Saturday, October 31, 2020

Moscow-Centric State Remains an Empire but Russia has Been Destroyed, Eidman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 30 – Russia has not existed at least since 1917, Igor Eidman says, but the empire centered on Moscow has continued under different names. As many emigres recognized, the Bolsheviks destroyed Russia but they quickly rebuilt the empire on a communist basis and called it the USSR.

            In 1991, the Russian commentator continues, “the USSR fell apart, but Russia was not reborn.” Part of that state emerged calling itself “the Russian Federation,” but it “quickly restored the empire” this time around not as a communist one but as a mafia state” (

            “But Russia as a country with a single political nation didn’t come back and doesn’t exist,” Eidman says.

            Because the Kremlin claims otherwise, some are confused. But “what ties the mafia empire of the Russian Federation to historical Russia/ Perhaps, religion and culture? The ROC for a long time has not been Orthodox but the Russian Victory Church. Putin is its patriarch, and Gundyayev is a minor figure.”

            “The ruling class has nothing in common with Russian culture,” Eidman says. “This is a community of criminals.” And as a result, “the powers in Russia have exactly the same relationship to the country bearing that name as Don Carleone’s bank to the territory he controlled.” There are regional “neighborhoods.” But each has a godfather from Moscow.

            “Why do so many Russians hate their capital? One can’t imagine Germans hating Berlin, Englishmen hating London, the French hating Paris and so on,” Eidman continues. “But the Poles or Czechs, of course, hated the capital of the Third Reich, the Hindus hated the capital of the British Empire, and the Algerians the capital of imperial France.”

            “A multitude of Russians, regardless of nationality view Moscow as an imperial capital and themselves as residents of dependent colonial territories. This is the only way ne can explain the hatred toward Moscow that exists today in Russia’s regions.” They are kept in by Muscovite force and barbed wire. Without those, they would choose to leave.

West has Better Ways to Limit Kremlin Actions than Sanctions, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 30 – Sanctions have not worked as intended and should not be increased, Vladislav Inozemtsev says. They did express Western outrage at Kremlin actions, but there are other, more difficult, but far more effective means of actually containing Moscow actions of the kind the West most wants to.

            According to the Russian economist, the Kremlin today has failed first of all to achieve the geopolitical goals its earlier aggressive actions sought and is, as its handling of the Belarusian events suggest, increasingly cautious about using any military force beyond its borders (

            “Over the past several years,” Inozemtsev says, Russia’s “internal political situation has become much less stable.” The destruction of the economy to enrich Putin’s cronies seriously “reduces the Kremlin’s freedom of action. And if there is no new act of aggression, new sanctions make less sense and are less likely to be adopted.

            Second, the sanctions the West has imposed so far have done less to wreck the Russian economy than the Kremlin itself has. The West has been unwilling to impose an energy embargo on Russia because it benefits from Russian flows. And its limited “personal” sanctions have done little to divide the elite and much to get those sanctioned to tie themselves more closely to Putin.

            Even though Russia fully qualifies as a support of terrorism, no one in the West is prepared to impose the same kind of sanctions on it that the West has imposed on other such states, Inozemtsev continues.

            And third, because the Kremlin’s problems are mainly internal, it is likely to focus on “suppressing its own opposition.” But unless such actions spill over into the West itself, recent cases, as with the Saudi assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, suggest that Western countries will not respond especially harshly.

            Consequently, the Russian economist says, three things suggest that regardless of the outcome of the American election, US sanctions policy will not change much and may even fade, with at least some officials beginning to think about other and potentially far more effective but inherently more difficult ways to limit the Kremlin.

            First and most obviously, the US and other Western countries will be focusing on overcoming the pandemic and its economic consequences. They won’t be focusing on Russia unless Moscow does something that they feel they have to respond to. Thus, there may not be a change in sanctions one way or the other.

            Second, because Russian corruption and Russian elites are so tightly integrated in Western countries, there will be significant resistance from Western business elites to any moves that might threaten their own financial well-being. That is already a factor but it is likely to grow in importance.

            And third, Inozemtsev argues, a Biden administration and perhaps even a second Trump one won’t want to have any new sanctions “cause tensions between the US and Europe” as they have over the last several years. 

The problem with sanctions is that they can be effective enough only if the political elite of a country hesitates in choosing a course, or if the population exerts serious pressure on the authorities, which may grow if sanctions are introduced.” That is not the case in the Russian Federation today.

What that means, Inozemtsev says, repeating an argument he has made over the last five years, is that “the optimal strategy for the West is a strategy aimed at “surviving” the Putin regime. Russia today is in decline … [its] economy, due to its increasingly primitive nature, is difficult to “blow to shreds” but even more difficult to “restart.”

