Saturday, May 31, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Abkhazia Shows What Happens When a Region Gets ‘Hooked’ on Russian Money, Latynina Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – The events in Abkhazia have a simple explanation, Yuliya Latynina says. “The unrecognized republic lived on Moscow’s money, but now the money has run out.”  As such, its “fate is the best illustration of what happens to regions which fall into the zone of Russian influence.”

            In a commentary in today’s “Novaya gazeta,” Latynina says that Abkhazia had counte on receiving 12 billion Russian rubles (400 million US dollars) this year but to date has received only two (65 million).  That may be enough for the republic’s president, but it isn’t for the Abkhazian people (

            Earlier, Abkhazia was a wonderful place, but the blessings it enjoyed have come to naught under the Kremlin, Latynina says. Instead, there has been “collapse and destruction.” Agricultural production has collapsed, tourism has as well, the forests have been cut down with the food exported to Turkey.

            Under Russia, there are no property rights in Abkhazia at all. Instead, former field commanders are given the use of land but not its ownership. They “take in 100 tourists and take 100 rubles from each, and then give the government three kopeks,” Ankvab told the “Novaya” commentator.

            The only real source of income – and Latynina recalls that Moscow excluded Abkhazia from making any money from  the Sochi Olympiad – are subsidies from the Russian government that are handed out by the government or more specifically by its nominal head. The amounts of money have never been large, but stability depended on the flow continuing.

            No Abkhaz leader could behave otherwise under the circumstances, and Ankvab like his predecessors – and successors when they come – has had to play Moscow so as to keep himself or herself in power and the situation stable because of course they are going to think “not about the interests of Moscow but about the interests of Abkhazia.”

            Latynina adds that she is “personally completely certain that the Russian-Georgian war should have been launched in May with Abkhazia and that the Abkha leadership did everything to prevent precisely that scenario.”  And that is “the saddest lesson which one can extract from Abkhazia’s fate.”

            “The Kremlin,” the Moscow commentator says, “has done everything in order that there will not be any money in Abkhazia apart from Russian subsidies.” 

            But when the economic crisis hit, and Moscow had to economize, “the Kremlin simply decided” to save money by cutting its funding for Abkhazia.  The money stream began to dry up.  There was still enough for Ankvab but not for the people.  And that development allowed the opposition to gather thousands for a meeting to demand that they and not he get the funds.

            The way to understand all this, Latynina concludes, is that Moscow “hooked a region on heroin and then didn’t supply it.  And this was still before Ukraine and the future economic crisis.”  She thus implies that if Moscow cuts back further in Abkhazia and elsewhere, it will face even more troubles ahead.

Window on Eurasia: Health Care System in Pskov Oblast Continues to Deteriorate

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – Official statistics show that health care services in Russia’s Pskov oblast which adjoins Estonia and Latvia have deteriorated rapidly in recent years to the point of crisis, according to a report by Lev Shlosberg, a Yabloko party member of the oblast legislative assembly.

            In a presentation to oblast legislators, he said the number of hospital beds per 100,000 residents had fallen from 105.5 in 2008 to 98.9 in 2012 and the number of beds for children had declined from more than 300 to 263 over the same period. Polls show that 54 percent of residents are upset and blame the government for inaction (

            The “modernization” of the health care system that oblast officials have talked about and that involves the creation of inter-regional health centers, Shlosberg said, has in fact made the situation worse. The number of doctors in district hospitals has fallen, and now in the 14 such hospitals, there are fewer than 25 doctors.

            The new “inter-regional” centers that the oblast officials are so proud of not only do not meet basic treatment standards but also lack the legal and financial status of hospitals.  Moreover, both doctors and patients have to go much further to give or receive treatment, leading to greater expense and a reduction in access.

            The Yabloko party leader called for increasing spending on health care in Pskov oblast and also for attracting more medical personnel to the region by offering to pay the educational expenses of those who would upon graduation agree to serve in Pskov’s hospitals or other medical centers.

            The situation with regard to health care in Pskov Oblast was notorious under the previous LDPR governor who closed drug stores and restricted public transportation to save money and thus sent the death rate among diabetics who often could not get insulin as a result soaring far above the all-Russian average and sent life expectancy figures plummeting.

            Indeed, as a result of his tenure, the difference in life expectancies between Pskov oblast and the Tartu county of Estonia was the largest of any two contiguous territories in the world.  Shlosberg’s report shows that the situation has not improved – and may even be set to deteriorate further.

