Friday, April 30, 2021

Passion for Uniforms among Officials Outward Manifestation of Putin’s Chekistocracy, Petrov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 – Ever more officials are putting on uniforms to stress their loyalty to the state and its core structure, the FSB, Nikolay Petrov says in an interview during which he argues that Vladimir Putin has not created a militarized state as some assume but rather “a chekistocracy” in which uniforms too matter.

            Uniforms not only set officials apart from everyone else but reflect the ranks within the bureaucracy so that those who wear them and those who see those in uniform will now how close to the center of power, Vladimir Putin and his chekists, the bearer actually is, the Higher School of Economics researcher says (

            Uniforms, he continues, is only “an external manifestation” of this system; “but there is its internal essence and that is more serious. When the economy is stagnating, attachment to the state and state financing and budget flows means one is relatively well off. Therefore, every agency seeks to stress how important its role is by “such semi-military categories.”

            Petrov says that it is “no accident that the word ‘siloviki’ is one of the ones which our great and powerful Russian language has given to the world.” But it is a mistake to think the siloviki have taken power because they are controlled from top to bottom by the FSB and its branch agencies, that is by the chekists.

            When Putin came to power, he relied on two groups: former KGB officers with whom he had served and the St. Petersburg city administration where he had worked. When the numbers of the latter thinned, he turned increasingly to the former, a ramified corporation which proved capable of filling all necessary positions to ensure his power.

            “Today,” Petrov continues, “we have two mega-verticals: one, as in Soviet times, the chekist, and the other, the Presidential Administration and the structures subordinate to it.” But unlike in Soviet times when the KGB and the CPSU were competitors, now, the FSB controls the Presidential vertical. It itself is beyond any outside control, barring intervention by Putin.

            Today, the FSB has subordinated to itself all the siloviki; and its view of the world, one in which the intelligence agencies of other countries behave as it does, has serious consequences. It means that its denizens really believe that the CIA can do anything. And that makes charges now against Russians as “foreign agents” something “far beyond a figure of speech.”

            For those with this mindset, it means exactly what it says, Petrov stresses.

            In today’s Russia, “the FSB has such status that if it says that someone is a murderer, then any court, regardless of any circumstance, will agree with this” because the FSB is in a position to define what is the national interest and making such a charge means that it is in “the state’s interest” and must be obeyed.

            Before 2014, it may have been reasonable to speak of liberals and hawks within the FSB and its tentacles. But now, the liberals have been sidelined in no small measure because in the 1990s, they “acted like Bolsheviks.” That is, they considered that the more freedom of action they had the better, and others have taken that same position and moved forward.

            Of course, the Chekists in Russia are far from perfect and have given Putin many reasons for being upset with them. He has even been disappointed in his inability to use them for “the resolution of complicated tasks. But they have coped with the task of preserving his power.” And as a result, “today, they are the main pillar of the regime.”

Threat of Major Russian Military Operation against Ukraine and West hasn’t Disappeared, Felgengauer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 – Despite Russia’s much ballyhooed withdrawal of its land forces from the Ukrainian border, the threat of a major Russian military operation against Ukraine and the West more broadly has not disappeared, Pavel Felgengauer says. Not only can the troops quickly be turned around, but Russian naval and air power is still in position for an attack.

            In an interview taken by Rosbalt journalist Aleksandr Zhelenin, the independent Moscow military analyst says that not only is there a continuing threat against Ukraine but there is also a very real danger that any Russian military actions there could lead to a broader war between Moscow and NATO countries (

            Indeed, Felgengauer continues, recent statements by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggest that Moscow blames the West for Ukraine’s standing up to Moscow and therefore part of the problem any new aggression against Ukraine would be designed to eliminate.

            Many who see Russia’s withdrawal of forces from near the Ukrainian border as a turning point forget, the military analyst says, that Moscow did exactly the same thing in 2008 in the North Caucasus. It staged exercises, withdrew its troops a short distance, and then turned them around to invade Georgia.

            Felgengauer says he is not in a position to give probabilities about a new war but in his view, “the most dangerous” time during which such a war could begin will be “the second half of May.” If NATO backs Ukraine and Russia attacks NATO aircraft or ships, there is a chance that there could be “an escalation all the way up to nuclear war.”

            Both the buildup in Russian naval forces in occupied Crimea and in the Black Sea suggest that part of such a Rusisan offensive would be a landing operation near Odessa and Mykolaev. Even without reinforcements, Moscow has the capacity to land some 10,000 marines in this location.

            But as large a force as that is, he continues, the major line of Russian attack will be from the north, from Belgorod, Bryansk and Voronezh oblasts in order to exploit what Moscow sees as weaknesses in Ukraine’s right flank. The Russian military can send in three armies along that axis, two or which are guards’ units.

            Their task will be to “surround on three sides and then destroy the Ukrainian army,” an action that recalls what happened in the Ilovaysk district in 2014 but at a much larger scale. The Ukrainian army is better prepared than it was seven years ago, but it is “not very prepared for the mobile war” the Russians have planned.

