Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Moscow Hopes Its Coronavirus Vaccine ‘New Oil’ for Russian Economy

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 23 – Ever more Russian officials are expressing the hope that the Sputnik-5 vaccine will be a major moneymaker for the country, with some now even describing it as “the new oil,” something that will help the country’s economy recover in the coming years (vz.ru/economy/2020/11/23/1072006.html and ehorussia.com/new/node/22198).

            Such hopes come as the statistics from the pandemic’s spread remain dire. For the first time ever, the Russian authorities registered more than 25,000 new cases in one day (25,173) bringing the cumulative total to 2,114,502. They also reported that there were 361 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours, upping that toll to 36,540 (t.me/COVID2019_official/2036).

            Ever more evidence is coming in that these figures significantly understate the problem.  A Mediazone study suggests that there have been 120,000 coronavirus deaths in Russia so far and the undercounts reflect efforts by both regional and central authorities to portray the situation as better than it in fact is (meduza.io/feature/2020/11/23/izbytochnaya-smertnost-v-rossii-s-nachala-pandemii-sostavila-120-tysyach-chelovek-eto-v-chetyre-raza-prevyshaet-dannye-operativnogo-shtaba-o-kolichestve-smertey-ot-kovida and zona.media/article/2020/11/23/120k).

            To the surprise of few, Mediazone says that Chechnya routinely provides some of the largest undercounts of any region (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/356803/). Other studies confirm both patterns (capost.media/news/obshchestvo/chislo-zarazivshikhsya-koronavirusom-rossiyan-mozhet-v-10-raz-prevyshat-ofitsialnoe-/ and idelreal.org/a/30960000.html).

            The pandemic continues to spread across Russia, intensifying in ever more places (regnum.ru/news/society/3116623.html and regnum.ru/news/society/3122025.html). Moscow plans to send another 80 billion rubles (1.1 billion US dollars) to the regional governments and has asked them to follow Moscow city’s approach (regnum.ru/news/3122961.html and regnum.ru/news/3122791.html).

            Perhaps indicative of where things are headed was a call by consumer affairs chief Anna Popova to make all recommendations on how to respond to the pandemic legally required especially in the economic sector (regnum.ru/news/3122868.html). Officials said they hope the vaccine will limit the need for that (regnum.ru/news/3122489.html).

            On the economic front, business groups say that government anti-pandemic efforts are already undermining any possibility for the recovery of small businesses (regnum.ru/news/3122667.html). Another depressing factor is that many spheres in which people have shifted to online purchases aren’t going to return to bricks and mortar stores (regnum.ru/news/3122626.html).

            The pandemic has also affected popular attitudes, leading to a sense of economic fatalism, experts say, especially because of the spread of unemployment that few see a way out of (finanz.ru/novosti/lichnyye-finansy/rossiyane-massovo-zakryvayut-vklady-v-bankakh-ottok-prevysil-trillion-rubley-1029830571, krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/81857 and  regnum.ru/news/3122639.html).

            Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related developments in Russia today,

·         Every fifth Russian favors replacing the word “lockdown” with the word “isolation” (regnum.ru/news/3122437.html).

·         Cybercrime has increased by 20 to 25 percent since the start of the pandemic, computer expert Yevgeny Kaspersky says (regnum.ru/news/3122163.html).

·         Infected senior officials are getting  far more rapid and better treatment than ordinary Russians (versia.ru/chinovniki-lechatsya-ot-koronavirusa-ne-tak-kak-prostye-grazhdane).

·         Russian officials have sent in doctors to an Evenk town that decided to isolate itself from the world (nazaccent.ru/content/34549-v-zakrytoe-na-karantin-evenkijskoe-selo.html).

·         Half of the monks in the Valaam monastery are now infected with the coronavirus (ahilla.ru/polovina-bratii-valaamskogo-monastyrya-bolna-kovidom/).

Environmentalist Actions Not Always Innocent, Threaten Russian Economy, and Must be Countered, Moscow Officials Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 22 – Everyone wants to breathe clean air and drink clean water and to have an environment which can be enjoyed, but that does not mean that all those who organize protests against economic developments that appear to threaten those outcomes are doing so innocently, Natalya Varsegova says.

            Instead, many of these protests are organized by ecological groups financed from abroad and thus influenced by their Western funders and represent a new form of attack on the Russian economy, one that is all the more effective because few Russians see it as the threat that it is, the investigative journalist says (kp.ru/daily/21712089/4324787/).

            But it is not just the protests themselves that are the problem, Varsegova says. She quotes Yevgeny Minchenko of Minchenko Consulting as saying that a far larger problem is that these foreign activists often blow a problem out of proportion and thus lead ever more Russians to be suspicious about development as such. 

            Since 2012, the journalist reports, the Russian justice ministry has put 29 environmental groups on its list of foreign agents. “This means that they are financed from abroad.” Not all of them all of the time are working against Russian interests, but “as specialists note, in recent time, it is precisely ‘pseudo-ecological organizations’ sponsored by the West” that are a problem.

