Thursday, September 24, 2020

Anti-Semitism in Russia Less than in Many European Countries, Organizer of ‘Find the Jew’ Exhibit Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – Anna Narinskaya, the curator of the exhibit ‘Find the Jew’ now on display at the Solyanka gallery in Moscow, says there is no government anti-Semitism in Russia and that even the everyday kind is less in Russia than in many European countries because there is no hostility to Israel and because there are so few Jews left in Russia.

            No Russian should deny that stereotypes about Jews continue to circulate in Russia, Narinskaya says; but they don’t all have negative consequences. One young Jewish woman she knows was even promoted because her boss believed that “your people are good with numbers” (newizv.ru/article/general/23-09-2020/vopros-dnya-suschestvuet-li-antisemitizm-v-sovremennoy-rossii).

            But she argues that the major reason for the decline in anti-Semitism in Russia as compared to anti-Semitism in Europe is not only that there are so few Jews left outside of the capitals but that “there are no total anti-Israel attitudes” of the kind widely shared by Western intellectuals and people on the left.”

            These attitudes, Narinskaya argues, simultaneously “camouflage” anti-Semitism and spread it because in the West, many on the left feel that they can say things about Israel that they would never dream of saying about Jews as such.  That isn’t the case in the Russian Federation today, she insists.

            And she concludes that “in present-day France and even in English, anti-Semitism is now greater than in present-day Russia. It is very strange for me to write that,” she says; “but that is how things are.”

            Today, the Levada Center released the results of a survey about xenophobic attitudes in Russia. It found that hostility among Russians to Jews was far lower than hostility toward and a sense of social distance from Chinese, Chechens, Africans and Ukrainians (levada.ru/2020/09/23/ksenofobiya-i-natsionalizm-2/).

Nakhodka – A Russian City Discovered by ‘America’ with a Chinatown, a Greek Church and a Chechen Mosque All Its Own

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – Vladimir Putin insists that Russian is a single stream dominated by Russian culture. That is nonsensical and offensive to the non-Russians who live within the current borders of his country, but it is also obviously absurd even to ethnic Russians who look around where they live.

            In many places, Russians who walk through the streets of the cities where they live can see just how many different ethnic, religious, and political developments came together, sometimes happily and sometimes not, and continue to shape the culture of the Russian Federation.

            But few are more obviously diverse than Nakhodka, a 150,000-strong port city on the Pacific, which was founded by an imperial Russian naval vessel named “America,” has statues of Russian imperial and Soviet leaders, features a Greek Orthodox Church, and now has a Chechen mosque.

            Such diversity is not unusual in many cities in many places, but what is intriguing, especially given Putin’s Russocentric views is that it is played up by city fathers and now by the Russian media (zen.yandex.ru/media/varandej/kitaiskii-kvartal-grecheskaia-cerkov-chechenskaia-mechet-nahodkinskie-nahodki-5f3577eeff8ddd23cadfb419).

            Many residents may pass these monuments and buildings without giving it a thought, just as many residents in Western capitals do not think about the names of the streets they are moving along. But that is exactly the point in this case: Russians are far more broadly aware and acceptant of how diverse their country has been and remains.

            And that diversity of history and diversity of current arrangements is a source of strength if only those in Moscow will allow it to be. Indeed, only when the Kremlin makes it an issue either with regard to non-Russians or to regional and historical variations among Russians does it risk becoming something else entirely.

Neither Russians Nor Belarusians Favor Belarus Becoming Part of the Russian Federation

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – Vladimir Putin may want to absorb Belarus into the Russian Federation and Alyaksandr Lukashenka may have concluded that he has no choice but to go along, but a survey of polls in the two countries show that there aren’t popular majorities in either for such an outcome.

            According to a new Superjob.ru poll, 39 percent of Russians say they’d vote for amalgamation if a referendum were held, but 24 percent say they’d vote against and 11 percent say they’d refuse to take part in such a vote (thinktanks.by/publication/2020/09/23/chislo-storonnikov-obedineniya-s-belarusyu-v-rossii-sokraschaetsya.html).

            Twenty-six percent said they found it difficult to say how they would vote. Thirty-seven percent said they were following Belarusian events closely, 32 percent said they were doing so more casually, but 31 percent of the Russians polled said they were not paying any attention to what is going on in Russia’s western neighbor.

            Earlier this year, Sergey Belanovsky reported that a survey he had conducted found that 52 percent of Russians were positively inclined toward a union of the two countries while 25 percent were opposed. If so, the new results suggest support inside Russia for combining them is declining and opposition to that move increasing.

            A Belarusian poll conducted last February found that 74.6 percent of Belarusians were against a union and believed that the two countries should be completely independent but maintain good relations with an open border (thinktanks.by/publication/2020/02/07/opros-746-protsenta-belorusov-vyskazalis-za-polnuyu-nezavisimost.html).

            That survey found that 12.8 percent backed the idea of a union state including the two, but only 3.7 percent favored Belarus being absorbed into the Russian Federation. 

Watching the Guardians: Putin Establishes Political Officer Network in Russian Guards Units

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – Some Russian commentators have expressed surprise over Vladimir Putin’s directive this week creating a network of political officers within the Russian Guard (tass.ru/armiya-i-opk/9512451) given that at present, there is no official ideology of the kind that politruks promoted in Soviet times.

            But that ignores the other function political officers had in Soviet times and apparently will have again: to monitor the political reliability of officers and men and thus serve as an additional control over a group the Kremlin must rely on. That Putin has now decided he needs that says something about his own assessment of the reliability of this inner defense structure. When Viktor Zolotov, the commander of the Russian Guard, spoke earlier this year of the possibility of creating such a structure, he implicitly alluded to this function when he suggested the political officers would work to ensure the “moral and psychological” readiness of these forces and ensure obedience (tass.ru/obschestvo/7945935).

