Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Moscow Views Belarus as Critical Cultural Buffer Between Russia and Europe, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 31 – Many Russians believe that Moscow has continued to give Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka too much for what it has received in turn, but Vladimir Pastukhov says that Moscow has in fact received a lot and for what it has received, it is quite willing to pay.

            The London-based Russian analyst says that Moscow has received three important things: a military presence beyond its own borders, a cultural buffer zone between Russia and Europe, and an example for other Russian partners that it won’t things change in ways that compromise its interests (echo.msk.ru/programs/personalno/2895010-echo/).

            Having such a buffer zone between Russia and Europe has been “in general an idee fixe for Russian rulers,” Pastukhov says. “Russia has always very painfully suffered from direct contact with other civilizational platforms which in general quite aggressively promote their values on its territory.”

            “And therefore, for Russia, it is quite important that between the core Europe and Russia there be Eastern Europe which does not belong to one or the other side” but that Russian can hold to itself to separate itself from Europe. For Russian leaders past and present, doing that is “quite important.”

            At present, again as in the past, “Russia is seeking to transform itself into the status of an island; but its geographic position is extremely unfavorable for this dream.” Consequently, it seeks to be “a very big island.” And “therefore it tries that there lie between it and the West some sort of space,” Pastukhov says.

            And all that makes paying the price Lukashenka keeps demanding “quite important” for Putin. Pastukhov does not say, but the logic of his argument is that for Moscow, keeping Belarus a separate country from Russia is useful. If Russia did absorb Belarus, Moscow would then have to try to create a new buffer country by challenging another neighbor to achieve the separation it wants.


Many Russians Prefer Village Life to Urban Because They Fear Change, Novikova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 31 – Because so many Russians have left villages to move to the cities, it is often overlooked that many Russians choose to remain in villages and many who have moved into urban areas nonetheless view village life as preferrable in a variety of ways to the one they find themselves in.

            In a new book, A Delightful Place. Media Consumption, Media Literacy and Historical Memory of Rural Residents, HSE scholar Anna Novikova and her colleagues say that villagers view life in the cities as “worse” than in their areas because of the cruelty of people in cities and the dependence urban residents feel on the powers (iq.hse.ru/news/499510624.html).

            Rural residents choose to remain where they are not only because of financial considerations, although these matter; they do so because of the values they hold and believe are better protected in villages than they would ever be in cities, the media specialist says she and her colleagues found in their conversations with villagers.

            Many rural Russians remain traumatized by the tragic events of the last century; and far more than residents in the cities, they feel these events, be they the Russian civil war, Stalin’s repressions, the Great Patriotic War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, not as part of some “distant past but as a real experience and basis for making decisions” now and in the future.

            That perspective leads rural Russians to think about the world as dangerous and harsh and to feel that any well-being they are experiencing now is temporary and should not be put at risk by any change. Otherwise, Novikova says, most of them believe that their situations will get worse.

            “We saw people who are very cautious about accepting any innovation and in particular in the media sphere.” They may have the opportunity now to watch multiple channels, but they prefer to watch only two all-Russian ones and “sometimes a single thematic one, often children’s television,” Novikova says.

            At the same time, she continues, “they do not trust the information which they receive from these channels.” Rather, “they receive from them confirmation of their fears” about the way the world is constructed and operates. They thus live with a paradox: they are dissatisfied with life but they do not have any desire to change it.

            One consequence of this attitude is the curious combination of the very old and the very new, of wood stoves in the same room with flatscreen televisions. That is a physical manifestation of the disjunctions in their lives that they have to navigate and appear to believe can best do that by not allowing any more change.

            More generally, the HSE media specialist says, rural Russians “do not want to take responsibility not only for the life of the community but for their own, preferring to hand both over to the will of wait, nature and chance. They retell with relish rumors and social myths which strengthen their conviction in the correctness of their position.”

            But the villagers “do not want and are not able to search for trustworthy information which could force them to change their views.”


Moscow’s Failure to Abide by 1996 Khasavyurt Accords hasn’t Made Chechnya a Permanent Part of Russia but It has Made Russia Part of Chechnya, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 31 – Twenty-five years ago today, Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov and then-Russian Security Council head Aleksandr Lebed signed an accord that called for the end of the first post-Soviet Chechen war and set the stage for Chechnya to achieve independence by 2001.

            To this day, many Russians view the agreement as an act of betrayal by Lebed and even as a cynical ploy by him to run for president of the Russian Federation; but because Moscow failed to live up to the agreement, something that could have been a Gaullist-style end of an Algerian-like conflict, it did not end the war but only introduced a brief pause.

            Four years later, Vladimir Putin blew up the apartment blocks and used that as a casus belli to relaunch an even more brutal campaign against Chechnya, one that had three consequences. First, it succeeded in transforming what had been a secular nationalist movement among the Chechens into one informed by Islamist ideas.

            Second, it demonstrated to all the non-Russians of the once and former Russian empire that nothing the Kremlin said or agreed to could be trusted but that instead, Moscow would invariably pursue its imperialist goals even if it had to give the appearance that it was prepared to do something else.

            And third, as Vadim Shtepa, the editor of the Tallinn-based portal Region.Expert, points out, the Khasavyurt accords or more precisely the way in which Russia betrayed them did not make Chechnya “’an inalienable part of Russia’ as Yeltsin wanted.” Instead, it transformed Russia “into an inalienable part of Kadyrov’s Chechnya” (svoboda.org/a/ne-zahoteli-kak-v-parizhe-vadim-shtepa-o-25-letii-dovogora-v-hasavjyutre/31435180.html).

