Saturday, April 30, 2022

Average Russian Thinks that If He Protests, His Country will Fall Apart, Chepelyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 20 – Russians aren’t protesting against Putin’s war in Ukraine not only because they fear the consequences of doing so for themselves personally but also and even more because they “to a large extent share Putin’s imperial ideology” and believe that protests could lead to the disintegration of the Russian Federation, Andrey Chepelyev says.

            The former St. Petersburg journalist who has been living in Cyprus since 2018 argues that many feel this only subconsciously and refuse to acknowledge it directly but that is irrelevant because this fear that the country is at risk of falling apart unless everyone supports the regime informs their approach to all political questions (

            This fear affects everything, Chepelyev continues, from the way in which they are prepared to spell the name of Estonia’s capital (with one “n” or two) to the question of the status of the Kuriles and Kaliningrad to whether Russia has the right to force Ukraine to “remain a Russian satellite.”

            These things are all “links in one chain” or alternatively “various sides of one and the same rock. Physically the bombed theater in Mariupol and virtual demagogy about the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation are two various leaders of attachment to one and the same imperial idea.”

            Translated into human language, he suggests, “all these thing mean one and the same thing: ‘we are an empire; we are great; and we want to impose out way of life, our language and our rules’” and we will use whatever means we think necessary to defend out status as an empire and to demand that others respect it.

            Such attitudes are to be found “in the subconscious” of all who grew up in Russian and studied in a Russian or Soviet school,” Chepelyev says. And precisely because Russians will not face up to that fact, this phobia of potential collapse is all the stronger and forces Russians to defer to the leader.

            And that is why “protests in Russia are so small and restrained,” he continues. The average Russian thinks that “if he protests, Russia could fall apart and then even worse things might happen.

            “The Ukrainian or Belarusian oppositions in contrast aren’t afraid to protest because neither of these countries is an empire.” They don’t start from the proposition that any disagreement among their peoples inevitably will lead to the collapse of the state. They are confident that the state is strong enough to survive debate.

            Polls showing that 30, 50 or even a higher percentage of Russians don’t support the war “mean only that that share of the people simply is not prepared to pay for its imperial idea with the real lives of real people,” Chepelyev says. These findings don’t mean that these people are not imperialists if the price of keeping the empire is lower.

If Donbass Attack Doesn’t Work, Russians Joke, Putin Will Bomb Moscow’s Ukraine Hotel as That’s Better than Nothing

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 20 – Russians may not be going to anti-war protests in massive numbers, but they are coming up with more jokes, often bitter, about Putin’s war in Ukraine, including the one in the title which Russians believe may be in prospect because the city authorities have taken down signs designating the hotel and put up “no parking” ones instead.

            In her latest collection for, Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova offers some wonderful new Russian anecdotes about how Russians see the war in Ukraine and Moscow’s policies at home and abroad affecting their lives and well-being (

·       Moscow is now banning foreigners who have criticized Moscow’s “special operation” in Ukraine from entering Russia for more years than these people have left in their lives. This shows that the Russian powers are behaving like a blind man lost in a crowd: he strikes out at random but doesn’t get what he wants and doesn’t understand that “his only enemy is his own madness.”

·       The Russian government is now seeking to import various products from Iran. The Russian “super power” isn’t even asking China but Iran. It makes one think that it will soon be acting like North Korea.

·       China is now opening a transport corridor across Central Asia, the Caspian, and the Caucasus to bypass Russia. This shows just how powerful Russia has become: even its supposed friends are afraid to send goods through it.

·       Having proclaimed that Rurik’s father was a Slav, Putin is likely to reveal in the near future that Jesus was a Russian by nationality given that his mother had a purely Russian name, Mary. Anyone who disagrees will be punished according to a law, soon to be adopted, against spreading “historical fakes.”

·       Russians are coming up with reasons why Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov should be the next president of Russia. Among them are the following: He has achieved so much with only six years of schooling, he doesn’t bother with elections, and most important he gets all his money directly from Allah. If only Russians could be so lucky.

Belarus will be Hurt Far More than Russia by a New Iron Curtain, Bornukova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 20 – Belarus will be hurt far more than Russia by the imposition of a new iron curtain not only because of the size of its domestic market and the composition of its exports but also because the Belarusian government has a long tradition of responding to crises by expanding the role of the state and thus making the crises worse, Katerina Bornukova says.

            The academic director of Minsk’s BEROC Center for Economic Research says that the imposition of Western sanctions over the last two months strongly suggests that “an iron curtain could become the new reality” for both Russian and Belarus, that Minsk will restrict people from going abroad, and that it will impose increased government control over the economy (

            If a new iron curtain does go up, Russia will be hurt but some of its oil and gas exports will continue; but Belarus will face a far tougher road because its main exports are not in the raw materials area and it has already lost more than a third of its total exports because of sanctions from the EU and Ukraine.

            The current Belarusian regime can be counted on to make things worse because history suggests that it will respond to the current crisis with greater state control rather than any liberalization, Bornukova continues. Moreover, she suggests Minsk will not recognize until too late that the current crisis is both different and worse than earlier ones.

