Friday, January 27, 2012


I have been diagnosed with leukemia, and both the disease and the treatment have left me too exhausted to prepare my Windows as frequently as I have in the past. I will continue to issue them as possible, but I fear there will be gaps especially as the treatment proceeds.

Regards, Paul Goble

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Window on Eurasia It’s ‘Too Early’ to Celebrate the Return of Elected Governors, Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 25 – “It is too early to celebrate” President Dmitry Medvedev’s proposal, under pressure from Russian society, to restore gubernatorial elections because he will soon be out of office and because the arrangements he and Vladimir Putin have made mean “the first” such votes would take place “only in 2016,” according to the news agency.

            According to the agency, which often breaks stories before Moscow outlets, officials in the Urals region have received “explanations from the Presidential Administration” that suggest no direct gubernatorial votes will begin before 2013 and that many may be appointed long after that (

            Last week, Medvedev made his much-ballyhooed proposal to restore gubernatorial elections, albeit with a number of qualifications including in most cases consultations with the president. Then on Monday, Prime Minister and president-presumptive Vladimir Putin said that there should be a “public” discussion about whether to have such votes.

            “But the entire dispute,” continues, “is to put it mildly premature,” given that the staff of several regional heads in the Urals have told the agency that “their leaders are calm and not even preparing for direct elections,” given the focus on the presidential campaign and on Putin’s earlier elimination of votes on these positions.

            Aleksandr Burkov, first deputy chairman of the Duma’s federal affairs and local administration, confirmed the news agency’s conclusions, pointing out that any new electoral law would certainly be reviewed by the incoming president and incoming government before going into force.

            That will be made all the easier by the public discussion Putin has proposed and by the plans of many governors to ask for a new expression of trust after the March 4 elections, as “Kommersant” reported, requests that would likely keep them in office until 2016, when the current term of the Duma expires.

            Moreover, Burkov told, “in key regions, governors will be appointed.” Among those would be the heads of “all the subjects of the Russian Federation included in the Urals Federal District, except for that of Kurgan oblast” as well as likely in many other parts of the country.

            The Just Russia deputy added that Medvedev’s draft in any case will have to be modified. And the news agency stressed that those who think the election of governors is a done deal may be disappointed, thereby suggesting that this concession to public opinion may be little more than an electoral ploy rather than a move to return to genuine federalism.

Window on Eurasia: Muscovites, Petersburgers Like Slavs, Dislike Central Asians and People from the Caucasus, Poll Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 25 – Residents of Russia’s two capitals like ethnic Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians but do not care for people from Central Asia and the Caucasus, according to a new poll, findings that help explain why some of the latter appear to have declared themselves to be Russians in the 2010 census.

            The All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) queries 1200 Muscovites and Petersburgers about their attitudes toward various ethno-national groups. Both liked ethnic Russians most, 44 and 52 percent respectively, then Belarusians, 17 and 14 percent, and then Ukrainians, 15 and 11 (

            The residents of the capitals disliked people from the Caucasus most of all, 31 percent in Moscow and 28 percent in St. Petersburg, and Tajiks, 23 and 24 percent. Muscovites disliked Azerbaijanis next (17 percent) and then Uzbeks (13 percent); Petersburgers in contrast said they disliked Uzbeks (18 percent) and then Azerbaijanis (11 percent).

            Chechens were the fifth most disliked group in both capitals, 12 percent in Moscow and 8 percent in St. Petersburg. Muscovites then named Georgians (9 percent), Armenians (6 percent), Daghestanis (5 percent), and “Asians in general” and Kyrgyz (4 percent each). Petersburgers said they didn’t like Asians, Georgians and Daghestanis, 7 percent, 6 percent and 5 percent.

            Sergey Markov, director of the Moscow Institute of Political Research, said that residents of the capitals had a positive attitude toward Belarusians and Ukrainians “because they in practice are not distinguished from other Russians.  Caucasians and Central Asians, on the other hand, stand out by behavior many Russians see as alien.

            As a result, parts of these communities, he continued, are organized “into criminal groups and often it is difficult to distinguish between criminal communities and diasporas.” That is especially true in the case of the North Caucasians because they have “the rights of Russian citizens.” Central Asians are disliked because of their numbers and the view that they take jobs away from Russians.

            Given these attitudes and given the current political season, it is no surprise that the Russian State Statistics Committee (Rosstat) says that the 2010 census shows that 91.6 percent of the residents of Moscow are in fact ethnic Russians, a claim that has led some to ask “whom are you going to believe – statistics or your own eyes?” (

            In the current issue of “Argumenty i fakty,” journalist Galina Sheykina explores the reasons that may be behind official claims. First, she provides what the 2002 and 2010 censuses show.  In 2010, the census found 11.5 million residents in Moscow. Some 668,000 did not give their nationality, many more than the 417,000 who had done so in 2002.

            “On the other hand,” Sheikhina continues, “the overwhelmingly number of the rest surveyed, namely 9.9 million, confidently declared that they are [ethnic] Russians,” a figure 1.2 million more than the 2002 census enumerated there. Moreover, the 2010 census found that the numbers of “practically all” nationalities, including Ukrainians, Jews, Tajiks and Azerbaijanis had declined.”

            Natalya Zubarevich, the director of the regional program of the Independent Institute of Social Policy, said that there are great doubts about these official statistics. First of all, she noted, “it was difficult for census takers to work” because of “the high level of distrust of Muscovites to any surveys and visits by those they don’t know.”

            Second, the social scientist continued, “a definite share” of citizens were “counted twice” because “hundreds of thousands of people live at a different place than where they are registered.  And third, the actual share of the total population surveyed was closer to 70 percent than to the 90 percent officials claimed, with the percentage lower for non-Russian groups.

            But there is another factor at work, she suggested, one which may help to boost the claimed share of ethnic Russians in the population relative to other groups.  “Part of the population calls itself [ethnic] Russians ‘in any case,’ fearing xenophobia in one or another of its manifestations.”

            Olga Antonova, head of Rosstat’s administration for statistics on population and health, provided yet another reason why claims about the ethnic Russian population in Moscow are highly exaggerated. She told “Argumenty i fakty” that census takers did not even ask the nationality of those who were “temporarily” in the city.

            Gavkhar Dzhurayaev, the head of the Migration and Law Information-Legal Center in Moscow, offered another perspective:  “Even if census takers had queried all migrants,” they wouldn’t have gotten much information because the gastarbeiters are generally afraid to tell anyone anything. Thus most are quite prepared to say “I am a Russian” to end the conversation.     

