Tuesday, April 20, 2021

‘Russia is ‘De-Europeanizing”’ Because Russians Lack a Sense of Their Own Future, Levada Center Polls Suggest

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 17 – Despite the fact that Russians continue to associate Europe with well-being, justice, human rights, freedom and democracy, relations between Russia and the EU are now at a low ebb and a majority of Russians no longer consider their country to be a European one, Levada Center polls how (levada.ru/2016/09/09/14393/).

            And a recent roundtable discussion concludes that Russia is “’de-Europeanizing,’” that its people no longer view Europe as a model that Russia will ineluctably follow, but that they are not interested in a complete break but rather in again reaffirming its own distinctiveness, given the absence of a clear sense of Russia’s future.

            This discussion included journalist Sergey Medvedev, Levada Center director Lev Gudkov, MGIMO instructor Aleksandr Tevdoy-Burmuli, and Prague political analyst Aleksandr Morozov (svoboda.org/a/31202082.html reposted at levada.ru/2021/04/16/proshhaj-evropa/).

            Tevdoy-Burmuli says that Russians have always viewed Europe as the other, although at various points they have seen it as a model and at others as something pursuing a course Russia should avoid. Gudkov adds that the highpoint of Europe as a model for Russia came in the early 1990s but that Kremlin propaganda and life experiences have reduced support for that idea.

            At that time, the Levada Center director says, Russians felt they could not only decide on their own future but work effectively to achieve it. Now, both such feelings have receded, and with them the notion that Europe is a model for Russia and Russia is a European country, however much many want European lifestyles and standards of living.

            While some point to the problems Europe is now going through as a source of this shift, Gudkov says that the real causes lie within Russia itself, “with the disappearance of an idea about the future. The discrediting of the West and of Europe have eliminated this direction in the consciousness” of Russians.

            “As a result of this, the various components making it up have separated,” he says. And “the attempt to maintain through a purely conservative system of centralized and authoritarian power hasn’t worked out only on the basis of anti-European resentment,” although that provides the Putin system with some support.

            In contrast to other participants in this conversation, Gudkov says that he is not sure that the current set of Russian attitudes will be overcome anytime soon. Indeed, he suggests, anti-European attitudes have become “chronic” and that Russia and Europe must expect to live with them for at least two generations – “even if the regime is changed.”

            At the same time, none of the participants believes that Moscow will break with Europe institutionally as it benefits too much for current arrangements. It will only play up Europe as the other without defining Russia as Asiatic. Instead, the Kremlin will insist that Russia will pursue its own path and that Europe and the world must accept that reality.

New Union Treaty Would have Hurt Russia by Giving Non-Russian Republics Extraordinary Powers over It, Kulbaka Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 17 – After the August 1991 putsch and the exit of the three Baltic republics, there was no possibility that the USSR could have been saved even with the signing of a new union treaty, Nikolay Kulbaka says, because such an accord would have given the republics far more power and because Russia could not have met their demands for help.

            As a result, even if such an agreement had been signed, it would not have prevented conflicts among the nations of the Soviet space or precluded the demise of the USSR at some point, possibly in a more violent Yugoslav-style manner than the relatively peaceful demise it suffered (vtimes.io/2021/04/17/mozhno-viiti-pochemu-razvalilsya-sovetskii-soyuz-a4498).

            That experience has important lessons for those who regret the end of the USSR or who assume that something similar could be rebuilt, the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service economist says. It shows that the only way this could happen would be by force and that this would lead to far more violence than even the post-Soviet states have seen.

            Today, Kulbaka says, many say that the Soviet Union was doomed from the start because of the formation of union republics with the right of free exit. There is no good way to test that proposition. But what needs to be remembered, he continues, is that the republics were created not simply to hold them in but to allow for taking in more when the revolution spread.

            Soviet leaders through the 1940s were focused on the latter and did not think that any exit was possible. Stalin absorbed the Tuvin Peoples Republic in 1944 and wanted to add two parts of Iran, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan and the Kurdish Peoples Republic, but was blocked from doing so by the West.

            According to the Moscow scholar, “Stalin planned gradually to unite to the Soviet Union the countries of Eastern Europe.”  And he suggests that it is significant that the Warsaw Pact which defined them as independent countries was not signed until after his death.

            Kulbaka argues that the Soviet Union fell apart because the countries of that region, led by Poland and its Solidarity movement showed that the Soviet bloc could be held together only by force and the strivings of the Baltic countries to recover their independence demonstrated to the rest of the republics that they could achieve independence as well.

            Both these things became possible because Moscow showed that it was no longer willing to rely on force alone to keep the bloc and the republics within its system and no longer had the economic resources to win them over by offering greater benefits if they decided to remain than they would have if they in fact left.