            They have discovered that innocent-appearing environmental activism is the perfect way to “put pressure on our industry and state institutions.” That is obvious from the places where they have devoted the most attention – in areas Moscow cares most about – and the fact that their counterparts in the West don’t complain about equivalent developments in Western countries.

            But that is only one part of the problem Russian officials and Russian society face from environmental protests, Varsegova says. Sometimes, one group of business interests inside Russia backs environmental activism to give it a comparative advantage over its competitors regardless of what that means for the Russian economy as a whole.

            Nikolay Nikolayev, chairman of the Duma committee on natural resources, argues that what Russia needs now are a series of steps to protect Russia from what he calls “ecological extremism.”

            According to the Duma deputy, “the country needs a law on environmental information because the first problem which ‘eco-terrorists’ use is the lack of information.” The government and businesses need to provide more information to the population not only about what they want to do but also about those who oppose them.

            Had those in charge devoted more attention to such efforts, Nikolayev says, those who want to use environmental protests against the interests of the country would face greater difficulties. “The misuse of the right to ecological protest carries with it no small threat to the national economy,” he continues.

            As a result, “the deeper the decline of business activity on the basis of the coronavirus pandemic, the higher the price out country will have to pay for inaction” in this regard. Unemployment is going up at least in part because of “ecological terrorism.” The government is still inactive on this front, and that needs to change, the Duma deputy says.

            What this article and these comments likely mean, of course, is that the Kremlin is going to use the pandemic in yet another way, not just as a plausible explanation for its own failings on healthcare but also as the occasion for cracking down on a form of activism that has become increasingly important beyond the ring road.

Young Russians Increasingly More Pessimistic about Future than Their Elders, Goncharov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 22 – A yawning divide is opening up between young people in Russia and their elders, with the latter more negative about the current regime and more pessimistic about the future and the older still supportive of Vladimir Putin and more optimistic or at least less pessimistic about where things are going, Stepan Goncharov says.

            That pattern, the Levada Center sociologist says, reflects both the very different experiences of the two generations and the inability of the Putin government to find a common language with the rising generation and as such constitutes in itself a threat to the stability of the regime (ridl.io/ru/ozhidanija-ot-budushhego-vzgljady-optimistov-i-pessimistov/).

            When people expect their future situation to improve, they are less likely to be upset with the way things are; and conversely, Goncharov says, when they do not have great expectations for the future, they are more likely to be angry about current conditions and more negative about those currently in power.

            Another aspect of this situation is that the attitudes and expectations of the older generation have remained remarkably stable and thus the overall increase in negative attitudes and pessimistic expectations primarily reflects shifts in the younger generation, which is more mobile in its views and thus is even more negative than the country as a whole.

            For the last decade, the sociologist continues, the Levada Center has been tracking these generational differences. Over the last three years, Russians aged 25 to 39 have become “increasingly dissatisfied with what is taking place” in their country. In fact, among people in that age group, the share of those who think the country is on the wrong track has increased.

            Older people have not changed their views of the Russian leadership now because they have not changed their assessment of the future, but younger people have become increasingly negative about the Putin regime as they have become increasingly pessimistic about their own future and that of the country.

            This constitutes a major change in the pattern of social attitudes, Goncharov argue. For most of Putin’s time in power, his popularity and support were “almost evenly distributed across all groups in the population. Consequently, populist methods addressing that majority were typically effective.”

            Now, however, “we are beginning to take note of important demographic differences when it comes to thinking about the future,” with young people increasingly negative about both the future and the present and with the regime increasingly incapable of connecting with them to do anything about their feelings on either.

 

Video of ‘Ryazan on Mars’ Only Highlights Problems of Ryazan Here on Earth, Degtyanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 22 – A new video featuring an imagined Ryazan outpost on Mars has provoked a very different and far more negative response than those who produced it hoped for, raising questions not only about what the real future holds but also about Moscow’s extensive rather than intensive approach to development, Andrey Degtyanov says.

            Instead of inspiring residents of Ryazan to imagine themselves in such a “cosmic” future, the regionalist says, images of future residents of Mars decorated with Ryazan motifs only highlights the fact that Moscow may keep the trappings of regions but is prepared to let current ones die and replace them with something that only appears similar.

            As a result, Degtyanov says, the video clip, which has been viewed by more than two million people and praised by Roskosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin, has only highlighted the problems residents of the region near Moscow now face and the near certainty that the center will do nothing to address them (region.expert/cosmoryazan/).

            And consequently, this film designed to inspire is infuriating them, yet another case like the film “The Man from Fifth Avenue” which was supposed to have Soviet citizens focus on the travails of a street person in New York but instead had them looking at the full windows in that American city at a time when shelves in stores in the USSR were empty.

            The robots shown in the new video are beautifully done and feature various Ryazan-related motifs, and the imagery of the Mars landscape looks almost exactly like much of the territory in and around Ryazan. But this positive image of the future stands in “diametric opposition” to the reality of the present-day federal subject.

