Sunday, April 11, 2021

Russia Spends More on Jails and Less on Each Prisoner than Any European Country, Statistics Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 8 – In its annual report on prisons and prisoners for the Council of Europe, the University of Lausanne says that Russia because it has as many prisoners as all other European countries combined spends 4.1 billion euros a year on them, but at the same time, it spends far less on feeding them (

            According to the report, Russia spends 2.8 euros a day of feeding each of its prisoners, while Great Britain spends 136 euros and Germany spends 149. Moscow commentator Igor Yakovenko says that this pattern is absolutely consistent with “the general logic of Putin’s Russia” (

            For it, he says, the budget is for the bosses, in this case for the guards and not for the people, in this case, the prisoners.” “Putin’s Russia is a big prison zone, the inmates of which are divided into three categories: one, the smallest sits behind bars; the second, somewhat larger, guards the perimeter;” and the third includes the rest of the population or potential prisoners.

            There are some 2.6 million people in the second group, Yakovenko continues, and there is “a direct cause and effect connection” between their numbers and the number of prisoners per 100,000 population. The more of the former, the more of the latter there will be so as to justify the jobs and pay of the jailors and those who back them.

            And what that means, Yakovenko concludes, is that all of these jailors and their supporters view the rest of the population as potential prisoners, whose incarceration will only benefit themselves. That is not accidental, he argues. Instead, it is “the essence of a state system and the basis of the operation of its economics and politics.”


Almost a Third of Russians Will Be Elderly by 2030, Forcing Moscow to Change Course

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 8 – The combination of falling birthrates and lengthening life expectancies means that nine years from now, almost one in every three Russians will be elderly. While that percentage can be lowered by raising the retirement age again, Russia will be more elderly than at any point before in its history.

            This aging of the population is part of a worldwide trend among developed countries, and Russia ranks only in the middle of that development. But it poses serious problems for a country that has not wanted to address the problems of the elderly or those the elderly present by their relative growth to the number of working age adults and children.

            Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova points out that “the number of the population older that working-age is growing. The share of people of this older age group by 2030 will form practically 29 percent of the population of the country, and this means that we must prepare for this” (

            According to her, between 2018 and 2024, the number of pensioners will increase from 37.6 million to 40.8 million even as the total population falls. And then by 2030, there will be 43.7 million people in this category even as the Russian total falls still further. That puts real burdens on the government and society that neither has had to bear before.

            Just how radical a change this is for Moscow can be seen if one recalls that in the 1930s, nearly 40 percent of the Soviet population was under 21, a pattern that gave the regime far more possibilities to pursue extensive economic growth. Now, the situation has been reversed, and intensive development must dominate if a decline in living standards is to be avoided.

            This tectonic change is going to drive much Russian government and business decision making over the next several decades, however much the current powers that be hope to continue as they are doing over the course of that period. If the regime and its business allies don’t adapt, they will face a population even more sullen and more angry than the one they see now.

Moscow’s ‘Voyennoye Obozreniye’ Says Russia Doesn’t Need the Northern Sea Route

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 8 – Vladimir Putin’s regime routinely hypes the Northern Sea Route as the future of east-west trade, but a review of the situation by the influential Russian military journal, Voyennoye Obozreniye, suggests that the route isn’t going to play the role the Kremlin envisages, a view that Western analysts increasingly share.

            Russian military analyst Yevgeny Fedorov notes that the possibilities of the Northern Sea Route depend on the development of Russia’s Far North and that such development is not only prohibitively expensive but is unlikely to happen anytime soon (

            The Russian North occupies 18 percent of the country’s territory but has only two percent of Russia’s population. The ports and cities that do exist there were created in Soviet times as part of a grandiose plan to transform the environment. But they do not pay their own way. Instead, they require massive subsidies to this day.

            That has presented the current Russian leaders with a challenge, Fedorov says. No one intends to “throw the Arctic to the winds of fate.” The natural wealth of the region is too great for that. But “to continue developing the region on ‘the Soviet model’ is also something that no one intends to do either.”

            The Putin government has chosen to move forward with a public-private partnership involving Russia’s giant oil and gas companies. The latter have promoted the idea that Russia should not develop cities in the North or roads and railways across melting permafrost regions but rather take out the resources via the Northern Sea Route.

            This looks like the perfect solution. But Fedorov says, it is attractive only in theory.

            Between 2015 and 2020, Moscow planned to develop the region around a series of localized centers, but then it decided instead to promote the development of the region as a single macro-region. “This means that the Russian leadership has in part returned to the Soviet model of development everywhere in the Arctic.”

            “In large measure,” the analyst continues, “this is connected with the hopes for the development of yet another regional mega-project – the Northern Sea Route. The government’s plans for it are simply grandiose” with Moscow assuming that such a route can easily compete against the Suez Canal and its own Trans-Siberian railway.