            That meant that Mikhail Gorbachev could have stopped these interrelated processes only by force, and he was unwilling to use it because such force would have prevented the development of better relations with the advanced countries, relations he and the Soviet Union needed to develop.

            But even those who became convinced that the USSR could not have survived in its form then include many who think that a new union treaty could have been signed and implemented had there been no putsch, Kulbaka says. They likely would have signed such an accord in that event, but it is very unlikely that this would have done more than slow the disintegration.

            It is certainly the case that “the republics were ready to create a new Union but on more favorable conditions” and with their having the power to insist that these conditions be met. But that meant that while Russia would have retained its empire as it were, the imperial possessions would be in the driver’s seat.

            They would have been in the position to demand that the center provide them with vastly more aid than it had, and because the center, as a result of falling oil prices and the stagnation of the economy, was not in a position to do so, Moscow would either have been compelled to turn to force or alternatively allow the republics to depart even with a new union treaty.

            “It is possible,” he writes, “that if there had not been the putsch, the Union for a certain time would have been able to survive but only at the price of the pressure on Russia of all the remaining republics becoming stronger.” That would have made the October 1993 conflict child’s play in comparison.

            Boris Yeltsin thought he could save part of the empire by uniting the three Slavic republics which were relatively better off; but that plan failed as well because the Russian leadership lacked the resources to help even them or the cleverness to promote its interests via soft power.

            Republics with resources like Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan knew they could make a go of it on their own. And the others assumed that they could get help from elsewhere if they were independence given that Russia wasn’t in a position to help them to the extent they needed.

            “Of course,” Kulbaka says, “another path of unification remained with Russia, the imperial one, involving the forcing of the republics to unit by force. In short by good words and a pistol. But using the pistol turned out to be impossible as the August 1991 putsch demonstrated.” That was fortunate for all concerned.

            It was in 1991 that “the Russian Empire really died because the Soviet Union had been in many ways its continuation.” That also means that “today’s Russia is not entirely an empire however much it tries to appear as one.” And it means that any effort to restore the empire would require force and create even more problems.

            Nationality conflicts would not disappear but rather become “even stronger” because “the new union state hardly would be in a position to calm such hostility. Happily, this has not happened, and ‘the divorce’ took place comparatively peacefully especially in comparison with the Yugoslav scenario.”

            “One wants to believe,” Kulbaka concludes, “that we have already passed this fork in the road once and for all.”


Kremlin has Won a Tactical but Not a Strategic Victory over Russian Opposition, Semyonov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 17 – By tightening the screws, the Putin regime has succeeded in reducing the size of protest actions but it has not managed to win over the population which not only may take to the streets again but will certainly express its anger about its rulers via the ballot box in the coming Duma elections, Andrey Semyonov says.

            And that means the Kremlin’s victory over the last two months has been only a tactical one, the researcher at the Moscow Center for Comparative Historical and Political Research says, not a strategic one that will end dissent. At best, it will only change its form into something the powers will be able to falsify more easily (ridl.io/ru/nedovolnym-zdes-ne-mesto/).

            Repressive actions work as was shown by the reduction of the number of participants between the first and second Navalny actions earlier this year, but they do not work absolutely. In some places, repressions were widespread and the numbers of protesters did not fall, an indication of the limits of such government actions, Semyonov says.

            That pattern also has been shown repeatedly over the last decade during which “Russians have regularly spoken out against the increasingly harsh politics of the authoritarian regime.” Again and again, the Kremlin has acted in ways that provide them with a justification for action even if it has done everything it could to prevent them from manifesting their anger.

            The Navalny protests are in no way an exception. Instead, they show that even when all three “’ingredients’” usually assumed to be needed for collective action are not present, people will still go into the streets if they are angry enough. At present, the Russian people had only one of these – anger – but not the other two – safety in participation and effective impact.”

            The Putin regime has worked hard to ensure that Russians do not gain either of those, but it has done little or nothing to end their anger. Consequently, Semyonov says, people are going to continue to seek ways to protest even if as seems likely the regime chooses to adopt an ever more repressive approach.

            At first glance, it may seem that the Kremlin “has won a definite tactical victory over the opposition: mobilization has declined to nothing. Navalny is in jail, hundreds of his supporters are being charged with administrative and criminal offe3nses, and his network of regional staffs has suffered the latest wave of repressions.”

            “But one must not forget,” Semyonov continues, “that the forces involved are very unequal: a consolidated authoritarian regime in the hands of which is the power of the state apparatus and – in essence – a network of activists without formal status or any continuing source of resources.”