On the one hand, the West should try to achieve smaller agreements with the Kremlin where it can; and on the other, it needs to develop a more comprehensive approach to dealing with the Kremlin, one that would involve “limiting the political activity of parties and groups which receive direct and indirect funding from Moscow.”

And further, Western countries should follow Cyprus and restrict residence permits and long-term visas issued to Russians and Western intelligence agencies should focus on preventing Russian intelligence operatives from entering their countries “under ever-changing names” to do various kinds of mischief.”

If the West moves in that direction, it will inflict far more pain on the Kremlin “than any sanctions” and have the additional virtue of not harming ordinary Russian citizens and allowing the Kremlin to exploit anti-Western sentiment. Such steps are harder to implement, but they are far more valuable than the posturing about sanctions.

Fearful of New Lockdown, Russians Panic Buying Supplies

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 30 – Despite Vladimir Putin’s assurance that he is not planning to order a new stay-at-home regime and other officials’ statements that there is no need to lay in supplies, Russians in many places are buying food and other goods in anticipation they will soon be ordered to stay at home (, and

            Indeed, the surge in buying has become so large and widespread that observers are suggesting that prices for many items will rise and that individual stores may run out of those things in greatest demand (

            The numbers of infections and deaths continue to rise with the authorities reporting the registration of 18,283 new cases of infection and 355 new deaths over the last 24 hours, raising those totals to 1,599,976 and 27,656 ( Many are suggesting  these numbers understate the problem (

            The pandemic continues to spread with ever more institutions going to distance operations. That includes schools which are declaring extended holidays so as not to boost the number of school “closures” Moscow doesn’t want to hear about (, and

            Students at some universities are petitioning to have their schools go over to distance learning, with at least some of those seeking that option arguing that tuition should be cut as distance learning is cheaper than in-class operations ( and

            The situation in many regions is at the edge of collapse as far as medical care is concerned (  Taxi drivers and officials in Sverdlovsk are fighting over who will pay for plastic barriers between drivers and passengers (

            And officials reported that Russians cannot expect to be allowed to visit European countries in the near future (

            At the same time, Moscow has told regional governments that they will receive vaccines supplies on the basis of their showing of how well prepared they are to keep them safe and then distribute them to the population rather than any other criterion (

            Problems with oxygen for hospitals are now affecting more than 20 regions, not the isolated incident that Moscow officials have been suggesting (

            On the economic front, Moscow for the first time in 13 years has begun selling some of its gold reserves to cover government spending without dipping into reserve funds as many have urged (

            Hotels in the majority of regions of Russia are close to the exhaustion of their reserves, are shedding employees, and may soon be forced to close, a business association says ( They and other businesses have received 420 billion rubles (six billion US dollars) of refinanced loans during the pandemic (

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

·         Consumer affairs chief Anna Popova asked Patriarch Kirill to impose all protective measures in his churches (

·         The Kremlin says paying doctors in the regions must be a priority for the governments of federal subjects ( because doctors there are in such short supply (

·         And at least one patient near death east of the Urals has declared that in the event of his death, “the health ministry is to be blamed” (

·         Russians are debating whether they can take the defense of protective measures into their own hands when the government fails to enforce them (

Putin’s Cossack Strategy has Completely Failed, Cossack Writer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 29 – In 2012, Vladimir Putin issued a program for the Cossacks designed to run through 2020. That strategy has failed in every respect, according to Aleksey Zborovsky, a Cossack writer who had hoped for better, and wants the follow on document now to try to overcome the problems of the past.

            Drawing on the publications of the loyalist Kazakh Information-Analytic Center (, he lists in an article on the site eight goals Putin set in 2012 that have not been achieved (

1.      Laws rehabilitating the Cossacks haven’t been fulfilled.

2.      The creation of an All-Russian Cossack Society uniting registered and unregistered Cossacks hasn’t happened.

3.      No economic base has been established for the continuing operation of Cossack communities.

4.      Cossacks have not been integrated into state service as the 2012 document promised.

5.      The destruction of traditional Cossack culture has continued.

6.      Separatist and even “extremist” attitudes have expanded among Cossacks.

7.      Cossack groups based abroad and foreign intelligence services are playing a greater rather than a lesser role among the Cossacks of Russia.

8.      Ever more Cossacks are turning away from the Russian Orthodox Church and adopting neo-pagan views that often support militarized anti-regime groups.

As a result, he says, the authority of the Cossacks as such has fallen and the number of Cossacks instead of increasing has fallen among both registered (that is “official” Putin Cossacks) and “unregistered” (that is, people who identify as Cossacks for cultural and historical reasons but do not want to associate with the Russian state).