            There are “a few more than 200,000 legal migrants” in the Russian capital and many more “illegal” ones. Thus, talk about a reduction in their numbers “does not correspond to reality.” Officials and society need real numbers if they are to address real problems as opposed to living in a situation where “no statistics are equal to no problem.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Window on Eurasia: 750 Republic and Local Governments in Russia Issued Their Own Currencies in the 1990s,

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 24 – A major problem in both the USSR and the Russian Federation has been the shortage of cash, the result of government policies which keep the monetarization of the economy “five to ten times less than in developed economies,” a situation that reached its apogee in the years immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

            One consequence of that decline in the 1990s when the rate of monetarization of the economy fell to 15 percent, the Tolkovatel blog points out today was the appearance of self-minted currency in 750 republics and cities of the Russian Federation as well as at about 25,000 enterprises (

            In a detailed post richly illustrated with pictures of some of these notes and coins, the blog explains that the appearance of such currencies, which took the place of the lack of state-sanctioned cash, had its roots in Soviet times and was exacerbated by the specific conditions of Boris Yeltsin’s rule.

            After the 1917 revolution, many regions and enterprises issued “surrogate banknotes” until these were forbidden by 1935 in the RSFSR and in some Central Asian republics in 1941, the blog portal reports. But after that time, Soviet leaders wanted to keep the monetarization of the economy low “because there was not a sufficient level of consumer goods and services.”

            Indeed, Tolkovatel points out, “whenever the quantity of money in the economy exceeded a certain level, it was necessary to extract it from the population” by means of “monetary reforms” like those which took place in 1947 and 1991, confiscations which made Soviet citizens suspicious of their own state currency.

            But even in Soviet times, “this rule had an exception: special currencies were printed for special people,” prisoners at the bottom and the party-economic elite at the other.  Except for Weimar Germany in the 1920s, there are virtually no examples of a developed country “which had the parallel circulation at one and the same time of several types of legal money.”

            During perestroika, “the highest monetarization of the economy” in the history of the country occurred, the blog says.  By 1991, monetarization had reached “73 percent of GDP, one of the highest measures in the world for that time and even greater than was the case then in the United States.”

            This Gorbachev experiment was a failure, the blog suggests, because of the absence of consumer goods and stock markets meant that population had nowhere to spend its cash, and as a result, “the economy and after it the USSR were destroyed.” Consequently, the Russian government carried out the older policy of keeping the population poor “for the sake of security.”

            While the system was in crisis, at the time of “the peak of monetarization,” the first special currencies appeared  But in this case, the primary cause was not economics but “the separatism of the regions and also the attemps of enterprises in the general deficit to create their own small internal market ‘for their own.’”

            But the number of such currencies rose dramatically after Prime Minister Yegor Gaydar in early 1992 signed a special circular officially authorizing such currencies.  Immediately, there appeared the currencies of Tatarstan, Nizhny Novgorod oblast, Khakasia, the Urals Republic and “hundreds of cities and districts,” ultimately involving 750 territories and 25,000 firms.

            And that trend was exacerbated by the precipitous decline of the monetarization of the Russian economy from 70 percent in 1990 to between 9.8 and 17 percent of GDP between 1992 and 1997. Barter filled some of this gap, but surrogate currencies played an important role as well, especially to pay workers or to make political points, to avoid paying taxes, and to serve, along with foreign currency holdings, as a hedge against rumored monetary reforms.

            Tatarstan’s currency which first appeared in 1990 is perhaps the best known, Tolkovatel suggests, but there were some equally intriguing efforts. Kaliningrad Governor Leonid Gorbenko launched the “Kaliningrad mark,” and Volgograd, which had ordered its currency printed in Italy, circulated what became known as “liras” because the firm had printed the bills in Italian.

            There were also special currencies for refugees from Chechnya, the blog continues They were printed by the Committee to Assist Those Suffering from Armed Conflicts in the North Caucasus and were supposed to circulate “’only on the territory of resettlement points and temporary camps.’”

            Such currencies began to disappear under Yevgeny Primakov’s premiership, but some, including that of Tatarstan, lasted until 2008. Under Vladimir Putin, the monetarization of the country rose to 40 percent before the economic crisis, a figure comparable with many African countries, Tolkovatel says, but far less than during perestroika.

            The blog concludes that no one should think that the era of such currencies in the Russian Federation is now over forever.  If the price of oil should fall to 50-60 US dollars a barrel, such “surrogate” currencies would likely reappear, Tolkovatel says, providing employment for “several thousand designers and contemporary artists of the so-called ‘creative class.’”

Window on Eurasia: Daghestan Should Not Remain Part of North Caucasus Federal District, Makhachkala Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 24 – Daghestan should not be part of the North Caucasus Federal District, a structure which “by its nature has not and cannot resolve the problems of the regions” but rather become part of a new federal district which would also include adjoining Russian regions on the northern shores of the Caspian, according to a Makhachkala scholar.

            Abdul-Nasir Dibirov, the rector of the Daghestan Institute of Economics and Politics, told the Regnum news agency that the North Caucasus Federal District “was created not so much as an organic part of the power vertical but as a kind of buffer in advance of in advance of the 2014 Olympic Games” (

             Specifically, Dibirov added, that district represented an attempt “to isolate the problematic North Caucasus republics from Krasnodar kray. But Moscow made a mistake by including Daghestan within the districts borders because that republic “is not only a North Caucasus region but above all a Caspian littoral one.”

            Indeed, “Daghestan’s future to an ever greater degree was connected not with the North Caucasus but with the Caspian,” all the more so, Dibirov said, because “with the conversion of the Caspian into an international sea,” the republic’s “geopolitical situation” and “economic possibilities” will be fundamentally changed.

            According to the Makhachkala analyst, “it would be more organic to establish not a North Caucasus Federal District but a Caspian Federal District which would include Daghestan, Kalmykia, Astrakhan oblast and Volgograd oblast,” an arrangement in which “the industrial potential of the northern regions would be combined with the agricultural potential of the south.”

            In any case, Daghestan must “break away” from the problems of the North Caucasus, Dibirov insisted.

            Asked by Regnum whether Moscow’s ideas of creating a resort cluster in the North Caucasus will “solve the systemic problems” of that reason, the Makhachkala scholar said that “such a project “hardly will be realized in the conditions of an undeclared civil war,” a place where counter-terrorist operations are frequently declared.

