Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Military Clashes in Central Asia Over Water Likely to Grow in Number and Intensity, Kazantsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – The military conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan was in the first instance about the lack of agreement between the two countries over control of water flows. That conflict cost 55 dead and about 300 wounded and forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes.

            Conflicts over water like this one are likely to grow in number and intensity in the coming months, Andrey Kazantsev, a specialist on the region at MGIMO, unless the countries of the region are able to agree on an equitable sharing of water, something that they have not been able to do and that is increasingly difficult to achieve.

            That is because as the death of the Aral Sea has shown demands for water across the region are far outpacing supply and sparking social, economic and political problems because the water is not equally divided among the five, with two water-surplus countries confronted by three water-short ones.

            But increasingly, the water-surplus countries, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, have far less extra water than they had and are less inclined to share it with anyone else as the fight between the two of them in May shows. And the water-short countries are more short than usual because of drought (stem-lab.az/article/defitsit-vody-mozhet-stat-prichinoi-novyx-voin-v-srednei-azii---143).

                As a result, he says, “there is a great probability that conflicts like the one which took place between the Kyrgyz and the Tajiks this spring will intensify since the climate is changing, the glaciers which fed the Central Asian Amudarya and Syrdarya are retreating, and demand for water to the contrary is increasing since the population is growing.”

            Other experts, like Jennifer Sehring of the Central Asian Water Resources journal and Uzbekistan analyst Baktiyor Alimdzhanov, agree. Indeed, they are if anything even more pessimistic than the Moscow expert, although there are some outside specialists like Stanislav Pritchin who believe that the problem won’t explode in that way.

            But even he agrees that the problems are spreading. They no longer involve only Uzbekistan in conflicts with its neighbors but all the states of the region in disputes with theirs. That multiplication of disputes by its very nature makes it harder for any collection of these states to reach agreement and more likely that disputes will take on a military dimension.

Protests will Continue Even if Moscow Arrests All the Leaders

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – Today, 1500 Russians went into the streets of Khabarovsk to demand an end to repression, the release of political prisoners, and the return to office of ousted former governor Sergey Furgal. The meeting occurred after a local court in an unprecedented move ruled that a ban on the meeting imposed by the mayor there was illegal.

            Among the signs the protesters carried was one which declared that “we don’t need any Moscow castoffs,” a clear indication that this large protest was not only a continuation of the earlier marches in favor of Furgal but also that its members increasingly blame Moscow for what has happened in their city and region.

            Even more more important, this meeting called into question the assumption of many Russians that if the authorities arrest all the leaders, they will end any possibility of protest, a reflection of their contempt for the population which will find new leaders and take part in new protests (region.expert/khabarovsk190621).

            And while the Kremlin operates on that assumption – its arrest of Aleksey Navalny and other opposition figures in recent months reflects a desire to clear the political field in advance of the Duma elections and preclude protests, Russian leaders are being forced to recognize that Russians are so angry they will find new leaders or go into the streets on their own.

            In a commentary for Rosbalt, that news agency’s parliamentary correspondent, Elena Zemskova, says that increasingly people are aware that “despite ‘the defeat of the opposition,’ the powers consider the chief problem of elections to the Duma their legitimacy and are seriously preparing for possible protest actions” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/06/18/1907362.html).

            Increasingly, she continues, officials are worried that some Russians will boycott the elections altogether or view the decision to hold the vote over three days as opening the way for falsification, something that could send Russians into the streets on their own. Parliamentarians are worried that they may be encouraged to protest by foreign governments, including the US.

            If Russians do go into the streets for those reasons, there is a possibility, Zemskova says, that a Belarusian scenario will occur in Russia, something for which, she argues, the Russian powers that be have only themselves to blame.

Genealogy Can Be Problematic for Tatars, Bashkirs and Russians, Akhtariyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – DNA tests which identify the cultures from which one  descends are increasingly popular in Russia, but those actively interested in tracing the genealogy of their families are far less numerous because of the problems they face, Aydar Akhtariyev, who traces his ancestry back to Chingiz Khan times and founded the familio.org/portal to help others.

            The biggest problem is that most people assume that the best way to trace one’s ancestors is by last name, but until World War II, last names were very unstable in the case of the Tatars and even some Russians in the North in which members of the same family adopted different last names, the genealogist says (idelreal.org/a/31312813.html).

            Instead, those who are interested in tracing their families need to find out the names of the villages from which they came. Many of these villages no longer exist or have had their names changed, but all the archival records one needs to trace one’s lineage is located, if it still exists, in territorially defined institutions.

            Akhtariyev says he founded his portal to bring those interested in the topic together because it often happens that more than one individual is interested in people from a particular village and if they know about one another, they can help each other. If they don’t know about what has been done, they have to repeat everything, often a discouraging process.

            Another problem for Tatars and Bashkirs is that relatively few people in the population know the Old Tatar Arabic-based script. Fortunately, there are now many experts for hire who know that language well, although Akhtariyev himself who has been in the field for 20 years concedes that he is not one of them.

