Friday, March 5, 2021

Chief Challenge in Russia is to Ensure Citizens Can See Relationship of Taxes Paid and Results Achieved, Luzin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 3 – Debates about decentralization and federalism in Russia typically fail to recognize what is the country’s chief problem in that regard – the failure of citizens to see the cause-and-effect relationship between taxes paid and results achieved, the consequence of the hyper-centralization of taxation, Pavel Luzin says.

            Only if taxation powers areradically decentralized not just from Moscow to the regions and republics but from both to the municipalities is there any chance this can be overcome and the system become sufficiently flexible to deal with the enormous complexity of Russia and the changes now taking place, the Perm analyst argues (region.expert/which_federation/).

            But even if this decentralization of taxing powers occurs, there will continue to be flows of people out of some regions into other and therefore “contradictions, conflicts and disappointments” but at least, “almost all of them will have the chance for constructive economic and political action and there will be successes as well.”

            There is almost universal recognition that the existing system of regional administration and its relationship to the center “does not correspond to the interests of the majority of Russian citizens.” There is even a growing understanding that the current arrangements “do not correspond even to the interests of the Russian powers that be themselves.”

            The latter is happening because the center is constantly forced to intervene in regional affairs, balancing its own interests and those of others and thus forced to engage in “repressions against governors, mayors, and regional bureaucrats” rather than focusing on its proper functions of working for the country as a w hole.

            But despite this, Luzin says, there currently is no agreement on how to change the system. Some favor re-animating the existing the existing regions and republics, others call for making regions into republics and still others favor making major cities the basis of a new Russian federalism.

            But such discussions fail to address the key challenge which is to open the way for Russians to achieve their goals by changing the relationship between people who pay taxes and officials who spend them as close as possible, something that can be done only by decentralizing taxation powers.

            And these discussions also fail because they are top-down exercises which seeks to impose a common framework on a country that is far more diverse than most imagine and fail to recognize four major and continuing changes: ever greater movement of people from one place to another, rapid urbanization, a slowdown in population growth, and economic stagnation.

            They also fail, Luzin suggests, to cope with the problems arising from a situation in which “the natural and very powerful socio-economic inequality exists not only among regions but also within them,” with parts of the existing federal subjects experiencing a very different reality than other parts of the same subjects.

            According to the Perm political scientist, “Russia is objectively much more complex than it often seems” and thus requires far more diverse arrangements than the admittedly failed arrangements the Russian Federation inherited from Soviet times, one in which there is not a single region which can use its own tax and non-tax revenues to address this diversity.

            For the creation of genuine federalism, one would first need “strong regions which could create the federation  anew, but they simply don’t exist and won’t … And thus for the equalization of a union of regions in Russia, there is no basic” at least not given the current taxation arrangements and the related demographic and economic trends.  

            What all this means, Luzin continues, is that “local self-administration must be primary, and the regional superstructure must occupy itself with general technical and social infrastructure from roads to cancer centers and for example, airplanes for fighting major fires” and not with everything as now.

            In such a system, he says, “consolidated regional budgets will not become bigger, but there will occur a redistribution of responsibility” for action toward one in which local administration will become closer to the people, be seen to be dependent on them, and be capable of reacting adequately to existing circumstances and changes.

            This will mean not only that the federal bureaucracy will become smaller but also that regional ones will while local officialdom will grow, ending a situation in which “the number of federal bureaucrats exceeds the number of regional and municipal employees taken together,” a pattern that has become worse in recent years.

            The demands of those who want to make Russia better should not focus on giving the regions more money but eliminating the regulation of business and allowing it and the citizenry to make choices and control what the state does by concentrating power at the lowest level possible.

            In short, Luzin concludes, Russian regionalists and federalists must ask the question in the right way and talk about the necessary decentralization of Russia to one in which “not officials but citizens and local residents” will make decisions. That won’t be easy, and there will be many mistakes, but it promises a better outcome than redrawing maps.

Official Case Against Ingush Seven Continues to Collapse, But a Guilty Verdict Still Near Certain

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 3 – At today’s session of the case against the Ingush Seven, one prosecution witness came out in defense of the accused and another prosecution witness who earlier had said they were guilty of what officials have changed them with withdrew his earlier words and said there was no basis for convicting them.

            All this is playing out in local media so that people in Ingushetia and more generally can see the arbitrary and unjustified actions of the powers that be for what they are, open repression rather than anything approaching justice, something that undermines the system more thoroughly than any actions by demonstrators.

