Sunday, June 20, 2021

Moscow’s Soft Power Agency Doesn’t Work Where It’s Needed but Where Its Staff is Comfortable

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 17 – The Kremlin talks constantly developing contacts with Russians abroad and promoting Russian “soft power” abroad, but its main agency to do these things – the Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Compatriots and International Humanitarian Relations – prefers to work where its staff can be comfortable rather than where they are needed.

            That is the judgment of many observers surveyed by Versiya journalist Aleksandr Petrov who points out that Roissotrudnichestvo as the agency is known has offices in all West European countries regardless of need but not in less pleasant places like the Central African Republic where the need is critical (versia.ru/pochemu-rossotrudnichestvo-ne-xochet-rabotat-v-afrike).

            The agency and its head, Yevgeny Primakov, routinely ignore the problems of compatriots, engage in pro forma activities that do little good, and make sure its employees have nice housing in comfortable surroundings rather than working to promote Russia and its image with compatriots and others abroad, Petrov continues.

            As a result, he says, “the further we go from the capitals, of rich and big cities, the rarer we encounter people from Rossotrudnichestvo.” And they aren’t to be found even in places like the Central African Republic or Sudan where there is an obvious need and where other Russian officials have asked that they open an office.

            The agency’s officers are only to pleased to have teas in Warsaw or Paris, but they aren’t willing to focus on places less pleasant for themselves but perhaps equally or even more important for Russia. Indeed, it has become a rule of thumb that none of its people will be found in places with infrastructure problems or civil wars.

            Consequently, this organization on which the government lavishes enough sums and talks as if it is playing such an important role isn’t doing its job, Petrov says, unless one defines its job in the narrowest of terms: pleasing its staff regardless of what that means for its ability to perform its tasks or meet the needs of the country. 

Moscow’s Homeless Population Swells in the Summer, as Russians from the Regions Flood In

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 17 – The Russian media and hence the Russian people tend to focus on the problems of the homeless during the wintertime because of the obvious problems such people have when it is cold and when the inability to find shelter may quickly lead to death. But the bigger problem in Russia, experts say, is in the summer.

            That is because it is in the summer months that Russians from the regions flood into major cities and especially Moscow hoping to find work or a better life, find neither and are forced to live on the streets. The situation in the capital is especially dire for two reasons (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/06/17/nemytaia-rossiia-ne-mozhet-uekhat-domoi).

On the one hand, the Moscow-centric worldview of most Russians makes it the largest magnet for such people in the country and brings thousands into the city each summer. And on the other, Moscow unlike St. Petersburg has a completely inadequate system for providing even minimal services to these people.

            There are only four places in Moscow where the homeless can take showers and wash their clothes, three opened by the city government and one by an NGO; but a second NGO, A Place to Stay, has been blocked in its attempt to open a place where at least some homeless can find beds for the night unlike in St. Petersburg where there has been one since 2016.

            Several private organizations, including the Salvation Army, deliver food and sanitary supplies to those on the streets, helping hundreds every day. But because few of the homeless can get showers or wash their clothes, they find it far more difficult to get work or even return home.

            That situation is much worse in the summertime when the absence of cleanliness is much more noticeable than it is in winter, Novaya gazeta journalists say on the basis of time spent with the homeless in the capital.  Indeed, many homeless are blocked by others from using public transportation to get around.

            All too many Muscovites wish these people would simply disappear. There are the usual NIMBY attitudes about any serious effort to help them. But unless and until conditions improve in the regions, more needs to be done for the street people in the Russian capital, perhaps especially in the summer months when few think about their suffering. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Compulsory Vaccination Likely to ‘Trigger’ Protest Voting in Duma Elections and Broader Social Protests, Mikhaylichenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 17 – Polls show Russians are overwhelmingly opposed to compulsory vaccinations and will feel betrayed if Moscow orders this after the promises to the contrary Vladimir Putin has made. Putin himself may have protected himself by shifting responsibility to the governors, but popular anger may be reflected in the upcoming Duma elections (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/06/kremlin-insists-shots-remain-voluntary.html).

            According to Moscow political analyst Dmitry Mikhaylichenko, “the situation with obligatory vaccination is fraught not only with protest voting and the further alienation of society from the powers that be but also is generating more social dissatisfaction” of the kind that may become “a trigger” for broader protests (regnum.ru/news/3298918.html).

