Monday, May 17, 2021

1986 Film Showed What Life in USSR would Have Been Like if Country Hadn’t Been Soviet, Mironov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – A 1986 film that was released in the immediate wake of Chernobyl and passed almost unnoticed showed something remarkable, Maksim Mirovich says, what the USSR might have been had it not been suffused with sovietism and what Russia and the other post-Soviet states could yet be if they get rid of the Soviet elements in their culture.

            Mirovich, a commentator who specializes in comparing Soviet and Russian experience says the film, “Over the Rainbow,” shows what the country could have been like “without the constant ideological processing, without the financing of cannibal regimes throughout the world and without the failure of the regime to pay attention to its own citizens.”

            In short, he says, the film shows not “’the population’ but Citizens, who have their own positions on all issues, make independent decisions on how to raise their children, master interesting professions, and do not wait for ‘free gifts’ from the state.” As a result, and in contrast to those in the Soviet USSR, “they live happily” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=609F5561139F7).     “It is very sad,” Mirovich continues, “that this country did not exist in reality and exists even now only in the imaginations of the authors of the film,” although of course there are examples of where this alternative world really exists, such as Finland, which once was part of the Russian Empire but escaped in good time.

            The film tells the story of a young man from an artistic family who aspires to be a great athlete. He is granted his wish on condition that he not tell any lies. And at first he succeeds. But under Soviet conditions, he finds it impossible not to lie and loses his sudden athletic gifts.

By hard work, however, he reclaims them.

            He lives with his parents, a composer and a dress designer, in an apartment large and tastefully furnished and unlike those of most Soviet people. More important, his parents treat him as a member of the family, ask and value his opinions, and do not treat him like some lesser being they can order about.

            The school he goes to is at odds with Soviet practice as well. It is “an absolutely non-Soviet school.” No one is wearing a uniform; no one has a Pioneer kerchief; and the teachers are interested in their subjects and their students and interact with them like human beings rather than like burdens they have to put up with.

            And the city in which this all takes place is equally non-Soviet. Nominally, the film was made in Odessa, but most of the scenes were filmed in Tallinn, Estonia, where the impact of Sovietism on the urban landscape was far less because so much of the pre-Soviet had managed to survive.

            The film thus showed what life could have been like in the USSR had the country not been sovietized, something that would have allowed all of its people a better future and could still be the foundation for their achieving happiness in the future, Mirovich suggests.

 

Putin the Louis Napoleon of Today, Some Russian Scholars Suggest

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – At a St. Petersburg conference on the 200th anniversary of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, Russian scholars drew some parallels between Vladimir Putin and the first Napoleon but even more between the current Kremlin leader and Louis Napoleon, parallels that point to still more radical changes ahead, Leonid Smirnov says.

            In reporting the proceedings, the Rosbalt journalist quotes European Institute expert Oleg Kharkhordin as saying that “we all live among those institutions which the Code Napoleon marked the beginning of.” And both he and others insisted his most important contribution was to base his authoritarian power “directly on the people without any intermediaries” (rosbalt.ru/moscow/2021/05/16/1901678.html).

            Bonaparte’s system was based not on three elements as the ancien regime had been but on two, “only the leader and the people,” Kharkhordin says, a structure “which it would be more correct to label not Bonapartism but Caesarism because it was introduced not by Napoleon but by Octavian Augustus.”

            Grigory Yudin of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service adds that “Napoleon understood that divine right was over and a different legitimation was needed;” and he recognized that he needed to combine the empire and the republic” in order to make the whole that the revolution had won “something more long-lasting.”

            A third participant, Artemy Magun of the European University argues that in some ways Bonaparte was reacting to the resistance of the outside world and the sense of injury France felt from this hostile reaction, a reaction that intensified significantly under the reign of Louis Napoleon almost half a century later.

            “We see parallels in our own history,” he continues. “The collapse of the USSR delegitimized the world order, and we, having received Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq, live today in this state of panic” which recalls that which the first Bonaparte felt to a degree but which the third felt deeply.

            “Our situation is very similar to Bonaparte after the revolution,” Magun says. “Delegitimization has led to the formation of gray zones” which one’s opponents try to exploit and lead to the rise of “Bonapartist figures” not only in Russia but elsewhere, he continues.

            Sociologist Grigory Yudin says that more can be learned from the parallels suggested by Napoleon III who was emperor of France from 1852 to 1870. “The foundation for his coming to power was resentment and the complex of historical defeats.” And he used democratic institutions to legitimate himself -- he was president before he became emperor -- before insisting on the need for “a return to monarchy.”

            Thus arose “a powerful tradition,” the sociologist continues, one “between monarchy to which there was no return and the republic which seemed excessively radical.” That plebiscitarian impulse has appeared elsewhere, of course, but in France, it has never disappeared entirely.

            Russia today, he says, “also suffers from a complex of historical defeat, and we also have a leader who operates directly on the masses, demanding democratic legitimation and trying to actively promote it with the assistance of plebiscites.” In that respect, Russia and its leader now are quite like France in the middle of the 19th century.”

            Magun suggests in response that what we are seeing in Russia is happening around the world because of the crisis that arose with the collapse of the Cold War world. “The demand for a charismatic leader is very great in mass culture, especially now when ever more people are alienated from bureaucratic structures.”

            “This is very dangerous: we can in the course of the next historical turn of events get a Bonaparte, and not only in Russia.”

