Thursday, August 5, 2021

Demographic Situation in DNR/LNR Dire and Getting Worse, Statistics Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 30 – The demographic collapse of the Russian-occupied “republics” in Ukraine’s Donbass is obvious to the unaided eye, but precise data are hard to come by because of the movement of people and the absence of frequent census enumerations and because officials there regularly seek to present an upbeat picture of the situation, Yury Kovalchuk says.

            In an article for the Rhythm of Eurasia portal, the analyst surveys what data are available, both from the October 2019 census and from statistical releases by the two governments since that time (ritmeurasia.org/news--2021-08-01--demografija-novorossii-skolko-ljudej-zhivet-v-l-dnr-i-chto-ozhidat-dalshe-55763).

            Since 2014, the population of the two, Kovalchuk suggests, has declined by about 60 percent as people have moved out and as deaths have outnumbered births by a factor of three. But the number of people physically present on any one day means that the real population is actually lower.

            On the one hand, some people living there go to Ukraine to collect their pensions; and on the other, others with homes in the DNR/LNR work in the Russian Federation, raising questions about how they should be counted.

            Not surprisingly, while most official announcements are upbeat, some are apocalyptic. The DNR health minister, looking at the relationship of births and deaths alone, sees disaster ahead with the population of her republic disappearing entirely in 75 years if nothing is done to change things (vsednr.ru/demograficheskij-krizis-v-dnr-kak-ne-dopustit-vymiranie-naseleniya-video/).

            But that prediction is faulty because the population is older than average and thus deaths are more likely than births and because it ignores the possibility that the economy of the region will recover once there is a settlement, the Rhythm of Eurasia commentator says.

            The number of pensions in the DNR/LNR is staggering: there are 433,000 in the LNR and 670,000 in the DNR, large shares of the populations of the two. The number of births is a somewhat more useful figure, Kovalchuk continues, but even with it, there are problems in terms of what is registered and what is reality.

            The demographic decline of the two places is “not too noticeable” in the major cities, but there are “many population points” which have lost all of their people and become ghost towns. That isn’t going to change anytime soon as no one can prevent the outflow of population and the deaths of the elderly.  

            The only positive feature of the regions’ demographic face concerns the “gradual returning flow of people from Ukraine.” No other figures provide cause for optimism; and”in the foreseeable future, the republics face an extremely sad situation, in which schools and kindergartens will have to be closed, and the number of residents in company towns and distant settlements will contract to a minimum.”

Developing Far East but Not Siberia 'Stupid,' Karaganov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 30 – For the last 20 years, Moscow has actively promoted the development of the Russian Far East; but in doing so, it has made three fundamental mistakes which must be corrected if Russia is to benefit even from what already has been achieved, Sergey Karaganov says.

            First, in developing the Russian Far East, Moscow has ignored developing Siberia, the land between European Russia and the Far East beyond Lake Baikal, the Higher School of Economics professor and frequent commentator on Russian foreign and domestic politics (primamedia.ru/news/1136152/).

            Such an approach is “stupid,” he continues, because if in effect creates two separate and disconnected entities and means that anything that either or both of them achieve will be compromised because there is not a developed Siberia between them.

            Second, Karaganov says, Moscow has utterly failed to involve local people and elites in the process. The center gives orders and local people more or less obey, but they are not invested in the outcomes. And because they are not, he argues, they are less likely to work to ensure these projects succeed.

            And third, he says, Moscow has failed to come up with an ideological narrative that can win people over. Everything is reduced to technologies. As a result, their incentives to work for the future are reduced to a cash nexus which is always at risk of breaking or forming in ways that compromise the future of the country.

            Karaganov expresses the hope that these mistakes will be overcome and that once there is an appreciation of the need to develop Siberia, there will be a greater willingness to involve local people and elites in its construction and come up with an ideological vision that will inspire Siberians and others to move forward.

