Wednesday, September 30, 2020

More than a Third of Russia’s Regions Face ‘Critical’ Shortage of Trash Dumps

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – Because of the protests at Shiyes, all Russians and much of the world know that the city of Moscow does not have enough dumps to handle its trash and hopes to dispose of an increasing share of it not by building processing plants but rather by developing new dumps far from Moscow regardless of how local people feel.

            But what is not fully appreciated by most is that the Russian Federation faces a trash apocalypse, with 32 federal subjects set to run out of dump space by 2024, and 17 of these to do so by 2022 and have no possibility of expanding, according to the Russian Audit Chamber (ach.gov.ru/upload/iblock/462/46234b3e3624fcccbb8bace5c892f2f4.pdf#page=3).

            According to one of the authors of the report, Aleksandr Men, as of last year, Russia buries “more than 90 percent” of the 65 million tons of solid waste Russians produce each year; and Moscow’s program to update its trash processing program has failed across the board, not only in the capital but in the regions.

            There are several developments in addition to these that are pushing the situation toward disaster, Men adds. Many of the private firms who handle trash for 15.1 million people in 19 subjects he surveyed are at the brink of bankruptcy or for other reasons are planning to stop providing these services.

            At present, the report says, funding for trash disposal comes from direct payments by individuals and companies; but these flows are so lacking in transparency that much of the money that should have been going to handle trash in recent years has been spent on other purposes – and much additional funding must be found to make up for these losses.

            One response of some regions has been to open illegal dumps. As of last year, the Audit Chamber found, there were more than 27,000 of these covering an area of 13,000 hectares. Of these, only a fraction, covering 1600 hectares, were closed down (eastrussia.ru/news/schetnaya-palata-musornye-poligony-v-buryatii-i-na-kolyme-perepolnyatsya-cherez-mesyats/).

            What all this means is that the controversy still swirling around Shiyes is the tip of a very large iceberg and that many more conflicts are likely to intensify to the point of conflict among regions and between regions and Moscow over the next several years, possibly becoming as the Shiyes case has a political cause. 

History is the Ideology of Putin’s Russia and is Increasingly Controlled as Such, Kurilla Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – History has become a substitute for ideology in Putin’s Russia, Ivan Kurilla says; and as a result, the powers that be are imposing at an ever more rapid rate the same kind of intellectual straightjacket their Soviet predecessors did in the name of maintaining ideological purity.

            As a result, it is the field of history and especially on those aspects of it like World War II which resonate most strongly with Putin that “the conflict between the needs of propaganda and free research are most obvious, the professor at St. Petersburg’s European University continues (russian.eurasianet.org/россия-какую-историю-напишут-следователи).

            Moves against academic freedom in historical research have been a commonplace under Putin and they have intensified over the last two years. On the one hand, Putin by his constitutional amendment against historical falsification means that those with independent views are subject to criminal charges.

            And on the other, because World War II is the “founding myth” of the Putin regime and because 2020 is the 75th anniversary of the end of that conflict, Putin’s interest in imposing a single view on all aspects of that war and its outcome became especially important to the regime and to its enforcers.

            “After the adoption of the amendments, limitations on historical research are constitutionally mandated,” Kurilla suggests. “And in fact, control over historical interpretations now has landed in the hands of the state and above all in its punitive organs,” making the threat to historical research even greater.

            It soon thereafter became clear that the Kremlin has given the Investigations Committee the responsibility to enforce their provisions, including on “historical falsification. And three weeks ago, the committee’s head, Aleksandr Bastrykin, created a special department to do just that (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/09/russian-investigations-committee.html).

            The result of these developments, the St. Petersburg scholar says, is that the risks which historians working on any issue “important for the state’s historical quasi-ideology” have gone up and nowhere more than on the many issues around World War II.

            There is a great risk that the window of remarkable historical investigations on key issues that began with perestroika is coming to an end. Those of us who began studying Russia when it was still the Soviet Union can remember the excitement we felt when hitherto prohibited subjects began to be discussed or old myths dispelled.

            I still remember the frisson I felt when I read the first article from a Moscow publication discussing the Ryutin Affair, something the Soviet system had not wanted confronted honestly because of the implications of this act of resistance against Stalin. After that article appeared, the old myths about that action could no longer be sustained.

            Putin has not yet established the total control he wants, and important articles about critical issues are still appearing, although less frequently than earlier. Indeed, this week, Novaya gazeta published one on the 1930 Promparty trial, a trial important because there never was such an organization (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/09/28/87276-potrebuem-spisok-vrazhdebnyh-imen).