             Instead, Dibirov continued, “one must begin with the development of what already exists.” Roads need to be constructed so that private enterprise will develop rural areas and so that rural people will be able to remain in their villages among people of their own ethnicity and culture but travel to urban regions for employment.

            Dibirov said that in his opinion, “the elimination of federal districts is hardly likely to occur.” Gubernatorial elections “will return,” he continued, “but not because the powers have any particular love for democracy but rather as the result of pressure from society.” Indeed, these elections will make Moscow even more interested in preserving the federal districts.

            What everyone needs to understand about the North Caucasus, the Makhachkala scholar argued, is that “in essence” it “has departed from the legal field of Russia. Here laws operate only selectively and are viewed” by the population as simply covers “for the corrupted powers that be” who are “closely connected with the criminal world.”

            The Russian state does not yet have a well-developed policy for the North Caucasus, Dibirov said, adding that “the impression has been created” that Moscow wants to use threats from there to justify its approach to rule, all the more so if Russian leaders want to use nationalism as a source of legitimacy.

            “Today,” Dibirov argued, “we see a power which at one stage attempted to eploid liberalism, at a second stage conservatism, and now ever more is shifting to nationalism, attempting to ride Russian ethnic nationalism. This is a very dangerous policy,” the Makhachkala scholar said, but that is how things look from Daghestan.

            He rejected the suggestion that Moscow had created the North Caucasus Federal District not because of the Olympics but on the basis of “historical experience,” Debirov says that the Soviet-era North Caucasus kray with a capital in Pyatigorsk is generally considered a failure, a view he said he shares.

            Indeed, even in Soviet times, “the leadership of Daghestan at all times struggled in order to excape from this kray and to subordinate itself directly to Moscow.” Once again, that is taking place because “the future of Daghestan is tied to the Caspian” more than to the troubled republics of the North Caucasus.

            While Dibirov is only one voice, his remarks are important for at least three reasons: First, as he suggested, Moscow is more likely to retain the federal districts if it gives way on the election of governors. Second, his remarks are a reminder that the borders of these districts are likely to be the subject of disputes between Moscow and individual federal subjects.

            And third, Dibirov’s comments underscore that the policies of Vladimir Putin in the North Caucasus have succeeded only in creating the simulacrum of control, one that may make for good propaganda but does not solve the problems the region faces or makes it the stable backdrop for the Sochi Olympics that Putin and his supporters argue will be the case.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Window on Eurasia: To Win Votes, Putin Plays the Always Risky Nationality Card

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 23 – In a transparent attempt to win votes but one that may backfire not only among non-Russians but also among many Russians opposed to his authoritarian approach, Vladimir Putin has published the nationality plank of his presidential campaign, one that restates and extends ideas he has presented in the past.

            Putin’s 3700-word essay, which appears today both on his presidential campaign website ( and as a major article in Moscow’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” (, adopts a stateman-like pose, saying how dangerous it is for politicians to play the ethnic card and then proceeding to do just htat.   

            As he has often done, the Russian prime minister stresses that the ethnic situation in his country is “in principle different” than it is in other countries, with its “nationality and migration problems “directly connected with the destruction of the USSR and in esstence historically greater Russia which was established in its essentials already in the 18th century.”

            “Having declared sovereignty 20 years ago,” Putin continues, “the then-deputies of the RSFSR” in their struggle with “the ‘union center’” put in motion “the process of the construction of ‘national states,’ including even within the Russian Federation itself,” a process that could lead to “collapse and separatism.”

            “With the disintegration of the country,” he says, “we turned out to be at the edge and in certain well-know regions even beyond the edge of civil war.” But fortunately, just as in the case of “the first Russian time of troubles” in the seventeenth century, while the state was “critically weakened, Russia did not disappear.”

            The ethnic Russian people and ethnic Russian culture which defines and maintains “the fabric of this unique civilization,” Putin argues, held things together and even now are preventing those who would “with their own hands destroy their own motherland” by calling for “a mono-ethnic state,” “the shortest path … the destruction of the Russian people and Russian statehood.”

            Moreover, those who today say that it is time to “stop feeding the Caucasus” will eventually say that it is time to “stop feeding Siberia, the Far East, the Urals, and the Moscow region,” Putin adds, repeating the kind of domino effect that led to the destruction of the Soviet Union.

            The [ethnic] Russian people, Putin continues, “is a polyethnic civilization held together by a Russian cultural nucleus.” As such, “the [non-ethnic] Russian experience of state development is unique.  We are a multi-national society,” he says, “but we are a single people,” something that must oppose any “germ” of narrow nationalism.

            Again as he has done in the past, Putin notes that “many citizens of the USSR when they were abroad called themselves [ethnic] Russians” because “in our identity is a different cultural code” than others have. “the [ethnic] Russian people is the state-forming people as is shown by the fact of the existence of Russia. The great mission of the [ethnic] Russians is to unify and support [this] civilization.”

            “Such a civilizaitonal identity is based on the preservation of [ethnic] Russian cultural dominants, the bears of which are not only ethnic Russians but all the bears of this identity independently of nationality.  This cultural code which ahs been subjected in recent times to serious tests” has been preserved.

            From this perspective, Putin argues that the Russian Federation needs “a strategy of nationality policy based on civic patriotism,” one in which “every individual living in our country must not forget about his faith and ethnicity. But he must above all be a citizen of Russia and proud of that.”

            “No one has the right to put national and religious differences higher than the laws of the state,” Putin says, although he does allow that “the laws of the state must consider national and religious differences.” To that end, he calls for a new nationalities agency, even though he was the one who disbanded as unnecessary the Russian ministry for nationality affairs.

          The presidential candidate adds that the rights of ethnic Russians must be constantly protected from abuse lest some begin to talk about “the national oppression of [ethnic]s Russian” and use that to promote disorder or even to allow some to talk about the rise of “’[ethnic] Russian fascism.’”

            Force must be used to suppress violence but otherwise dialogue should be maintained, Putin suggests. Only “one thing” is not permissible: There must be no chance “for the creation of regional parties, including in the national republics” because that step “is a direct path to separatism.”

            In some detail, he calls for a toughening of immigration policy and expanded efforts to ensure that legal migrants “adapt” to the Russian cultural code, all popular positions given the number of gastarbeiters in Russian cities.  But he uses this proposal to talk about something else, which potentially has far reaching consequences.