            His argument is important not only because he is a well-connected Moscow commentator but also because he made it at the Pacific Russia Club, a gathering that has played a key role in elaborating Russian policy about the Pacific Rim but has not focused on the land in between, Siberia.

            Undoubtedly, many of his listeners were not enthused. After all, if Karaganov’s program were adopted, it would not only cost them some of the resources now flowing to them but also unsettle the Putin power vertical in the regions. And that may be the most important reason for attending to his words.

            What Karaganov is doing is proposing a radical reordering of the Russian political system starting not as most do with Moscow but with a critical region and insisting that Moscow follow rather than lead future development there.

Medinsky Appointment Signals Putin Likely to Target Historians Next, Martynov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 30 – Vladimir Putin’s decision to put former culture minister Vladimir Medinsky in charge of a commission consisting of security service officers to enforce a common view of Russian history strongly suggests that the Kremlin will be expanding its repressive moves from activists and journalists to professional historians, Kirill Martynov says.

            That likelihood, the political editor of Novaya gazeta says, is indicated by Medinsky’s notorious behavior as culture minister and his oft-expressed view that foreign structures are seeking to harm Russia by calling into question its glorious past and must be exposed and their impact on Russian writers eliminated (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/07/31/poveliteli-istorii).

            Russia is now in “a pre-war state” as far as history is concerned, Martynov continues. Nothing must be allowed to cast doubt on the greatness of Russia and anything that appears less than great in its past must be explained away or minimized. In short, from his perspective, “the only problem” Russia has is “Russophobia and harmful myths” about the Russian past.

            Moreover, Medinsky has cast himself as a defender of Russia’s own mythology, insisting that it doesn’t matter so much whether the details are true as whether the story the authorities want presented as in the case of the 28 Panfilov soldiers sends the right message. He thus will defend officially approved myths and attack facts that call these myths into question.

            “Many are asking what will take place next after the destruction of the political opposition and the labelling of a majority of independent media outlets ‘foreign agents.’ The new commission under Medinsky gives the answer: the next target will be the historians” and they will be charged with being foreign agents or violating the enlightenment statute.

            What this means, Martynov says, is that “entire eras” are now boing to be “taboo” for Russian historians. Russian-Ukrainian relations obviously but “Russian colonialism on the whole” too. As long as Medinsky is in charge, there won’t be any honest studies of the Afghan or Chechen wars, the Circassian genocide, or most aspects of World War II.  

The Procrustean bed into which Putin wants to put Russian life now is now being extended into the past. And the restrictions will be far worse than they were in Stalin’s time when serious historians could study many things removed from his concern or in Brezhnev’s when they could write more honestly about many more things as long as they cited Marx, Lenin and the current Soviet leader.

Under Putin and Medinsky, that isn’t going to be enough to avoid the horrific attention of the Kremlin and its agents.   

Growing Apathy a Threat to Putin System, HSE’s Semyonov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 30 – Many analysts have suggested that the Putin regime wants to de-politicize Russians. That may be so, but the Kremlin’s efforts in that direction have produced a growing tide of apathy, and “apathy is always negative and anti-systemic,” Aleksandr Semyonov says.

            Consequently, it is no surprise that polls showing Russians are ever more apathetic about the political system also show that they are increasingly negative about its policies and component parts, the HSE scholar says. Indeed, such negative evaluations are the first sign of trouble (newizv.ru/article/general/30-07-2021/vospitali-na-svoyu-golovu-apatiya-izbirateley-grozit-razrusheniem-sistemy-vlasti).

            The situation has gone so far in recent months that most analysts discussing the upcoming Duma elections are focusing on only one issue: “will there be large-scale protests after the vote or not?”  There may not be; but even if they do not take place, the problems of what might be called “negative apathy” are growing more serious in Russia today.

            The regime may be able to compel those who rely on it for employment and prevent others from demonstrating by threatening to use force against them, the political scientist says. “But legitimacy involves trust and approval, and force cannot guarantee either of these” during or after elections.

