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 (

            “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 Komi 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 (, 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 (

            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 (

            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 (,, and

            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 (

            Russian officials reported registered 10,535 new cases of infection, the lowest daily number since October, and 452 new deaths from the coronavirus (, even as some places showed increases and pressure to lift restrictions spread across the Russian Federation (

            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 (

            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 (

            At present, only about six percent of the Russian population has collective immunity, about one tenth of the figure needed to overcome the pandemic ( But there are worrisome signs that interest in getting the vaccine is declining even in places where infections are going up ( and

            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 ( There are increasing signs that Russians in some places are being compelled to get the shots on pain of losing their jobs (

            In Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov has called on Muslim leaders to promote vaccination among the faithful ( 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 (

            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 (

·         St. Petersburg opened its permanent monument to doctors there who have died from the coronavirus (

·         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 (

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

No Russian Believes Declaring Support for Putin is Dangerous, Levinson Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 2 – Those who criticize the Levada Center and other polling agencies for continuing to ask how many Russians support Vladimir Putin forget that almost no Russian believes that declaring support for the Kremlin leader will land him or her in trouble, Aleksey Levinson says.

            Thus, polls showing that fewer Russians support him now than did in the past aren’t likely to be affected by fears that might keep them from telling the truth, the Levada Center sociologist says. In fact, those who say they support Putin are likely to exaggerate the level of backing he has (

            Twenty years ago, just after Putin came to office, the Levada Center asked Russians how they felt about him. Thirty-six percent said they couldn’t say anything bad about him, 31 percent said they felt sympathy and four percent said they were delighted with the president. Few had a negative opinion about him, Levinson says.

            Recently, the polling agency asked the same question, and this time, 27 percent said they could not say anything bad about him, four percent less over the period, and 20 percent said they felt sympathy to him, down 11 percent or less than a third.

            Putin retains his enthusiastic backers, those who feel delight about him. Fourteen percent of these come from those over 65, 13 percent from homemakers, with nine percent of the total sample now declaring they feel that way, slightly more than twice the share of two decades earlier.

            There are a few who say they can’t say anything bad about Putin who other questions show do have negative views concerning him. But they form less than three percent of all Russians sampled; and on these other questions, they aren’t hiding how they feel about his policies if not his person.

            What this shows, Levinson suggests, is that those who do conceal their views aren’t those most commentator critical of polling agencies assume. They are ordinary people who have mixed opinions and not the committed radicals who fear to speak their mind. More evidence for that conclusion is provided by responses to another question.

            According to the sociologist, Russians were asked whether those being surveyed thought that people speak openly about their attitudes toward Putin or whether instead, they conceal what they really think of him. Forty-two percent said that the majority or practically all say what they think.

            Thirty-percent said that the majority or practically all conceal what they think; 25 percent said people divide equally in how honest they are; and three percent said they found it difficult to answer the question.

            “Among those who approve Putin’s activity as president – 65 percent in February – the majority say that people answer openly, while among those who do not approve of his actions, 34 percent express the view that people hide the attitudes toward the authorities and toward Putin personally.”


Even Witnesses from Russian Guard Aren’t Supporting Charges Against Ingush Seven

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 2 – At the latest session of the trial of the Ingush Seven, witnesses from among the Russian Guard continued the trend among those speaking for the prosecution and denied that they had seen any of those being tried, according to lawyers for the defense ( and

            Nonetheless, the lawyers and most observers expect the Essentuki court to return a guilty verdict against all seven, the only question being open is how long the sentences will be and whether they might be suspended. The judges continue to allow prosecutors to read into the record materials that have no relevance to the charges.

            Meanwhile, in another case, prosecutors have brought new charges against Bagaudin Myakiyev for supposedly destroying government property while he was incarcerated for his participation in the March 2019 protests. They have provided no evidence of this, his lawyers say, an indication that it is a form of harassment because he continues to speak out in defense of other Ingush now incarcerated  ( and

            And in a third case, that of Akhmed Pogorov, who was finally arrested after being on wanted lists for almost two years, his lawyers said that he appears to be being treated fairly in the detention center although they repeated that there is no evidence for the charges against him (

            Commenting on Pogorov’s arrest, human rights activist Ruslan Mustsolgov said that it was “the height of injustice,” that he is being subject to illegal and unconstitutional repression, and that his arrest has sent public trust in Ingush and Russian officials plummeting to new lows. They now lost support among “all strata of the population.”

