Friday, October 22, 2021

Windows on Eurasia Closing for the Time Being

Because of a deterioration in my health, I am compelled to suspend preparation of the Windows on Eurasia series. I do not know when or even if I will be able to resume. After more than 17 years and 20,000 windows, I want all of my readers to know how grateful I am to them for all that I have learned from them. My best regards to all for the future. Paul Goble

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Anti-Vaxxers in Russia Behaving Unfortunately but ‘Rationally,’ Martynov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 15 – Kirill Martynov, the political editor of Novaya gazeta, says that in contrast to the situation in other countries, anti-vaxxers in Russia are behaving “rationally.” Their primary source of information about covid is government media, that media always lies, and no one believes it anymore (rosbalt.ru/posts/2021/10/15/1926316.html).

            Resistance to vaccinations and other anti-covid measures appears to be growing, with polls showing expanded opposition to almost every measure that the government proposes (superjob.ru/research/articles/113120/shtrafy-za-otkaz-ot-vakcinacii-podderzhivaet-kazhdyj-devyatyj/ and regnum.ru/news/3399045.html).

            And this comes as both new infections and new deaths over the last 24 hours have set records, 32,196 and 999 respectively; and as officials say that the pandemic situation in Russia is if not critical close to that measure (t.me/COVID2019_official/3702, regnum.ru/news/society/3394205.html and regnum.ru/news/3398799.html).

            Moreover, as bad as these numbers are, independent demographer Aleksey Raksha says that the real numbers are 2.5 times greater but that officials are falsifying them. That would mean that more than 2400 Russians are currently dying from the coronavirus every day (currenttime.tv/a/covid-statistika-russia/31510983.html).

            Federation Council head Valentina Matviyenko continues to insist that there is no basis for a lockdown, but economist and commentator Vladislav Inozemtsev says that “the time for explaining the advantages of vaccination” has passed and that more draconian measures need to be taken now (regnum.ru/news/3398817.html and rosbalt.ru/posts/2021/10/15/1926346.html).

            At the same time, there are increasing expressions of concern that the impact of anything the government does as far as the pandemic is concerned may have an extremely negative impact on the Russian economy (regnum.ru/news/3398856.html and profile.ru/economy/v-ritme-novoj-volny-kak-biznes-vstrechaet-osennee-nastuplenie-koronavirusa-942316/).

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

·         Developers of the Sputnik-5 vaccine say they have completed yet another clinical trial of the medication and report that it is more than 90 percent effective (regnum.ru/news/3398521.html).

·         Ever more people are expressing concern that the pandemic will have a negative impact on participation rates in the upcoming Russian census (ehorussia.com/new/node/24497 and superjob.ru/research/articles/113121/uhudshenie-epidemiologicheskoj-obstanovki-uvelichilo-chislo-otkazov-ot-uchastiya-v-perepisi-v-1/).

·         And Moscow announced that it is restoring air traffic to nine more countries in about two weeks (interfax.ru/russia/797306).

Preliminary Census Results from Daghestan Suggest Peoples without Written Languages are Assimilating to Larger Groups Only Slowly

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 15 – The Russian census in Daghestan is being conducted in two parts. The first, during July, involved surveys of villages in mountainous parts of the republic where some of the smallest nationalities live. It involved about 76,000 people mostly from nationalities without a written language (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/369099/).

            Now, the census is being conducted among the remaining three million residents of the republic. No official data has been released so far from either round, but experts have had some access to the preliminary census in the mountainous areas and that has led to a discussion about how much assimilation is taking place.

            According to republic linguistics expert Uzlipat Gasanova, all of the numerically small nationalities in Daghestan which lack their own alphabets and writing systems are under threat; and as a result, many of them are assimilating to larger groups within the republic such as the Avars or Dargins.

            The authorities are not so much promoting this, she says, as failing to provide a defense of the smaller nationalities. Consequently, migration and educational opportunities are driving assimilation rather than any focused state policy. But some who have looked at the first part of the census aren’t so sure.

            Mavdzhid Khalilov, another linguistics professor, says that the non-literary Dido and Tsez peoples are overwhelmingly continuing to declare themselves members of their own nationalities. She puts the share of such people at 80 percent. They are not, she insists, assimilating at anything like the rate some like Gasanova say.

            Khalilov says that languages of the Avar-Ando-Tsez group are indeed under threat from these broader social processes; but she insists that the government isn’t promoting assimilation although it is doing little to prevent it. That means the process of assimilation is likely to be slower than many fear or hope for.

           To the extent this is the case, those Avars and Dargins who had hoped to boost their own numbers by assimilating these smaller groups appear likely to be disappointed. And that in turn means that the ethno-political situation in Daghestan will change less quickly and radically than many had assumed. 

           

Putin Doesn’t Live in a Parallel Reality but Revels in His Ability to Speak and Act in This One with Impunity, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 14 – Many who hear Vladimir Putin’s most outrageous statements or see his most aggressive actions are inclined to say he is living in a parallel reality; but in fact, Vitaly Portnikov says, the Kremlin leader constantly monitors reality to see just how far he can go. That reality suggests to him that there are few limits and that he can pursue his agenda with impunity.

            No matter what Putin says or does, the Ukrainian political analyst says, many in Russia and the West instead of standing up to him and taking effective action to block what he says or does want to avoid breaking with him and seek some new agreement. Putin sees all this and acts accordingly (graniru.org/opinion/portnikov/m.282863.html).