            He cites the late US political scientist David Easton’s observation that when apathy leads to such a situation, that alone opens “a direct path to the self-liquidation” of a political system. According to Semyonov, there is clear evidence that Russia has moved in that direction given the fragility of the legitimacy of its institutions.

           

Possible Return of Nationality Line to Passports Divides Russians and Non-Russians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 30 – The mere suggestion Moscow might restore the nationality line in passports, something notorious in Soviet times and dispensed with since, a suggestion denied both by government officials and United Russia leaders, has sparked a sharp online debate and divided by Russians and non-Russians.

            These attitudes reflect both how sensitive any issue involving ethnicity remains in Russia and how people on both sides of the Russian/non-Russian divide view such official registration of their identities with some in each camp viewing that as helpful to their cause and others as a threat (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/07/duma-considers-restoring-nationality.html and nazaccent.ru/content/36288-v-mvd-ne-rassmatrivayut-vopros-vneseniya.html).

            Pro-Kremlin Russian nationalist writer Andrey Afanasyev says that he is totally opposed to the idea and has labelled even the possibility of restoring a nationality line in Russian passports “a threat to the territorial integrity of Russia” (idelreal.org/a/31379029.html).          Nationalist commentator Yegor Kholmogorov agrees and says that the very proposal to do so is an attempt to undermine the formation of a single Great Russian nation and “preserve multi-nationality for decades,” something he is very much against because such fixing of national identity would block “the russification of small peoples.”

            In response, Bashkir activist Ruslan Gabbasov says that Kholmogorov has thus shown himself committed to “increasing the number of ethnic Russians in the country to 100 percent” by “liquidating the national republics and assimilating other peoples, in the first instance, those of the Middle Volga.” To counter that, he argues, a nationality line is essential.

            Regionalist writer Vladimir Serebrovsky says that Kholmogorov’s opposition shows that he is more than prepared to deny ethnic Russians the right to declare their nationality in order “God forbid, that any Udmurt, Komi or Tatar could do so.” Those who posted on the Uralistica site shared this view.

            Nogay activist Rami Ishmukhambetov said he backs the restoration of a nationality line in domestic passports because it will help preserve ethnic minorities in the face of assimilation pressures, a position echoed by Tatarstan activist Oleg Gizatullin, who says that each region should have the right to insert a special page to allow its residents to make similar declarations.

            But Circassian activist Shamsudin Neguc is opposed because he says this will only lead to more discrimination against non-Russians. He says he has even encountered discrimination based on his place of birth and doesn’t want others to be able to treat him as a second-class citizen for another reason.

            Unlike many other Russian nationalists, Vladimir Khomyakov who broadcasts on the Tsargrad television network is all in favor of restoring the nationality line. He says Russians should be proud of being Russian and this will keep them from decaying into some kind of faceless non-ethnic community.

            Another writer, Artemy Sych of the Iskra portal says that he does not see the introduction of a nationality line as a threat to the growth in the number of ethnic Russians. According to him, “minority cultures and identities can exist only in rural areas and urbanization is already working in favor of Russians.”

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Other Notable Stories from Russia This Week

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 30 – Below are 26 more stories from Russia this week that deserve to be noted because they shed significant light on Russia, its government and its people, but that I was unable to write up as full-scale Windows:    

 

1.      Russian Growth Figures in 2021 Look Good Because Last Year was So Bad. Russian government figures showing impressive gains in per capita income and business operations over a year ago are the result of just how bad both were in the pandemic year. They thus fail to capture continuing declines in both (capost.media/news/ekonomika/realnye-dokhody-rossiyan-vyrosli-vpervye-s-nachala-pandemii/, ehorussia.com/new/node/23966 and newizv.ru/article/general/28-07-2021/out-off-business-pochemu-za-pervye-polgoda-v-rossii-zakrylos-bolee-polumilliona-ip).