            Putin re-introduced politruks into the Russian army in the summer of 2018, and his decision to extend that arrangement into the Russian Guard simply closes a circle. But because the Russian Guard combines police and national defense operations, many in Russia are concerned about this, Sergey Aksyonov says (svpressa.ru/society/article/276620/).

            The Svobodnaya Pressa commentator spoke with four experts about the possible meaning of the introduction of politruks in the Russian Guards:

·         Mikhail Pashkin, head of the Police and Russian Guards Interregional Labor Union, notes that in Soviet times, the politruks were subordinate to the CPSU rather than to the officer corps. How Moscow might duplicate that is hard to imagine. There is a risk that Chernomyrdin’s observation about attempts and achievements will again prove true.

·         Dmitry Agranovsky, a lawyer and rights activist, says that he hopes that the new politruks will not engage in witch hunts but promote an understanding about the Russian Guards that in defending the state, they must also respect the rights and freedoms of Russians as specified in the Constitution.

·         Aleksandr Zhilin, head of the Moscow Center for the Study of Social Problems of National Security, says that the politruks in the Russian Guard can help the Kremlin avoid the emergence of a situation like that in Belarus.  But there are nonetheless many questions that Putin’s decree doesn’t answer.

·         And rights activist Igor Kalyapin says that the new politruks will play an important role if they promote an understanding of the laws of the Russian Federation among the Russian Guards, many of whom seem to be lacking in that regard at the present time.

 

More than One Russian in Five hasn’t Gone Online in Last Month, Mediascope Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – According to a new Mediascope survey, 22 percent of Russians over the age of 12 have not gone online in the past 30 days, either because they have never learned how to use the Internet or because rising poverty has put the cost of connections beyond their reach.

            More than 80 percent of these are over 55, who did not acquire Internet skills earlier or who can no longer afford to maintain a connection. But experts tell RBC that the share of elderly Russians going online is rising fast as more of them work and as the Internet features special programs for them (rbc.ru/technology_and_media/23/09/2020/5f69e8209a794751dd22b98d).

            Mediascope experts say that the Internet prevented the Russian economy from collapsing during the pandemic – without it, many sectors would simply have stopped functioning altogether -- and that 30 percent of employees will continue to work at home via the Internet in the future (business-gazeta.ru/article/481790).

            But if the Internet is playing a positive role in the Russian economy, it is having political consequences that the Kremlin doesn’t like. As a result, the ministry for digital development and mass communications has prepared amendments to the information technology law that will give the government far greater powers over it (regulation.gov.ru/projects#npa=108513).

            Specifically, it bans the use of anonymizers on computers based in Russia and allows the authorities to move more quickly to shut down sites without the need for a court order. Not surprisingly, the proposal has sparked outrage among many who routinely surf the web (forklog.com/v-rf-hotyat-zapretit-skryvat-imena-sajtov-eksperty-nazvali-zakonoproekt-strannym/).

            Critics say the government risks killing the goose that laid the golden egg. If its actions drive more Russians offline, that will reduce the ability of the authorities to organize distance learning during the pandemic and of businesses to continue to function safely. And they suggest there are longer term consequences as well.

            If using the Internet comes to be viewed as overly political, many Russians will either become radicalized against the government or, if they follow the party line, they will fall further and further behind people in other countries where the use of the Internet is generally broadly encouraged. 

 

Attacks on ‘Falsifiers of History’ Now Likely to Be Even More Counterproductive than Those on ‘Bourgeois Falsifiers’ were in Soviet Times

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – In the last decades of Soviet power, one of the most interesting professions and also the most counter-productive as far as the communist regime was concerned was the cadres of commentators who specialized in attacking what they called “bourgeois falsifiers” of Soviet history.

            Such people had access to many publications that ordinary Soviet citizens did not. Otherwise they could not do their jobs. And in order to make their case, they had to report some of what these enemies of the USSR said in order to make their arguments at all plausible, especially to Soviet citizens accustomed to reading between the lines.

            Now, with the new field of attacking “falsifiers of Russian history” becoming more prominent in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, those taking part in it and the Russian state financing them are likely to find these activities even more counter-productive than was the Soviet effort for two reasons.

            On the one hand, the last 30 years have generated so much reporting on even the most obscure aspects of the Russian past that those attacking Western treatment of it are likely to find that their audiences know many of the things that the Kremlin wants them to view as wrong and Russophobic.

            And on the other, access to the Internet means that ordinary Russians as well as historians and other specialists can immediately gain access not only to the article or book being attacked but to others covering the same subjects – and they can use various online translation tools to read these sources even if they do not know the languages.

            Consequently, the Kremlin is likely to find that the attacks it wants made against Western and even Russian “falsifiers of history” are going to blow up in its face, with Russians becoming more aware of what the real facts of the case are rather than the versions of reality that the powers that be prefer.

            Indeed, the only way that such attacks can be useful to the regime is the signal they send to its propagandists of various kinds as to what those in power think – and even that “contribution” is not likely to be as unalloyed as the Kremlin wants because the propagandists too will have the same possibilities that other Russians do to check things out.

            These reflections are prompted by a new article in this genre by Pavel Martynov, a Nakanune news agency commentator, about a report by Radio Liberty’s SibReal portal concerning terror during the Russian civil war (nakanune.ru/articles/116383/).