            Global warming has only added to the self-confidence of Moscow planners, but in fact, the Northern Sea Route remains problematic. The remaining ice requires the existence of icebreakers which even Russia does not have enough of, the opening of new ports for ships to put in at, and a radically expanded navigation aids system.

            Backers of the plan like to speak of speeds of 15 knots an hour for ships using the route, something which would mean that the time between Europe and Asia would be much shorter than on the Suez route, but in fact, the real speeds now possible are only nine knots and thus the transit time is the same for the Northern Sea Route as for the Suez Canal one.

            “But that is not all,” Fedorov says. Container vessels, an increasingly important part of oceanic trade, need to go into ports for resupply ever three to four thousand kilometers.  But there are no ports that ships can use from one end of the Northern Sea Route to the other. Building them would be prohibitively expensive.
            Experts say, he continues, that “from Vladivostok to Rotterdam itself, there is not a single major port capable of receiving container vessels of world class” and that Russia would have to build 16 large ports to make such shipping possible on a regular basis. (The reason container ships have to put in so often is for resupply, of course.)

            “Besides these problems, the Northern Sea Route doesn’t have enough icebreakers. Of the new series, only the Arktika has entered service.” And global warming as fast as it is happening isn’t going to eliminate the need for them anytime soon, the Voyennoe obozreniye analyst says.

            He points out that “the main problems are connected with the extremely weak development of the eastern part of the Arctic Sea Route. In fact, to the east of Norilsk, there is nothing and won’t be for many years. There is no infrastructure, no productive capacity, and no major ports.” Chukotka will get the Internet only in 2024.

            The daunting costs and difficulties of changing all this, Fedorov argues, prompts the question he began with: “Does Russia need the Northern Sea Route?” Most likely, he suggests, the answer is “no.”

            Indeed, if it continues to pursue its dreams, “Russia risks creating an enormous structure, investing gigantic means and in the end having a Northern Sea Route that isn’t used. The transformation of the Arctic into a mega-region is transforming it into an analogue to a Soviet ‘construction of the century,’” something that will cost a lot and achieve little.

“Unfortunately or happily, the Arctic region is not intended as a place where hundreds of thousands or even more millions of people will live. It is too difficult both for health and of the budget.” Consequently, plans for the development of the Northern Sea Route which depends on the development of the Russian North must be scaled back.

            Not unimportantly, concerns about the cost of shipping along the Northern Sea Route, its environmental impact, and declining demand are now being sounded by Western analysts as well, but their voices are often overwhelmed by Russian hype and by those in the West who are using that hype to justify their own plans (


Iran Sets Up Joint Military Committee with Tajikistan, Only Non-Turkic Country in Central Asia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 8 – Maj.Gen. Mohammad Bakeri, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, and Sheradli Mirzo, the defense minister of Tajikistan, today in Tehran signed an agreement creating a joint military defense committee (

            The two sides say that the new body will promote security cooperation and help them counter terrorism, but exactly how it will work remains unclear. Nonetheless, because this accord is between the only non-Turkic country in Central Asia and because it involves Iran more deeply in an area Russia considers its backyard, its existence challenges both Ankara and Moscow.

            Turkey has been working to organize the Turkic countries of the region into a pan-Turkic alliance, and Russia remains opposed not only to that but to any outside involvement in security arrangements in the region. But now Iran has exploited the existence of a non-Turkic country in the region to project power into the region.

            This Iranian move also links Tehran more closely with China which has established a major economic and security presence in Tajikistan and gives Iran new possibilities for influence in Afghanistan (

            Iran and Tajikistan speak mutually intelligible Persian languages and thus would seem to be natural partners. But they are not the soul mates some might think. First, Iran is Shiite while Tajikistan is Sunni. Second, Tajikistan is far less religious because of the Soviet occupation. And third, they are not contiguous.

            Moreover, they have a history of tensions. Dushanbe was upset when Iranian leaders received Mukhiddin Kabiri, head of the Tajik Party of Islamic Rebirth in December 2015 ( and relations stayed cool until earlier this year when the Tajik president received the Iranian foreign minister (

            The announcement of a joint military defense committee now appears to be the result of that earlier meeting, but it is also likely to unsettle the geopolitics of Central Asia still further, opening the way not only for Iran to play a greater role but for China as well, two moves that will complicate life for both Turkey and Russia.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

‘The More Moscow Tightens the Screws on Ethnic Groups, the More These Groups Back the Kremlin,’ Three Russian Scholars Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 8 – It has long been observed that non-Russian republics deliver heavier majorities to Vladimir Putin and the ruling party than do Russian regions, but this difference reflects primarily the fact that the non-Russian republics are more rural and it is easier for officials to falsify the results, Stanislav Shkel, Andrey Shcherbak and Tatyana Tkacheva say.