            Felgengauer concludes by repeating that “the threat of war seems to [him] very serious. However, at any stage of the conflict its de-escalation via direct negotiations is possible. Nobody seriously wants to cross the nuclear threshold.”

The Three Russias – Liberal Westernizers, Kremlin Imperialists, and ‘the Deep People’ – are Now Strangers to Each Other, Degtyanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 – There are now three different Russias, the first consisting of the liberal Westernizers, the second of Kremlin imperialists, and the third the much-ballyhooed “deep” people, Andrey Degtyanov says. They are strangers to each other and aren’t able to cooperate even when two of them, the first and the third, share a common enemy, the second.

            In a commentary for the Region.Expert portal, the historian argues that the liberals and the imperialists have more or less developed political programs, but the “deep” people lack those; and that limits its ability to participate in any alliance with or form a clear opposition to either or both of the others (

            “A similar situation exited during the rule of the last emperor and during the first period of the February Revolution, before the return from emigration of one opposition leader,” Vladimir Lenin, who promoted a program so radical in his April theses that his Bolshevik comrades were appalled but the deep people of that time came to view him as their ally.

            Today, some may be inclined to compare Navalny’s return from Berlin with Lenin’s in 1917. But for that comparison to work, Lenin would have had to have arrived in Petrograd not in the spring of 1917 but a year earlier when “’tsarism was strong as never before,’” Degyarov continues.

            For better or worse, the differences between the two are more than a question of chronology. Lenin had a radical program that appealed to the deep people and allowed him to win them over. Aleksey Navalny doesn’t have such a program because he is focused on the liberal westernizers of the major cities who are completely at odds with the deep people of today.

            “In his radicalism,” the historian continues, “Lenin consciously or intuitively presented the ideals of the peasant community and its ideas about Truth which is higher than written law but not a party newspaper” and brought himself and his party into line with “the collective unconsciousness” of the peasant world.

            Had Lenin remained a dogmatic Marxist, he would never have done this. Instead, he would have presented “a synthesis of radical Westernism” and he would have lost to others. But he moved in a different direction and won. Navalny tragically has moved in just the opposition direction. He started as a defender of the people but now casts himself as that of urban elites.

            But as a result, his “opposition from the point of view of sociology looks not so much an opposition because the Kremlin also is pressing” for the creation of urban agglomerations and the kind of people who normally populate them. Consequently, although Deryagin does not use the term, Navalny and Putin are almost fellow travelers.

            What this means, the historian continues, is that Navalny is “not capable of proposing an agenda which would really bring out into the streets millions of people.” When someone who can present that agenda appears, then perhaps a real revolution will begin but hardly before that time.

            “The demand of ‘the deep people’ for the recoding of its ideals and archetypes in a political program today finds no offer from the side of opposition political forces,” Degtyarov suggests. Perhaps the deep people could combine with regionalists if they were able to offer something of this kind.

            But if that doesn’t happen, he concludes, “an enormous part of society will remain the cement of the imperial regime of the Kremlin, and regionalists at the Free Russia forums will continue to feel themselves dissidents among dissident.”

            Degtyarov focuses most of his attention on the failure of the Navalny movement to understand that the millionaire cities which are their base also include many people who came into them from the villages of the “deep” Russia and retain allegiance to the values of those communities, something that unless Navalny changes his message means he won’t mobilize protests of the size he and his supporters hope for.

            Both the Soviet system and post-Soviet Russia pumped people out of the villages into the cities so rapidly that there was little time for those arriving to acquire the values of urban life. And that has left them and the Navalny base at odds along three major fissures, the historian continues.

            The first divide involves attitude toward state power. The liberal westernizers like Navalny wantr to take control over the state but “deep Russia seeks maximum autonomy from the Kremlin and its appointed governors.”

            The second “dividing line,” he continues, involves attitudes toward a law-based state and to law as such. The liberal supporters of Navalny want something like what exists in the West, a law-based government and an independent judiciary. The deep people want “the supremacy of justice over law, and thus the priority of content over form.”

            And the third line concerns social behavior, something well-illustrated during the pandemic. The liberal Westerners wanted tough anti-covid measures, much like the state, while “’the deep people’” wanted the state to let them live the way they always had regardless of the consequences to their health and even survival.

            What is sad, Degtaryov continues, is that “in this split, the creative class supported the imperial powers because in reality it does not have anything against the empire but only wants to see it as ‘progressive.’” And the two groups that should unite against their common enemy, the liberals and the deep people, haven’t been able to unite against their common enemy, the state.

           Until these two can come together in opposition to the state, many of  'the deep people' will see the state as a lesser evil than the liberals, and the Putin regime will be able to isolate the liberals and maintain itself in power for the foreseeable future.            