            Intriguingly, he notes that Bashkirs find it somewhat easier to trace their ancestors than do Tatars. The reason is that clan divisions among the Bashkirs survived because they were nomadic and did not have a state while among the Tatars, they have largely but not completely disappeared. When one knows one’s clan, going back further in time becomes easier.

            Many who get involved in genealogical investigations often find things they don’t plan on, such as being members of a different nationality than their ancestors were. That makes such research politically sensitive, and it is among the reasons why the authorities in many places aren’t keen on seeing the field grow. 



Biden hasn’t Betrayed Russian Liberals or Ukrainian Patriots; He’s Defended US National Interests, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – Since the Geneva summit, some Russian liberals and some Ukrainian patriots have insisted Joe Biden betrayed their causes, forgetting that the US president swore “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” and not in any case promising to defend democracy in Russia or Ukrainian independence, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.

            By meeting with Vladimir Putin, Biden “didn’t betray anyone: he above all fulfilled his responsibilities before Americans by looking in the eyes of one of the main opponents of the free world, laying out the American position on basic foreign policy questions, and seeing where things stand,” the Russian commentator says (echo.msk.ru/blog/v_inozemcev/2857342-echo/).

            In Russia today, Inozemtsev continues, there are two competing myths about the nature of the world. On the one hand, the Kremlin insists that Russia is surrounded by enemies and that the government must fight them. And on the other, the Russian opposition is waiting for the West to help them defeat Putin.

            Both positions are fundamentally and even fatally flawed, he suggests. They ignore the fact that “violations of human rights in Russia are taking place because over the last 20 years, citizens have consistently avoided defending them and have allowed the powers to take ever greater control” and that foreign interference isn’t going to change that by itself.

            “It is time for both Russian liberals and Ukrainian patriots to stop hoping for help from the outside” and accept its absence to the extent they want as a reflection of the national interests of other countries and “not as evidence of betrayal” of their own interests by Western countries,” Inozemtsev says.

            “It seems to me,” he says, “that Russian and Ukrainian experts should more carefully study all the spectrum of US policy regarding human rights and assistance to allies, including sanctions on Russia … and support for Kyiv.” And they should also recognize two important aspects of the situation that they tend to ignore.

            First, outside pressure has never led to the liberalization of Russia. “On the contrary.” When relations improve and thaw, then is the time when there is a chance for liberalization. And second, and this is especially important for Ukraine but not only it, many countries have been able to transform themselves into free market economies and democracies without much help.

            If Russia and Ukraine were working in that direction rather than otherwise, they would have better relations with the West and have a better chance for support. Time, however, is working against both, as bad Russian behavior and inadequate Ukrainian behavior reduces the chance for improvements.

            Both Russians and Ukrainians need to recognize that they are responsible for their futures rather than waiting for some magic assistance from abroad. Until they do so, neither will make the kind of progress they say they hope for. Instead, they will remain locked in a vicious circle which their rulers will exploit against them. 

Russian Villagers Whose Complaints about Roads Reach TV or Putin Get Relief but Few Others Do

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – In many parts of rural Russia, to speak of roads is to engage in euphemisms. They are more often muddy tracks rather than graded let alone paved highways. When tragedies happen, they complain to television or to Vladimir Putin and sometimes those who do get relief. But the rest continue as they have been, Sergey Shargunov says.

            The commentator and television program host tells the story of the victim of a heart attack in a Kursk Oblast village whom the ambulance couldn’t reach because the road ran out and of a girl in a Vladimir Oblast village who wanted a road so her younger sister could learn to ride a bicycle (svpressa.ru/blogs/article/301750/).

            They were helped because their complaints reached the Kremlin or at least Russian television, but they are the lucky ones: millions of others live in places where the only way to get in and out is by tractor and where people go to district centers to shop once a month because doing so is an act of heroism, Shargunov continues.

            On the one hand, this arrangement allows TV personalities like himself or Putin in the Kremlin to play Lady Bountiful and hand out benefits, something they are happy to do and for which the villagers are happy. But on the other, this arrangement means that officials won’t do anything unless they are forced by this kind of exposure.

            In the nature of things, with more than 10,000 villages, most of whom aren’t linked by paved roads to the outside world, few will break through and get the benefits. The solution is not to have more exposures of what is wrong but rather to insist that regional and local officials do their jobs and build roads and to have federal officials make sure that happens.

            Until that occurs, Shargunov says, there will be more tragedies and more gratitude when someone intervenes; but the system will in fact not get any better, however much what Putin or central television manages to do in the few cases that manage to attract their attention.


Moscow’s Use in Ingushetia of Police from Kamchatka Won’t Work for Long, Dzutsati Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – The March 29, 2019, protest in Magas continues to cast a shadow over Ingushetia not only in Russian courtrooms where the Ingush Seven and others who protested the land deal with Chechnya but on the streets of Ingush cities and towns. The latter gets less attention but may prove more important.

            When a group of Ingush militiamen did not use force against the demonstrators, officials at Moscow’s insistence concluded the Ingush police were “unreliable” and replaced them with militia officers from Kamchatka, at the other end of the Russian Federation. Those officers are still there on the streets of Ingushetia.