            The three political scientists, the first at Perm State University and the second and third from Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, say that neither the predominance of rural voters nor national cultural patterns in these republics is sufficient to explain what is going on (

            Instead and on the basis of research in three rural centers in Bashkortostan and Tatarstan, they argue that what is occurring is what has become known as “the tragic brilliance of authoritarianism” in which groups under pressure from the center often prove more supportive of it than those under less pressure (

            This “paradox,” the three argue occurs because of the different meaning of political participation in authoritarian systems as compared to that in democratic ones. “In contrast to democracies where voters can punish the government for an economic crisis by voting for the opposition, authoritarian regimes can use crises for their own benefit.”

            “Here is the logic,” the three scholars say. “In a period of economic growth, every region gets subsidies form  the center with loyal ones somewhat more than less loyal ones. But during a period of limited resources and tightened central control, it become clear to all that less-loyal regions can see their economic lifelines reduced if not cut completely.”

            And that means that because regions must compete for subsidies, political loyalty to the rulers in Moscow as expressed in voting for Putin and United Russia, “becomes a key advantage,” and non-Russian voters rationally choose that tactic in order to gain an advantage or at least not lose it.

            “Under pressure of crisis and centralization,” these non-Russians “are less interested in expanding their political and cultural autonomy than preserving the status quo; and threatened with the loss of their remaining ethnic preferences, they are inclined not only to unite behind ‘their own’ regional head but also to follow his calls for vote for Kremlin’s favored candidates.”

            “This is the essence of authoritarian tragic brilliance,” they right. Tragic because ethnic minorities are forced to give up their ethnic and cultural rights; and brilliant because the tightening of screws by an authoritarian regime paradoxically reinforces the loyalty of the ethnic minorities.”

            They offer these conclusions after examining and dismissing in whole or in part many of the usual explanations for the reality that Putin and United Russia do better in non-Russian republics than in Russian regions despite the actions the Moscow leaders regularly take against them and that they don’t like.

            They call into question widespread suggestions that the ethnic minorities in Russia have tighter communication links and that these lead them to vote for those the leaders of these minorities call on them to back. But the three say that their research shows that “ethnicity does not influence one’s political choice and that ethnic minorities don’t vote for the regime any more than ethnic Russian ones do.”

            A much more influential factor is the share of people who live in rural areas. Non-Russians disproportionately do, and that affects both the level of their participation and their support for candidates from the party of power. People are more likely to vote because everyone knows everyone else in villages, and no one wants to embarrass or discomfort others.

            As to whom they vote for, that isn’t because of the ethnic cohesiveness but rather something else. People with whom the three political scientists spoke said they “try to elect those who can be most helpful for their village.” And “that is why the pleases of local officials to back candidates with status and resources can be influential.”

            “Given that almost all members of United Russia are in charge of an enterprise, people vote for them in the hope that they will provide material support to the village, and they avoid voting for the opposition out of fear that the head of the municipality will in that event punish the village by cutting back on financial support.”

            The votes of non-Russians for candidates of the party of power do not mean that the non-Russians support policies that they dislike because they hurt their ethnic rights. Instead, the three argue, the non-Russians vote as they do for the party of power for specifically materialistic reasons.

            There is one place where ethnicity drives voting and that involves the leadership of the region or republic. Non-Russians believe that the leaders of the places where they are the titular group should be members of the same nationality as they are. They will vote on ethnic lines in that case.

            For the non-Russians they surveyed, “the regional leader’s ethnicity [is] a symbol of preservation for their culture and special ethnic status,” something that “lifts there hopes that a regional leader who is ‘one of our own’ can ease pressure on them from the federal center and thus protect their culture.”

            And this has an important lesson for Moscow as well: “centralization and its tendency to reduce the political and cultural autonomy of minorities in Russia increase the motivation of members of these groups to support politicians who represent their ethnic group” even if in other cases they vote on class lines rather than ethnic ones.

            But this tendency is limited by the following factor in many cases: Non-Russians are quite prepared to listen to their regional leaders, even those of the same ethnic groups, who argue that failure to support Putin and United Russia will “anger Moscow” and put them at risk of losing even what they already have.

Controversy with Slovakia Undercuts Moscow’s Efforts to Promote Sale of Its Vaccine Abroad

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 8 – The Slovak government said that the vaccine Moscow had sent to that country differed in fundamental ways from the one the Russian authorities have described in international medical journals and to the European Union. Russian officials responded by accusing the Slovaks of waging “a disinformation campaign” against Sputnik-5 ( and

            Given that Russia is engaged in a massive effort to sell its vaccine abroad, including to EU countries, any such stories necessarily make potential purchasers more reluctant to use the Russian vaccine ( and

            Today, Moscow reported registering 8672 new cases of infection and 365 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours, as the pandemic continued to ease in most but not all places ( and

            As the numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths from the pandemic have dropped, officials in many places have come under increasing pressure to lift restrictions and reopen various public venues. Some have moved too quickly and the result has been a series of still-local spikes (

