Thursday, May 13, 2021

‘Russia isn’t North Korea’ – Neither Regime nor People Will Close It Off from the World, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 11 – The Putin regime talks as if complete isolation is not only possible but inevitable and suggests that the Russian people are quite prepared to accept that, Sergey Shelin says; but both things are not true: the regime recognizes that “Russia isn’t North Korea” and that neither it nor the population will allow the situation to approach its condition.

            Neither the government nor the population, the Rosbalt commentator says, is prepared to give up three fundamental “post-Soviet” achievements: the availability of imported goods, the ability to travel abroad and the use of the Internet for entertainment and other things (

            Confirmation for that conclusion, Shelin continues, comes if one considers the desire of the population for foreign goods and foreign travel and the regime’s recognition that there are real limits to how much it can cut back on either before the population won’t put up with such policies.

            North Korea currently imports approximately 100 US dollars of goods per capita each year and 96 percent of them come from a single country, China. Russia in contrast imports 1640 US dollars of goods per person per year and only a third of them come from “friendly” countries like China, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The rest come from those Moscow views as its opponents.

            In principle, the Kremlin could reduce such imports and the current regime has shown that it is more than willing to ignore the desires of the population. But doing the first would be extremely difficult and doing the second with regard to consumer goods would be extremely risky, something the powers that be will want to avoid.

            With respect to international travel, all of this is even more clearly the case. North Koreans simply aren’t able to travel abroad, but Russians think it is their right even if many of them aren’t in fact able to do so. Moscow shut down air travel to Turkey but three weeks later it pledged to reopen the routes, and even before that, it reopened travel to Egypt and Cyprus.

            The Kremlin clearly recognized that it couldn’t isolate Russia in this way either. And a Levada Center poll confirms that the population isn’t ready to accept such restrictions. While the poll showed that 49 percent of Russians supported their government’s decision while only 34 percent opposed, a closer look shows something else.

            The closing down of air routes was approved “in the first instance by those this didn’t affect” – the elderly who don’t travel supported the regime three to one – while it was opposed by those under 40 who do travel and a majority of whom said they did not approve of any shutdown.

            Consequently, Shelin says, “even in its current state, the regime to a certain extent recognizes that the willingness of its subjects to go along has its limits.” They aren’t ready to become North Koreans; and any effort to transform them into that will backfire with potentially very negative consequences for the regime itself.


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