            He is “careful” in his actions, Portnikov says. “He studies what will be the level of responsibility to which he will be held. And if there isn’t any, then he goes further and with greater confidence. That is how it has been in Russia since his coming to power.” He watches how society and foreign governments react and when they don’t, he feels free to do more.

            Thus, Ukraine followed Georgia and now using gas as a political weapon in Europe have followed that. But instead of thinking up truly effective sanctions, many in the West want to avoid breaking with Putin and instead seek new agreements with him. Putin and his entourage see all this, and to what should be the surprise of no one, act accordingly.

            The Kremlin leader is laughing at the West and at his own society and reveling in his ability to do anything he wants without negative consequences, Portnikov says. “He hasn’t gone out of his mind. In that regard, all is well with him. It is we who have gone out of our minds if we continue to permit this.”

We have only ourselves to blame and we live in a parallel reality, the commentator concludes, “if we allow him to laugh for twenty years of rule and threaten and then have no doubt that his rule will last forever.”

Moscow Disbands Foundation for Preservation of Native Languages

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 14 – Despite Vladimir Putin’s assertion that Russia must do everything possible to ensure the preservation and study of native languages, the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs has now liquidated the Foundation for the Preservation and Study of Native Languages earlier created by Putin to do just that.

            The foundation, which even the Federal Agency that took this step says has been doing a good job, will cease to exist and its functions will be transferred to bureaucracies within the Agency and the educational ministries (infocus.press/fond-izucheniya-rodnyh-yazykov-budet-likvidirovan-zayavlyayut-v-fadn/ and nazaccent.ru/content/36925-fond-sohraneniya-i-izucheniya-rodnyh-yazykov.html).

            That will allow the government to save money, to “optimize” nationality policy, the Federal Agency says in taking this step. But it will simultaneously lower the priority given to saving non-Russian languages and ensure even greater bureaucratic control over all issues having to do with native language media and instruction.

            As such, this action follows the same pattern the Kremlin has been using more broadly: blaming bureaucratic changes which have powerful political consequences on the need to save money, and proclaiming in the past and again now that the bureaucracy alone will do everything that is necessary. It doesn’t need cooperation with the population but only obedience.

HIV/AIDS, Russia’s Other Pandemic, Expanding to Sub-Saharan African Levels

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 14 – So much attention has been devoted to the coronavirus pandemic that many Russians have forgotten that they face another pandemic as well, that of HIV/AIDS and that this epidemic now involves more than a million of them, with the rate of infections in some regions rivalling that of the poorest countries of the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa.

            According to Novaya Gazeta investigative journalist Antonina Asanova, Russia today now suffers from HIV cases ten times more often than do people in the European Union and in parts of the Urals and Siberia, that figure is 20 or even 35 times the EU rate (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/10/14/seks-bez-prosveta).

            Officially, more than 1.1 million Russians are listed as HIV infected, something that costs the economy for their treatment some 225.5 billion rubles (three billion US dollars) a year, with the government focusing almost exclusively on treatment rather than prevention, an approach that ensures the unregistered will continue to spread this disease.

            The spread of HIV can be described as “a quiet epidemic.” The first wave in the 1990s was largely limited to those who used drugs; but now almost two-thirds of new cases come from sexual contact heterosexual as well as homosexual. And the second wave now is dominated not only by that method of transmission but involves older people.

            “The largest number of new cases are not in the two capitals but in the Urals and Siberia,” Asanova reports. Kemerovo, Irkutsk and Perm are especially hit, and in the first two, “almost every 50th resident” – that is, two percent of the population would test positive for HIV if they were all being tested.

            “Such a level of the spread of the virus should logically be compared not with Europe but with the small and poor countries of Africa or the Caribbean Sea,” she continues. “The share of HIV positive cases in the Kuzbass is comparable to that in Gambia, Haiti and Belize. And this without any exaggeration is a catastrophe.”

            Most Russians still think of HIV/AIDS as “a disease of marginals” like drug users, prisoners and youths from poor families. “But in the last five years, HIV has ceased to be an illness linked to drug use. Now, more often than that, the virus is spread via ordinary undefended sexual contact,” with 65 percent of new cases last year coming that way.

            Only 55 percent of all Russian cases are getting anti-retroviral therapies, and that means that nearly half are still in a position to spread the disease, a pattern that makes the future grim indeed. Moreover, HIV is increasingly a disease of middle-aged and older people rather than the young.

            But what is especially worrisome, experts say, is that the stigma of having HIV is still so great in Russia that many who should be tested are avoiding doing so, another guarantee that this pandemic too will only get worse in Russia.

Putin Says Foreign Agents are Criminals, Signaling Broader and More Severe Attacks Ahead, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 14 – Vladimir Putin’s remark this week that “far from all” opposition figures are in prison has attracted more attention, but his statement that those who are classified by the state as foreign agents are guilty of a crime is more indicative of how he thinks and what he is planning, Sergey Shelin says.

            “Up to now,” the Rosbalt commentator says, “foreign agents formally were not considered criminals and were registered on an official list not for the violation of Russian law but for completely legally receiving money from foreign sources.” Now, Putin has made it clear that he considers that a crime in itself (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/10/14/1926232.html).

            This criminalization of the concept of foreign agent strongly suggests, Shelin continues, that the Kremlin leader plans, as Vladimir Pastukhov and others have argued, to shift from targeted repression to a more massive form, one that will include as its targets far more Russians than has been the cases in the past. 