Russia Will Help Central Asian Countries Deal with Afghan Threat Only After They’ve Exhausted Their Own Resources, Andrey Grozin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 31 – Moscow continues to stand ready to help the Central Asian countries respond to any threat from Afghanistan, but it will do so only after that threat grows to the point that they cannot meet it after deploying all their own resources, according to Andrey Grozin, a Central Asian specialist at the Moscow Institute for CIS Countries.

            He says that peace in Afghanistan is “an oxymoron” and that there will be difficult days ahead. Everyone would like things to stabilize but that is unlikely anytime soon. What the Taliban will do now either at home or beyond their own borders is unknown (stanradar.com/news/full/46339-moskva-menjaet-podhod-k-afganistanu-i-snimaet-s-sebja-otvetstvennost-za-bezopasnost-tsentralnoj-azii-ekspert.html).

            “No one reliably knows whether they will cross the border of Afghanistan after establishing complete control over their own territory or remain within the country. No one knows what to expect from them and how ready they are in fact to live up to their promises, Grozin continues.

            The countries of Central Asia and Russia are thus confronted by different tasks. “Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan which border Afghanistan must strengthen their borders. And Russia, according to its possibilities must help its partners and to a certain degree follow the principle of ‘bearing responsibility for those whom it is attached to.’”

            This means, he continues, “that Russia will not fight in Afghanistan and it also means that Rsusia no longer will bear total responsibility for the security of the countries of Central Asia.” The countries there bear primary responsibility and Russia will back them up only if things get out of control.

            For Russia, Afghanistan is hardly central geopolitically. And it is entirely reasonable for Russians to ask why it should have to bear the burden of the defense of Central Asia until the Central Asians have done all they can. The Kremlin isn’t interested in fighting for any country more than that country is prepared to fight for itself.

            Some in Central Asia have tried to use the Afghan threat to extract more from Russia, but the recent military exercise near the Afghan border was a signal of what Moscow will and won’t do.  “Moscow will help and is ready to help with financing, logistics and so on. But it will not fight in Afghanistan and it won’t pay to solve the problems of Bishkek and Dushanbe out of its own pocket.”

Hyper-Centralization Played Major Role in Leading to Disintegration of USSR, Former Soviet Officials Warn

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 31 – The Putin regime likes to suggest that nationalism and constitutional right of union republics to leave the USSR were to blame for that country’s demise. No doubt they played a role, but former Soviet officials are ever more often coming forward to warn of another serious cause – the hyper-centralization of the Soviet regime.

            That is not something the current powers that be are likely to want to hear because under Vladimir Putin, they have been restoring centralization with a vengeance and so in that regard, despite anything else they may be doing, they are repeating the mistakes their Soviet predecessors made with potentially similar consequences for the Russian Federation.

            Valery Paulman, who worked for many years as head of the Estonian SSR Gosplan before being shifted to Moscow to become the last Soviet labor minister, said that when he worked on the republic plan, he had to check with Moscow on the pettiest of matters (svpressa.ru/politic/article/308452/).

            “For example,” he relates, when any building project was being considered, Moscow’s approval had to be sought for items as small as individual toilets. Not surprisingly, officials in Tallinn were outraged by that level of invasive supervision and that added to their desire to get out from under rule by the center.

            Dmitry Rodionov of Svobodnaya Pressa spoke with two Russian experts, Vladimir Lepekhin of the Institute for the Eurasian Economic Community and Fyodor Biryukhov of the Moscow Institute of Freedom about Paulman’s observation and about its relevance for the Russian Federation now.

            Lepekhin says that Paulman is only one of former Soviet officials making this argument, one he suggests is being used and perhaps even orchestrated by one faction or another in the current Russian government. What they are saying is not so much untrue as overstated, the institute director says.

            He says his own experience in Estonia in 1988 when he visited Tallinn as a Komsomol official showed that “Estonian elites were already looking to the West and not because they were oppressed by the leadership of the USSR but simply because Europe promised the republic a higher and more comfortable way of life.”

            “The growth of consumer attitudes and the growth of political and other ambitions connected with them along with the inadequate reaction to this rooted in the dogmatic rhetoric of the party nomenklatura was the main cause of regional separatism in the last years of the USSR,” Lepekhin says.

            The “main” problem was not the central nature of decision making in the USSR but rather the lack of an adequate strategy for economic development; and that lack, he continues, led to serious deficits in consumer goods and a sense among people that the situation would continue to get worse.

            Asked by Rodionov as to whether “we are now not making the very same mistakes,” Lepekhin concedes that “the new ruling class doesn’t intend to draw lessons from history. And this lesson is not that we must turn away from a centralized administration and the power vertical.”

            Russia needs “a sensible, effective and tough” state, “but it must be combined with a feedback loop and interrelationships with the economically active part of the population,” with “the de-monopolization and de-oligarchization of the economy,” a more sensible tax and fiscal system and so on. There is a lot to do.

            Today, Lepekhin says, “the population in the regions is dissatisfied not by the centralization of the adoption of decisions but by the thievish character of the powers both at the center and in the localities, the unrestrained appetites of the new nomenklatura” which finds it easier to steal if the state is “completely disorganized.”

            “The danger of separatism in the Russian Federation is hardly in the economically weak regions,” but in economically stronger ones, like Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, it is very real. But what Russia is threatened by is “not economic separatism but ethnic separatism” given the lack of a clearly articulated strategy by the Kremlin.

            According to Lepekhin, the intellectual level of the Soviet nomenklatura in the 1980s was not high; and the current one isn’t any better. “It is more effective in achieving personal and corrupt interests,” but like its predecessor, it is incapable of dealing with questions involving the interests of the country and the state.

