Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Russian Far East Far and Away Region with Highest Crime Rates, New Study Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – A special investigation by the “To Be Exact” project of the Help Needed Foundation finds that if one examines the real level of crime partially by indirect means as opposed to accepting official figures, the federal subjects in the Russian Far East had far and away the highest crime rates in Russia, with Tyva far and away the worst even of these.

            The lowest, using this methodology, Kseniya Babikhina, one of the project’s analysts, says, are to be found in central Russia including the oblasts of Belgorod, Ryazan, Tula and Moscow (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/07/22/v-god-mozhet-sovershatsia-v-10-raz-bolshe-prestuplenii-chem-pokazyvaet-statistika).

            The researcher says that it is difficult to rate regions on crime using official data alone because different regions have different rates of being willing to take cases from the population – the police like cases they can solve – and because the pandemic changed the nature of crime, reducing street crime but increasing Internet fraud.

            She said that using figures based on death rates and incarcerations rather than official crime statistics, one finds that Tyva is the worst by a large amount, with more than 200 of its residents out of every 100,000 population committing crimes compared to an all-Russia average of 40 per 100,000. Moreover, far more of its young people are involved in criminal activity.

            The reason for this, Babikhina says, is poverty. Tyva is the poorest federal subject in the country; and people turn to crime not because of moral failings but out of desperation. They engage in actions that are easier to track even if the republic officials seek to minimize them. Violent crime, for instance, is always more likely to be registered than other kinds.

            On the basis of her organization’s investigation, she concludes, the European University in St. Petersburg is correct in saying that some 12 million crimes are being committed in Russia each year, six times the number that officials report, with many of the latter being online crimes people are ashamed to report or police are unwilling to take up.

Russia’s Appeal to European Court Opens the Way to a Wider War, Skobov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – Today, the Russian government has appealed to the European Human Rights Court to find against Ukraine for a laundry list of offenses that in fact Moscow itself committed or forced Ukraine in response to continuing Russian aggression against it to take (epp.genproc.gov.ru/web/gprf/mass-media/news?item=63838459).

            A few Russian commentators have suggested this is a good thing. It shows, they say, that the Kremlin still feels it is part of Europe, has no plans to leave the Council of Europe and is prepared to use legal arrangements rather than brute force in seeking to achieve its goals (rosbalt.ru/posts/2021/07/23/1912691.html and svoboda.org/a/vysshaya-stepenj-tsinizma-sotsseti-ob-iske-rossii-protiv-ukrainy/31372563.html).

            But most independent observers say that this action represents “the highest degree of cynicism” and shamelessness and is something like when a thief is the first to shout “catch the thief” or as if Berlin had appealed against Moscow for the blockade of Leningrad (svoboda.org/a/vysshaya-stepenj-tsinizma-sotsseti-ob-iske-rossii-protiv-ukrainy/31372563.html, ej.ru/?a=note&id=36343 and ehorussia.com/new/node/23916).

            These exchanges may be amusing to read, but Moscow commentator Aleksandr Skobov provides a more sober and more frightening analysis of what is going on, underscoring that what Moscow has done reflects a broader set of policies and sets the stage for the possible beginning of a major new war (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=60FADD6E68231).

            If only the Kremlin’s appeal to the European Court was only the latest example of the Putin leadership’s outrageous behavior and nothing more, Skobov says; but in fact, it is of a piece of the Kremlin’s strategy, one that threatens more than just embarrassment but rather real dangers.

            It doesn’t signal that Russia wants to remain in Europe or in the Council of Europe, he continues. Moscow has shown its contempt for both and will leave the latter whenever it suits its purposes given that the European countries have shown themselves incapable of holding Russia to account.

            Instead, Skobov says, this action, following on the heels of Putin’s essay about Russia and Ukraine, should be read “as further laying of the ground for the ‘official’ separation of the Donbass from Ukraine, either in the form or direct annexation or (more likely) in a recognition of their independence” in the manner of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

            Worse, this move is intended by Moscow to be read precisely this way in Europe, sending a clear signal that if “you don’t want to solve our problem via international-legal institutions, then we will be forced to act” without regard to them, the Moscow commentator continues.