Many Cossacks had hoped, Zuborovsky says, that the preparation of a new strategy document would be the occasion for change. But the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs accepted only five of the 40 proposals Cossack units and leaders made, an indication that officials at least aren’t much interested in improving things.

But as the editors of Materik note, after Zuborovsky submitted his article, the Presidential Administration rejected the Agency draft for the 2021-2030 Cossack program. The question now is whether Putin will genuinely tilt in the direction of the interests of all Cossacks or allow bureaucrats to continue their destructive approach to this community.

The fact that the Cossacks have protested about the failures of Putin’s 2012 strategy is striking in itself as that suggests there is an increasing sense of corporate identity even among those who want to cooperate with the Kremlin and a willingness to signal to the Russian political system that the Cossacks are a group to be reckoned with.

And the decision of the Kremlin to reject as unacceptable the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs draft signals that some near the top are seeking a way to quiet Cossack concerns, even if there is little evidence at presence that there is the political will or available funds to make a difference in the coming years. 

Kazakhstan Rejects Reports about Xinjiang Camps but Allows Those Fleeing Them to Remain in Kazakhstan or Go West

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 29 – Xinjiang is creating ever more problems for Kazakhstan, Vyacheslav Shchekunskikh says. On the one hand, Nur-Sultan rejects Western and human rights reports about the existence of re-education camps for Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang region. But on the other, it allows those who flee that region to stray in Kazakhstan or go West.

            The oft-stated official position of the Kazakhstan government reflects its desire to avoid a conflict with Beijing, the Moscow State University specialist says; but its practice of accepting refugees from China, including those who arrived there illegally, represents settled policy too (

            Since Kazakhstan acquired independence in 1991, it has taken in approximately 500,000 former Chinese citizens. Overwhelmingly, these have been ethnic Kazakhs, part of the government’s “oralman” project of ingathering the Kazakhs of the world in Kazakhstan to boost their numbers in Kazakhstan.

            The Chinese authorities up to now have generally turned a blind eye to this process, but that may be changing, Shchekunskikh says. Kazakhstan in recent months has been processing naturalization papers for those who have fled Xinjiang more rapidly and publicly than before and doing so in ways Beijing finds provocative.

            China has issued a series of reports denying that Muslim nationalities including Kazakhs living in Xinjiang have been subject to any discrimination let alone confined in political re-education camps. And that makes the gap between Kazakhstan’s words and its actions ever less sustainable as far as Beijing is concerned.

            In the near term, this is likely to provoke protests from China if Kazakhstan continues to handle those who have fled Xinjiang in the same way as it has. In the longer term, it may mean that Beijing will tilt away from Kazakhstan and toward Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as it seeks to develop its “one road, one path” project to link Asia and Europe. 

Russian Supreme Court Rejects Appeal to Hold Trials of Ingush Leaders in Ingushetia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 29 – The Russian Supreme Court, without yet explaining why, has left in force a lower court order that the seven leaders of the Ingush protest movement be charged not in their home republic as they and their lawyers have sought but in courts elsewhere to which it will be more difficult for their supporters to come.

            Two of the seven, Akhmed Barakhoyev and Malsag Uzhakhov, addressed the court via video links, with the first demanding that Moscow follow its own constitution and allow the trial to take place in Ingushetia and the second saying that it is clear the Russian authorities want to try to show that “there is no civil society” (

            He said that the Ingush had demonstrated and will continue to show that civil society in the republic is very much alive, albeit under attack from the powers that be.

            These two men, plus Musa Malsagov, Ismail Nalgiyev, Zarifa Sautiyeva, Bagaudin Khautiyev, and Barakh Chemurziyev are charged with using force against representatives of the authorities and organizing or taking part in an extremist community. All seven deny these charges.

            Zarifa Sautiyeva, one of their number, sent a letter from jail calling on Ingush to take care of elders and children in the face of the pandemic, saying that Russian news was completely unreliable so she feels she is cut off, and declaring that she had ignored “thanks to Allah,” she had ignored the pompous commemoration of Ingushetia’s union with Russia.

            The only woman among those accused and someone widely recognized as a political prisoner says that she is studying English and reading the Koran, which is a source of comfort. With the release or sentencing of most of the protest leaders, she describes those left as “the Tsarina and the Six Heroes” (

            Sautiyeva concludes by thanking all those who have written to her or otherwise helped her with food and medicine, saying that she and her colleagues remain strong and confidence, and expressing the hope that all of them will soon be able to be with the other members of the Ingush nation in the future.