Deputy Prime Minister wants to Replace Russia’s 80 Plus Federal Subjects with 21 Urban Agglomerations

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 – In a display of contempt for the Russian constitution and the views of the peoples living in the Russian Federation’s more than 80 federal subjects, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin has called for replacing the federation with a unitary state based on 21 urban agglomerations.

            On the one hand, his words only provide fresh evidence that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is anything but the federation it officially styles itself because they show that many officials in Moscow believe they can redraw the country’s map unilaterally and without consulting the population.

            But on the other hand, they raise the political temperature in the country because wealthier regions don’t want to take responsible for poorer ones and both residents and officials in the regions and republics don’t want the kind of changes Khusnullin is talking about and will resist them as they have in the past.

            Not surprisingly, the deputy prime minister stressed that this was only his personal opinion and the Kremlin said that any such changes could occur only if they were supported by the populations involved ( But Khusnullin has let this genie out of the bottle again, and the consequences for Moscow are likely to be overwhelmingly negative.

            And his comments might have gone unnoticed except for one detail: A year ago, Khusnullin said that calls for changing the borders of regions and republics or amalgamating them were “provocations” ( That he is saying the opposite now suggests there may have been a sea change in the Russian leadership.

            Indeed, that there is support in Moscow for amalgamation was suggested yesterday when LDPR Duma deputy Sergey Natarov called for the absorption of Khakasia and Tyva by Krasnoyarsk Kray (

            Between 2005 and 2010, Vladimir Putin pushed for the amalgamation of the so-called “matryoshka” autonomies with the surrounding and predominantly Russian krays. Under that program, he joined the Komi-Permyak AD to Perm Oblast in 2005, the Koryak AD to Kamchatka Oblast in 2007, and the Agin Buryat AD to Chita Oblast in 2008. (In the last case, he also folded in Chita Oblast.)

            In each case, facing resistance, he organized a referendum and pushed through a pro vote. But when in 2020, he sought to combine Arkhangelsk Oblast and the Nenets AD via the same means, popular resistance, much of it already organized to resist Moscow’s plans to build trash dumps, Putin had to allow those involved to postpone any vote at all.

            Russian experts are almost unanimous in opposing plans for amalgamation now both on principle – running a country with a small number of federal units is no easier than one with more – and in practice – because combining rich and poor regions won’t make both richer but rather exacerbate problems and the anger of the population (

            The only potential combination which enjoys much support in the expert community is one in which the Tyumen matryoshka would be eliminated by folding in the Khanty-Mansi AD and the Yamalo-Nenets AD into Tyumen Oblast, although many think that these two ADs would resist strongly (

            But one analyst offers an intriguing explanation for what is going on, Ildus Yarulin, a political scientist at Russia’s Pacific University, says that Putin hinted at amalgamation in his address to the Federal Assembly, that discussions about it must be taking place within the government, and Khusnullin simply let the cat out of the bag (

            “At present,” Yarulin continues, “the regions have practically no sovereignty and this means no normal life, but the center is not in a position to resolve all issues. This means, there needs to be a search for a balance. But how is that to be done? With the creation of macro-subjects?” But that has already been tried with the federal districts.

            “Perhaps,” he says, “the plenipotentiary representatives aren’t needed and that we are going to be presented with a new structure.” That could happen next year when there will be a new Duma and Russia will mark the centenary of the formation of the USSR. Such is the power of dates that we could be resented with “a new country.”  After all, Yarulin says, we’ve already adopted a new constitution.

            Perhaps the most balanced study of amalgamation projects so far was prepared several years ago by Igor Okunyev of MGIMO. He said that amalgamation presented pluses and minuses for both the territory doing the absorbing and the territory being absorbed (

            Russian regions which absorbed non-Russian Ads gained in status and weight and achieved complete control over financial flows and executive power in the districts, but they lost some of their own resources because they were expected to help the absorbed districts improve their standard of living.

            The non-Russian ADS that were absorbed, Okunyev continued, gained some financial benefits, but they suffered a diminution of status because they no longer were directly connected to Moscow and the loss of a chance for their own people to rise through a bureaucracy under at least nominally their direct control.

But any talk about amalgamation and border changes will lead some to propose changes Moscow would not want to see happen. And in the wake of Khasnullin’s remarks, some of these are now being pushed. Two of the most prominent are Circassian calls for the unification of the Circassian republics into one and calls for Bashkortostan to recover the Orenburg corridor.

The Bashkir demands for the recovery of the Orenburg corridor are likely the most disturbing from Moscow’s point of view because they would give Bashkortostan and indeed all the republics of the Middle Volga a border with a foreign state and thus a far greater opportunity to pursue independence.