            Putin shared his thinking on the criminal dangers those he has defined as foreign agents present to the political system he seeks to impose on the country  in remarks at an energy forum and in an interview with a CNBC reporter (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66916 and kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66920).

            According to the Kremlin leader, “everything must develop in a stable and peaceful fashion.” And there must not be any chance for a revolution that could interfere with this process. “We need stable and peaceful circumstances and the stable development of the economy and social sphere.”

            But not everyone agrees with this, Putin continued, although at present “far from all of these are in jail.” They are hostile to the position of the government and “every other of them has a foreign passport or residence permit,” a paranoid suggestion for which he offered no evidence at all.

            If such individuals don’t violate Russian law “and thus give reason to be declared a foreign agent,” Putin said, “that won’t happen,” a statement that might seem to offer the possibility that many will not but that contains within itself the notion that the basis for being declared a foreign agent is a criminal act.

            “On paper, everything remains as before,” Shelin concludes. “But Putin has reminded everyone about the actual state of affairs: those who ‘give an occasion’ [for being declared a foreign agent] are enemies.” And this means they are not just recipients of money from abroad but criminals under Russian law.

 

 

Leading Russian Specialist’s 2010 Conclusion that Circassians Form a Single People Repeated

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 14 – In advance of the Russian census in which members of the various subgroups Russian officials have subdivided the Circassians are calling for all of them to declare themselves members of the Circassian nation, the 2010 conclusion of a leading Russian specialist on the North Caucasus that they are all one people is being played up by Circassian activists.

            On May 25, 2010, Sergey Arutyunov, who heads the North Caucasus section of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy, made it very clear that he and other Russian scholars view the ethnonym Circassian and the toponym Circassia as historically based.

            His words are now being reproduced by Circassian activists to counter Russian efforts to keep the Circassian nation divided (zapravakbr.ru/index.php/30-uncategorised/1747-zaklyuchenie-rossijskoj-akademii-nauk-ran-ob-etnonime-cherkes-i-toponime-cherkesiya and kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/83787/posts/50990).

            The designation “Circassian,” Arutyunov says, “became generally used in European and Russian sources of the 15th through the 19th century,” a reflection of the fact that “from the historical-ethnographic point of view,” the various subgroups using other self-designators were “a single Circassian (Adyg) people.”

            The Russian advance into their region in the 19th century “led to the formation in the Russian Federation of four territorially divided groups of the Circassian people” and these divisions were strengthened by the use of four ethnographic designations, the Shapsugs, the Adygs, the Cherkess, and the Kabardins.

            This “comparatively recent by historical standards territorial division did not lead to the loss in the people of its historical memory about the genetic and cultural commonality among these groups … [and] this testifies that the named groups may be considered sub-ethnoses of a single Circassian (Adyg) people.”

            As far as the Ubykhs are concerned, a group that was “almost completely exiled to the Ottoman Empire, the few surviving remnants are also “bearers of a common Circassian self-consciousness and cultural traditions and identify themselves in the main as part of the present-day Circassian (Adyg) people.”

            The republication of Arutyunov’s conclusion – and in several cases, it is being done with a photostat of his letter on this subject – undercuts those in Moscow and to a lesser extent in the capitals of the relevant North Caucasus republic who want to keep the Circassians divided. And as such it will make it easier for those on the fence to decide to declare themselves Circassians.

           

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Kremlin Claims It has Pandemic Under Control but Reports from Across Russia Show It Doesn’t

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 14 – Despite the fact that the pandemic is now leading to almost a thousand deaths in Russia every day and despite reports that hospitals are overloaded and that oxygen among other things is in short supply, the Kremlin continues to maintain that it has the entire situation under control (profile.ru/society/povtorenie-projdennogo-rossii-grozit-novaya-volna-pandemii-strashnee-vseh-predydushhih-942251/, regnum.ru/news/3398093.html and regnum.ru/news/3397385.html).

            But today, there were two developments that showed just how out of control the situation in Russia now is. On the one hand, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who has refused to promote vaccinations much in the past said not getting vaccinated was completely “irresponsible” (regnum.ru/news/3397951.html).

            And on the other, the health ministry called on doctors who are self-isolating because of exposure to the virus to return to work, a step that drew criticism as irresponsible short-term thinking and one that several regions indicated they have no intention of following (regnum.ru/news/3397816.html, regnum.ru/news/3397998.html and regnum.ru/news/3398004.html).

            As the pandemic intensified in many regions, Russian officials reported registering a countrywide total of 31,299 new cases of infection and 986 new deaths from the coronavirus, a suggesting that the pandemic has now broken through the previous high plateau (t.me/COVID2019_official/3694 and regnum.ru/news/society/3394205.html).

            Moscow has been particularly hard hjit with infections jumping more than 50 percent from yesterday to 6712 cases, despite promises to distribute apartments to some residents who get the vaccines and Mayor Sergey Sobyanin’s suggestion that draconian measures may be necessary, but none so draconian that they will harm the economy (regnum.ru/news/3397871.html and  regnum.ru/news/3398369.html).

            Schools in the Russian capital have begun going over to distance learning at a massive rate. As of today, some 90,000 pupils are in distance learning in the city (regnum.ru/news/3397934.html).

            In other pandemic-related news, research shows that the situation in Russia is “much worse now” than it was nine months ago when only a few people had been vaccinated and that the pandemic is beginning to fray people’s nerves and lead to more conflicts in the workplace (nakanune.ru/articles/117731/ and superjob.ru/research/articles/113119/pandemiya-provociruet-konflikty-na-rabote/).