            Putin suggests that to address the migration issue there needs to be “Eurasian integration” across the former Soviet space, a process that will “strengthen our ‘historic state,’ left to us from our ancestors. A state-civilization which is capable of organically resolving the task of the integration of various ethnoses and confessions.”

            “For centuries,” Putin concludes, “we have lived together. Together we won in the most terrible war. And we will lvie together in the future.  To those wo want or try to divide us, I will say only one thing – don’t expect to succeed,” language that probably will generate a different reaction in the other post-Soviet states than among his supporters.

            Given his place in the Russian political system, Putin’s essay even today has attracted enormous comment, generally positive but not universally so even among ethnic Russians and those who describe themselves as Russian nationalists. Among the most interesting of these comments are,,,

            But one comment today from a Kazan Tatar suggests how many of the Russian Federation’s increasingly numerous non-ethnic Russians are likely to react to Putin’s approach.  In a commentary on ETatar, Robert Bolgarsky politely but firmly disagrees with the Russian politician’s approach (

            Bolgarsky begins by observing that Putin’s “long-awaited article” failed to provide answers which “it would have been interesting” to find the answers to, among which are Putin’s attitudes toward instruction in non-Russian languages in the republics of the Russian Federation and to the state of native languages in general.

            Instead, the Tatar commentator said, Putin used terms that raise more questions and will lead almost any non-Russian to draw some very negative conclusions about what the Russian prime minister and president presumptive believes and where he wants to take the country in the future.

            As Bolgarsky notes, Putin talks about “[ethnic] Russian Armenians, [ethnic] Russian Azerbaijanis, [ethnic] Russian Germans, [and ethnic] Russian Tatars.”  Just who are “[ethnic] Russian] Tatars,” the commentator asks, suggesting that Putin for some reason or other has confused the terms “Rossiyanin” or non-ethnic Russian with “Russkiye” or ethnic Russian.

            “Ask any Tatar who speaks even the slightest amoung of his native language,” Bolgarsky continues,  Having heard the term ‘[ethnic] Russian Tatar,’ he as a minimum will begin to think about what that means because from birth he has not heard such a definition of his nationality.”

            “Is this a Tatar who has converted to Orthodoxy? Or is it a Tatar who has forgotten his native language? Or is it a Russified Tatar? There are perhaps a great many possibilities, but they all mean the loss of national identity, of the Tatar cultural code, if you like, and thus the term ‘[ethnic] Russian Tatar’ is viewed by Tatars themselves in an extremely negative way.”

            Putin should know, the Tatar commentator says, that there are more than 100 language and ethnic groups who are “indigenous peoples of the federation. These are not just Russian lands, they are Tatar, Bashkir, Koryak, Yakut and other lands. But for some reason, Putin gives to the Russians ‘the great mission to unite.’”

            Bolgarsky then says “Permit me not to agree with you, Vladimir Vladimirovich! I am first of all a Tatar and Muslim who considers Russia as his motherland. I am in no way an ‘[ethnic] Russian Tatar’! I am a [non-ethnic] Russian Tatar,” despite the fact that the laws of the Russian state don’t allow him or others to learn their native languages to perfection.

            But Bolgarsky concludes that there is one point with which he has to agree with Putin and that is when the prime minister says that anyone “who comes into regions with other cultures and historical traditions must relate to local customs with respect. To the customs of [ethnic] Russians and all other peoples of Russia.”

            So anyone, including Russian presidential candidates who come to Tatarstan and the Middle Volga should be good enough to “learn at least 100 words of Tatar” in order to behave respectfully to the Tatar population.  Vladimir Putin, Bolgarsky concludes, has been good enough to do at least that.

Window on Eurasia: Komi-Permyaks, Victims of Putin’s Regional Amalgamation Plan, Want Autonomy Back

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 23 – Komi-Permyak activists are using the Internet to highlight the worsening situation in their region since it became the first small non-Russian federation subject to be combined with a larger and predominantly ethnic Russian one and to demand that Moscow restore their former status or allow them to become part of the ethnically-related Komi Republic.

            A group of Komi-Permyaks, who feel that they were mistled or even betrayed when Vladimir Putin orchestrated a referendum approving the elimination of their autonomy and status as a federal subject and inclusion in Perm kray in 2005, have launched a “Return Our Autonomy” page on Russia’s V kontakte” network (

            Those posting on this page say that their people have experienced a significant “deterioration in the standard of living” since they were “swallowed by Perm kray and argue that the only way forward for their Finno-Ugric nation is to leave that formation and either be restored as a separate federal subject of become part of the Komi Republic.

            The Soviet government formed the Komi-Permyak autonomous district in 1925, and after the USSR disintegrated, it became one of the federation subjects enumerated in the Russian Constitution. But in the name of administrative simplification, then President Vladimir Putin pushed through its amalgamation with Perm on December 1, 2005.

            The Komi-Permyaks and activists in several other Finno-Ugric nations in the Middle Volga have complained since that time that the assistance they were promised and the benefits they were told would flow from amalgamation have not happened and that the Komi-Permyaks are worse off than before. 

            But this is the first time that local activists have formed what could be described as a nascent movement to reverse the amalgamation, and it comes as things appear to be heating up among the population of the Finno-Ugric and ethnic Russian subjects in this part of the Russian Federation.

            Last week, Aleksandr Kalashniko, the head of the FSB administration in the Komi Republic, told the local paper, “Krasnoye znamya” that the most important task his officers now have is “blocking extremism and its most serious form, terrorism” among both Finno-Ugric and Russian populations (

            In addition to nationalists groups, Kalashnikov complained about the work of Golos and Memorial, two human rights groups that he said were “directed from abroad, often financed by foreign non-governmental foundations, and directed at the transformation of the political system in Russia,” including by the disruption of the upcoming presidential elections.

            One group the FSB officer did not mention but that seems likely to prove a greater threat to public order than these human rights organizations is the newly organized Russian nationalist “Ethnopolitical Union -- ‘Russians’” in Syktyvkar which promises to protect ethnic Russians from non-Russian oppression (

Window on Eurasia: Economic Crisis behind ‘Winds of Change’ in Post-Soviet States, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 24 – The leaders of the post-Soviet state and in particular those who have successfully constructed “administered democracies” no longer fear “orange” revolutions, but they are being pushed toward “reforms” of one kind or another by the economic crisis and the demonstrations that have already taken place across the Russian Federation.

