Monday, May 10, 2021

Ten Victory Day Stories that Didn’t Make Headlines in Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – Russian government media focused almost exclusively on the Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square and Vladimir Putin’s speech. But many other things were going on this Victory Day that may say as much about Russia and where it is headed than the official proceedings.  Below are ten such stories which didn’t get much attention.

 

1.      Putin Talks War but Russians Call for Peace. An activist in Yaroslavl staged an individual picket to proclaim that “war is not an occasion for pride” and that what the world needs is peace (7x7-journal.ru/news/2021/05/09/yaroslavskij-aktivist-v-den-pobedy-provel-piket-protiv-populyarizacii-vojny). Other activists in Volgograd which was renamed Stalingrad for the day called for an end to Russian aggression against Ukraine (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/363738/).

2.      Russia Gave Its Veterans Less than Any Post-Soviet State and Refused to Give One Veteran Behind on Taxes Anything. A survey of what post-Soviet countries are giving veterans this Victory Day found that Russia, far from the poorest, is giving the least; and there is a report that officials haven’t given at least one of them anything if the veteran is behind on taxes (newizv.ru/news/society/09-05-2021/vyplaty-veteranam-ko-dnyu-pobedy-v-stranah-byvshego-sssr-v-rossii-dali-menshe-vseh and club-rf.ru/16/news/59173).

3.      Military Vehicle in Kemerovo Parade Burns and Fire Extinguisher Doesn’t Work. A military car taking part in the Victory Day parade in Kemerovo partially burned, but the drivers were unable to contain the fire as the fire extinguisher didn’t work (znak.com/2021-05-09/v_kemerovo_na_parade_zagorelas_voennaya_tehnika_potushili_tryapochkoy).

4.      Vladivostok Journalist Ignores Veteran when Governor Shows Up. For all the talk that on Victory Day, veterans are the most people, a journalist in Vladivostok shows that isn’t true. When the regional governor showed up, she interrupted her interview with a veteran and turned her attention to Governor Olge Kozhemyako (znak.com/2021-05-09/vo_vladivostoke_zhurnalistka_prervala_rech_veterana_na_parade_uvidev_gubernatora).

5.      Vladivostok Officials Decorate Parade Route with Banners that Look Like Japanese Battle Flag. Russians in the far eastern port of Vladivostok were angered by banners that looked suspiciously like Japanese battle flags given that the USSR at least at the very end of the war was fighting Tokyo (sibreal.org/a/31242692.html).

6.      This Victory Day Highlights Moscow’s Isolation in Former Soviet Space. In past Victory Days, leaders from many post-Soviet states came to Moscow to appear with Russian leaders. This time, only Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon joined Putin (ehorussia.com/new/node/23418). Putin responded by greeting all the CIS governments and the peoples of Georgia and Ukraine but not their governments (ritmeurasia.org/news--2021-05-09--putin-pozdravil-s-dnem-pobedy-strany-sng-i-narody-gruzii-i-ukrainy-54549).

7.      Hackers Attack Immoral Regiment Portal. The Immortal Regiment website suffered three denial of service attacks and six web attacks during Victory Day (mbk-news.appspot.com/news/polk-dudos/).

8.      Many Upset that Putin Again Covers Over the Lenin Mausoleum During Parade. Given the centrality of the Soviet Union in the war effort that Putin talks about constantly, many had expected him not to put up screens to hide Lenin’s mausoleum this year as he has done in years past. But despite these hopes, once again, the Kremlin hid the mausoleum from public view (realtribune.ru/patriotizm-pod-faneroj-pochemu-putin-skryvaet-mavzolej-lenina).

9.      Victory Belongs to Veterans Not Putin. Numerous Russian bloggers say that Victory Day belongs to the veterans and must not be “privatized” into anyone’s hands and that above all “it is not a victory of Putin’s (realtribune.ru/den-pobedy-prinadlezhit-veteranam-ego-nelzya-privatizirovat and svoboda.org/a/31246510.html).

10.  Because of Pandemic, Most Parades Were Seen by Most Russians Only on TV. Because of the pandemic, most Russians watched parades this year only on television. The only people who got to see them live were those who marched in them and senior officials, along with a sprinkling of veterans, in reviewing stands (ura.news/news/1052484101).

Putin’s Victory Day Speech Departed from Earlier Ones in Four Key Ways

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – The Victory Day celebrations and the speeches leaders give generally conform to longstanding patterns. Until this year, Vladimir Putin followed those patterns, but this year, Sergey Dianov of the URA news agency says that he departed from those traditions, something that in and of itself highlights changes in his message to Russians and the world.

            First of all, the URA journalist says, his speech was longer than usual; and for him, it was the longest speech he has delivered on Victory Day since becoming president, almost ten percent longer than last year’s for example. The Kremlin leader had a lot to say, and he took his time doing so (ura.news/articles/1036282289).

            Second, there was a dramatic change in rhetoric. In the past, and even in the wake of the Crimean Anschluss which sparked new tensions with the West, Putin used the speech to thank Western countries like the UK, France and the US “for their contribution to Victory.” This time, however, he stressed that “the Soviet Union had to oppose German aggression on its own.”