            “The rural backwoods in the region is rapidly dying out. Over the last 30 years, the population in some villages has fallen to zero. Almost have of the residents of the oblast (more than a half million out of 1.1 million) now live in Ryazan itself, which has already swallowed up neighboring settlements,” Degtyanov says.

            And the oblast center has not become the final goal of those moving out of the villages but only a stepping stone to their moving out of the region altogether to big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg or even beyond the current borders of the Russian Federation. Ryazan as a reality is being allowed to die, and Moscow is quite ready to replace it with something else.

            That is the unintended message of the video clip, the regionalist writer says. If one Ryazan is dying, there is no need to try to save it, the authorities are suggesting. Instead, it should simply be replaced with another one, perhaps with a few reminders of the past but without the continuity community requires.

            Russians beyond the ring road have long felt that this is Moscow’s modus operandi, absorb and use up a region and then move on to another rather than developing the region for the benefit of its people and the country as a whole. Moscow’s destruction of democratic institutions at the regional level limits their ability to resist that approach.

            But it does nothing, Degtyanov suggests, to limit their anger. And efforts to prettify the situation as with this unfortunate video clip will only exacerbate that still further. 

 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Nagorno-Karabakh Now a Russian Protectorate, Belov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 22 – Since Hitler dismembered Czechoslovakia and created the protectorates of Bohemia and Morava, most people have not wanted to use the term even when it obviously applies as now in Karabakh where Putin has established a Russian protectorate in all but name, Aleksey Belov says.

            “From now on,” the Russian commentator writes, “a Russian protectorate has been established de facto,” even if people don’t want to use the term because of its associations with Hitler’s machinations. “But one shouldn’t fear words,” especially when particular ones reflect “the essence of what has happened” (alternatio.org/articles/articles/item/85988-protektorat-artsah).

            Russia had protectorates in the past in Poland, Georgia and the Kazakh khanate; and “even a passing glance at recent events does not leave any doubts that history is in essence repeating itself, only instead of Greater Persia, we are dealing with its remnant in the shape of Azerbaijan.” In fact, Moscow obtained as much now as it did in 2008 against Georgia.

            Russian forces have returned to the area and not just for five years, the term of the agreement, but quite likely forever because no one seriously believes that the conflicts between Armenians and Azerbaijanis will miraculously be solved in the next 60 months. Only an outside power can keep things under control.

            According to Belov, “the dislocation of Russian peacekeepers in Artsakh and of Russian border guards along and what is the most important thing at the entrance and exits of the Lachin and Nakhichivan corridors changes in a cardinal way the entire arrangement of forces in the region.”

            First of all, the Turks have been kept at arms’ length. They are in Azerbaijan but not in the disputed territory. Second, the West, “which has been dreaming of expelling from there the Russians has been forced to obvserve how Russia not only isn’t leaving but is still more strengthening its position there.

            And third, while Baku is celebrating its victory – and it did win one over Armenia, its military actions “only made possible the return of Russia to this most important region and under certain conditions the return of this region to Russia.” That is hardly the outcome the Azerbaijanis thought they were going to obtain.

            “As for those residents of Artsakh and those Armenians who now in Yerevan and other cities of Armenia who view the agreements signed as nothing other than a capitulation,” Belov says, they should not be so emotional or so quick in their assessment of what has happened because in reality, things are pointing in a different direction.

            What most Armenians in Artsakh have accepted and what many Armenians in Armenia do or will as well is that “Armenia can survive only in a close union with Russia … Stepanakert de facto has already gone along this path. It is time for Yerevan to take a strategic decision” of the same kind.

            Having established a Russian protectorate in Artsakh, Belov concludes, will only help them to reach that conclusion.

Putin Puts His Entirely Statist Understanding of Self-Determination on Display

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 22 – In a discussion of the November 10 declaration, Vladimir Putin said that “the Armenian side did not recognize the independence and sovereignty of Nagorno-Karabakh and this means that from the point of view of international law, Karabakh and the territories adjoining it are part of Azerbaijan” (lenta.ru/news/2020/11/22/nkr/).

            Casting the issue in this way has three important consequences. First, it means that the joint statement of the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation began with an acceptance that the borders that existed among the two Caucasus republics were unchanged and that Azerbaijani sovereignty continues right up to those borders.

            Second, it suggests that had Armenia recognized the independence and sovereignty of Nagorno-Karabakh, the situation would have been very different at least in Putin’s mind because then the status of that territory would remain a matter of dispute because two existing states would be asserting a claim of the existence of sovereignty on the same territory.

            And third, arising from this, it shows that the Kremlin leader’s understanding of the principle of national self-determination is very much at odds with the theory and practice of international law because he reduces such a right, inherent in peoples, to the actions of existing states. If states recognize self-determination, it exists; if they don’t, it doesn’t.

            That position allows Putin to make the claims he has to Ukraine’s Crimea, but what it demonstrates if indeed any demonstration were needed is that for Putin, the rights of peoples are irrelevant and the powers of states are paramount, with the former only in a position to make a claim if a state backs them.