            Biryukov offers a somewhat different reaction. He says that “hypertrophic centralism in the economy is fraught with separatism but not with nationalism.” What happened in at the end of Soviet times is that Moscow viewed the nationalism of small peoples like the Estonians as non-threatening even as it worked hard to contain any manifestation of Russian nationalism.

            “We must not forget what was done in many republics at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, how Russians were killed, their homes destroyed, themselves threatened and forced to leave.” The local officials were “denationalized and corrupt,” and when the USSR fell apart, the nationalists took power in the non-Russian republics.

            But in the Russian Federation, in contrast, “Western multiculturalism” was accepted as the only path forward. According to Biryukov, “the only ideology which could have saved the USSR was Russian imperial nationalism, an idea integrating, constructive and patriotic. But Russian nationalists were declared ‘fascists.’”

            That attitude “continues in Russia to this day.” Still worse, “local nationalism was given the green light which almost led to the collapse of the Russian Federation itself in the middle of the 1990s,” the institute director says. And adding to that threat, he says, is the willingness of Russian officials now for their own profit to import more and more migrant workers.

            That too works against the survival of the Russian Federation.

Some Regions are Counting Those with Fake Certificates as Vaccinated to Boost Their Numbers

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 31 `-- Officials in Daghestan who were savagely criticized for their failures during the first wave of the pandemic have found a way to make their republic look better this time around and avoid such Moscow attacks: they are counting those with fake certificates as having been vaccinated (kavkazr.com/a/polovina-vaktsinirovannyh-kupila-sertifikat-rukovoditelj-proekta-monitor-patsienta-ob-epidemii-v-dagestane/31431345.html).

            That approach not only means that the coronavirus will continue to spread more rapidly than the reported vaccination rates suggest but further undermine confidence in official pronouncements about the pandemic, something that is becoming a problem not just with regard to Moscow but concerning regional governments as well (babr24.com/irk/?IDE=218320).

            As the pandemic ebbs and flows, Russia is experiencing a pattern other countries have as well. While its daily infection number is down – to 17,813 – its death toll remains high –795 over the last 24 hours, reflecting the fact that infections are a leading indicator and deaths a following one (t.me/COVID2019_official/3498 and regnum.ru/news/society/3352534.html).

            A new SuperJob poll finds that Russians with children or living parents are slightly more likely to say they have been vaccinated or plan to than those without children or parents who are still alive. Those who have both children and live parents are the most likely to (superjob.ru/research/articles/113033/chasche-vakciniruyutsya-ot-covid-19-te/).

            Russia’s largest teachers’ union is complaining about long lines and the absence of choice of vaccine for instructors as they seek to get vaccinated before the start of school (regnum.ru/news/3357929.html).Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that Vladimir Putin, who has been vaccinated, has been tested and found to have a sufficient number of antibodies to protect him (regnum.ru/news/3357800.html).

                And Russian health minister Mikhail Murashko has warned that those who do get the infection and recover face higher risks of deaths for six months after apparently recovering fully. These risks are especially great among pensioners, he added (regnum.ru/news/3357737.html).

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

·         With regard to the current wave, Ukraine is doing relatively better than Russia, something Kyiv has reported and that Moscow commentators are casting doubt upon (rosbalt.ru/world/2021/08/31/1918835.html).

·         Just how much power university rectors have to compel students to get vaccinated in order to use dormitories, attend class in person, or even get degrees is being debated as the heads of various higher educational institutions adopt different policies (rosbalt.ru/piter/2021/08/30/1918645.html).

·         Russian commentators are upset that Slovak officials have decided to end offering the Sputnik-5 vaccine because of low demand. Moscow writers suggest that politics is at work rather than public opinion (echo.msk.ru/news/2895704-echo.html).

FSB Arrests Show Importance of Osh-Centered Islamist Threat to Russia, Gorevoy Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – The recent arrest of 31 terrorists by the FSB calls attention to two things many have not focused on: the importance of southern Kyrgyzstan as a recruiting ground for terrorists now in Russia, and the way in which these terrorists are funded by levies of Kyrgyz and Uzbek migrants from there and by the drug trade, Ruslan Gorevoy says

            The Nasha versiya commentator says that the terrorists include Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Uyghurs, reflecting the ethnic composition of southern Kyrgyzstan and that they are financed by levies on the large diaspora populations of these nations in Russia and by the drug trade coming from Afghanistan (versia.ru/novaya-volna-islamskogo-yekstremizma-kto-yeti-lyudi-otkuda-oni-i-kto-ix-soderzhit).

            Based on Moscow’s experience with the Qatib organization a decade ago, the FSB has gone after those who handle the money for the terrorists; and with their arrest, Gorevoy says, the Russian security service is likely going to be able to arrest far more. But he notes that the authorities have been reluctant to provide details.

            One reason for this may be because they are in the middle of an operation and don’t want to disrupt it. Another may be concerns that talking about the way the diasporas are involved in funding terrorism could be politically explosive in Russia. And yet another may be the new situation in Afghanistan.

            If the Taliban return to their past use of the drug trade to finance their operations as many expect, the terrorist network that the FSB has pursued not just in Central Asia and the Russian capitals but throughout the country may not only spread further but become more active, a development the organs are trying to prevent.

            Gorevoy cites MGIMO expert Mikhail Aleksandrov to the effect that the latest FSB move represents “a major success” for Moscow, one connected with events in Afghanistan because Osh “is part of the Afghan drug trafficking network.” Unless that is disrupted, more money will flow into terrorist networks inside Russia.

