Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Military Clashes in Central Asia Over Water Likely to Grow in Number and Intensity, Kazantsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – The military conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan was in the first instance about the lack of agreement between the two countries over control of water flows. That conflict cost 55 dead and about 300 wounded and forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes.

            Conflicts over water like this one are likely to grow in number and intensity in the coming months, Andrey Kazantsev, a specialist on the region at MGIMO, unless the countries of the region are able to agree on an equitable sharing of water, something that they have not been able to do and that is increasingly difficult to achieve.

            That is because as the death of the Aral Sea has shown demands for water across the region are far outpacing supply and sparking social, economic and political problems because the water is not equally divided among the five, with two water-surplus countries confronted by three water-short ones.

            But increasingly, the water-surplus countries, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, have far less extra water than they had and are less inclined to share it with anyone else as the fight between the two of them in May shows. And the water-short countries are more short than usual because of drought (stem-lab.az/article/defitsit-vody-mozhet-stat-prichinoi-novyx-voin-v-srednei-azii---143).

                As a result, he says, “there is a great probability that conflicts like the one which took place between the Kyrgyz and the Tajiks this spring will intensify since the climate is changing, the glaciers which fed the Central Asian Amudarya and Syrdarya are retreating, and demand for water to the contrary is increasing since the population is growing.”

            Other experts, like Jennifer Sehring of the Central Asian Water Resources journal and Uzbekistan analyst Baktiyor Alimdzhanov, agree. Indeed, they are if anything even more pessimistic than the Moscow expert, although there are some outside specialists like Stanislav Pritchin who believe that the problem won’t explode in that way.

            But even he agrees that the problems are spreading. They no longer involve only Uzbekistan in conflicts with its neighbors but all the states of the region in disputes with theirs. That multiplication of disputes by its very nature makes it harder for any collection of these states to reach agreement and more likely that disputes will take on a military dimension.

Protests will Continue Even if Moscow Arrests All the Leaders

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – Today, 1500 Russians went into the streets of Khabarovsk to demand an end to repression, the release of political prisoners, and the return to office of ousted former governor Sergey Furgal. The meeting occurred after a local court in an unprecedented move ruled that a ban on the meeting imposed by the mayor there was illegal.

            Among the signs the protesters carried was one which declared that “we don’t need any Moscow castoffs,” a clear indication that this large protest was not only a continuation of the earlier marches in favor of Furgal but also that its members increasingly blame Moscow for what has happened in their city and region.

            Even more more important, this meeting called into question the assumption of many Russians that if the authorities arrest all the leaders, they will end any possibility of protest, a reflection of their contempt for the population which will find new leaders and take part in new protests (region.expert/khabarovsk190621).

            And while the Kremlin operates on that assumption – its arrest of Aleksey Navalny and other opposition figures in recent months reflects a desire to clear the political field in advance of the Duma elections and preclude protests, Russian leaders are being forced to recognize that Russians are so angry they will find new leaders or go into the streets on their own.

            In a commentary for Rosbalt, that news agency’s parliamentary correspondent, Elena Zemskova, says that increasingly people are aware that “despite ‘the defeat of the opposition,’ the powers consider the chief problem of elections to the Duma their legitimacy and are seriously preparing for possible protest actions” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/06/18/1907362.html).

            Increasingly, she continues, officials are worried that some Russians will boycott the elections altogether or view the decision to hold the vote over three days as opening the way for falsification, something that could send Russians into the streets on their own. Parliamentarians are worried that they may be encouraged to protest by foreign governments, including the US.

            If Russians do go into the streets for those reasons, there is a possibility, Zemskova says, that a Belarusian scenario will occur in Russia, something for which, she argues, the Russian powers that be have only themselves to blame.

Genealogy Can Be Problematic for Tatars, Bashkirs and Russians, Akhtariyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – DNA tests which identify the cultures from which one  descends are increasingly popular in Russia, but those actively interested in tracing the genealogy of their families are far less numerous because of the problems they face, Aydar Akhtariyev, who traces his ancestry back to Chingiz Khan times and founded the familio.org/portal to help others.

            The biggest problem is that most people assume that the best way to trace one’s ancestors is by last name, but until World War II, last names were very unstable in the case of the Tatars and even some Russians in the North in which members of the same family adopted different last names, the genealogist says (idelreal.org/a/31312813.html).

            Instead, those who are interested in tracing their families need to find out the names of the villages from which they came. Many of these villages no longer exist or have had their names changed, but all the archival records one needs to trace one’s lineage is located, if it still exists, in territorially defined institutions.

            Akhtariyev says he founded his portal to bring those interested in the topic together because it often happens that more than one individual is interested in people from a particular village and if they know about one another, they can help each other. If they don’t know about what has been done, they have to repeat everything, often a discouraging process.

            Another problem for Tatars and Bashkirs is that relatively few people in the population know the Old Tatar Arabic-based script. Fortunately, there are now many experts for hire who know that language well, although Akhtariyev himself who has been in the field for 20 years concedes that he is not one of them.