Russian Federation under Putin Repeating Cadres Policy that Destroyed the USSR, Kulbaka Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – The current policy of the federal authorities is reproducing the situation of Soviet times, “when regions were better off to be recipients” than producers and when governors were more likely to be successful and be promoted if they were lobbyists for funds from Moscow than if they actually develop their regions, Nikolay Kulbaka says.

            Just how dangerous that approach is, the economist at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service says, can be easily seen if one considers three senior members of the Soviet regime at the end, all of whom had been obkom secretaries and learned how to behave (vtimes.io/2021/05/16/tolkachi-perestroiki-a5027).

            History associates the collapse of the Soviet machine with the names Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and Yegor Ligachev, Kulbaka says. “All three were active participants in the events of the last years of the life of the USSR, two became presidents, and the third, according to rumor could have been CPSU general secretary in place of Gorbachev.”

            But all three shared one thing in common: Before coming to Moscow, they had headed regional party committees where they were successful or not less in terms of the work they did locally than in terms of their lobbying Moscow for more assistance. At that time, Kulbaka says, obkom secretaries weer in fact the chief tolkachi of their regions.

            Those who extracted the most from the center did the best and thus were the most likely to rise, leading to a situation in which former obkom secretaries dominated the CPSU leadership. In that place, they continued to work as they had: lobbying for resources both domestically and abroad rather than managing development.

            Many expected things to change after 1991, and for the first few years, it looked like they might. Strong regional leaders emerged “who could have become serious and up-to-date presidents.” But that wasn’t fated to happen. Instead, Russia became once again a presidential republic, who reduced regional heads to supplicants for federal largesse.

            And this means, the economist says, “that we are moving along the same vicious circle” and that when the current rulers leave the scene, they will again be succeeded not by managers but by lobbyists, the very group who thirty years ago contributed so much to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Putin Increasingly Issues Decrees without Publishing Them to Avoid Angering Russians, Investigations Find

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – During his time in office, Vladimir Putin has increasingly issued decrees giving awards of various kinds without publishing these decisions in many cases apparently fearful that the Russian people might be infuriated by his decision or read more into it than he intends them to know.

            As in Soviet times, Russian presidents have issued secret decrees. Typically, these have been about security questions where classification is understandable; but ever more often Putin has expanded the practice to include government awards like Hero of Russia, TRT reports (trtrussian.com/magazine/oficialno-sekretno-pochemu-v-kremle-chasto-ne-afishiruyut-prezidentskie-ukazy-5465129).

            (For background on Soviet and Russian presidential decrees and the propensity to classify them, see Thomas F. Remington’s definitive study, Presidential Decrees in Russia: A Comparative Perspective (Cambridge, 2014).)

            The new TRT investigation builds on one conducted by Vedomosti in 2019. The earlier one found that the share of unpublished decrees ranged from 25 to 40 percent and that these included both security questions and other actions “society might not approve of” (vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2019/10/10/813317-nevidimaya-prezidenta and https://www.vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2019/10/10/813317-nevidimaya-prezidenta).

            And the TRT study also draws on Russian media reports about the difference between the number of Hero of Russia awards Putin actually makes and the number of decrees published about this since 2014 when large numbers of Russian media personnel were given this award for their promotion of the Crimean Anschluss (opentown.org/news/269620/ and vedomosti.ru/newspaper/articles/2014/06/03/olimpijskie-geroi).

            The fact that the decrees required for such easily checked cases as the awarding of a medal are not being published, TRT says raises the question as to how many more decrees, involving more serious issues, are now being hidden from the Russian people.

Moscow May Be Forced to Make Vaccinations Compulsory for Many, Severinov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – New increases in the number of Russians infected with the coronavirus and a slowing of the rate of increase in the number of Russians getting vaccinated may compel Moscow to make vaccinations compulsory for officials and others in key institutions, Konstantin Severinov says. Otherwise, there will be a third wave and disaster.

            The head of the Institute for Molecular Genetics at the Russian Academy of Sciences says that fewer than 10 percent of Russians have yet been vaccinated and that only 10 percent more have recovered, leaving the country far from the levels needed for herd immunity (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/esli-by-lyudi-privivalis/).

            Obviously, the scholar says, individuals should have freedom of choice; but at the same time, the government must recognize that those who choose not to will infect others and take steps to require that those in places where they deal with the public get the vaccine to limit the spread and a new wave of the pandemic.

            Today, Russian officials registering 8554 new cases of infection and 391 new deaths from the coronavirus, with figures for Moscow down and those for St. Petersburg still rising as most of the rest of the country remained unchanged (t.me/COVID2019_official/2944, regnum.ru/news/3270472.html and regnum.ru/news/society/3267667.html).

            Health Minister Mikhail Murashko appealed to Russians to get vaccinated “without waiting for the third wave,” as anew Superjob poll showed that 42 percent of Russians say they have no intention of getting the vaccine under any conditions, while 20 percent said they would if it allowed them to go abroad (aif.ru/health/murashko_prizval_rossiyan_vakcinirovatsya_ne_dozhidayas_tretey_volny_covid and superjob.ru/research/articles/112841/kazhdyj-pyatyj-rossiyanin-gotov-privitsya-ot-koronavirusa-radi-poezdki-za-granicu/).