            In today’s “Novyye izvestiya,” Konstantin Nikolayev, Olga Gorbacheva and Elena Antonova argue that recent weeks, “the former USSR has become an arena of unexpected political developments … [as] one after another leader … begins to talk about reforms” that would change “the entire political landscape in these states.”

            And what is especially striking, these three journalists suggest, is that this trend is clearly in evidence “even there were practically nothing has changed from the moment of the disintegration of the USSR” – specifically, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan (

            Moreover, the “Novyye izvestiya” writers continue, this outbreak of “reformist initiatives in the near abroad looks particularly surprising if one takes into consideration that it is occurring at the time of the real triumph of ‘administered democracies’ over ‘the orange threat’” that earlier brought change to Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

            Mikhail Khazin,the president of the Neokon Consulting Company, provides an explanation, the journalists say. He suggests that the economic crisis presents “a far more threatening challenge” to such leaders than any “hypothetical ‘orange’ threat’” to existing arrangements.

            “If an individual lives in a situation in which his material well-being constantly grows, he will not particularly reflect about who is leading the country. But when incomes fall and the question arises as to whose incomes must be reduced, then people immediately become interested in just how legitimate the authorities are.”

            The December protests in Moscow and other Russian cities sent a message not only because of what participants in them were saying but even more because those taking part were very different than “the ‘orange’ meetings of the times of the revolutions of 2003-2005” and because they came together spontaneously.

            Belarusian leader Alyaksandr  Lukashenka in a recent speech drew a specific link between these protests and his suggestion – “for the first time during his administration,” the journalists point out – of the need for “political modernization,” whose nature perhaps not surprisingly, he has not yet been willing to specify.

            Lukashenka’s opponents including Anatoly Lebedko of the United Civic Party and Aleksandr Milinkevich of the For Freedom Movement thus remain skeptical, with the former saying that Lukashenka is taking his cue from Moscow but perhaps and the latter suggesting this may all be nothing more than “a playing at democratization.”

             However that may be, the three journalists write, the upcoming elections in Belarus may provide an opening: Lukashenka might permit representation from the opposition to make himself and his regime appear more legitimate not only among his own hard-pressed population but also among European governments.

            Kazakhstan provides another example, the “Novyye izvestiya” writers say. Indeed, it was the leader in this regard with President Nursultan Nazarbayev calling of changes at least in part because of the protests in Zhanaozen, demosntrators which resembled those in Moscow in one key particular: in both, the protesters were largely drawn from the angry middle class.

             But the most intriguing examples of these “winds of change” may be in Turkmenistan and Moldova. In the former, for the first time, several candidates will take part in the presidential election. And in the latter, precisely because the economic crisis calls for unpopular measures, politicians are talking about direct election of the country’s president.

             How things may develop remains uncertain, the journalists suggest, and they offer as a concluding remark the observation of Mensk political scientist Vsevolod Shimov that any serious reforms will require public consultations. If that doesn’t happen, than “the probability is great” that things will go wrong, with negative consequences for all.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Local Elections across Russia Give Opposition Chance for Gains, Moscow Paper Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 19 – In addition to the presidential election, Russians in numerous cities including six regional capitals on March 4 will select mayors and city council members, a process that has attracted much less attention but one that represents both “yet another difficult test” for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia and an opportunity for the political opposition.

            In “Novyye izvestiya” yesterday, Yuiya Savina argues that United Russia may do so poorly in such elections that its officials in Moscow have decided not to advertise the membership of candidates to municipal assemblies” so as not to call attention to its decline (

            The journalist makes her point by surveying some of the key votes.  In Omsk, for example, deputies of the city council decided to hold elections to that body simultaneously with those for the Russian presidency, something the acting mayor, Tatyana Vizhevitova has strongly objected to, apparently because it gives other parties “a chance to take power” locally.

            At least six other cities who have kept the direct election of mayors are likely to have new chiefs, Savina says.  “No surprises” are expected in Astrakhan where United Russia has done well, but in Yaroslavl, there may be a turnover given recent shifts. Moreover, it is clear that United Russia mayors who do poorly “simply cannot continue to work.”

            Indeed, Rostislav Turovsky, head of the regional research department of the Moscow Center of Political Technologies, told the “Novyye izvestiya” writer that this wasn’t something that the individuals directly involved in were going to get to decide but rather was the result of “a directive from the center.”

            One communist deputy in the Yaroslav oblast duma said that combining the elections meant that participation would be higher – voters often don’t turn out for local races iin Russia as is true elsewhere – and “the situation will therefore be more objective than if the voting was carried out separately,” as at least some in United Russia had wanted.

            In some places, Savina writes, there won’t be much of a struggle, but in others, including Pskov, Kirov, Nalchik, Ufa, and Gorno-Altaysk, the competition among candidates may be intense. Some United Russia candidates in these places will benefit from stressing their attachment to Vladimir Putin rather than United Russia, but others will suffer from either link.

            If candidates do try to distance themselves from United Russia, such a tactic “will not convince everyone.” As several experts say, many voters who know is linked with what party however much and perhaps even especially if candidates try to hide their affiliation or conduct “an underground” campaign.

            Valery Khomyakov, a political scientist, told “Novyye izvestiya” that  the efforts of some United Russia candidates to hide their membership “yet again confirms that the December voting in Moscow were falsified and that the rating of United Russia’ in [Moscow] was hardly the 46 percent that was announced.” Instead, it is “significantly lower.”

            Savina concludes her article with the observation that “now, the opposition has the chance to get involved in lower-level politics,” now that a link “with United Russia or with the powers that be as such, especially in Moscow,” is no longer something that will help them. Rather the reverse.

And she quotes Khomyakov as saying that “if the opposition tries to take power at the municipal level … this could be a very good base for the further development of pressure, including on the federal authorities.”

Window on Eurasia: Russian Army Must Block Muftis from Promoting Islam among Soldiers, Military Academy Professor Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 19 – In the face of a rising percentage of Muslims in the Russian armed forces and of calls for a special handbook for them to be prepared by Muslim leaders, a professor at the Russian military academy must ensure that the training of soldiers will “be based only on a scientific worldview,” rather than a religiously-inspired one.