            Because this week marks the 28th anniversary of the Prigorodny conflict between Ingush and North Ossetians, Fortanga interviewed Elberd Darbazanov, the head of Daymokkh, the Ingush National Cultural Society in North Ossetia about what his group has been able to achieve and the obstacles it still faces (

            Before the 1992 war, he says, there were about 70,000 Ingush in the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia. Now, there are only 28,000 left. Of these only about 1500 are of student age, and only ten to 12 of these actually attend higher educational institutions in that republic. “People are afraid to send their children” to such schools, Darbazanov says.

            The authorities and the population blame the Ingush for anything that goes wrong, he says.  This isn’t because Ossetians are Christians and Ingush are Muslims because in fact many Ossetians are Muslims too. There are a few mixed marriages. But the biggest change is now the two groups interact with each other not in their own languages but in Russian.

            A few Ingush, like his parents, have been able to recover apartments the North Ossetians seized in the wake of the war, but most have not. Daymokkh tries to help with this and other problems, but while the regional government is not openly hostile, it isn’t helpful either, apparently responding to popular hostility to the Ingush.

            Most of the time, “officials never prohibit anything or block it directly, but any excessive activity by Ingush isn’t welcomed.” 

Five Pro-Kremlin Groups Take Control of Most Telegram Channels and Geld Them, URA Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 29 – When telegram channels first appeared, they were a frequent source of anti-Putin news and commentaries. As a result, Moscow blocked them between April 2018 and June 2020, during which it arranged for five pro-Kremlin groups to purchase or otherwise take control of many of them, Ivan Chuprov of the URA news agency says.

            As a result, anti-Putin and anti-Kremlin materials on these channels have almost completely disappeared, achieving the regime’s goals without the potentially counter-productive move of continuing to ban them outright, he suggests. In fact, the regime may benefit because the telegram channels retain a large following (

            According to a Kremlin insider Chuprov cites, the five groups include the Presidential Administration, several linked to the Kovalchuks’ business empire such as the Rossiya Bank and InterRAO, and Rosneft. Not only are these channels more loyal than in the past but some, like Nezygar) are even removing their earlier hostile posts.

            The regime’s drive to uncover the people behind these channels, most of whom have operated on an anonymous basis, a drive that began in 2017 and intensified in 2018, the insider says, opened the way for the regime to put pressure both financial and police on these individuals, forcing them to sell or at least cede control.

            At the same time, and probably because of fear that they too would be exposed, many of the sources within the regime on whom the telegram channels had relied for their information, stopped cooperating with the telegram channels, limiting the dramatic quality of the telegram feeds.

            As their stories have become less radically different from other news media, most telegram channels, including the most prominent of them, have lost readership and thus become less of a problem for the regime even when on occasion they do put out something the Kremlin doesn’t like.

            Kristina Potupchik, author of ‘Forbidden’ Telegram, concludes that the Kremlin’s campaign has been successful but that it is “premature” to say it has been complete. When political conflicts increase as they are likely to during the 2021 Duma campaigns, the telegram channels are likely to regain their sources within the regime and attract more readers.


Russians Can’t Not Be Imperialists But Need to Pursue Civic Nationhood, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 29 – A major conundrum for Russians but much less so for Ukrainians or Belarusians is that they cannot be Russian and not be imperialists but, like the others, they must pursue civic, not ethnic, nationhood if they are to have the benefits of modernity they seek, Vladimir Pastukhov says.

            The London-based Russian analyst argues that one must remember that liberalism and nationalism emerged at the same time and for the same reason, as opponents of autocratic states, but then nationalism changed and rooted itself not in this common agenda but rather in ethnicity (

            Where the two worked together longest, the modern democratic nation state became strongest; where they separated early on, democracy was undermined by its former ally. In Ukraine and Russia, the two have worked together; in Russia, however, those seeking democracy and those pushing for Russian nationalism remain at odds.

            The only possibility for progress, Pastukhov suggests, is for democrats to recognize that Russians are inherently imperialists and for nationalists to promote civic nationhood rather than a narrowly ethnic vision. If the former do not make that change, they won’t have a needed alliance; if the latter don’t, they will end by destroying both democracy and the state.

            In short, he says, both liberals and nationalists need a Russian nation state, one that reflects the country’s unique history but not one that elevates ethnicity to the defining principle. All those who share some common identity will be part of that state and not just those who identify as ethnic Russians.

            According to Pastukhov, the only way for the imperial Russian state not to die completely is for it to transform itself “from a caterpillar to a butterfly,” rather than remain as it is now “an eternal caterpillar,” something unnatural and impossible. It must either die or become a butterfly, in this case, a nation state.

            That will not be easy as an alliance between liberalism and nationalism will be at risk if the former defers too much to minorities or the latter insists too much on their complete absorption into itself, the analyst continues. Indeed, there are enormous risks ahead that make this project extremely problematic.