            Third, while in the past, Putin spoke among what he saw as present-day threats, he typically chose one challenge rather than catalogued a whole list. From 2002 to 2005, he focused on terrorism; in 2006 to 2007, he spoke on extremism; in 2012-2013, he talked about foreign interference; in 2015, he focused on efforts to create a unipolar world; and in 2019, he talked about distortions in the historical record.

            This time around, he spoke instead about “a multiplicity of problems,” something that contributed to his speech’s greater length but that in fact reflected a kind of summing up of all the issues he has complained about over the last 20 years.

            And fourth, after talking about foreign threats in the past, Putin “every time mentioned the readiness of Russia for international cooperation.” But this time, he didn’t. Instead, he laid stress on the need to defend Russia’s national interests on its own rather than seek to address problems by cooperating with others.

Russia Should Reach Herd Immunity by the Fall, Health Minister Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – Given current levels of infection and rates of immunization, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko says, Russia should reach herd immunity by the fall, the most optimistic thing any Moscow official could come up with about the pandemic on this Victory Day (regnum.ru/news/3264117.html).

            Russian government officials announced they had registered 8419 new cases of infection and 334 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours, as the pandemic continued to ebb and flow over the country, hitting major urban and port facilities hardest (t.me/COVID2019_official/2915 and regnum.ru/news/society/3258922.html).\

            Moscow officials attempted to play down a report in the German media that talks with Berlin about German purchases of the Sputnik-5 vaccine have collapsed. According to those in the Russian capital, the talks continue and reports to the contrary are part of a Western disinformation campaign (regnum.ru/news/3264601.html).

            They also stressed that interest in Russian vaccines, including Sputnik-Lite, continues to be strong, although they conceded that hopes Westerners would travel to Russia to get shots they couldn’t get at home haven’t worked out (regnum.ru/news/3264234.html and vedomosti.ru/society/articles/2021/05/08/868980-u-vaktsinnogo-turizma-net-perspektivi).

            Even over the holidays, Russian officials in the regions are working hard to come up with schemes to get people to be immunized. In Khabarovsk Kray, they are handing out eggs to pensioners who choose to get the shots, an indication of problems far beyond just the coronavirus (sibreal.org/a/31229242.html).

            And Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said that despite all the demands on the government’s budget during the pandemic year, he had been able to keep spending in line and had in fact added 121 billion rubles (1.7 billion US dollars) to the government’s reserve (sobkorr.org/news/6097700850E25.html).

            That may please some budget hawks in the Kremlin but it means that the government had the funds to pay for far more assistance to the population than it provided, something that will not be lost on the hard-hit Russian people.

Russian Officials Give Veterans Stale Gingerbread, Empty Promises and Flashy Cards Rather than Real Help

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – Victory Day is supposed to center on remembering what those who fought for the Soviet Union did decades ago and on honoring the thinning ranks of the veterans of that conflict with special treatment. But a survey finds that officials instead are giving these aging men stale gingerbread, empty promises, and cards rather than real help.

            Viktor Kuznetsov, 89, of Yaroslavl Oblast asked for help in building a trench so his house wouldn’t flood. Officials ignored his request except to send him a package of stale gingerbread, something which they later had to apologize for (currenttime.tv/a/russia-veterans-second-world-war/31243141.html).

            He had to dig the trench himself.

            Aleksandr Varlamov, 96, lives in Vladikavkaz. He expected that the government would live up to its promises last year and give him a car. But when he asked when that is going to happen, he was given the runaround, with each set of officials blaming others for the fact that he still has no automobile.

            But what has infuriated him this year in particular is that these same officials sent him a cheap but showy card thanking him for his services even as he has seen in the news that “700 people in Moscow, officials, receive 100 million rubles (1.4 million US dollars) a year and 101 receive 600 million (900,000 US dollars).”

            This is what we fought for, he asks bitterly. “We lived in the Land of the Soviets, all wealth belonged to the people, but now it belongs to some individuals.”

            And Vladimir Zaytsev, 89, who lives in Yekaterinburg, says that he considers himself well off and doesn’t ask anyone for help. But he is upset about one thing: Putin’s arranging to remain in office forever despite the Constitution. According to the veteran, his time is up and he should leave.

            “Several years ago,” Current Time TV reports, “many of these men still considered it an honor to personally take part in the Victory Parades in their cities. But now, as a result of coronavirus restrictions, the veterans can see these celebrations only on television or via the Internet.”

‘Unifying Two Poor Regions Only Doubles Poverty,’ Birobidzhan Residents React to Latest Amalgamation Idea

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – When Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin called for amalgamating Russia’s regions two weeks ago, he specifically urged combining the Jewish Autonomous Oblast with Khabarovsk Kray (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/04/deputy-prime-minister-wants-to-replace.html).

            Now, Valeriya Fedorenko, a journalist from Novaya gazeta, has surveyed opinion in that oblast, summing up reaction  with two statements: “Marat, ir zent falsh,” Yiddish for “Marat, you are wrong,” and “uniting one poor region with another poor region doubles poverty” (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/05/08/marat-yr-z-nt-palsh-marat-ty-neprav).