            Nonetheless, it is still likely that the judges in this and other cases will return guilty verdicts, although it perhaps may be increasingly likely that the punishments will be suspended, lest anger about the injustice of the courts be compounded by anger at the sentences imposed (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/361400/ and fortanga.org/2021/03/svidetel-obvineniya-priznalsya-v-lichnoj-nepriyazni-k-figurantam-mitingovogo-dela/).

            Another Ingush case is highlighting that what the powers that be are doing is animated exclusively by their desire to protect themselves and win points with Moscow rather than do justice if anything even more clearly. That involves the recent arrest of former Ingush interior minister Akhmed Pogorov.

            Many had wondered why the authorities had allowed him to remain at large when they could so easily have arrested him given that he made little effort to leave the republic or conceal his location. The answer appears to be that the authorities calculated he was doing less damage to them while free than he would if arrested – until he stepped over what is a red line for them.

            As the independent Fortanga portal points out, the siloviki only acted after Pogorov expanded his investigation of corruption among the siloviki and the government itself. When he did and when his research put them at risk, the powers that be decided that it was better to stop even if his arrest would anger people (fortanga.org/2021/03/obnarodovannye-pogorovym-fakty-korrupczii-predvoshitili-rassledovaniya-silovikov/).

            In sum, both these cases are object lessons to the Ingush and everyone else that the current regime in Russia at all levels is concerned in the first instance in defending the personal interests of those who have power rather than about anything written in the legal code or justice, a lesson that will do more harm to their standing than the near certain guilty verdicts. 

 

FSB Says Kaliningrad Man Planned Terrorist Act Because He ‘Hates Russian Powers’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 3 – Typically, the FSB says that those it has blocked from carrying out terrorist attacks on Russian territory are animated by radical ideologies such as Islamism, but now in what must be frightening to the powers that be, it has announced that a man it arrested for such plans was animated “by motives of hatred for the existing powers that be.”

            The security agency said that the Kaliningrad man not only had materials needed to make a bomb but literature attacking “the Russian organs of executive and legislative power” but also was working to recruit accomplices (mk.ru/incident/2021/03/04/fsb-zaderzhala-nenavidyashhego-vlast-rossiyanina-za-podgotovku-terakta.html).

            That must send chills down the spine of many in power who can far more easily imagine that Russians are animated by hatred of those in office rather than by more abstract ideologies. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the FSB has changed its reporting in this direction to ensure that it will continue to enjoy the full backing of those nominally in charge.

            This Kaliningrad incident was not the only one today that speaks to the issue of FSB claims versus reality and of the FSB’s relationship not just to the powers that be but to the Russian population. A Mediazone investigation highlights the growing gap between the large number of spies the FSB says it has exposed and the relative few charged with crimes.

            Every year in recent time, the FSB has reported that is has unmasks hundreds of foreign intelligence officers and their agents working in Russia – more than 3500 in all over the last decade – but only a tiny fraction of these ever appears in court.  Over the past decade, the latter have formed only 2.5 percent of the former (zona.media/article/2021/03/03/agents).

            Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer who earlier worked as a Russian counterintelligence officer, says there are many explanations for this difference. Some of these “spies” are working under diplomatic cover and can’t be charged. And in other cases, bringing people to trial would involve revealing intelligence sources and methods.

            But the major reason, the one that allows the FSB to issue bold pronouncements about the number of spies and agents it has unmasked is that the intelligence service has complete freedom to decide who falls into those categories and to report whatever number it or its political masters think necessary.

            The only restrictions and they are constantly changing are secret internal rules as there is no effective law in this case. Consequently, he suggests, no one should take the FSB numbers seriously as a reflection of the reality of espionage directed against Russia but only as a measure of the fears of the authorities and of the fears the authorities hope to spread to the population.

 

Municipal Amalgamation Efforts No More Popular than Those at Regional Level, New Cases in Yamal Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 4 – Both officials and the population get used to the existing territorial divisions of the Russian Federation at all levels and thus are inclined to oppose any efforts to combine municipalities as well as regions, convinced that this will reduce their powers or mean that it will be more difficult for them to get services or intervene with officialdom.

            Such concerns have slowed if not stopped Moscow’s hopes to combine non-Russian autonomies with larger and predominantly Russian oblasts and krays and led its officials to make promises to secure approval that they don’t then carry out or engage in deceptive and opaque practices to push things the center wants.

