Monday, May 10, 2021

Russia Should Reach Herd Immunity by the Fall, Health Minister Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – Given current levels of infection and rates of immunization, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko says, Russia should reach herd immunity by the fall, the most optimistic thing any Moscow official could come up with about the pandemic on this Victory Day (

            Russian government officials announced they had registered 8419 new cases of infection and 334 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours, as the pandemic continued to ebb and flow over the country, hitting major urban and port facilities hardest ( and\

            Moscow officials attempted to play down a report in the German media that talks with Berlin about German purchases of the Sputnik-5 vaccine have collapsed. According to those in the Russian capital, the talks continue and reports to the contrary are part of a Western disinformation campaign (

            They also stressed that interest in Russian vaccines, including Sputnik-Lite, continues to be strong, although they conceded that hopes Westerners would travel to Russia to get shots they couldn’t get at home haven’t worked out ( and

            Even over the holidays, Russian officials in the regions are working hard to come up with schemes to get people to be immunized. In Khabarovsk Kray, they are handing out eggs to pensioners who choose to get the shots, an indication of problems far beyond just the coronavirus (

            And Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said that despite all the demands on the government’s budget during the pandemic year, he had been able to keep spending in line and had in fact added 121 billion rubles (1.7 billion US dollars) to the government’s reserve (

            That may please some budget hawks in the Kremlin but it means that the government had the funds to pay for far more assistance to the population than it provided, something that will not be lost on the hard-hit Russian people.

Russian Officials Give Veterans Stale Gingerbread, Empty Promises and Flashy Cards Rather than Real Help

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – Victory Day is supposed to center on remembering what those who fought for the Soviet Union did decades ago and on honoring the thinning ranks of the veterans of that conflict with special treatment. But a survey finds that officials instead are giving these aging men stale gingerbread, empty promises, and cards rather than real help.

            Viktor Kuznetsov, 89, of Yaroslavl Oblast asked for help in building a trench so his house wouldn’t flood. Officials ignored his request except to send him a package of stale gingerbread, something which they later had to apologize for (

            He had to dig the trench himself.

            Aleksandr Varlamov, 96, lives in Vladikavkaz. He expected that the government would live up to its promises last year and give him a car. But when he asked when that is going to happen, he was given the runaround, with each set of officials blaming others for the fact that he still has no automobile.

            But what has infuriated him this year in particular is that these same officials sent him a cheap but showy card thanking him for his services even as he has seen in the news that “700 people in Moscow, officials, receive 100 million rubles (1.4 million US dollars) a year and 101 receive 600 million (900,000 US dollars).”

            This is what we fought for, he asks bitterly. “We lived in the Land of the Soviets, all wealth belonged to the people, but now it belongs to some individuals.”

            And Vladimir Zaytsev, 89, who lives in Yekaterinburg, says that he considers himself well off and doesn’t ask anyone for help. But he is upset about one thing: Putin’s arranging to remain in office forever despite the Constitution. According to the veteran, his time is up and he should leave.

            “Several years ago,” Current Time TV reports, “many of these men still considered it an honor to personally take part in the Victory Parades in their cities. But now, as a result of coronavirus restrictions, the veterans can see these celebrations only on television or via the Internet.”

‘Unifying Two Poor Regions Only Doubles Poverty,’ Birobidzhan Residents React to Latest Amalgamation Idea

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – When Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin called for amalgamating Russia’s regions two weeks ago, he specifically urged combining the Jewish Autonomous Oblast with Khabarovsk Kray (

            Now, Valeriya Fedorenko, a journalist from Novaya gazeta, has surveyed opinion in that oblast, summing up reaction  with two statements: “Marat, ir zent falsh,” Yiddish for “Marat, you are wrong,” and “uniting one poor region with another poor region doubles poverty” (

            If the intensity of the negative reaction from officials who would lose their position is not unexpected – see Governor Rostislav Goldsheyn’s at -- that of others was far greater.

            Birobidzhan is poor. Its capital doesn’t even have a civilian airport, and travelling to and from it takes many hours by train or car. But the residents of the oblast resent having someone far away who knows nothing of their situation making decisions for them and believing that they’d be better off as a small part of some other region.

            Efraim Kolpak, the rabbi of one of the region’s two synagogues, says that there are more Jews in his region than the census counts even though the community is small. Unfortunately, he continues, in many parts of Russia, Jews still conceal their ethnic and religious identity; but in Birobidzhan, a much smaller share of them feel compelled to do so.