            Using such a colonial method of administration may, regional expert Valery Dzutsati says, “help preserve the appearance of stability for a certain time but this period will hardly last for long.” The Ingush can see they are viewed as a colonial people every time they encounter the Kamchatka militia in their midst (kavkazr.com/a/31314592.html).

            The 13 Ingush militia officers who were dismissed after the March 2019 protests ostensibly for failing to obey orders to disperse the crowd are in the process of appealing that decision and the subsequent decision to do away with the unit in which they served. They say that they never received the order that they are supposed to have violated.

            And lacking an order to disperse the crowd by force, these former officers say, they did what they could to calm the situation, protecting other officers and urging the demonstrators not to engage in any actions that could force the officials to respond. Rights activists and police organizations in the region back them up (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/364938/).

            Both Moscow and Magas were alarmed by this display of civic unity between the protesters and the police, and the Kremlin moved to ensure that it would not spread. The police were fired and their unit disbanded, and militiamen from outside the republic and even outside the region were sent in to replace them.

            Had Moscow and Magas recruited other Ingush, the situation might have calmed down; but instead, they went outside, displaying their lack of confidence in and even contempt for the population, something that has angered other Ingush police and other Ingush more generally (fortanga.org/2021/06/oficzer-ingushskoj-policzii-pozhalovalsya-na-bespredel-v-vedomstve/).

            In short, the authorities took a dangerous situation in which the police were clearly on the side of the people and made it worse, transforming the situation in Ingushetia into an openly colonial one in which few Ingush are going to remain on the side of the imperial occupiers for long. There is simply too much anger and social pressure for that to be possible.

            Moscow may assume that it can move siloviki around and thus keep the lid on this bubbling pot, but in fact, every time it does that, it weakens its own hand over the long haul even if its agents in place can report that the outsiders have restored control for the time being. 

Unless Pandemic Ends Soon, Moscow Likely to Raise Pension Age Again

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – Some Moscow analysts say that unless the pandemic ends soon, the Russian government will be forced to raise the pension age once again, a powerful argument for many Russians to get the shots but yet another reason some of them are likely to vote against the Kremlin’s candidates in the Duma elections (rosbalt.ru/moscow/2021/06/19/1907411.html).

            Other threats, including loss of jobs, exclusion from getting medical care, shaming, and even suggestions that those who refuse to get vaccinated may have to be incarcerated, hasn’t pushed the number of Russians seeking the shots up very much (business-gazeta.ru/article/513263). Threatening their pensions   seems a logical if draconian measure.

            But it may backfire not only because Russians cans see that other governments have done far better than Putin’s in fighting the pandemic but also because they will inevitably view such a move as yet another example of the Kremlin’s forcing the Russian people to pay for its mistakes while protecting the wealthy (finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/antiprivivochnaya-katastrofa-proval-vakcinacii-sulit-rossii-poyavlenie-supervirusa-1030536887).

            And there are two other reasons for anger: the Kremlin has spent more time blaming Russians for not getting vaccinated than helping them and Vladimir Putin has spent more time bragging about how well his policies have worked than ensuring they do (finanz.ru/novosti/aktsii/antiprivivochnaya-katastrofa-proval-vakcinacii-sulit-rossii-poyavlenie-supervirusa-1030536887, regnum.ru/news/3300749.html and regnum.ru/news/3300871.html).

            Today, Russian officials reported registering 17.906 new cases and 466 new deaths from the coronavirus, with more than half of the record number of new cases of infection coming from Moscow alone, which had 9120 new cases. Moscow Oblast added another 1456 (t.me/COVID2019_official/3096 and themoscowtimes.com/2021/06/19/moscow-records-pandemic-high-for-covid-cases-second-day-running-a74267).

            Elsewhere, the pandemic continued to ebb and flow. People in several places were outraged they can no longer get medical treatment if they do not have the shots. In the words of one, officials are saying: “sit at home and die if you aren’t vaccinated” (regnum.ru/news/society/3296191.html, regnum.ru/news/3300604.html and  regnum.ru/news/3300717.html).

            Most regions are promoting shots by offering prizes but others, like Chechnya, are threatening people with all kinds of dire outcomes if they don’t (themoscowtimes.com/2021/06/19/coronavirus-in-russia-the-latest-news-june-20-a69117, regnum.ru/news/3300790.html, vz.ru/society/2021/6/19/1104787.html and https://capost.media/news/obshchestvo/v-chechne-posle-ugroz-kadyrova-prinuditelnaya-vaktsinatsiya-nabiraet-oboroty/).

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

·         Some experts are expressing the hope that the third wave will be shorter than the first but others are saying that it may give rise to a new and more deadly super-virus because Russians aren’t getting vaccinated (mk.ru/social/2021/06/19/biolog-rasskazal-o-posledstviyakh-tretey-volny-koronavirusa-pessimisticheskiy-prognoz-sbylsya.html).

·         Russian psychologists are worried about the increasing number of hours people are going online rather than dealing with one another, a trend that they say may make social interactions increasingly difficult to restore (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/06/19/1907221.html).