Now, the Free Idel-Ural movement has picked up on Khasnullin’s words and called for beginning border changes and regional amalgamation with the Orenburg corridor and the peoples of the Middle Volga ( For background on this explosive issue, see this author’s discussion of the issue at

Russia’s ‘Unfriendly Countries’ List Likely to Have Greater Consequences for Smaller Powers than Larger Ones, Bordachev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 – During the Cold War, Moscow divided the world into friendly and unfriendly states on the basis of ideology. Then after 1991, it sought to integrate itself into the international community without such divisions. Now, the Russian government has announced plans to maintain a list of “unfriendly countries” that partially restores the past.

            This represents a formalization of what had in fact been a growing trend, Timofey Bordachev of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics says. But it is important to understand why it has happened and what in fact it will mean for those countries Moscow puts on its list (

            The list itself has not yet been issued, but it will certainly be headed by the United States and its closest allies, Australia, Canada and Great Britain and also include the three Baltic countries, the Czech Republic, Poland, Georgia and Ukraine, the Moscow specialist on international relations continues.

            The list is likely to fluctuate with countries being added or subtracted in response to circumstances, something that is “another important aspect” of this list and a reflection of the forces that have contributed to its appearance now.

            “The state of international politics after the disintegration of the Liberal World Order is a constant striving of states to increase their opportunities to influence the behavior of each other.” That isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, Bordachev says; but it has intensified even as force has reemerged as the ultima ratio of relations.

            The situation that arose after the end of the Cold War was “unique,” he argues. “The destruction of the USSR led to the inclusion of Russia and those countries which it earlier controlled into an international order which arose in the West in the second half of the last century.”

            On the one hand, everyone benefited from this arrangement; but on the other, its creators benefited more than the new entrants. And with the rise of China, Beijing and other capitals recently included in this order have proved increasingly unwilling to accept this difference and sought to challenge the system as such.

            They have had an additional reason to do so: As the US has been challenged, it increasingly has focused on protecting its own interests rather than the system as a whole, a development that has meant the US is no longer viewed as neutrally as it was but rather as one state, albeit the most powerful, acting as other powers do.

            One aspect of the American role in the past was the growth of a massive infrastructure of American representations abroad. Until recently, they were viewed as a reflection of America’s special role as defender of the existing international order; now, Bordyachev says, they are seen as yet another way the US is seeking to gain advantages for itself.

            By compiling its list of unfriendly countries, Moscow is creating a basis for restricting the employment of Russian nationals in some foreign embassies, something that will affect all countries on the list but only discommode the largest while creating potentially serious problems for smaller diplomatic representations.

            That is because the US can easily afford to replace any Russian employees it can no longer have while many smaller countries will find the costs prohibitive and thus will not be able to compensate for any loss of Russian staff. That will allow Russia to exercise more leverage on them than many now think.

Call for Talks Between Ingush Activists and Chechen Officials about Border Gets Mixed Reception

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 – A call by Mekhk-kkhel leader Sarazhdin Sultygov and Chechen parliament speaker Magomed Daudov for a meeting at which the two sides could discuss the border between their two republics has received a mixed reception, with regional activists generally supportive and most Ingush ones opposed.

            Ruslan Kutayev, head of the Assembly of Peoples of the Caucasus, and Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya, director of the Center for the Analysis and Prevention of Conflicts, welcome the initiative, arguing that any talks about the dispute are to be welcomed because talking is better than fighting (

            But the leaders of most Ingush NGOs with whom the Fortanga news agency spoke oppose the idea, seeing it as an asymmetric trap because it would involve Chechen officials but Ingush private citizens (

            Meanwhile, at another hearing of the Ingush Seven trial, defense lawyers complained when the judge again classified information about those giving testimony against their clients, saying that there was no justification for this illegal and unconstitutional action (

            And in a third major development in Ingushetia, officials reported that residents had filed 1114 complaints to the republic’s human rights ombudsman, a figure down only slightly from 2019 when 1162 did so and one that means one in every 500 Ingush had such a complaint (

            Meanwhile, in other developments in that North Caucasus republic,

·         The Southern Military Court began hearings in the trial of Ali Taziyev who is accused of attacking military personnel in 2009-2010 and who has twice been sentenced to life in prison. He denies all charges (

·         Memorial has declared Akhmed Pogorov, a former Ingush official who has recently been arrested on charges of using force against police and being part of an extremist organization, a political prisoner (

·         And Ingush archaeologists are continuing their protest against the construction of a Russian military base in the republic by pointing out that the area has not been fully excavated and that important historical materials may be lost if the base is built (


Concerns about Growing Doctor Shortage in Russia Grow as Pandemic Continues

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 28 – Vladimir Putin during his visit to St. Petersburg said Russian officials must work harder to prevent doctors from leaving the profession lest their departure leave the country without enough medical personnel to deal with any upsurge in the coronavirus in the coming months (

            Putin’s fears are shared by many Russians because in 2018, the last time the central government released figures, there was a doctor shortage of 50,000 in Russia, and media reports say that many doctors worn out by fighting the pandemic have left the profession over the last 14 months.

