Monday, May 17, 2021

Russian Federation under Putin Repeating Cadres Policy that Destroyed the USSR, Kulbaka Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – The current policy of the federal authorities is reproducing the situation of Soviet times, “when regions were better off to be recipients” than producers and when governors were more likely to be successful and be promoted if they were lobbyists for funds from Moscow than if they actually develop their regions, Nikolay Kulbaka says.

            Just how dangerous that approach is, the economist at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service says, can be easily seen if one considers three senior members of the Soviet regime at the end, all of whom had been obkom secretaries and learned how to behave (

            History associates the collapse of the Soviet machine with the names Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and Yegor Ligachev, Kulbaka says. “All three were active participants in the events of the last years of the life of the USSR, two became presidents, and the third, according to rumor could have been CPSU general secretary in place of Gorbachev.”

            But all three shared one thing in common: Before coming to Moscow, they had headed regional party committees where they were successful or not less in terms of the work they did locally than in terms of their lobbying Moscow for more assistance. At that time, Kulbaka says, obkom secretaries weer in fact the chief tolkachi of their regions.

            Those who extracted the most from the center did the best and thus were the most likely to rise, leading to a situation in which former obkom secretaries dominated the CPSU leadership. In that place, they continued to work as they had: lobbying for resources both domestically and abroad rather than managing development.

            Many expected things to change after 1991, and for the first few years, it looked like they might. Strong regional leaders emerged “who could have become serious and up-to-date presidents.” But that wasn’t fated to happen. Instead, Russia became once again a presidential republic, who reduced regional heads to supplicants for federal largesse.

            And this means, the economist says, “that we are moving along the same vicious circle” and that when the current rulers leave the scene, they will again be succeeded not by managers but by lobbyists, the very group who thirty years ago contributed so much to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Putin Increasingly Issues Decrees without Publishing Them to Avoid Angering Russians, Investigations Find

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – During his time in office, Vladimir Putin has increasingly issued decrees giving awards of various kinds without publishing these decisions in many cases apparently fearful that the Russian people might be infuriated by his decision or read more into it than he intends them to know.

            As in Soviet times, Russian presidents have issued secret decrees. Typically, these have been about security questions where classification is understandable; but ever more often Putin has expanded the practice to include government awards like Hero of Russia, TRT reports (

            (For background on Soviet and Russian presidential decrees and the propensity to classify them, see Thomas F. Remington’s definitive study, Presidential Decrees in Russia: A Comparative Perspective (Cambridge, 2014).)

            The new TRT investigation builds on one conducted by Vedomosti in 2019. The earlier one found that the share of unpublished decrees ranged from 25 to 40 percent and that these included both security questions and other actions “society might not approve of” ( and

            And the TRT study also draws on Russian media reports about the difference between the number of Hero of Russia awards Putin actually makes and the number of decrees published about this since 2014 when large numbers of Russian media personnel were given this award for their promotion of the Crimean Anschluss ( and

            The fact that the decrees required for such easily checked cases as the awarding of a medal are not being published, TRT says raises the question as to how many more decrees, involving more serious issues, are now being hidden from the Russian people.

Moscow May Be Forced to Make Vaccinations Compulsory for Many, Severinov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – New increases in the number of Russians infected with the coronavirus and a slowing of the rate of increase in the number of Russians getting vaccinated may compel Moscow to make vaccinations compulsory for officials and others in key institutions, Konstantin Severinov says. Otherwise, there will be a third wave and disaster.

            The head of the Institute for Molecular Genetics at the Russian Academy of Sciences says that fewer than 10 percent of Russians have yet been vaccinated and that only 10 percent more have recovered, leaving the country far from the levels needed for herd immunity (

            Obviously, the scholar says, individuals should have freedom of choice; but at the same time, the government must recognize that those who choose not to will infect others and take steps to require that those in places where they deal with the public get the vaccine to limit the spread and a new wave of the pandemic.

            Today, Russian officials registering 8554 new cases of infection and 391 new deaths from the coronavirus, with figures for Moscow down and those for St. Petersburg still rising as most of the rest of the country remained unchanged (, and

            Health Minister Mikhail Murashko appealed to Russians to get vaccinated “without waiting for the third wave,” as anew Superjob poll showed that 42 percent of Russians say they have no intention of getting the vaccine under any conditions, while 20 percent said they would if it allowed them to go abroad ( and

Peaceful Coexistence between Armenians and Azerbaijanis ‘Not Possible,’ Each Side Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – The latest incidents on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in which Yerevan has accused Baku of violating Armenian sovereignty and Baku has responded by saying that its troops are simply shifting on what is Azerbaijani territory shows both how far from peace the region still is and even suggests that peaceful coexistence between the two is impossible.