            Intriguingly, he notes that Bashkirs find it somewhat easier to trace their ancestors than do Tatars. The reason is that clan divisions among the Bashkirs survived because they were nomadic and did not have a state while among the Tatars, they have largely but not completely disappeared. When one knows one’s clan, going back further in time becomes easier.

            Many who get involved in genealogical investigations often find things they don’t plan on, such as being members of a different nationality than their ancestors were. That makes such research politically sensitive, and it is among the reasons why the authorities in many places aren’t keen on seeing the field grow. 



Biden hasn’t Betrayed Russian Liberals or Ukrainian Patriots; He’s Defended US National Interests, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – Since the Geneva summit, some Russian liberals and some Ukrainian patriots have insisted Joe Biden betrayed their causes, forgetting that the US president swore “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” and not in any case promising to defend democracy in Russia or Ukrainian independence, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.

            By meeting with Vladimir Putin, Biden “didn’t betray anyone: he above all fulfilled his responsibilities before Americans by looking in the eyes of one of the main opponents of the free world, laying out the American position on basic foreign policy questions, and seeing where things stand,” the Russian commentator says (echo.msk.ru/blog/v_inozemcev/2857342-echo/).

            In Russia today, Inozemtsev continues, there are two competing myths about the nature of the world. On the one hand, the Kremlin insists that Russia is surrounded by enemies and that the government must fight them. And on the other, the Russian opposition is waiting for the West to help them defeat Putin.

            Both positions are fundamentally and even fatally flawed, he suggests. They ignore the fact that “violations of human rights in Russia are taking place because over the last 20 years, citizens have consistently avoided defending them and have allowed the powers to take ever greater control” and that foreign interference isn’t going to change that by itself.

            “It is time for both Russian liberals and Ukrainian patriots to stop hoping for help from the outside” and accept its absence to the extent they want as a reflection of the national interests of other countries and “not as evidence of betrayal” of their own interests by Western countries,” Inozemtsev says.

            “It seems to me,” he says, “that Russian and Ukrainian experts should more carefully study all the spectrum of US policy regarding human rights and assistance to allies, including sanctions on Russia … and support for Kyiv.” And they should also recognize two important aspects of the situation that they tend to ignore.

            First, outside pressure has never led to the liberalization of Russia. “On the contrary.” When relations improve and thaw, then is the time when there is a chance for liberalization. And second, and this is especially important for Ukraine but not only it, many countries have been able to transform themselves into free market economies and democracies without much help.

            If Russia and Ukraine were working in that direction rather than otherwise, they would have better relations with the West and have a better chance for support. Time, however, is working against both, as bad Russian behavior and inadequate Ukrainian behavior reduces the chance for improvements.

            Both Russians and Ukrainians need to recognize that they are responsible for their futures rather than waiting for some magic assistance from abroad. Until they do so, neither will make the kind of progress they say they hope for. Instead, they will remain locked in a vicious circle which their rulers will exploit against them. 

Russian Villagers Whose Complaints about Roads Reach TV or Putin Get Relief but Few Others Do

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – In many parts of rural Russia, to speak of roads is to engage in euphemisms. They are more often muddy tracks rather than graded let alone paved highways. When tragedies happen, they complain to television or to Vladimir Putin and sometimes those who do get relief. But the rest continue as they have been, Sergey Shargunov says.

            The commentator and television program host tells the story of the victim of a heart attack in a Kursk Oblast village whom the ambulance couldn’t reach because the road ran out and of a girl in a Vladimir Oblast village who wanted a road so her younger sister could learn to ride a bicycle (svpressa.ru/blogs/article/301750/).

            They were helped because their complaints reached the Kremlin or at least Russian television, but they are the lucky ones: millions of others live in places where the only way to get in and out is by tractor and where people go to district centers to shop once a month because doing so is an act of heroism, Shargunov continues.

            On the one hand, this arrangement allows TV personalities like himself or Putin in the Kremlin to play Lady Bountiful and hand out benefits, something they are happy to do and for which the villagers are happy. But on the other, this arrangement means that officials won’t do anything unless they are forced by this kind of exposure.

            In the nature of things, with more than 10,000 villages, most of whom aren’t linked by paved roads to the outside world, few will break through and get the benefits. The solution is not to have more exposures of what is wrong but rather to insist that regional and local officials do their jobs and build roads and to have federal officials make sure that happens.

            Until that occurs, Shargunov says, there will be more tragedies and more gratitude when someone intervenes; but the system will in fact not get any better, however much what Putin or central television manages to do in the few cases that manage to attract their attention.


Moscow’s Use in Ingushetia of Police from Kamchatka Won’t Work for Long, Dzutsati Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – The March 29, 2019, protest in Magas continues to cast a shadow over Ingushetia not only in Russian courtrooms where the Ingush Seven and others who protested the land deal with Chechnya but on the streets of Ingush cities and towns. The latter gets less attention but may prove more important.

            When a group of Ingush militiamen did not use force against the demonstrators, officials at Moscow’s insistence concluded the Ingush police were “unreliable” and replaced them with militia officers from Kamchatka, at the other end of the Russian Federation. Those officers are still there on the streets of Ingushetia.

