Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Window on Eurasia: From ‘Upper Volta with Missiles’ to ‘Upper Volta with Credits’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 31 – Moscow has moved from being an “Upper Volta with missiles,” as German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt once described the Soviet Union, to an “Upper Volta with credits,” a change that may threaten the Russian Federation both abroad and at home, according to Moscow analysts.

            In an essay on the Grani.ru portal yesterday, Vitaly  Portnikov says that when Schmidt made his remark, many Soviet citizens n assumed he was joking because the stores in Ouagadougou had a better selection of goods than those in Moscow and because the source of happiness was fear, not money (grani.ru/opinion/portnikov/m.223017.html).

                “If they were afraid of you, then one neeed to be proud of [one’s country’s] rockets, sputniks and tanks,” even if the store shelves in Moscow and other Russian cities were empty, Portnikov argues.

            Now, three decades later, Schmidt on a visit to Moscow told Vladimir Putin that “one needs to say farewell to one’s neighbors “correctly.” Putin “only nodded in response,” as if he had not take note of the fact that “Germany and Russia hav not had a common border for seven decades.”

            But more to the point, the Moscow commentator says, Putin is “not sying farewell to the neighbors. He is buying them: 15 billion to Ukraine, two to Belarus and this is still not the limit.” He’ll spend more of Russia’s money to keep them in the Russian orbit: thus, “in place of Upper Volta with rockets has appeared Upper Volta with credits.”

            And the Kremlin leader will do this even if it means that soon “the Russian leadership will not have the money to pay” pensions or government employees. 

            But there is a big difference from Soviet times and now, Portnikov continues: “now the majority of Russians don’t want to pay.”  That is not only because the Russian economy is in trouble, and they think the money should be spent on their needs first, but also because they do not believe that such loans now will work any better than they did three decades ago.

            Those Russia is loaning money to won’t repay it, and to keep them in line by this means, Moscow will have to give them more and more, keeping enough at home only to beat up journalists who are too active, politicians the Kremlin doesn’t like, and creating “servile” television channesl and “falsified” elections – but not enough to pay Russians or their pensions.

            Portnikov’s argument is seconded by Moscow experts whom Anton Mardasov of “Svobodnaya pressa” surveyed last week and who insisted that if the Kremlin continues to give enormous sums of money to the post-Soviet states, it “risks having an empty budget trough” (svpressa.ru/politic/article/79816/).

                Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy head of the Moscow Institute of the CIS Countries, said that “if one considers Belarus an absolutely independent and sovereign state, then why are we giving it money? [But] if we consider this country as our closest ally” and as something like a Russian region in trouble, then “there is nothing terrible” in the loan Putin has given.

            Andrey Zaostrovtsev, an economist at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, observed that “the leadership of the country is trying to restore a destroyed emprie. The president still has a strong nostalgia for the USSR.”  Consequently, he is prepared to give Belarus and Ukraine money – and it is important to recognize that these are subsidies rather than loans.

            The Kremlin leader, he continued, is “giving money without any conditions,” except the requirement that Ukraine’s leadership maintains “the existing social-economic and political model” of integration with Moscow rather than with Europe. It is unclear whether these loans or future ones will be sufficient for that.

            But what is of perhaps greater concern is whether Moscow will be able to continue to give away money like this, Zaostrovtsev said.  “The reserves and opportunities for Russia in the uture to presereve such an empire like the lost Soviet Union will continue to narrow,” despite Putin’s desires.

            Moreover, the Russian president is spending enormous sums for the defense ministry “as if we intend to fight with the entire world.”  As a result, the economist concluded, “sooner or later,” Russia will face “a dead end, out of which it will have to find a way for itself,” something that will be all the more difficult if money continues to flow abroad.

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy Designed to Protect State Not People, Soldatov Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, December 31 – Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin defined terrorism as any action which killed a large number of people, but under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s leading independent specialist on its intelligence community says, terrorism has been redefined as “’a policy of intimidation and pressure on the organs of power.’”