            Moreover, some Western news agencies are reporting that Russia already has entered a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, something the Kremlin has denied but that a dramatic rise in infections in Moscow itself over the last 24 hours supports (, and

            Russia as a whole appears to be continuing on a plateau, with the authorities reporting registering 7848 new cases of infection and 387 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last day, a result of falling numbers in many places but spikes like in Moscow in others (

            As nervousness about the situation has spread, the Kremlin felt compelled to deny that it had different statistics about the coronavirus pandemic than it was releasing to the public. “There is no ‘double bookkeeping,’” Dmitry Peskov said. “There isn’t and cannot be” (

            According to epidemiologists, the number of people with antibodies to the coronavirus is rising in most Russian regions but not in all, including Moscow ( And officials are reporting that new strains of the virus are many times more infectious than the ones Russia has been dealing with (

             Moscow has announced that it will be sending 200,000 doses of vaccine to India but also that it will require coronavirus testing on everyone arriving in Russia from that country ( and

            At the same time, education officials called on schools to give their students and staff days off during the upcoming long holidays Vladimir Putin has extended (

            On the vaccine front, Brazil says it has rejected the Russian vaccine because the serum includes live viruses which could lead to the spread of the disease, something Russian doctors deny and have threatened to sue the Brazilians for defamation ( and

            And residents of Chechnya are reporting that officials there are compelling them to get the vaccine, something Moscow has repeatedly assured Russians will not be allowed (

            On the economic front, a new study shows that the pandemic has hurt the Russian middle class far more than those in other income classes. That is because government assistance programs do not extend to those classed as middle class. As a result, it is the source of “the new poor” in Russia (

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

·         The Russian Orthodox church has allowed the opening of a vaccination center in one of its facilities for the first time (

·         The Moscow Patriarchate says it will not restrict church attendance during Russian Easter (

·         A VTsIOM poll finds that Russians believe ambulance service has actually improved over the last year, but reports show that in many places, those who staff this service have come down with the coronavirus ( and

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Moscow No Longer Only ‘Outside Actor’ Exploiting Territorial Disputes in Central Asia, Analyst Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – Stalin drew the borders of the republics of the Soviet Union in ways intended to heighten ethnic tensions he could exploit and changed them frequently because he understood that every change would produce new classes of winners and losers that helped him to “divide and rule” the country.

            Union republic borders were changed more than 200 times during the Soviet period, and both the original lines and the new ones continue to create problems like poison pills for the successor states (On this, see the current author’s “Can Republic Borders be Changed?” RFE/RL Report on the USSR, September 28, 2990 and

            Nowhere was this process more widespread and nowhere were the problems it created larger and more long-lasting than in Central Asia, something that an analysis on the portal says has given both indigenous elites and various “outside powers” new opportunities to engage in populist rhetoric as far as borders are concerned (

            The article makes the point that this is especially troubling in Kyrgyzstan and its borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Many parts of them remain in dispute as well as the question of exclaves in each being unresolved.

            But what makes this article worthy of note is just one thing: It suggests that in Soviet times, Moscow was the only “outside” power that mattered but that now far more countries, including China, Turkey, the US, Britain and the EU, are and that this will make the resolution of the borders there more difficult because all of these outsiders are exploiting the issue.

            Not surprisingly, the portal suggests that both before and after 1991, Moscow has played a positive role while the others have not. But including Russia in the list of outside actors in this context is suggestive, especially since Moscow both in Soviet times and more recently has been the one that has interfered more than any of the others. 


‘Russian Political Opposition Can Be Real or Legal But Not Both at Once,’ Savvin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – Dimitry Savvin, editor of the conservative Russian Harbin portal that is based in Riga, specializes in delivering harsh truths that many do not want to recognize. In a new commentary, he argues that “the political opposition in the Russian Federation will be either real or legal” but can’t be both at the same time.

            “The real extra-systemic opposition in Russia is now focused on the personality of Aleksey Navalny and the organization of his supporters, the staffs,” Savvin writes. But today Navalny is in prison, and his staffs are being banned as “extremists, that is, outlawed” (

            The fundamental problem of Navalny and his movement like the extra-systemic opposition in Russia in general is its schizophrenia. “On the one hand … [it declares that] the Putin regime is a dictatorship, totalitarian and that Putin himself as president has already been illegitimate for some time.”

            But “on the other, the very same people who talk about totalitarianism and death camps … continue to take part in elections and to discuss the prospects for the registration of their own parties.” Such confusion might have been justified in 2006 or even 2010 but now there is no excuse.

            Why then is it happening? “Because today the leaders of the extra-systemic opposition of the Russian Federation do not know what to do” and so they continue as they have in the past, like prisoners of a cargo cult, acting as if their behavior will by itself lead to the transformation of the system.

            That isn’t going to happen, Savvin says. “Any real opposition is viewed as the agents of a foreign enemy which must be eliminated by repressive means, which in fact is being done.” Expecting otherwise given the nature of the Putin regime as the leaders of the extra-systemic opposition describe it is a fool’s errand.