            “Past crises,” the Belarusian economist says, “were characterized by devaluation and high inflation. But today, “the situation is completely different.” Besides these twin challenges which remain, “the real sector has encountered the collapse of export markets and problems with financial settlements.”

            “Therefore,” she argues, the current crisis is “unprecedented” for independent Belarus. “This was no the case earlier.” And the Belarusian authorities cannot count on the Russians to bail them out given the size of the problems that Moscow itself faces.” Consequently, the depth of the crisis will depend less on the state than on the length of the crisis itself.

Putin Still Is but Russia Isn’t, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 20 – Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin famously suggested that as long as there is Putin, there is Russia; but this apocalyptic prediction has come true sooner than he expected, Vladimir Pastukhov says. “Putin is still around but Russia isn’t any longer. It ceased to exist as a geopolitical reality in its traditional and familiar form” on February 24.

            What gives Russia the appearance of continuing to exist are the 140 million “scattered cells” who are “continuing their private and individual existences within the dead body of Russian civilization,” the London-based Russian analyst says (

            Russia’s “frozen body” which will remain “while Putin is alive,” Pastukhov argues, “floats in liquid nitrogen in a gigantic cryo-chamber the size of one-seventh of the earth’s land surface.” As soon as he is gone, this body will leave that chamber and “under the influence of high temperatures, disintegrate into individual tissues and organs.”

            For that reason, he says, “there is no alternative history in prospect for Russia. Both those who hope Putin will live forever and those who dream of an eternal life for Russia after he is gone will have to get used to the idea that there will not be any return to normality.” Instead, “there will be something new, unfamiliar and frighteningly unknown.”

            But whatever happens, Pastukhov suggest, the attitude of those now called Russians to the Russia before February 24 “will be approximately the same as that of modern Italians toward classical Rome and modern Egyptians toward ancient Egypt.” That is, to something they know they came from but share little in common with.

‘Mortgage Realism’ Explains Reaction of Russians to Putin’s War in Ukraine, Pirogovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 20 – Russians sometimes joke that the regime in Russia rests on “’mortgage realism,’” that is, “everyone understands everything” about what is going on but everyone goes along outwardly supportive and certainly without protest because “they’ve all got loans to pay,” Mikhail Pirogovsky says.

            “Russia is a stranger to prosperity,” the retired Moscow journalist says. “Always has been.” But “in the last two decades, a mortgage and a cheap car became a possibility.” Just how much that means to Russians in the middle of the income pyramid is often not appreciated (

            Russians in this middle don’t aspire to rise to the top but don’t want to fall into the bottom, Pirogovsky says. They “just want to be left alone” and they “can’t muster the mental strength to do or care for anything else,” including the war in Ukraine. Instead, they hope against hope that it will all “blow over in a couple of months” and things will return to what they were.

“They’re not anti-war, because they don’t have the energy for a political position, much less action — even before they were the object of the Kremlin’s hard work to stamp out any grassroots disagreement,” but “they’re not aggressive either,” only siding with the powers so that the latter don’t go after them.

According to Pirogovsky, “this is why the popular theory that Russia is on the brink of neo-fascism is not convincing.” For that to happen, the regime would have to appeal to “some underlying possibly unarticulated aspirations” of the people, but “Russians just want their IKEA back and tickets to the latest of the Avengers movie.”

“Putin’s miscalculated, bloody blunder is still in an early stage,” he continues. “Food supplies will run out by May-June, not coincidentally when the Kremlin hopes to score a victory.” But that will be “only the beginning of troubles in Russia,” at least not yet because so many things Russians have come to accept as theirs won’t be returning.

Consequently, “once the war hysteria subsidies, Putin’s approval ratings” almost certainly will be headed to “Lukashenko-level lows.” In this situation, it will be the Russian people’s desire to get back the goods they were used to be able to buying rather than something grander, good or bad.

Because that is what “’mortgage realism’” means. 

Orthodox in Lithuania May Soon have One Church Subordinate to Moscow and Another to Constantinople

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 14 – A group of Orthodox priests in Lithuania is preparing to ask Constantinople to take their parishes under its control. If the Ecumenical Patriarchate does so, that will create a situation in Lithuania much like the one that has existed in Estonia since 1996 where there are two Orthodox hierarchies, one subordinate to Moscow and one not.

            The priests have taken this action because of their opposition and that of their parishioners to Putin’s war in Ukraine and say that what they seek is what is the case in many countries where there are multiple Orthodox hierarchies. But Moscow is worried about the loss of even the small Lithuanian church and is using its influence to try to block this move.

            To that end, the ROC MP to which the Orthodox church in Lithuania is currently subordinate appears to have prompted the head of the Lithuanian church to punish some of the activist priests, to accept within his command a new pro-Moscow administrator, and to issue a statement at odds with his earlier one condemning Putin’s war in Ukraine.

            Once the Lithuanian priests file their request with Constantinople, they reasonably expect that the Ecumenical Patriarch will move quickly and accept their congregations as part of his church rather than part of Moscow’s, a move that may embolden other Orthodox churches elsewhere in the former Soviet space to do the same.