            Among the restrictions most likely to be lifted in the next few weeks are those against attendance at parades and especially the Victory Day celebrations. Today, Krasnodar became the first city planning such an event to declare that far more people will be allowed to attend than the pandemic rules had allowed up to now (

            On the vaccine front, Moscow’s massive shipments of vaccine to hard-hit St. Petersburg have pushed that city’s vaccination rates higher, with eight percent of residents now having gotten at least one shot and 5.7 percent the full, two-shot course (

            One region that is still running short is the Far Eastern Federal District. Many of its oblasts, krays and republics do not yet have enough medication to meet demand. The presidential plenipotentiary says that about 10 percent of the district’s residents have been vaccinated ( and

            And in Daghestan, Muslim leaders announced that they would conduct public information programs inside mosques there to promote the vaccine (

            On the economic front, officials announced that beauty salons had been one of the most hard-hit consumer sectors during the pandemic year. Shops have suffered losses of up to 40 percent and a quarter of the outlets have closed their doors for good (

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

·         Officials pressed Russians to take their vacations within the country rather than risk travelling abroad and bringing infections back with them (

·         Doctors reported an increasing number of incidents which they are calling post-covid syndrome involving memory loss and frequent tiredness among those who have recovered from the infection ( and

·         A Moscow courier was arrested when it was discovered that he was distributing fake vaccination certificates in the Russian capital (

More than Most Regimes, Moscow Exploited Pandemic to Cover Increasing Repression, Amnesty International Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – Governments around the world exploited the coronavirus pandemic to justify expanding state powers and increase repression against their peoples, Amnesty International says. But even in this sad worldwide picture, Russia stood out in how far it was prepared to go in this regard.

            The human rights organization devoted an entire section to Russia, and its findings as presented there have been summarized by MBC journalist Dmitry Rebrov ( and

            The Amnesty report said that the Russian authorities used the pandemic as a cover to increase their repression of the population “to a qualitatively new level” by using measures supposedly designed to protect the people from the disease to take away their rights and freedoms.

            Thus, the new Russian law on “fake new” was supposedly intended to block the spread of false information about the coronavirus that could spread panic or lead to counter-productive behavior was in fact used against those who protested against the Kremlin over a wide variety of issues.

            Citing the danger of the spread of the pandemic, the Russian authorities banned meetings and punished those went ahead anyway if the meetings were protests against the regime but did not take analogous steps against meetings supporting the regime and those who took part in them despite the fact that both kinds of meetings could spread the disease.

            Under cover of the coronavirus, the Russian government increased its repression of journalists and others who took steps the regime didn’t like, including but not limited to opposition figure Aleksey Navalny, Shaman Aleksandr Gabyshev, and political blogger Nikolay Platoshkin.

            Over the course of the pandemic year, the regime also further limited the activities of NGOs and human rights activists and extended its troubling term “’foreign agents’” to ever more institutions, groups, and even individuals. Amnesty called these actions both “’draconian’” and “’harmful.’”

            Perhaps especially disturbing were the repressive actions of the Russian regime against doctors and other medical personnel who called attention to shortcomings in Moscow’s handling of the pandemic, precisely the opposite of what they should have been doing if the regime were truly interested in fighting the coronavirus.

            Amnesty also pointed out that repressions that had absolutely nothing to do with the pandemic but began well before it increased as well, with cases against the Jehovah’s Witnesses increasing in number and sentences increasing in severity during the pandemic year.

But the pandemic did make conditions in Russia’s already notorious prison facilities worse as well, something the regime used its powers to try to hide again invoking when anyone questioned what it was doing the need to ensure that the pandemic did not spread more widely there.

Russians Don’t Have Consensus Answers to the Three Same Basic Questions about 1917 and 1991, Gontmakher Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – Recently, Russia passed the centenary of the 1917 revolution and soon will pass the 30th anniversary of the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, but despite that, Russians do not have agreed upon answers to the same three basic questions about either of those events, Yevgeny Gontmakher says.

            They still have not been told by their leaders whether either or both were inevitable, whether either or both were really intended to put Russia on the path toward a flourishing future, or whether either or both could really do anything about underlying Russian realities, the Moscow commentator says (

            Many people have opinions about all of these questions, of course, but the country’s political leadership has not addressed them as such. Vladimir Putin didn’t in 2017, and it seems improbable that he will do so this year, given the political calendar with its own imperatives. But some common answers are needed because they provide the foundation for future choices and developments.

            The provision of such answers could come from above, that is from Putin, or from below, that is from the population. The latter is unlikely, Gontmakher insists; but the former is very much going on, so far not leading to a consensus but exacerbating divisions over the past which inevitably become divisions over the future.

            One can hope that the country’s political leadership will ultimately reflect on the need for answers to these questions, especially given its obsessive focus on the past rather than the future. But if that doesn’t happen, the discussions from below may mean that Russians instead of learning from the past will be, as Santayana suggested, condemned to repeat it.