            Given “growing inter-ethnic tensions” connected with the recent demonstrators, Sergey Ivaneyev, who teaches at the All-Forces Academy of the Russian armed services, says in “Voenno-Promyslenny kuriyer,”, “the link between religious and ethnic self-identification” is intensifying throughout Russian society (

            While much of this and especially the opposition between “the Slavic Russian population and Muslims” is both “artificial and provocative,” he continues, no one should ignore this problem or fail to work to prevent its growth, especially in key institutions like the Russian armed forces.

            “All of us must recognize, Ivaneyev writes, “that in Russia, mass religiosity of citizens is a potential source of conflict since each religious system as a result of antagonist social conditions has by its nature a negative and at times openly hostile attitude toward other religions.”

            Such relations, he continues, can take on “hypertrophic forms” and affect entire communities, something that is “especially evident when leaders of a negative direction” use the presence of their co-religionists or co-ethnics in military units of various sizes to promote their own interests or to defend their groups against commanders and others

            Indeed, such “inter-ethnic conflicts can acquire particularly sharp and fanatic forms” and lead to calls for “a religious war” and for “the complete destruction of its opponent and of members of all other faiths.” And that danger, Ivaneyev continues, is visible in calls for the production of “a special handbook for Muslim draftees” that some muftis want to prepare.

            Seven years ago, the Russian military, working with Sheikh Ravil Gaynutdin, prepared a 102-page booklet entitled “Methodological Recommendations to Infantry Officers on Work with Muslim Soldiers.”  But despite the shortcomings of that pamphlet, Ivaneyev says, allowing Russian muftis to prepare and disseminate a larger one could exacerbate the situation.

            Even the 2005 publication suffered because it was written “not on the basis of scientific religious studies but from the position of a contemporary ‘ideological’ theology and objectively was directed at the strengthening of the position of Islam in society and in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and also at the defense of this religion” from analysis and criticism.

            Any new work, prepared not by scholars but by Muslim religious leaders, he says, would be even more provocative, for as the Carnegie Moscow Center scholar A.V. Malashenko has put it, “we observe a lack of correspondence between the Islamic and Russian civil vectors of identity.”

            Russia’s force structures, the military scholar says, “have dealt well with the tasks of destroying and neutralizing the expansion of Islamism.” But there is a shortcoming in their work more generally: “we do not always know about those social-worldview sources which feed contemporary forms of Islamic extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism.”

            And that means there is a real risk that the spread of the Islamic faith, especially if it takes place on its own terms, could lead to “anti-social activity” and forms of “Muslim extremism,” which starts with efforts to hold Islam “as the highest model of spiritual culture which [supposedly] corresponds to the interests of the individual and world society as a whole.”

            A directive of the Procurator General, Interior Ministry and FSB on December 16, 2008, Ivaneyev says, specified that “extremism under the cover of Islam has spread into a number of phenomena which are essentially influencing the criminogenic situation in Russia” and that “90 percent” of those involved in terrorism “have direct ties to Islamist organizations.”

            Today, given “the clericalization of the army and fleet,” he continues, “the underlying principles of the very conception of the training of soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are being violated,” and consequently, commanders must work to promote “a scientific world view” and its related “moral norms.”

            In this situation, “the importance of the problem of forming the moral-legal consciousness of Russia’s Muslim soldiers is growing in particular.”

            Those who are to be “convinced defenders” of Russia, he argues, “must be trained only from the position of a secular worldview” and be ready to act “not according to religious motivations” before God and eternity “but from the conviction of the need to fulfill his civic obligations regardless of his personal religious convictions.”

            Such an approach, Ivaneyev says, is necessary “because Russian society is multi-national and poly-confessional.” Allowing Muslim religious leaders to instruct Muslim soldiers on their own could undermine these various goals, and consequently, the military must insist that Muslim troops learn not from them but from “the study of the foundations of scientific Islamic studies.”

Window on Eurasia: Putin Urged to Create Ministry for Demographic Development

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 19 – The leader of the Russians Foundation has written to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urging him to establish a special ministry for demographic development to deal with the country’s demographic decline, migration, and support for compatriots living outside of the Russian Federation.

            The news agency reported yesterday that Leonid Shershenev, in a letter signed by other ethnic Russian leaders, told the premier that “only the establishment of a new state organ will be able to solve the problems of emigration and the continuing reduction in the size of the Russian population” (

            In the letter, Shershenev also said that in his opinion, there was no need to restore the ministry for nationality affairs which simply “lobbied for the interests of the leaderships of national minorities to the harm of the broad strata of the population” and “never even once” discussed the demographic problems of the Russian nation.”

            A Ministry for Demographic Development, the foundation head continued, would be different. Its departments would oversee the government’s “demographic policy” and would develop a state “concept” to ensure not only a common approach of all agencies but also progress in turning Russia’s demographic situation around

             Shershenev is not the first to make this argument, the news agency reported. Seven years ago, it said, “Igor Beloborodov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Demographic Research, made the same proposal, and recently, he even posted this idea on the prime minister’s website  And deputies from Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party have advanced similar ideas

            Beloborodov told that Russia has “the largest indicator of population decline” of any country in the world and complained that despite pledges by the country’s leaders to do something about this, “there have not been any administrative actions for the resolution of the problems.”

            As a result, he continued, the various agencies involved with population questions do so in an uncoordinated fashion and only as a secondary issue to their primary responsibilities.” As a result, one cannot speak of a genuine state policy in this critical area, a situation that he said “should not be the case.”

               “But not all experts consider that the creation of a new state agency would solve the problem of the reduction in the number of Russians,” the news agency says. Some think its creation would only “increase the number of bureaucrats,” without having any impact on the underlying forces at work

            Elena Tyuryukanova, a scholar at the Moscow Institute of Social-Economic Problems of Population, for example, opposes creating such a ministry. “In order to come up with a conception of demographic development, it isn’t necessary to create a ministry.” Indeed, Russia already has such a concept paper.” Setting up a new ministry wouldn’t change anything.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Window on Eurasia: ‘Liberal’ Weakness has Allowed ‘Aggressive Russian Nationalism’ to Grow, Social Chamber Told

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – The Social Chamber yesterday held a discussion on “The Nationalist Danger in Russia: The Results of 2011. Trends, Prospects, and Countermeasures,” a session at which many views on that subject were aired and which has attracted a great deal of attention in the Moscow media.