            The Nasha versiya commentator says that the FSB “by all appearance is afraid that Afghanistan again could become a base for international terrorists who will establish links with the terrorist underground on Russian territory.” And that underground now exists wherever there are Central Asian diasporas who are a breeding ground of and funder for terrorist activities.

Kremlin Certain to ‘Win’ Elections But will Lose Russia’s Future, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – The Kremlin has so “cleansed” the Russian political field that no one, including its most committed opponents, believes it will lose in the upcoming elections. But despite that “victory,” Vladislav Inozemtsev says, the powers that be can suffer a fundamental defeat if their opponents come up with a means to speak collectively for themselves.

            “The contemporary political system of Russia, in the person of both the powers and the opposition, is today restricting the development of the country” because neither is capable of responding to the changes taking place around us, the Russian economist says (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2021/08/30/ot-edinoi-rossii-k-obshchei).

            Both are too much organized around leaders who are engaged in fighting each other rather than seeking ways to promote national development. But these leaders and their approach are going to be swept away in the coming 10 to 15 years, Inozemtsev suggests, a process that can be accelerated if an all-Russia structure is formed to articulate the interests of the Russian people.

            Technology, including the Internet and blockchain, makes that possible, and they if properly harnessed can fundamentally change the relationship between rulers and ruled and thus the nature of Russia and its future. That requires that Russians recognize that “disloyalty to ‘the powers’ is not equivalent to an anti-social action.”

            The upcoming elections “must become the last” in Russia where political technologists seek to manipulate people to cast ballots the right way. “The Russia of the future needs a society run by young people not held back by the past, a society which doesn’t share the leader-centric approach of power and opposition, and a society ready to respond to challenges” not once every six years but on a continuous basis.

            That is a tall order, he acknowledges, given what the powers have done, pushing Russia not only into the realm of “’post-truth’” but also “’post-politics’” and given that both the powers and the opposition are concerned about their personal struggles for power rather than the policies the country needs and wants.

            Only by shifting the focus away from the current leaders to the population can Russia hope to return to the realm of truth and the realm of politics at the same time.

            Today’s party of power has no other ideology than keeping itself in power so that it can follow the Bukharan precept of “enriching” itself; and the opposition has no program other than ousting the party of power, something that leads many to suspect that it will behave no differently if it does.

            Russian voters today have no good choices. Whatever they do at the ballot box isn’t going to matter that much; and it is wrong to think that Russia is on the cusp of some revolution. None of the preconditions which existed before 1917 or 1991 are in evidence. And even the developments of 2011 have faded.

            But still there may be some basis for optimism. A new generation is on the horizon which wasn’t formed either by the Soviet system or by the anti-Soviet milieu of the 1990s, and the broader world is changing, bringing challenges to Russia that its current regime is increasingly clearly incapable of responding to effectively.

            Young people are going to be an increasingly important part of politics in the future. “The generations not only of those in their 70s but also of those in their 50s are going to be pushed to the side.” By the end of this decade or the beginning of next, Russia will be governed by people not formed by Sovietism.

            This will change the nature of the opposition. Today, “representatives of the opposition sometimes hate one another more than they do not love their opponents in power.” That can’t last for long, no matter how much those currently in power are counting on the divisions of their opponents to save them.

            And third, Russians are increasingly tired of hearing about grand plans and ideas. Instead, they want to hear proposals involving “practical steps which can change their lives here and now.” That will change Russian politics from its “leader-centrism” to one in which people and regions will be represented.

            To move forward, Inozemtsev says, “the country needs a strategy of economic ‘autonomization,’ in which people will have much greater economic freedom” and “a much greater voice in defining the directions of government spending.” That can only happen with power passing from Moscow to the regions.

            And this means as well that Russia “needs a system of direct democracy” something that is now possible because of the Internet. The people and those who speak to it must make decisions rather than the leaders among the powers that be or the possible. “’Effective managers’
 and “’the creative class’” must give way to the people as a collective whole.

            Because that is possible, it is at least conceivable that the September 2021 elections may be the last of their type in Russia, Inozemtsev says. And if that is so, the powers that be will have suffered a real loss; and the people the first of many victories.

‘A Real Federation Must have Only One Restriction – None of Its Parts Can Withdraw,’ Shevchenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – One of the biggest hurtles advocates of federalism in Russia have to overcome is the belief cultivated by the Kremlin on the basis of what happened in 1991 and widely believed by Russians that federalism is a halfway house to secession, that the USSR was a federation, and that its federal system opened the way to the disintegration of the country.

But at a roundtable discussion in Kazan, Maksim Shevchenko, a commentator who heads a party committed to federalism – the Russian Party of Freedom and Justice -- says that legally the USSR was not a federation but a confederation and that Moscow has never taken ethnicity seriously (business-gazeta.ru/article/520515).Most critically, he adds, “in a real federation, there must be only one clear prohibition: none of its component parts can leave.”

That is obviously good tactics politically – many Russians bridle at any political arrangement that would open the way to disintegration – but it is also important in principle: few federations grant their component parts the right to leave; and federalism with that as the only thing banned can make it possible to deal with the diversity of its components.

At the same time, of course, if Russia were to move in the direction of a real federation with that as the underlying rule, at least some parts of it would likely elect not to join; but those which did could be confident that they would be participating in a system which would be robust and which would be prepared to adapt to their needs rather than insist on uniformity.

And that in turn would mean something else that might matter even more. As Shevchenko points out, neither the Russian Empire nor the Soviet Union took nationality seriously, the former rejected it as a principle and the latter largely ignored it after using it to reassemble the empire and build a launch pad for a hoped-for world revolution.

