Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Moscow Won’t Meet Putin Targets for Arctic Shipping without $160 Billion from Private Sector, Russian Government Report Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 19 – Vladimir Putin announced to much fanfare that Russia would increase shipping along the Northern Sea Route to 80 million tons a year by 2024, but a new report by Russia’s natural resources ministry says Moscow will need 10.5 trillion rubles (160 billion US dollars) from private sector investors to approach that figure.

            Indeed, the report says, even if all the money does come in and all 118 “priority” projects are completed, the route will slightly less than Putin projected, 77 rather than 80 million tons (mnr.gov.ru/press/news/kompleksnyy_plan_realizatsiya_mineralno_syrevogo_i_logisticheskogo_potentsiala_arktiki_razrabotannyy/ and thebarentsobserver.com/en/arctic/2019/03/eu143-billion-investments-needed-northern-sea-route).

            Given the cash-strapped situation in which Russian corporations find themselves and Western sanctions on investment in Russian companies, it is highly unlikely that anything approaching the amount needed will be found and the projects completed.  The only wildcard is China, which might invest but not unless it gained significant control. 

            Consequently, yet another Putin project announced with such ballyhoo last year is already in doubt, the victim of poor planning and the government’s own policies which are keeping outsider investors from making the kind of contributions that would be needed.  And that means that the Northern Sea Route will not be as important a channel as many had thought.

Protests in Yakutsk Highlight Dangers of Kremlin Plan for 10 Million New Immigrants

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 19 – A spontaneous protest on Sunday by Yakutsk residents after reports that three Kyrgyz had raped a local girl and a 6,000-strong meeting on Monday at which republic officials who pledged to get to the bottom of this case highlight the dangers ahead if Moscow goes through with its plan to bring in 10 million additional gastarbeiters from abroad.

            Both the population and officials in Sakha are united against having move immigrants come in and are demanding far closer screening lest such crimes by them be repeated, an indication of just how much on edge people there are (novayagazeta.ru/news/2019/03/19/150123-v-yakutske-arestovali-obvinyaemogo-v-iznasilovanii-mestnoy-zhitelnitsy-migranta).

            Such attitudes are not limited to Sakha but the events there on Sunday have provoked an alarmed discussion in the Moscow media as to how immigrants can be handled in such a way that there will not be similar problems elsewhere, problems that some see as triggering a new wave of nationalism beyond the capacity of the regime to cope with (regnum.ru/news/2592708).

            Ildus Yarulin, a political scientist at Russia’s Far Eastern Federal Unversity says that the authorities in Sakha must pay more attention to such things because they are the tip of a much larger iceberg. In fact, he says, it is already clear that this conflict is at risk of exploding given that officials have put guards around the local mosque (regnum.ru/news/accidents/2592619.html).

            The Sakha authorities need to meet with the representatives of all the diasporas in that republic and try to determine why it is that they and the people of the region seem to be so hostile to one another. They need help, the scholar says, but “there are practically no experts on nationalities in the Far East” where they are desperately needed.

            But that problem is not limited to Russia east of the Urals, Yarulin says. “In Russia today to a great extent, no one is involved in the analysis of inter-ethnic relations.  Yes, polls are conducted, but their results are either not very high quality or they are not taken into account by the authorities.”

            Instead, he says, “the authorities which should be regulating these processes, are sticking their heads in the sand.” The result is what is taking place in Sakha and may easily occur elsewhere as well.

‘Russian Officials Consider Themselves to be Gods and the People Bugs,’ Shcheglov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 19 – Lev Shcheglov, a sexologist who is rapidly assuming a role as a social commentator like the one Igor Kon occupied at the end of Soviet times, that the scales are falling from the eyes of Russians and that they now can see that “Russian officials consider themselves to be gods while they view the rest of the population as little more than bugs.”

            In an interview with the Znak news agency, he says that it is wrong to use the term “elite” to describe the situation at the top of the Russian pyramid.  They may be the rulers of Russia, but they are in no way a genuine elite of the most talented people (nak.com/2019-03-18/seksolog_lev_cheglov_o_psihiatricheskom_portrete_elity_i_naroda_rossii).

            The several dozen people at the very top are “completely unconcerned about the future of the country. They are typically short timers.  They have an insane amount of money, and each has property abroad.”  As a result, they have no reason to think about the best interests of the Russian people or its future. 
            Such people, Shcheglov says, are concerned about only two things: keeping their power and then monetarizing it. When the economy was expanding, they sought to get more money; now that it isn’t, he suggests, they simply engage in intrigues intended to get money from others who have it and put it in their own pockets.

            The whole system is based on negative selection with “unprofessionalism the most important characteristic for an official [because] it allows him to fit into the structure of power.” There are more bureaucrats than ever before, and their incomes have risen, at the expense of the people.

            Because of this, “any individual who is attached to the powers that be feels himself to be special,” and “beginning from the very lowest level … these officials consider themselves to be divinities and to view ordinary people as microbes.”  Such an attitude is so widespread as to be openly acknowledged.

            Under the current system, the fewer commitments an individual has to honor, conscience, reputation and so on, “the greater will be his chances for career success.” And as a result, those who steal something from a store will be punished as shoplifters but those who steal from the country will be rewarded.

            While it is true that this reflects the principle that “existence defines consciousness,” he says, in this case “consciousness in passing form one generation to another has gradually formed a reverse influence: consciousness is beginning to define existence,” Shcheglov argues.

            “Beginning with the Horde and the victory of Muscovy over democratic Novgorod the Great, cruelty, justice, servility, and lies have been passed down by inheritance.” Modern Russian history, especially in Soviet times, has only exacerbated this process, the sexologist and social commentator says.

            Muscovy’s victory over Novgorod thus froze the development of society and kept it at the patriarchal level.  And that quality continues to dominate Russians. Some younger Russians were detached from this during the 1990s, but at the same time, Shcheglov says, some older Russians held on to it all the tighter in the face of change.

               If Russians are to avoid seeking yet another “’father of the nation’” after Putin passes from the scene, the social analyst says, there will need to be very deep transformations “as in the time of perestroika; and they will have to be kept up rather than undermined by a declining standard of living, the growth of banditry and a declining interest in freedom.

            What must Russians do today? Shcheglov recommends three steps: the introduction of serious term limits, the creation of an independent judiciary, and the bringing to justice of the most obvious thieves whatever their nominal position.  Moreover, parents must assume responsibility for raising their children in a non-paternalistic way.