            But the same thing is happening below the regional level, where depopulation provides a far more compelling case for combining districts that have lost population into larger units with more people and thus a greater ability to provide essential services. But even there, people, politicians and even officials often resist.

            Because the populations involved are so small and so far from Moscow or even regional centers, this resistance seldom gets much attention in the Russian media. But the Nakanune news agency has pulled back the curtain to highlight just how much opposition there is to such moves however rational they may appear to outsiders and Moscow (nakanune.ru/articles/116773/).

            Within the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, officials are currently pushing to combine in various ways six different existing municipalities. The district government has authorized going ahead an even organized public hearings so that people can share their feelings and feel that they are being listened to as the process goes forward.

            Many residents have taken to social networks to complain that they weren’t given adequate notice about the meetings, that they don’t believe the promises of officials that they will be as well or better off if the amalgamation moves go forward, and that all the decisions are being made for them without them.

            Eidko Serotetto, known as “the reindeer herder opposition leader,” says that the meetings were so arranged that the people were left without any chance to voice their objections. The sessions were intended to give the patina of legitimacy to these latest power grabs by officials. In short, the meetings were “only a show.”

            He has a good case given the chronology that Nakanune supplies. First, the district duma approved the amalgamation plans and only afterwards did officials ask for public comment. And in both cases, fears of people that they would be left without nearby social services like hospitals were dismissed or promises made that history shows won’t be kept.

            What is interesting in this election year is that some political parties are getting involved. The KPRF has decided to come out in defense of those who oppose the amalgamation and its leaders have declared that whatever officials say, “there were no public hearings” as is required for any such step. The party also says there is no reason to believe promises about a good future.

           

 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Moscow Appears Likely to Provide More Support for Russian and Smallest Languages but Not for Those in Between

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 3 – The deliberations of an Academy of Sciences involved in drafting for Vladimir Putin regarding language policy suggest that Moscow may decide to put more money into promoting the dominant Russian language and saving the numerically smallest languages but provide little if any more for the languages of the non-Russian republics.

            That would extend the Kremlin’s current approach in ways that would allow Moscow to claim that it is promoting linguistic diversity, in trying to save languages spoken by very few people, while continuing to undermine the languages of the autonomous republics, which are spoken by millions or at least hundreds of thousands of people.

            In a commentary for the Rex news agency, Regnum journalist Elena Kovachich says that the academicians have been tasked by Putin to come up with the basis for the elaboration of a new language policy strategy and that the Kremlin leader is currently waiting for their recommendations (iarex.ru/articles/79925.html).

            “Of the 150 languages in the Russian Federation,” she reports the academicians as saying, “many are on the brink of disappearing …15 having disappeared during the last decades of the past century.” The scholars say globalization and republic languages are to blame. Not surprisingly, they don’t say Putin’s pro-Russian language policies have anything to do with this.

            Andrey Kibrik of the Academy’c Institute of Linguistics says that languages with help can be brought back from the brink, pointing to the experience of the Saami in Finland, who almost died out as a linguistic community when their number was reduced to one. Now, as a result of the work of activists, the language is thriving.

            In other comments, he says that it is important to preserve linguistic diversity by saving languages that might disappear and adds that ensuring the survival of such languages is the basis for stability in a multi-national country like Russia. But neither he nor any of the other experts, at least in Kovachich’s telling, mentioned saving the titular languages of the republics.

            Given Putin’s moves against republic languages, including in particular his elimination of the requirement that all children in the republics study the language of the titular nation, it is unlikely that the academics will recommend or Putin will promulgate a strategy that will help the vast majority of non-Russian language speakers, even if it saves some of the smallest languages.

Putin Appears Worried about Rise in Russian Nationalism

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 3 – Less than a month after he suggested that the slogan “Russia for the Russians” was dangerous (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/02/putin-rejects-slogan-many-non-russians.html), Vladimir Putin says the government must devote more attention to “the struggle with extremism” by blocking nationalist and xenophobic propaganda.

            The Kremlin leader’s words, of course, cover other nationalisms as well, but given remark last month, it appears that he is particularly concerned now about Russian nationalism and its spread via the Internet, something a new law forces providers to identify and remove (stoletie.ru/lenta/putin_potreboval_presekat_propagandu_nacionalizma_i_ksenofobii_128.htm).