Instead, both defined themselves in economic terms, with the state exploiting the natural wealth and the economy to feed itself rather than to develop the peoples within its borders. Federalism in Shevhcenko’s understanding would break from that and make the ethnic communities, including Russian regions, the focus of political life.

As a result, the country would be protected against the hyper-centralization that has always plagued it up to now but would not face any threat of disintegration because decentralization would take place within a system from which the exit of any component part would be excluded.

            Other participants in this roundtable unanimously stressed that the strengthening of the regions will not lead to separatism but is instead a guard against it and that those who fear federalism need to recognize that “the fate of democracy in Russia is directly linked to federalism.” If there is no real federalism, there won’t be democracy.

            Two of the speakers made particularly noteworthy observations. Tatar historian Damir Iskhakov said that however difficult it may be to achieve, Russia has no choice but to move in the direction of asymmetrical federalism where some component parts have more powers than others.

            And Ruslan Kurbanov, a Lezgin orientalist, says that no one talking about federalism should ignore the way two larger forces are contesting with each other. On the one hand, populations want greater control of their lives. They are not like regional elites who are simply Moscow in miniature in many cases.

            And on the other, as the pandemic has made clear, any reorganization of Russia domestically must recognize that the larger world is changing and that individual countries must be alive to the way its parts are increasingly interconnected and must be capable of responding to changes beyond state borders.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Over Last Three Decades, Tatarstan has Been Reduced from a Sovereign State to One Federal Subject among Others, Ablyakimov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – Today, Tatars mark the 31st anniversary of the Republic of Tatarstan; but it is not an entirely happy occasion, Ruslan Ablyakimov says, because over the last three decades, Tatarstan has been reduced from the status of a sovereign state to just one federal subject among others within Russia.

            On August 30, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Tatar ASSR issued its Declaration of State Sovereignty called for a referendum on that issue but not on independence as some hoped. But Moscow opposed even the referendum. Nonetheless it happened on March 22, 1992, and more than 80 percent of Tatars voted in favor (idelreal.org/a/31433741.html).

            Basing itself on that result, the Tatarstan government adopted a new constitution which decalred itself a subject of international law “associated with the Russian Federation on the basis of a Treaty on Mutual Delegation of Authority.” Kazan, like Chechnya, did not sign the federative agreement Boris Yeltsin had all other federal subjects agree to.

            Everything Tatarstan tried to do in this regard began to be undone with the coming to power in Moscow of Vladimir Putin who sought to strengthen the center, weaken federal arrangements, and promote centralization in all things and a severe limitation of the rights of the regions.

            The Kremlin leader was able to do this because he controlled the purse strings and because there was a significant ebbing of ethnic mobilization in Tatarstan and elsewhere, the IdelReal commentator says. Almost immediately after taking power, Putin created federal districts and put military men in charge of them, seriously reducing the powers of the subjects.

            Under Putin, Ablyakimov continues, “the Russian Federation began to acquire ever more characteristics of a unitary state.” Tatarstan was forced to remove many things from its constitution and to sit still for attacks on the language of its titular nation, despite the anger this provoked among the population.

            Another reason that Putin was able to do what he did is that the decentralization Kazan had promoted in the 1990s was designed to boost the power of the local rulers rather than the status of the republic’s population, some have suggested. As a result, when Moscow pushed back, those in power in Kazan had no one to rely on.

New Survey Shows ‘Adyge Khabze,’ the Code of the Circassians, Still Shapes that Nation

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – A new survey by the Adygey Republic Institute of Research on the Humanities finds that 59 percent of Circassians have a detailed understanding of the Adyge Khabze, the code that defines the behavior of their nation, and 39 percent more have at least a partial understanding.

            That means that the traditional code of the Circassians is not some ethnographic curiosity from the past but a vital part of Circassian life to this day, a part that has helped them resist Russianization, Islamization and national decay, Adam Tleush, the director of the Institute says (natpressru.info/index.php?newsid=12558).

            Because few if any other nations have anything analogous, he suggests, many observers don’t know what to make of this code of conduct or how to integrate it into an understanding of Circassians now. Instead, all too often they dismiss it as something traditional that is passing away under conditions of modernity.

            But the new survey, which shows that 98 percent of Circassians, continue to be informed by it shows that it is no historical artefact but a powerful influence on the Circassian nation and that without an understanding of it one cannot grasp what Adel Bashqawi has called “The Circassian Miracle.”

In reporting on the survey his institute conducted, Tleush points out that 54 percent of those queried said they follow at least some of its principles and 42 percent say they try to live up to all of them. Only four percent declare that they don’t do so – and only one percent say that at the present time, they do not identify with the values of Adyge Khabze.

Twenty-four percent of the sample said that following the code’s principles does not present them with any problems, although 50 percent said that they do have problems on occasion because of the views of others, and seven percent say that living according to Adyge Khabze today is “extremely difficult.”

And a comparison of the findings of this survey with those of another his institute conducted in 2000 showed that Circassians show little disposition to give up the code. In 2000, 55 percent said they lived according to Adgye Khabze in their daily live while this year, 42 percent did, a decline of 13 percent over almost a generation.

The real decline may be greater as many now may want to suggest they are following this code especially when they are queried about it by another Circassian as was the case in the survey last spring. But at the same time, Tleush suggests, many Circassians more highly value their national code now than ever before, an attitude that he says is spreading.

One thing that may be limiting that is that many Circassians view the Adgye Khabze as something fixed once and for all rather than a living and evolving set of principles. But in fact both in the past and again now, the scholar says, change is part and parcel of the Circassian code and should not be dismissed out of hand.