            In Putin’s world, few peoples would ever be able to assert a right to self-determination unless they could attract at least one state and probably the state within whose borders they found themselves to support them, reducing a fundamental right to a contingency on the policies of states who may in fact be their oppressors.

Conspiracy Thinking which Shaped Russian Views about Trump Came from US, Makarkin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 22 – Widespread Russian acceptance of the notion that an elite conspiracy blocked Donald Trump from achieving a rapprochement with Russia and winning re-election is the result of the fact that conspiracy theorists from the US have developed a remarkable following among Russians, Aleksey Makarkin says.

            The collapse of the USSR and the CPSU left “an ideological vacuum” in the minds of many Russians who wanted something to explain what had happened and what was now going on, the Moscow commentator says (t.me/BuninCo/2606 reposted at  kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FBA6B8DC5842).

            In Soviet times, Russians had already become accustomed to the idea that behind official formulas like internationalism stood everyday  xenophobia and behind official atheism various religious or quasi-religious ideas among the population.  They were thus ready to believe that what they saw was the product of a hidden hand.

            And “after the fall of the Iron Curtain,” and lacking ideological frameworks of their own, many of them borrowed from the works of extreme right authors in the West, viewing them as useful guides to the new world in which they found themselves.  And they used them to judge not only their own situation but that of outsiders in the West like Trump.

            According to Makarkin, “Russia became one of the centers for the spread of American conspiratorial thinking,” with the words of US writers like Ralph Epperson and Anthony Sutton widely translated and published in Russia  and regularly “surprised by the large print runs of their books in Russia.”

            Russians who had only recently ceased to be communists “learned to see world evil in the Bilderberg Club and the Trilateral Commission.” They accepted American conspiracy theories about the US Federal Reserve. “And “creationism and the anti-abortion movement in Russia were founded on the arguments of conservative religious groups from the same US sources.”

            “In this way,” the commentator says, “the Russian anti-Western worldview became closely linked with Western critics of the mainstream. And Trump was viewed by those who shared that view as ‘their own,’ even if at a rational level, Russians could see that his presidency didn’t bring Russia any specific benefits.”

            For Russians who accepted US conspiracy theories, Trump “wanted to make peace” with Russia, “but the local elite and bureaucracy got in the way.”  According to Makarkin, “this is not far from the truth.” And this vision of Trump was reinforced for many Russians by the fact that the state media didn’t attack him or the US conspiracy theories behind this view.

Some Pandemic Chemical Cleaners Now Banned Because Russians are Drinking Them for the Alcohol They Contain

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 22 – One of the saddest pandemic stories to come out of Russia in recent days is that officials are now being forced to ban the sale of chemical cleaners intended to guard against the spread of the coronavirus because Russians are drinking them for the alcohol they contain.

            Not only are some beginning to die from doing so, but the ban on these cleaners means the pandemic is likely to spread further, infecting and leading to the death of others (14.rospotrebnadzor.ru/news/-/asset_publisher/mk9O/content/ постановление-главного-государственного-санитарного-врача-по-республике-саха-якутия-от-21-11-2020-года-о-снятии-с-реализации-антисептических-средств).

            The current tolls are bad enough. Today, Russian officials reported registering 24,851 new cases of infection and 401 new deaths, upping those figures for the pandemic as a whole to 2,089,329 and 36,179 respectively (t.me/COVID2019_official/2031). The pandemic is intensifying almost everywhere across Russia (regnum.ru/news/society/3116623.html).

            Officials promised to set a price soon for the Sputnik-5 vaccine but promised that it would be lower than any Western alternative (regnum.ru/news/3121817.html and regnum.ru/news/3121848.html). Vladimir Putin continued to boost the Russian vaccine both to increase sales abroad and to get more Russians to take it (ura.news/articles/1036281495).

            In his online remarks to the G-20 meeting, the Kremlin leader said that despite some improvement in the state of the pandemic, the risk remains that it will lead to “so-called stagnation unemployment, a growth in poverty and social unrest” (znak.com/2020-11-21/putin_nazval_zastoynuyu_massovuyu_bezraboticu_glavnym_riskom_pandemii_covid_19).

            One especially worrisome sign is that small businesses in Russia are being forced to shut down because their owner-managers have contracted the virus and cannot continue to lead them (regnum.ru/news/3121746.html).

            Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related developments in Russia today,

·         One financial analyst said that Moscow would be cutting healthcare spending next year by 40 percent, and a left-wing politician called for bringing criminal charges against those behind this “optimization” of the healthcare system (echo.msk.ru/blog/udaltsov/2746018-echo/ and ura.news/news/1052459663).

·         Covid dissidence or better pandemic dissidence has a long history in Russia and should not be viewed as something new (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FB823F48D692).

·         Analysts are warning officials  that they must not only balance health concerns and economic ones but also success in fighting the coronavirus with and the danger of negative psychological developments in the population (svpressa.ru/society/article/282317/).