Civic Activism in Russia Varies Widely by Age, Levada Center Reports

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 13 – Offering assistance to those suffering from poverty or misfortune is the most common kind of civic activity by middle-aged Russians; voting is the most common one among those aged 55 or more, and visiting educational activities is the kind most widely practiced by those 18 to 24, a Levada Center survey finds.

            For all Russians, there has been a slight growth in the willingness to contribute to the destitute and those suffering from disasters, from 38 percent in 2018, to 45 percent this year, and there has also been a rise in contributions to other goals from 21 percent last year to 28 percent this, the Levada Center sociologists say (levada.ru/2021/10/13/grazhdanskaya-aktivnost-3/).

            Those who give alms through churches has declined slightly, while the share of Russians involved in volunteer work or religious life has remained more or less the same, the surveys show.

 

Newly-Elected Duma Likely to Be the Last One Way or Another, Yakovenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 12 – There are two reasons for thinking that the new Duma will be the last, Igor Yakovenko says. On the one hand, it or more precisely elections to it mean that what has become “a fifth wheel” in the Putin system nonetheless can stress the system, something the Kremlin would like to avoid in the future.

            And on the other hand, the Yezhednevny zhurnal commentator continues, the Duma at the behest of the Kremlin is passing so many counter-productive repressive laws that when Putin passes from the scene so too will the Russian Federation in its current borders – and the Duma together with it (ej.ru/?a=note&id=36622).

            The second reason, Yakovenko suggests, is especially important because of the Duma’s involvement with four main trends in Putin’s Russia today: the shift from targeted repressions to mass terror, the shift from fighting the opposition to fighting all dissent, the move from attacking media to attacking the Internet as such, and the Kremlin’s increasingly militaristic approach.

Patriarch Kirill Seeks to Prevent Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict from Becoming ‘a Religious War’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 13 – For the eighth time, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church has met with the spiritual leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Catholicos Garegin II and Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukyur Pashazade. His message was simple: the three must not allow the political conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan to become “a religious war.”

            “Religious wars are a horrible and sinful page in the religious history of humanity,” the Russian church leader said at the Moscow meeting. “In the present century, I think that we must do everything in order that the terms ‘religion’ and ‘war’ do not combine into a single whole” (ng.ru/faith/2021-10-13/2_8276_peacemaker.html).

            Before meeting with the Armenian and Azerbaijani religious leaders together, Kirill met with each separately, giving the catholicos a medal but not doing the same for the sheikh-ul-Islam, a tilt toward his fellow Christian and against the Muslim leader who laid a curse on the Armenians in 2019 but did not speak on the 2020 military clashes.

            The joint declaration of the three stayed at the level of glittering generalities and did not suggest that Kirill’s effort to play peacemaker in the Caucasus is likely to have any more positive impact than his other efforts to assume that role elsewhere.

As It Guts Federalism, Putin’s Russia Becomes More Like Belarus and China, Aleksandrov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 13 – Russian political scientist Dmitry Mikhaylichenko argues that the provisions of the draft law on regional and local administration “in fact are another step toward a unitary state,” one in which Moscow will decide everything for the regions and the regions under Moscow’s orders will control the municipalities, eliminating a problem area for the center.

            But this arrangement, which brings Russia into correspondence with the rules of the game in Belarus and China, may backfire, socio-technologist Roman Alekhin says. If Moscow is in control of everything, it will have no one to shift the blame to when things go wrong. Instead, the population will be increasingly focused on the center’s mistakes (nakanune.ru/articles/117721/).

            Many analysts have discussed the ways in which Moscow is insisting that Belarus change in order to fit into Russia’s understanding of a union state, but fewer have pointed to the ways in which Russia is increasingly changing its arrangements to correspond not only with the Belarus of Alyaksandr Lukashenka but also with Communist China.

            In fact, Yury Aleksandrov argues, the changes the draft law on regional and local administration that the Kremlin is pushing will eliminate the last remnants of federalism in Russia and make the country far more like the highly centralized regimes in Belarus and China. These all recall Soviet arrangements but except for China without a party like the CPSU.

            “The present system,” the Nakanune commentator says, “even now is significantly different from that which the country received together with a Constitution in December 1993. Now the president appoints regional heads and the powers of the heads of republics are very little different from those of the oblasts and krays.

            To be sure, the election arrangements at the regional level remain in place under the bill, but the Kremlin in every case arranges things so that its candidate is virtually guaranteed to win. If he doesn’t, then the region is effectively cut out of any decision making on budgets and other issues. An analogous set of arrangements governs the relationship of regions and cities.

            Thus, the analyst says, “one can see an attempt to introduce a form of administration of the regions in Russian into something like that which exists in Belarus and China.”  And that in turn means something else: “a variant of political transit in Russia involving the swallowing in some form of Belarus cannot be excluded,” with some predicting joint elections in 2024-2026.

Surkov’s ‘Democracy without People’ Plan Seeks to Prevent Change Rather than Prepare for It, Russian Commentators Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 13 – Kremlin advisor Vladislav Surkov has come up with a new concept, “democracy without people,” something many think is an oxymoron or a vision of a very different future but that critics say is simply another effort to justify the use of new technologies to preserve the existing Putin system which wants to preserve the past.

            At the end of his article, the intellectual provocateur acknowledges that his prediction is “absurd,” but then he adds that this means it will happen, that new Internet technologies will eventually do away with political institutions and open the way to completely direct popular rule (actualcomment.ru/bezlyudnaya-demokratiya-i-drugie-politicheskie-chudesa-2121-goda-2110111125.html).