That change is something terrorist groups understand and have adapted themselves to, according to Andrey Soldatov, but for a variety of reasons, it has not led to the kind of changes in the intelligence agencies that will allow them to counter the actions of individual terrorists or small terrorist groups (lenta.ru/articles/2013/12/30/soldatov/).

And that in turn opens the door to the possibility of more attacks of the kind seen in Volograd over the last several days, especially if the regime pursues its populist approach in the wake of such attacks, measures that will only flood with security services with phone calls from the population and increase xenophobic attitudes in Russian society.

Such an approach, the editor of the Agentura.ru site which follows the activities of the FSB and other Russian security agencies told Lenta.ru “may pacify those who are dissatisfied with the authorities, but [it] will hardly help in the struggle against suicide terrorists” or protect the population from that kind of violence.

 Approximately a decade ago, the Russian special services were partially reformed, Soldatov says, but at the same time “the radical Islamists in the North Caucasus also re-arranged their structure,” shifting from “’quasi-mlitary formations, regiments and brigades’ to small cells which are distinguished [as Volgograd shows] by high effectiveness.”

The attacks in Volgograd have spread panic in the population very much like what happened in Moscow in 1999, Soldatov says, and led the regime to take measures that give the appearance of fighting terrorism but that in fact are not especially helpful in that regard.

The use of druzhinniki might help against a large group of armed people, but it will do little to stop individual terrorists. Consequently, “today’s panicky calls for vigilance are insufficiently effective” against the current threat. And the only thing they will produce besides a flood of useless calls to the security agencies is “an explosive growth of xenophobia.”

(That xenophobia is high and rising in the Russian Federation is clear not only from anecdotal reporting but also in the documentation provided in a report prepared by the SOVA analytic center in its report released yesterday on such attitudes in recent months (sova-center.ru/racism-xenophobia/publications/2013/12/d28739/).)

“Eighty percent” of the task of unmasking and stopping a suicide bomber in advance involves the collection of information, Soldatov  says, adding that “unfortunately, now, the main problem [of the FSB] is [the need for and the lack of] rapid and even instantaneous exchange of information between various subdivisions of various agencies across the entire country.” 

Russian special services have a major problem in this regard, one that “has not been resolved up to now.” It is “connected with the absence of trust people don’t trust the information which comes from units o the FSB for Chechnya, Daghestanor Ingushetia.” And “Moscow chekists are unwilling to share the information they have with the North Caucasus units.”

“Russian special services and counter-terrorist units passed through a period of reforms in 2006-2007,” Soldatov says, but these reforms were designed to fight the kind of threats that terrorists had presented earlier – such as the appearance of large groups of terrorists in one place – but no longer were. 

At that time, the security agencies forcused on improving coordination among their number within a particular place, but “in the case of a suicide bomber, this arrangement doesn’t work, and the bitter irony is that while Russianspecial services were conducted their period of reform, the Islamists in the North Caucasus were carrying out their own.”

By fighting the last war, Russian special services were not ready for the smaller and often individual terrorist threats,”and this is a very serious problem.  Moreover, except for Moscow and several units in the North Caucasus, “the Russian FSB up to now lives in the framework of structurues created already in Stalin’s time.”

“The regional services of the FSB are the direct heirs of the NKVD which were created in order to process a largeumber of people for repression.”  That system “wasn’t touched either in the times of Andropov or in the 1990s. Putin has been afraid to touch it because it is unclear what should be done with it.” But one thing is clear: it isn’t designed to deal with the current threat.

That is all the more so given Putin’s redefinition of terrorism as an attack on the state. He is concerned in the first instance about any possibility that “terrorists will dictate to the authorities what the latter are to do.” But suicide bombers do not present that kind of threat: they are directed against the population.

Despite the change in the nature of the terrorist threat, Soldatov says, the FSB continues to do what it had done earlier: round the clock patrols, monitoring of the phones, and a large number of meetings.  All this “creates the appearance of activity but doesn’t give great results becausein this case only a long-term strategy works.”