            Thus, this latest case of outrageous behavior by the Kremlin is part of its considered policy and dramatically increases “the risk of uncontrolled escalation, he concludes. And in this case, “that means a real and large war” – and that is possible even if Putin hasn’t been planning for such a conflict.

             

Russian Transportation Network Ties Country Together Less Well than in Soviet Times, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – Moscow likes to talk about “the unity of the country,” but it ignores the reality that Russian regions are very poorly connected with each other … the inevitable result of the hyper-centralization of the state,” according to Vadim Shtepa, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal (region.expert/disunited_russia/).

            It used to be a standing Soviet joke that if one wanted to go from one region to its neighbor, one had to fly via Moscow even if that was ten time zones away. But today, the situation has deteriorated sharply. Forty years ago, only 26 percent of passengers coming from a region had to pass through the capital to get to another region. Now, 74 percent do.

            In short, what had been a Soviet joke is now a Russian reality.

            This unfortunate trend is the result of the coming together of two others. On the one hand, in semi-capitalist Russia, all major firms are headquartered in the capital so as to be close to political decision makers and so those travelling from or to there find it easy to use this increasingly Moscow-centric system.

            And on the other, the Russian government has ended subsidies to regional airports and approximately a thousand of them have been closed, forcing people to go to regional centers and from them to Moscow rather than from localities in their own region to localities or centers in other regions. (On these developments, see region.expert/avia/.)

            This may serve the Kremlin’s interests by keeping the focus on the center, but “for the development of the country, intensive human communications among Russian regions is vitally necessary.” And that is something that the current situation is making ever more difficult.  In fact, “the hyper-centralized state is paradoxically working against its own unity.”

            Air travel is not the only kind of transportation which is Moscow-centric. So too are railroads and highways which “ini Russia have a clearly extremist centralist-radial character” not only in the country as a whole but inside each of its regions. That too limits cooperation and increases the distrust of regions to Moscow and of the periphery of regions to their own centers.

            Many in the regions would like to do something about this, but they lack the authority and funds to change things. Increasingly, the center lacks funds for this purpose as well and is using force as with BAM, even though history “has shown that force never leads to contemporary territorial development.”

            The prospects that this situation will change anytime soon are limited because transportation links are one of the clearest signs of the nature of the economic and political system. As long as it remains hyper-centralized, Russia will fall ever further behind on this measure as well.

Russia’s Forest Fires Not Just Result of Global Warming or Pandemic but of Putin Policies, Activists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – There is no question that climate change as a result of global warming and disorder in Russian officialdom thanks to the pandemic explain some of the latest upsurge of forest fires in Russia which has left an area greater than the size of Belgium in flames, as Russian officials routinely say and as Russian and Western media outlets repeat.

            But these devastating fires, which have been on the increase every year for the past decade, are not just the result of these natural disasters. They reflect Vladimir Putin’s dismantling of the monitoring and fire-fighting capability that existed earlier as part of his optimization campaign to save money for other purposes.

            Indeed, in assessing the disaster that occurred in Russian forests last year, environmental and regional activists stressed that the country’s forests need to be saved not just from natural catastrophes but from Moscow whose actions have left ever more of the country defenseless (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/12/russias-forests-need-to-be-saved-not.html).

            Last year’s fires were ten times worse than the year before, and this year’s appear likely to surpass those of 2020, destroying woodlands and wildlife and threatening watersheds and the health of the Russian people (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/05/siberian-wildfires-already-ten-times.html, zona.media/article/2021/07/22/les, dailystorm.ru/obschestvo/strana-na-pepelishche-srazu-neskolko-regionov-rossii-ohvatili-lesnye-pozhary and krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/86780).

            If nothing is done, experts say, the extent of fires in Russia will be twice what they are today (rfi.fr/ru/россия/20210721-если-ничего-не-менять-в-россии-через-15-20-лет-будет-сгорать-вдвое-больше-лесов). But at present, the Putin regime and those dependent on it are content to blame climate change and the pandemic rather than to reverse their past policies and be in a better position to combat fires now and in the future (ria.ru/20210720/pozhar-1742046378.html).

Biden’s Actions Cast Doubt on Meaning of Free World and Himself as Its Leader, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – During the Cold War, the United States served as the leader of the free world with both that leadership and that concept defining how Washington and its partners approached and ultimately defeated the Soviet Union. But now, despite Joe Biden’s re-invocation of that terminology, there are doubts about both its aspects, Andrey Piontkovsky says.