“Non-institutionalized norms of morality to which the Circassian code belongs, give way to institutionalized norms of morality and law” in many cases, he continues. “For example, to put one’s mother in an old peoples’ home from the point of view of institutionalized norms is completely legal … but from the point of view of Adygey Khabze, it is blasphemy and a crime.”

There are many such contradictions which a Circassian must navigate today, and finding a balance between the two is not always easy. Simply rejecting the Circassian code is not an option, but acting as if there is nothing in the views of others that should be considered isn’t a workable way forward.

One reason that this is increasingly a difficult challenge is that the manner in which the Adygey Khabze is passed from one generation to another has changed. In the past, young people lived with their parents who insisted on the code. Now, “young families prefer to live apart and no new channels of transmitting habits from one generation to another have been found.”

“The Circassian language as an element of the core of Adygey Khabze itself is on the brink of an analogous crisis,” Tleush says. And to overcome both crises requires “titanic efforts” involving both the reaffirmation of the basic values of the nation and  a willingness to consider modification of some traditional elements that are not central to what it means to be a Circassian.

Making those choices and ensuring that they are accepted not only by Circassians but by the peoples including the Russians they live among will not be easy, but unless an effort is made, the Circassians will find themselves on the defensive rather than being in a position to develop as a modern and flourishing nation guided by their unique code.

By Using Crude Power to Remove Opponents from Election, Kremlin Highlights Its Weakness and Fear, SerpomPo Telegram Channel Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – The Kremlin’s use of its crude police powers to remove opposition candidates leads to “the paradoxical conclusion” that in so doing, “the leaders of the country are revealing their weakness,” showing they don’t believe the ratings or the achievements they claim to have, the SerpomPo telegram channel says.

            “If under conditions of total control of the media, enormous financial resources and complete power,” all this suggests that those in power do not think that they are in a position to defeat in local, regional and federal elections opposition candidates, even with falsifications” (https://t.me/SerpomPo/10701 reposted at echo.msk.ru/blog/serpompo2018/2895234-echo/).

            What those in power are doing only further weakens them, “depriving them of real stimuli even for limited changes by demonstrating that the system is capable of responding to the demands of citizens … This is the inevitable result the power vertical in Russia has produced,” the channel continues.

            That by acting in this way, the powers “continue to increase the size of the abyss between them and the country” and show that in the end, the order they want to maintain is in fact anything but stable and likely to last. Instead, at some critical point, populists will become their interlocutors and they will lose.

            Clearly, “correct political conclusions from the disintegration of the Russian Empire and the USSR have not been made,” the SerpomPo telegram channel says. The only one those now in power have reached is that everything would have been all right if there had just been more policemen when things got tough.

Pandemic Eases in Russian Capitals, Gets Worse Elsewhere

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – The number of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus fell sharply in Moscow and St. Petersburg but increased in many regions of the country including those adjoining the two capitals (sobesednik.ru/zdorove/20210830-rezkii-spad-sutocnyx-pokazatelei-po-zabo and regnum.ru/news/society/3352534.html).

            And while officials in the capitals were celebrating their good fortune, officials in distant regions like Krasnoyarsk Kray and the Sakha Republic were talking about a fourth wave of the pandemic and rising numbers of infections in their federal subjects (regnum.ru/news/3356927.html, regnum.ru/news/3356892.html and regnum.ru/news/3356553.html).

            These regional variations are being highlighted by arrangements officials are making for the first day of school. In Moscow, most teachers have been vaccinated; and teachers and students without temperatures will be allowed to enter schools. Elsewhere, more restrictions are in place, with the unvaccinated being excluded and officials talking about distance learning (regnum.ru/news/3356967.html, regnum.ru/news/3356954.html and vedomosti.ru/society/articles/2021/08/29/884217-minimum-regionov).

            Russian officials reported today registering 18,325 new cases of infection and 792 deaths for the last 24 hours for the country as a whole (t.me/COVID2019_official/3494). Also today, Russian researchers reported that they have come up with yet another coronavirus vaccine which will now be tested (lenta.ru/news/2021/08/30/ispit/).

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

·         Blogger El Murid said that the lack of correspondence between covid statistics issued by various government agencies shows the collapse of the administrative system (pro.rbc.ru/news/6126046b9a79472504bf0086).

·         Russian bankers have seen their incomes soar since the beginning of the pandemic largely because of increased borrowing (ura.news/news/1052502096).

·         And officials in Russian-occupied Crimea have been shutting down websites that provide accurate information about the pandemic while allowing Russians who are carriers of the disease to enter freely (khpg.org/en/1608809480).

Pandemic ‘Far from Only Factor’ Worsening Russia’s Demographic Prospects, Kryuchkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – The impact of the pandemic on Russia’s demographic situation has been so profound over the last two years that many are ignoring other factors that are working to increase the number of deaths and decrease the number of births among Russians, Nikolay Kryuchkov says.

            The government and its media are only too happy to blame covid for all problems in this sector not only because it is effective – blaming the pandemic seems entirely plausible – but because the other problems highlight the need for policy changes the Kremlin isn’t interested in making, the public health specialist says (svpressa.ru/society/article/308261/).

            According to Kryuchkov, the Kremlin in fact has made the impact of the coronavirus worse not just by its earlier healthcare “optimization” cuts but also by its unwillingness to “introduce serious centralized measures” to overcome “the fatigue” many Russians feel about the pandemic, something that is leading them to ignore orders from the regions.