            One of my greatest regrets is that so few people in Russia and the West have attended to such articles about the lacunae of the Soviet period and that there is no centralized listing of them. Tragically, Putin’s moves against the freedom of historical research mean that there are likely to be fewer of them – but also that each one is that much more precious and worthy of attention. 

Show Trial of Ingush Activist Leaders Will Take Place Outside Their Native Republic

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – Russian prosecutors have announced that they have now concluded their pre-trial investigations of the seven Ingush activists they have charged with organizing attacks on siloviki during a March 2019 demonstration against the Yevkurov-Kadyrov deal giving away 10 percent of Ingushetia’s land.

            Over the objections of the defendants who deny their guilt but sought trial in Ingushetia, the powers that be with the backing of the Russian Supreme Court have arranged that the trial, one that human rights activists say will be the worst kind of show trial, outside Ingushetia in the Russia region of Stavropol.

            Memorial has decried this as illegal and unconstitutional and now points out that the number of Ingush charged and likely to be convicted now exceeds the number of Russians who were charged and convicted at the time of the Bolotnoye affair almost a decade ago in Moscow (memohrc.org/ru/news_old/memorial-publikuet-obnovlyonnyy-spisok-figurantov-dela-o-mitinge-2019-goda-v-ingushetii).

            Declaring the pre-trial investigations over likely precludes further extension of the detentions of the seven, many of whom have been behind bars for more than a year; but it also means the authorities must now set the date for the trial, likely in October or November (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5F72E811F321A, fortanga.info/2020/09/sud-lidery/ and https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/354691/).

            Once that happens, three things are likely: First, large protests against this move are likely in Ingushetia and wherever Ingush people live. Second, these are likely to be joined by rights activists from across the Russian Federation and around the world. And third, the trial itself because of its transparent injustice is likely to trigger protests by other nations as well.

            Show trials can work for an authoritarian or totalitarian regime that is in complete control of the situation, but in Russia today, headed by a totalitarian wannabe who is not in complete control of everything, they are likely to have exactly the opposite effect, one resembling throwing water on a grease fire and leading to its spread. 

Some Sakha Officials Want Children of Ethnically Mixed Marriages to Be Listed as Members of Neither Parent's Nationality

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – In Soviet times, officials promoted ethnically mixed marriages between ethnic Russians and non-Russians on the assumption that most of the offspring would identify as Russians and thereby help unify the country’s population. Since 1991, officials have been less open about this in part because their preferred goal hasn’t always happened.

            Instead of identifying with Russians, many children of ethnically mixed marriages especially in the republics identify with the locally dominant nationality even if they continue to use Russian as their primary language. That has prompted some, like Academician Valery Tishkov, to press for allowing the listing of more than one nationality in the census.

            His efforts in that regard have been viewed by many non-Russians as nothing more than a way to reduce their numbers and boost that of the ethnic Russians, and they have called him out on that with such vigor that census officials at least so far have not been willing to adopt his proposal.

            But now another idea has surfaced, one that neither Russian nationalists nor non-Russian nationalists are likely to be entirely happy about. Some officials in Sakha, Yandex’ EthnoGeo page says, want to identify children of marriages between Slavs (Russians and Ukrainians) and Sakha not as Russians or Sakha but as members of a separate people altogether.

            In the language of the Russian Federation census, they would be classed as “members of other nationalities,” the category for the large number of numerically small peoples whose numbers are often not counted on the combined census returns. If that were done, the non-Russians might lose membership but the Russians wouldn’t gain any.

            In an article entitled “A New Russian Ethnos,” EthnoGeo discusses what is calls the impressive number of ethnically mixed marriages in Sakha and the especially beautiful nature of the offspring. There, such people are referred to as Sakhalyar, a word in Sakha which means “metis” (zen.yandex.ru/media/etnogeo/novyi-russkii-etnos--sahaliary-pochemu-ih-tak-mnogo-i-pochemu-vsegda-oni-ochen-krasivye-5f64a39a61cbe322d99167d4).

            The article suggests that “many Sakhalyar are educated in both Sakha and Russian traditions,” although it concedes that “by their mentality, they are all the same closer to the Sakha, which in general doesn’t elicit any surprise. In most cases, such people master the two languages beautifully – and the Sakharlyar are really beauties!”

 

Russian Military Relying on Development of Herd Immunity to Defeat Pandemic

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – Shortly after the start of the coronavirus pandemic in Russia, that country’s defense ministry began publishing a daily bulletin on the state of infections, hospitalizations and cures both in the uniformed military and the civilian employees of the ministry.