·         Some vaccination facilities in Russia are substituting EpiVakKorona for the Sputnik-5 vaccine, an indication that supplies of the latter, more effective vaccine may be running low (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/06/18/epivakafera).

Monday, June 21, 2021

Moscow Wants to Make Study of Non-Russian Languages So Voluntary No One Will Study Them, Khakuasheva Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 – Since the start of the expansion of Muscovy outside its original borders and its occupation of other nations, language policy has been at the core of nationality policy because if people can be encouraged or forced to give up their language, they almost always sooner or later will give up their nationality, Madian Khakuasheva says.

            The Circassian scholar says that the terminology of the center has changed but the overarching goal has remained the same – the total assimilation of all non-Russians into the ethnic Russian nation – and everyone should recognize that any deviation from this postpones but doesn’t change that goal (natpressru.info/index.php?newsid=12466&).

            The latest twist in this sad story, the senior researcher at the Kabardino-Balkar Institute for Research on the Humanities says, is provided by Iosif Diskin, chairman of the Russian Social Chamber’s Commission on Inter-Ethnic and Inter-Confessional Relations (kp.ru/daily/26833/3873632/).

            After insisting that ethnic Russians must study in the Russian language, Diskin adds that “the right to study languages of the subjects must be guaranteed. No one is casting doubt on this. But this is a right and not an obligation” and every pupil or more precisely the parents of every pupil has the right to decide what his native language is.

            “Let us stop on the term, ‘voluntary choice of native language,’” Khakuasheva says. Anyone who has a clear mind will recognize that people don’t choose their native language; it is something given by birth. Yes, it can be taken away – and Diskin clearly hopes that will happen with the non-Russians – but this mustn’t happen by the sleight of hand that it is voluntary.

            To cover what he is pushing, Diskin does three things. First, he keeps insisting that the right to the study of non-Russian languages will remain, even if no one exercises that right either because no resources are provided for it or because parents and their children will “voluntarily” choose Russian as more career-enhancing.

            Second, Diskin argues that the promotion of non-Russian languages in the non-Russian republics since the end of Soviet times has been the work of non-Russia “autocracies” which have imposed non-Russian languages on their populations to keep themselves in power rather than winning support by offering the members of these nations what they want.

            And third, he invokes Vladimir Putin’s argument that ethnic and linguistic questions must be “de-politicized.” Not only does that ignore that language is political and the political is about language in Russia, but it allows him and his regime to insist that anyone who points that out or tries to act in support of these languages is engaging in “provocations.”

            Non-Russians in particular but Russians as well should remember that “beginning with Catherine the Great, language was one of the central political questions since it served as the chief goal of the colonial policy of tsarist Russia, the assimilation of the inorodtsy. In the North Caucasus, it began in the 18th century.”

            “During the times of the Soviet empire, there was the idea of total ethnic unification, in the course of which as a result of voluntary instruction in schools in native languages was subjected to powerful degradation.”  Now, in the more “vegetarian” post-Soviet times, the very same policy is being implemented with only a different verbal sauce.

            The authorities have eliminated the nationality line in the passport and at the same time they have as Diskin makes all too clear promoted the nonsensical notion of “Russian as ‘the native language’ of non-Russians,” exactly what Russian imperialists of tsarist times and Soviet imperialists after them dreamed of but in fact didn’t say as such.

            What makes this outrageous is that a large number of non-Russian languages in the Caucasus are on the brink of disappearing, according to UNESCO; but the Russian state is not only promoting that but allowing Russian nationalist and neo-fascist groups to organize and operate more or less freely, clearly signaling what the regime really wants.

            Those who want non-Russian languages to fade away are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the terms they use to promote that end, as Diskin’s words show. But if one considers carefully what they are seeking, their ends are no different than the most reactionary imperialist of the last decades of the Russian Empire.


Is Russian Football Doomed to Hyper-Centralization and Defeat? Shtepa Asks

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 – Countries like the UK and Germany which have strong regionally-based teams do better in international competition than those like Russia which don’t, as the recent defeat of Russia’s national team in the Euro-2020 competition highlights and its low ranking among the best teams of the world, Vadim Shtepa says.

            But unfortunately, many Russians do not yet see the link between hyper-centralization and defeat and the alternative one between decentralization and victory in sports or in other aspects of life, even though there are plenty of examples of the latter to show them the error of their ways (sibreal.org/a/chempionat-evropy-po-futbolu-i-rossijskaya-sbornaya/31313424.html).

            Great Britain has four regional teams, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, although only the first three qualified to take part in the European competition; but Russia, although far larger than the UK, does not have a Siberian team or one from many other regions, although a decade ago it did.

            The reason the UK has so many teams is that it had those teams before FIFA was created and insisted that it continue to be allowed to have them after that event. No one wanted to lose the best teams on such a technicality and so the British were allowed to retain four teams instead of having a single national one.

            “Only at the Olympic Games, and not even at all of them, the four British commands were united into a single team,” Shtepa continues, a pattern that football players in other countries like Russia can only envy not only for what it says about sports but about the political systems as well.