Kremlin Rebuilding Empire Not Republic by Republic but in Pieces of Them, Gorevoy Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 21 – Moscow has suffered defeat after defeat in attracting whole non-Russian republics to its side in recent times, Ruslan Gorevoy says; but it has been making gains in another way, by maintaining and even expanding its influence in parts of them and thus ultimately in the wholes.

            Those who focus on the former often think that Moscow’s imperial project has failed or at least is failing, the Versiya commentator says; but those who consider Transdniestria, Gagauzia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Karabakh reach an entirely different conclusion (versia.ru/prisoedinit-byvshie-respubliki-sssr-ne-vyshlo-teper-ix-budut-rubit-po-kusochku).

            “Do you understand what is going on?” Gorevoy asks rhetorically. “Russia hasn’t been able to attract the former Soviet republics into unions with itself, but it has simply found a common language with their remnants! ‘You have lost Armenia!’ Armenian nationalists scold Moscow. Armenia, perhaps, but not Karabakh!”

            It is important to recognize this in order to understand what the direction of Moscow’s policies is likely to be in the future and at the same time why the Russian foreign ministry is becoming ever less important in relations between Moscow and the former republics in comparison to the Presidential Administration, the defense ministry and the FSB.

            For example, Gorevoy says,  in January, there will be parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan. The Kazakhs say there won’t be any maidan. That may be true for the country as a whole, but such a development cannot be excluded in the predominantly Russian north, something the Russian foreign ministry may not promote but that others can.

            And now that a pro-NATO candidate has become Moldovan president, it is clearly time to focus again on Gagauzia, something the foreign ministry won’t do but that others from Moscow certainly can – and with expectations that they will pick up the pieces that Sergey Lavrov and his team have lost.

            Moreover, the commentator continues, this recognition of the relative effectiveness of the foreign ministry and the siloviki is leading to changes in Moscow’s approach far beyond the borders of the former Soviet space. The foreign ministry is now “completely excluded” from Moscow’s dealings with the former republics and is losing its clout elsewhere.

            The Russian foreign ministry hasn’t brought Moscow any successes in the region over the last 30 years. Instead, it has suffered “systemic failures from Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova to the Trans-Caucasus and Central Asia. But if one looks at the situation from a different perspective, Moscow has won when it has used different instruments.

            “Now, what is more important for us is not Yerevan or Chisinau, not Kyiv or Nur-Sultan but Stepanakert and Komrat, not to speak of Tiraspol, Donets and Luhansk, Odessa and Kharkhiv, Kustanay, Kokchetav and Aktyubinsk.”  And not surprisingly, give all this, there is now talk that Lavrov will be replaced by former SVR head Sergey Naryshkin.

            At the very least, Gorevoy says, there is likely to be a shakeup within the foreign ministry with its current senior leaders losing out to a much expanded and more active security department that will cooperate with the defense ministry, the intelligence community and the siloviki more closely, especially in the former Soviet space.

 

If Russian Peacekeepers Leave, Russians Will Flee Transdniestria, Strelkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 21 – Incoming Moldovan president Maia Sandu has called for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Transdniestria, but Igor Strelkov, the former Donetsk defense minister has warned that if Moscow pulls them, ethnic Russians will flee and there will be “no chance” to keep the region within a Russian orbit.

            Ethnic Russians would leave, Strelkov says, because they know that in the absence of Russian peacekeepers, Chisinau forces would be able to retake the breakaway region in two days and any remaining Russians would have to live by Moldovan rather than Russian rules of the game (ura.news/news/1052459646).

            And the departure of these ethnic Russians would have broader consequences, he argues. It would open the way to a possible Moldovan union with Romania and either as a result of that or directly mean that the borders of NATO would move ever closer to the borders of the Russian Federation.

            Strelkov, of course, is a radical on such questions. But his words are important for two reasons. On the one hand, they are a confirmation of something Moscow regularly denies – namely that the breakaway portion of Moldova exists and has survived so long only because of Russian troops.

            And on the other, Strelkov’s warnings are likely to lead ever more officials in Putin’s Moscow to dig in and refuse to consider any draw down in Russian forces there or perhaps elsewhere in breakaway regions around the former Soviet space. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Is Mission Creep Beginning with Russian Forces in Karabakh Area?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 21 – The November 10 declaration that led to the ceasefire between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces and the deployment of Russian peacekeepers left many issues unresolved, opening the way not only for new disputes between the parties but also by mission creep on the part of Russian forces in the region.

            Today, Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of Russia’s FSB, said that his agency’s border service was training additional forces for the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan (tass.ru/armiya-i-opk/10061055 and ritmeurasia.org/news--2020-11-21--pogranichniki-rossii-vvedut-dopolnitelnye-sily-na-granice-armenii-i-azerbajdzhana-51996).

            The FSB director said that “in correspondence with the decisions  taken to provide border security for the Republic of Azerbaijan, to support peace in Nagorno-Karabakh and at the request of the Armenian side [stress supplied], the FSB border administration in the Republic of Army has been given an additional reserve of 188 military personnel and a necessary amount of equipment.”