Putin Backs ‘Civic Identity’ against Tishkov’s ‘Civic Nation,’ Aleksandrov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – At a meeting of the Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations, an ideological dispute broke out between Vladimir Putin and ethnographer Valery Tishkov, a dispute that wasn’t about some “petty matter” but rather about the very future of Russia, Mikhail Aleksandrov says.

            The MGIMO political scientist says he is very pleased by Putin’s position as reflected in the meeting’s title “On the Strengthening of All-Russian Civic Identity” because he views this as “a movement by our powers toward political realism” (; for the speeches at the meeting, see

            In recent years, the notion of “a non-ethnic Russian nation [rossiiskaya natsiya]” had dominated talk on the nationality question, a term promoted by Tishkov and “the cosmopolitan grouping standing behind him.” That notion, Aleksandrov says, was based on the communist conception of ‘a new historical community’ in the form of ‘the Soviet people.’”

            “But,” the political scientist says, “the leaders of the CPSU were sufficiently smart enough” not to lose contact with reality and “therefore they did not decide to introduce the concept of a single ‘Soviet nation’ and limited themselves instead to a quite flowery formulation.”

            However, “the pro-Western cosmopolitan democrats who came after them discarded all decency and began to actively introduce into public consciousness the concept of ‘the Russian nation.’” Tishkov who became nationalities minister in 1992 was the leader of this group which objectively seeks “the destruction of the ethnic Russian nation [russkaya natsiya].”

            The ethnic Russian nation has always been a problem for some people. The Bolsheviks dismembered it by setting up union republics and creating autonomous republics within the RSFSR. Hitler killed millions, and then the leadership of the CPSU “in agreement with the West” dismembered the USSR and left 25 million Russians cut off from their nation.

            Because all these efforts weren’t enough, now some Russians like Tishkov have come up with another way to destroy the ethnic Russians, by submerging them into “an illusory community,” the non-ethnic Russian nation, so as to put them on course for the adoption of “the values of globalism.”

            At the March 30 meeting, Putin put a stop to this and in effect “sent the conception of ‘a non-ethnic Russian nation’ to the archives. Instead of it, the concept of ‘all-Russian civic identity’ was advanced.” According to Aleksandrov, “this is a good thing” because “it does not exclude the existence of the ethnic Russian nation” or other ethnic nations in Russia.

            Tishkov clearly does not like this development and at the meeting, he laid out his reasons for maintaining his position rather than Putin’s. But his arguments collapse upon examination because they are offered without evidence and are based on a confusion of terms, Aleksandrov continues.

            There were thus “for naught. V.V. Putin did not support him.” When the Russian president did respond, he ignored all of Tishkov’s arguments and said nothing about “’a non-ethnic Russian nation.’” And other speakers, including the head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs followed Putin, not Tishkov.

            In Aleksandrov’s opinion, this should be enough to remove the idea of a non-ethnic Russian nation from public discussion and allow for Russia to move forward with a common civic identity and both an ethnic Russian nation and non-Russian nations as well.

Putin No Longer Even Mentions Democracy in His Annual Presidential Addresses, Zakharova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – Although Russia is still officially a democracy and holds elections, Vladimir Putin and his regime no longer mention the term very often, a sharp contrast from the first years of his rule when he routinely invoked democracy as the basis of his government’s legitimacy, Olesya Zakharova says.

            In his first years as president (2000-2003), Putin referred to democracy “in almost every speech,”including his annual messages, the political scientist who divides her time between Moscow’s Higher School of economics and the University of Bremen in Germany says (

            He defined democracy as the essential “link between the people and the government” and suggested that “without parties, neither the conduct of the policy of the majority nor the defense of the positions of the minority is possible.” And he agreed that “only a democratic state can ensure a balance of interests between the individual and society.”

            But Putin stressed that democracy is important too because it makes possible the rise of a strong state. Only such a strong and democratic state “is able to protect civil, political and economic freedoms and can create the conditions for the prosperous life of the population and the prosperity of our Motherland.”

            For him at that time, democracy “does not contradict identity and patriotism.” And thus, when “combined with the rule of law, free elections and the priority of human rights,” it also works together with “the principles of Russian uniqueness.”

            In his second term, however, Putin shifted his emphasis to only one aspect of democracy in particular, as “a dialogue between the authorities and the people,” thus simultaneously emphasizing the self-standing nature of the former and the procedural nature of democracy as far as the citizenry was concerned.

            But with each passing year, as shown in his presidential messages to the Federal Assembly, Putin shifted his attention from citizens to the state as a whole and thus began talking about ideas like “sovereign democracy,” a situation in which Russia “will decide for itself how, taking into account its various specific features, can ensure the implementation of the principles of freedom and democracy.”

            In short, Putin shifted from a commitment to democracy as such to a commitment to democracy only to the extent it reflected Russian national traditions and strengthened the state, Zakharova continues. And by the time of Medvedev’s intermediary presidency, Putin was placing particular emphasis on preventing any outsider from interfering in Russia.