The current attacks in Volgograd, Soldatov says, are “important not in and of themselves” because there are “no special demands” from those who committed them, and there won’t be. Consequently, “one must consider scenarios in which this series of terrorist actions is a diversionary attack to distract attention” from something that may be done elsewhere.

            But these attacks are psychologically important, he continues, because “the militants show that they can organize terrorist acts beyond the borders of the North Caucasus,” a demonstration that the authorities cannot fail to respond to and thus will be compelled to disperse their forces.

            Asked if the FSB is up to this, Soldatov acknowledges that it is “massive,” but he points out that “not all” of those working there “are involved in the struggle with terrorism” and that it is “impossible” to redirect the organs “in the course of one day.”

            Soldatov concludes by noting tht Doku Umarov, the North Caucasus underground leader, earlier said he would not carry out terrorist actions in Russia because protests were taking place there. But “then he lifted this embargo” in July.  That statement and the ensuing terrorist actions as in Volgograd raise some important questions:

            “Were there no explosions earlier because the special services worked so well or because Umarov declared an embargo? And does he now have the people and opportunititess to commit terrorist acts in central Russia?”

            “Unfortunately,” Soldatov says, the answers to these questions are positive: “Yes, he has the people and the possibilities” to carry out terrorist acts, and unfortunately, the FSB has not come up with a way to stop him or them.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Structure of Russian Family Continues to Change, Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 30 – Despite the traditionalism being promoted by President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian family continues to change, with more people living alone or with those to whom they are not married and having fewer children than their parents, according to a scholar at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.

            Between the 2002 and 2010 censuses, Lidiya Prokofyeva says the number of households made up of people not related to each other by birth or marriage rose by 150 percent.  Over the same eight years, the number of households with only one member rose by three percent to more than one in four or 14 million in all (opec.ru/1633074.html).

            The number of single-member households grew faster in the cities than in the villages, from 22.4 percent in 2002 to 26.2 percent in 2010 while in the villages that statistic rose from 22.1 percent – roughly the same as in the cities at that time – to 24.2 percent, two percent fewer, Prokofyeva notes.

            Single-member households especially among the elderly – defined as those over 65 -- largely consist of women. Almost half of such households (48.8 percent) are headed by a woman over all, and 63 percent of them are headed by a woman in the villages. Overall, only 18.2 percent of such households consist of men, who on average live far less long than do women.

            The last decade looks relatively stable only because the most significant changes in the structure of Russian families took place during two earlier post-war periods, 1959-1989 and 1989-2002. In the first, the nuclear family became dominant, and in the second, that trend was reversed, in both cases largely because of economic changes.

            The process of moving away from the nuclear family as the norm continued, however. Between 1970 and 2010, the share of families in Russia with two parents with or without children fell from 82.1 percent to 69.4 percent, and the percentage of other arrangements rose but ever more slowly.

            At the same time, Prokofyeva points out, family size overall continued to decline, from 3.65 people in 1959 to 3.people in 2002 and 3.1 people in 2010. Within that, the share of families with three people remained relatively stable while that of families with only two people rose from 34.2 percent in 1989 to 38.4 percent in 2010.
            Some of this change reflects the aging of the population, some of it the impact of gastarbeiters on the overall statistics, and some the choices of Russians as to how many children they will have, the sociologist says.
            Two-thirds of Russian families had two children in both the 2002 and 2010 censuses, and the share of those with three – 27 percent – remained stable as well.  But there has been a slight increase in the number with three or more, rising from 5.4 percent in 2002 to 5.8 percent in 2010.  Three quarters of this last group have three children. Fewer than one in 12 have five or more.
            But it is important to remember that the existence of large families has what Prokofyeva calls “a regional character,” but what others would call an ethnic one.  She notes that the place with the largest share of large families is in the North Caucasus and that such large families are “a rarity” elsewhere.
            With that in mind, she presents a typology of regions.  The share of regions whose families had an average number of children under 18 of between 1.3 and 1.36 fell by 10 percent between 2002 and 2010. The share of regions whose families had 1.37 to 1.43 rose over that period from 21.3 to 26.5 percent. But those with families with more than 1.44 children fell.

