Staunton, November 27 – Moscow has always been extremely reticent about the release of data and even decrees in many areas, but over the last several years, Ivan Begtin says, the Putin regime has blocked the release of data that had been available on demographics, health, and well-being, especially at the regional level where it has the greatest operational value.
The director of Information Culture says that “if earlier, it was much easier to get operational statistics on morality, illnesses, HIV, tuberculosis and so on, now this information to a large extent is not released either at the federal or the regional level” (znak.com/2020-11-27/pochemu_gosudarstvo_skryvaet_vse_bolshe_dannyh_ot_grazhdan_i_chto_s_etim_delat_intervyu).
This reflects less the coronavirus pandemic than “the absence of checks and balances in the current configuration of power and the absence of mechanisms that can influence the executive branch to release information, Begtin says. Sometimes the regime restricts information so that it won’t be embarrassed, but sometimes it does so by inertia.
But behind these new restrictions is something even more worrisome, he argues. By not releasing information at the regional level, the center gathers ever more power into its hands. If the regions can’t talk about problems, they can’t address them either – and everything has to go up to Moscow which is what the Kremlin now wants.
At the same time, the information activist says, there are serious problems at the other end of the spectrum: the Russian government has no clear understanding of the ethical requirement to keep data on individuals private. There is seldom good reason to release such data, but officials do, seeing it as just like any other piece of information.
Up to now, no Russians have gone into the streets to protest; but that is likely to occur because the amount of personal information being released paradoxically is increasing even as more general information is being cut back. All this needs to be discussed, but the Kremlin doesn’t want it to be because it touches on the nature of the state.
The current regime’s restrictive approach, Begtin continues, is “more Asiatic than European.” Moscow thinks it can act like Singapore, forgetting that in that city state, public trust in the regime “exceeds 80 percent” while in Russia, the figures on that are much, much lower – and the regime by its clumsiness is pushing them down further.