            The main presentation was made by Valery Engel, the deputy chairman of “World Without Nazism, in which he outlined the findings and conclusions of Semyon Charny’s report on “The Social Bases and manifestations of Nationalistic Attitudes in the Russian Federation” in 2011 (

            According to Engel, the number of extreme right-wing Russian nationalists itoday is some 20 to 24 thousand, but despite their numbers, they are now seeking to have an impact on the country’s power structures and even penetrate them rather than engage in easily suppressed violent action (

            He concluded his pessimistic report by suggesting that “the growth of the aggressive activity of nationalistic leaders in Russia is taking place on the background of [and clearly because of] the weakness displayed by the liberal wing” of Russian public opinion (

            Another participant, Nikolay Svanidze, the chairman of the Chamber’s Commission on Interethnic Relations and Freedom, suggested that the radical right had already been successful in penetrating the government and that Dmitry Rogozin, former Russian ambassador to NATO, is an example of that threat.

             He added, “Moskovskie novosti” reports today, that “Russian society may be presented with a choice between Rogozin and Aleksey Navalny who is inclined to use ‘the popular resource’ of nationalism,” noting that the radicals view themselves as potential “brides” of whatever group will offer them the most (

            Aleksandr Verkhovsky, the director of the SOVA Center, said that his views in large measure coincide with those of Engel. He said that the police have been able to reduce thenumber of criminal actions by the extreme nationalists, prompting the latter to turn to legal political action while maintaining “anti-system rhetoric.”

            He added that “at present, Russia cannot completely exclude nationalism from the life of society, but he argued that it is very important that political leaders ensure that the Russian population understands just what a nation is. Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin were taking steps in this direction a year ago but since then have cut back on this “almost to nothing.”

            Verkhovsky was followed by Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the outspoken head of the social-relations department of the Moscow Patriarchate.  He argued that nationalists have the right to speak out because “liberal democracy is not a universal recipe” for solving all problems. Instead, he called for “uniting” Russians against “xenophobia and separatism.”

            The Orthodox churchman added that “it is necessary to solve the problems that ‘patriotic organizations’ are raising,” including the lack of definition of the status of the ethnic Russian people and “the difficulty of its self-organization” as a traditionally evolved ethno-social community (

            Vladiir Zorin, a former Russian minister for nationality affairs, pointedly asked why Engel and the others were not talking about migration patterns since “it is evident,” he said, “that precisely the growth of migration pressure in the big cities is also a cause of the growth of tension” in Russian society (

            Other speakers provided additional perspectives. Aleksandr Sokolov, a member of the Social Chamber, said that “in practice, all opposition forces in Russia are playing the nationalist card” and that in the current presidential campaign, there is likely to be “an outburst of nationalist rhetoric,” a development he called on Vladimir Putin to condemn.

            Georgy Fedorov, the president of the Center of Social and Poltiical Research, noted that it is extremely difficult to “separate out nationalists who are capable of negotiation.”  But he said liberals must try, rather than as is often the case “toying” with nationalists as Boris Akunin did recently in his conversation with Navalny.

And finally, political scientist Mikhail Tulsky said it is also a mistake to brand everyone in the government or out who can be accused of one or another form of xenophobia to be a member of some kind of “party of nationalists.”  Failure to distinguish between such people and the real radical right overstates the power of the latter (

Window on Eurasia: Next Phase of Russian Crisis Likely to Arise in Provinces, Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – Sergey Belanovsky, research director of the Moscow Center of Strategic Developments which predicted the mass demonstrations at the end of 2011, says that the next phase of Russia’s political crisis is likely to take place in the provinces, with strikes and uprisings there attracting sympathy and support from the urban middle class.

            In an interview posted on the “Russky zhurnal” portal yesterday, the sociologist says that unlike many of his colleagues, he personally “did not expect such activity” in Moscow, adding that those thinking about the future need to remember that it is not the case that “all revolutions are made in capital cities” (

            While many revolutions are in fact made there, Belanovsky continues, “there is another type of revolution” which could be “purely conditionally called ‘the peasant war,’ when on the territory of a large country uprisings break out which then come together into a single movement” beyond the capacity of the central authorities to cope.

            China, of course, has been a “classical” case of such revolutions throughout history, he noted, adding that he considers that “it is completely probable that in Russia all will go namely according to the scenario of a peasant war,” a conclusion he reached on the basis of a number of focus group sessions in central Russia outside of Moscow.

            Participants in these sessions routinely complain about governors who take care of their capitals but do little or nothing for the rest of their regions or republics. Such attitudes are likely to grow, Belanovsky says, leading to the outbreak of strikes and protests about specific issues beyond the capacity of the regime to deal with.

            A major reason why he expects that pattern of development and why unlike others he believed that not everything “will begin in the capital,” the analyst continues, is that Moscow has been “quiet for quite a long time.” The middle class there has now woken up, but it is not alone: future events “will intensify both in the capital and in the provinces.”

            Asked about his institute’s suggestion that following parliamentary elections there would need to be a coalition government and a new prime minister, Belanovsky says that such a figure must be “attractive and sufficiently independent … in any case “not [incumbent President] Dmitry Medvedev.”

            Unfortunately, the analyst suggests, there are not a large number of such people around, but the list might include Igor Sechin and Sergey Ivanov, who might be able to overcome a situation which currently is defined by the “aging” of “brand Putin” and the danger of a new period of stagnation.

            According to Belanovsky, there is “no chance” that “brand Putin” can be “rehabilitated.” The only thing that could continue would be “a scenario of conservatism.” That is at least possible because “the female electorate… categorically does not want a revolution. Perhaps, it will be this segment [of the population] that will allow the situation to be preserved.”

            Putin may somehow be able to maintain his “brand” even after the March elections, but if he does so, the analyst argues, it will be possible to “make an analogy with the Brezhnev brand,” although the situation today “is already not what it was then.” At that time, the regime was able to maintain “the illusion” of control, but it cannot do so now.

            The power structures of today and of Putin “in particular” may be able to change their rhetoric but they “are not in a situation to seriously influence the situation in the country,” he goes on to say. Putin’s practice of combining “threatening rhetoric” with inaction” is “losing its effectiveness and the people are tired of it.”

            Putin will certainly try to advance a new program much as Soviet leaders did at meetings of the Communist Party, but people will only react negatively now just as they reacted negatively 30-40 years ago – and for the same reason, they won’t listen to the message, even if it is reasonable, because they have already reached a judgment on the messenger.

            Clearly, Belanovsky concludes, the protest wave will proceed in a sine curve, with periods of growth and periods of decline.  In response, as it has done already, the powers will make “concessions,” albeit only “nominal ones.” But such concessions will “provoke and intensify the pressure” against them.