Peaceful Coexistence between Armenians and Azerbaijanis ‘Not Possible,’ Each Side Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – The latest incidents on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in which Yerevan has accused Baku of violating Armenian sovereignty and Baku has responded by saying that its troops are simply shifting on what is Azerbaijani territory shows both how far from peace the region still is and even suggests that peaceful coexistence between the two is impossible.

            MBK journalist Liza Velyaminova spoke with two journalists about how the peoples of those two countries view the larger picture, Viktoriya Pisarenko of Yerevan and Emil Akhundov of Baku, who offer a more realistic but pessimistic assessment than Moscow media have since Vladimir Putin brokered a ceasefire between the two countries in November 2020.

            Pisarenko, a university student, says that all Armenians expected an escalation of the fighting this spring. “Everyone predicted this,” she says. “They said that people had to get through the winter” and then be prepared for a renewal of military actions “at the end of April or the middle of May” (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/net-vozmozhnosti-mirnogo-sosushhestvovaniya/).

            Akhundov for his part says that for the last 30 years, Azerbaijanis have been living “in expectation of new military actions” and so new violence is only to be expected, although he suggests that “the present conflict won’t grow into a full-scale war.” Azerbaijan now is in a position to reintegrate lands that are properly its.

            Like Armenians, however, Azerbaijanis remember clearly the losses they suffered last fall and do not want to have any repetition, the Baku journalist continues. Every day, people in Azerbaijan are reminded about those losses and also about Azerbaijan’s victory against the Armenian occupiers.

                Pisarenko says that in Armenia too, there are mixed feelings; but she decries the appearance of Internet posts suggesting that “we are so great” that we can go to war again and win. Akhundov for his part adds that “after the war, hatred between Azerbaijanis and Armenians has increased many times over.”

            Yerevan is full of tourists now, Pisarenko says; and there is little sense of the war. But she says, her friends and acquaintances “are ready for the worst course of development. We understand what can happen and what we must do in that event.” As a result, “we all will stand shoulder to shoulder with our boys” in uniform.

            Akhundov is also inclined to pessimism. “I do not see a possibility for peaceful coexistence,” he says. Talk of open borders and trade is fine, but at the everyday level, “I cannot imagine this after such a quantity of victims among the civilian population has build up.” No one is going to forget that anytime soon.

 

Chechnya’s Housing Stock Largely Rebuilt but Not Its Factories

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – Moscow and Grozny regularly post pictures of the center of the Chechen capital today to make the claim that the republic has completely recovered from the wars Russia launched against that North Caucasus republic in the past. But what neither stresses is a fateful imbalance: Chechens have rebuilt their homes, but no one has rebuilt their factories.

            The Chechens have a long tradition of working on their houses during weekends and vacations, and they have done so to a remarkable degree over the last decade. But the republic has been unable to attract investors to rebuild the factories and Ramzan Kadyrov has not used the money Moscow sends for that purpose.

            As a result, a heavily illustrated article on Zen.Yandex suggests, much of Chechnya looks just fine as far as the residences of its people are concerned; but the republic lacks the industrial economy that was its base before 1991 and shows little sign of getting it back (zen.yandex.ru/media/varandej/chechnia-polnostiu-vosstanovlena-o-sledah-voiny-v-respublike-6098f2854fade3788b27b5f0).

            According to the article, outside investors say they are reluctant to invest because they have no idea what conditions will be like over the next 20 to 30 years, perhaps a more accurate reflection of what people really think about the future of Chechnya than those offered by Moscow and those it has installed as rulers in Chechnya itself.

            The skyscrapers Kadyrov has erected in Grozny may look impressive, but they can’t hide three things: the dominance of women because the men have been killed or forced to flee to Russia or abroad for work or to avoid arrest, the power of the teips over all aspects of life, and the massive presence of siloviki who are prepared to view any violation as separatism.

            All three things, the article says, suggest the peace in Chechnya is shakier and more deceptive than many want to believe; and it points to “the de-Russification” of the republic which means there is less glue to hold Chechnya to Russia than is the case in other non-Russian republics.

            Because that is so, it is the height of absurdity to think that Russians will soon be travelling around Chechnya the way they do around the Altai. That isn’t possible now and won’t be for a long time, perhaps ever because Chechens aren’t going to forget or forgive what the Russian invasions meant.

            “The cemeteries are a reminder of that, and even now, Chechens keep up the graves of “those who died in the war with Russia,” not exactly the image of the past the Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin want to project and one that suggests the future there is far less certain than Moscow thinks.

August 1991 Coup Plotters Get Their Own ‘Lives of Remarkable People’ Book

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – Almost every country has a book series that helps shape how its people see its past, its heroes and its enemies. In the case of Russia, there is “the Lives of Remarkable People” one which arose in Soviet times and features compact volumes on a wide variety of figures literary, political and otherwise.

            Now, Moscow literary critic Igor Gulin notes the appearance of a volume in that series about the coup plotters of August 1991. Written by historian Maksim Artemyev and entitled The GKChPists (in Russian, Moscow: Molodaya Gvardiya), the book is not revisionist but rather a sober assessment of what those opponents of change were about (kommersant.ru/doc/4793612).

            Those who were involved in the events of 30 years ago are not romanticized but rather presented as “confused people who decided to take a bold and ridiculous step” to try to prevent their country from passing out of existence and their people from being swept up into revolutionary change.