2.      Soviet Nuclear Sub to Make Last Voyage through Russia’s Rivers and Canals. Moscow has ordered the last Soviet-era nuclear submarine to make its final voyage through the country’s extensive internal river and canal system, a sign of just how important that transportation network remains (thebarentsobserver.com/en/security/2021/07/final-voyage-soviets-first-nuclear-sub-will-be-inner-waterways-0).

3.      Scholars and Journalists React Angrily to FSB Ban on Criticism of Roskosmos. Russian journalists and scholarly investigators have denounced an FSB plan to ban almost all coverage of the Russian space program and have pointed out that without media monitoring, the situation in that sector will only get worse (znak.com/2021-07-29/uchenye_raskritikovali_proekt_prikaza_fsb_kotoryy_zaprechaet_kritikovat_roskosmos).

4.      Russia Begins Construction of New Doomsday Plane. Moscow has announced that it is building a replacement of its so-called “doomsday plane” from which Russian leaders would operate in the event of a nuclear war (znak.com/2021-07-26/v_rossii_nachalos_sozdanie_novogo_samoleta_sudnogo_dnya).

5.      Kremlin Believes in Shamanism and Magic. By its attacks on Sakha Shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev, the Russian government has demonstrated that it believes in the power of shamanism, one commentator says. Another suggests that magical and superstitious thinking governs much of leadership decision making in Russia today (rosbalt.ru/posts/2021/07/27/1913191.html and rosbalt.ru/posts/2021/07/26/1912947.html).

6.      Moscow Promotes Militarism among Youth to Prevent Them from Wanting Freedom. The reason the Russian government is increasingly militarizing education, opposition politician Leonid Gozman says, is to ensure that young people do not get a taste of freedom that might lead them to protest against the repressive regime (rosbalt.ru/posts/2021/07/27/1913145.html).

7.      Equipment in Russian Factories Averages 10 Years of Age. Between 2008 and 2018, the average age of equipment in Russian factories fell from 13.4 years to 10 but there has been no further decline in the last three, the HSE reports (iq.hse.ru/news/480903788.html).

8.      The Oligarchs Vanish and So Too Do Ukrainian Athletes. In Soviet times, political changes often required that disgraced officials be whited out from pictures, as David King described in his 1997 classic, The Commissar Vanishes. Now, a book about Putin’s entourage has eliminated pictures and stories about two oligarchs who are no longer in good odor in much the same way (znak.com/2021-07-29/iz_knigi_lyudi_putina_udalyat_otsylki_k_svyazyam_avena_i_fridmana_s_kgb). In a similar fashion, Russian television turned away from the action when the Ukrainian flag and team appeared at the Tokyo Olympics (rusmonitor.com/olga-kortunova-nenavistnyj-odin-narod.html).

9.      Man without Hands Accused of Clawing Russian Police. Some charges are less credible than others. One that has no credibility at  all is a new court case against a Russian man without hands who has been charged with clawing policemen there (https://doshdu.com/bezrukij-obshhestvennik-iz-kbr-obvinjaemyj-v-izbienii-policejskih-rasskazal-o-fabrikacii-ugolovnogo-dela/).

10.  Moscow Specialist on China Says US and China will Divide Russia into Spheres of Influence. Andrey Devyatov, a prominent Russian sinologist who used to work in the GRU, says that China and the United States will divide up Russia into separate spheres of influence (business-gazeta.ru/article/515396).

11.  New BAM Railroad Tunnel Took Seven Years and 2.1 Billion Rubles to Build. The challenges Moscow faces in improving rail links to the Far East have been highlighted by reports concerning a new tunnel on the BAM. It took seven years to build and cost 2.1 billion rubles (30 million US dollars), and it is only one of many that must be built to expand that line (k-politika.ru/bam-lishili-glavnogo-sovetskogo-nedostatka/).

12.  Last August 1991 Coup Plotter Dies. Oleg Baklanov, who had been the only surviving member of the State Committee that tried to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev and save the USSR in August 1991 has passed away (echo.msk.ru/blog/serpompo2018/2879042-echo/).