            The Radio Liberty article, he says and thoughtfully gives his readers a hypertext link to it (sibreal.org/a/30779935.html), discusses the anti-Bolshevik peasant risings in Western Siberia in 1920 but misattributes cases of terror to the Reds rather than the Whites and blames Bolshevik policies for problems the Whites created. 

            Specifically, Martynov says, the SibReal article featured a picture of the victims of terror that did not come from the place where the peasant uprisings took place and that shows Whites not Reds inflicting it. It is not unlikely that this is the case, given the complicated history of Siberia and the Russian Far East during and after the civil war.

            But anyone reading Martynov’s expose will nonetheless learn something important that is hardly in the interests of the Kremlin for them to learn: the people of Siberia and the Russian Far East rose against the Bolsheviks (as well as the Whites), a tradition that the residents of Khabarovsk are maintaining to this day. 

 

Petersburg Officials Lift Restrictions on Conferences but Not on Protests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – Officials in the Northern Capital have lifted all coronavirus restrictions on conferences of various kinds but kept them in place on protests and even individual pickets, the clearest example yet of the ways in which the powers that be in Russia are using the pandemic to restrict freedom (fontanka.ru/2020/09/23/69478531/).

            Newly registered coronavirus infections rose to the highest level since July 13, with 6431 cases registered, bringing the cumulative total to 1,122,241, and newly registered deaths rising to 150, boosting that toll to 19,799 rbc.ru/society/23/09/2020/5f6afa6c9a7947bfe08a21a2 and https://t.me/stopcoronavirusrussia/2106).

Among the new dead total was Vakha Agayev, a KPRF Duma deputy (regnum.ru/news/3071989.html).

Despite these numbers, officials continued to insist that the pandemic is not acquiring “a systemic character” and that they have things under control both territorially and by sectors of the economy and society (regnum.ru/news/3071193.html). But schools and other institutions continue to be shuttered because of upsurges (regnum.ru/news/3071491.html, regnum.ru/news/society/3070825.html  and regnum.ru/news/society/3058174.html).

Moreover, restrictions on foreigners and Russians arriving from abroad have been extended to mid-December to prevent the spread of the coronavirus into Russia  (regnum.ru/news/polit/3072013.html and regnum.ru/news/society/3071982.html).

Both doctors and ordinary Russians are increasingly upset by the situation. Doctors are getting ready to protest the failure of the government to pay them the bonuses they have been promised and especially by officials sleight of hand designed to save the government money in that regard (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/09/23/87202-priemnyy-pokoy).

Russian citizens are increasingly angry at the ways in which the government’s anti-coronavirus programs are leading to a deterioration of healthcare more generally and making it possible for firms to boost the prices of over-the-counter medications (regnum.ru/news/3071432.html, mbk-news.appspot.com/news/lekarstva-v-rossii/ and polit.ru/article/2020/09/23/hiv/).

Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow will soon register a second Russian vaccine, and Russian media stepped up attacks on Western experts who have criticized the way in which the Kremlin has rushed the vaccine to approval without the necessary testing (regnum.ru/news/3071621.html and meduza.io/feature/2020/09/23/rossiyskie-razrabotchiki-vaktsiny-protiv-koronavirusa-nakonets-to-podrobno-otvetili-na-kritiku-zapadnyh-uchenyh-razbiraem-chi-argumenty-ubeditelnee).

Some 60,000 Muscovites have reportedly now signed up to be part of the stage three testing of the first Russian vaccine (regnum.ru/news/3071020.html), and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said he has complete confidence in the Russian vaccine and will get the shots as soon as they are available (regnum.ru/news/3071045.html).

Until the vaccine is widely available, however, consumer affairs officials say that wearing masks is the best defense against the coronavirus, although other officials caution that not all the masks available work very well (regnum.ru/news/3071171.html and regnum.ru/news/3071591.html).

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

·         Eighty-four percent of Russians say that they are now taking measures to protect their health, with 17 percent say they have been ill one way or another since the pandemic started (wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&uid=10559).

·         Even during the pandemic, Russia is very much divided by class and region. Wealthier and better connected Russians can have funerals that are denied to others (newizv.ru/news/society/23-09-2020/zapret-ne-dlya-vseh-kak-v-moskve-horonyat-umershih-ot-koronavirusa), and Moscow has many signs warning about social distance and masks while other Russian regions have few or none (echo.msk.ru/blog/amountain/2713415-echo/).

·         Moscow economist Mikhail Delyagin says that the pandemic shows that the current Russian leadership is prepared to treat them worse than Stalin treated German POWs (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/80276).

Ingush Parliament Rejects Kalimatov’s Proposal to Disband Republic Constitutional Court

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – The Popular Assembly of Ingushetia returned to Makhmud-Ali Kalimatov the latter’s proposal to do away with the republic’s Constitutional Court. Deputies said the proposal was a violation of the republic constitution, the  Russian constitution and the laws of both the republic and the country (fortanga.org/2020/09/kalimatov-nazad/).

            They added that the Constitutional Court was the only institution of the republic government that had denounced Yunus-Bek Yevkurov’s giveaway of ten percent of the republic’s land to Chechnya and speculated that the idea of killing the court originated not with Kalimatov himself but in Moscow.

            Instead of voting it down, the deputies said they would not even consider such an unconstitutional and illegal  proposal (parlamentri.ru/index.php/press-centr/novosti/5010-v-narodnom-sobranii-sostoyalos-sto-pyatdesyat-pyatoe-zasedanie-soveta).