            At first, this led only to the narrowing of the definition of democracy, limiting it only to election procedures and ignoring any reference to human rights, the rule of law or basic freedoms, the analyst says. But since 2018, Putin has gone even further. He has stopped referring to democracy at all.

            “Instead of democracy,” Zakharova says, Putin prefers to talk about popular approval of the state and his personal leadership. For him, “the only thing that matters is whether the people approve or disapprove” what the powers are doing, not that they have rights to choose the government and influence its policies more specifically.

            This focus on popular approval rather than democracy entails some serious consequences. First of all, she argues, it means that Russians may make demands of various kinds but they do not have any right to assume that these will be taken up because even the procedural approach Putin had adopted earlier has disappeared.

            And that in turn means that Putin’s talk about “’popular approval’ instead of democracy is rapidly becoming a euphemism for traditional Russian authoritarianism.”

Russia Would Be the Big Loser if Turkey Denounces Montreux Convention, Nikulin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – Discussions in Turkey about the possibility that Ankara will denounce the 1936 Montreux Convention governing naval transit through the straits have attracted far more attention in Russia than in other countries because Russia would be the big loser if that were to happen, Andrey Nikulin says.

            The Convention provides both limits and predictability concerning the presence of foreign naval vessels in the Black Sea, and Russia could easily find itself confronted by a far greater naval threat there if the 1936 accord were annulled and Ankara decided to allow more Western ships in, the Moscow analyst says (

            That Turkey should want to do away with the convention is no surprise. It was imposed on a weak Turkey by outside powers that did not want Ankara to have the power to decide on its own which ships and how many could transit the straits. But because its denunciation would destabilize the situation, many Turks still oppose eliminating it.

            Most recently, with the plans to construct a canal bypassing the straits set to take off, both those who would like to denounce the Convention and thus who believe that doing so would trigger conflicts with other powers and Russia in the first instance have become more vocal, with 100 retired admirals opposing the change and political leaders flirting with the idea.

            This conflict has been intensified by reports this week that the US wants to send warships into the Black Sea in response to Russia’s increasing threats to Ukraine, reports that have not been confirmed by Washington as yet, and by the insistence of Turkish officials that the new canal will not be subject to Montreux limits.

            Ankara does not seem likely to denounce the Convention anytime soon, but even the discussion of the possibility of limiting its application or ultimately doing so is ringing alarm bells in Russia, where analysts and politicians are expressing concern about what that would mean for Moscow (

            And that in turn suggests that what happens next may have less to do with Turkey’s own amour propre or its complex interaction with NATO and the West more generally than with Russia’s response which may take a variety of forms including but not limited to protests against such ideas in Turkey itself.

Cities Russian Empire has Produced Repeatedly have Challenged that Empire, Luzin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – “Cities played a most important role not only in the development of the [Russian] empire as trading cities, fortress cities, factory citizens and the capitals of other states it seized but also in its crisis,” and both the Russian Empire and the USSR were in large measure brought low because of this contradiction, Perm political scientist Pavel Luzin says.

            That they did so in the past suggests that they may play a similar role in the future, one even larger than Russia’s regions, few of which have long histories but which were in their current borders at least largely created during the Soviet period and thus merit more attention as far as their role now and in the future is concerned, he argues (

            The tsarist empire “in large measure ended precisely because of the will of the cities,” as expressed both in civic organizations like the All-Russian Union of Cities to aid victims of World War I and the working-class movements in major cities including not just the two capitals but centers like Warsaw, Odessa, Kyiv and so on.

            When the Russian Empire disintegrated, only two of the first ten major industrial centers of the Russian Empire remained in Russia, the two capitals, something that lay behind the Bolsheviks’ drive to bring under their control the cities that were not. Sometimes this was successful; but often it wasn’t, Luzin notes.

            The Bolsheviks “not only were concerned with the restoration of control over former imperial possessions,” but also with the building via forced march measures new imperial economic centers.  Their policies led to the rise of 23 millionaire cities, but when the USSR disintegrated, only twelve of these remained within Russia.

            That has prompted the post-Soviet Russian government to try to recover these cities whether they are in Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic countries or Belarus. But what is critical to understand is that the Russian imperial drive is in the first instance about the control of the cities which the empire had lost.

            The post-Soviet Russian powers have learned certain lessons from this history, the Perm analyst continues. Even as they have sought to reclaim cities that had been part of the empire earlier, they have also worked hard to “minimize the political possibilities” of cities lest those still within the borders of the Russian Federation become a threat.

            The Russian authorities today understand that these cities can again become a danger to the imperial center far larger than regions as such because “the majority of contemporary Russian regions, in contrast to German lander or even American states, do not have deep traditional roots: they appeared only in the 1920s to the 1940s,”

            Those concerned with regionalism and decentralization thus should pay far more attention to the cities than to the current “’subjects of the federation,’ the future of which are extremely cloudy.” That is because “despite the resistance of the powers, Russian cities are gathering strength” and will be able to challenge the center and seek more autonomy.

