turkish base on Azerbaijani soil would bring nothing but problems, given that it would like Baku with NATO and set it against Moscow (iarex.ru/articles/81493.html).

            The journalist says that Azerbaijanis also divide on whether proposals for such bases emanate from Turkey and Azerbaijan or from the West and focus instead on the issues of what the presence of such bases would lead to, given that Moscow would almost certainly be alarmed and respond.

            Kerimov’s selection appears designed to indicate that Azerbaijanis are divided on the issue and that Moscow has the whip hand in that if it sends a clear message that it would oppose such a step by Turkey and Azerbaijan, those two Turkic countries would be unlikely to move in that direction.

            After all, if the presence of some Turkish troops on Azerbaijani territory would mean that Moscow would put more Russian troops in Qarabagh and dig in its support of Yerevan, then from Azerbaijan’s point of view, the quotations Kerimov offers suggest, Azerbaijan might very well lose more than it would gain.

            Whether these views of the population reflect the views of the governments in Baku and Ankara is difficult to say, but they at least are evidence that the issue is being discussed, something  that by itself is likely to be worrisome to Moscow which had not assumed that such questions could even be asked. 

 

Putin Knows Loyalists of Today will Be Traitors of Tomorrow, Telegram Channel Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – Many observers are suggesting that the United Russia candidates Vladimir Putin has assembled show his confidence in the loyalty of those now closest to him, the SVR General telegram channel says; but such people are “strongly mistaken” because the Kremlin leader understands that “loyalists will be the first to betray him.”

            Those who attach themselves to the current power will change sides when they feel the balance of forces has shifted; and thus those who appear the most loyal now are precisely the ones who are likely at some point to become the least (t.me/generalsvr/383, reposted at rusmonitor.com/putin-prekrasno-znaet-lyudej-i-ponimaet-chto-imenno-loyalisty-predadut-pervymi-general-svr.html).

            That is particularly the case if their current “loyalty” is based only on the advantages they can have by declaring their support for the current leader rather than on some broader political agenda, be it an ideology like communism or nationalism because when the leader can’t deliver the goods, he will lose the backing of those who support him so loudly now.

            Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter and current analyst and commentator expands on this point by arguing that “loyalty is ceasing to be the norm” in the ruling circles of Russia, a reflection of what he describes as the broader “erosion of the social basis of the regime” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=60D00F17D0A40).

            The analyst says that this is shown in an interesting change in the words Russians in focus groups talk about the Kremlin. With regard to foreign policy, they still repeat the slogans the regime and its television offer; but with regard to domestic affairs, “the loyalists describe their position exclusively in their own words.”

            There are fur reasons for this significant change, Gallyamov says. First, people are simply fed up with official propaganda. They can see for themselves how much at odds it is with reality. Second, their lives are getting worse and the regime is not doing anything to stop that. Third, the quality of Putin’s propaganda, at least on domestic issues, is rapidly declining and that puts people off.

            And fourth – and Gallyamov strongly suggests this is the most important factor of all – “loyalty in general is ceasing to be a socially-approved norm.” Even those who continue to support Putin don’t want to show people around them that they take their ideas directly from his worst television propagandists. They want to speak “a normal human language.”  

            Russians today “have lost their former loyalty but they have not yet shifted to final and unqualified protest,” he says. “If opposition figures are liquidated, then there is a chance to hold them in this intermediate state.” But only for a time because in the end, “people, even the loyalists, don’t like repression.”

            And that means that although the Kremlin may have restrained the growth of protest for some short period of time, it will “at one and the same time create the base for its further strengthening in the future” both at the popular level and among elite groups who are affected by many of the same trends.

 

Moscow Urged to Revive Siberian River Diversion to Keep Central Asia in Russian Sphere of Influence

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – One hundred years after Siberian river diversion to Central Asia was first proposed by a Ukrainian scholar and 33 years after the Soviet leadership vetoed it, the idea of such a giant projectis again gaining traction in the region and in Russia both to prevent water wars in that region and to hold its countries within the Russian sphere of influence.

            Those new arguments may prove more compelling that simply meeting the water needs of the Central Asians, Kazakh journalist Zhenis Baykhozha says, although objections about the enormous cost of such a project and about the failure of the countries in Central Asia to manage the water they have are likely to prevent any forward movement (qmonitor.kz/economics/1858).

            Most observers assumed that Moscow’s 1988 decision not to go forward with the idea was the end given that it reflected the profound objections of Russian ruralists and environmentalists who pointed out that whatever good the water would do for Central Asia, it would destroy the ecology and society of much of Russia.

            And for 20 years, that assumption was justified. By in 2009, then-Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov revived the issue and proposed financing it via the formation of an international consortium whose initial investments would be recouped by charging Central Asian countries at least twice what it cost to send water to them.