            Pastukhov cites Lenin who observed that “one must distinguish the nationalism of small peoples and the nationalism of a great nation.”  Empires are always hierarchical, with some large nations dominating, even “swallowing up” smaller ones. But because of that, it is also true that the construction of the largest as a democratic society is restricted as well.

            Russians find themselves today trapped in something like a Versailles syndrome, and the Kremlin has used that to block democratization. Unless that changes, the smaller peoples will seek to leave. But if Russians democratize, then there is a way forward that doesn’t lead to the end of the country.

            What needs to happen, he suggests, is for Russian Russians to accept other peoples as having two nationalities, their own and Russian, and for non-Russians to accept that state rather than feeling threatened by total assimilation. Many people in Russia have dual citizenship now; it is not impossible that they could also have dual nationalities.

            For that to happen, Russia must democratize and reorganize without the continued existence of ethno-national state formations like the republics. Ideally, Pastukhov says, the stae should have “a maximum of 20 to 30 major subjects,” defined territorially and not ethno-nationally.

            But these subjects should have enormous autonomy and thus be able to support the identities of the people living in them. What that means, Pastukhov suggests, is that the descendants of today’s Russians, Chechens, Tatars and Jews will be “Russian Russians, Russian Chechens, Russian Ingush and Russian Tatars.”

            The London-based Russian analyst says that those who have followed his writings will note that he has never used the word “Rossiyane.” “I consider that this is some kind of absolutely strange ideological construction.” The word “Russian” is much better, and as a first identity for ethnic Russians and a second for non-Russians a much better option.

            If non-Russians agree and see in a genuinely democratic Russia advantages for themselves, they will recognize that they are not about to lose their cultural traditions, which after all combine both distinct ethnic ones and what can become a common Russian matrix as well.


Moscow Much Divided Over When and How to Extend Nuclear Deal with US, Kirillova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 29 – Moscow has been divided about when and how to seek an extension of the START-3 Treaty, Kseniya Kirillova says, with some officials believing Moscow should do so before to help Donald Trump and others convinced that the pandemic renders such a gift irrelevant and that the Russian side will find it more useful to raise the issue later. 

            Moscow would like to influence the outcome of the American elections this time just as much as last, the US-based Russian journalist says; but this time, its influence has been reduced by the spread of the pandemic (

            Most Americans are focused so much on the pandemic, the restrictions on their lives that have been imposed, and the economic consequences of the illness that they are not paying a great deal of attention to other issues, including scandals and countercharges between the candidates, led alone foreign policy questions like START-3.

            Consequently, most Russian analysts, at least those who write in public, have been suggesting that offering a deal on START to the US, especially given Washington’s response to earlier feelers, will do little to help Trump and that Moscow would be better advised to wait and use the possibility of negotiations with a new administration.

            Others, cognizant that Americans very much fear a nuclear war, continue to believe that such an offer would be useful to its interests because Trump might seek an agreement to boost his prospects, although they know that he is limited in his ability to do so during the campaign lest he look “soft on Russia.”

            But the possibility that such an accord will affect the elections appears to have faded as the primary concern Moscow has about timing. Instead, Kirillova says, the Russian side wants to position itself so that it will achieve more of its goals and thus there are even more Russian analysts arguing for a delay.

            As security analyst Yevgeny Krutikov writes in Moscow’s Vzglyad newspaper, “the Russia side is interested not so much in how many new bombs and short and medium range rockets can be built as in the fate of American ‘models’ already positioned in Western Europe” (

            Trump can’t easily make any concessions on that point before the elections, and so, Kirillova says, Moscow analysts believe that playing the START card will be far more effective after the elections, regardless of whether Trump survives in office or Joe Biden replaces him as president.


Russia Sets New Daily Records for Coronavirus Infections and Deaths

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 29 – The Russian authorities registered 17,717 new cases of infection and 366 deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours, both records ( and

            In the face of this trend and an indication of its impact on attitudes more generally, the Levada Center released a poll showing Russians almost evenly divided between those who think their country is going in the wrong direction (43 percent) and those who believe it is going in the right one (

            The Kremlin acknowledged that the situation in the regions is in some places “critical” but denied that it plans to introduce “total restrictions” on the population or had “muzzled” doctors (, and

            But the regime’s relatively positive comments were undercut by the release of estimates by the Center for Monitoring Biological Risks of the Federal Medical Medical-Biological Agency that infections and deaths will remain high through 2021, with six million Russians likely to be infected and 52,000 to die (

            And Sberbank head German Gref issued an even more pessimistic outlet. He suggested that Russia and the world would never return to pre-COVID life, that masks would be a permanent requirement, and the economy and political systems would be fundamentally altered, perhaps beyond recognition (