            According to Surkov, “the chief characteristic of democracy without people will be a sharp reduction in the role of the human factor in the political process. Leaders and gcrowds will gradually leave the historic scene. And machines will enter it,” not as a continuation of humankind as Marshall McCluhan imagined but as substitutes. 

            In fact, as Nakanune commentator Aleksandr Nazarov points out in a survey of experts, Surkov’s ideas are not new –Zhirinovsky has said much the same -- and they are not about the future but rather about preserving the present with the help of new technologies – just as some used electricity to make electric chairs rather (nakanune.ru/articles/117737/).

            Surkov doesn’t understand or at least doesn’t acknowledge that the machines won’t be in charge but rather those who make and program the machines, Russian futurologist Maksim Kalashnikov says; and that means that there will still be political actors, people, if there is to be democracy and human rule at all.

            What Surkov is offering, Kalashnikov continues, is a very superficial and even duplicitous discussion of how the current regime is using technologies to keep itself and its system in power, a system based on raw materials exports rather than on the kind of development happening elsewhere.

            The reason Russians gravitate to such predictions, the futurologist suggests, is that they appear to offer a way in which Russia can continue as it is without change. But in fact, any serious consideration of technological change shows that is impossible. And so any serious discussion of technological means must focus on that.

            Surkov doesn’t and so his ideas may be welcomed by the current rulers who thus will have one more way to avoid thinking about the need for the kind of changes that technology is producing elsewhere. They want that because a changed world is one in which their system has no place.

Putin Repression More like 1907 than 1937, Verzilov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 13 – The repression Vladimir Putin is imposing on Russia is more like that which Nicholas II imposed after the first Russian revolution than what Stalin did in 1927, Petr Vershilov says; and it is likely to have a similar effect to that earlier effort: provoking the rise of a new revolution rather than suppressing completely public activism.

            The publisher, whose Mediazone has just been declared a foreign agent and thus “an enemy of the people,” says that what Putin and his regime are doing are in fact “leading to the rise of a revolutionary situation in Russia” (znak.com/2021-10-13/izdatel_mediazony_petr_verzilov_o_vlasti_politicheskom_akcionizme_i_caryah).

            And he recalls the old and apocryphal story that “the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution wanted to give Nicholas II an order for creating a revolutionary situation in the country.” According to Verzilov, Putin fully deserves something of the same kind now for what he and his regime are doing.

             Identifying various media projects like Mediazone as foreign agents represents an attempt to marginalize them, but most of them have the ability to survive. It will be more difficult for them to do their work, but it won’t be impossible. And they will continue to inspire more people to question and then challenge the current regime.

            Verzilov notes that Moscow began applying this term after the US labelled Russia Today and Sputnik foreign agents in 2017, something Washington did on the basis of a 1938 law allowing the government to label Nazi propaganda in this way. But the two Russian outlets really are foreign agents while those Moscow is labelling as such are not.

            Consequently, the publisher and political activist says, the work of Russian media labelled foreign agents has “the very same task that it always did: to inspire other people, to show that struggle is possible and necessary.” That is what most of these so-called “foreign agents” will continue to do.

Business Ombudsman Proposes Allowing Only Those Vaccinated against Covid to Buy Vodka

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 13 – As the rate of new vaccinations has slowed and fears grow that a new lockdown may be the only way to stop the upsurge in the pandemic, Anastasiya Tatulova, public ombudsman for small and mid-sized businesses has proposed one surefire way to force people to get vaccinated: require proof of vaccination for anyone to buy vodka.

            She made that proposal on a Moscow radio station even as QR codes are being used to restrict access to a variety of public places and as efforts to get people to vaccinate by offering other prizes seem to be failing (govoritmoskva.ru/news/290881/, business-gazeta.ru/article/525497 and regnum.ru/news/3396650.html).

            But surveys show that QR codes are deeply unpopular both with businesses who must enforce entrance requirements and the public, and it is entirely possible that making having this sign of having been vaccinated would lead to a public explosion, a possibility that makes this idea likely dead on arrival (superjob.ru/research/articles/113117/vvod-qr-kodov-schitaet-neobhodimym-lish-kazhdyj-chetvertyj-moskvich/).

            Today, Russian officials reported 28,717 new cases of infection and 984 new deaths from the coronavirus, the latter a record, over the last 24 hours, as the pandemic continued to intensify in most parts of the Russian Federation (t.me/COVID2019_official/3689 and regnum.ru/news/society/3394205.html).

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

·         A new study has found that the coronavirus has led to the rise of a new group of millionaires in Russia who have made fortunes by supplying medical equipment to hospitals (regnum.ru/news/3396370.html).

·         Investigators say they will complete research on a shot that will provide protection against both the flu and covid in the near future, and the health ministry has given permission for testing a nasal anti-covid medication (regnum.ru/news/3396669.html and regnum.ru/news/3396846.html).

·         The Kremlin has announced that Vladimir Putin will attend the Valdai Forum but said that there will be restrictions on access because of the pandemic (regnum.ru/news/3396957.html).

·         As of today, just over 51 million Russians have received at least one dose of the vaccine (regnum.ru/news/3396996.html).

·         Tests show that Sputnik-Lite is 70 percent effective against the delta strain, and its makers say that it will soon be registered in 30 countries and produced in more than ten (regnum.ru/news/3397113.html and regnum.ru/news/3397163.html).