            But the Kremlin may not see the full extent of the dangers because it is basing its calculations on what is happening in Moscow where compulsory vaccinations may be pushed through given the political capital of Mayor Sergey Sobyanin. But in regions far from the center, there is no such political capital and demands that people get vaccinated may backfire.

            Instead of leading to higher rates of vaccination, efforts in these regions to force people to get the shots may generate resistance first to that and then to other things that the regions are doing, often at Moscow’s direction. That will lead first to protests against regional officials and then possibly against the central government.

Regions to Which Stalin Sent Enemies of the People Continue to Benefit from That, Toews Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 17 – Those Stalin identified as “enemies of the people” and sent to the camps were three times as likely as the Soviet population as a whole to have higher educations; and on their release and the closure of the camps, many of them remained by compulsion or by choice near where they had been incarcerated.

            As a result of that and the fact that their children and grandchildren were more likely than the population as a whole to acquire higher educations, those regions where the percentage of enemies of the people was higher still seven decades later show better economic performance than others, according to Gerhard Toews of the Higher School of Economics (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/06/17/otbleski-gulaga).
            “The connection between the distribution of political prisoners from the GULAG camps and the present-day level of the development of districts around the former camps can be explained by the long-term maintenance of a high level of education of the population, in particular thanks to inter-generational continuity and also the positive influence of the level of education on the growth of productivity of firms,” he writes.

            According to Toews, “the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development conducted research” that confirms this link. And both investigations suggest that an alternative explanation that has been proposed – that the Soviets took note of where the educated were and invested accordingly – doesn’t hold water.

            “The massive and forced resettlement of people which occurred in the early USSR thus had long-term consequences for the development of district to which political prisoners were sent,” the Moscow scholar says. And now, 70 years later, the places they were sent are doing better at least in part as a result.

            This reflects the significant of intergenerational continuities in educational attainment, but these findings also have another lesson, one that often is ignored. “Political decisions can influence the development of regions over the course of several generations” and not just the one first affected.

Duma Deputies Illegally Voting When They Aren’t Physically Present as Rules Require

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 17 – Members of the Russian Duma routinely ignore not only the Russian Constitution but good sense in their actions, but a Meduza report documents that they can’t even follow the rules of their own body but instead allow numerous cases in which deputies who are not present and thus not supposed to be able to vote are nonetheless being listed as having voted.

            According to Duma regulations the Duma, members are not allowed to vote except in person (with rare exceptions) or to have other members vote in their stead. But despite that rule and despite Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin’s efforts, many continue to vote even though they don’t show up (95.173.130.41/duma/about/regulations/chapter-10/ and meduza.io/feature/2021/06/17/v-gosdume-prodolzhayut-golosovat-za-otsutstvuyuschih-deputatov-ob-etom-stanovitsya-izvestno-vsyakiy-raz-kogda-umiraet-kto-to-iz-parlamentariev).

            The problem continues to grow because both United Russia and the three systemic parties represented in the Duma want it to, the first to give as many votes as possible to Kremlin measures and the latter to show just how many these parties are able to muster in opposition and thus win points for that.

            But the problem has become so egregious that even when key votes are scheduled, few Duma deputies turn up, outraging Volodin and leading many to criticize the Russian parliamentarians for failing to be able to live according to their own rules when they are making laws (tass.ru/politika/7785867 and lenta.ru/news/2020/06/18/multa/).

            Earlier, the Duma passed a special resolution prohibiting any deputy from using the card of another to vote in his place (rbc.ru/politics/21/10/2016/5809db269a79470d9cd826e8). But that rule continues to be flaunted as well. The last year has highlighted this problem because so many deputies were known to be ill but nonetheless were having their votes recorded.

            Currently, some deputies are pushing for the creation of a system of biometric registration which would allow the leaders of the Duma to know who in fact is physically present and thus entitled to vote. That list could easily be compared with the list of those voting, and the votes of those not present could be ignored.

            But despite support among some deputies, this measure does not appear to be going anywhere fast. The parliamentarians say it may be a good idea but note that there is no money for it. As a result, the Duma in its preparation of illegal laws will likely continue to use illegal means to pass them.

US Pursues Win-Win Strategies; Russia Pursues Zero-Sum Outcomes, Skobov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 17 – Many analysts in the West and some in Russia decry Vladimir Putin’s old-fashioned thinking about foreign affairs because he invariably sees them as zero-sum games in which one side wins and the other loses rather than understanding in their view that today talks must seek a “win-win” outcome in which both sides get something they want.