            “The border guards will develop additional forces on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan at posts organized in the Tekh and Syrgyt population points,” Portnikov says. He noted that “the Azerbaijan side had been informed about this move and that necessary interaction with the partners had been organized.”

            The FSB director adds that he has reported to Putin that “no sharp issues between the border forces of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia are arising.” That has been the case because of what he described as “the constant exchange of information” among representatives of all three countries’ border services.

            This case may be entirely reasonable and legitimate, but it is a move being taken on the basis of an agreement between two of the three parties to the Moscow declaration not all three and it expands the Russian footprint in the area while continuing to invoke the November 10 declaration as the basis for its actions.

            What remains to be seen, however, is whether this is a one-time action drive by immediate needs or a Russian tactic designed to justify an expansion of Moscow’s mission in the disputed areas and to create facts on the ground that one or the other or both of the other countries may not be able to challenge.

           

             

 

Putin’s Demolition of Rospechat Doesn’t Bode Well for Russian Book World, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 21 – Yesterday, Vladimir Putin issued a decree abolishing Rospechat and Rossvyaz and folding their responsibilities into the digital development ministry (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/64445), a move many in the book world say doesn’t bode well because Rospechat officials read books and cared about the book trade.

            Rospechat was created in 2004 in place of the disbanded Russian ministry for the print media, TV and radio, and mass communications. It has never been a censor but instead has involved itself with protecting book publishers and promoting Russian books at home and abroad.

            The MBK news agency asked three Russians involved in the book business – Konstantin Milchin, chef editor of Storytel, Boris Kupriyanov, one of the creators of the Falanster bookstore, and Mikhail Kotomin, editor in chief at the Ad Marginem publishing house – for their reactions to Putin’s move (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/rospechat-bye/).

            Milchin says that Rospechat did not do everything people in the book trade wanted, but its officials did promote books. Equally important, they avoided becoming censors or restricting book publishing. The positive in that regard is obvious if one compares what Rospechat did with books with what the culture ministry has done in films.

            At a time when the Kremlin is tightening the screws ever more in ever more places, he continues, “the book industry has remained a little island of non-interference.” That is no small thing, and there is a risk that the new bureaucratic lash up will not adopt a similar approach in the future.

            Kupriyanov says that most people are quick to criticize officialdom; but he insists that if Rospechat had not existed, “the situation would have been significantly worse.” Its officials have been peole “who read books, love them, and publish them” and have taken the lead in getting Russia into the international book exhibition network.

            Obviously, with the pandemic and budgetary stringency, such agencies were going to be cut and combined, he acknowledges. One can only hope that the values which have informed Rospechat over the last 15 years will continue to inform the Russian government in dealing with the hard-pressed book sector.

            But Kotomin says that he was not especially troubled by the change given that as an independent publisher, he has had little contact with Rospechat and because in his view that structure has long ceased to be a spokesman for the industry in the halls of power. Consequently, it is possible that any change will be an improvement.

            At the same time, he continues, he would have putting book publishing under the culture ministry as libraries are, given that both the one and the other are part of the Gutenberg universe.  But he adds that “the main problem is that the powers do not know what to do with book affairs and periodically forget about them.”

            Those in power aren’t reading books on a daily basis, and as a result, those who lobby the interests of book publishing and distribution face an increasingly steep uphill battle.

Putin has Forgotten Bismarck’s Warning about What a Revolution Needs to Succeed, Dmitry Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 21 – Over the last 20 years, Vladimir Putin has pursued a repressive agenda designed to eliminate all checks and balances within the Russian political system and thus give himself unlimited power, Dmitry Gudkov says. That approach might have worked if conditions in Russia were improving, but they aren’t and so it won’t.

            “If roads were being built, wages and salaries were growing, healthcare was developing and the country were moving toward a happy and beautiful future,” the opposition politician says, Putin’s strategy might have worked for him for a long time. But instead, the Kremlin leader has thrown everything he has against “an imagined revolution.”

            That is because Russia today is not governed by “an enlightened monarchy but by a mummified autocracy, which instead of promoting a better future is imposing on us the worst from the past” and because Putin has forgotten Bismarck’s observation about what a revolution needs to succeed (newsru.com/blog/21nov2020/printer.html).

            Germany’s “Iron chancellor” famously observed that “the strength of revolutionaries is not in the ideas of their leaders but in their promises to satisfy at least a small part of the moderate demands which aren’t being med by the existing powers that be.” The less the current powers are doing in that regard, the less the opposition needs to promise.

            And the more the incumbent regime redirects resources away from the population toward its coercive defenders, the more rapidly that trend will develop and work against those now in power. That is something that Putin clearly doesn’t understand or has forgotten, and it is also something that should encourage and guide the opposition. 

Armenia a Failed State Only Russia Can Save But Doesn’t Now Want To, Amelina Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 21 – Armenia’s losses in the recent war with Azerbaijan highlight for Armenians an unpleasant truth: their country is “a failed state,” Yana Amelina says. Moreover, it is one that has no chance for survival except in the closest possible union with Russia, something that at present Moscow is currently inclined against.