            The pandemic continues to spread across the Russian Federation ( In Moscow, officials say that the overwhelming majority of the population wears masks (, but and the city government is considering more restrictions on visiting bars and restaurants ( Many fines for violations are being forgiven (

            Beyond the ring road, more restrictions are being imposed nearly everywhere ( More than 150 higher educational institutions have shifted to distance learning (, and ever more schools are doing so as well ( and

            Reuters reports but Moscow denies that Russia has stopped its testing of its first vaccine because it has run out of supplies (, and Russian officials suggest that reported infections among the test group may have been among those who received placebos (

            As to the future, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin says vaccination will begin in Moscow in November ( But medical experts say that 80 percent of those who do recover from coronavirus infections will need rehabilitation for some months (

            Shortages of all kinds of medications are spreading across Russia, the result of both limits on imports and difficulties in the distribution system within the country, creating problems for those sick with the coronavirus and those who are ill from other causes (

            On the economic front, RBC reports that 64 percent of young Russian families are now so financially stretched that they have enough money only for food and clothing (

            And the Bank of Russia reported that Russians had withdrawn a billion US dollars-worth of hard currency from Russian banks during September (


Friday, October 30, 2020

Five Belarusian Perspectives on Developments in That Country

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 28 – Because the anti-Lukashenka protests have continued for so long, ever more Belarusian commentators have had the opportunity to weigh in not only about the most recent moves but also about their longer-term consequences. These should not be ignored. Below are brief summaries of five of the most important.

·         Protest Attitudes Spreading into Government Hierarchy, Yegorov Says. Andrey Yegorov, head of the Minsk Center for European Transformation, says that it is important to understand that anti-Lukashenka attitudes are spreading from those who have gone into the streets into all social groups, including those in the regime itself, and that this development may prove critical in the coming days (

·         Moscow No Longer Seeking Union Now but Changes that Will Allow It to Dominate Belarus, Sivitsky Says. Arseniy Sivitsky, head of the Minsk Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Research, says that Moscow is no longer focusing on immediate union of Belarus with the Russian Federation but rather on constitutional reforms that will reduce the power of the Belarusian president and allow Russian forces to dominate a newly empowered parliament (

·         The traditional leaders of the Belarusian opposition have not so much disappeared from the political scene as fallen in line with the new leaders who have emerged in the course of the street demonstrations, some of the traditional leaders tell Deutsche Welle (

·         Lukashenka has Lost Control over Political agenda, Vyachorka Says. Franak Vyachorka, who works closely with the leaders of the new opposition, says that they are not winning all the battles and won’t but that they have achieved the main thing: their actions and statements have cost Lukashenka control of the agenda and put him on the defensive where he reacts to what they do rather than the other way around (

·         Street Protests have Changed How Belarusians See Themselves, Korshunov Says. Gennady Korshunov, one of Belarus’ most senior sociologists, says that participation in the protests has changed how Belarusians view themselves. They have become a nation conscious of and jealous about their power and won’t be the same regardless how the current wave of popular upsurge ends. “The Belarusians are inventing themselves as a nation” (

Kazakhstan Now Uniting Failing Villages in Clusters to Help Them Survive

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 28 – Urbanization is leading to the demise of ever more rural communities across the post-Soviet space, destroying what has been the traditional source of much nationalist feeling. Governments have tried various methods to slow or even reverse this process. One of the most interesting is in Kazakhstan.

            Over the last two years, the Kazakh authorities have adopted a policy which seems to be working and that others might copy: it is clustering existing villages to ensure that there remains sufficient population concentrations to support schools, hospitals, and other public facilities (

            By saving these institutions, the national government has eliminated one of the major reasons rural residents have fled villages and moved to the cities. When schools, hospitals and even stores close, there are fewer reasons for rural residents to remain there and more pressure to move to the cities, depriving the country of its past and putting unwanted pressure on its cities.

            Instead of trying to keep open schools and hospitals serving a declining number of people, the new clustering approach will group villages within 10 to 15 kilometers of each other so that there will be sufficient demand to justify fully funding these institutions and making the cluster a more attractive place for business development.

            The program requires in the first instance making decisions about which villages will be at the center of these clusters, improving roads between them so that people can actually reach the newly located institutions, and finding enough money to make the program work well enough to keep people and business in rural areas.

            Under the current plan, some 6500 villages will be consolidated into 1150 clusters over the next five years. So far, Kazakhstan has made sufficient progress in this direction that the central government has radically increased financing for this program and believes it will have the additional benefit of strengthening regions without major urban centers.

            That in itself will slow the kind of moves toward hyper-centralization of the economy and political system that have plagued other countries in this region.