            This action followed denunciations of Kalimatov’s proposal by the Union of Teips (facebook.com/soveteipov/posts/351472355978592), republic legal specialists (kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/342/posts/45174), and individual deputies (instagram.com/p/CFaQ9bhKoFb/?igshid=1whvp6h6eiaya and instagram.com/p/CFbAcnnKi4S/?igshid=hxjhvik83h9w).

            They dismissed Kalimatov’s claim that his proposal was all about saving money as a pretext and said that if he wanted to proceed, he would have to seek the amendment of the republic’s constitution, something that would require special arrangements including a popular referendum.

            All this sets the stage for a new standoff between Moscow and Magas, on the one hand, and the Ingush people, on the other, a standoff that will likely trigger a new round of protests if the former continue to press for disbanding an institution many Ingush see as their only defense against official arbitrariness and a symbol of their republic.

            Meanwhile, there were three other developments today reflecting a new deterioration in relations between the Ingush and their rulers. First, a Russian court in Stavropol Kray has refused a request by Magomed Khamkhoyev for a translator so that he can present his defense in Ingush rather than Russian (fortanga.org/2020/09/hamhoev-perevodchik/).

            Russian law gives any defendant that right, but the court said he could speak Russian and therefore must use it, the latest abuse of the rights of an Ingush activist whom the Memorial Human Rights Organization has declared to be a political prisoner for his detention after the March 2019 protests.

            Second, the Niyskho [Justice} Democratic Union of Ingushetia has denounced plans to spend more than 55 million rubles (850,000 US dollars) on the celebration of the 25oth anniversary of the inclusion of Ingushetia in Russia as unjustified given that Moscow has not been willing to recognize the genocide that officials have carried out against the Ingush (6portal.ru/posts/торжества-по-кровавым-тропам-народа-о/#more-1255).

            And third, a group of prominent Ingush activists not in detention led by Magomed Mutsolgov of the Coordinating Council of NGOs of Ingushetia issued a public declaration of support for the Belarusian people in their struggle against Lukashenka and for freedom and democracy (kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/342/posts/45156).

Nornikel, a Putin Ally, Spews Out Far More Sulfur Dioxide than All American Firms Combined

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – Environmentalists joke that the clean skies over Europe are paid for by the contamination of those over Norilsk, the headquarters of Nornikel, the Russian firm with close ties to the Kremlin that currently spews out twice as much sulfur dioxide as all American companies combined.

            The numerically small peoples of the Russian North have called on Western firms not to purchase metals from Nornikel (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/08/russias-northern-peoples-call-on-tesla.html). Activists are calling for a broader boycott of the firm even though that will spark new tensions between the West and the Kremlin.

            The VTimes news agency, created by Russian journalists committed to the integration of Russia into Europe, explains in a new article that Nornikel’s contamination of the atmosphere reflects its special relationship with Vladimir Putin, a relationship that goes back to the very start of his time in office (vtimes.io/news/kak-nornikel-stal-glavnym-zagryaznitelem-arktiki).

            In May 2000, in one of his first acts as president, Putin disbanded the State Environmental Committee, thus giving Nornikel and other firms the power to ignore environmental regulations in the pursuit of more investments from abroad and greater profits at home.

            The VTimes provides details and documentation on how the Putin-Nornikel relationship has developed over the last 20 years to its current disastrous state and suggests the steps that need to be taken so that this Russian firm does not continue to damage the environment not only in Russia and over the Arctic but in the world as a whole. 

 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Russian Opposition’s Lack of Detailed Program a Strength Not a Weakness, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – Sociologists Sergey Belanovsky and Anastasiya Nikolskaya attracted a great deal of attention when they argued earlier this month that the Russian opposition must work out common and detailed programs (ridl.io/ru/ideologija-politicheskoj-oppozicii-v-rossii/ and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/09/russians-identifying-with-non-systemic.html).

            Moreover, the two said, the extra-systemic opposition must view many officials and experts now working with the regime as potential partners rather than enemies because these people will change sides when given the right kind of leadership. Failure to follow these two principles, they wrote, will lead to chaos and demands for a new “firm hand” to rule Russia.

            Belanovsky and Nikolskaya have a good track record in their predictions about demonstrations and so many have been willing to accept their latest arguments without question. But two prominent commentators, Moscow political analyst Vladimir Gelman and Rosbalt observer Sergey Shelin suggest that Belanovskaya and Nikolskaya in this case are wrong.

            Gelman says that the implicit argument of the two sociologists is that the opposition should talk about specific policy outcomes rather than constantly promoting democratization. But that is like criticizing dolphins for swimming and eating fish.”

            The opposition in Russia must seek democracy because only if the country is moving in that direction will people be able to express their various points of view, work together, and coming up with a common program. Proclaiming a common program first not only gets in the way: it opens the door to a Putin 2.0 (facebook.com/vladimir.gelman/posts/2802141466554194).

            Shelin is if anything even more critical of what Belanovsky and Nikolskaya argue. On the one hand, putting out programs is a quick way to turn Russians off given their experience with Putin’s constant production of programs that for some reason never seem to come off. Doing what Putin does is not in the opposition’s interest (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2020/09/22/1864603.html).    And on the other, the Russian “system is crazy.” Those who work for it have been corrupted by it. Even if they would like to change, they won’t be able to unless and until significant numbers of new people enter the political fray. Turning to the incumbents now is the path to the kind of compromise that will undercut the hard work needed to promote democracy.

            Promoting democracy is what the opposition needs to be about. Russians must view that system as the normal to which they want to return. That is an idea that is easy to grasp even if implementing it will be hard. Agreeing and issuing common programs won’t achieve the opposition’s most important goal.