            And in another development that will do nothing to reverse such feelings, Ingush officials announced that they have installed round-the-clock video cameras in key public places in Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, so that they will be able to track all movement in the new capital (

            They said that this was necessary to fight crime, but most Ingush will conclude that it is yet another sign that those in power want to be able to repress the population which isn’t. 

The More Radical Navalny Becomes, the Less Support He will Have, Shaburov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 2 – Russians aren’t happy; but by more than two to one, they prefer stability to any battle against the Kremlin. That is why more people did not join the Navalny protests given that he cast them as “a fight” and why the more radical Aleksey Navalny and his team present protests as a struggle, the less support he will have, Aleksey Shaburov says.

            The Yekaterinburg commentator who edits the Politsovet portal said that given economic problems, many expected far more Russians to join the Navalny demonstrations than did; but they miss the point that Russians remain committed to stability rather than prepared to protest (

            “Politics,” Shaburov argues, “is a kind of market where various politicians ‘sell’ to citizens themselves and their proposals. People examine these offerings not only on a rational but on an emotional basis and support those who are closer to their deep requirements and aspirations.”

            What is critical for an understanding of Russians is that over the last two decades, there has been little change in the preference they have over stability over changes for the better, 65 percent to 25 percent respectively in the latest Public Opinion Foundation poll (

Putin has successfully played to this throughout his time in power, putting those who like Navalny challenge him and say that Russians must fight for change at a serious disadvantage. They may agree with the complaints Navalny and others like him make but they fear chaos and losing what they have more than expect any improvement if they participate in protests.

By talking about the need for a battle, Navalny is undercutting his own possibilities to generate active support because “any battle is zero-sum game and has unpredictable results.” Consequently, for a risk averse population like the Russians, his message alienates rather than attracts many more to his banner.

Most Russians “may like Navalny and dislike corruption, bureaucrats and oligarchs,” Shaburov says; “but they are not prepared to take the risk of getting involved in a new battle. And the more radical Navalny becomes, the fewer changes he will have to find a response in the hearts of ordinary Russians.”

The Kremlin “understands this very well and thus are pushing Navalny and his supporters toward greater radicalism,” the Yekaterinburg commentator says. In this situation, does Navalny have a real way forward? Not unless he radically changes his propensity to radicalism, something his incarceration makes less rather than more likely.

It is of course possible that Russians will change their attitudes and become more willing to protest even if protest is presented as a battle. That is especially likely if the economic situation continues to deteriorate. But there is another possibility, one that may be less obvious but could prove more significant in its impact.

A politician may appear in place of Navalny “who will offer Russians changes for the better without any radical destruction of the system Putin has put in place.” For that to be effective, he must show how this is possible to ordinary Russians, no easy task given their preferences and especially difficult because that isn’t how Russian opposition politicians think.

USSR Would Have Collapsed Even if Gorbachev had Never Existed, Gozman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 2 – The main charge opponents of Mikhail Gorbachev make against him is that his policies led to the demise of the Soviet system and the USSR, a complaint based on the assumption that both would have survived largely unchanged had someone else been elevated to lead the USSR.

            But in fact, Leonid Gozman, head of the All-Russian Union of Right Forces, makes clear, both the Soviet system and the USSR were headed toward collapse, something Gorbachev by his policies was trying to avoid but could not (

            Had Gorbachev’s efforts not been a rescue operation, he would never have been allowed to undertake many of the steps he did, the opposition politician says. Other senior CPSU leaders would have blocked him, but the situation had become so dire that even those who opposed him recognized that radical steps were needed if the country was to continue largely unchanged.

            The country Gorbachev was elevated by the Politburo to lead “could no longer exist in its Brezhnevite form. Everything was falling apart, money had run out, and the mass terror machine had decayed. The system no longer could count on either fear or respect.” Consequently, even if an alternative to Gorbachev had come to power, he wouldn’t have been able to prevent collapse.

            It is of course possible that someone prepared to use massive force against the population might have held things together for several years, Gozman continues; but if a leader had chosen that path, he would have failed and worse he would have made the disintegration a bloody mess rather than the remarkably violence-free event that it proved to be.

Some in the CPSU leadership would have preferred the delay even at that cost, but most of those below the aging leadership left over from the period of stagnation weren’t prepared to pay the costs that such an approach would have entailed. Gorbachev counted on them, and that is why he succeeded in bringing positive changes even if the system around him collapsed.

On Gorbachev’s 90th birthday, Gozman expressed the hope that the former Soviet president “will live until a time when the majority of our fellow citizens understand the greatness of what he carried out and to live still longer after this until [he] receives the honor and respect of those to whom you gave freedom.”