            “The variants of legal resistance to the dictatorship no longer remain,” he continues. And that means that “the only path is illegal resistance,” by force in the form of some partisan movement. History suggests that there is no other way. But that would require fundamental changes in the opposition and in the Russian people.

            The opposition doesn’t have a military wing, and the Russian people aren’t prepared to provide it with the rear that any militant group needs. Recognizing this in turn requires that “the opposition out of the sphere of the genuinely political needs to shift to the moral-ideological sphere.” That is, it must take the form of dissidents.

            Those in the opposition must recognize that “Putin neo-Sovietism has no intention of stopping with what it has achieved. “Its wannabe-totalitarian attack will continue. And the persecution of dissidents will be more systematic and institutionalized.” Consequently, even moral resistance will become “absolutely illegal” and those who engage in it will be punished.

            “Let us be honest,” Savvin continues. “This is a dead end. And we stand in this dead end in large measure because many do not even want to look for a way out.” They have various reasons for taking that position. But to make progress, one must first admit what the situation really is rather than try to live in one of one’s own imagining.

            It further means that the opposition itself must clarify things to the point that those who are really committed to change are separated from those who are only playing at it and are prepared to collaborate with the regime. That will also be hard, but it is absolutely necessary not only for the future of the opposition but for the future of Russia.

Having Retreated into ‘a Closed Conspiratorial World,’ Kremlin Feels Obliged to Crush Any Independence before It Threatens Regime, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – In what Sergey Shelin describes as an unprecedented development, the leaders of Russia today have withdrawn “into a closed conspiratorial world” in which they assess all actions, however innocent, as the first steps toward a color revolution to overthrow the regime and thus feel compelled to crush it before that happens.

As a result of this paranoid fear, the Rosbalt commentator says, the powers that be lash out at anyone who seems at all a potential threat and do not feel any need to define not only a picture of a desirable future but even “an image of a desired present, something that results in ever more irrational repression (

Because the Russian people know the consequences of acting independently, they become ever more obedient; but instead of that satisfying the men in the Kremlin, it leads the Putin regime to “scrutinize the population ever more closely” and to find threats where none exist in order to create a situation where no one’s behavior can guarantee any personal safety.

Not surprisingly, the Putin regime particularly dislikes the intelligentsia and young people because it sees in their searching and independence of mind a threat. Hence the regime’s new law restricting “enlightenment activity,” a measure whose provisions surpass all the fears critics of the Kremlin had made in the past.

These provisions reflect Putin’s conviction that as he put it, “the actual goals of their [the opposition] is the creation of conditions for changing the foundations of the constitutional system, including via the use of color revolution scenarios.” Now, such people are throwing bottles and stones, but soon they will do worse. And they must be stopped before they can.

“I have no doubt that Vladimir Putin sees reality exactly as he has said,” Shelin continues. Otherwise, what he has been doing makes no sense at all. For him, today’s peaceful protests open the way to shooting and then to a color revolution. For him, scholarly contacts with foreigners are about espionage because that it what such contacts must lead to, in his mind.

But by treating people in this way and openly acknowledging his own logic, Putin is creating an increasingly unstable situation, one in which ever more people can see precisely what he is about and in which at least some will be compelled to conclude that such madness must not be allowed to continue.   

Kremlin’s Shift from Mass Brutality to Targeted Repression a Victory for the Opposition, Gallyamov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – The Putin regime remains just as committed as ever to the use of repression against its opponents, Abbas Gallyamov says; but it has made a significant tactical change in recent days, ending the mass brutality it employed earlier and using targeted repression instead.

            That change, the former Putin speechwriter argues, represents a step forward as far as the opposition is concerned because the Russian authorities are “very conservative” and don’t like to make any change. But recent events and the reaction of Russians to them have forced it to do so (

            Several years ago, at a time when Putin’s rating was high, most Russians viewed dissenters as beyond their understanding, Gallyamov continues. But now that has changed. Many in the population and even in the elites don’t like what they see even if many of them for a time remain loyal because they don’t see any alternative to Putin.

            “But even these loyalists are showing ever more dissatisfaction with the current course,” he says. That is because they share many of the concerns that those who have taken to the streets are acting upon. And that means that the use of force against protesters “in this situation” ceases to please people. Instead, it angers them.” And that isn’t something the Putin regime wants.

            According to Gallyamov, the Kremlin is quite capable of using poll results and it cannot have failed to notice this shift. “Therefore, it has been forced to change its approach. Targeted repressions are much better than the use of force in the streets in the sense that they are not as visible.”

            Even if each case is reported on the Internet, this does not have the impact of a single image of mass use of force. And the Kremlin has to be concerned about not only the population given the upcoming Duma elections – ignoring them now would be political suicide -- but also the attitudes of the Russian Guard, many of whose members share the views of the protesters.