            Few outside of Russia know about the Jewish communities in other Russian cities, Kolpak adds, but everyone around the world knows about Birobidzhan – and its survival is thus important to the survival of Jewish identity in Russia. And the Jews of Birobidzhan have often made this point. (See

            Valery Gurevich, an economist in the oblast, says that joining the two regions together won’t solve any of their problems and will harm Jewish identity. There are far more Jews even in Birobidzhan than the census shows. As the Odessa saying has it, when the last Jew leaves, he will be told goodbye by a thousand others.

            According to the 1989 census, there were 8800 Jews in Birobidzhan, but 25,000 then left, a figure that means the census is nonsense. That is how it has always been in Russia with regard to the Jews. People say one thing in public and another in private. In Birobidzhan that has been true too but less so than elsewhere.

            Gurevich says that instead of coming up with amalgamation ideas, Moscow should first ask Khabarovsh residents how they would feel about absorbing the “Jewish” oblast. They probably don’t want it any more than the people of Birobidzhan want to be absorbed by that region.

            And Vyacheslav Belyakov, a local political scientist, says that Khusnullin’s proposal is “not very correct” because it ignores how much unifying the two federal subjects would cost and how the money Moscow would spend on that could be far better spent on helping the people in both.

            Moscow officials don’t want to recognize that the larger the territory under a single administration, the worse its governance will be, perhaps because they would then have to focus on the issue of the world’s largest country being governed from a single center, their own urban center.

            “From the center it may seem that the fewer the number of regions, the simpler … But in reality, the good practice of present-day administration comes via decentralization and consists in the development of local self-administration. And amalgamation and centralization leads yet again to worse governance under contemporary conditions.” (stress in the original)

Sunday, May 9, 2021

May 9, 1945, ‘Best Day in Soviet History,’ Being Drained of Reasons It Was, Gozman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – “May 9, 1945, was the best day in the history of the USSR,” Leonid Gozman says. That’s why “Stalin prohibited celebrating it: he was afraid of those who won the victory.” But with the departure of those who did, the Russian government has elevated it to the most important holiday of the year by gutting it of its real meaning.

            Unlike most of the holidays the Kremlin wants Russians to mark, May 9th is different, the opposition politician and commentator says. Those who fought in the war or had family members who did – and that means almost all Russians – know what the war meant and what they hoped for with the victory (

            Gozman says that his relatives “hated parades and fanfare because they passed through that nightmare.” And had anyone said in 1945, “we can do this again!” it is fairly certain that someone would have shot him. That is not what the Soviet people expected from the victory. They not only hoped for peace but for a better life. Tragically, they didn’t get those.

            The Putin regime for 20 years has been engaging in the crime of rewriting history, eliminating most of it because it doesn’t fit with what the Kremlin wants people to know. They’ve reduced Victory to a cartoon, one in which the Soviet Union did everything and there was no Normandy, Africa or lendlease.

            The powers don’t want the Russian people to remember the realities of the war or the realities of their hopes after it. The first would undercut its own aggressive intentions; the second would threaten its hold on power.  And so it has taken a genuine holiday and made it into a fake; and the real reasons May 9, 1945, was the best day in Soviet history are being forgotten.

            Those who lived through them are passing from the scene; and those who didn’t are being fed a pack of lies that serves Putin and his cronies but not the Russian people, their country, or history itself.  The real holiday is holy and must be remembered. Putin’s ersatz one is an abomination and an embarrassment. 

Current Wave of Repression in Russia about Elections Not about Regime Change, Ananyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – The current wave of intensified repression reflects an underlying problem the Putin regime has but even more the Kremlin’s short-term concerns about the upcoming elections where things could go badly wrong for the ruling United Russia, Maksim Ananyev says. But despite that, the regime can survive a long time even without massive electoral support.

            In an interview with Radio Liberty’s Valentin Baryshnikov, the Melbourne-based Russian political economist says that the regime is turning to repression and propaganda because it can no longer count on economic growth to generate popular support but that the current wave of repression is about the elections and not a major turning point (

            “Elections are extremely important” even in authoritarian countries like Rusisa, Ananyev says. They are a means for those who have power to remind everyone about who is in power and that it is far better to be with those in power than against them. And the Kremlin’s targeting of the media and especially the Internet only underlines that.

            The Australia-based analyst says that the Kremlin is very much afraid that between now and the election, an expose like the ones the opposition has launched against Medvedev and Putin in the past could appear and send United Russia’s ratings plummeting. After the anti-Medvedev film appeared, the Russian leader’s standing fell 10 percent. Putin is worried that could happen again.