 

Regionalism in Russia to Be Successful Must Rest on Universal Democratic Principles, Luzin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – Lenin was prepared to make concessions to ethnic groups lest they continue to fight against his project to build a universal communist state, but he was not committed to the kind of universal democratic principles which would have allowed ethnic Russian or multi-ethnic areas to be regional governments, Pavel Luzin says.

            That reality and the importance of such principles as personal rights and freedoms, private property and entrepreneurial freedom are highlighted in a new book on the Far Eastern Republic, a short-lived buffer state between Soviet Russia and the Japanese intervention in the early 1920s, the Russian regionalist says (region.expert/dvr-book/).

            That book, originally published in English and now in Russian, is Ivan Sablin’s The Far Eastern Republic from Idea to Liquidation (Moscow, 1920). (For a summary of the book and a discussion of the FER in Russia today, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/09/essential-book-on-almost-mythical-far.html.)

            The book’s fundamental strength, Luzin says, is its demonstration that “the FER was much more multifaceted than it often appears now and that elements of it reflect things outside the specific political situation in which the Far Eastern Republic was created” and the reasons for its failure.

            In the century since the FER existed, the Far East in Russia “has not become less distinctive and the people living there are different not only from citizens of the central and southern part of Russia but also from the people of the Urals and the Siberians,” Luzin continues, a reflected in academic and political discussions about “Pacific Russia” (haefe.org/files/publications/personal/ivanov/Pacific-Russia.pdf).

            Sablin shows how the FER reflected the ideas of Siberian regionalism (oblastnichestvo) and also how it came to its “inglorious end” because of “the competition of local nationalisms, which made the consolidation of the republic or other state formation in the Far East simply impossible” given Moscow’s centralist attitudes.

            “In reality, the Leninist reading of the right of nations to self-determination allowed for the handing over of statehood on an ethnic basis,” but it made no provision for a territory without a dominant nationality. And at the same time, “the opponents of the Bolsheviks were unable to present a clear alternative” because many of them were Russian centralists too.

            Unfortunately, Luzin continues, the situation is not much different today. Moscow remains centralist as do many Russians in the regions, and neither group is committed to the kind of universalist principles which would allow a genuine regional government to arise.  Even those who talk about a Pacific Russia do so in the context of asking how much Moscow will give it.

            Only when people move beyond that paradigm, as the people of Khabarovsk are doing now, is there a real possibility of creating regional governments worthy of the name. The FER remains important as a clear sign of what is needed in that regard if any region is to succeed, Luzin concludes. 

As Moscow Expands Military Presence on Bering Straits, Stalin’s Actions There and Use of Eskimos and Chukchis Against Alaska Recalled

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – Moscow’s expansion of its military presence on the Bering Straits opposite Alaska in recent months has prompted some Russians to recall what happened in the late 1940s when Stalin did the same thing and when Soviet Eskimos and Chukchis actually clashed with American ones.

            Most Russian and Western attention to developments at the beginning of the Cold War not surprisingly typically has focused on Europe, Moscow’s efforts to expand its influence there, and the West’s response which was intended to contain it. Relatively little attention has been paid to what was going on in the eastern part of the USSR and in the American state of Alaska.

            Now that Moscow is expanding its military presence land and sea in the same region, Russian historians are focusing on events of some 70 years ago. In an article entitled “Did Stalin Secretly Gather an Army in Chukotka to Conquer Alaska?” Versiya commentator Igor Kiyan reports their findings (versia.ru/stalin-tajno-sobiral-armiyu-na-chukotke-chtoby-zavoevat-alyasku).

            According to the Russian historians, Stalin feared that the US, fresh from its experience with D-Day landings might seek to invade the USSR by crossing the Bering Straits. To block that, he created the 14th Shock Army, under the command of Nikolay Oleshev who had won renown during World War II for his deep raids on Nazi-occupied territory.

            The Army was based at Provideniya, a place which had been a transfer point for lend-lease material from the US and where more than a dozen Soviet naval vessels could be put in place quickly. Building facilities on land was extremely difficult and did not go well as various inspections showed.

            Many of the buildings were not completely finished, machinery arrived only in part, and many of the officers and men serving there believed that they had been sent to this furthermost part of the USSR as punishment, Soviet government surveys reported.

            In February 1948, the US government concluded that Stalin was preparing to invade Alaska, even though overflights would have shown them that the planes at the Russian base were defensive fighters rather than offensive bombers.  What Stalin was doing, Russian historians say, was to make Chukotka not a base for aggression but a defensive “fortress.”

            One aspect of this Stalin-era buildup that is especially intriguing now is the fact that both the Soviets and the Americans used Eskimos as agents to gather intelligence for them. Soviet Eskimos were sent into Alaska, and American ones were sent into the Russian Far North, travelling routes both had used from time immemorial.

            One detail is instructive, Kiyan says. Before the late 1940s, most of this human traffic consisted of women and children who were following their hunter husbands. Now, it was almost exclusively on both sides Eskimo men aged between 20 and 35. Most of their activities passed without much notice on either side.

            But there was at least one significant clash: “A group of Chukchis, sent across the Bering Straits landed in   Alaska and near the city of Nome, it attacked local Eskimos” before returning to Soviet territory. The two communities, the Chukchis and the Eskimos, have a long history of conflict and so it was more likely caused by that than by Soviet-American tensions.

Sufi Order Forcing Moscow and Magas to Compromise in Ingushetia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 22 – Across the North Caucasus but especially in Ingushetia and Daghestan, informal relationships based on extended family ties or local religious organizations are frequently far stronger than any loyalty of the population to state structures be they in Moscow or in the republics, Ivan Kluszcz says.