            Unfortunately, Russian commentator Aleksandr Skobov says, it appears that Western leaders believe that they can engage Putin in a win-win game. That is “impossible in principle,” he says. And failing to see that is “a much more serious mistake than agreeing to a criminal meeting with a gangster” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=60CB855041DB4).

            That is because those pursuing a  win-win strategy will always include  in their ranks people who argue that one more concession to the other side will be enough to achieve such an outcome when in fact, those on the other side if they are like Putin will simply pocket any concession and demand more. He and they will never be satisfied until they get all they want. 

            Those who would like to get a win-win outcome need to recognize that as long as Putin is in power, there is no chance of that. And they must recognize that their only task in dealing with him is “victory over an enemy.” After all, that is what he is seeking, and any concessions the West makes to him aren’t going to change that reality.

 

Kremlin Insists Shots Remain Voluntary But Approves Regions Making Them Mandatory

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 17 – Confronted by a 30 percent rise in infections in the last week and overwhelming opposition in the population to mandatory vaccinations, the Kremlin straddled the fence in an effort to avoid being blamed for doing what it clearly wants lower-level officials to do (tass.ru/obschestvo/11680287 and regnum.ru/news/3298883.html).

            Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated his boss’s refrain that vaccinations will remain voluntary but then said that the Kremlin backs the actions of regions which have made them mandatory. Other Moscow officials echoed the latter position (regnum.ru/news/3299012.html, regnum.ru/news/3298699.html and mbk-news.appspot.com/news/glava-na-regiony/).

            In addition to the Kremlin’s obvious desire to distance itself from an unpopular change in position, the Russian leadership is promoting the idea that if vaccination rates don’t increase, more serious restrictions, including a new lockdown, may be necessary. Even those opposed to the shots are even more opposed to a lockdown (finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/v-moskve-zadumali-lokdaun-dlya-nevakcinirovannykh-1030532458).

            Moreover, the leaders of many regions have concluded that they will fail to meet Putin’s target of 60 percent immunization by the fall if they don’t make the shots obligatory now and in that event be at risk of being fired (sobkorr.org/news/60CAD5B1D5B73.html,  ura.news/articles/1036282494 and ura.news/articles/1036282489).

            Today, Russian officials reported registering 14,057 new cases of infection and 416 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours, with Moscow and Moscow oblast having more than half of these new infections, something officials there said was surprising given that an estimated 60 percent of the population has at some immunity (t.me/COVID2019_official/3079 and kp.ru/online/news/4332700/).

            Beyond the ring road, the pandemic in Russia continued to ebb and flow with St. Petersburg, the Far East and the North Caucasus being the hotspots and most other regions continuing at the same level or even showing some improvement (httpsregnum.ru/news/society/3296191.html).

            On the vaccine front, most experts favor moving toward compulsory vaccination, although there are dissenters including in businesses which are being forced into the unwelcome position of enforcers, insisting on vaccinations and pushed to furlough or even fire those who have not gotten their shots (regnum.ru/news/3299002.html and regnum.ru/news/3299269.html).

            But most officials and many Russians remain opposed to mandatory shots, arguing either that such a step won’t work or that it is a violation of freedom of choice and of the promises Putin has made (regnum.ru/news/3299042.html).

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

·         Moscow is on the brink of introducing something it rejected earlier: special zones in restaurants for those who have been vaccinated (regnum.ru/news/3299411.html).

·         Making vaccine mandatory driving up black market for fake certificates that one has received the shots (regnum.ru/news/3299134.html).

·         Russia says it will offer booster shots to those in other countries who have already received the Sputnik-5 medication. The booster will protect them against the Delta strain first identified in India (twitter.com/sputnikvaccine/status/1405492387510636546).

·         Russian investigators are backing away from their consistent opposition to the idea that Chinese researchers developed the coronavirus in a laboratory. The investigators say there is evidence in the genetic code of the virus that suggests some human intervention (newizv.ru/news/science/17-06-2021/v-strukture-virusa-vozbuditelya-covid-19-uchenye-obnaruzhili-sledy-eksperimentirovaniya).

·         Share of Russians who favor a coronavirus vaccine passport has risen from 12 percent at the start of this year to 17 percent (rbc.ru/society/18/06/2021/60cba2689a794794b1f40ec8).