            If the intensity of the negative reaction from officials who would lose their position is not unexpected – see Governor Rostislav Goldsheyn’s at eao.ru/gubernator/press-sluzhba-gubernatora-soobshchaet/gubernator-evreyskoy-avtonomnoy-oblasti-rostislav-goldshteyn-kommentiruya-slova-vitse-premera-marata/ -- that of others was far greater.

            Birobidzhan is poor. Its capital doesn’t even have a civilian airport, and travelling to and from it takes many hours by train or car. But the residents of the oblast resent having someone far away who knows nothing of their situation making decisions for them and believing that they’d be better off as a small part of some other region.

            Efraim Kolpak, the rabbi of one of the region’s two synagogues, says that there are more Jews in his region than the census counts even though the community is small. Unfortunately, he continues, in many parts of Russia, Jews still conceal their ethnic and religious identity; but in Birobidzhan, a much smaller share of them feel compelled to do so.

            Few outside of Russia know about the Jewish communities in other Russian cities, Kolpak adds, but everyone around the world knows about Birobidzhan – and its survival is thus important to the survival of Jewish identity in Russia. And the Jews of Birobidzhan have often made this point. (See gazetaeao.ru/argumenty-protiv-prisoedineniya-eao-k-chemu-libo/.)

            Valery Gurevich, an economist in the oblast, says that joining the two regions together won’t solve any of their problems and will harm Jewish identity. There are far more Jews even in Birobidzhan than the census shows. As the Odessa saying has it, when the last Jew leaves, he will be told goodbye by a thousand others.

            According to the 1989 census, there were 8800 Jews in Birobidzhan, but 25,000 then left, a figure that means the census is nonsense. That is how it has always been in Russia with regard to the Jews. People say one thing in public and another in private. In Birobidzhan that has been true too but less so than elsewhere.

            Gurevich says that instead of coming up with amalgamation ideas, Moscow should first ask Khabarovsh residents how they would feel about absorbing the “Jewish” oblast. They probably don’t want it any more than the people of Birobidzhan want to be absorbed by that region.

            And Vyacheslav Belyakov, a local political scientist, says that Khusnullin’s proposal is “not very correct” because it ignores how much unifying the two federal subjects would cost and how the money Moscow would spend on that could be far better spent on helping the people in both.

            Moscow officials don’t want to recognize that the larger the territory under a single administration, the worse its governance will be, perhaps because they would then have to focus on the issue of the world’s largest country being governed from a single center, their own urban center.

            “From the center it may seem that the fewer the number of regions, the simpler … But in reality, the good practice of present-day administration comes via decentralization and consists in the development of local self-administration. And amalgamation and centralization leads yet again to worse governance under contemporary conditions.” (stress in the original)

Sunday, May 9, 2021

May 9, 1945, ‘Best Day in Soviet History,’ Being Drained of Reasons It Was, Gozman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – “May 9, 1945, was the best day in the history of the USSR,” Leonid Gozman says. That’s why “Stalin prohibited celebrating it: he was afraid of those who won the victory.” But with the departure of those who did, the Russian government has elevated it to the most important holiday of the year by gutting it of its real meaning.

            Unlike most of the holidays the Kremlin wants Russians to mark, May 9th is different, the opposition politician and commentator says. Those who fought in the war or had family members who did – and that means almost all Russians – know what the war meant and what they hoped for with the victory (echo.msk.ru/blog/leonid_gozman/2835020-echo/).

            Gozman says that his relatives “hated parades and fanfare because they passed through that nightmare.” And had anyone said in 1945, “we can do this again!” it is fairly certain that someone would have shot him. That is not what the Soviet people expected from the victory. They not only hoped for peace but for a better life. Tragically, they didn’t get those.

            The Putin regime for 20 years has been engaging in the crime of rewriting history, eliminating most of it because it doesn’t fit with what the Kremlin wants people to know. They’ve reduced Victory to a cartoon, one in which the Soviet Union did everything and there was no Normandy, Africa or lendlease.

            The powers don’t want the Russian people to remember the realities of the war or the realities of their hopes after it. The first would undercut its own aggressive intentions; the second would threaten its hold on power.  And so it has taken a genuine holiday and made it into a fake; and the real reasons May 9, 1945, was the best day in Soviet history are being forgotten.

            Those who lived through them are passing from the scene; and those who didn’t are being fed a pack of lies that serves Putin and his cronies but not the Russian people, their country, or history itself.  The real holiday is holy and must be remembered. Putin’s ersatz one is an abomination and an embarrassment. 

Current Wave of Repression in Russia about Elections Not about Regime Change, Ananyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – The current wave of intensified repression reflects an underlying problem the Putin regime has but even more the Kremlin’s short-term concerns about the upcoming elections where things could go badly wrong for the ruling United Russia, Maksim Ananyev says. But despite that, the regime can survive a long time even without massive electoral support.

            In an interview with Radio Liberty’s Valentin Baryshnikov, the Melbourne-based Russian political economist says that the regime is turning to repression and propaganda because it can no longer count on economic growth to generate popular support but that the current wave of repression is about the elections and not a major turning point (svoboda.org/a/31244107.html).

