Friday, November 30, 2018

Kadyrov Says He Won’t Return Land to Ingushetia Regardless of What Russian Court Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov says he will block those who oppose the transfer of Ingush territory to Chechnya, that the land involved is Chechen, and that Grozny will not return it “regardless of the decision of the Russian Constitutional Court” (  and

            Kadyrov’s hard line will undoubtedly make it even more difficult for the Russian court to rule against the deal Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and Kadyrov reached on September 26, a deal that transferred more than 20 times as much territory form Ingushetia to Chechnya than the other way around.

            And it will infuriate Ingush opponents of the agreement, some of whom are already saying that the Russian Constitutional Court has violated its own procedures in its consideration of Yevkurov’s appeal of the decision of the Ingush Constitutional Court and indicating that they will protest a decision against them (

            That prospect has led the Yevkurov regime to begin going after protest leaders lest the public protests resume in the wake of a court decision.  In one district alone, Ingush officials are circulating a list of 24 names of those they say are seeking a referendum on the border change as the republic constitution requires (

            The Russian Constitutional Court has not signaled what its decision will be, but a report prepared by the Russian Agency of Legal and Judicial Information provides some important clues. Its experts say that the Ingush court exceeded its authority by ruling on a decision in which another federal subject was involved (

            If in fact the Russian Constitutional Court accepts that argument, then it will likely overrule the decision of its Ingush counterpart. But whether it will go further and declare that the Ingush constitution’s provision requiring a referendum on border changes can be ignored remains to be seen.

            Regardless of whether that happens, this conflict is far from over. Kadyrov is digging in, Yevkurov is becoming increasingly repressive, and Yevkurov’s opponents show no sign of backing down. Once a decision is handed down, there is likely to be an explosion of public activism in Ingushetia – and Moscow will face a far more serious problem than earlier.

Moscow Said Using Polls to Prepare Russians for Giving the Kuriles Back to Japan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – Seventeen percent of Russians are now ready to support the handing back to Japan of some of the Kurile Islands, up from only four to eight percent a decade or more above. This trend suggests, Yevgeny Rychkov of Nakanune says, “the powers that be using polls to prepare” Russians for such a transfer (

            Overwhelming majorities still oppose such a move, the journalist says, but the increase suggests two things. On the one hand, it is a clear indication that the Kremlin if it wants to can create support for such an “unthinkable” action among a population supposedly as committed as Vladimir Putin is never to give back anything that Russia has control of.

            And on the other, while the Kuriles are a special case – they are tiny, although strategically important, and a key to a breaking apart of the international coalition against Moscow – they are far from the only case where a different approach by the Kremlin could make the return of territories far less unthinkable than many now believe.

            Among the most obvious of these, of course, is returning Crimea to Ukraine from which Putin violently and illegally seized it and Abkhazia and South Ossetia which Putin used military force to detach from the Republic of Georgia. The new Russian polls should encourage those who oppose Putin’s imperialistic acts of aggression.

            Of course, as commentator Boris Kagarlitsky says, there are two things to keep in mind: First, Russians are overwhelmingly opposed to giving back land to anyone lest that trigger a process over which they would lose control. And second, the Kremlin will decide what is in its interest rather than what is in the interest of the population on this issue as on all others.

            If Russians are against giving back any territory but Putin decides it is in his interest to do so, the commentator says, then Russia will give it back; and if they shift and show a willingness to give back territories belonging to others but the Kremlin leader is opposed, then this won’t happen as long as he is in office.

            But at the same time, it certainly appears that Putin wants to generate support for what he may be about to do one way or another and it also appears that the Russian people are not nearly as committed to the existing borders of the Russian Federation as many inside that country and abroad invariably assume. 

Russians No Longer Approve Putin More than They Do Their Governors, Levada Center Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – The collapse in the approval ratings Vladimir Putin enjoys among Russians has attracted widespread attention, but one aspect of that has not – and now a Levada Center poll has highlighted what may be the most dangerous aspect of this for the Putin system: Russians no longer approve Putin more than they do their governors.

            As long as Putin’s rating was higher than other federal officials or the heads of the federal subjects, its fall was of relatively little significance. Putin might be becoming less popular, but compared to all other officials and political leaders, he still had a large lead and thus could claim a kind of comparative advantage.

Now that has changed. Today the Levada Center reported and various news outlets noted that “the level of approval for Putin has fallen to the level of that of governors” ( and

That development is all the more fateful because while Putin’s rating has fallen, the support by the Russian population for their governors has increased, a shift that means many Russians may not be more inclined to look to the heads of the federal subjects rather than to the Kremlin leader as the most effective people in the political system.

That has at least two consequences, either of which could prove very serious to the future of the Putin system.  On the one hand, at least some governors are likely to view this as providing the basis for a more aggressive stance toward the center, something that the Kremlin now has a smaller margin of error to counter.

And on the other hand, it is not beyond anyone’s imagination that some federal politician or a major regional one for that matter may decide to try to organize a regional fronde against Putin, something a few commentators have speculated about but that now has a far stronger basis than ever before.