            The University of Tartu scholar says the strength of these links has forced both Moscow and the republics to be more flexible in imposing their agendas on these republics than would otherwise be the case. And he points to the Batalkhadzhintsy Sufi Brotherhood in Ingushetia as particularly important in that regard (ridl.io/ru/nepobedimoe-bratstvo-batalhadzhincev/).

            This brotherhood, little known beyond the borders of Ingushetia, consists of the followers of Sufi Sheik Batal-Khadzhi Belkharoyev (1824-1914). Part of the Qadiriya tradition of Sufism as developed by Khunta-Khadzhi (18000-1867), it currently as many as 30,000 members – or as much as six percent of the population of the republic.

“In Ingushetia,” Kluszcz continues, “the brotherhood is known as a state-within-a-state as it is secretive and large enough to be mostly self-contained. Members are forbidden from marrying outsiders. They must give ten per cent of their income to the brotherhood’s coffers.” And they are reputedly to be involved in vendettas and gun smuggling.

Because the brotherhood is so closed off from the world, its existence has spawned many myths which are very difficult to confirm or deny, the scholar says (bbc.com/russian/news-50303602). What is known, however, is that this Sufi order like many others resisted the tsars and communists; but it currently is intertwined with the Ingush government.

“Yakub Belkharoyev, the current head of the brotherhood, is a senator at the Ingush parliament. Other relatives of Belkharoyev occupy ministerial and other top posts in the republic government. Some have also become important local business figures, including in banking.” Relations between the order and the authorities have often been fraught.

Former republic head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was convinced that the members of this trend of Sufi Islam were working as “a fifth column” for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyov, given that the former head of the brotherhood and an Ingush senator was known to have had good ties with the Chechen boss (carnegie.ru/commentary/63927).

More recently, the Batalkhadzhintsy and Magas have clashed over the status of the republic Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) and its relations with Salafis and the possible role of some of the Sufis in the assassination of the former head of Ingushetia’s anti-terrorism center, Ibragim Eldzharkiyev.

Because of the strength of this Sufi order, the secular authorities have moved extremely cautiously in this last case, given that they do not want to trigger a clash. According to Kluszcz, this shows something even more significant: Moscow and Magas “cannot supplant the role of Sufi brotherhoods” which will remain “an unavoidable feature” of Ingush politics.

Because that is so, much that cannot be explained otherwise likely reflects the power of the Sufis and the compromises both Magas and Moscow have had to make with a traditional religious grouping that neither tsars, commissars or, most recently, Russian counter-terrorist operatives, have been able to destroy. 

Russian Experts, Officials Divided on Whether Russia Faces a Second Wave of Pandemic

Paul Goble

Staunton, September 22 – Medical experts and Russian officials clashed at a Moscow conference today as to how well Russia had done in coping with the pandemic and whether the country faces a second wave or whether the current upsurge is simply a continuation of the first (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/09/22/87195-vtoroy-val, nakanune.ru/articles/116379/ and svpressa.ru/health/article/276538/).

The recent upsurge in coronavirus cases and deaths increases, with the former going up by 6215 and the latter by 160 over the last 24 hours to 1,115,810 and 19,540 respectively (t.me/stopcoronavirusrussia/2088). The uptick is hitting Moscow and senior officials, with ten Duma deputies now hospitalized with coronavirus infections (regnum.ru/news/3070231.html).

Beyond the ring road, the pandemic continued to ebb and flow with more closings than re-openings recorded, especially in the educational system where classes and entire schools are now being quarantined and the shift from in-person instruction to distance learning is spreading, pace Kremlin claims to the contrary (regnum.ru/news/society/3064298.html).

One sector that has more or less completely reopened are domestic flights. The Aeroflot group announced that it had carried 3.6 million people on routes within the country during August, only 0.4 percent fewer than a year earlier (themoscowtimes.com/2020/09/22/aeroflots-domestic-passengers-back-to-pre-coronavirus-levels-a71507).

On the vaccine front, President Vladimir Putin offered the United Nations supplies of the Russian vaccine, even deputies complained about the cost of over-the-counter medications in Russia. Officials said they were sure Russians could come up with the money if they have to (capost.media/news/obshchestvo/v-oon-otvetili-na-predlozhenie-putina-besplatnoy-vaktsiny-ot-covid/ and https://regnum.ru/news/3069734.html).

Moscow has approved for clinical trials another coronavirus vaccine (regnum.ru/news/3069734.html), while those behind the first, Sputnik 5, concede that they have tested fewer than 10 percent of the number of people usually required in a third-stage trial and won’t complete the sequence until next summer (hkp.ru/daily/217185/4291744/ and regnum.ru/news/3070367.html).

Officials say Russia won’t reach full production of the vaccine until February 2021, thus limiting the ability of the health care system to halt the spread of the coronavirus anytime sooner (regnum.ru/news/3070044.html).

On the economic front, there were three disturbing developments: Chinese officials found coronavirus traces on packages sent from Russia, making more restrictions on bilateral trade likely (fergana.agency/news/121017/), car sales in  Russia are on track to be down more than 25 percent this year (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/80268), and Moscow has reached its goals for the healthcare national program in only 40 percent of the categories (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/80252).

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

·         The head of the National Medical Chamber said that ordinary Russians must be more serious about wearing masks and social distancing if the country is to overcome the pandemic (regnum.ru/news/3070364.html).

·         Rock musicians staged what they called “Woodstock Russian-Style” in honor of the country’s doctors for their role in fighting the coronavirus (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2020/09/22/87194-vudstok-po-russki).