            If Armenia is to survive, the Russian specialist on the Caucasus says, it needs a union with Russia in which it would have to give up part of its sovereignty in order to get the assistance it needs to address its most pressing problems, including the imminent arrival of tens of thousands of refugees (kavkazgeoclub.ru/content/spasti-armeniyu-mozhet-tolko-rossiya).

            But the question is, she says, “does Moscow need this?” At present, “the answer is obvious, more no than yes. But political arrangements as before are defined by historical ties and Christian unity and it is there that the last hope of Yerevan lies.” It certainly helps to explain why Armenians have looked to Moscow in the past.

            Amelina reviews polls in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh over the last several years to reach this conclusion, but she says that Armenians in both places have failed to articulate the kind of national idea on which an integral nation state could be built and have thought they could pursue a multi-vectorial foreign policy despite the key position Russia occupies.

            As a result, she suggests, Armenia is less attractive to Russia as even a tightly linked ally than many in Armenia are inclined to assume. And unless that changes, she suggests, Moscow will continue to avoid taking steps toward a closer set of relations that are required if Armenia is to survive.

            Three things make these remarks intriguing – their timing, their tone, and their dismissive attitude toward Armenia. Amelina has consistently backed Moscow’s desire to expand its influence in the Caucasus. For her to say this just now and in this way suggests that many in Moscow are fed up not just with Nikol Pashinyan but with Armenia as such.

            If many around the Kremlin feel as she does, Armenia faces a very difficult future. Russia is no longer the ally it thought it was and won’t be again unless Armenia makes concessions to Russia that may be just as humiliating as those Yerevan  had to make to get a ceasefire.

            And in the absence of a Russian ally, it is not clear who else might step in. France and the US may be rhetorically in Yerevan’s corner for domestic reasons but they are unlikely to do anything on the ground as it were that would significantly help Yerevan. Iran might but would be opposed by others. And China is very far away and has interests that point in another direction.

           

 

New Year’s Likely to Be Super-Spreader Event as Muscovites Travel to Places without Restrictions

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 21 – The city of Moscow’s decision to shut down restaurants and bars on New Year’s night in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus is leading ever more Muscovites to plan to travel outside the city where such bans are not in place. As a result, a measure designed to limit the pandemic may spread it (kommersant.ru/doc/4582714).

            On the one hand, already infected Muscovites may bring the disease to new places; and on the other such socialization may mean that they will contract it from infected people in the regions and bring it back to the capital, putting yet more pressure on the city and highlighting the consequences of not having a single policy for the entire country.

            The pandemic numbers today were especially grim with the authorities reporting the registration of a new high in the number of infected (24,822) and the number of deaths (467) for Russia as a whole (versia.ru/v-rossii-vyyavili-24822-novyx-sluchaya-koronavirusa-i-zafiksirovali-467-smertej and  https://novayagazeta.ru/news/2020/11/21/165885-v-rossii-za-poslednie-sutki-vyyavili-24822-novyh-sluchaya-covid-19-eto-maksimum-za-pandemiyu).

            Moscow and St. Petersburg also set infection records as did many of the republics in the North Caucasus (rbc.ru/society/21/11/2020/5fb8c79a9a79471b05102639 and kavkazr.com/a/30961715.html). Medical experts predicted the numbers will continue to rise for at least another month (regnum.ru/news/3121428.html).

            Most places around the country continued to report increases, although not all set records (regnum.ru/news/society/3116623.html, regnum.ru/news/3121520.html and  echo.msk.ru/news/2745482-echo.html).

            One 1300-person town in the north of Krasnoyarsk Kray, Chumikan, took the remarkable step of isolating itself from the rest of the country, banning any departures or entrances, in the hopes of getting the pandemic under control (kp.ru/daily/21712090.5/4325737/).

            Russians did get some good news from the medical community: Experts said that those who recover from the coronavirus are unlikely to be reinfected unless they suffer from some underlying conditions (versia.ru/immunolog-oboznachil-uslovie-dlya-povtornogo-zarazheniya-koronaviursom).

            On the economic front, the Bank of Russia said that the country’s decline in GDP was accelerating again after improving slightly in the third quarter and that this trend would likely continue until the pandemic is over (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/81840).  Banks also reported that Russians withdrew 111 billion rubles (1.6 billion US dollars) from their accounts in October (echo.msk.ru/news/2745328-echo.html).

            Meanwhile, in other pandemic-related developments in Russia today,

·         Vladimir Putin told the online G-20 summit that the pandemic was the functional equivalent of the great depression of the 1930s (regnum.ru/news/3121628.html).

·         The KPRF has proposed creating a new legal class of Russians, those who are “forcibly unemployed” as a result of the pandemic (echo.msk.ru/news/2745410-echo.html).