·         Forty-eight percent of those getting the covid vaccine have already been vaccinated against the flu, an indication that those willing to get one kind of shots are ready to get another (superjob.ru/research/articles/113113/kazhdyj-vtoroj-vakcinirovannyj-ot-koronavirusa-uzhe-privilsya-i-ot-grippa/).

Monday, October 18, 2021

Draft Legislation Gives Interior Ministry and FSB Veto over Who Owns Guns in Russia – Unless They are Officials

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 12 – The Russian Guard is promoting legislation that will give the interior ministry and the FSB a veto over who can own a gun in Russia, but the proposed law explicitly exempts officials from such controls. And the bill itself raises questions about what the government is trying to do.

            The draft legislation (regulation.gov.ru/projects#npa=121317) says that the interior ministry and the FSB will have to approve all applications by Russians to own firearms but it does not specify on what basis the organs will make that decision, although it does say that government officials won’t have to get such clearance.

             Given that Russian laws governing gun ownership are already quite strict and given that criminals ignore those laws just as they ignore others and own perhaps as many as three times as many firearms as those who do so legally, commentators are speculating what this legislation is really about.

            Some suggest it is simply an attempt to expand the bureaucratic reach of the MVD and FSB. Others say it is designed to give the siloviki yet another excuse to intervene in the lives of ordinary Russians. And still others insist it is simply the latest effort to divide Russians into the privileged and the plebes.

            No one thinks the new law will be effective given that it will only affect registered weapons, which are responsible for fewer than 150 of the 7500 gun murders in Russia each year. But everyone assumes it will pass because Vladimir Putin said he wanted tighter controls after the latest Columbine-like shooting in Russia.

On these discussions, see profile.ru/society/vladet-ili-ne-vladet-kak-v-rossii-planirujut-uzhestochit-zakon-ob-oruzhii-941205/ and newizv.ru/article/general/12-10-2021/gonka-razoruzheniya-zachem-rosgvardii-uglublennye-proverki-zakonoposlushnyh-grazhdan).

            For background on gun ownership in Russia and the rising tide of gun violence, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/12/armed-attack-on-fsb-hq-latest-of-putins.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/12/russians-using-guns-ever-more-often-to.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/11/10-percent-of-6000-armed-crimes-in.html).

YouTube Clip Says Anyone Identifying as a Tatar in Russian Census will Go to Hell

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 12 – Many serious people are calling on this or that group to identify as members of a particular nation in the upcoming Russian census. But some of the calls go well beyond the serious and involve attacks on ethnic groups that are certain to provoke the most negative of reactions.

            One of most high profile cases of this involves a YouTube channel’s post which insists that the Tatars do not exist as a nationality and that anyone who identifies as such in the census or otherwise rather than as a Mishar, Bulgar, Bashkir or Nogay is violating the principles of Islam and will burn in hell (milliard.tatar/news/tataram-predlozili-mesto-v-adu-kak-perepis-naseleniya-reanimirovala-obvineniya-v-neverii-i-kto-za-etim-stoit-1012).

            The author of the post who appears to be hiding behind a pseudonym that covers other channels as well quotes the Prophet Mohammed as saying that “anyone who ascribes himself to a people to which he does not belong will certainly take his place in hell.” Further, it insists that the Tatar nation was invented by Leon Trotsky during the Russian Civil War.

            This clip has infuriated both Tatars and Muslims and especially Tatars who are Muslims. Various commentators have spoken out against this notion. Among them is journalist and politician Maksim Shevchenko who says that only fools could be convinced by this and urges Tatars who feel themselves to be Tatars to declare themselves as such.

            According to him, this effort comes not from other Tatar-related groups but from Russians who want to do away with non-Russian republics and as part of that non-Russian nations. Dividing the latter into ever smaller groups will help the Russian sea dissolve them within its limits.

            “In this situation,” Shevchenko says, “the Tatars like other peoples as well  must stand their ground on the position of federalism. Representatives of the Tatar intelligentsia … must explain to other people” in their nation why this video clip is so wrong and so dangerous. And they must insist that “if you feel you are a Tatar and want to be one, then write that down.”

            “Don’t listen to anyone who says not to,” their message must be. “This is extremely important.” Those putting out such messages “want to destroy Tatarstan and liquidate its subjective status. We must defend it, and this is how we must act” when such messages are circulating.

Russian Elections Matter Profoundly But Not as Elections in Other Systems Do, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 12 – The just completed Duma elections are a reminder that “elections have importance in Russia,” not to choose who will make policy as is the case in democracies or to mobilize the population as was true in Soviet times but rather to show how well those in power are capable of passing the stress tests they represent, Vladimir Pastukhov says.

            Russian elections, the London-based Russian analyst says, “are a certain political procedure which the regime, unfortunately for itself cannot completely do away with and whichgenerate additional pressure on the system,” a test which the regime has been less and less well on (republic.ru/posts/101928).

            Such elections, “do not have a direct influence on the structure of power because the powers can’t be changed by elections, but they influence things in a systemic fashion on a large number of parameters of this regime and, from my point of view,” the analyst says, “this leads the system to change after elections.”

            According to Pastukhov, the most recent elections leave the powers that be with no choice but to continue to move in the direction of an ever tougher totalitarian regime, with broader repression overwhelming the targeted variety that has been typical up to now and mean that force rather than politics will be the deciding factor as to Russia’s direction.