            It is important to keep in mind that a large part of mortality in Russia “remains unconnected with the coronavirus.” It is only when one is speaking about excess mortality that the pandemic plays a role. Indeed, the public health specialist says that covid accounts for “about 90 percent” of that since the start of 2020.

            “Demographic trends in Russia are really negative,” Kryuchkov continues. The country needs to raise the birthrate and lower the death rate, but neither of these is easy, inexpensive or can be achieved quickly. The number of women in the prime child-bearing cohorts is falling, and so unless there is an unprecedented rise in births among the remaining, the population will continue to fall for some time.

            What is critically important to recognize is that targeted assistance will only go so far. People need to be optimistic to have children, and they won’t be optimistic if they don’t see the economy improving not only in the short term but for many decades ahead. The Kremlin isn’t promoting that and so whatever it says about births isn’t that effective.

            There is more that can be done to lower death rates, but they too require changing the social situation and that in turn requires changing social policies. Otherwise, there too, the impact of specific efforts to promote a healthier way of life will be far less than needed to change the overall situation.

            Escaping “the demographic pit” in which Russia finds itself will require, the health specialist says, both the development of the economy for its people and the clear articulation of national priorities so that the population will regain confidence in the future. The current powers that be aren’t doing either of these things.

            “If the state doesn’t have a long-term development strategy, if there are not positive changes every month which the population can see, people will remain pessimistic and will not have a desire to give birth to more children” or to change their ways of life so that they will live longer, Kryuchkov suggests.

            All too many of those in power look at migration as a quick fix, he says. But that is “a bad idea.” Not only are most of the immigrant workers Russia attracts low skilled, but relying on their numbers allows the government to avoid making the changes so that Russians can develop, have more children and live longer lives.

After Putin, Russia Must Re-Institutionalize and This Must Begin to be Discussed Now, Gallyamov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – Vladimir Putin has so focused on defeating his enemies and maintaining himself in power that he has “destroyed literally all the institutions in the country,” Abbas Gallyamov says. But the opposition is no better: it focuses only on Putin and not on what will have to be done after he leaves the scene.

            The opposition in fact has “no understanding” of what will have to happen after Putin departs and has not devoted its attention to trying to identify what it or a Putin successor will have to do to restore in a modified form the institutional landscape the current Kremlin leader has demolished, the Moscow political analyst says (echo.msk.ru/blog/gallyamov_a/2894542-echo/).

            The challenges of restoring a reformed institutional system, Gallyamov says, are enormous. Not only are there so many institutions to be revived; but the Putin years have created a situation in which there are powerful forces that can be counted on to oppose any change. Among these is a population fearful of change that others will exploit.

            And it is a question not only of strategy but of tactics, of choosing which areas to focus on first and how to do so. The constitution needs to be changed, but there is no clear agreement on just how it should be rewritten or how the process of introducing these changes should occur, either retail or wholesale.

            The media and especially state media are another sector that needs to be reformed. “Liberals say that the government doesn’t need its own media.” But “representatives of national minorities say that it does.” How are those who control these media to be dealt with. If they are challenged, they may simply begin “to agitate for a counter-revolution.”

            Decisions about such things are not simply about abstract justice, as some may think. They are about practical politics and avoiding disasters like the ones Russia fell into during the 1990s. Those who want to see institutions revived and reformed “must avoid chaos and disorganization,” lest such things undercut their hopes for the future.

            Those concerned about that future need to begin talking about these questions. Specifically, they need to come up with “a strategy for the development of post-Putin Russia.” And they need to recognize that this process is vital not only for the future but also for the political life of the country today.

            At present, Gallyamov says, the Russian people are afraid of change and therefore support Putin. Once they can see that change would be in their interests and that there are ways to achieve it without going back to the post-Soviet decade, they will support those who offer such a road map – and they will desert Putin in droves because he doesn’t.

Federal Districts and Plenipotentiaries Heading Them Living Out Their Last Days, Preobrazhensky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – The system of federal districts with presidential plenipotentiaries that Vladimir Putin set up at the beginning of his presidency is living out its last days, having achieved its goal of subordinating restive regions to the Kremlin and now an obstacle to the further expansion of the Presidential Administration, Ivan Preobrazhensky says.

            When the FDs were created and presidential plenipotentiaries were named to head them, the Moscow commentator says, the latter were often called “governors general” but “over the last two decades, the political weight [of these officials and the districts they head] has significantly shrunk” (rosbalt.ru/russia/2021/08/27/1918190.html).

            After the constitution was amended last year, “the Kremlin took under complete control the entire hierarchy of power in the country, including the government and the governors” and thus reduced the role of the plenipotentiaries. Their role was further cut in July of this year when Prime Minsiter Mikhail Mishustin put deputy prime ministers in charge of each.

            Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin was put in charge of coordinating their activity, a development that led some to speak about his elevation. But then, a month later, Mishustin undercut that by making clear that the deputy prime ministers would simply be pushing through central policies in the regions they were overseeing rather than playing any other role.

            Just how little the federal districts or their heads matter, Preobrazhensky says, was signaled when the Siberian FD’s head was allowed to remain vacant for several months. If the FDs and their heads mattered, that would have been impossible. So if they are now dispensed with, few will shed any tears.

            The major push for eliminating the FDs and the plenipotentiary representatives is coming from the Presidential Administration who sees these institutions are competing not only over policy but also and more importantly for staffing slots. The Presidential Administration wants those positions for itself and so getting rid of these alternatives will help it expand.

            What is thus likely to happen, the Moscow commentator says, is that after the elections, the FDs and the presidential plenipotentiaries will be quietly allowed to die and officials attached to them now will be transferred to the control of the PA’s Sergey Kiriyenko or given some honorable retirement.