            “Elections are extremely important” even in authoritarian countries like Rusisa, Ananyev says. They are a means for those who have power to remind everyone about who is in power and that it is far better to be with those in power than against them. And the Kremlin’s targeting of the media and especially the Internet only underlines that.

            The Australia-based analyst says that the Kremlin is very much afraid that between now and the election, an expose like the ones the opposition has launched against Medvedev and Putin in the past could appear and send United Russia’s ratings plummeting. After the anti-Medvedev film appeared, the Russian leader’s standing fell 10 percent. Putin is worried that could happen again.

            To prevent it, the Kremlin leader is not only moving against opposition groups which might produce such a film – hence the attacks on Navalny and his staffs – but also on the Internet because that is the way such a film might be disseminated to a mass audience under current conditions in Russia.

             In a related move, the Kremlin is seeking to sideline potentially charismatic opposition figures, most prominently Navalny, of course, but also others of lesser magnitude so that if the election has to be falsified for the powers to win, they won’t be as likely to face protests as they would if the loser as a result of their actions had charisma.

            All this works to keep the Putin regime in power, Ananyev continues. But there are two things to keep in mind. On the one hand, some of what he is doing may not be necessary as he has the resources to remain in power for a long time even without the popular support that a managed election could provide.

            But on the other, “authoritarian regimes are mortal. More than that, they are suddenly mortal.” That is, they may collapse as a result of some small thing they mishandle or don’t see coming.

Khrushchev’s Amnesty of 50,000 Banderites and Forest Brothers in 1955-56 Led to Demise of USSR, Gushchin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – In 1955-56, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev amnestied 50,000 Ukrainian Banderites and Baltic Forest Brothers, many of whom had worked for the Germans, and allowed them to return to their homes where they helped form nationalist movements in those places that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union, Viktor Gushchin says.

            Indeed, the historian and current president of the Russian community of Latvia says, one is forced to conclude that these powerful “’fifth columns’” were the work of the highest leadership” of the Soviet Union and were an enormous gift to the West which hoped to destroy the USSR (rubaltic.ru/article/kultura-i-istoriya/20210508-amnistiya-posobnikov-gitlera-privela-k-raspadu-sssr/).

            It appears, the Riga-based historian says, that Khrushchev took this step in order to end talk about the GULAG because he and those in the leadership had been deeply involved in its operation earlier and because the Soviet leader wanted to develop better relations with the West and especially West Germany. But what he did was a criminal mistake, Gushchin argues.

            These fighters were allowed to return to their homes without any explanatory media effort by the Soviet authorities, and as a result, many in Ukraine and the Baltic countries came to view them as heroes who had been unjustly imprisoned than as the Nazi collaborators that Gushchin insists they were.

            What Khrushchev did had a pre-history. In March 1946, the Soviet leadership of Latvia asked that members of the Latvian Legion of the SS be amnestied so that they could return home and help that republic recover from the ravages of war. Remarkably, Gushchin continues, Moscow agreed.

            Latvian legionnaires were amnestied “indiscriminately and unconditionally” and they too came home without any effort by the Soviet government to explain what their crimes had been. What is striking, Gushchin argues, is that the Forest Brothers and the Banderites were in “a more privilege position” than members of the Vlasovite movement.

            The latter were immediately arrested if they returned to the USSR, but some Banderites and Forest Brothers who came back – he gives no numbers – were allowed to return to peaceful life without prejudice, Gushchin says.

            According to the Russian activist, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Khrushchev did all this completely consciously and thus “created hothouse conditions for the development of Baltic and Ukrainian nationalism.” And while he was doing this, he was eliminating many of the Stalinist guard that fought the Nazis during the war.

            It is thus no surprise that things turned out the way they did, Gushchin concludes.

            On the one hand, this is a classic post hoc ergo propter hoc argument, an insistence that anything someone doesn’t like necessarily is uniquely responsible for the direst consequences later. But on the other, this perspective reflects the increasingly anti-Western and anti-reform attitudes of the Putin regime and its supporters. And thus it too is “no surprise.”

 

Bolshevik Coup ‘Greatest Geopolitical Disaster of 20th Century’ as Without It, Neither Hitler nor World War II Would have Happened, Solonin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – Vladimir Putin has long insisted that the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 was the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century, but Russian historian Mark Solonin disputes that says that in fact, it was not the end of the USSR but its beginning with the Bolshevik coup that deserves that description.

            That is because, the longtime specialist on World War II says, had the Bolsheviks not come to power, Hitler would not have either; and without the Nazi leader’s rise, the second world war would not have broken out (gordonua.com/news/worldnews/solonin-sssr-dolzhen-byl-ne-voznikat-1552174.html).

            Asked by Alesya Batsman, the chief editor of the GORDON internet publication “how the USSR should have acted in order to avoid this bloody war?” Solonin replied that the best thing it could have done would have been never to have appeared on the map of history at all.

            To be sure, the Russian historian said, “the appearance of totalitarian regimes throughout Europe and in Argentina in the 1920s and 1930s was no accident and had deep roots. But nevertheless, all this insanity began in Russia and the Russian Empire on the ruins of which the Soviet Union was created.”