            Artemyev himself at one time worked as secretary of Vasily Satordubtsev, the former head of the Peasant Union and later the governor of Tula Oblast, “the only member of the committee who remained in big politics,” the literary critic notes. But the book centers on KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov who organized the plot.

            The author of the new book insists on the following: the August events were not “a state coup, as many thought in the 1990s. On the contrary, they were an attempt to prevent a coup and to save a country which was disappearing from the map. The despair of its heroes thus evokes from the author a deeply felt but slightly ironic sympathy.”

            Gulin reviews alongside this volume five other new books about the final years of the Soviet system:

·         Igor Orlov and Aleksey Popov’s Olympic Commotion: Forgotten Soviet Modernization (in Russian, Moscow: Higher School of Economics) in which the authors seek to show that the 1980 Olympivs was not so much a sporting event as an attempt at modernization of the economy;

·         Sergey Plokhiy’s Chernobyl, The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe (translated from the English and published in Moscow by NLO);

·         Dmitry Okrest and Yegor Sennikov’s They Fell Away: How and Why Socialism Ended in Eastern Europe (in Russian, Moscow: Bombora) which examines how a wide variety of developments in the former bloc came to affect the last years of Soviet power;

·         And Vladimir Videmann’s Forbidden Union-2 (in Russian, Moscow: RIPOL), the memoirs of a Soviet hippy which provides an unusual view of the developments of the last 30 years of the USSR.

Gulin provides an important service by reviewing these books, as far too often both Russians and others have ignored all that now can be learned from publications appearing about the last years of the Soviet Union preferring instead to assume that their notions formed earlier don’t need any correction.

Kazakh and Russian Nationalists Increasingly Resemble One Another, Asylbekov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – Kazakh and Russian nationalists increasingly resemble each other, focusing on the same issues but with things reversed like in a mirror where what is on the left for the one is on the right for the other, according to longtime Kazakh commentator Zhandos Asylbekov.

            Kazakh nationalists were outraged when Vladimir Putin suggested that Russia had given away its lands to other peoples in Soviet times and implied that they should be returned. Thoughtful Kazakhs pointed out that there were no lands belonging to any people “immemorial” before 1917.

            But the Kazakh nationalists have been doing exactly when Putin has done. They have routinely published maps suggesting that Kazakhstan should properly extend over the territories of many neighboring countries, including those in Central Asia, the Russian Federation, and China, Asylbekov points out (qmonitor.kz/society/1582).

            That is hardly the only way Russian and Kazakh nationalists are alike, he continues. They both are obsessed with finding examples “showing the greatness of our peoples in the distant past, their ‘special nature,’ and their unique role in world history,” using facts when they are available and coming up with myths when the facts don’t go far enough to support them.

            Russian nationalists talk about the power of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, while Kazakh nationalists love to point to the times of the Golden Horde, “idealizing the power of the khans and even finding them to be democratic, just and completely supported by the popular masses.”

            Recently, Kazakh nationalists have gone even further and claimed that the khans and the bais under them were wise and progressive and that all the problems that Kazakhs have now are someone else’s fault. In that too, they are like their Russian counterparts with both talking about a golden age and assuming the role of victims of others.

            “Our national patriots are certain,” Asylbekov says, “that if the Russian Empire and the USSR had not existed, then the Kazakhs would be living in a land of milk and honey and that Kazakhstan would be something like Japan.”
            Moreover, both nationalists have their enemies. The Russian nationalists view the West and its allies within the borders of the former USSR and socialists camp as their enemies. But “the Kazakh nationalists add to their Russophobia Sinophobia as well.” And they like the Russian nationalists have domestic enemies as well.

            Russian nationalists blame “persons of Caucasus nationality,” immigrant workers from Central Asia, and “dons of the Israelites.” Kazakh nationalists in contrast blame “numerically small peoples who have better adapted themselves to market conditions and who are more successful than the mass of Kazakhs themselves: the Dungans, the Armenians and others.”

            And finally, both Russian and Kazakh nationalist in the main are hostile to what are customarily called European or Western values. They both support patriarchal traditions and “national codes” that they see as having deep roots in the past and want to go back to that past rather than forward into the future.

            In short, Asylbekov concludes, Russian and Kazakh nationalists for all their hostility to each other are very much like one another, albeit with each condemning in the other exactly what it is displaying in itself.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Nevsky’s Lesson is that the West is a Greater Threat to Russia than the East, Volodin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – Russians are focusing on the life of Alexander Nevsky now not just because this is his 800th anniversary of his birth but because he understood what Russians do today, that the West is a greater threat than the East and that some enemies need to be combatted by force or arms while others by diplomacy, Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin says.

            Nevsky chose to form an alliance with the Mongol horde so that he could defeat the Teutonic knights, a choice which “defined the development of Russian statehood.” Had he made a different choice, Russia would have been a very different place if it had existed at all, he says (t.me/vv_volodin/74 reposted at lenta.ru/news/2021/05/15/orda/).

            The 13th century Russian price defeated both powers, the first “by force of arms,” the second by “diplomatic cleverness.” But he clearly felt that “the main danger came from the West and threatened the spiritual death of the people and its loss of independence.” The Mongol khan did not represent an equivalent threat to Russian identity.

            “The great contribution of Aleksandr Nevsky,” Volodin says, “is that he destroyed the plans of the enemies and did not allow the vector of the civilizational development of Russia to be changed.” He thus becomes both by his judgment and by his actions a figure for emulation by Russians today.

