Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Three Portents of the Weakening of the Russian State

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 12 – Vladimir Putin says and many accept that the Russian state has strengthened in recent years, but three developments reported this week – the disappearance of government institutions in villages, discrimination against Muslims in police hiring, and the increasing reliance of regional leaders on local identities -- point in a different direction.

            First, in a commentary on Kasparov.ru, Arkady Babchenko says that over the last 15 years he has visited his home village a number of times and what he has NOT seen – the presence of the Russian state and its accoutrements -- is even more striking than what he has (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=578401F4C0889).

            In his village, “there is no militia, no FSB, no procuracy, no court, no jail, no patrols, no Cossacks, no popular front, and no groups organized to help Novorossiya.” In short, Babchenko says, “in general there is nothing of the repressive-patriotic-propagandist apparatus of the state at all.” About the only government things remaining are schools and the post office.

            Twenty-kilometers away in the district center are all the things that are missing in the village which is quietly living its own life without much reference to what is occurring in the district center or in Moscow and the broader world, a measure of how little what Putin has been talking about has reached this part of the Russian people.

            Second, there is now “an unwritten rule” in the Tver oblast interior ministry administration not to hire Muslims or people from the Caucasus, clearly the result of Putin’s policies but something that undermines the unity of the state the Kremlin leader says he is promoting (nazaccent.ru/content/21284-smi-v-mvd-po-tverskoj-oblasti.html).

            Yevgeny Smorodov, an MVD official, told a Tatar applicant directly that “’we have an unwritten rule: we don’t hire people from the Caucasus, Chechens, Daghestanis and so on.” And that list is being extended to others such as the Tatars lest by hiring other non-Russians officials find themselves in difficulty with their bosses.

            The Tatar applicant recorded all this and so was hardly surprised when he received a formal rejection of his application which specified that he wasn’t being hired because “the results of psychological testing” suggested that he would not be able to meet the requirements of such service.

            The Nazaccent report did not speculate as to how widespread this is, but it seems likely that such blatant discrimination is not the work of a few individuals but at the very least reflects the atmosphere of the interior ministry of Russia today and consequently exists elsewhere around the country.

            To the extent that is so, the Russian police are becoming a source of increasing division within Russia rather than a force that ties the country together, as the Kremlin and its propaganda outlets invariably insist. 

            And third, regional leaders whose careers have depended less on the feelings of the population on the territories of which they are in charge than on the attitudes of the Kremlin which appoints them are increasingly engaged, at least in this electoral season, with a rebalancing of the two, focusing on the population rather than the Kremlin.

            Perhaps the clearest example of that is provided by embattled Daghestani head Ramazan Abdulatipov who is being challenged by religious and nationalist activists and who in an effort to save himself and his regime is implicitly calling into question the notion that Moscow not Makhachkala is where all the decisions should be made.

            In an extensive interview with RBC, the Daghestani leader stresses not his own role in the ruling United Russia Party but says that in his republic, “we have only one political party and that is Daghestan” – a line that may help him in the elections but that won’t help Russia in the future (rbc.ru/politics/11/07/2016/578388fb9a7947e3ed6431d4).

            Obviously, these are only portents of problems in the future, and Moscow still has the resources to combat them. But the fact that it now must do so or seem them grow into something even more threatening is likely to become an ever more important part of the Russian political algebra and one that will be ever less easy for the Kremlin to solve.

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