            But nevertheless, “the victory of the monstrously cruel, inhumane and mad totalitarian communist regime  in a huge country” such as Russia was beyond any doubt “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”

 

St. Petersburg’s Pandemic High Plateau Said ‘Unstable’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – Despite Moscow’s dispatch of tens of thousands of doses of vaccine and the St. Petersburg government’s effort to enforce the wearing of masks and social distancing, the coronavirus pandemic in the northern capital is at best at an unacceptable and unstable “high plateau,” officials say (regnum.ru/news/3263804.html).

            Something similar appears to be the case in Moscow as well, and many observers fear that the long holidays which have not boosted inoculations but have led more people to violate sanitary norms may lead to a new explosion in infections, hospitalizations and deaths before the end of this month.

            The situation in other, smaller Russian cities is also increasingly problematic, and even today, one day before the victory holiday, some of them are cancelling popular attractions like fireworks to prevent large gatherings that could prove to be super-spreader events (regnum.ru/news/3263489.html).

            Given a slowdown in the rate of vaccinations, politicians are coming up with new incentives to try to get Russians to take the shots. The latest proposal comes for LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky who says that Russians who have received fines for one thing or another should have them waved if they get the shots (regnum.ru/news/3263568.html).

            To judge from the overall figures, which show a small but continuing improvement, many areas are doing better even if the largest cities are again taking the hardest hit. Today, Moscow officials reported registering 8329 new cases of infection and 370 deaths over the last 24 hours for the country as a whole (t.me/COVID2019_official/2905).

            The Russian government for its part is trying to decide whether it can still gain a significant portion of the European market given that the European Commission is close to finalizing a deal to purchase almost two billion doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to treat the entire EU population (bfm.ru/news/471534).

Competition for Being Second Nationality in Republics and Regions Intensifies in Middle Volga

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 7 – With the approach of the Russian census, many non-Russians are worried about what percentage of the population they will have in their own republics. But in the Middle Volga or Idel Ural as the peoples there refer to it, the Tatars are also concerned about retaining their status as the second largest nation in neighboring republics and regions.

            Such concerns are typically expressed with caution for two reasons. On the one hand, relations with neighboring federal subjects can be compromised if any one people talks too much about how many of its nationals are in others, something that parallels non-Russian concerns about how many ethnic Russians there are.

            And on the other hand, those who want to see their nation occupy a growing or at least stable share of the population of its republic often see co-nationals in other subjects as a resource on which they can draw to ensure or boost their presence at home as it were. But the Tatars of the Republic of Tatarstan are in a somewhat different position.

            Like all others, they want to ensure that they do not lose their majority in their own republic; but they also want to maintain their presence in the neighboring republics and oblasts so as to ensure that their influence in Russia as a whole is greater and so as to lay the ground work for the larger regional project of a united super region.

            Of the 12 federal subjects in the Volga Federal District other than Tatarstan itself, the Tatars are the second largest nation in five – Kirov Oblast, Nizhne-Novgorod Oblast, Penza Oblast, Perm Kray, and Orenburg Oblast – trail the Russians for second place in the others except for Saratov where they also trail the Kazakhs (idelreal.org/a/31203219.html).

            If the Tatars make significant gains or suffer significant losses in this competition for “placing,” that will have a major impact on Kazan’s ability to maintain itself as the leader of the Middle Volga and as spokesman for the non-Russians of the Russian Federation as a whole. This may not be as fateful as a changed ranking of the Russians, but it could end by mattering at least as much.

Some from Disbanded Navalny Staffs May Help National and Regional Movements

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 7 – The Navalny staffs set up in cities across the Russian Federation were almost exclusively focused on supporting Andrey Navalny and his all-Russian movement. But now that they have been banned by the government, some of their members appear to be moving toward becoming involved with regional and republic groups.

            Todar Baktemir of the IdelReal portal focuses on one such individual, Valentin Belyayev, who earlier worked in the Navalny staff in the Mari-El capital of Yoshkar-Ola. At that time, as the activist freely admits, he was “never interested in the status of the Maris in Russia.” But now things have changed (idelreal.org/a/31237560.html).

            Belyayev, a native of Mari El but not a Mari speaker, became involved in politics because of his homosexuality. He wanted to ensure that everyone in Russia has the same rights that homosexuals have in other countries and especially in Scandinavia. He was attracted to the Navalny movement because of its positions and became actively involved in the Navalny staff in Yoshkar-Ola

            When Moscow banned those staffs and his was closed, Belyayev was arrested and held for five days. Since that time, he has been thinking about what to do next and has been exploring his Mari roots and the possibility that he can become part of a Mari national movement before it is too late to save that Finno-Ugric people of the Middle Volga.

            “At present,” he says, he “cannot call himself a Mari to the full extent because I haven’t mastered the Mari language; and for me, this is the key characteristic as far as the question of national identity is concerned,” although he says that he has passed a certain distance along “the path of Mari-ization,” something possible because of his own Mari roots.

            In the past, Belyayev says, he wasn’t all that interested in the Maris or the problems of national minorities in Russia. “The cultures of such small peoples as the Mari were for me something deeply archaic, agrarian, conservative and patriarchal. How could I be interested in them?”