            According to Volodin, Russia now has been challenged again. “A different time and a different opponent,” one who comes not with a sword but with information networks that threaten that which makes Russia Russia. And this new Western threat imposes its own kind of demand for tribute with sanctions that resemble what the Mongol horde did.

            The West hasn’t learned anything from history, the speaker says. “If they had learned, they would know that Russia comes out of all such tests stronger than it was when it went in.” That was true in Nevsky’s time and it will be true now, Volodin suggests.

Soviet-Era Maps in Conflict with One Another Concerning Armenian-Azerbaijani Border, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – Soviet-era maps don’t provide a clear answer to just where the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan lies in the Syunik district which Baku refers to as Zengezur. Instead, a Soviet military map assigns territory to Azerbaijan that a Soviet topographic map says belongs to Armenia (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/363912/).

            There haven’t been any maps prepared since 1991, and Baku and Yerevan have not held negotiations on the delimitation and demarcation of their borders because of the Qarabagh conflict. As a result, some of the supposed violations Armenia has claimed in the last week may not have looked like violations to Azerbaijani forces.

            Three days ago, Yerevan said that Azerbaijani forces had penetrated its territory, but Baku responded by saying that its 250 troops were only changing their dislocation within Azerbaijani territory, a difference of opinion that appears to reflect the difference in the maps the two sides rely on.

            Yerevan appealed to the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty and to Vladimir Putin for assistance in repelling what it labelled an incursion by Azerbaijan, and Armenian residents of Syunik Oblast blocked roads and demanded that Armenian officials provide the residents of border villages with guns so they could defend themselves.

            The issue of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border has arisen now because as a result of last fall’s clashes, Azerbaijani forces expelled Armenian forces that had been occupying Azerbaijani territory since the mid-1990s. Now, Azerbaijani forces are up against the border. And the question is just where does that border lie.

            According to Aleksey Gunya, a geographer at the St. Tikhon University of the Humanities, Armenia is in the right as far as the Black Lake is concerned. Most of it, he says, is in fact on Armenian territory. But he acknowledges that “it is difficult to define the precise borders of the two countries.”

            “This territory was not controlled by Azerbaijan until the recent war,” Gunya continues. “On the maps of the USSR General Staff of 1,000,000 to 1 the lake is shown on the territory of Azerbaijan.” But a Soviet topographic map with a scale of 100,000 to one shows 80 percent of the lake to be within the borders of Armenia.

            Gunya and the Armenians naturally favor the topographic map, while Azerbaijan gives primacy to the official Soviet General Staff maps. And that is the problem. As Aleksandr Skakov, deputy director of the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, puts it, “there is no one Soviet map which would allow for defining the borders.”

            Skakov says the two sides should begin negotiations on the border with the mediation of the Russians, but there is a problem there as well: Syunik Oblast is in the area where Russian border guards have responsibility rather than the peacekeeping troops in Qarabagh. Just who will play intermediary is thus unclear.

Pandemic Spikes in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Eases Elsewhere

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 15 – The overall infection count in Russia continues to be stable, but the numbers in the two capitals have jumped over the last few days and now together form nearly half of all cases in the country as a whole including many places showing improvement, returning to the pattern that was the case at the outset of the pandemic there.

            Russian officials reported registering 8790 new cases of infection in the last 24 hours, but more than 3,000 of them were in Moscow and almost 800 in St. Petersburg, vastly higher figures especially in the former city than a week of more ago (t.me/COVID2019_official/2941, regnum.ru/news/society/3267667.html and regnum.ru/news/3270224.html).

            The upsurge in the two cities almost certainly reflects greater public contact without masks or the maintenance of social distance during the extended days off Vladimir Putin gave the country for the May holidays and the fact that elsewhere many restrictions imposed earlier are still in place compared to Moscow at least. (More restrictions are in place in Petersburg.)

            Russian officials also announced that the Sputnik-5 vaccine has now been approved for use in Ecuador and Venezuela (sputnikvaccine.com/rus/newsroom/pressreleases/primenenie-vaktsiny-sputnik-v-odobreno-v-respublike-ekvador/ and sputnikvaccine.com/rus/newsroom/pressreleases/primenenie-odnokomponentnoy-vaktsiny-sputnik-layt-odobreno-v-venesuele/).

Horrific May 2020 Oil Spill Result of Melting of Permafrost, Potanin Now Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 14 – Global warming will melt most of the permafrost underlying 60 percent of Russian territory over the next 20 to 30 years, Natural Resources Minister Aleksandr Kozlov says, allowing for the development of agriculture in places where it was never possible before (rbc.ru/business/11/05/2021/609946f89a7947d7c3da4fb5).

            Initially, he said, the ice just under the surface will melt but then the depth of the melt will increase until almost all of it is gone by the end of this century, a situation that will produce massive problems across the region that even agricultural development won’t be in a position to compensate for.

            Despite his attempt to put the best face on things, the reality is that with the melting of the permafrost layer, many buildings and pipelines in that region are at risk of collapse. Indeed, Nornikel director Vladimir Potanin now says that that may have been the cause of the May 2020 oil spill near Norilsk that transfixed Russians at the time.