Moscow Patriarch, Russian Federation Mufti Urged to Help Free Ingush Political Prisoners

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 28 – In response to the increasing repression of Moscow and Magas, Magomed Mutsolgov, the head of the Coordinating Council of NGOs of the Republic of Ingushetia, has appealed to Moscow Patriarch Kirill and Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) to help free Ingush political prisoners.

            Mutsolgov details the arrests and punishments that the authorities in Ingushetia have meted out against some 300 protesters over the last two years and the continuing detention of 3o leaders who have been identified by a variety of human rights groups as political prisoners (

            In addition, the Ingush rights activist and blogger says, the authorities have subjected to various kinds of pressure “about 40 social organizations and commercial structures, the majority of whom have ceased to exist,” including the republic muftiate, the Union of Teips of the Ingush People, and the Ingush Committee of National Unity.

            Moreover, many protesters have been fired from their jobs and some have even been forced to flee the republic or even the Russian Federation. Some of these, Mutsolgov continues, remain on the federal government’s most wanted list.

            Moscow removed the first authors of this repression, republic head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and presidential plenipotentiary for the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Matovnikov, but it has replaced them with officials who have continued their policies.

            Because of this pattern, the Ingush rights activist says, he is appealing to Russia’s religious leaders, Orthodox Christian and Muslim, to work to help secure the release of the leaders of the Ingush protests, many of whom have been behind bars for almost two years and deserve support for humanitarian reasons as well as political ones.

            Indicative of the continuing repression Mutsolgov points to were new acts of intimidation by the counter-extremist center in Ingushetia against the Council of Teips of the Republic of Ingushetia, a group that has continued to function under a new name but that the powers that be wanted shuttered (

            Indeed, the government of Makhmud-Ali Kalimatov has become so much like its predecessor that one commentator says the Ministry for Foreign Relations, Nationality Policy, Press and Information should be renamed “the Ministry for Abolishing the Law ‘On Rehabilitating Repressed Peoples’ and Ending the resettlement of IDPs, and Drug Control” (право-источника-власти/).

            Such an unwieldy name, M.-R. Pliyev continues, may seem ridiculous but in fact it is far more honest about what Magas is using the ministry to do than its current name.

            Also today, on the anniversary of the 1992 Prigorodny War, activists released new details on the costs of that conflict for the Ingush nation: 457 Ingush were wounded, and 192 are still MIAs, not to mention those who were killed or forced to flee (

            It should be remembered that the Ingush government recently liquidated the primary group in the republic that has been trying to track down those still missing in action from that conflict of 28 years ago.


Putin’s Foreign Policy has United West against Russia and Some Russians Against Him, Shevtsova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 28 – Vladimir Putin’s conviction that he could force the West to cooperate with him by aggressive actions against it has generated unintended consequences for the Kremlin both abroad, where the West has united against Russia, and at home, where some believe Putin isn’t being aggressive enough, Liliya Shevtsova says.

            The Kremlin didn’t want confrontation but assumed that it could act aggressively and Western countries would not react, the Russian analyst says. But this has proved to be a miscalculation. Increasingly, both governments and peoples in the West view Russia with suspicion and hostility (

            As its reaction to the Navalny poisoning shows, the West is no longer divided between “supporters and opponents” of working with more closely with Russia. Instead, it has become united in standing up to Russia be in by the rapid and nearly unanimous adoption of new sanctions against Moscow or the build up of new defensive capacities.

            Even in the United States, where elites are more divided about most issues than at any time in recent years, they are unified by hostility to Russia because of concerns about Moscow’s interference in American elections and ready to adopt new anti-Russian sanctions in the event more evidence of that surfaces, Shevtsova continues.

            Even the remaining “Western circles who call for cooperation with Moscow” are now saying that we must have a dialogue with Russia “but we understand that Russia is for us an alien country.” Such dialogue hardly guarantees “reliable cooperation.” It is more likely to have other and very different consequences. 

            Britain, France and Germany have all taken new steps in response to what they see as a new Russian threat, and even countries that had traditionally refrained from such moves are doing so. Sweden, for instance, has increased military spending and the size of its army and put units again in Gotland, a strategically important island in the Baltic.

            Even more, Sweden has revived its civil defense strategy to involve the population in repulsing any foreign invasion, an action Stockholm has decided upon because of Russian aggressiveness in the region and one that will help to further redirect Swedish public opinion against Russia.

            This new Western stance creates a new situation within Russia itself, Shevtsova says; and the shift there may be even more important for what will happen in the future. Up to now, Putin and much of the Russian elite believed they could attack the West at will but continue to exploit the advantages involvement in the West presented.

            Now that belief has been undermined if not completely destroyed, and Putin’s stance, which has always sought cooperation despite his own actions that make that more difficult, no longer looks like a winning combination to many Russians. Many blame him for their problems, but others think a far tougher policy toward the West is needed.