13.  Number of Working Pensions has Fallen from 15 to Nine Million over Last Five Years. The increase in retirement age and economic problems has resulted in a decline in the number of pensioners who continue to work from 15 million in 2017 to nine million now, the Russian government reports (ura.news/news/1052496708).

14.  ‘No Persons of Buryat Nationality Admitted.’ A hotel in the Transbaikal has posted a sign declaring that no person of “Buryat nationality” will be given a room, a reflection of coronavirus concerns and an indication of just how close to the surface ethnic hostilities are (nazaccent.ru/content/36265-lyudej-buryatskoj-nacionalnosti-ne-puskaem-mvd.html). In a related development, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insists that Russian law applies equally to all residents without regard to their ethnicity "(nazaccent.ru/content/36277-peskov-rossijskie-zakony-rasprostranyayutsya-na-vseh.html).

15.  Russians who Dye Their Hair or Get Tattoos Treated ‘Worse than in Soviet Times.’ Young people who choose to dye their hair or get tattoos find they are subject to more hostility from their elders than was even the case in Soviet times, some of them say (idelreal.org/a/31362669.html).

16.  More than 3,000 Turkish Firms Operating in Russia. Turkish firms have now opened more than 3,000 branches in the Russian Federation, a reflection of cooperation between the two countries and something that offers each   leverage against the other (trtrussian.com/novosti-rossiya/vice-premer-rf-novak-v-rossii-rabotaet-bolee-3-tysyach-tureckih-predpriyatij-6189267).

17.  Putin Says 10 Percent of Russian School Buildings Need Repair. Vladimir Putin says that approximately 10 percent of all school buildings in Russia need repairs but that less than one percent are near collapse (apn-spb.ru/opinions/article33736.htm). But in Moscow, his preference for school consolidation means that ever more students there attend large schools but in shifts rather than within normal time frames (newizv.ru/news/society/01-08-2021/gigantomaniya-i-vtoraya-smena-bezdumnaya-zastroyka-moskvy-privela-k-defitsitu-shkol).

18.  Shiyes Protest Leader Wins Election to Head Muncipality in Arkhangelsk. Sergey Yakimov, one of the leaders of the protests against Moscow’s plans to build a dump in the North, has won election as head of a municipality in Arkhangelsk Oblast, another sign of the declining fortunes of United Russia and Vladimir Putin (sovross.ru/articles/2151/53002, rfi.fr/ru/россия/20210730-левада-центр-рейтинг-доверия-президенту-путину-снизился-до-31 and rusmonitor.com/rejting-edinoj-rossii-v-moskve-15-vybory-v-stolicze-mogut-stat-provalom-dlya-partii-vlasti.html).

19.  Moscow Oblast Residents Want Referendum to Restrict Jet Noise. Residents of Moscow Oblast is pushing for a referendum that would restrict the overflight of noisy jets there. They say the planes are too noisy and too low and should be routed away from residential areas (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/referendum-o-zaprete-poletov-nad-domami/).

20.  Khakasiya Runs Out of Money to Pay Its Bills. Just how difficult regions are finding it given the unfunded liabilities Moscow has imposed on them is highlighted by the situation in Khakasiya where officials have stopped paying their bills because they don’t have any money left (finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/khakasiya-paralizovana-regionalnoe-pravitelstvo-ostanovilo-vse-platezhi-1030671281).

21.  Pyramid Schemes Return to Russia with a Vengeance. In the 1990s, many Russians suffered from pyramid schemes. Now, such scams have returned, with the Central Bank saying that 146 of them are now operating in that country (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/86907).

22.  New Russian Law Opens the Way for Hunting Endangered Species. Under the terms of a law that goes into effect in August, some select Russians will be allowed to hunt animals on the endangered species list, a bow to elites who in many cases have already been doing that (sobkorr.org/news/6106AA643557D.html).