            That is certainly the interpretation Moscow political scientist Mikhail Mirzoyan gives to Putin’s words. They mean, he says, that “the danger of the development of nationalism in Russia is still present,” something many admit at the level of everyday interactions of people of different backgrounds (realtribune.ru/nacionalizm-v-rossii-nasledie-krepostnogo-prava-versiya).

            While nationalism is perhaps most likely to grow in areas where ethnic groups are intermixed especially at the margins of the core location of most members of the group, that is not the case with Russian nationalism, Mirzoyan says. Instead, Russian nationalism is far more prevalent in Central Russia, which is overwhelmingly ethnic Russian that elsewhere, he says his studies have found.

            He argues that a major explanation for this is that those regions experienced serfdom, Russia’s form of slavery, and thus people with that background are more likely to be envious of others and angry at them than are those, like Russians beyond the Urals, who did not have that past and do not display those attitudes nearly as often. 

Many Russian Regions Still Don’t Have Enough Vaccine Even as Moscow Pushes Exports and Welcomes Sputnik-5 Tourism

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 3 – In many parts of Russia, no vaccine is available even to senior officials and groups most at risk, a situation that Moscow appears unwilling or unable to do much about even as it promotes the profitable sale of the vaccine abroad and vaccine tourism from abroad to the Russian capital (dailystorm.ru/obschestvo/nam-i-na-svoih-to-ne-hvataet-vakciny-pochemu-regiony-provalivayut-plan-po-vakcinacii-ot-koronavirusa, chita.ru/beauty/157100/, sputnikvaccine.com/rus/newsroom/pressreleases/vaktsina-sputnik-v-odobrena-v-angole-dzhibuti-i-kongo/ and svpressa.ru/society/article/291466/).

            And that pattern is continuing even though numerous hotspots remain where infections are not declining as they are for the country as a whole and at a time when Moscow experts are predicting that relaxation in preventive measures may lead to a third wave of the pandemic as early as May (ura.news/news/1052474324).

            Russian officials reported registered 10,535 new cases of infection, the lowest daily number since October, and 452 new deaths from the coronavirus (t.me/COVID2019_official/2543), even as some places showed increases and pressure to lift restrictions spread across the Russian Federation (regnum.ru/news/society/3202625.html).

            Health minister Mikhail Murashkov acknowledged that as of now, “the coronavirus infection continues to circulate and that the virus has still not been neutralized.” As a result, he said, it is far too early to lift most restrictions even though people are suffering from pandemic fatigue (regnum.ru/news/3205079.html).

            One new focus of attention in Russia as in other countries is on superspreaders, the 20 percent of the population which if infected more rapidly than anyone else spreads it to others. Indeed, some studies suggest that up to 80 percent of all infections come from this group. How Russia will deal with such people if they are identified is uncertain (kp.ru/daily/27247/4376367/).

            At present, only about six percent of the Russian population has collective immunity, about one tenth of the figure needed to overcome the pandemic (versia.ru/v-rossii-zaregistrirovano-10-535-novyx-sluchaev-zarazheniya-koronavirusa-i-452-letalnyj-isxoda). But there are worrisome signs that interest in getting the vaccine is declining even in places where infections are going up (regnum.ru/news/3206019.html and regnum.ru/news/3206011.html).

            One category of Russian citizens whose vaccination numbers are going up is the military. Officials reported today that the number of soldiers and sailors vaccinated now exceeds 300,000 (regnum.ru/news/3205989.html). There are increasing signs that Russians in some places are being compelled to get the shots on pain of losing their jobs (regnum.ru/news/3204926.html).

            In Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov has called on Muslim leaders to promote vaccination among the faithful (regnum.ru/news/3205825.html). All this comes as experts say Russians will have to worry about getting shots for the coronavirus for a decade or two in order to overcome the pandemic (regnum.ru/news/3205567.html).

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

·         The interior ministry reported that Moscow had organized the return of some 400,000 Russians who were abroad at the time of the pandemic’s onset and could not return using normal transportation means (regnum.ru/news/3205637.html).

·         St. Petersburg opened its permanent monument to doctors there who have died from the coronavirus (echo.msk.ru/blog/day_photo/2799364-echo/).

·         Ever more urban Russians who fled to the countryside to avoid becoming infected last year have adapted to their new conditions and decided not to go back to cities (iq.hse.ru/news/448522933.html).