Saturday, July 20, 2019

Moscow Plans to Use Targeted Economic Pressure to Bring Former Republics to Heel, 'Legitimate' Telegram Portal Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 17 – There is a good reason that Mikhail Babich, the former Russian ambassador who is now deputy economic development minister, has dropped off the media radar screen, a source close to him says. He is now focusing on using the strategy he employed in Belarus across the CIS, the Legitimate Telegram Channel says.

            Babich is too busy doing so, the channel continues; but he is also keeping a low public profile lest his name become a lightning rod once governments in the former Soviet republics recognize what he is about: identifying in their countries specific businessmen who can be bought off and then taking steps to do so (t.me/legitimniy/1280).

            The latest successful talks by Dmitry Kozak about Moldova “have demonstrated the effectiveness of such economic pressure on political groups,” the channel continues. “In each of the trends, there are beneficiaries who are interested in receiving concessions and profits and not in the prestige of their own countries.”

            “The list of these people has long been known, but now a format of working with these groups and of using this method of pressure is defined. By fall, we expect a major shift in a number of countries and in the first instance in Belarus and Ukraine” where such lists are being compiled.

            “The participation of Mikhail Babich” in this operation as far as the public is concerned “will be minimal,” the Legitimate Telegram Channel says, “in order to minimize the negative associations” many non-Russians have with his person after his controversial embassy in the Belarusian capital.

            While it is possible that this is simply a leak by Babich’s friends to keep him in the public eye indirectly, it is far more likely that this in fact reflects what he is doing – and that Moscow will be making pitches involving concessions, benefits and outright bribes to key business leaders in the CIS countries. 

Federalism ‘Fading Away’ under Putin, New Report Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 17 – A new report by the Moscow Center for the Analysis and Prevention of Conflicts says that Moscow missed the chance at the start of Vladimir Putin’s reign to develop a Russia in which there would be both a strong center and strong regions. Now, as a result of his policies, any chance for federalism in Russia is rapidly “fading away.”

            The 124-page report, entitled Fading Federalism: Tatarstan and Daghestan under Conditions of Continuing Centralization, was prepared by Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, the center’s director, sociologist Yekaterina Khodzhayeva and Caucasus specialist Denis Sokolov (cap-center.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Угасающий-федерализм-Татарстан-и-Дагестан-в-условиях-продолжающейся-централизации.pdf).

            After the disintegration of the USSR, the authors say, Russia “accepted the federative form of administration,” a reflection of the country’s enormous size, diverse populations, pre-existing territorial divisions, and “what is the main thing, excessively strong centrifugal forces and ethnic separatism at that moment.”   

            In the 1993 Constitution, the country’s non-Russian republics “received state status with their own constitutions, parliaments, president and supreme courts.” They could adapt legislation and rule to the needs and demands of their own population. But such a system required institutions and habits of mind Russia did not have.

            Real federalism needs not only institutional arrangements including an independent constitutional court and real political competition but also the willingness to engage in and accept the outcomes of often difficult negotiations among the components of the system.  This Russia lacked and lacks to this day, the report says.

            The authors conclude that “the weakness of Russian federalism in the 1990s can be explained by the weakness of the federal center.”  The center clearly required strengthening; and when Putin came to power committed to that, many expected that Russia would finally be on the road to a system combining a strong center with strong regions.

            “But this chance was missed,” the authors say. “Instead of the development of the federation, the leadership of the country step by step deprived the regions of their former sovereignty having formed a super-centralized system of administration.”  And the situation became even worse when Putin was elected to a third term.

            From that time onward, they say, the federal center has striven to unify the regions and reduce to as little as possible the federal distinctiveness of the national republics. It has intensified its assimilatory policies by dropping the requirement that residents of the republic study the language of the titular nationality.

            And the Kremlin centralized both the financial system, ensuring that Moscow could control the amount of funds any region had to spend, but the leadership system, making clear to heads of republics that they would be removed if they stood up for their republics against the center. (Chechnya is the only “exception of the rule.”)

            The new study is especially useful because it compares the way in which this evolution has proceeded in two republics, Tatarstan which is a success story economically and Daghestan which is one of the poorest and has required the most assistance from Moscow. That these trends are true in both of them shows that they are the case for the entire federal system.

Ingush Mufti who Actively Opposed Yevkurov Out


Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 17 – Issa Khamkoyev, who had been mufti of Ingushetia for three five-year terms, refused to run for re-election and was replaced by Abdurakhman Martazanov, who had been republic kady. Khamkoyev had been in more or less open warfare with former republic head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, but Martazanov also had problems with the ancien regime.

            Relations between Khamkoyev and his muftiate, on the one hand, and Yevkurov, on the other, had become so bad that the republic head earlier called for his removal; and Khamkoyev last year expelled Yevkurov from the community of the faithful for discriminating against the faithful (doshdu.com/2019/07/17/v-ingushetii-izbrali-novogo-muftija-kotoryj-smenil-konfliktovavshego-s-vlastjami-issu-hamhoeva/).

            But it is far from clear that this change at the top will lead to an improvement in relations between the religious leaders and the civil authorities.  A month ago, Yevkurov’s people raided the residences of both Khamkoyev and Martazanov, and available evidence suggests that the new mufti shares the views of his predecessor with whom he worked for many years. 

            Meanwhile, court cases concerning those in detention continued, with the government winning or appearing set to win all challenges to its efforts to keep opposition figures under arrest until the end of September (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/337976/, kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/337983/ and kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/337969/).

            Perhaps the most serious development concerning the civil opposition was yet another raid by siloviki on the homes of Akhmed Pogorov, vice president of the World Congress of the Ingush People, who remains free despite efforts over the last two months to catch him (doshdu.com/2019/07/17/v-ingushetii-snova-obyskali-doma-rodstvennikov-ahmeda-pogorova/).

            Many in Ingushetia are disappointed that Makhmud-Ali Kalimatov has not taken steps to overcome the yawning gap between the powers that be and the population.  Timur Uzhakhov of the International Innovation University says that they shouldn’t expect anything like that (capost.media/special/sobytiya/ingushetiyu_snova_raskachivayut/).

            According to his sources, Uzhakhov says, Kalimatov is a temporary figure who will not address political questions or interfere with what has been going on but will work to improve living conditions in the republic and thus give Moscow time to decide what to do, ranging from making major concessions to the possible launch of military action against the Ingush.