Migrants in Moscow Increasingly Fighting among Themselves, Residents Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – Migrants in Moscow from Central Asia and the Caucasus are increasingly fighting among themselves over jobs, Muscovites say. As yet there have not been many clashes between migrants and Russians; but the level of violence is now so high that Moscow city officials are bringing more criminal charges and expelling more migrants.

            This past week after the latest such clash Russian officials deported some 200 migrant workers as well as lodging criminal charges against others that ultimately may lead to their expulsion from the Russian Federation as well (znak.com/2021-08-28/v_moskve_posle_massovyh_drak_deportirovano_200_migrantov).

            In many of the places where these clashes have occurred, the immigrant communities form a majority of the population, and fights are between those ethnic diasporas who are better off or who control this or that sector of the economy and those who have less money or want to take over some branch of the economy (svpressa.ru/society/article/308319/).

            Despite the fact that ethnic Russians are rarely part of these fights, many of them are upset by such disturbances and by the fact that the migrants employ increasingly serious weapons. As a result, officials say, there is enormous pressure on the city and federal authorities to deport as many as possible both to remove the problem and to send a message.

            Toward those ends, some Russian residents in the capital are pushing for tighter limits on the number of immigrant workers and for stricter rules on them when they are in the country so that they can be more easily deported. Undoubtedly, some Russians believe that the migrants are depressing overall wages as well.

            But both because immigrants are prepared to work for less than Russians do and because the Russian demographic decline means there aren’t enough ethnic Russians for many segments of the economy, both businesses and the Kremlin are reluctant to go too far in the direction of restricting immigration.

            As a result, a pattern is emerging that seems unlikely to change anytime soon: migrants are clashing among themselves, and city authorities are expelling them on an ad hoc basis. That may calm the ethnic Russians but it won’t do much to reduce the level of violence in fighting between migrants from other countries.


Russian Orthodox Priest Says State’s Task is to Seize Territories and Church’s is to Pray over Them

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – A senior Russian Orthodox priest in Yekaterinburg has attracted attention for declaring that “the state’s task is to annex lands to Russia, increase the size of the country’s territory, incorporate peoples and attract them to itself,” while holy people must “consecrate” such seized lands and pray over them.

            Father Alen Bogdanov, the head of church school programs of the Yekaterinburg bishopric, made these comments on a YouTube clip that has gone viral in Russia (nakanune.ru/news/2021/8/30/22617667/, youtube.com/watch?v=g1XvIqhiQq0 and mk.ru/politics/2021/08/30/v-rpc-nazvali-zadachey-rossii-zakhvat-drugikh-narodov-i-territoriy.html).

            The Yekaterinburg bishopric has not commented on Father Bogdanov’s remarks, but controversial Deacon Andrey Kurayev has suggested that such “feudal” views are now being taught to the Russian young in the post-Crimea period (facebook.com/diak.kuraev/posts/391073965721353).


Sunday, August 29, 2021

Kazan Failing to React to Ufa’s Bashkirization Campaign Even when It Extends into Tatarstan, Garifullin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – Bashkir officials and activists are conducting a campaign to identify as Bashkirs Tatars living in Bashkortostan and even Tatars living in some parts of Tatarstan, but Kazan, under pressure from Moscow, isn’t reacting and defending its interests in either case, Ilnar Garifullin says.

            As a result, the conflict between the two nations and between the two republics is growing, won’t end with the census as some think, the Tatar commentator says; but become ever more serious as Tatars recognize what Ufa and Bashkirs are about and also see that their own government is not taking steps to defend their interests (idelreal.org/a/31411571.html).

            Tatars have been upset by Bashkir efforts to reidentify Tatars in Bashkortostan for some time (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/02/in-advance-of-2020-census-kazan-urged.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/03/ufa-has-been-reidentifying-tatars-as.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/03/ufa-adopts-another-tactic-to-cut-number.html).

            But some Tatars recognize that Bashkirs feel threatened: The latter are a minority in their own republic and fear that if the census confirms this, Moscow may move to disband their republic and thus the defense it provides for a fellow and neighboring Turkic people (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/07/moscow-may-liquidate-republics-but-not.html).

            However, the Bashkirs have now crossed a line: they are talking about people in Tatarstan itself as being properly Bashkir and demanding that steps be taken to protect the rights of these people to declare themselves Bashkirs, raising the specter if they do, Ufa will make a claim to the territory on which they live, Garifullin suggests.

            That Ufa has that on its agenda was suggested by Elvira Aitkulova, the head of the World Kurultai of Bashkirs. At a meeting in Tatarstan’s Muslyumov District earlier this summer, she said that the people there were Bashkirs not Tatars and must be recognized as such, thus baldly violating the unspoken agreement never to raise this issue in the other’s republics.

            Two things made this declaration more worrisome. On the one hand, it turns out, Garifullin says, Aitkulova’s words were part of a larger effort that has generally passed under the radar screen of Tatars and Tatar officials. And on the other, Kazan deferred to Ufa by the way in which the meeting was organized, having a local group do it rather than a republic one.

            According to the Tatar commentator, Tatars are angry at the Bashkirs and also at their own authorities who, they believe, are continuing to defer to the Bashkirs and Ufa despite the actions and policies of the latter because Moscow is insisting on it and Kazan is unwilling to cross the center.

            What that means, Garifullin says, is that tensions are growing not only between Tatars and Bashkirs but between Tatars and their republic government. The first of these attitudes points to a real conflict between the two republics; the second, to a political crisis in Tatarstan with the government forced to change lest it lose popular support.