            Then, Moscow officials sought to blame an employee of the company even though experts on the environment and construction disagreed. They blamed the permafrost melt and warned that there would be more such accidents in the future across the Russian North (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/06/norilsk-tip-of-iceberg-as-millions-of.html).

            Now in the wake of a court decision against Nornikel, it appears the company’s management is ready to accept the conclusions of the expert community to deflect responsibility. But what remains unclear is whether it or the Russian government will take the steps necessary to protect pipelines and other infrastructure from the subsidence of the soil permafrost melting entails.

            If that does not happen, it will make it even more difficult to develop agriculture in the North of the kind Kozlov suggests will be possible and to create the infrastructure needed along Russia’s Arctic coastline to support the Northern Sea Route and Moscow’s aspirations to the mineral wealth on the Arctic seabed.

Russian Courts Restore Noxious Soviet ‘Legal’ Principle of Analogy, Mishina Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 14 – One of the most appalling features of the Soviet judicial system was its use of the analogy principle under which a judge could convict someone of something not defined in law as a crime but in the view of the court similar enough to justify conviction and punishment.

            That principle was explicitly rejected by Russian officials and courts after 1991, but now, Yekaterina Mishina of the Free University says, it has been brought back, yet another sign of the ongoing re-Sovietization of the Russian legal system, one that threatens the rights and freedoms of Russians just as the Soviet one did (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/05/13/vpered-v-sssr).

            In a Novaya gazeta commentary, she says that “de-Sovietization, one of the key tasks of the post-Soviet transformation has not simply ceased to be a priority. It has disappeared altogether from the agenda, and our ship now is flying not forward but backward into the Soviet past.”

            She documents the ways the Kremlin has moved in this direction over the last decade, restricting the rights and freedoms of the Russian people and returning Russian courts to what they were in Soviet times, defenders of state ideology against domestic opposition and foreign influence.

            The return of the principle of analogy happened in April, she says, when the Basman District court used it to convict the DOKA dissidents. Tragically, things aren’t stopping at this point either. Last week, Duma deputies proposed including in the legal code something familiar to the early Bolshevik period.

            Namely, they are demanding that Russian courts punish people for not voting and also that they apply the law ex post facto to those who had acted in some way not illegal at the time but made illegal later, both features of the Soviet past and not just the last years of the USSR but in its earliest period.

Without Outside Help, Armenia Won’t Be Able to Hold Syunik (Zengezur) for Long, Karakhanyan Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 14 – Yerevan has now appealed to the Russian-led Organization for the Collective Security Treaty for assistance in opposing any Azerbaijani actions against Syunik (Zengezur) because without such help, Simon Karakhanyan says, that area will become “a buffer zone” between Armenia and Azerbaijan and one Yerevan by itself won’t be able to hold for long.

            The Armenian commentator who writes for Russia’s Regnum news agency notes that after the 1994 fighting, Armenia created a buffer zone between the Armenian Nagono-Karabakh regime and Azerbaijani forces but now because of the war last fall, it no longer has that. Azerbaijani forces are directly opposite Armenian territory (iarex.ru/articles/80979.html).

            During the fighting last fall, Karakhanyan says, Yerevan foolishly and inexplicably did not appeal to the collective security organization although it had every reason to do so. Now, with Azerbaijani forces at the borders of its territory, especially Syunik Oblast which Baku refers to as the Zengezur corridor, it has felt compelled to do so.

            “Today,” he writes, “the situation has become more serious because now it is practically impossible to stop the advance of Azerbaijani forces deep into Armenia.” Azerbaijan can send troops in and the Armenian military so far on its own has been “incapable of undertaking preventive measures.”

            What that means, Sarkhanyan says, is that at least part of Armenia’s Syunik Oblast is now “a buffer zone” much like the one Yerevan organized 25 years ago around Karabakh. And just like that one, Armenia is not in a position to hold it if Azerbaijan sends its military into the area.

            According to the commentator, “the transformation of Syunik Oblast into a buffer zone threatens Armenia with the loss of statehood or the reduction of its territory and rights” to limits not seen for more than a century.

            Sarkhanyan’s argument is clearly directed at Moscow and represents another Armenian call for Russian assistance. But what is most striking about his words is his open acknowledgement that Yerevan by itself cannot hold this corridor if Baku decides to use force to take it back.

Russians Evenly Split on Whether Attacking Ukraine would Help or Hurt Putin, Lev Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 14 – When Putin invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014, those actions sent his ratings dramatically upward, creating what many called “the Crimea consensus” in Russian politics. But today, Lev Gudkov says, Russians are almost exactly evenly split on whether another invasion of Ukraine would help the Kremlin leader.

            The head of the Levada Center polling agency says that 43 to 44 percent of Russians think another invasion would boost Putin’s ratings, but 40 percent say that it would have precisely the opposite effect and spark mass dissatisfaction and protests in Russia (echo.msk.ru/programs/year2021/2837478-echo/).

            The share of Russians who fear a world war has doubled over the last several years, the sociologist says, to 62 percent. But the Kremlin’s use of repression at home has kept down the number of people ready to take to the streets because of the increasing personal costs of doing so. In sum, repression works in that way but it doesn’t change minds.

            Gudkov adds that bravado comments like “we can do it again” are strongly held by a very small part of the population, mostly “lumpenized” men who amount to “no more than 12 to 14 percent” at most. They get a lot of attention, but they certainly do not reflect the views of the Russian people.