            The results of this process are both unpredictable and even may be contradictory. “Decentralization and economic liberalization when they begin at first glance may look like attempts to preserve the empire and not bring it down. But “in this, there is no paradox,” Luzin argues.

            “The political process always from the outset presupposes trade and not a war to destruction.” The cities will seek to gain more power for themselves against both the center and the regions within which they are contained, and some in Moscow may try for a time to form an alliance with the largest cities against the regions.

            “But,” Luzin concludes, “the logic of urban self-administration will inevitably acquire its own” momentum and lead to changes those at the center who seek to use it do not intend.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Russia Seen Earning 30 Billion US Dollars from Sale of Vaccines Abroad

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 7 – Aleksandr Razuvayev, head of the Alpari Research Center, says Russia stands to earn 30 billion US dollars from the sale of its vaccines abroad during 2021-2022, a figure so large that it will make up for many other losses from declines in Russian exports (

            As the pandemic continued to ebb and flow across Russia, Moscow announced that it had registered 8294 new cases of infection and 374 new deaths from the coronavirus over the last 24 hours ( and

            Two new Russian studies appeared, reporting respectively that distance learning has had an adverse psychological impact on many children ( and that adults infected often suffered with psychological problems after recovery (

            On the vaccine front, Vladimir Puitin said that Russia was producing enough Sputnik-5 vaccine to inoculate all Russians who want it given that “not all” do ( There may be fewer customers abroad, however, now that the EU has announced plans to investigate whether Russia violated ethical and scientific norms in developing its vaccine (

            On the economic front, the Kremlin denied that Russia is in the midst of an economic crisis (, as the leader of a business group said he was confident the government would provide aid to his members if there is a new wave of the pandemic (

            The head of the Federation of Migrants of Russia said at least one million workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus will flood into the Russian Federation as soon as the borders are opened ( and

            And a survey of Russian workers found that more than two-thirds would like to come back to the office but for less than five days a week (

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

·         The Russian government said its certificates of vaccination would automatically be available in English, undercutting Moscow’s earlier statement that these were not for international use (

·         Sergey Furgal, the former Khabarovsk governor whose ouster sparked months of protests, has contracted the coronavirus in Lefotovo prison’s detention center (

·         Russia’s Muslims have been told by their leaders that during Ramadan, they should be vaccinated only in the nighttime hours (


Putin Ignores Protests and Imposes Intellectual Straightjacket on Russians, Blogger Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 6 – Vladimir Putin has now signed into law, despite massive protests from Russia’s intellectual community, a new measure that will require all organizers of “enlightenment activities” including but not limited to state organs, organs of local self-administration, and individuals to get state approval before speaking in public.

            Its backers, including the ruling United Russia Party and the Kremlin argue that this requirement will “protect Russian citizens and in the first instance pupils and students froim anti-Russian propaganda being disseminated as enlightenment activity” (

            The new law “prohibits using enlightenment activity for the spread of social, racial national or religious hostility, including by means of reporting to students unreliable information about historical, national, religious and cultural traditions of peoples and also for promoting opposition to the Russian Constitution.”

            But “its main goal,” Russian blogger Anna K. says, “is to completely discourage critical thinking” and any opposition to Vladimir Putin. Its provisions will impose a straightjacket on school courses and prevent any serious discussion of anything the regime doesn’t want discussed, including the Russian past.

            Because the law is so broad and applies to so many institutions and people, it will necessarily be applied selectively, something that will make the situation worse not better because the regime without clearly defining its ideas as at least the CPSU did will be able to single out for repression anyone crossing lines it has but has not made crystal clear.

            The flight abroad of educated Russians from the repressive Putin regime has attracted a great deal of attention in Russia and other countries. But this law is even more pernicious than their departure, although it is likely to spark more emigration of Russia’s best and brightest as well.

            That is because it imposes limits on thinking on those who remain, a group that is always certain to be larger. And the laws provisions mean the slow death of creative thought in the public space of Russia, something that can only have the most negative consequences for the future of that country. 

Moscow to Blame for Looming Financial Disaster in Russian Regions, Nechayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 6 – Andrey Nechayev, an economist who earlier served as Russia’s first minister for economic development, says that Russia’s regional governments are facing financial disaster not because they have been improvident as Vladimir Putin suggests but because Moscow imposes unfunded liabilities and doesn’t allow them to retain most of the taxes they collect.

            The number of unfunded liabilities has skyrocketed in the last year because the Kremlin decided that the regions should deal with the pandemic, and while Moscow has transferred more money to them in response, it has not given them anything like the money they need to do what they have been told to do ( reposted at

            That adds to the underlying problem of Russia’s financial system: the regions collect taxes, send almost all of them to Moscow and then get back only a small portion of what they gather. As a result, they are going ever more deeply into debt and find themselves in the position of unenviable position of beggars at the federal treasury.