            “The January protests showed,” however, “that there is dissatisfaction with the political situation in the country and a willingness to go into the streets has not disappeared” despite repressions. And “the Kremlin has not been able to buy the loyalty of a significant part of the urban middle class” because it hasn’t addressed the basis of their anger.

            As a result, the Moscow analyst says, such people are likely to refocus their anger; and they have an opportunity to do so in the upcoming Duma elections. There, as a result, it is entirely possible that the Putin regime will suffer the kind of strategic defeat that its recent tactical victories were designed to prevent.


Monday, April 19, 2021

Where Putin Street Intersects with Stalin Street – and Other Oddities of Toponomy in North Caucasus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 17 – The renaming of cities, villages and streets has not taken place in the orderly fashion many assume, Vadim Khnygin says. While it is true that there was a large wave in the early 1990s of giving new toponyms to places which bore Soviet names, that process was not complete, renaming has continued to occur, often producing some unexpected intersections.

            The Caucasus Post journalist says that names are being changed on an almost constant basis and in contradictory directions at least in part because “the authorities as a rule do not listen  to the opinions of the people” (capost.media/special/starye-nazvaniya-ulits-ploshchadey-rayonov-i-gorodov-severnogo-kavkaza-pereimenovyvayut-vsye-chashch/).

            “In Soviet times, one could find streets named for Lenin, the Soviets, October, the Communist Party, the Komsomol, Kirov and so on in any city or large village.” Some were changed in the early 1990s. “But not everywhere” and certainly not in a consistent way. And the same holds for lower-ranking and foreign communist figures.

            “In Nalchik to this day,” Khnygin says, “there is an Armand Street” because Inessa Armand died there, even though she is buried in Red Square. Makhachkala renamed Lenin Avenue in honor of poet Rasul Khamzatov but it still has a Lenin Square with the inevitable Lenin statue.  

One North Caucasus capital, Magas, doesn’t have anything related to Lenin because it was established too recently. But elsewhere in Ingushetia, Lenin is doing well: three are a minimum of 12 streets named in honor of the Bolshevik leader in other cities and villages, the journalist continues.

Stalin continues to be honored even though most people assume he disappeared from public view almost 70 years ago. Ossetians are especially devoted to his memory because they believe he is one of them and not a Georgian. In Vladikavkaz, there is no Stalin Street, “but there are in Beslan and Alagir and in 13 North Ossetian villages.

            In South Ossetia’s capital Tskhvali, there is a Stalin Street, and it is crossed by Putin St. There are five Stalin streets in Daghestan, and three in villages of Kabardino-Balkaria.

            The name of Nikita Khrushchev is also one most would expect to encounter. But in Magas, his name is on one of the main streets. Since 2000, it has been on one of the main squares in Grozny.

            As for Vladimir Putin, in addition to the Tskhinvali intersection with Stalin St., there are seven Putin streets in Daghestan, three in Ingushetia, and two in Chechnya. The South Ossetian capital also features a short street named after Dmitry Medvedev. Chechnya keeps changing the names of the streets and squares in its cities and villages.

            Most North Caucasus cities have done away with streets named for foreign communists, but Stavropol has retained them. In a village near Sochi, there is a Darwin Street; and in Grozny, there is another one with that name as well as streets honoring Mozart and Shakespeare, Knygin relates.

            And in the Chechen capital since 2016, there has even been a street named for American boxer Mohammed Ali.

‘Era of Legal Politics in Russia has Ended,’ Konstantinov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 17 – With the poisoning and then imprisoning of Aleksey Navalny and the attacks on his key supporters as extremists who must be outlawed, “the era of legal politics in Russia is at an end. In its place has come a direct dictatorship, only weakly covered by the fig leaf of the remains of democratic procedures.”

            The Navalny organization, the Russian commentator says, was “the last major legal political organization of the last few years.” The others have already been shuttered, and now the Kremlin is doing the same to Navalny’s “command.” Some oppositionists have given up, others are emigrating, and still others are going underground, but open politics is no more (forum-msk.org/material/news/17120300.html).

            Under the current circumstances, “there are practically no legal ways out of this situation,” and “ahead is only the darkness of a new period of stagnation and dictatorship.” In posting this comment on his portal, Anatoly Baranov adds that the first stagnation under Brezhnev was “boring” but far from as dark as Putin’s now is.

            Other commentators are making the same point as they track the way in which the Kremlin is working to crush all dissent. (For a useful chronology of the crackdown, see

sobkorr.org/infopovod/6079A35C9C23A.html.) And one, Dmitry Kolezev, has suggested that what is happening to Navalny’s people now was tried out on the Jehovah’s Witnesses earlier (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=607A6263CEA92).