            The trigger for his own change, he continues, was the trial of Komi activist Aleksey Ivanov who refused to participate without a Komi translator. He is someone of “completely progressive views” but nonetheless was speaking out in defense “of the national interests of one of the Finno-Ugric peoples of Russia.”

            After news of his defiance spread, Belyayev says, he personally began to read up on national minorities online; and this prompted him to ask himself: “why can’t the Finno-Ugric nations of the Russian Federation live and flourish in exactly the same ways the Finns, the Estonians and the Hungarians are?”

            There is no ready-made Mari national movement, he suggests. “It is still in its infancy,” and the government controls many groups. As a result, there are only three possible scenarios for the future of the Mari people. First, things may continue as they are, something that satisfied neither the non-Russians nor the Russian nationalists.

            Second, Moscow may destroy the republics and Russify the non-Russians. In that event, the Maris will cease to exist as a nation. Or third, “the Mari people must rise from its knees and restore itself in all its beauty. According to Belyayev, that will happen only “if the Maris are able to form a modern Mari national urban culture.”

            “Russia long ago passed through the process of urbanization and the absolute majority of residents of Russia live in cities. But those Mari who identify as such as before live in villages” because “in the cities, they are massively Russified in the second or third generation.” If the Maris are to survive as a people, that must change.

            They need to follow the path of the Finns, the Estonians, and the Hungarians, Belyayev continues. But that will be “impossible” unless there is a democratic transition in Russia. Both the Maris and the Russians need that, and so there is a basis for cooperation now, cooperation that few on either side viewed as possible only months ago.

Kazakhstan Begins Building a Caspian Fleet

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 7 – Russia’s Caspian Flotilla, the dominant naval force there, has attracted widespread attention because Moscow has dispatched its ships to the Sea of Azov to put pressure on Ukraine. But the Russian navy is not the only one that is growing on that contested body of water.

            All the other littoral states – Azerbaijan and Iran in particular but Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan as well – have been expanding their naval capabilities beyond search-and-rescue and defense of offshore oil and gas facilities. (On these developments, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/03/birth-of-azerbaijani-navy-and-revival.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/02/azerbaijani-navy-prepares-to-defend.html.)

            Of the five, Kazakhstan has lagged behind; but with its ongoing efforts to promote the port of Aktau as a major international shipping hub, it is now entering this competition in earnest. And while its steps so far have been relatively small, they could eventually pose a challenge to Moscow – and likely will require new talks to ensure that no conflict breaks out.

             Two days ago, Kazakhstan launched a small patrol ship, the Turkestan which officials set is intended to provide defense of the territorial waters of that country, its state borders, and, most important, its continental shelf which remains undelimited (inform.kz/ru/korabl-turkistan-otpravilsya-v-pervoe-plavanie_a3784859 and casp-geo.ru/12172-2/).

            This is the second ship of this class. The first was launched in May 2020. Both are 50 meters long and displace 400 tons. According to Kazakhstan officials, among the primary tasks of these vessels are combating poaching on the Caspian and defending the state borders (inaktau.kz/news/3092365/na-kaspii-zaderzany-narusiteli-gosgranicy).

All Russia’s Systemic Parties and Most Opposition Ones Remain Moscow-Centric, Federative Party Head Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 7 – All four of Russia’s systemic parties are Moscow-centric and approach the regions in an abstract way that is only about how to benefit themselves and the capital, and most of the country’s opposition parties are equally Moscow-centric, concerned only about replacing what they see as a bad tsar with a good one, Oleg Khomutinnikov says.

            The historian who serves as a deputy in the  Lipetsk Oblast council founded the as-yet unregistered Federative Party to try to overcome such attitudes out of a belief that the free development of regions not only will boost economic development but provide the basis for democracy and freedom for the country as a whole.

            (For background on his uphill fight given the Russian government’s ban on regional parties and Moscow’s conviction that any regional activism will lead to the disintegration of the country, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/02/federative-party-absurdly-being-accused.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/05/regional-amalgamation-call-completely.html).

            Khomutinnikov has now given an interview to Vadim Shtepa, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal, for Radio Liberty in which he develops these ideas and stresses that regionalism and federalism are necessary preconditions for a free, democratic and prosperous Russia in the future (svoboda.org/a/31241452.html).

            None of the Duma parties want to take note of the growing demand for improving life in the regions and the desire of people there to have greater control over their lives instead of simply being dictated to by Moscow and Moscow appointees, the Federative Party head continues.

            One of the reasons both the systemic and extra-systemic parties fail to pay attention to regional aspirations, he says, is that the regions and republics have been stripped of the rights the constitution says they are supposed to have that neither the one nor the other kind of party conceives of the need for federalism both politically and economically.

            But “as long as this de facto division of the country into ‘a metropolitan center’ and ‘colonies’ is preserved, no improvement in the lives of the majority of residents of the regions will take place.” Consequently, the activist says, his party seeks “a change of the structural foundations of the state, not just the replacement of a ‘bad’ Kremlin ruler with a ‘good’ one.”

            That puts it at odds with jailed opposition leader Aleksey Navalny, Khomutinnikov says, given that despite all his good anti-corruption work, he remains “too centrist,” a reflection “perhaps” of his being a resident of the capital. But Moscow isn’t Russia, and Russia is too diverse to develop as if it were.