·         And historian Boris Yakemenko says that the wearing of masks has become among other things a reflection of the fetishizing of security, with masks now playing the role of crosses on crusader uniforms (realtribune.ru/news/people/5462).

Duma Moves to Tighten Controls on Private Gun Ownership

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 20 – In the midst of its other repressive moves, the Duma will soon take up and almost certainly pass legislation that will simultaneously make it more difficult for most Russians to own certain categories of weapons and open the way for confiscatory raids on those who already do.

            Like most countries, Russia has different requirements for the ownership of different kinds of weapons with the strictest involving those that have the longest effective range and greatest firepower and the most relaxed concerning those that have only limited range and are the least lethal.

            What the new measures will do is to extend the stricter rules to most categories of weapons thus making it impossible for Russian citizens to legally own them and thereby slow the rapid rise of gun ownership in the Russian Federation, a rise that is feeding crime and even attacks on officials.

            The changes are superficially technical, involving Lancaster bore weapons which are no longer used much elsewhere but still common in Russia (profile.ru/military/sindrom-lankastera-zachem-deputaty-xotyat-snova-uzhestochit-pravila-vladeniya-oruzhiem-432834/). But if these seem small, they will cast a large shadow.

            Russian officials are clearly worried about what some estimate are now more than 25 million guns in private hands, the rise of illegal gun manufacturing facilities, and the use of guns in the commission of crimes and even attacks on government facilities like the FSB headquarters (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/05/fsb-identifies-and-closes-down-seven.html,

windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/04/gun-sales-in-russia-down-but-russians.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/12/armed-attack-on-fsb-hq-latest-of-putins.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/12/russians-using-guns-ever-more-often-to.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/11/10-percent-of-6000-armed-crimes-in.html).

            Obviously, someone in the Kremlin or the FSB is concerned that some protesters in Russia might at some point take up the gun and wants to preclude that possibility by returning to the situation in Soviet times when few people had guns and those guns were kept in secure facilities the authorities could monitor.

            It isn’t clear that the new restrictions will do much other than give the powers that be yet another “legal” justification for moving against those they disapprove of and levelling new charges against them. But under the circumstances, that may appear to the Kremlin and the FSB as better than nothing.   

Hundreds of Abandoned Ships Rusting Away in Russia’s Rivers, Reservoirs and Coastal Waters

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 20 – Hundreds of ships abandoned by the Russian military, trading companies, and scientific research expeditions and their Soviet counterparts earlier now lie rusting away in the country’s rivers, reservoirs and coastal waters, presenting dangers not only to navigation in many places but to the environment in almost all, Yuliya Makarova says.

            Some of them are concentrated in places which have become known as “cemeteries” for ships, but a far larger number have simply been abandoned, journalist Yulia Makarova says, creating serious navigational problems as well as leaking oil and other contaminants into the water supply (profile.ru/society/kladbishha-na-vode-gde-v-rossii-lezhat-zatonuvshie-korabli-i-chto-s-nimi-delat-432299/).

            The problem is particularly acute along the coastline of the Far East. In August, Prime Minister Mishustin observed bitterly that what was supposed to be a port there was in fact “more like a ship cemetery,” one for which no one has taken responsibility because the dying ships belong to a variety of institutions and companies. 

            Yury Trutnev, presidential plenipotentiary for the Far Eastern Federal District, says that there are “more than 550” dying ships in his area alone. No one has offered a definitive figure for the Russian Federation as a whole, but people with whom Makarova has spoken say that the number may be as high as 1500.

            These vessels often are simply abandoned rather than being cleaned or processed for scrap. They have been the cause of serious shipping accidents because the authorities don’t keep track of them and so pilots of other ships sometimes collide with dead ships lying just under the waterline.

            During his visit to the Far East, Mishustin called for addressing the problem of abandoned ships and said they must be removed and concentrated in places where they won’t be a problem. (Vladimir Putin made a similar observation in 2014.) Those calls attracted attention, but they were not followed by any money and so nothing has happened.

            That sad reality has just been confirmed by an RBC investigative report (rbc.ru/business/05/11/2020/5fa134e59a7947f1ddcef3f3). Moscow demands that shipowners dispose of their ships in a safe and orderly way, but the realities of the marketplace are that it is cheaper and easier to abandon ships and pay the rare fines that might be imposed.

            Some have suggested transforming at least a few of the ship graveyards into museums or parks and then use the money from tickets to ensure that as the ships decay they do not harm the environment as much as they are doing now. But that seems more a cry of despair about yet another problem the current regime isn’t addressing than a real call for action.

            Abandoned ships are seldom the kind of problem that anyone addresses, and Makarova is to be praised for calling attention to it. Only when the ships involved were nuclear powered, as was the case of Soviet abandonment of such vessels in the Arctic in the last decades of the USSR, has the problem attracted much attention.

            At that time, Captain Aleksandr Nikitin called attention to the horrific possibilities such abandonments entail in a report for the Bellona organization and sparked international outrage although much less action than many hoped for or even demanded (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/08/moscow-finally-addressing-its-nuclear.html).