            To prevent it, the Kremlin leader is not only moving against opposition groups which might produce such a film – hence the attacks on Navalny and his staffs – but also on the Internet because that is the way such a film might be disseminated to a mass audience under current conditions in Russia.

             In a related move, the Kremlin is seeking to sideline potentially charismatic opposition figures, most prominently Navalny, of course, but also others of lesser magnitude so that if the election has to be falsified for the powers to win, they won’t be as likely to face protests as they would if the loser as a result of their actions had charisma.

            All this works to keep the Putin regime in power, Ananyev continues. But there are two things to keep in mind. On the one hand, some of what he is doing may not be necessary as he has the resources to remain in power for a long time even without the popular support that a managed election could provide.

            But on the other, “authoritarian regimes are mortal. More than that, they are suddenly mortal.” That is, they may collapse as a result of some small thing they mishandle or don’t see coming.

Khrushchev’s Amnesty of 50,000 Banderites and Forest Brothers in 1955-56 Led to Demise of USSR, Gushchin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – In 1955-56, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev amnestied 50,000 Ukrainian Banderites and Baltic Forest Brothers, many of whom had worked for the Germans, and allowed them to return to their homes where they helped form nationalist movements in those places that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union, Viktor Gushchin says.

            Indeed, the historian and current president of the Russian community of Latvia says, one is forced to conclude that these powerful “’fifth columns’” were the work of the highest leadership” of the Soviet Union and were an enormous gift to the West which hoped to destroy the USSR (

            It appears, the Riga-based historian says, that Khrushchev took this step in order to end talk about the GULAG because he and those in the leadership had been deeply involved in its operation earlier and because the Soviet leader wanted to develop better relations with the West and especially West Germany. But what he did was a criminal mistake, Gushchin argues.

            These fighters were allowed to return to their homes without any explanatory media effort by the Soviet authorities, and as a result, many in Ukraine and the Baltic countries came to view them as heroes who had been unjustly imprisoned than as the Nazi collaborators that Gushchin insists they were.

            What Khrushchev did had a pre-history. In March 1946, the Soviet leadership of Latvia asked that members of the Latvian Legion of the SS be amnestied so that they could return home and help that republic recover from the ravages of war. Remarkably, Gushchin continues, Moscow agreed.

            Latvian legionnaires were amnestied “indiscriminately and unconditionally” and they too came home without any effort by the Soviet government to explain what their crimes had been. What is striking, Gushchin argues, is that the Forest Brothers and the Banderites were in “a more privilege position” than members of the Vlasovite movement.

            The latter were immediately arrested if they returned to the USSR, but some Banderites and Forest Brothers who came back – he gives no numbers – were allowed to return to peaceful life without prejudice, Gushchin says.

            According to the Russian activist, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Khrushchev did all this completely consciously and thus “created hothouse conditions for the development of Baltic and Ukrainian nationalism.” And while he was doing this, he was eliminating many of the Stalinist guard that fought the Nazis during the war.

            It is thus no surprise that things turned out the way they did, Gushchin concludes.

            On the one hand, this is a classic post hoc ergo propter hoc argument, an insistence that anything someone doesn’t like necessarily is uniquely responsible for the direst consequences later. But on the other, this perspective reflects the increasingly anti-Western and anti-reform attitudes of the Putin regime and its supporters. And thus it too is “no surprise.”


Bolshevik Coup ‘Greatest Geopolitical Disaster of 20th Century’ as Without It, Neither Hitler nor World War II Would have Happened, Solonin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – Vladimir Putin has long insisted that the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 was the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century, but Russian historian Mark Solonin disputes that says that in fact, it was not the end of the USSR but its beginning with the Bolshevik coup that deserves that description.

            That is because, the longtime specialist on World War II says, had the Bolsheviks not come to power, Hitler would not have either; and without the Nazi leader’s rise, the second world war would not have broken out (

            Asked by Alesya Batsman, the chief editor of the GORDON internet publication “how the USSR should have acted in order to avoid this bloody war?” Solonin replied that the best thing it could have done would have been never to have appeared on the map of history at all.

            To be sure, the Russian historian said, “the appearance of totalitarian regimes throughout Europe and in Argentina in the 1920s and 1930s was no accident and had deep roots. But nevertheless, all this insanity began in Russia and the Russian Empire on the ruins of which the Soviet Union was created.”

            But nevertheless, “the victory of the monstrously cruel, inhumane and mad totalitarian communist regime  in a huge country” such as Russia was beyond any doubt “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”