Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Unless West Sets ‘Clear Limits,’ Putin Will Expand Russia Up to NATO’s Borders, Russian Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – Vladimir Putin will seek to expand Russia’s influence and control right up to the borders of NATO because the West has shown that it is not ready to interfere in any serious way to defend countries that have not been able to get into the Western alliance up to now, according to a Russian political scientist and commentator.

            That is “an enormous tragedy” for Ukraine and the other non-Russian countries but it is one for Russia itself, Aleksandr Avmalgin says. Moscow’s advance is “not for Russia but for the Putin criminal group which is engaged in a raiding action at the international level even as it puts in place an autarchic economic model” at home (

            Putin’s aggression, he continues, is leading to “the degradation of Russian society itself,” in much the same way that Hitler’s war led to a similar decay in German society of the 1930s.”

            Consequently, Avmalgin argues, “if the West does not show Putin clear limits beyond which he must not go, they he will not stop, and the world could move toward a nuclear war.” Unfortunately, he says, “the West does not have such a plan now,” and that promises the continuation of a “lengthy” period of uncertainty.
            According to Avmalgin, Putin is acting the way he is both because of tendencies typical of aging authoritarian regimes which see their power slipping and decide to double their bets and because of the increasing willingness of the Kremlin to listen to the hitherto marginal neo-imperialist ideas of people like Aleksandr Prokhanov.

            Until the Crimean Anschluss, Putin appeared to be acting as someone who wanted to boost Russia’s standing by promoting himself as the leader of “’a conservative international,’” a policy which “in principle, people in the West were prepared for.”  But after Crimea, no one in the West could accept that that was really all that the Kremlin leader wants.

            Instead, it became obvious, Avmalgin continues, that Putin wanted to “reshuffle the deck” of the international order so as to gain greater power at home and abroad.  But it is his international actions that are the most frightening because if Putin thinks he can cut off Russia from the world as Stalin did, then we are dealing with someone who is out of touch with reality.

            Such an effort would ultimately fail but it would lead to a significant further degradation of Russian society, a society so weakened already that there is unlikely to be any rising against Putin. The Kremlin leader is already “conducting a bloodless purge,” allowing those who disagree to leave and rewarding with the spoils of conquest those who agree to stay.

            With regard to Ukraine, however, that strategy didn’t work and won’t, Avmalgin says.  “Putin’s policy toward Ukraine will be much harsher.”  He will seize as much as he can territorially and seek to put the rest of Ukraine under oligarchs loyal to himself.  “Unfortunately,” the analyst says, Putin’s “chances for this are not bad.”

            Ukrainians and the West need to recognize that that second part of Putin’s program will represent “an enormous historical challenge, more than the loss of Crimea or the Donbass represent.”  It would put in Putin’s hands “enormous resources” and show that “it is possible to buy everyone and everything.”

            Putin’s moves up to now, Avmalgin says, have been those of a coolly calculating security officer. One can’t oppose that “with the aide of sincerity and openness.”  Such things only give the Kremlin new openings.

            “The people in the Kremlin,” he says, “having the psychology of intelligence officers do not believe in the sincerity of revolutions, ideological breakthroughs or public policy.” Instead, they believe that everything public is organized by people like themselves behind the scenes and they act accordingly.

            “The Kremlin uses the tactic of diversionists and of ‘green men,’ constantly lies and when the other side wants to know how it is possible to lie that way, it laughs” because it thinks that “we all are intelligence officers.”

            Avmalgin notes that the situation now is much worse even than in Brezhnev’s times because then at least, even as the regime used the KGB more or less freely, it always did so together with “appeals to universalistic values.”  Putin’s regime has dispensed with this: it lies, and it takes what it wants.

            According to the Russian analyst, Moscow is going to organize “’a Bosnian scenario’” in the Donbass,” leaving it within the borders of Ukraine “formally” but making it so autonomous as to be beyond the control of Kyiv,” much as it has already done in Moldova’s Transdniestria.  This will create “’a gray zone’” which will like radiation have an impact on the rest of Ukraine.

            Because of this, some are saying that Ukraine would be better off to cede this territory. That would be true but only under one condition: Ukraine would have to receive the guarantees of EU and NATO membership so that any concession now would not simply create a new place des armes for further Russian demands and destabilization in the future.

            But there is another problem that Ukrainians and the West must face up to.  All societies are “corrupt, but the situation in the Ukrainian elite is especially bad. Many of the leaders are pursuing their own agendas rather than acting in the best interests of Ukraine.  And there is the very real fear that one or another of them could be bought off and betray Ukraine.

            Dealing with that is Ukraine’s first challenge. Unless it is met, Avmalgin suggests, the future will be very bleak indeed, whatever else Moscow does.   But it is likely to prove impossible unless NATO and the West impose limits on Putin's aggression.

Window on Eurasia: Rural Russians Turning to Internet Rather than Television for News, New Study Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – That many Russians in the major cities now rely on the Internet rather than Russian state television for news and information is an old story, but even in rural areas, a new Moscow study finds, residents are turning to the Internet for news and information and increasingly view TV only as a source of commentary and entertainment.

            Given that the Kremlin has been using television to mobilize what it views as its natural conservative base, this shift in rural areas could presage a shift in political values among a segment of the population many analysts believe will always be in Vladimir Putin’s pocket, given the growing gap between what Moscow TV says and what the facts of the situation are.

            According to research findings presented at a recent conference organized by the Moscow Higher School of Economics, rural residents are increasingly aware that Moscow television distorts the news and consequently are turning ever more often to the Internet for information, viewing TV primarily as a source of entertainment (

            In her presentation to the conference, Yevgenya Petrova of the Don State Technical University reported on the results of the 64 in-depth interviews she conducted with people in the Koksov settlement 160 kilometers from Rostov-na-Donu and 15 kilometers from the nearest town.