            That should be a lesson to all those who failed to speak out against Putin’s campaign against that religious group, all too often on the basis of an unspoken assumption that what as happening to the Witnesses was of no concern to them. Now, many of those with that attitude are suffering precisely because of Putin’s success in cracking down on the Witnesses.

Nominating Putin for Another Term Could Trigger Mass Protests and a Revolution, Gallyamov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 17 – While no one knows the details of what will happen in Russia in the coming months, the general pattern is clear, Abbas Gallyamov says. The regime which as of now has enough forces to block any challenge is nonetheless acting in ways that are likely to bring ever more people into the streets.

            If a million Russians come out regardless of the pretext, political or not, the former Putin speechwriter and political analyst says, the level of alienation between society and the powers will have grown to a point that the regime itself will be delegitimized and “paralyzed” (echo.msk.ru/blog/gallyamov_a/2823292-echo/).

            In this situation, Gallyamov suggests, the attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church may turn out to be decisive. Putin clearly thinks something on the lines that “’God gave me power and I cannot and do not have the right to give it up,’” much as the last tsar Nicholas II thought in the years leading up to 1917.

            If the Orthodox Church challenges that view, something that seems unlikely now but is not impossible, then Putin will lose one of the bases of his claim to life-long power. And that could happen even if the mass protests begin over something non-political. If they become massive, that alone will politicize them for the regime and the population.

            Such a turn of events could happen far more quickly and without preparation than many now think, Gallyamov continues. Many think that “a revolution must be prepared for a long time.” But international experience shows that while leaders and organizations may matter, they are not always a requirement.

            Nor is there a need for the development of “some alternative ideology.” Revolutions may arise with an ideology as in Russia or without a clearly defined one as in Mexico and China. The main issue is whether the contradictions between the powers and society reach such a state that they are unsustainable.

            According to the commentator, a particularly likely occasion for hundreds of thousands of Russians coming into the streets to protest may be a political event: the moment when the Kremlin feels it needs to nominate Putin for another term in advance of the 2024 elections. That could be a trigger for revolutionary risings.

            After all, it was just such an event that led to revolutionary actions in Mexico, although there, the risings were insufficient to block the dictator’s remaining in power. That too is possible in Russia as well, Gallyamov says.

Russia Now at ‘Unstable’ Plateau in Pandemic, Epidemiologists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 17 – Moscow epidemiologists say that Russia today is at what they call “an insufficiently” stable plateau as far as the coronavirus is concerned, with some questioning official statistics but others hoping that prophylactic measures and the targeting of active groups even though overall vaccinations remain low are responsible for the decline from earlier peaks.

            But they warn that Russia has not yet had much experience with the more virulent strains of the virus and that once they arrive, what the authorities have done up to now won’t be enough to prevent a new wave of the pandemic (regnum.ru/news/3245654.html and kp.ru/daily/27266.5/4399379/).

            Some Duma deputies suggested that Russia may reach herd immunity by August of this year as a result of increasing vaccinations and increasing numbers of people who have been infected but recovered, but others are more pessimistic that such a goal could be reached that quickly (regnum.ru/news/3245620.html).

            Today, Russian officials reported registering 9321 new cases of infection and 398 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours as the pandemic continued to ebb and flow across the country, with more places reporting improvements than deteriorations (t.me/COVID2019_official/2788  and regnum.ru/news/society/3241939.html).

            On the vaccine front, Germans have taken the lead in engaging in vaccination tourism by coming to Russia to get the Sputnik-5 medication even though the costs of such trips are as much as 3,000 rubles (400 US dollars) (kp.ru/daily/27266.5/4399948/).

            On the economic front, a Superjob poll reported that 47 percent of Russians approve of the measures their bosses at work have taken in response to the pandemic. Only 15 percent disapproved. Women were slightly more likely than men to approve what their bosses have done, 53 percent to 44 percent respectively (echo.msk.ru/news/2823418-echo.html).

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

·         Moscow plans to charge Russian tourists caught in Turkey for their return to Russia by special flights after the authorities suspended flights between the two countries (newizv.ru/news/society/17-04-2021/10-tys-est-u-vseh-rosturizm-predlagaet-sdelat-platnymi-vyvoznye-reysy-iz-turtsii).

·         Deputy Interior Minster Aleksandr Gorovoy says Moscow plans to launch a major effort to expel hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers who are in Russia illegally now that the pandemic is easing (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/84881).

·         The biggest beneficiaries of the staggered re-opening of facilities have been Russian move theaters which have made more money relative to what they had been taking in that other cultural venues, analysts say (bfm.ru/news/469992).