            The US-based Russian commentator says that “the entire second half of the 20th century, there was someone in the Oval Office whom the entire world and, what is more important, who himself conceived him to be the leader of the West and the leader of the Free World” (echo.msk.ru/blog/piontkovsky_a/2877040-echo/).

            But that “symbolic seat” has been empty “already for more than 20 years” given that “neither President Obama nor President Trump felt themselves the leader” of either, Obama because of his view of Western guilt and Trump on the contrary because he did not feel that America’s allies were paying their way.

            Now President Biden is insisting that “America is back” and in Cincinnati, he declared that when he met with Vladimir Putin he felt himself to be “’the leader of the free world’” and that that position means that the Kremlin leader must take his words at face value and recognize that he can and will do what he says.

            That would be a remarkable development if it were true in the sense Biden means it, Piontkovsky says. But his Russian counterpart “perfectly understands who Mr. Biden is and what Mr. Biden can do.” He knows that Biden will rhetorically support Ukraine but insist that Ukraine follow the Minsk Accords which are designed to destroy Ukraine.

            He said the first in his meeting with Putin, and he said the second in his press conference immediately afterwards, leading any number of American commentators to observe that Putin “’got exactly what he wanted from Biden in Geneva.’” For Putin, words don’t matter nearly as much as actions; and in this case, Biden opened the way for new Russian aggression.

            According to Piontkovsky, the events of the month since that meeting only confirm that conclusion, with the “openly anti-Ukrainian pact” agreed to by Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel which effectively calls for “the Finlandization” of Ukraine for the convenience of both the West and Russia as well.

            Ukrainians aren’t going to accept this, but they also are not going to get the support they have expected from the free world and its leader, the Russian commentator says. In this context, Biden’s words in Cincinnati are ones that Putin will be glad to hear. After all, they indicate that the US leader will say the right things but won’t back them up.

            That is the best arrangement the Kremlin leader could in fact hope for, Piontkovsky says.

Putin Began New Cold War by Seizing Crimea but Only Now is It Taking Shape, Savvin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – Most people assume that the Cold War began on a specific date either when Stalin began imposing regimes in portions of Eastern Europe the Red Army had occupied or when Winston Churchill delivered his speech in Fulton, Missouri, and spoke of the rise of an iron curtain dividing Europe.

            But in fact, Dimitry Savvin, the editor of the Riga-based conservative Russian nationalist Harbin portal, says, the first cold war did not emerge full blown all at once but rather took until at least 1949 to assume the shape that it is now remembered for (harbin.lv/vtoraya-kholodnaya-voyna-roli-raspredeleny).

            Something similar is happening again. Vladimir Putin really began the new cold war with his aggression against Ukraine and seizure of Crimea in 2014, the writer says; but the second edition of the cold war is taking final shape only now, seven years later, and in a form somewhat different from its namesake.

            The rise of Communist China, both because it is communist in its aspirations and because it has been relatively successful in its NEP-like promotion of capitalism, makes “a new cold war an objective necessity,” Savvin argues, given that the communist threat has not disappeared and the involvement of China within Western economies has become stronger and threatening.

            That is all the more so because since the US emerged victorious in the first cold war, it has been engaged in “a great imperial withdrawal,” no longer willing to promote its own version of democracy and “step by step ceding its positions” to countries like China and the Russian Federation willing to take more aggressive actions.

            The new cold war is not only objectively necessary but has already assumed two poles, but this time, one led by China rather than Russia and the other led again by the United States. But what has not yet occurred is the rethinking of how to conduct it given that each side has more thoroughly penetrated the other, meaning that there is a far larger “fifth column” in both.

            “The level of mutual and all-sided integration is now such that the border between foreign and domestic in essence is not absence. And each side has its rear ‘a fifth column,’ and battles since not too bloody will have to be conducted not only and even now so much on the former perimeter” as was the case in the first cold war “as at home.”

            The Soviet Union sought to use communist parties in this way in the first cold war, but they were far less influential and far easier for Western countries to counter than the new forces representing China and Russia in the second cold war, Savvin continues. And “this creates many new problems” for opposition groups in Russia too.