23.  Sobyanin Says Absence of Migrant Workers Causing Inflation. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin opines that declines in the number of migrant workers, who toil for minimal wages, is a major cause of inflation in Russia (ura.news/news/1052497021).

24.   Russian Women Said to Need Separate Subway Cars for Their Own Protection. St. Petersburg Social Chamber leader Vladimir Petrov is pushing for the establishment of special cars on Russian subways for women only. He says this step is necessary to protect them from harassment (mk.ru/social/2021/07/28/nasilniki-von-v-rossii-mozhet-poyavitsya-metro-tolko-dlya-zhenshhin.html).

25.  50 Million Russians have Taken Vacation Trips So Far in 2021. Pent-up demand from the pandemic year has prompted some 50 million Russians to travel this summer (sovsekretno.ru/news/pochti-50-mln-rossiyan-puteshestvovali-po-rossii-v-pervom-polugodii-2021-goda/).

26.  US Embassy in Moscow Loses 182 Russian Employees. By Vladimir Putin’s order, 182 Russian citizens who had been working at the US embassy in Moscow have left their positions, forcing American diplomats to scramble to perform their jobs (svobodaradio.livejournal.com/5691478.html).

Russia Failing to Fulfill Contracts with Foreign Countries to Supply Covid Vaccine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 30 – Over the past year, Moscow has sought to sell as much vaccine to as many countries as possible and has signed contracts with more than 70 countries, but now it is increasingly proving unable to meet its obligations both because of shortcomings in Russian production and domestic needs (https://ehorussia.com/new/node/23959).

            That has left many countries without the vaccine they expected to have and has created scandals in some where officials are suspected of having gone along with Moscow without doing the due diligence that such contracts require. This trend also makes it likely that Russia will have more difficulty selling other of its products in the future.

            Today, the Russian authorities reported registering 23,564 new cases of infection and 794 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours, the latter down slightly while the former remains close to its all-time high, as the pandemic ebbs and flows across the country (t.me/COVID2019_official/3385 and regnum.ru/news/society/3330437.html).

            Moscow where the situation has improved somewhat in recent days has lifted the requirement that residents wear gloves in public (regnum.ru/news/3333280.html). But in many places, the level of infections and deaths remains so high that officials are increasing rather than cutting back on restrictions (regnum.ru/news/3333690.html).

            In Karelia, a new hot spot, officials are already talking about having to deal with a fourth wave of the pandemic later this year (regnum.ru/news/3333288.html). And Moscow officials say that more than 95 percent of victims are suffering from the highly infectious “delta” strain (regnum.ru/news/3333526.html).

            On the vaccine front, the defense ministry announced it is now re-vaccinating its soldiers in Syria (regnum.ru/news/3333270.html), researchers say combining Sputnik-Lite and Astrazena does not result in serious side effects (regnum.ru/news/3333423.html), and the Vektor Center says it will soon  have its EpiVakKorona vaccine registered (regnum.ru/news/3333629.html).

            And on the economic front, the Komi Republic reported that hundreds of enterprises have ceased operation there over the last year because of the pandemic restrictions and the resulting economic crisis (regnum.ru/news/3333720.html).

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

·         The Russian government has rejected Duma calls to increase the value of human life to 10 million rubles (140,000 US dollars). It says that economic conditions require that it be kept far lower (regnum.ru/news/3333323.html).

·         A VTsIOM poll finds that Russians want political parties to talk about the pandemic, despite an effort by United Russia to prevent that; and some Duma deputies are beginning to say that various steps the government is taking with regard to the coronavirus reflect calculations about the upcoming election rather than science (wciom.ru/analytical-reviews/analiticheskii-obzor/politiki-protiv-ehpidemii-idei-i-proekty and regnum.ru/news/3333580.html).

·         And two governors, summoned to meet Vladimir Putin, were forced to go into self-isolation in advance of that meeting in order to ensure that they would not infect the Kremlin leader (ura.news/news/1052496831).