             But for the Russians to come into the streets, he continues, they need to have a leader who can give them the sense that they aren’t alone, that other Russians share their anger about the economy, the pandemic and a possible war. In that event, they will overcome their fear of becoming victims of repression – but only in that case.

            While Gudkov does not say so on this occasion, it is clear that his argument means that what the Kremlin has done with Aleksey Navalny is perhaps its best form of self-defense. Without someone like that taking the lead, Putin will be able to act regardless of the feelings of the population because these feelings won’t lead to protest actions that might threaten him.

Putin Now Says Ukraine is Becoming ‘the Anti-Russia’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 14 – In remarks to the Russian Security Council, Vladimir Putin says that “Ukraine slowly but consistently is being transformed into some kind of antipode of Russia, into a certain anti-Russia” given Kyiv’s efforts to take control of the country’s mass media and arrest pro-Moscow business people.

            The Kremlin leader added this will require “particular attention” from the Russian authorities because it involves the security of the Russian Federation and because Western governments have failed to criticize what the Ukrainian authorities are doing (rbc.ru/politics/14/05/2021/609e5e829a7947eb211fca8e?from=from_main_1).

            On the one hand, Putin’s remark is nothing more than a continuation of his propensity for criticizing other governments for doing what he has done far more of and attacking Ukrainian policy makers in particular. But in another way, it reflects a deeper reality: Putin’s real fears about what Ukraine represents as far as Russia is concerned.

            For years, the Kremlin leader has insisted that the Russian and Ukrainian nations are in fact one people, something he presumably still believes. But he is now saying that Ukraine because of the way its government is changing represents “an antipode” to his own state, something that could present him with a more serious challenge.

            Many commentators in the West have long suggested that if Ukraine can overcome the influence of the Soviet past and become a vibrant democracy with a growing economy, goals it has not yet fully met, such achievements would represent a greater threat to the Kremlin than almost anything else Kyiv could do.

            That is because they would highlight the possibilities that Putin and his regime have denied his own population. And so it is intriguing that in these latest remarks about what is happening in Ukraine, it now appears that the Kremlin leader may have reached a similar conclusion and shares those concerns.

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

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 14 – Below are 26 more stories from Russia this week that deserve to be noted because they shed significant light on Russia, its government and its people, but that I was unable to write up as full-scale Windows:  

 

1.      97.3 Percent of Russians Earn Less than Lowest Paid McDonalds Help in US. Now that the hamburger chain has raised its base pay, its lowest paid workers make more each month than 97.3 percent of all Russians (charter97.org/ru/news/2021/5/13/422176/).

2.      Income Russians Say They Need for Happy Life has Been Falling Since 2017. In 2017, Russians told Superjob that they needed 184,000 rubles (2600 US dollars) for a happy life. Now, they say they need only 166,000 (2300 US dollars). In reality, Russians did not make anything near that in either year (kp.ru/daily/27277/4411582/).

3.      Putin Scores Hat Trip in Hockey Game in Ten Minutes. In a Sochi hockey game, the Russian president managed to score eight goals in all and three in only ten minutes against defensemen who seemed to be playing as if their lives depended on not stopping him. They may well have been right (kp.ru/daily/27275/4410695/).

4.      Deputy Premier Says Combing Jewish AO and Khabarovsk Kray Not on the Agenda. After saying that he believed that the two federal subjects should be combined, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin reversed himself after fierce criticism and told the Jewish AO head Rostislav Goldshteyn that the issue was not on the agenda (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2021/05/12/869464-likvidatsii-evreiskoi).

5.      Moscow has Been Expelling Diplomats at Rate of One Every Two Days. Over the last four months, the Russian government has declared 55 foreign diplomats persona non grata and expelled them from Russia, approximately one every two days (thinktanks.by/publication/2021/05/12/rossiya-opustoshaet-zapadnye-posolstva-so-skorostyu-odin-diplomat-za-dva-dnya.html).

6.      Duma Deputies Propose Restoring Soviet-Style Exit Visas to Limit Travel Abroad. A group of Duma deputies wants to restore the requirement that Russians get exit visas from the authorities before travelling to any foreign country (finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/v-gosdume-predlozhili-zapretit-rossiyanam-vyezd-iz-strany-1030419569).

7.      Meduza has Established that Groups Linked to Kremlin were Behind Leaks of Navalny Data. The Meduza news agency has shown that the April leaks of information about the Navalny movement were the work of people linked to the Presidential Administration (http://www.Meduza.io/feature/2021/15/11/tvoe-imya-v-spiske-u-kakogo-to-efesbesnik-).

8.      Kremlin Increases Financing for State Media Outlets. The Kremlin has announced that it is boosting the amount of money allocated to Russia Today, Novosti and Radio Sputnik by 221 billion rubles (three billion US dollars) over the next four years (manas.news/kyrgyzstan/putin-ne-zhaleet-deneg-na-rossijskie-smi/).

9.      Bashkir City Can’t Afford to Take Down Christmas Tree. The major of a city in the Muslim republic of Bashkortostan says his budget does not allow for taking down the Christmas tree he put up last December (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=609A20D85CCDA).