            MBK journalist Liza Velyaminova spoke with two journalists about how the peoples of those two countries view the larger picture, Viktoriya Pisarenko of Yerevan and Emil Akhundov of Baku, who offer a more realistic but pessimistic assessment than Moscow media have since Vladimir Putin brokered a ceasefire between the two countries in November 2020.

            Pisarenko, a university student, says that all Armenians expected an escalation of the fighting this spring. “Everyone predicted this,” she says. “They said that people had to get through the winter” and then be prepared for a renewal of military actions “at the end of April or the middle of May” (

            Akhundov for his part says that for the last 30 years, Azerbaijanis have been living “in expectation of new military actions” and so new violence is only to be expected, although he suggests that “the present conflict won’t grow into a full-scale war.” Azerbaijan now is in a position to reintegrate lands that are properly its.

            Like Armenians, however, Azerbaijanis remember clearly the losses they suffered last fall and do not want to have any repetition, the Baku journalist continues. Every day, people in Azerbaijan are reminded about those losses and also about Azerbaijan’s victory against the Armenian occupiers.

                Pisarenko says that in Armenia too, there are mixed feelings; but she decries the appearance of Internet posts suggesting that “we are so great” that we can go to war again and win. Akhundov for his part adds that “after the war, hatred between Azerbaijanis and Armenians has increased many times over.”

            Yerevan is full of tourists now, Pisarenko says; and there is little sense of the war. But she says, her friends and acquaintances “are ready for the worst course of development. We understand what can happen and what we must do in that event.” As a result, “we all will stand shoulder to shoulder with our boys” in uniform.

            Akhundov is also inclined to pessimism. “I do not see a possibility for peaceful coexistence,” he says. Talk of open borders and trade is fine, but at the everyday level, “I cannot imagine this after such a quantity of victims among the civilian population has build up.” No one is going to forget that anytime soon.


Chechnya’s Housing Stock Largely Rebuilt but Not Its Factories

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – Moscow and Grozny regularly post pictures of the center of the Chechen capital today to make the claim that the republic has completely recovered from the wars Russia launched against that North Caucasus republic in the past. But what neither stresses is a fateful imbalance: Chechens have rebuilt their homes, but no one has rebuilt their factories.

            The Chechens have a long tradition of working on their houses during weekends and vacations, and they have done so to a remarkable degree over the last decade. But the republic has been unable to attract investors to rebuild the factories and Ramzan Kadyrov has not used the money Moscow sends for that purpose.

            As a result, a heavily illustrated article on Zen.Yandex suggests, much of Chechnya looks just fine as far as the residences of its people are concerned; but the republic lacks the industrial economy that was its base before 1991 and shows little sign of getting it back (

            According to the article, outside investors say they are reluctant to invest because they have no idea what conditions will be like over the next 20 to 30 years, perhaps a more accurate reflection of what people really think about the future of Chechnya than those offered by Moscow and those it has installed as rulers in Chechnya itself.

            The skyscrapers Kadyrov has erected in Grozny may look impressive, but they can’t hide three things: the dominance of women because the men have been killed or forced to flee to Russia or abroad for work or to avoid arrest, the power of the teips over all aspects of life, and the massive presence of siloviki who are prepared to view any violation as separatism.

            All three things, the article says, suggest the peace in Chechnya is shakier and more deceptive than many want to believe; and it points to “the de-Russification” of the republic which means there is less glue to hold Chechnya to Russia than is the case in other non-Russian republics.

            Because that is so, it is the height of absurdity to think that Russians will soon be travelling around Chechnya the way they do around the Altai. That isn’t possible now and won’t be for a long time, perhaps ever because Chechens aren’t going to forget or forgive what the Russian invasions meant.

            “The cemeteries are a reminder of that, and even now, Chechens keep up the graves of “those who died in the war with Russia,” not exactly the image of the past the Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin want to project and one that suggests the future there is far less certain than Moscow thinks.

August 1991 Coup Plotters Get Their Own ‘Lives of Remarkable People’ Book

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – Almost every country has a book series that helps shape how its people see its past, its heroes and its enemies. In the case of Russia, there is “the Lives of Remarkable People” one which arose in Soviet times and features compact volumes on a wide variety of figures literary, political and otherwise.