            Using such a colonial method of administration may, regional expert Valery Dzutsati says, “help preserve the appearance of stability for a certain time but this period will hardly last for long.” The Ingush can see they are viewed as a colonial people every time they encounter the Kamchatka militia in their midst (kavkazr.com/a/31314592.html).

            The 13 Ingush militia officers who were dismissed after the March 2019 protests ostensibly for failing to obey orders to disperse the crowd are in the process of appealing that decision and the subsequent decision to do away with the unit in which they served. They say that they never received the order that they are supposed to have violated.

            And lacking an order to disperse the crowd by force, these former officers say, they did what they could to calm the situation, protecting other officers and urging the demonstrators not to engage in any actions that could force the officials to respond. Rights activists and police organizations in the region back them up (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/364938/).

            Both Moscow and Magas were alarmed by this display of civic unity between the protesters and the police, and the Kremlin moved to ensure that it would not spread. The police were fired and their unit disbanded, and militiamen from outside the republic and even outside the region were sent in to replace them.

            Had Moscow and Magas recruited other Ingush, the situation might have calmed down; but instead, they went outside, displaying their lack of confidence in and even contempt for the population, something that has angered other Ingush police and other Ingush more generally (fortanga.org/2021/06/oficzer-ingushskoj-policzii-pozhalovalsya-na-bespredel-v-vedomstve/).

            In short, the authorities took a dangerous situation in which the police were clearly on the side of the people and made it worse, transforming the situation in Ingushetia into an openly colonial one in which few Ingush are going to remain on the side of the imperial occupiers for long. There is simply too much anger and social pressure for that to be possible.

            Moscow may assume that it can move siloviki around and thus keep the lid on this bubbling pot, but in fact, every time it does that, it weakens its own hand over the long haul even if its agents in place can report that the outsiders have restored control for the time being. 

Unless Pandemic Ends Soon, Moscow Likely to Raise Pension Age Again

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – Some Moscow analysts say that unless the pandemic ends soon, the Russian government will be forced to raise the pension age once again, a powerful argument for many Russians to get the shots but yet another reason some of them are likely to vote against the Kremlin’s candidates in the Duma elections (rosbalt.ru/moscow/2021/06/19/1907411.html).

            Other threats, including loss of jobs, exclusion from getting medical care, shaming, and even suggestions that those who refuse to get vaccinated may have to be incarcerated, hasn’t pushed the number of Russians seeking the shots up very much (business-gazeta.ru/article/513263). Threatening their pensions   seems a logical if draconian measure.

            But it may backfire not only because Russians cans see that other governments have done far better than Putin’s in fighting the pandemic but also because they will inevitably view such a move as yet another example of the Kremlin’s forcing the Russian people to pay for its mistakes while protecting the wealthy (finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/antiprivivochnaya-katastrofa-proval-vakcinacii-sulit-rossii-poyavlenie-supervirusa-1030536887).

            And there are two other reasons for anger: the Kremlin has spent more time blaming Russians for not getting vaccinated than helping them and Vladimir Putin has spent more time bragging about how well his policies have worked than ensuring they do (finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/antiprivivochnaya-katastrofa-proval-vakcinacii-sulit-rossii-poyavlenie-supervirusa-1030536887, regnum.ru/news/3300749.html and regnum.ru/news/3300871.html).

            Today, Russian officials reported registering 17.906 new cases and 466 new deaths from the coronavirus, with more than half of the record number of new cases of infection coming from Moscow alone, which had 9120 new cases. Moscow Oblast added another 1456 (t.me/COVID2019_official/3096 and themoscowtimes.com/2021/06/19/moscow-records-pandemic-high-for-covid-cases-second-day-running-a74267).

            Elsewhere, the pandemic continued to ebb and flow. People in several places were outraged they can no longer get medical treatment if they do not have the shots. In the words of one, officials are saying: “sit at home and die if you aren’t vaccinated” (regnum.ru/news/society/3296191.html, regnum.ru/news/3300604.html and  regnum.ru/news/3300717.html).

            Most regions are promoting shots by offering prizes but others, like Chechnya, are threatening people with all kinds of dire outcomes if they don’t (themoscowtimes.com/2021/06/19/coronavirus-in-russia-the-latest-news-june-20-a69117, regnum.ru/news/3300790.html, vz.ru/society/2021/6/19/1104787.html and https://capost.media/news/obshchestvo/v-chechne-posle-ugroz-kadyrova-prinuditelnaya-vaktsinatsiya-nabiraet-oboroty/).

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

·         Some experts are expressing the hope that the third wave will be shorter than the first but others are saying that it may give rise to a new and more deadly super-virus because Russians aren’t getting vaccinated (mk.ru/social/2021/06/19/biolog-rasskazal-o-posledstviyakh-tretey-volny-koronavirusa-pessimisticheskiy-prognoz-sbylsya.html).

·         Russian psychologists are worried about the increasing number of hours people are going online rather than dealing with one another, a trend that they say may make social interactions increasingly difficult to restore (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/06/19/1907221.html).

·         Some vaccination facilities in Russia are substituting EpiVakKorona for the Sputnik-5 vaccine, an indication that supplies of the latter, more effective vaccine may be running low (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/06/18/epivakafera).