            The ministry simultaneously wanted to reassure the parents of draftees that it was taking care of their children and to show the Kremlin that it was doing at least as good a job and preferably a better one than other institutions in Russian society, Pavel Luzin, a Russian political scientist says (ridl.io/ru/rossijskaja-armija-i-covid-19/).

            Using the ministry’s coronavirus bulletin – and all issues are available online at function.mil.ru/news_page/country.htm?objInBlock=5&blk=10322350&id=10971@egClassification&ra=egNews – he is able to show both the successes and failures of the ministry’s decision to pursue herd immunity and the failures of the Russian military’s medical system.

            Between March 1 and September 15, there were 12,066 confirmed coronavirus cases in the armed forces, and 1509 cases among civilian employees of the ministry. Given official figures on their numbers, the percentage of cases in each category was roughly the same as for the population as a whole.

            Not surprisingly, Luzin says, “the military leadership focused on the spread of the disease among uniformed service members. The needs of civilian personnel were put on the back burner.” That reflects initial fears by commanders that the pandemic would sweep through the ranks and a desire to avoid a repetition of the embarrassing pneumonia outbreaks of earlier years.

            Civilian employees were treated differently not only because they appear to be deemed less mission critical but also because they do not live in barracks and so are treated only if they seek medical attention while commanders monitor the men under them regularly and insist on early treatment.

            Despite this, there are important differences between soldiers in the ranks and those in military training academies. The former are more closely monitored on a constant basis and so infections among them have remained relatively constant; the latter are not and ebb and flow as the military trainees enter and leave educational facilities.

            According to Luzin, “the Ministry of Defense initially tried to implement tactics of extended testing” of both groups. But they abandoned this approach by May because of problems with testing and hospitalization and shifted to reliance on the development of herd immunity among both.

             The pandemic highlighted serious problems in the military medical services. The command officially provided 6745 hospital beds for treating coronavirus victims and 1600 more at centers around the country. But these did not fill up, even as the more serious cases were transferred to civilian hospitals.

            Luzin’s article is especially valuable because he appends to it four charts showing the incidence of the coronavirus in the military, its incidence among cadets at military academies, its incidence among civilians employed by the defense ministry, and coronavirus in-patients in the armed forces. 

Two-Thirds of Russians Say They Didn’t Get Any Help from Government During Self-Isolation

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – A new study by the Higher School of Economics reports that two out of three Russians say they did not receive any help at all from the government during the first period of self-isolation, a fact that only adds to their opposition to any repeat of the restrictions of that period (rbc.ru/society/29/09/2020/5f72431f9a79478a90be6464).

            As infections and deaths increase, ever more regions including Moscow are returning to the restrictions they had lifted earlier (vtimes.io/news/moskva-vozvrashchaetsya-k-samoizolyacii), sparking questions as to what will be shut down next (http://www.sovross.ru/articles/2030/49857), and leading to a debate as to whether a return to self-isolation will work.

            One commentator, Mikhail Makogon is extremely doubtful on that point. He says that fear won’t be enough as people have adapted themselves to the pandemic and economic worries are intensifying. Moreover, if there is an attempt to go back, the government’s claims will be shown to have been lies (newsru.com/blog/29sep2020/karantin.html).

            For all those reasons and more besides, the government doesn’t want to go back (vtimes.io/news/vlasti-ne-zhdut-vtoroj-volny-epidemii), but increasing infections and deaths, especially in Moscow, may leave it will little or no choice. If it doesn’t reimpose restrictions, those numbers will certainly continue their recent climb.

            Even the official figures, which many believe understate the problem, are now dire. In the  last 24 hours, the Russian government registered 8232 new cases of infection and 160 new deaths, bringing the cumulative totals respectively to 1,167,805 and 20,545 (t.me/stopcoronavirusrussia/2212).

            In Moscow alone, there were almost 100 more cases of infection than the day before (regnum.ru/news/3076426.html), and Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin reported that the number of deputies infected had risen to 18, forcing the parliament to shift in part to distance operations (regnum.ru/news/3076496.html and regnum.ru/news/3076519.html).

            And Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin called attention to this by extending another week the autumn vacations of school children in the capital (sobyanin.ru/koronavirus-2-nedeli-shkolnyh-kanikul). Stores in some places began to restore special shopping hours for the elderly and others at greater risk (regnum.ru/news/3076920.html).