            The situation of the Russian opposition today is anything but easy, Gallyamov concludes. “But in one thing it can be calm about. The fact that the powers have been forced to change tactics testified above all that in the struggle for public opinion, the opponents of the regime have achieved significant progress.”

            So significant, that the powers have had to take note of it and change how they are behaving.

Beijing’s ‘Polar Silk Road’ Helping Russia Now But will Allow China to Dominate Northern Route Later, Volgayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – China’s ambitious icebreaker construction program and its plans to build Chinese docks in five ports in the Arctic may help Russia develop its Northern Sea Route in the short term but create the possibility that China may either come to dominate that Russian route or even allow Beijing to open its own route there, Vladimir Volgayev says.

            The military analyst for Sovershenno Sekretno provides details on the rapid expansion of China’s northern fleet, with two modern icebreakers of its own design, a third on the way, and other support vessels coming into service, and its plans for building Chinese docks at Murmansk, Sabetta, Arkhangelsk, Tiksi, and Uzden (

            Up to now, Volgayev says, China has relied on Russia for icebreaker support and port facilities, and its own efforts are still helping Moscow reach its ambitious trade goals for the Northern Sea Route. But it is already clear, he suggests, that China is not interested in playing second fiddle to anyone in this area and may soon challenge Russia’s dominance there.

            One indication of China’s expansive intentions was its response to American suggestions that it cooperate with Washington against Moscow in the Northern Sea Route. Beijing has rejected such ideas out of hand, not because it is committed to Russian dominance but because it doesn’t feel it will need to depend on the US which currently has only one icebreaker in service.

            Beijing’s expanding interest in the Northern Sea Route, the analyst says, reflects not only cost calculations but also the belief that Russian military infrastructure along that waterway has already made it safer than using the Suez Canal which is surrounded by increasingly unstable countries.

            But the Chinese leadership is also interested in the route and eventual dominance of it because of another calculation. Russia uses the route almost exclusively for the shipment of bulk cargos of raw materials. The Chinese believe that the future will be dominated by container traffic and that they, not the Russians, will be in a position to dominate that flow.

            All this leaves Moscow in a difficult position. On the one hand, it needs Chinese investment to achieve its own goals along the Northern Sea Route; but on the other, it and other world powers as well can easily see that Chinese goals are larger than the ones that Moscow would like them to be, ultimately if not now a security challenge.  

Putin Now Targeting Social Groups He Earlier had Left Largely Alone, Skobov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – Yet another mark of Vladimir Putin’s move from authoritarianism to totalitarianism, Aleksandr Skobov says, is that he is now seeking to crush those “niches of free thought” which had existed in Russia up to now and are of the kind that “authoritarian regimes typically allow” (

            The Kremlin leader in recent months has been moving against journalists and bloggers whose activities he had earlier left largely alone. Indeed, one can say, the Moscow commentator continues, that Putin is now targeting “not only activists of opposition organizations such as Open Russia or Navalny’s staff but also representatives of the cultural elite.”

            These include “well-known scholars, instructors and writers” who are typically associated less with political actions than academic seminars. “Often their civic activity is limited to more or less episodic expressions of support in ‘the information space.’ Until now, [the regime] tried specially not to touch them.” Now that has changed.

            And as a result, the risks for members of these groups have gone up as well. If earlier the expression of opposition views could hurt them professionally, now it could not only cost them their jobs but land them behind bars. The Kremlin assumes that in Russia now, those who can’t be intimidated in this way are not more numerous than was the case in Soviet times.

            With each passing month, the Putin regime is more unwilling to accept any “form of legal opposition, even of the legal kind. Indeed, “the ideal of the Putin ruling class is Continental China, which combines a market economy and the opportunity of personal enrichment with a purely totalitarian political regime of the Soviet time.”

            It is precisely in this direction that Putin is taking Russia to a place that is best described as fascism, Skobov suggests. In such a system, no islands of freedom are to be tolerated; and Putin is doing what he can to make sure they won’t be able to exist.


Moscow Says Hacking of Russian Medical Labs Way Up This Year, a Sign of International Recognition of Their Success

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – Russian computer experts say that the number of cyberattacks on Russian medical laboratories involved in developing vaccines has risen by 400 percent this year over last, a sign, they suggest, of international recognition of the success Russian labs have had in comparison with those abroad (

            Today, Russian officials reported registering 8053 new cases of infection and 392 new deaths from the coronavirus as the pandemic, while plateauing for the country as a whole, ebbed and flowed in various regions ( and

            Some places are increasing restrictions in advance of the extended May holidays. Ivanovo, for example, will impose entry restrictions during that period to prevent people from elsewhere in Russia bringing the coronavirus with them ( And Moscow has told Russians not to buy tickets for travel to Turkey after June 1 (

            On the vaccine front, Deputy Prime Minsiter Tatyana Golikova said Russia has produced 28 million doses of its vaccines and released 17.4 million of them for use in the population at large ( She criticized the regions for failing to maintain restrictions or even sign contracts to purchase the vaccine ( and