            Russia is on paper an asymmetric federation, something many in Moscow think is both wrong and unsustainable. But experience shows that “asymmetry does not preclude a federation.” What blocks it in Russia is that “the Kremlin powers in principle do not want to create a federation.”

            After a brief period in the early 1990s, they led the charge to “a new centralization and the creation of ‘the power vertical,’ even though this term appeared later. But a federation is about horizontal and equal ties and the mutuality of connections among the regions.” And that is the basis for the stability of the country.

            Today, because of Moscow’s policies, “the regions are in fact isolated from one another. Each of them is tied exclusively to the center, and all inter-regional projects must be agreed to with some ‘central’ officials.” As a result, most of them are blocked or only superficial in their impact.

            The Moscow-centric parties approach the regions in an “abstract” way, as the continuing calls for amalgamation show, something that reflects just how long those in power or aspiring to power have been around. They cannot imagine change and thus see anyone who calls for change as a threat rather than as a potential ally.

            And the Muscovites if one may call them that fear regions and republics because they fear the freedoms that the people in these places want. They “don’t want to share power and want to preserve it forever. This is a generalized portrait of the those in the metropolitan center who call themselves the Russian elite.”

A Baker’s Double Dozen of Other Notable Stories from Russia This Week

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 7 – Below are 26 more stories from Russia this week that deserve to be noted because they shed significant light on Russia, its government and its people, but that I was unable to write up as full-scale Windows:    

 

1.      Russian Oligarch Offers to Bankroll New Trump Social Network. Konstantin Marofeyev, a Russian oligarch behind Tsargrad television, has offered to fund a possible effort by former US president Donald Trump to create his own social network (znak.com/2021-04-28/pravoslavnyy_biznesmen_malofeev_predlozhil_donaldu_trampu_pomoch_po_sozdaniyu_novoy_socseti).

2.      90-Year-Old Russian Grandmother Challenges Duma Speaker. Vyacheslav Volodin faced an unexpected challenge when he appeared in public and a elderly Russian woman denounced him and his policies. Her words and Volodin’s troubled reaction were caught on film and went viral online (idelreal.org/a/31232111.html).

3.      Moscow Using Draft to Suppress Dissent. The Putin regime has adopted a large number of strategies to suppress dissent and punish those who engage in it. One of the most repressive and frightening is its increase use of the military draft against younger protesters (themoscowtimes.com/2021/05/02/in-russia-conscription-is-a-weapon-for-silencing-dissent-a73805).

4.      Most Foreign Journalists in Russia at Risk of Being Declared ‘Foreign Agents.’ Most journalists from other countries have been declared “foreign agents,” something that limits their ability to function. The Russian Security Council reportedly is considering expanding this policy to most of the rest (ehorussia.com/new/node/23355).

5.      Moscow Makes More than 500,000 Residents of DNR and LNR Russian Citizens. The Russian government has  distributed 527,000 Russian passports to residents of the breakaway Donbass regions, thus creating the basis for a claim that further Russian intervention in Ukraine is to protect ethnic Russians (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=608EA01049784).

6.      Russia’s Demographic Situation Continues to Deteriorate.  The number of children born in Russia over the last five years has declined by 24.2 percent, while deaths continue to rise even though the pandemic is easing, thus ensuring that this year’s population decline will be even larger than last year’s post-war record falloff (https://mbk-news.appspot.com/korotko/chislo-rozhdennyh-v-rossii/ and https://krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/85175).

7.      Rising Oil Prices haven’t Returned Russia to Earlier Earnings. A major reason that rising oil prices haven’t boosted Russian earnings to earlier levels is that Moscow has not been able to export nearly as much oil as it expected to key markets. Consequently, while earnings per barrel are up, earnings have remained much lower than before (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/85173).

8.      Fraudsters Outpace Even Siloviki. Last year, the Russian force structures investigated 260,000 suspected cases involving bank accounts, but fraudsters carried out an estimated 770,000 illegal operations (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/85142).

9.      Shift to Capitalism wasn’t Progress but Regress, Fursov Says. Moscow analyst Andrey Fursov says that Russians are by nature anti-capitalist and that the country’s move from socialism to capitalism in the 1990s was thus not a form of economic progress as liberals insist but a regression (business-gazeta.ru/article/507977).

10.  Melting Permafrost Seen Leading to Higher Lung Cancer Rates in Russia. Scholars say that the rapid melting of the permafrost in the Russian North is releasing enormous amounts of radon and that this will lead to higher rates of lung cancer in the population there and elsewhere (thebarentsobserver.com/en/climate-crisis/2021/05/scientists-fear-more-lung-cancer-radon-released-thawing-permafrost and akcent.site/novosti/13926).

11.  Udmurt Prosecutors Go after Astrologer for Illegal Missionary Work. Prosecutors in Izhevsk have charged Yekaterina Kalininkova with illegal missionary because the astrologist refers to the Hindu divinities Shiva and Durga during her work (idelreal.org/a/31237674.html).