Window on Eurasia: Volgograd Explosion Highlights Putin’s Failure in Fight against Terrorism, Russian Blogger Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 30 – Vladimir Putin rose to power “under the slogan of the struggle with terrorism,” and he has routinely invoked that challenge to justify the growth of his security agencies and the harshest measures against society; but as the terrorist incident in Volgograd yesterday shows, the Kremlin leader is failing in that battle, a Russian blogger says.

            The 18 people killed in the act of terror in Volgograd brings to 879 the number of citizens of the Russian Federation who have died in terrorist incidents in that country outside of the borders of the republics of the North Caucasus (where civil wars are raging) since Putin became president 13 years ago, according to an article on the Tolkovatel blog today (ttolk.ru/?p=19469).

            Any assessment of Putin must begin with the fact that the current Russian leader “came to power” by pointing to the need to “struggle against terrorism” and has used this slogan “to justify the introduction of the harshest [measures].” But despite that, under Putin, “terrorism has not been defeated, [but] cruelty and obscurantism have grown.”

                In the wake of the apartment bombings of 1999, Tolkovatel continues, Russian society gave Putin “carte blanche to impose order in the country and especially in the North Caucasus. By this [grant] was justified the rapid beginning of a [new] war in Chechnya and its return to ‘the bosom of federalism’ and also ‘the struggle for stabilization’ in Daghestan.”

            But despite popular support for tough action, the blog continues, “the number of terrorist acts in Russia did not decrease,” even though Putin’s regime “tightened the screws” by eliminating the election of governors, doubling the size and increasing the budget of the FSB, and adopting laws on extremism that can be used against anyone the Kremlin doesn’t like.

            Moreover, under Putin, few paid much attention to the fact that “’the destruction’ and ‘liquidation’ of so-called ‘militants’ by extra-judicial means became the norm,” even though “in a normal society, only a court can give an individual that status.”  As a result, the blog continues, “government illegality became the norm.”

            During the 13 years of Putin’s rule, the Tolkovatel blogger says, the North Caucasus was not pacified.  In Daghestan, there has been a more or less continuous civil war. In Chechnya, “no one knows the real situation,” and in Kabardino-Balkaria and Ingushetia, “the Wahhabis have great influence.”

            And that has been the case despite “’the destruction’ and ‘liquidation’ of 200 to 500” people identified as “bandits,” not to mention “hundreds of killed, missing or wounded among the civil population and the siloviki.”  But “in fact, there are no reliable statistics on this war, and “it is possible that over these 13 years, several tens of thousands” have become victims.”

            Moreover, during the 13 years of Putin’s stewardship, “not a single high-ranking silovik has been removed from his position” for failures in this area. “On the contrary, the more terrorist acts there are in the country, the higher become the ranks [of such people], the more the military awards and privileges.”

            In short, under Putin, loyalty to the ruler not effectiveness in the struggle against terrorism is the measure of the worth of the siloviki.

            The only thing that has been effective in Russia against terrorism, the blog concludes, is what has been effective elsewhere: the actions of ordinary people as when such people in the fall of 1999 “prevented an explosion” in the Ryazan apartment buildings by exposing the planting of a bomb to the media.

            Since the Volgograd bombing, most Russian media attention has focused on the name and background of the perpetrator rather than on those of the victims, yet another reflection of the nature of Putin’s struggle against terrorism.  And most Western media attention has asked whether this latest horror puts the Sochi Olympiad at risk.

            If Putin continues the approach he has used up to now, he will certainly exploit the Volgograd events to “tighten the screws” in Russia still further, confident that by playing up the issue of Islamist extremism he can not only escape criticism for such actions but any close examination of his anti-terrorism effort and what it says about his rule in Russia.