            She said that residents generally talked about television as a form of entertainment and relaxation rather than as a source of news.  Many said they ignored television reports when they were not about local events or when they had not acquired information about them from other sources, such as the Internet, on the basis of which they could make judgments.

            Repeatedly, Petrova suggested, rural residents said that the Internet is “a significant source of information” and that they did not expect from television new information as much as reflections about it and interpretations of content they had known earlier.”  But that disjunction is not yet having the impact many might expect, she said.

            As one respondent put it, “you know that with us the nation is very sick ... all have high blood pressure. But the television somehow works ... Let those who are supposed to know – the MVD, the Investigation Committee, the procuracy, the administration know ...Not everyone needs the truth.”

            That pattern, Anna Kachkayeva, the dean of media studies at the Moscow Higher School of Economics, added is” “characteristic not only for rural areas. “In the cities, the number of people who are prepared to close their eyes to the fact that information in the media may be unreliable has been growing,” as polls show.

            In the short term, such attitudes may benefit of Putin’s regime, but in the longer one, they will contribute to a split between rulers and ruled that will make any modernization ever more difficult.  At the very least, both new rural interest in the Internet and these attitudes present a new challenge to Moscow and others who seek to reach a Russian audience

Window on Eurasia: Would You Like Pelmeni with Your McShchi?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – One of the more notorious if somewhat humorous aspects of high Stalinism was Moscow’s effort to claim that Russians invented baseball, the radio and other things that all too obviously came from abroad as part of a campaign to boost Soviet patriotism and undercut any positive feelings about the West.

            Now, in an echo of this, Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed developing Russian “fastfud” on the basis of national cuisines, something that he suggested could “compete with McDonald’s,” help the Russian economy, and most important allow Russians to stand up to the West (

            But in yet another confirmation of the well-known dictum that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce, Putin’s proposal may have exactly the opposite effect he intends, not boosting a common Russian identity but rather promoting the identities of distinct ethnic groups within the country.

            Putin made his proposal Monday in response to a question about Osetian pirogi at a meeting with legislators. He said that Russia has many remarkable cuisines, adding that it was necessary to develop their production because they were “better in quality than in [many] fast food places.”

            “You,” he said, “if you will think about this can create at the regional and municipal levels suitable conditions for such small and mid-size businesses by giving certain preferences.” One must be careful about that, but “nevertheless, this can be done.” 

            There are already non-Russian groups pushing for exactly that: In Tatarstan, for example, there is a network of TatMak restaurants which serve Tatar food (, and the Russian president may have no problem with that.

            But the Kremlin leader may have problems if, as has already happened in Chuvashia, local activists demand that Chuvash food be given pride of place even on Russian trains when they pass through that, in local schools, and in Chuvash cities.  If others do the same, such steps would do little to promote a common identity.

Instead, as former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin suggested, Moscow may be trying for something better but things in  Russia will tend to turn out like they always do.

Window on Eurasia: Deeper Social Trends, Not State Policies, Affecting Fertility Rates in the Russian Federation, Demographer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – Even the slightest uptick in birthrate figures in the Russian Federation is celebrated by Moscow as evidence of the efficacy of Russian government actions, but in fact a new study shows the impact of government policy on this most personal of choice is much less than many assume.

            Not only do the summary figures Moscow routinely trumpets conceal still-enormous differences among the nations of the country with non-Russian and especially non-Orthodox peoples typically still having higher fertility rates and larger growth rates because of higher ones in earlier generations, but they conceal some deeper trends that may matter even more.

            In a study, a summary of which as posted online yesterday, Yevgeny Andreyev of the Center for Demographic Research of the Russian School of Economics, calls attention to several of these trends on the basis of his study of demographic statistics in the USSR and the Russian Federation for the period of 1965 to 2012 (

            The data show, he says, that “government measures in the area of demographic policy do not always lead to a growth in the fertility rate.” Instead, at least three deeper and broader patterns are at work, patterns that the state can affect at the margins but does not seem able to change in any fundamental way.

            First, Andreyev points out, over the last few years Russia has benefitted from a worldwide trend.  Beginning in 2008, he notes, there was “a worldwide trend” away from “the super-lower fertility” of the previous decade.  “In all countries where the fertility rate was 1.2 to 1.3 children per woman, it growth began.”

            Second, fertility patterns changed in the Russian Federation according to what the demographer calls “conformist fertility.” “In the USSR, unlike countries with a market economy, all women had a similar or almost similar number of children. Now, a polarization has begun” with women in business often having none and those not having three or even more.

            And third, other social problems, including patterns of alcohol consumption, clearly appear to have an impact on fertility rates, although the exact relationship remains a hypothetical one pending further research. Some surveys suggest that “families of men who drink have fewer children,” but one cannot yet say this is true across the entire country.

            Government policy can affect these trends at the margins, but unless that policy is far more radical than has been the case recently, it will not change them dramatically. In support of that view, Andreyev points to the impact of Gorbachev’s extremely unpopular and ill-fated anti-alcohol campaign.

            Thanks to that effort, the Soviet Union reached a fertility rate of 2.2 children per woman per lifetime, the first time it had reached replacement levels since 1963, an outcome that even pro-natalist Soviet government policies had not achieved. Another benefit of that campaign was that live expectancies reached their highest level ever – one that Russian men have not approached since.

                Andreyev says that the data do not support the frequently-advanced claims that Vladimir Putin’s maternal capital program has been responsible for the growth in fertility rates.  In fact, fertility had begun to grow “long before the December 2006 adoption of that law” and the boost in the numbers in the months following in fact reflected pre-legislative behavior.