            “Football, like other types of sports, is all the same connected with politics. For Great Britain with its long-standing policy of devolution … the existence of four commands looks completely natural.” But for Russia, which is “ever more evolving toward absolute centralism” and in which the federation is increasingly “nominal,” it seems quite the contrary.

            If Russia were a different place, a Siberian team could be assembled and participate. That Siberia isn’t in Europe is not a problem. After Brexit, neither is the UK, at least in certain respects. But Siberian football faces hard times as do teams from all the regions beyond the Moscow beltway.

            The Novosibirsk “Siberian” team was a power 15 years ago, but like many things in the regions, it declined over the last decade; and in 2019, it was declared bankrupt and ceased to exist. The money and the players went to Moscow teams. But money isn’t enough to ensure victory.

            After all the coach of the Russian team is paid twice what the coach of the Belgian team is, and the Russian team lost while the Belgian team won.

            “In Russian football’s premier league, there are no commands from Siberian cities, and the North-West is represented exclusively by Zenith” whose advertising suggests it isn’t so much a St. Petersburg unit as a Gazprom team. Teams from Russia would do better if there were more of them from the regions.

            They would likely rate higher than the 38th place the Russian national team now occupies, and they might in the future even win.


‘The Siloviki have Seized Power in Russian Regions,’ Minchenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 – Until January 2020, governors in the good books of the Kremlin could count on a certain deference from siloviki.  As long as the regional leaders did what they were supposed to, they could generally avoid having their subordinates attacked by the force structures, Yevgeny Minchenko says.

            That changed, the director of the International Institute of Political Expertise, 18 months ago when all the siloviki institutions were placed under the direct control of the FSB. Now, even governors favored by the Kremlin can’t count on them to avoid attacking their subordinates (znak.com/2021-06-16/siloviki_zahvatyvayut_vlast_v_rossiyskih_regionah_tri_yarkih_primera).

            That makes it very difficult for the governors to maintain control over the situation in their regions and almost impossible for them to conduct the pro-Kremlin election campaigns Moscow insists upon. Instead, the best they can do, Minchenko continues, proceed with caution, keep talking to the siloviki, and constantly monitor the situation.

            According to the political analyst, this arrangement is nearly universal. The only exceptions are in Moscow, Tatarstan, and Chechnya, and partially in Tula and St. Petersburg. But Minchenko says that there are already questions about how long the leaders of these regions will be able to maintain themselves against concerted action by the siloviki.

            In reporting Minchenko’s conclusion, Znak journalist Olga Balyuk details what has happened in Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsky and Orenburg oblasts in recent months, where officials close to governors in good odor with the Kremlin have nonetheless been subject to raids and arrests. She says that what is taking place in these three is also taking place elsewhere.

            If Minchenko is right, the Kremlin has decided to use the siloviki to further weaken the governors as a potential source of independent power and influence, something that if it succeeds will further weaken the regions and their leaders but also open the way to those who argue that working within the system even at the regional level is the best way to go.

            And because this change has not been universal and immediate but selective and gradual, it is not unlikely that at least some regional heads will try to take actions in the coming weeks to block this siloviki onslaught, something that could further exacerbate existing divisions within the Russia elite.

Putin has Veto Powers but Almost Never has to Use Them

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 – Three days ago, Vladimir Putin did something unusual for him: he vetoed a measure passed by the Federal Assembly where parties backing and controlled by him enjoy super majorities. While Boris Yeltsin used his veto power relatively often, the current Kremlin leader has used his less and less. He simply doesn’t need to.

            Putin vetoed a measure that would have held the editors of any publication responsible for publications of materials deemed outside the law and without any time limits. That could mean that some future editor could be held responsible for actions of his predecessors even if he had nothing to do with them.

            Some may be inclined to credit Putin with a certain liberalism in this case, but the more probable explanation is that he wants to protect his loyalists he may impose on media outlets from prosecution because of what their predecessors may have done. If that is the case, his move is far from liberal (svoboda.org/a/31314220.html).

            But Putin’s action, however rare, raises the issue of his veto powers; and Anastasya Melnikova of the Znak news agency provides a useful description of what those powers look like as well as a guide to how often they have been used by Putin and his predecessor (znak.com/2021-06-8/na_kakie_zakony_putin_nakladyval_veto_i_kak_rabotaet_eta_procedura).

            According to Article 107 of the Russian Constitution, the president has the right to veto a law within 14  days of its passage by the Federal Assembly. If he does, the two chambers can reconsider it and override his veto if at least two-thirds of their members so decide.

            If they vote to override, however, the Russian president has an additional way to block their actions. Within seven days of such an action, he can appeal to the Constitutional Court for a ruling on the constitutionality of the measure he has vetoed. If the court rules in his favor, the bill goes back to the Federal Assembly; if it doesn’t, he is compelled to sign it.

            Melnikova continues: “The president can reject only a federal law; but he cannot do so in the case of a federal constitutional law. Such laws are considered to have been adopted if a majority of the senators (no fewer than three-quarters of their number) and deputies (no fewer than two-thirds of theirs) have voted for them.”