            In this situation, the sociologist says, something will break out “somewhere in the provinces.” Then, “in Moscow, protest groups will immediately assemble in support of the regional protests” and send “volunteer emissaries.”  The country will thus be united in this way because after all “the Internet works.”


Window on Eurasia: A Dagestani Muslim Builds a Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – Gadzhi Gadzimusayev, a Daghestani Muslim who has lived in Moscow for 45 years,, has given 150 million rubles (5 million US dollars) to build a Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow because he “wanted to leave something after himself for the good of Muscovites.”

            Gadzhimusayev took this step, Archpriest Sergey Kiselev of the Trinity Church District in the Russian capital told “Vechernyaya Moskva” on Monday , when no Orthodox Christian appeared ready to do so.  The cornerstone of the new church was laid this week, and the brick church is slated to open this summer (

            Anton Elin, a journalist at that paper, asked Gadzhimusayev “why he had spent money on an Orthodox church and not on a mosque.” He responded that although born in Daghestan, he had lived “45 years in Moscow” and that he “wanted to leave after himself something for the good” of the city and “a church is better than any other monument because it will be eternal.”.

            Gadzhimusayev added that he had already contributed to the construction of two other churches but that the latest one will be special: “the cupola will be covered with gold and it will be build with red brick.” He said he was following the behavior of the Prophet Muhammed who “protected the monastery of St. Catherine” and added that in his view, “God is one.”

            Archpriest Sergey told the paper that the Orthodox Church had not in this case “seen any [Orthodx] investors so far.” They exist, he suggested, “but there aren’t any o fthem as it were.  For our Orthodox people, the Muslims are an example.” And he noted that a Muslim factory director on the outskirts of Moscow had recently opened a chapel in the yard of his firm.

            While neither Gadzhimusayev or Sergey mentioned it, there may be other reasons behind the Daghestani’s investment. On the one hand, such actions almost certainly are intended to overcome tensions between Russians and arrivals from Daghestan and other parts of the North Caucasus.

            And on the other, the unwillingness of Moscow officials to allow the construction of even a seventh mosque in a city which has more than two million people of Muslim heritage may mean that anyone who wants to build a religious facility has little choice but to contribute to the construction of a church, possibly in the hopes that Muslims will be able to pray there as well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Only 30 percent of Region Heads Have Good Chance to Win Elections, Russian Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – Only 30 percent of the heads of regions and republics in the Russian Federation have a good chance to win re-election if Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s draft proposal to restore elections at that level of the country’s political system is accepted by the Russian State Duma, according to a Moscow expert.

            But the provisions of the final form of such legislation and the ways in which it might be subverted by strong central executive power are already sparking discussions in Moscow about whether Medvedev’s proposal constitutes a genuine return to electoral democracy in the regions or whether it is a kind of window dressing in advance of the March 4 presidential vote.

            If the heads of Russia’s federal subjects again are to be filled by popular vote, Yevgeny Minchenko, the head of the International Institute of Political Expertise, told the Novy region news agency yesterday, “one can expect a serious rotation of the heads of regions” because only 30 of the incumbents would likely win such votes (

            The others “have no chance” at all, he suggested. Among those with the least chances of election are the heads of the republics of Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Karelia, Komi, North Osetia, tyva, Udmurtia, and Chuvashia, an indication of just how unpopular their leaders are among the non-Russian nations of the country.

            Other leaders likely to fail in any bid for election would be the heads of the Krasnodar, Transbaikal, Perm, Primorsky and Stavropol kray, and the head of Khakassia, yet another indication that non-Russians within the Russian Federation who make up sizeable percentages of the population of these subjects are also ready to vote for change.

            Among regional heads with mid-range chances to win a popular vote, the Moscow political expert said, are the heads of Bahkortostan, Buryatiya, Daghestan, Ingushetia, Mari El, Yakutia, Kamchatka and Krasnoyarsk kray. And mong those with “the greatest chance” are the governors of places like Voronezh, Kemerovo, and Kaluga as well as Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov, Tatarstan President Rustam Minikhanov and Mordovia head Nikolay Merkushkin.

            Then, Minchenko said, there are some special cases. Moscow’s currenthead has “not bad chances” to be elected because “Moscow is so constructed that it is complicated to restore competitive elections:” there are no “specifically Moscow media,” and it is very difficult to conduct a “door to door” campaign since the numbers of voters is so large.

            But in his comments to the news agency, Minchenko said his estimate may not matter because the real issue is elsewhere: “Medvedev has come out with a proposal, but [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin is silent,” raising the question of what is really going on and whether gubernatorial elections will in fact return.

            In an article in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” journalists Aleksey Gorbachev and Ivan Rodin explore some of the details of Medvedev’s proposal, details that may be changed in the course of parliamentary consideration or may be exploited in ways that would reduce the significance of the restoration of such votes (

            According to Medvedev’s draft, parties could nominate candidates but such candidates would have to be confirmed in some way or other by the president, possibly a face-saving measure for Putin who did away with gubernatorial voting or possibly a way to vitiate popular sovereignty altogether. Candidates could also win nomination by petition.

            The “Nezavisimaya” journalists say that sources in the Kremlin “assure that consultations with the president will bear a purely voluntary character,” but on the basis of their past experience, many Russians and indeed many Russian parliamentarians may be deeply suspicious of such claims.

            That is all the more so because “before the mass protest actions,” President Medvedev spoke about the return of gubernatorial elections “as an extremely distant perspective,” and several years earlier,he said that “the return of the former system of electing governments was not something [Russia] needed even a century from now.”

            Moreover, in July 2011, Putin, the Moscow paper continues, “said that “there is ‘no violation of the principles of democracy’” involved in the appointment rather than election of governors. He added that elections only made the governors corrupt because they allowed candidates to “manipulate public opinion” and engage in corrupt practices.

            Now, as Aleksey Makarkin, the deputy general director of the Moscow Center of Political Technologies, pointed out, “the situation in the country has changed;” and Medvedev at least has changed his tune, although whether he, let alone Putin who preceded and plans to succeed him have changed their past views remains to be seen.

            Makarkin suggested that provisions calling for presidential approval of candidates were frought with difficulties: “If the president will be a dominating figure, then his disapproval of a candidate proposed by the parties might be viewed as an informal veto, but an attempt to block a popular candidate would have a negative impact on the president himself.”