            “Repressions will grow, and they will now focus on the suppression of dissent.” Things may not reach the stage of concentration camps. But it is already clear that the regime wants to prevent people not only from speaking and acting differently than it wants but also to block them from thinking differently.

            Obviously, Putin’s departure will impose “the greatest stress on the system,” and the existing system will find it hard to survive him. The current Kremlin leader has demonstrated that “in Russia it is not the legitimacy of power that is importance but the personalization of national unity,” something similar but very different.

            “In Russian culture,” Pastukhov says, “the state is not conceived of as an abstract whole.” Modern societies in the West were able to achieve that understanding, but Russia has not. And that leaves it suspended between the Middle Ages, Modernity and Post-Modernism, the analyst concludes.

            He predicts that “the system will not survive this stress,” but it is unclear in what direction things will move except for this. There is a great possibility that the longer Putin remains in power, the less likely Russian civilization and Russia as “a unified sovereign state” are likely to last.

            Putin has little choice but to experiment within the range he can operate in. He can’t easily leave because those around him are aware that if he does, the system would collapse; and he can’t name a successor very early because were he to do so, he would become a lame duck, a status incompatible with a personalized state.

            What is especially dangerous in the coming month is that some around Putin may hope to create a second Crimean consensus now that the elections have shown that the first has more or less dissipated. That makes the threat of military adventures far more likely given that only they appear to have the capacity to “dope” the Russian voters sufficiently to hold things together.

For Russia’s Rulers, War Now a Defining ‘Principle of Reality,’ Pavlovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 12 – For the 30 years of the existence of the Russian Federation, the Kremlin has increasingly gotten involved in unnecessary wars because such conflicts distract attention from its failures elsewhere and obscure the low quality of the government’s management generally, Gleb Pavlovsky says.

            The Russian commentator points out that with increasing regularity, the Kremlin creates a crisis that it believes requires military action in order to achieve those political goals, something that doesn’t mean a world war is necessarily ahead but rather the world now live in “a war era” in which war is the new world order (republic.ru/posts/101939).

            Because there is always the possibility of miscalculations on one or the other side, such an approach, one that resembles Russian roulette, could lead to a worldwide conflagration. But even if it doesn’t, the current situation represents “a deadly trap” for a country with problems like those Russia has.

            That is because “the greatest evil is a war which leads a country to liquidation,” Pavlovsky says. “Russia doesn’t need a war with Ukraine,” and it hasn’t even managed to come up with “a national military machine, even though the Kremlin rules us [Russians] with methods resembling military strategy.”

            This approach did not begin with Putin but emerged immediately after the disintegration of the USSR, with Moscow focusing on hotspots within the Russian Federation but especially in what it chose to call “the near abroad” of former Soviet republics. The attack on the parliament in October 1993 and the wars in Chechnya accelerated this militarization of political thought.

            Chechnya also showed the ways in which war bled back into Russian life, with the militiamen sent to that North Caucasus republic from across the country then returning home transformed into a very different force than they had been before, one far more brutal and militaristic.

            This militarization of political calculations was given a powerful boost by the response of the US to the September 11 attacks. Before George W. Bush responded with wars of his own, it would never have come into Putin’s head that he could do something similar in Georgia and then in Ukraine. But of course, “the pupil went further than the teacher.”

            “Today,” Pavlovsky says, “Russia fights in every place where it touches,” shifting from one to another in a game of Russian roulette that it has so far won but that inevitably will come back to destroy it. That is inevitable now that for the Russian leadership and the system they have created, “war is the principle of reality.”

            That doesn’t mean that Russia is going to precipitate a major war; but it does mean that with each case, the odds of that happening increase, to the detriment of the world and to Russia itself, the commentator concludes.

Iran to Complete Syunik (Zengezur) Transit Corridor to Armenia Before Mid-November

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 12 – Military exercises in Iran and Azerbaijan have called attention to increasing tensions between the two (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/10/dueling-military-exercises-in-south.html), but Iran may now be making a move in Syunik (Zengezur) that will have a far greater impact on the region than these maneuvers.

            Not surprisingly, Iran views all the developments in the Southern Caucasus as potential threats to itself, viewing even the Azerbaijani victory over Armenia as being less about the recovery of Azerbaijani territory than an effort to block Iranian access to the north and expand Turkish and Israeli capabilities (casp-geo.ru/bespretsedentnaya-napryazhennost-mezhdu-iranom-i-azerbajdzhanom-baku-prodolzhaet-igrat-s-hvostom-iranskogo-lva/).

            To counter that possibility, Iran is not only flexing its military muscles but actively working to promote alternative transit routes northward, first and foremost via the Caspian Sea and then via the Syunik (Zengezur) corridor of Armenia. Both will allow Tehran to bypass Azerbaijan, but the second has a more immediate impact on the region.

            Since its military victory over Armenia last year, Baku has seen the opening of a corridor between Azerbaijan proper and the non-contiguous autonomous republic of Nakhichevan as a key prize in that war. Armenia has opposed it as has Iran which views it as a pan-Turkic threat to itself (https://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/10/iran-remains-opposed-to-azerbaijani.html and https://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/08/corridor-competition-between-armenia.html).

            Azerbaijan has the funds to build such a corridor, but Armenia does not have the money to pay for the development of north-south routes between Yerevan and Iran. But Iran does. It not only has pledged to do so but, according to one source, it is already building such a route through the Syunik (Zengezur) region (casp-geo.ru/bespretsedentnaya-napryazhennost-mezhdu-iranom-i-azerbajdzhanom-baku-prodolzhaet-igrat-s-hvostom-iranskogo-lva/).