            “The summary deficit of regional budgets for 2020 was 677 billion rubles (10 billion US dollars), and in absolute figures, the maximum since 2006.” Fifteen regions have deficits exceeding ten percent of their incomes, and seven deficits more than 20 percent. As a result, they have had to borrow ever more money.

            What is going on is at the intersection of Moscow’s acquisitive approach and economic decline. In 2020, investments and industrial production fell in 51 federal subjects, and the real incomes of the population fell in 75. But Moscow continued to take tax revenues and gave back only a portion.

            If this situation is to be rectified on a permanent basis, Russia must institute real fiscal federalism as Nechayev himself promoted while minister and has advocated since in his writings. The regions must have the power to tax for their own needs and must stop having to hand over almost all their revenue to Moscow.

            Unless that happens, the regions will continue to suffer, and Moscow leaders will comfort themselves with the entirely false notion that officials in the center have nothing to do with creating the problem and that any difficulties that emerge are entirely the fault of irresponsible officials in the regions and republics.

Patriarch Kirill’s Ranking with the Russian Public Falls to Lowest Level Ever

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 6 – In the monthly ranking of Russian public figures the Agency of Political and Economic Communications prepares, Patriarch Kirill has seen his rating fall to the lowest level ever. Last month, he ranked 34th among Russian leaders, down from 20th a year ago, and well below the top ten in which he stood in the first years of his patriarchy.

            This reflects less public unhappiness with him, experts with whom journalist Milena Faustova of Nezavisimaya gazeta spoke say, than his absence from public activities during the pandemic. And they add that his fall in this rating is no indication of any change in his influence. It was small and remains that way, they say (

            Roman Lunkin, a specialist on religion at the Moscow Institute of Europe, says that issues about the church have been eclipsed over the past year by an overwhelming focus on the pandemic. And because the church isn’t being talked about, Kirill is also losing the expressions of public support he might otherwise receive.

            Indeed, Lunkin argues, recent data showing the decline in the number of Russians identifying as Orthodox reflect the same factors that are driving down Kirill’s rating (

 He cautions against thinking that the patriarch’s public rating says anything about his standing in the church or in the Kremlin.

            Mikhail Smirnov, a specialist on religion at Leningrad State University, agrees. He says that Kirill’s political influence isn’t great because the Kremlin isn’t about to allow any religious leader to have an impact on it. And thus, this fall in the ratings won’t matter within the halls of government.

            Moreover, the Petersburg scholar says, it is likely “premature” to speak of any fall off in Kirill’s influence either over those who identify as believers or within the church hierarchy itself. The former continues to defer to them as they have traditionally, and opposition to him within the church, while it exists, is not much affected by his public standing.

            Few in society at large are paying attention to Kirill’s positions or troubles with dissident clergy. And thus, Smirnov says, his declining ratings reflect the absence of public coverage of his activities and his public activities have declined because Kirill is quite happy to live out his time as patriarch without shaking any boats.

Health of Zarifa Sautiyeva, Only Woman among Ingush Seven, Deteriorating, Her Lawyer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 6 – Zarifa Sautiyeva, the only woman among the Ingush Seven, needs to be seen by an endocrinologist because her health is deteriorating, but her jailors say that such a doctor can be called only if Sautiyeva provides evidence of illness, effectively putting her in a Catch-22 situation (

            Her relatives and friends are trying to gather such evidence by taking blood samples during visits, but restrictions on their activities and problems of ensuring that her samples are the ones doctors will examine to the satisfaction of jailors means that her lawyers fear there is little chance she will get the treatment she needs.

            Sautiyeva was well enough to attend today’s session of the court as were the six other Ingush protest leaders being tried for extremism and attacking police, the first time all seven were there together since the six declared a hunger strike and stopped coming to court to try to secure Sautiyeva’s release to home detention.

            She is back in a detention center, but the seven, on the advice of human rights lawyers, have decided to attend the court sessions to monitor what the government is saying and to speak in their own defense in closing statements ( and

            At today’s session, five Russian Guardsmen testified, four as secret informants and one openly. None of them provided any evidence in support of the charges against the Seven. Instead, all five specified that they did not feel that they had been attacked by anyone, the result they suggested of their well-padded uniforms.

            Meanwhile, repressions continued outside the courtroom, with siloviki raiding more homes of protesters and forcing the dismissal of a member of a local rock band that had participated in demonstrations in support of long-haul truckers earlier (, and

            Perhaps the most dramatic development in Ingush affairs today occurred at the Documentary Film Festival where officials refused to allow the showing of Marianna Kalmykova’s film about the Ingush protests. She said that wasn’t unexpected because the Russian authorities have refused to approve it for showing ( and

            But she said that this ban would not prevent her from putting the film online where anyone who wants to see it can do so.