            For the latter group, Putin looks “almost like a Westerner,” and they’d like to see someone who intends to isolate Russia from the West and stand up against it rather than someone who has isolated the country unintentionally and hasn’t taken the steps needed to be able to counter a unified West.

            The biggest problem for these groups and for any in the Kremlin who feel inclined to go along with them is where to find the money for such a policy. After all, as Shevtsova notes, the finance ministry has just called for cuts in the country’s defense budget rather than any expansion in military programs.

            Thus, Putin and his team find themselves in a vicious circle with no clear way out. They have provoked the West into unity but they lack the resources to rebuild Russia if it remains isolated and at odds with Western countries who no longer view it as a potential partner but rather as a threat.


Siberia isn’t Russia Even in Religious Terms -- and Moscow is Worried

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 28 – Siberia not only lacks a history of serfdom but is the center of Protestantism in religious terms, both in the usual sense and as a place where residents dissent most frequently from Russian Orthodoxy. Moscow both civic and religious is now trying to change that by launching a religious purge in the region.

            In a commentary for  Region.Expert, Vadim Sidorov says that “the theatrical arrest in southern Krasnoyarsk Kray” of Sergey Torop, known as Vissarion, who has led an independent religious group for several decades is emblematic of this disturbing trend (

            Despite their loyalty to and even cooperation with the authorities and the siloviki, the Vissarionovtsy were accused of creating a religious sect that threatened the mental state of their followers and the rights of workers. But even that was not the clearest sign that a new religious “cleansing” is beginning east of the Urals.

            That is signaled by the active support the Russian Orthodox hierarchy has given to this move. One local metropolitan asked publicly why the authorities had not acted sooner, and the spokesman for the local bishopric noted that his office had warned officials about the dangers of this group for some time.

            But independent observers, including Protestants and rights activists, say there was no basis for the charges that the authorities have lodged against the group (; and that suggests, the regional commentator continues, that they became the victim of the extension to Siberia of unwritten rules that already govern religious life in central Russia.

            The region east of the Urals, he continues, was initially formed as “a kind of ‘Russian America,’” more free in both civil and religious terms and attracting large numbers of religious dissidents, like Old Believers, Molokane, Dukhobors, and Mennonites, who were repressed by the Orthodox Church at home.

            That religious diversity and tolerance for it extended into post-Soviet times, at least until now. Protestants, Catholics and other dissenting religious groups have grown rapidly in number. In Primorsky Kray, for example, by 2010, there were 178 Protestant congregations as against only 89 ROC MP ones.

            According to figures from 2014, Siberia and the Russian Far East were home to 565,000 Roman Catholics, far more than the 105,000 followers of that faith west of the Urals. (Indeed, the most important Catholic publication in the Russian Federation arose not in Moscow but in Siberia.)

            And more recently, there have been such dissenting groups within Islam, like the Nursilar and Russian Muslims, who have made their home east of the Urals as well, Sidorov continues. Moreover, even Orthodox Christian groups which look to anyone other than the Moscow Patriarchate have been targeted as well.

            What is happening now, he suggests, is that the criteria separating acceptable “traditional” faiths and unacceptable “non-traditional” ones, always arbitrary, is changing and that this change is being extended east of the Urals, a region where the latter have always been more numerous and enjoyed less outside media attention and support.

            The move against the Vissarionovtsy then is thus an indication that the powers that be in Moscow, both civil and religious, have decided to try to eliminate all religious groups that are not part of the four traditional faiths as organized in approved structures for attack, a move that will only widen the gulf that already exists between European Russia and Siberia. 


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Russia’s GDP Per Capita Will Fall to Turkmenistan’s Level by 2025, IMF Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 28 – By 2025, the GDP per capita of the population of the Russian Federation will fall another two places among the countries of the world to 70th place into a virtual tie with that of the residents of Turkmenistan, with 12,970 US dollars each compared to 12,850, according to projections by the International Monetary Fund.

            At present, the IMF says, the Russian figure is 20 percent larger than that of Turkmenistan, even though it has fallen 1600 US dollars from a year earlier. But it is projected to continue to fall, even as Turkmenistan’s figure rises over the next five years, the Fund study reports (

            China already exceeds the Russian number but by 2025, its lead will have dramatically widened to 3,258 dollars per capita more. In these and many other cases, the IMF continues, Russia will continue to fall more and then recover far more slowly than these other economies, a pattern that will leave if ever further behind even when it says it is recovering.

            The post-Covid growth of the Russian economy over the next five years will be only half as much as that of the world average of 5.2 percent and more than half of that among developing countries which are projected to have an average rate of growth of 6.0 percent. Among major economies, only Japan is likely to have a lower rate of growth (2.3 percent) than Russia.