            In those cases, the president must sign them within 14 days; but again, he has the option to ask for a review by the Constitutional Court.

            During Yeltsin’s tenure and in the early years of Putin’s, vetoes were relatively frequent. There were 257 such actions in the cases of measure adopted by the first through the seventh Dumas. But in recent years, they have become so rare as to be almost irrelevant as a consideration. Before the current action, Putin vetoed measures only in 2016 and 2018.

Neither Maris nor Tatars Happy about Amalgamation via Agglomeration Plan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 – Moscow’s plan to amalgamate federal subjects by means of the agglomeration of cities in various regions and republics around major metropolitan centers is generating intense negative reaction in Mari El where the center appears ready to shift smaller cities from the former into an agglomeration based on Kazan in the latter.

            Indeed, some Maris are now so angry that ethnic organizations are calling on the population to resist lest the shift in relations between the two Mari cities and Tatarstan destabilize the republic as a whole and threaten the survival of the Finno-Ugric nation as a whole.

            Some ethnic Tatars in Mari El have welcomed the plan, seeing it as the first stage of movement toward the unification of the two republics, precisely what the ethnic Maris fear. But most Tatars in Kazan are opposed, viewing this latest Moscow effort as a way for the center to shift the financing of impoverished Mari El onto their better off republic.

            Cities in Mari El have been under attack from Moscow since Vladimir Putin came to power with these places retaining ever less of their tax revenues, losing the right to elect their mayors, and forced to accept outsiders from Moscow for the republic and its capital and officials from Tatarstan for its smaller cities (idelreal.org/a/31310994.html).

            The two cities in Mari El that Moscow is talking about including in a Kazan agglomeration thus already have Tatarstan officials in charge and little control over their own lives and many people who live in these cities work in Tatarstan or travel to Kazan for shopping or entertainment. But that doesn’t mean they want amalgamation.

            Ethnic Maris are already calling for all-out resistance to any change in the status of the two cities. One leading activist, Konstantin Strokin, published in the Ioshkar-Ola version of Moskovsky komsomolets an article entitled “Resist! Or the Death Knell for Mari El will Soon Sound” (mk-mari.ru/social/2021/06/15/soprotivlyaytes-ili-v-mariy-el-pora-bit-v-kolokol.html).

            And Igor Kudryavstsev, head of the nationalist Mari Ushem organization, said that all Maris must recognize and oppose Moscow’s salami-tactics, which may not seem so bad now but will eventually destroy the Mari nation and its statehood (mariuver.com/2021/06/18/kudrjavcev-protiv-aglomeracij/).

            Ethnic Tatars in Mari El do support the idea, however, AmirShakirov of the National-Cultural Autonomy of Tatars of Mari El, is among them. He backs the idea in the hopes that it is only the beginning of what the Maris fear, a move to disband the Finno-Ugric republic entirely (business-gazeta.ru/article/513135).

            Tatars in Tatarstan are also skeptical and opposed. They say that this is just another way Moscow is trying to make them pay to help their poorer neighbors and that Tatarstan will be the loser. Some would welcome combining the two republics but not this partial step that will add to their burdens without giving them any new advantages (business-gazeta.ru/article/513135).

            Moscow analysts with whom Kazan’s Business-Gazeta portal spoke are also skeptical about the idea. Dmitry Zhuravlyev of the Institute of Regional Problems and Ilya Grashchenkov of the Center for the Development of Regional Policy both warn that any moves in this direction could create ethnic clashes where none have existed before (business-gazeta.ru/article/513135).

            Consequently, they warn nothing should be done in the direction of amalgamation via agglomeration, especially between or among ethnic federal subjects, without a great deal of additional careful study.

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

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 18 – 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.      Putin Denies Russians have ‘Habit to Kill.’ In an interview before the Geneva summit, Vladimir Putin said that Russians don’t have any “habit to kill.” Instead, individuals kill others just as in other countries. Aleksey Navalny was being treated “no worse” than other prisoners, he added (stoletie.ru/lenta/putin_u_nas_net_privychki_ubivat_670.htm, znak.com/2021-06-14/putin_poobechal_chto_s_navalnym_v_kolonii_budut_obrachatsya_ne_huzhe_chem_s_drugimi and znak.com/2021-06-12/putin_zayavil_nbc_chto_ubiycy_politkovskoy_nemcova_i_magnitskogo_naydeny). But a new investigation finds that doctors falsified Navalny’s medical records to bring them into line with the Kremlin’s position (navalny.com/p/6493/).

2.      Russians Could View Porn Online with Moscow’s Permission under New Plan. The Russian government may get involved with pornography in a new way, not banning it outright but rather requiring that those who want to watch it online apply to the government for permission so that minors can’t watch it, a proposal that experts say won’t work and may backfire (ehorussia.com/new/node/23690).