            More than 70 of Russia’s regions now have coefficients of infection greater than one, and many are restoring restrictions lifted earlier, especially as epidemiologists are predicting further increases in the next few weeks (regnum.ru/news/society/3070825.html, regnum.ru/news/3076496.html, regnum.ru/news/3076519.html and regnum.ru/news/3076155.html).

            Also worrisome are reports that hospitalizations are up in some parts of the country and that pressure on the capacity of many medical facilities is increasing (svpressa.ru/health/news/277190/ and tass.ru/obschestvo/9574403).

            Vladimir Putin spoke to this new reality in a meeting with government ministers and said that many Russians are tired of the restrictions they have to put up already but must recognize that unless they are disciplined about wearing masks and observing social distance, other more draconian measures may soon be needed (regnum.ru/news/3076875.html).

            Putin’s spokesman says that the Kremlin leader may get vaccinated if he travels abroad, a statement that only highlights the fact that unlike many other senior officials, he has avoided doing so up to now, raising questions as to just how much confidence he has in the Kremlin-boosted vaccine (стопкоронавирус.рф/news/20200929-1430.html).

            Epidemiologists pressed for increasing the rate of vaccination but expressed doubts that the Russian government could organize it (regnum.ru/news/3076358.html). One measure of the challenge is that fewer than 20 percent of Russians have been vaccinated against ordinary flu so far this year (regnum.ru/news/3076043.html).

            There was one piece of positive news today about the coronavirus pandemic in Russia. Medical experts say there is little evidence that there have been any serious mutations in the virus. As a result, any vaccine that is developed is likely to be effective for longer than would otherwise be the case (regnum.ru/news/3076297.html).

            On the economic front, Russian experts predict that there may be a doubling of unemployment in Russia by the end of the year (regnum.ru/news/3076573.html) and that any return to self-isolation will decimate the country’s small businesses (vedomosti.ru/economics/articles/2020/09/29/841462-povtornogo-karantina).  They are doubtful the government can meet its plan to restore the economy to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021 (regnum.ru/news/3076920.html).

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

·         The fall draft of 128,000 may become a super-spreader event, some fear, adding to the risks that events organizers have insisted on going ahead with will be that as well (стопкоронавирус.рф/news/20200929-1427.html  and novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/09/29/87281-kinofestival-kak-triller).

·         During the pandemic, scholars at the Higher School of Economics say, Russians have become more willing to help neighbors than ever before (стопкоронавирус.рф/news/20200929-0830.html).

·         And one expert says that Russia’s rush to develop a vaccine has “no relationship to science and pharmacology” but is simply business (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/80405).

Russian Governors Playing Increasing Role in Relations Between Moscow and Minsk, Mazur Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 28 – At the end of Soviet times, Moscow encouraged contacts between the heads of republics and oblasts inside the Russian Federation with the leaders of federal units in neighboring countries of the socialist bloc as a way of promoting their integration.

            Now, with relatively little fanfare, Moscow is using the same technique in its evolving relationship with Belarus, with only one difference, the heads of Russian regions are dealing more frequently with the head of Belarus as a whole than their predecessors did in Soviet times, even as they continue to expand cross-border region to region links.

            Aleksey Mazur, the head of the analytic department of the Taiga news agency, calls attention to this development in an article entitled “The Byzantine Traditions of Russian Politics” in the course of which he suggests Russian governors are “suitable figures” for promoting the integration of Belarus and Russia (tayga.info/159866).

            In September, Alyaksandr Lukashenka received two Russian governors from Siberia, Igor Kobzev of Irkutsk and Aleksandr Burkov of Omsk, even though in the preceding 12 months, the Belarusian leader had received only one Russian governor, including from oblasts closer to his own borders.

            These visits have passed under the radar screen of the Moscow media, but they have received extensive and upbeat coverage in the regional media the governors control. For examples in these two cases, see glagol38.ru/text/25-09-2020/017 for Kobzev’s visits and  12-kanal.ru/news/72741/ for Burkov’s.

            According to Mazur, “the growing activity of ‘the interregional ties’ of Russia and Belarus may be a kind of ‘compensation’ for the loss of international links” on Belarus’ part and a desire by Moscow to promote connections without attracting the notice that the dispatch of senior Moscow officials to Minsk would.

            The appearance of governors from Siberia may also reflect the fact that the current Russian ambassador in Minsk, Dmitry Mezentsev, was once governor of Irkutsk. And because of his experience and as a result of the Soviet-era precedent, there is likely to be an increasing flow of such Russian officials to Belarus in the coming months.