            Luzhkov’s idea was attacked in Russia for many of the same reasons it had been shot down in 1988; but it gained support in Central Asia and especially Kazakhstan which would benefit from the shortest canal system that might be built to realize it. And now Kazakhs have invoked Russian national interests in support of the project.

            Given that Russia has turned away from Europe and toward Asia, it has no choice, Marat Shibutov, a political geographer there says, but to ensure that Central Asia remains in the Russian sphere of influence, something it will be able to do only if it offers carrots as well as sticks.

            The biggest carrot, he and other Kazakh writers say, is water. If Moscow diverts Siberian river water to the region, the region will be locked into a close relationship with Russia forever given that population growth and industrial expansion mean that Central Asia will need ever more water in the future.

            Shifting the question of river diversion from one of helping Central Asia at the expense of rural Russia east of the Urals to one of promoting Russian national security interests may be enough to overcome the objections of Russians who say that Central Asia should use water more efficiently before asking anyone to give it more.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Kremlin Thought It had a Special Path to Fight Covid But It was Wrong, Biologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – The Russian government thought it had a special path to fight the coronavirus pandemic, but that path has led to disaster, with ever more Russians asking why things are going so badly wrong, biologist Irina Yakutenko says (rosbalt.ru/piter/2021/06/21/1907657.html and  themoscowtimes.com/2021/06/21/what-we-did-before-just-isnt-working-delta-variant-threatens-to-overwhelm-russia-a74260).

            It is not just that numbers are spiking but that the government has refused to import vaccines from abroad and has acted in such a contradictory fashion that Russians have no reason to trust its recommendations or believe that the future will bring improvement (newizv.ru/article/general/21-06-2021/vopros-dnya-pochemu-tolko-tri-strany-ne-dopuskayut-chuzhie-vaktsiny-i-rossiya-v-ih-chisle and znak.com/2021-06-21/protivorechivye_deystviya_vlastey_podryvayut_doverie_rossiyan_k_vakcinacii).

            Now that the government in desperation is forcing Russians to be vaccinated on pain of losing their jobs, Russians are complying in some cases (regnum.ru/news/3301466.html) but getting angry about the government and its false promises (nakanune.ru/articles/117143/).

            The governor of a region that has imposed mandatory vaccination requirements, Valery Limarenko, has however found what he evidently believes is a way out. He said today that “obligatory vaccination does not mean forced vaccination.” Thus, if people are obliged to get the shots they should not see this as forced (regnum.ru/news/3301172.html).

            Today, the Russian authorities reported registering 17,378 new cases of infection and 440 new deaths from the coronavirus in the last 24 hours. The majority of the infections and the deaths were from the two capitals as the pandemic ebbed and flowed around the country (t.me/COVID2019_official/3108, regnum.ru/news/society/3301374.html and regnum.ru/news/society/3296191.html).

            Murmansk Oblast became the tenth federal subject to require vaccinations, even as the central Russian government began considering how to give booster shots to those who have already gotten vaccinated because of the new strain  sweeping through Russia (znak.com/2021-06-21/v_murmanskoy_oblasti_vveli_obyazatelnuyu_vakcinaciyu_ot_koronavirusa and kommersant.ru/doc/4867141).

            Business leaders said firms will begin letting workers go if the coronavirus restrictions are tightened, and they appealed for a continuation of the moratorium on business bankruptcies until the coronavirus is defeated (regnum.ru/news/economy/3301364.html and regnum.ru/news/economy/3301366.html).

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

·         A majority of Russians said that they do believe the coronavirus was developed as a biological weapon (regnum.ru/news/3301728.html).

·         Police are now using street cameras to track down and arrest those who attack officials for trying to enforce mask requirements (regnum.ru/news/3301461.html).

·         Muslim leaders tell faithful to stay home to avoid infection while some Russian Orthodox hierarchs say Russians should come to church to get protection from the virus (capost.media/news/obshchestvo/veruyushchim-zapretili-poseshchat-bogosluzheniya-v-dagestane/ and ahilla.ru/syzranskij-episkop-prizval-hodit-v-hramy-chtoby-izbavitsya-ot-koronavirusa/).

·         The government denied rumors that all doctors are to be mobilized to fight the pandemic (newsib.net/novosti/mediki-ne-podtverzhdayut-sluxi-o-mobilizacii-vrachej-iz-za-covid-19.html).

·         A large number of ethnic festivals generally held in the summer months have again been cancelled this year (nazaccent.ru/content/35962-etnoleto-2021-aktualizirovannyj-vishlist-festivalej-i-prazdnikov.html).