            A leading epidemiologist said Russia must increase the rate of vaccinations by a factor of five if it is to have any hope of achieving herd immunity, as evidence is coming in that rates of vaccination are slowing in some cities and even in the Russian military (,  and

            Some regions, including Magadan and Chukotka are introducing cash prizes for those who do get their shots in hopes of boosting demand for the coronavirus vaccination ( and At the same time, some Russians are getting a third or even fourth shot despite official statements that there is no need for that (

            A quasi-government organization, the Lazarev Club, has sent doses of the vaccine to Qarabagh for the use of the local population there (

            On the economic front, the Kremlin has directed the government to come up with a program to aid small and mi-sized firms in especially hard-hit regions (, And the country’s banks say personal debt is now rising at unprecedented levels (

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

·         The Bolshoy Theater has postponed all foreign appearances until March 2022 (

·         Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin says Europe should pay Russia compensation for its losses as a result of the coronavirus (

·         The health ministry says Russian life expectancy declined in the pandemic year by 1.84 years as compared to 2019 (

·         The city of Moscow has used the pandemic to set up a monitoring system that now covers all public spaces in the Russian capital (

·         Moscow accuses Brazil of politicizing the vaccine issue by its rejection of the Russian Sputnik-5 vaccine (

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Moscow’s Failure to Find Effective Responses to Foreign Moves against Russia Means There will Be More of Those, Sigov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 26 – Many in the West are frustrated that the sanctions that they are applying to Russia have not forced a change in Moscow’s behavior, but a new commentary by Yury Sigov suggests that at least some in Moscow feel that their government’s inability to come up with effective responses to Western moves means there will be more attacks on Russia.

            The recent upsurge in anti-Russian actions not only by its “traditional” competitors but also by its former “fraternal rulers” reflects the fact that “Russia has no effective levers of influence on the surrounding world,” the Moscow journalist says. Until it finds or develops them, there will be ever more such attacks (

            According to Sizov, there are three “basic” reasons that explain the motivations for this phenomenon.  First, leaders and peoples abroad believe that since Russia destroyed their country when it tried to oppose the West, the West is in a position to push it in the same direction again given that Russia is “the legal successor of the USSR.”

            Second, many abroad feel that the Soviet Union betrayed their hopes even as it betrayed itself. That leads some to want to take revenge when they feel they can and others to approach any positive possibility in relations with Moscow extremely skeptically, especially when they are encouraged by Western leaders.

            And third, and most important, those who do take such actions are confident that Moscow won’t be able to do anything in response that will undermine their positions. It has no effective levers against most of them, and so they assume that they can act against Russia for domestic and foreign policy reasons with impunity because in the end, the US will protect them.

            This sense of impunity and “confidence that Russia today has no effective levers of influence on the world” only encourages those who see value to themselves of adopting anti-Russian positions and taking anti-Russian actions. Moscow has to find ways to show them they are wrong, or it will face a growing number of such attacks, Sizov concludes.

Central Asian Countries Increasingly Varied in Their Migration Patterns to Russia, Kazakhstan Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 26 – Most Russians and many other observers treat Central Asian migrant workers in Russia, Caress Schenk says, but there is a large and increasing diversity among them reflecting differences in the economies, social systems, and coercive capacities of the countries there. As migration rebounds after the pandemic, those differences will only increase.

            In an interview with the Central Asian Bureau for Analytic Research, the political scientist at Nazarbayev University, says that people “often fall into the trap of treating all Central Asian countries the same, and they are not,” something that is perhaps especially true regarding migration (

            Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the major donor countries, differ “in terms of why migrants go to Russia, how free they are to go, and how they are treated when they return to their own countries.” Kyrgyzstan is “comparatively” freer than the other two, although Uzbekistan is far looser than it was under Islam Karimov.

            As for Kazakhstan, Schenk suggests, the government is far more concerned about migration as a situation that threatens to produce “a brain drain,” a reflection that many more of its migrants to Russia are more educated and thus the loss of which to Kazakhstan represents a threat.

            The situation is Tajikistan is complicated by the country’s need for remittances and its fear that Tajiks who travel abroad will be radicalized as far as religion and politics are concerned. But despite these differences, many Central Asians now see migrant labor as a way of life, not just for survival but to achieve money to advance their status at home.

            After the pandemic wanes, she continues, Central Asian migration to Russia will bounce back. But a major issue is going to be the likelihood that Moscow will require migrants to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. That is likely to have two consequences for the flow, she suggests.

            On the one hand, that will likely lead to an increase in the share of Central Asian migrant workers in Russia without legal status. And on the other, it is likely to spark a black market in fake vaccination certificates that Central Asians can show Russian employers without ever getting their shots.

            To the extent that happens, it could easily entail massive epidemiological consequences both in Russia and in the Central Asian countries, something that will make the future of migration from Central Asia to Russia even more fraught as a political issue.