            Now, Moscow literary critic Igor Gulin notes the appearance of a volume in that series about the coup plotters of August 1991. Written by historian Maksim Artemyev and entitled The GKChPists (in Russian, Moscow: Molodaya Gvardiya), the book is not revisionist but rather a sober assessment of what those opponents of change were about (

            Those who were involved in the events of 30 years ago are not romanticized but rather presented as “confused people who decided to take a bold and ridiculous step” to try to prevent their country from passing out of existence and their people from being swept up into revolutionary change.

            Artemyev himself at one time worked as secretary of Vasily Satordubtsev, the former head of the Peasant Union and later the governor of Tula Oblast, “the only member of the committee who remained in big politics,” the literary critic notes. But the book centers on KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov who organized the plot.

            The author of the new book insists on the following: the August events were not “a state coup, as many thought in the 1990s. On the contrary, they were an attempt to prevent a coup and to save a country which was disappearing from the map. The despair of its heroes thus evokes from the author a deeply felt but slightly ironic sympathy.”

            Gulin reviews alongside this volume five other new books about the final years of the Soviet system:

·         Igor Orlov and Aleksey Popov’s Olympic Commotion: Forgotten Soviet Modernization (in Russian, Moscow: Higher School of Economics) in which the authors seek to show that the 1980 Olympivs was not so much a sporting event as an attempt at modernization of the economy;

·         Sergey Plokhiy’s Chernobyl, The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe (translated from the English and published in Moscow by NLO);

·         Dmitry Okrest and Yegor Sennikov’s They Fell Away: How and Why Socialism Ended in Eastern Europe (in Russian, Moscow: Bombora) which examines how a wide variety of developments in the former bloc came to affect the last years of Soviet power;

·         And Vladimir Videmann’s Forbidden Union-2 (in Russian, Moscow: RIPOL), the memoirs of a Soviet hippy which provides an unusual view of the developments of the last 30 years of the USSR.

Gulin provides an important service by reviewing these books, as far too often both Russians and others have ignored all that now can be learned from publications appearing about the last years of the Soviet Union preferring instead to assume that their notions formed earlier don’t need any correction.

Kazakh and Russian Nationalists Increasingly Resemble One Another, Asylbekov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – Kazakh and Russian nationalists increasingly resemble each other, focusing on the same issues but with things reversed like in a mirror where what is on the left for the one is on the right for the other, according to longtime Kazakh commentator Zhandos Asylbekov.

            Kazakh nationalists were outraged when Vladimir Putin suggested that Russia had given away its lands to other peoples in Soviet times and implied that they should be returned. Thoughtful Kazakhs pointed out that there were no lands belonging to any people “immemorial” before 1917.

            But the Kazakh nationalists have been doing exactly when Putin has done. They have routinely published maps suggesting that Kazakhstan should properly extend over the territories of many neighboring countries, including those in Central Asia, the Russian Federation, and China, Asylbekov points out (

            That is hardly the only way Russian and Kazakh nationalists are alike, he continues. They both are obsessed with finding examples “showing the greatness of our peoples in the distant past, their ‘special nature,’ and their unique role in world history,” using facts when they are available and coming up with myths when the facts don’t go far enough to support them.

            Russian nationalists talk about the power of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, while Kazakh nationalists love to point to the times of the Golden Horde, “idealizing the power of the khans and even finding them to be democratic, just and completely supported by the popular masses.”

            Recently, Kazakh nationalists have gone even further and claimed that the khans and the bais under them were wise and progressive and that all the problems that Kazakhs have now are someone else’s fault. In that too, they are like their Russian counterparts with both talking about a golden age and assuming the role of victims of others.

            “Our national patriots are certain,” Asylbekov says, “that if the Russian Empire and the USSR had not existed, then the Kazakhs would be living in a land of milk and honey and that Kazakhstan would be something like Japan.”
            Moreover, both nationalists have their enemies. The Russian nationalists view the West and its allies within the borders of the former USSR and socialists camp as their enemies. But “the Kazakh nationalists add to their Russophobia Sinophobia as well.” And they like the Russian nationalists have domestic enemies as well.

            Russian nationalists blame “persons of Caucasus nationality,” immigrant workers from Central Asia, and “dons of the Israelites.” Kazakh nationalists in contrast blame “numerically small peoples who have better adapted themselves to market conditions and who are more successful than the mass of Kazakhs themselves: the Dungans, the Armenians and others.”

            And finally, both Russian and Kazakh nationalist in the main are hostile to what are customarily called European or Western values. They both support patriarchal traditions and “national codes” that they see as having deep roots in the past and want to go back to that past rather than forward into the future.

            In short, Asylbekov concludes, Russian and Kazakh nationalists for all their hostility to each other are very much like one another, albeit with each condemning in the other exactly what it is displaying in itself.