·         Economists are increasingly saying that the Russian economy will not recover until 2022 at the earliest (vz.ru/economy/2020/9/22/1061746.html).

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Only Three Institutions in Russia are More Trusted than Distrusted, Gudkov Says

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – In presenting the latest Levada Center survey on trust in Russian society, its director, Lev Gudkov, says there are only three institutions in Russia in which people express more trust than distrust – the armed forces, the president, and the organs of state security.

            All others, he says, from religious organizations to charitable groups are distrusted more than they are trusted. (Charitable groups are trusted and distrusted about equally.) Distrust for most remains where it has been over the last decade at between 65 and 80 percent (levada.ru/2020/09/21/doverie-institutam/).

            Gudkov hastens to add that “institutional distrust does not mean there is the potential for action against them or a readiness to resist.” Instead, distrust is better understood “as one of the forms of passive adaptation to force” in the case of the top three institutions in particular.

            Institutions which are supposed to represent the population or which interact with it regularlyare particularly distrusted – legislators, law enforcement and judicial organizations, local and regional authorities, parties, trade unions and so on. And that reflects the fact that the Russian system is an anti-democratic one based on suppression of differences.

            Of the 19 institutions the Levada Center asked about, “almost half” were distrusted by two-thirds to three-quarters of the population. The three with positive balances of trust as against distrust are relatively stable in that position. The army has led the trust balance for the last three years, Gudkov says.

            Putin’s institutional trust rating has remained relatively stable as well, even though personal trust in him has fallen over the last several years. And given media campaigns, trust in the security agencies has remained high as well.  Other institutions generally have lost ground in terms of the balance between trust and distrust.

            According to Gudkov, “increasing the level of institutional and inter-personal trust is impossible without … the formation of empathy toward others, on the one hand, and a generalization of values (their universalization), on the other.” Neither can be achieved by the use of force or its heroization or by discrediting of elections and political competition.

Belarusian Events have World-Historical Importance as First Internet Revolution, Zubov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – “It is no exaggeration” to say that what is occurring in Belarus now is of world-historical importance and will be studied for a long time to come as “an improbable phenomenon,” Andrey Zubov says. It is “an example in pure form of a revolt of the masses of a cultured people against a harsh authoritarian dictatorship in the Internet era.”

            The last portion of this is key, the Russian historian and commentator says. It is the Internet which “has allowed the people to organize itself without charismatic leaders, without control of the post and telegraphs, television center or the typographies of newspapers” (newsru.com/blog/21sep2020/bel_rev.html).

            Earlier those who wanted to make a revolution needed all of these things to mobilize protest. But now, “the horizontal communication of the Internet” replaces all of them. NEXTA and friendly chat rooms are making the revolution in Belarus,” no one else. All that is needed is a strong sense of dissatisfaction with the authorities and an unwillingness of the latter to leave.

             “If a significant part of the people is satisfied with the powers that be,” Zubov says, “a revolution of this new type will not occur” because those in power will be able to “mobilize their supporters” against it. That is why a regime based on professional, tribal or ethnic rule of one group over another may prove especially stable.

            “But where the powers that be aspires to represent the entire society, it is now extremely vulnerable. An entire society can easily organize itself against ‘its’ powers.” That is what has happened in Belarus.

            The Internet plays yet another role, also very much on view in that country. Belarusians may or may not have travelled to Poland, Lithuania or Latvia, but the Internet makes these countries familiar to them – and their successes relative to Belarus’ help drive the anger Belarusians feel toward Lukashenka.

            And finally, the Internet plays another role in such circumstances: it can shame the siloviki by depriving them of their anonymity as when NEXTA and others publish the names and addresses of police thereby making it impossible for any officer to hide behind his uniform and act as if he isn’t involved. His family and friends will make it clear that he is.

            That kind of moral pressure in a relatively small and homogeneous society like Belarus may not work overnight, but overtime, it puts an unbearable burden on the siloviki, Zubov continues. Those higher up may hold out longer out of greed or expectations, but they too can be shamed in ways no one could do earlier.

            “A revolution of this new type will not occur in one or two days. Moral pressure increases gradually,” but with the Internet, grow it will. And while some opposed to the regime may grow tired of protests, the most committed will not; and the rest will remain mobilized via the Internet as well.

            Zubov extends his argument beyond Belarus. He says that any regime like Lukashenka’s – and in this category he includes both Putin’s and Nazarbayev’s – which relies “only on lies, force, and cruelty” is doomed. And when one of these regimes, like Putin’s, helps another, it only “accelerates the fall of both.”

            By giving Lukashenka money, Putin has become “a co-conspirator of the Belarusian tyrant who is dying politically.”  This new reality will extend over the world, but it is worth noting that it “is already beginning of the streets of Belarusian cities,” the Moscow historian concludes.

Backing Lukashenka Against Belarusian People Could be Disastrous for Russia, Tsipko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – As protests continue in both Khabarovsk and Belarus and become increasingly radical, Moscow faces a difficult choice: should it side with those in power in the name of preserving stability now or should it ally itself with the population and lay the basis for longer-term relations.

            Radicalization among the protesters in both places is accelerating with each passing day (sibreal.org/a/30850398.html, realtribune.ru/news/people/5128, apn.ru/index.php?newsid=38620 and thinktanks.by/publication/2020/09/21/oxana-shelest-bazovoe-trebovanie-dlya-vseh-korennoe-izmenenie-situatsii.html).

            For Moscow, shifting from the powers to the people in Khabarovsk is unthinkable, but in Belarus, it is a real issue because the immediate interests of the Kremlin are at variance with the  long-term interests of Russia (mk.ru/politics/2020/09/21/dilemma-dlya-rossii-druzhit-s-lukashenko-ili-s-narodom-belarusi.html).