            They can no longer view the West as unified and supportive of them against their governments. Instead, the Russian opposition can see that many in the West, under the influence of the new and more influential fifth columns want to do business with Moscow and are no longer constrained by fears of being called “soft on communism.”

            The far right in both Europe and America have become the enemies of the opposition in Russia no less than the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China or the FSB of the Russian Federation, the conservative Russian commentator says. And the left in these countries is also playing a much more negative role now.

            But at the same time, Savvin argues, one must not forget that “besides the enemy in the rear, their exists one at the front, the coalition of neo-communist China and neo-Soviet regimes of the former USSR, together with their socialist allies and also a number of Islamist regimes and movement. And the struggle against them remains our first priority task.”

            And this struggle will be made more difficult because there has emerged again a group of countries in between who seek to benefit from the competition between the two poles of a cold war. These include both leaders in the east, like Tito in the times of the first cold war, and de Gaulle and Brandt in the West.

            According to Savvin, “today’s neo-Soviet Russian Federation and neo-communist China in principle have returned to that model of relations which existed between the USSR and the CPR between 1949 and 1956,” with integration again extremely high but with the relative positions of the two exchanged.

            In this new situation, Putin as leader of the Russian Federation is behaving simultaneously as a leader of one pole and as someone who wants to win benefits for himself by seeking to play China and the West off against each other, remaining allied with China but promising to help the West resist Beijing.

            That makes relations between the West and Russia far more fraught, with the risk that the West will make a deal with Russia that sacrifices its principles and its allies in eastern Europe in order to make use of Russia as an ally of sorts against China. And this is all the more likely because of domestic American policies.

            Increasingly, Savvin says, the American left wants to promote a kind of socio-cultural agenda which is alienating many in the conservative East European countries, leading them to behave in ways that will make it easier for Washington to sacrifice them to Russia rather than defend them against the Kremlin.

            Avoiding that disaster and thus a defeat in the second cold war requires that the West understand not only what is at stake but how Russia is behaving in this dual fashion and thus making it far harder to defeat China and Russia as well and also to see that America’s own domestic activists are promoting what earlier they had more consistently opposed.

           

Russia Ramps Up Vaccine Production but Still Can’t Meet Domestic Demand and Foreign Commitments

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – Russian pharmaceutical companies produced far more vaccine in June than earlier but still failed to be able to supply all the regions or meet Moscow’s contractual agreements with other countries (rbc.ru/economics/22/07/2021/60f99da09a7947704e1ad933 and  lanacion.com.ar/politica/la-revelacion-de-la-encrucijada-mas-desesperante-del-gobierno-nid22072021/).

            Russian officials today reported registering 24,471 new cases of infection and 796 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours, with the two capitals dominating the situation but to a slightly smaller extent than has been the case up to now as the pandemic ebbed and flowed (t.me/COVID2019_official/3345 and regnum.ru/news/society/3324376.html).

            One place of particular concern is Russian-occupied Crimea to which many Russians have gone as tourists for their summer vacations. Officials there say they may be compelled to close off the region to all outsiders because of rising rates of infection (forum-msk.org/material/news/17306469.html).

            On the vaccine front, Moscow city has begun a revaccination program even while many regions outside the capital have not yet managed to finish the first round of the shots (regnum.ru/news/3328168.html). And the Old Believers Church has issued a statement calling on all its followers to get vaccinated (nazaccent.ru/content/36217-v-staroobryadcheskoj-cerkvi-podderzhali-vakcinaciyu-ot.html).

            And on the economic front, Rosbalt commentator Sergey Shelin says that there is little chance that Russia will return to pre-covid standards of living anytime soon. Indeed, he argues, that may be “almost impossible” given difficulties with sanctions and trade (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/07/22/1912529.html).

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

·         Moscow officials talked about forming a sanitary shield around Russia while others suggested that herd immunity would be possible only if it involved all countries (iarex.ru/articles/81864.html and kp.ru/daily/28307/4448442/).

·         The KROS research firm reported that Russians in the second quarter listed the third wave of the pandemic and the possibility of mandatory vaccinations as their greatest fears (cros.ru/ru/exploration/research/2121/).

·         Because of rising death rates in Moscow, some cemetery workers there have buried the latest fatalities in the same graves they used earlier, one corpse on top of another, to the outrage of the population (kp.ru/daily/28307/4448319/).