            Now, this source is reporting, Iran will complete work on the Armenian-Iranian transit link within a month, even though Yerevan and Tehran continue to oppose the construction of an Azerbaijan-Nakhichevan corridor and Moscow is dragging its feet at a minimum. And as of now, there is no agreement on timetables for the construction of the two corridors.

            Armenia and Iran see the development of this north-south corridor as natural. They share a common border, and the reopening of a transport route from Iran via Armenian territory (Syunik) is thus entirely justified given the problems of going through Azerbaijani territory. But such a corridor crosses the route of the east-west corridor that Azerbaijan and Turkey want.

            In the absence of any accord on routes, this is a far more likely recipe for additional conflicts in the region, conflicts in which Iran will be a direct participant, than its military maneuvers south of the Arax River (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/06/a-recipe-for-more-conflict-yerevan.html).

Circassian Language Textbook Crisis Deepens; Many Suspect Moscow Behind It

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 12 – Ten days ago, Circassian language advocates in Kabardino-Balkaria reported that schools in that republic were being limited in their ability to offer coursework in Circassian because there were no new textbooks in that language, a situation they demanded be changed immediately (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/10/moscow-finds-another-way-to-kill-non.html).

            But neither federal nor republic officials have responded to these complaints, and now the crisis is deepening, quite possibly to the point of triggering mass protests against both Moscow and the republic authorities for at least three reasons.

            First, it has been discovered that this crisis in the schools has been artificially created as the activists have discovered that there are some 200,000 Circassian-language textbooks in government warehouses that for some reason haven’t been distributed to the schools (zapravakbr.ru/index.php/30-uncategorised/1741-otsutstvie-u-detej-uchebnikov-po-cherkesskomu).

            Second, the Circassian activists are now saying that Moscow is behind this but that the republic leadership has been unwilling to stand up for its own population, something that will likely lead to a further decline in Circassian support for and trust in both (zapravakbr.ru/index.php/30-uncategorised/1742-otsutstvie-uchebnikov-po-cherkesskomu-yazyku-v-shkolakh-kbr-rezultat-retivogo-ispolneniya-ukazanij-iz-moskvy).

            And third, Madina Khakuahseva, a leading specialist on linguistics in Kabardino-Balkaria, has openly suggested that these moves against the Circassian language are “a planned diversion” by the authorities both at the federal and republic level to distract attention from other problems (zapravakbr.ru/index.php/video/1743-madina-khakuasheva-kartina-polnogo-ischeznoveniya-uchebnikov-kabardinskogo-yazyka-vyglyadit-kak-splanirovannaya-diversiya).

            But if that was Moscow’s intention, one apparently supported by Nalchik, it is likely to backfire not only by touching off protests on the sensitive issue of languages in the schools but more immediately and potentially more explosively leading even more Kabards and other Circassian subgroups to declare a common Circassian nationality in the census.

            There is even the possibility, although there is no documented evidence for such a conclusion, that some Circassian officials may be behind the textbook crisis precisely because they know that it will backfire and lead Circassians to unite against Moscow policies (jamestown.org/program/circassians-see-russian-census-as-real-chance-to-unite-their-nation/).

Russia Sets New ‘Anti-Records’ for Covid But ‘Somehow This isn’t Agitating Anyone'

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 12 – Russian officials continued to report unprecedentedly high numbers of infections (28,190) and deaths (973) over the last 24 hours, with other statistics equally devastating including a surge of new cases over the last week by 16 percent for Russia as a whole and more than 30 percent in 11 regions (t.me/COVID2019_official/3667  and tass.ru/obschestvo/12638691).

            Twenty-six regions have imposed QR requirements for entrance to public places, and 605 Russian schools have gone completely over to distance instruction. Many more have done so in part (regnum.ru/news/3395867.html and regnum.ru/news/3395850.html). More than 90 percent of Russia’s covid beds are full and 6,000 patients are on ventilators (t.me/rbc_news/36480).

            And the pandemic is hitting members of the Russian elite, not only in the regions but in Moscow, where 11 Duma deputies are now hospitalized with coronavirus infections, even though 70 percent of the members of the lower house of the legislature have received their shots (regnum.ru/news/3395461.html and regnum.ru/news/3395648.html).

But despite all this and the fact that it is being widely reported, a Rosbalt commentator says, “everything in Russia is calm: people are digging their graves without particular noise … and one has the impression that somehow this isn’t affecting anyone” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/10/12/1925726.html).

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

·         The Russian government may be optimistic about getting WHO and EU approval for its vaccines but the Russian tourist industry is less so and doesn’t expect movement before the end of the year (regnum.ru/news/3396158.html).

·         Some regions are facing a shortage of doctors in hospitals for general treatment because they have been reassigned to give coronavirus vaccine shots (nakanune.ru/articles/117723/).

·         The Kremlin says “the main danger” is that the pandemic isn’t ending but rather returning in new waves as new strains emerge (ria.ru/20211011/pandemiya-1754002831.html).

·         The pandemic has increased the trust people have in imaginary figures and also in some public ones, Russian psychologists report (newizv.ru/news/society/12-10-2021/epidemiya-covid-19-povysila-doverie-grazhdan-k-publichnym-lyudyam-i-vydumannym-personazham).

·         Russians suffering from ordinary flu and other infections are now competing with the victims of coronavirus pandemic for access to medical treatment (ng.ru/health/2021-10-12/8_8275_flu.html).