            While the balance between Belarusians who look to Moscow and Belarusians who look to Europe has changed in favor of the latter and will only continue to do so because young Belarusians are more Europe-oriented than their parents, the anti-Lukashenka protests are not anti-Russian.

            The leaders speak Russian and stress that they aren’t interested in breaking with Moscow as some in the Russian capital think. They want to maintain good ties with their eastern neighbor, to retain the Russian language as an official one, and see their culture as part of a broader Russian one.

            “But it is already obvious,” Tsipko says, “that the more actively we support the current political regime in Belarus” – that is Lukashenka – “the more rapidly anti-Russian attitudes among the Belarusians will grow.” More than that, Moscow’s backing of Lukashenka is alienating other Slavic peoples from Russia as well.

            “From the point of view of the interests of present-day Russia, it must support Lukashenka; but from the point of view of the longer-term interests of the Russian nation, this support undermines the preconditions in general for the preservation of the Russian state.”

            That is because, the senior Moscow commentator continues, “a state surrounded by enemies on all sides and without allies in general doesn’t have a future.”  Consequently, the Kremlin “must seek a compromise between the short-term and long-term interests of the Russian nation.”

            That isn’t going to be easy, but unless Moscow finds a way to ensure that its continuing support for Lukashenka does not lead to the final loss of Belarus as a friend of Russia and Russians, the future for Moscow will be bleak.  Indeed, Tsipko suggests, it may even be catastrophic, however much some in the Russian capital think otherwise. 

Russia’s Internal Migration One of Highest in World Because of Lack of Planning, Cherneyko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – A major reason why Russia has one of the highest rates of internal migration in the world is the lack of serious planning about how its workforce should be developed and used, Dmitry Cherneyko, head of St. Petersburg’s committee on labor and employment, says.

            The absence of planning means, he says, that “when the largest corporations invest money in Leningrad oblast, they bring in their work force from central Russia, and local people [instead of getting jobs at the new facilities] go to work in Sakha, Vladivostok and Moscow” (newdaynews.ru/moscow/702966.html).

            The government should be involved at all stages of the location of industry and of educational facilities that prepare workers for available jobs. Otherwise, this wasteful and even counter-productive trend, one that bears similarities with some in Soviet times, will only continue and grow worse.

            Cherneyko’s comments came at a meeting in Moscow at which others complained about the lack of planning and especially long-term planning on workforce issues. Kirill Shevchenko, an advisor to the Moscow office of the International Migration Organization, agreed that Russia is failing to look far enough into the future and make appropriate plans.

            As a result, he suggests, Russia is driven by events rather than being in charge of them. Among the things that means in the short and medium term is that the country is going to have to rely on ever more immigrant workers because its pattern of industrial development requires more people that Russia is producing on its own.

            Most of these will be low-skilled, but Moscow must try to boost the skill level of those it hopes to attract, Natalya Pochinok of Russia’s State Social University, says. Otherwise the low skill level of the increasingly large immigrant population will have the effect of holding the country back, something that could be changed if longer-term plans are made.

Fewer Russians Revanchist Now But Enough Still are to Be a Base for 'Softer' Expansionism, Zhelenin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 21 – A smaller share of Russians support pursuing the revanchist foreign policy Vladimir Putin is associated with than at any point in the last 17 years, Aleksandr Zhelenin says, stressing that VTsIOM, which is closely tied to the regime, is not only about measuring public opinion but about shaping it as well.

            If those around Putin who ordered this poll wanted not only to determine but to boost support for revanchist positions, the Rosbalt commentator says, one is compelled to ask whether the level of support for those it found, about a third, is a lot or a little (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2020/09/21/1864247.html).

            VTsIOM found that only 31 percent of Russians now support an aggressive foreign policy, a figure that seems very low until one considers that in 1932, Hitler won power with the support of only 34 percent of Germans. Thus, the revanchist third may be more important than might seem to be the case, Zhelinin continues. 

            “Of course,” he says, “there are differences between then and now, and to compare the 34 percent of votes the Nazis received in elections 88 years ago and the results of a sociological poll in Russia today is not completely correct for a number of reasons.”

            The 34 percent the Nazi party received gave it dominance in the German parliament, while “according to the present-day Russian constitution, a parliamentary majority must exceed 50 percent of the deputies of the Duma.” It would thus seem that there is nothing to fear on that front.

            But United Russia, which dominates the Duma, shares the revanchist views of the Kremlin, even if the Russian people don’t, Zhelenin says.  And it is obviously the case that their attitudes at any particular time are less important in the Russian political system than the views of the single individual at the top.

            Despite everything, “Russia all the same remains an electoral autarchy, and this means that it is important that the individual occupying the top post operates on the opinion of a significant part of the population,” the commentator says. “And this opinion now, as we see, is not in favor of revanchist projects.”

            This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any more annexations and Anschlusses on the post-Soviet space. Rather the reverse because “the economic system which has been constructed in contemporary Russia has exhausted itself. There aren’t nay more internal resources for development … and the ruling group will seek them not within the country but abroad.”

            But because ever fewer Russians are enthusiastic about that, it is possible, Zhelenin suggests, that these moves will be “softer” than those in the past, as in Georgia and Ukraine and that “in state propaganda, the words ‘unify’ or ‘reunify’ will be replaced by terms like ‘integration’ and ‘support.’”

            That is what is happening in the case of Moscow’s moves regarding Belarus, the commentator concludes; and at least part of the reason for that change is the change in attitudes within the Russian population.