12.  Russia Gives Its Veterans Far Less than Central Asian Countries Do. Russian officials take great pride in how much they support their country’s veterans, but this year, Moscow provided far less to the remaining World War II veterans than did Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, only about six percent relative to the former (rusmonitor.com/v-rf-veterany-vov-poluchat-v-razy-menshe-deneg-chem-veterany-v-kazahstane-i-uzbekistane.html).

13.  KPRF Building a Stalin Center in Bor. Communist activists in Bor are building a Stalin Center to provide a space for protesting against the Putin regime whose repressions they say are worse than those of the Soviet dictator (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/05/05/my-raschishchaem-gnil).

14.  Patriarch Kirill Expands His Personal Protection Detachment. Many speculate that the Kremlin would like to see Kirill exit his position as Moscow patriarchate one way or another. One indication that the churchman may be concerned is that he has expanded his personal protection detachment which would make any attack on him more difficult (credo.press/237064/).

15.  Regional Air Routes to Contract Further. The Russian government, which has already closed hundreds of small airports, is now in the process of closing still more, citing security concerns. Regional carriers say that unless that policy is reversed, they will be forced to cancel all flights to many increasingly isolated parts of the country (https://www.rbc.ru/business/05/05/2021/608958169a79476d7121f28d).

16.  Moscow is Now Restricting Mushroom Collecting. Russians face increasing restrictions from the Putin regime, but a new one may infuriate people who had been supportive of the Kremlin. The natural resources ministry has tightened the rules governing the collection of mushrooms, a popular pastime in that country (sibreal.org/a/31240506.html).

17.  Inflation Hitting Not Only Consumers but Businesses. The Russian authorities have been worried about rising prices for consumers, but they may face an even bigger problem because inflation is now hitting businesses who will undoubtedly raise prices further as a result (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/85203).

18.  Russians ‘Eating’ Their Savings at the Rate of 280 Million Rubles an Hour. Rosstat, the Russian government’s statistical arm, says that in an attempt to maintain their standard of living in the face of rising prices and falling incomes, Russians are drawing down their savings at an unprecedented rate – 280 million rubles (four million US dollars) every hour of every day (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/85193).

19.  Cut Off from Foreign Travel, Russians Now Flooding Daghestan and Chechnya. Only a few years ago, Russians would have avoided these two North Caucasus republics because of violence and bad infrastructure, but now they are visiting them in unprecedented numbers as substitutes for foreign destinations now out of reach (zen.yandex.ru/media/varandej/turizm-v-chechne-davno-uje-obychnoe-delo and themoscowtimes.com/2021/05/04/confined-by-the-pandemic-russian-tourists-flock-to-dagestan-a73784).

20.  Siloviki Say They Could have Killed Sakha Shaman but Decided Not to. Russian Guards who took part in the arrest of Shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev said they might very well have killed him when they placed him under arrest, but they decided not to, a clear indication of how the siloviki approach such questions and decide them not on the basis of law or morality but convenience (sibreal.org/a/31242513.html).

21.  Unemployment among Russians 15 to 30 Rises by One Million in Last Year. Unemployment among all Russians has gone up over the last pandemic year, but it has hit young people especially hard. According to new reports, the number of Russians between 15 and 30 who have jobs has declined by a million, something that may add to their propensity to protest (trtrussian.com/novosti-rossiya/chislennost-zanyatyh-rossiyan-ot-15-do-30-let-sokratilas-na-1-mln-chelovek-5377113).  

22.  30 Years after End of USSR, Moscow Sends Largest Soviet Submarine to Scrapyards. It is common ground that Russia has been living off much that was produced in Soviet times, but some of that production is now wearing out, including in the military sector. After many refits, the Russian government has decided to scrap what had been the largest Soviet atomic powered submarine (finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/rossiya-otpravit-na-metallolom-poslednyuyu-krupneyshuyu-atomnuyu-podlodku-sssr-1030373544).

23.  Moscow Will Begin Drilling in Sea of Azov for Water for Occupied Crimea. The Russian government has announced that it will begin exploring for water under the Sea of Azov this summer in order to try to provide fresh water for occupied Crimea. That likely will mean that Russia will try to impose even tighter control than now on that body of water (aif.ru/society/burenie_skvazhin_v_azovskom_more_dlya_vodosnabzheniya_kryma_nachnetsya_v_iyule).

24.  Prostitutes Say Russian Businessmen and Parliamentarians Like Sado-Masochistic Sex. Russian prostitutes tell journalists that Russian businessmen and Duma deputies are among their most frequent customers for sado-masochistic sex (lenta.ru/articles/2021/05/04/bdsm/).

25.  Closed Baikal Cellulose Plant Still Polluting Baikal. Vladimir Putin received widespread praise when he finally shuttered the Baikal cellulose plant that had been polluting Lake Baikal for decades, but closing the plant has not ended its negative impact on the lake because the authorities have done little to clean up large piles of pollutants from its past operations (vtimes.io/2021/04/26/chto-budet-s-baikalskim-tsellyulozno-bumazhnim-kombinatom-a4696).

26.  Now Even State Media Draw Fines for Using Objectionable Material. In a sign that the Putin regime faces a situation in which even its own media can’t be counted on to exclude things it doesn’t like all the time, a state media outlet has been fined for using a clip from an independent channel (idelreal.org/a/31244306.html).