10.  Russia Restores Names Soviet Cities had during World War II for a Day. For Victory Day, Volgograd became Stalingrad and Perm became Molotov along with other cities as part of the celebrations (kp.ru/daily/27275/4410288/). Meanwhile, Maxim has published a list of the nicknames of 100 Russian cities (maximonline.ru/longreads/narodnye-prozvishha-gorodov-id171101/). Vladikavkaz is known by its people as Ordzho, in memory of its old name Ordzhoinikidze.

11.  Ligachev Dies at 100, Remembered for Telling Yeltsin ‘Boris, You are Wrong.’ Yegor Ligachev, the conservative opponent of Gorbachev on the Soviet Politburo, has died at 100. He was remembered not only for his remark about Yeltsin but also for observing that he wondered whether Russians had not reflected upon the fact that “after the era of dinosaurs would begin an era of rats” (business-gazeta.ru/article/508577).

12.  Ryazan Goes to the Dogs before Victory Day. Persons unknown released 500 dogs from a Ryazan pound the night before Victory Day, an action that some suggested could not have been a coincidence (7x7-journal.ru/news/2021/05/09/eto-ne-mozhet-byt-sluchajnostyu-neizvestnye-v-kanun-dnya-pobedy-vypustili-na-ulicu-500-sobak-iz-ryazanskogo-priyuta).

13.  New Study Belies Belief that Pedestrians Die More Often than Drivers and Passengers. Many Russians believe that pedestrians are more likely to die than those riding in cars, but the data show, a new study says that that is not the case (demreview.hse.ru/article/view/12044).

14.  Villagers Take the Lead in Adopting Orphans. One of the reasons that the number of Russian children in orphanages has declined in recent years is that people living in villages are adopting them as a means of keeping their places of residence going given that young people are leaving in such numbers (ng.ru/regions/2021-05-10/100_125610052021.html).

15.  40 Moscow Metro Workers Dismissed for Supporting Navalny. No fewer than 40 employees have been fired after their names were found on an online list of those supporting imprisoned opposition leader Aleksey Navalny (echo.msk.ru/news/2837954-echo.html).

16.  Omsk Team Wins Siberian Grave-Digging Competition. Each year, a competition takes place near Novosibirsk to determine who can dig a grave the fastest. This year, a team from Omsk won by completing the work by hand in 38 minutes (tass.ru/obschestvo/11374123).

17.  100,000 Russian Children Forced to Walk Long Distances to School Because There are No Roads or Buses. In many places in rural Russia, children are forced to walk many kilometers to and from school because the roads are impassable or there are no buses to carry them (istories.media/reportages/2021/05/14/esli-nikto-iz-vzroslikh-ne-protoptal-deti-idut-po-sugrobam-v-shkolu/).

18.  Muslims Allowed to Celebrate End of Ramadan in Public in Petersburg but Not in Moscow. Moscow officials banned the public demonstrations of faith near mosques that have been a regular feature of the capital’s life for the last several decades, but in the northern capital, officials allowed the commemorations to go ahead, and 50,000 Muslims assembled despite the pandemic (credo.press/237186/).

19.  State Employees Being Forced to Take Part in United Russia Primaries. To give the appearance of widespread popular support for the ruling party, government employees in some places are being forced to vote in the primary elections of United Russia (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/otkrytaya-i-konkurentnaya-model/).

20.  Son of Ousted Krasnoyarsk Governor to Run for Duma. Anton Furgal, the son of the former governor of Krasnoyarsk, has announced that he will be a candidate in the upcoming Duma elections (znak.com/2021-05-14/syn_sergeya_furgala_budet_ballotirovatsya_v_gosdumu).

21.  Long May Holidays Reduced Popular Support for Putin. Not only did the holidays lead to a spike in coronavirus infections in Moscow but they depressed the rating of the Russian president according to a new poll (media.fom.ru/fom-bd/d18pi2021.pdf).

22.  Russian Pensioners Take Part in Protests Because They have Time and Nothing to Lose. Most attention in recent times has focused on the young taking part in political protests, but many older Russians are as well. They say they aren’t afraid because they have little to lose (severreal.org/a/31248240.html).

23.  Shoygu Wants to Ban Drafting Anyone Who’s Used Drugs. Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu says he wants to excuse from military service anyone who has used drugs apparently lest they bring such a habit into the ranks, a proposal that could easily backfire (znak.com/2021-05-11/shoygu_schitaet_chto_nelzya_brat_v_armiyu_lyudey_s_opytom_upotrebleniya_narkotikov).

24.  Russia Gave Citizenship to 650,000 People Last Year and Moscow Wants to Make Procedure Even Easier. Prime Minister Mikhail MIshustin says that under the simplified procedures now in place, Russia was able to give citizenship to 650,000 people last year. He says he hopes to make the process even easier and increase that number (kp.ru/online/news/4289002/).

25.  The Altai and Daghestan Top Ethnic Travel Destinations in Russia. Many Russians like to visit what they see as the exotic non-Russian republics. The two most popular this year when few Russians can travel approach are the Altai and Daghestan (https://nazaccent.ru/content/35694-altaj-i-dagestan-vozglavili-top-etnicheskih.html

26.  Moscow Backs Down on Restrictions on Russians Working in US Embassy in Moscow. After very publicly declaring that Russians could no longer work in the US embassy in the Russian capital, Moscow has backed down, likely because at least some of these people have more than one employer and because the US cut back visa services when the embassy lost these workers (https://ru.usembassy.gov/message-to-u-s-citizens-u-s-mission-russia-2/).