3.      Flooding Allows Crocodiles to Escape in Russian-Occupied Crimea. As if the people of Russian-occupied Crimea did not have enough problems, flooding has allowed alligators  in a Yalta zoo to escape and roam nearby areas (znak.com/2021-06-20/v_yalte_zatopilo_krokodilyarium_reptilii_okazalis_na_svobode). As least one positive development in the region occurred last week, however. Cossacks who are guarding the streets will no longer carry nagaikas to threaten people (nazaccent.ru/content/35922-kazaki-ne-budut-patrulirovat-krym-s.html).

4.      Problems in Daily Life Undermining Traditions of Non-Russians and Russians Too. Sakha residents say that the problems they face in their daily life are making it ever more difficult to maintain their ethnic traditions, a problem not limited to that republic but true for all groups, including ethnic Russians (yakutiafuture.ru/2021/06/19/kak-bytovye-problemy-respubliki-stanovyatsya-ugrozoj-dlya-nacionalnyx-tradicij/).

5.      Putin’s Favorite Churchman Gets a Seminary. Metropolitan Tikhon, long rumored to be Vladimir Putin’s favorite Orthodox leader and an odds’ on favorite to succeed Kirill as patriarch, has acquired another weapon in pursuit of that goal: he has achieved the opening of a seminary in Pskov which will allow him to prepare future priests in his own image (ahilla.ru/otkryta-pskovo-pecherskaya-seminariya/).

6.      Fewer Muslims Attending Services Now, Moscow Mufti Laments. Mufti Ildar Alyautdinov says fewer Muslims are coming to mosques in his city, something that may reflect pandemic fears or perhaps other concerns (nazaccent.ru/content/35956-muftij-moskvy-v-stolice-v-neskolko.html).

7.      Moscow Plans Not Only to Have Street Cameras Everywhere but to Link Them Together. The Russian government not only plans to install street cameras throughout the country ostensibly to fight crime but in fact to control the population but also to link all of them into a single system permitting Moscow to monitor developments in this way everywhere in the country (thinktanks.by/publication/2021/06/16/rossiya-planiruet-obedinit-vse-kamery-videonablyudeniya-v-edinuyu-sistemu.html).

8.      Russians Evenly Divided on Whether There is a Threat to Their Country’s Territorial Integrity. VTsIOM reports that Russians are nearly equally divided as to whether Russia faces the threats to its territorial integrity the Kremlin constantly talks about (wciom.ru/analytical-reviews/analiticheskii-obzor/granica-na-zamke).

9.      Money for Textbooks for Non-Russians Being Diverted into Pockets of Russian Officials. Moscow has been spending ever less in real terms on textbooks in non-Russian languages, but that trend has been compounded in a negative way because officials in charge are diverting funds appropriated for that purpose into their own pockets (trtrussian.com/novosti-rossiya/chinovniki-nazhivalis-na-uchebnikah-po-rodnym-yazykam-narodov-rf-5782836).

10.  Only One Major Russian Company in Five Cares about the Environment. Research by a team of investigators led by the Higher School of Economics finds that 80 percent of leading Russian companies have no concern about the environment. Only 20 percent of them say they take it into consideration in their plans and operations (polit.ru/article/2021/06/16/eco/).

11.  Russian Industries Use More Power to Produce Each Product than Almost Any Other Country. Russian firms not only ignore the environment directly but harm it in another way that will make change difficult: long used to inexpensive energy, they use more of it in each product they put out than almost any other country (https://krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/86043).

12.  One Russian in Eight Declares Avoiding the Draft a Priority. While 61 percent of Russians say military service is something every Russian man should perform, a remarkable 12 percent tell the Levada Center than avoiding the draft is a major priority for them (levada.ru/2021/06/17/o-sluzhbe-v-armii-po-prizyvu/).

13.  Illegal Operators Compromising Cemetery Operations. Illegal and unregistered funeral service operations are leaving large swaths of Russian cemeteries without anyone responsible for the graves and driving up prices for those who use the officially registered ones (newizv.ru/news/society/15-06-2021/spok-20-30-mogil-na-kladbischah-yavlyayutsya-beshoznymi).

14.  Far Eastern Hectare Program Extended to Far North. The anything-but-successful “Far Eastern hectare” program  in which Russians are given homestead in the far east to encourage them to move there rather than leave is now being extended to the Arctic where it is likely to attract even fewer Russians even as it sets the stage for conflicts with the indigenous population (eastrussia.ru/news/dalnevostochnye-gektary-nachnut-vydelyat-s-1-avgusta-v-arktike/).

15.  Cellphone Cameras Now Exposing Russia’s Problems. Just as cellphones have exposed police brutality in the United States, so too they are now being used by Russians to photograph and then put on line pictures of the worst living conditions and environmental disasters in that country (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/06/14/russkie-narodnye-skazki-v-200-km-ot-stolitsy).

16.  Russian Journal Comes Out in Support of Anti-Lukashenka Protests in Belarus. Iskusstvo Kino has broken ranks with the Russian media and featured an article supporting the anti-Lukashenka protests in Belarus (charter97.org/ru/news/2021/6/14/425948/). Russian Chemical Troops Get Icon of Their Heavenly Protector. While debates rage as to whether Orthodox priests should continue to bless Russian nuclear weapons, the country’s chemical troops have been given an icon of their heavenly protector (newizv.ru/news/army/11-06-2021/ikonu-pokrovitelya-voysk-rhb-zaschity-osvyatili-v-glavnom-hrame-vooruzhennyh-sil). Meanwhile, Patriarch Kirill says that anyone who dies for Russia will go immediately to heaven (ura.news/news/1052489477).