Window on Eurasia: Could Joining Eurasian Union Lead Yerevan to Change Its Postion on Karabakh?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev said this week that Armenia could join the Eurasian Union only as a country with the borders recognized by the United Nations, a statement that clearly shocked Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan by suggesting that the union won’t support his claims on Karabakh or other portions of Azerbaijan.

            Those who witnessed Sargsyan’s reaction to Nazarbayev’s statement that Armenia would have to do so in order to avoid offending Baku, “assert that to put it mildly, these were not the happiest moments in the life” of the Armenian president, according to Russian journalist and commentator Arkady Dubnov (

            Sargsyan after hearing this declaration asked for “two or three days” to find “a mutually acceptable” resolution so that he will be able to sign an agreement on June 15 about Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Community.  That won’t be easy, but history suggests, it isn’t impossible.

            Sergey Manasaryan, Armenia’s deputy foreign minister, told his country’s parliament that despite what Nazarbayev had said, “the remaining disagreements” between Armenia and the Eurasian Economic Community’s other members “do not bear a conceptual character.”  Yerevan has signed other agreements where its trans-border claims are left unspoken.

            Armenia’s dependence on Moscow for military and energy security is so great, and Moscow’s interest in expanding the Customs and Eurasian Union so large, that Yerevan will probably sign the accession documents as planned with the border issue allowed to remain implicit rather than become explicit.

            But there are three aspects of what may seem to some as a diplomatic tempest in a teapot worth mentioning. First, this is a clear demonstration that the Eurasian Economic Community is an “exclusively” economic union. That is how Kazakhstan views it, but it is not how Russia and Armenia do. And thus this highlights how weak and divided the new grouping is likely to be.

Second, if this is handled as it is likely to be, by silence rather than a statement, Moscow will show itself once again in the bind that has dictated much of its approach over the last two decades: it views Azerbaijan as the prize but is glad to have Armenia as a means of promoting instability in the South Caucasus in the meantime, a position that is worrisome in both capitals.

And third, it makes more likely that Yerevan will seek to promote independence for Karabakh and possibly the adjoining occupied territories rather than seek to annex them as some Armenians would like.  That could further complicate the situation and possibly prompt Baku to take more dramatic actions in response.

Window on Eurasia: A Challenge for Russian Parents – Raising Free Children in a Totalitarian State

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – In a new book, educational theorist Anatoly Yermolin suggests that there are ways for Russian parents to raise “independent, self-sufficient and harmoniously developed children” who could become the basis for “the flourishing of the state” despite the authoritarianism and even totalitarianism round them.

            Yermolin, who heads the Internet lycee “Podmoskovny” founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, lays out his ideas in “The Education of the Free Personality in a Totalitarian Era” (in Russian; Moscow Alpina Publishers, 2014). An except is available online at

            As the educator notes, “there is a great deal of talk in [Russia’s] schools about the self-administration of children, but the number of real cases when administrative authority is delegated to children can be counted on one hand.” Instead, in many schools, “the dictatorship of the director and the teachers remains the main form of administration.”

            And that is “not bad ... if you do not know how to work any other way” and if you don’t care about what those children will turn out to be or about the society they will help create.

            “Director-monarchs – such a term exists in contemporary management theory – are typically very effective leaders. In the schools they head work strong teachers, there are almost no problems with discipline and the graduates receive good knowledge and get into higher educational institutions.”

            But despite that, it is clear that “the future life effectiveness of a young person” depends not just on what he or she knows but how he or she has acquired it and how he or she has learned to interact both with superiors and with equals.   

                “Typically,” Yermolin says, “in schools with an authoritarian regime of administration, the teachers quite capably imitate pupil self-administration.  Various student organs are set up, an enormous quantity of meetings is held, but such work very often occurs exclusively on the basis of the initiative of adults.”

            The opinions of the children are taken into account “if they correspond with the positions of the teachers,” he writes, with “the director monarchs consciously preventing the development of true self-administration and self-organization of the pupils.” And for many children, such arrangements and those who make them may be even quite popular.

            But “the usefulness of ‘monarchs’ under conditions of contemporary economics is already under doubt,” Yermolin says, because “such an administrator prevents pupil self-administration not because he is evil but because his system of management does not accept democratic innovations.”

                The tragedy is that if such administrators are forced to introduce more democratic structures, the latter may are likely to fail or even backfire because such effective managers don’t believe in them.  In that situation, parents need to intervene and promote pupil administration because otherwise the rising generation won’t have the values needed for Russia to flourish.

            Doing so won’t be easy because the problems he identifies in Russian schools now are the problems of Russia as a whole, a country in which authoritarian leaders may feel compelled to offer imitation democracy but feel equally justified in subverting any chance that children or adults will be able to make decisions and thus take control of their own lives.