17.  Moscow Play about Young Stalin Outrages Many. The opening of a play about the young Stalin, “the remarkable Georgian,” as Lenin called him, has outraged many both because of its subject and because of some of the actors and actresses who are playing key roles (dailystorm.ru/news/mhat-priglasil-zyuganova-posle-kritiki-buzovoy-na-spektakl-pro-stalina).

18.  Despite Russia’s Needs, Moscow Kept Building Cultural Centers during Pandemic. Last year, the culture ministry opened more than 300 cultural centers in Russian cities and towns and plans to open even more this year, spending money that might otherwise have gone to healthcare and education (gumilev-center.ru/bolee-300-domov-kultury-v-god-planiruyut-otkryvat-v-rossii/).

19.  Russian Archives Destroying Documents to Save Money. Many specialists fear that Russia is on the brink of “a third archive war,” this time because officials are destroying archives so as to save money rather than to hide anything but the result will be similar – Russia will lose another chance to investigate its history honestly (newsib.net/obshchestvo/vitalij-semenov-rossiya-stoit-na-poroge-tretej-arxivnoj-vojny.html).

20.  Baranov Says World May be as Tired of Russia as of Ukraine. Anatoly Baranov, editor of the pro-communist Forum-MSK portal, says the Kremlin is wrong to think that the world is tired only of Ukraine. It is tired of Russia and the antics of its government as well (forum-msk.org/material/news/17231513.html).

21.  ‘Lukashenka-ization’ Enters Russian Vocabulary. Russians are increasingly speaking of the Lukashenka-ization of their country, given the increasing number of cases in which Moscow is copying Minsk in its repression of its own population (echo.msk.ru/blog/govorimporusski/2854138-echo/).

22.  Chechnya Claims It Acted Correctly in Raiding Shelter in Daghestan and Moscow Refuses to Condemn It. The Chechen government says it has every right to send its forces into neighboring republics to recover its own citizens, and the Kremlin, given a chance to distance itself from this, refuses to do so, thus opening the way for more abuses by Ramzan Kadyrov and his goons (https://capost.media/news/obshchestvo/vlasti-chechni-nazvali-zakonnym-shturm-ubezhishcha-zhertv-nasiliya-v-makhachkale/ and https://www.kavkazr.com/a/31309170.html).

23.  Russian Housing Stock in Increasing Trouble. More than 500,000 Russians live in housing that should be condemned as uninhabitable, but there is little chance that new housing will become available anytime soon. There aren’t enough migrant workers to build new houses, there is a housing bubble in many places, prices of construction materials are soaring, and fire protection services are collapsing which means that more Russians will lose their homes (znak.com/2021-06-19/stepashin_bolee_polumilliona_rossiyan_prozhivaet_v_avariynyh_domah, alternatio.org/articles/articles/item/92223-kuda-dvizhetsya-promyshlennost-i-infrastruktura-rossii  https://ehorussia.com/new/node/23676, kp.ru/daily/27290/4428943/,  krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/85998 and trtrussian.com/novosti-rossiya/schetnaya-palata-predupredila-ob-opasnosti-novogo-krizisa-v-rossii-5785920).

24.  New Problems in Hunting Sector. The Duma has raised the age at which Russians can legally own guns in the hopes of stopping Columbine-like disasters, but it has also allowed gun owners to shoot in populated areas, something that had previously been banned (https://nazaccent.ru/content/35930-podnimayushaya-vozrast-priobreteniya-ohotnichego-oruzhiya-popravka.html and zona.media/article/2021/06/16/wild-hunt). And a scandal has hit the branch with a United Russia deputy found using dead birds to form a slogan on the ground in Sakha (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/06/18/my-ego-nashli and novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/06/15/ubivat-okhota-18).

25.  Russia Faces Serious Shortage of Teachers. Russia is rapidly losing its teaching staff to retirement and to departures that reflect extremely low salaries. As a result, many schools lack teachers in many subjects, and those without training in one area are nonetheless being forced to teach it, driving educational attainment down further (newizv.ru/news/society/12-06-2021/v-strane-nehvatka-uchiteley-chto-delat-i-kto-vinovat).

26.  Some Americans Moving to Russia in Search of ‘Traditional Values;’ Some Russians Fleeing US as Their Roles in January 6 Insurrection are Investigated. A small number of Americans who say they want to live in a country guided by traditional values are moving to Russia, while a larger number of Russians now being investigated for their possible role in the January 6 insurrection are leaving the US and returning home (russian.rt.com/russia/article/873063-semya-cennosti-ssha-kanada-grazhdanstvo-rf and trtrussian.com/magazine/sootechestvenniki-v-tylu-vraga-fbr-proveryaet-rossijskuyu-diasporu-v-ssha-5741518).