            The seven dissident Orthodox priests in Lithuania say they are gaining support from some of the more than 50 other ROC MP priests in that country and expect Constantinpole to act quickly and supportively ( and

            The leaders of the group says they aren’t planning to create any new church but rather seek a different subordination because of their profound differences with the Moscow Patriarchate over Putin’s war in Ukraine ( and

            But both Lithuanian officials and the leadership of the ROC MP in Lithuania view what the priests are asking for as “a schism,” and while the former appear to welcome this development, the latter are opposed and are taking action to try to prevent the priests from succeeding in achieving their goal (

            Because the Orthodox Church in Lithuania is small – fewer than 60 parishes serving far fewer than ten percent of the population, many may be inclined to dismiss this as a tempest in a teapot. But that would be a mistake. In following the Estonian model, the Lithuanians are showing other Orthodox churches in the former Soviet space a way forward that ever more of them are likely to find more congenial than any other move (

Arrests for Anti-War Protests Approach Scale of Arrests for Pro-Navalny Demos Last Year

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 19 – Since Putin’s expanded war in Ukraine began on February 24, 15,434 participants in Russian anti-war actions have been detained and charged, a figure that approaches the 17,600 Russians who were arrested during the 2021 demonstrations in support of anti-Putin leader Aleksey Navalny.

            And like the earlier protests, the anti-war ones have spread across the country, as shown in a new map published by the 7x7 news agency. Since February 24, only seven of Russia’s more than 80 federal subjects have not seen people arrested for demonstrating against Putin’s war (

            The news agency does not provide any information on the extent to which the same people have taken part in both or whether those in the anti-war actions are drawn from a different category of the population. If they aren’t, that would have one meaning; if they are, it would have quite a different one.

            Instead, it focuses on something else: the ways in which prosecutors and courts have further streamlined the process of convicting those arrested for anti-war actions, reducing the time that judges give to individual trials and having prosecutors bring multiple charges so that defendants and their lawyers can’t easily defend against them.

            Lawyers say that the Russian judicial system is treating the anti-war activists more harshly than it did the Navalny demonstrators, a reflection of a general toughening of the legal system in Russia rather than a political statement about the relative importance of the two protest movements.

            7x7 also reports one detail that shows how the war is affecting the Russian judicial system: Courts in many cases are now publishing their decisions on both sides of sheets of paper rather than as they have historically done on only one. That is a reflection, lawyers say, of the fact that sanctions mean the courts are running out of paper.

Patriarch Kirill Likely to Escape Any Church Trial but Not Condemnation by Religious World or Loss of Use to the Kremlin

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 19 – Calls both from within the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and from Orthodox churches more generally that Moscow Patriarch Kirill face charges in a church trial for his violations of canon law by his unqualified support of Putin’s war in Ukraine are unlikely to come to anything, experts on church law say.

            The Pentarchy of Ancient Orthodox Churches that might start such a trial is deeply divided and lacks a tradition of organizing such trials, and the ROC MP which in principle might organize such a tribunal remains under the control of Kirill and the Kremlin and so is unlikely to allow one.

            But if Kirill is likely to avoid facing such a trial, he has not been able to avoid conviction already in the court of public opinion. He has never been more isolated in the Orthodox world than he is today; and despite his support by and from Vladimir Putin, he is in a weaker position within the Russian church itself.

            Being so wounded, Kirill is likely to tie himself even more completely to the Kremlin’s positions, something that the Kremlin may welcome and that may keep him in office for the rest of his days; but that dependence will become ever more obvious to the population and make him ever less useful to the Kremlin.

            And at some point, seeing Kirill’s loss of influence at home and abroad may lead the Kremlin, the only real “court” the Russian patriarch will face, to conclude that the only way for the Russian church to recover at least part of its influence and be useful abroad as more than a cover for Moscow intelligence operations is to replace Kirill.

            Those conclusions flow from the developments in the Orthodox world and the ROC MP chronicled by Milena Faustova of NG-Religii (

            Many had expected the consilium of the Pentarchy scheduled for this spring to consider a denunciation of the ROC MP for poaching on the canonical territory in Africa of the Alexandrian Patriarchate – on that issue, see -- might take up charges against Kirill for the heresy of ethnophyletism for his promotion of the idea of a Russian world.

            But because of active Moscow government diplomacy, the leaders of two of the Orthodox churches scheduled to take part may not do so, leaving that meeting without the necessary authority to act even on the first question not to speak of the second. And as Faustova documents, most experts doubt it has either law or precedent on its side for such action anyway.

            The Orthodox leaders are thus unlikely to consider the appeal of 430 Orthodox priests from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate that they take action against Kirill. (For background on that appeal, see

            The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, one of the Pentarchy, has not taken note of the complaints of Orthodox priests about Kirill’s ethnophyletism, and Andrey Shishkov, a specialist on church law at the University of Tartu, says the pentarchy is unlikely to do so either because it lacks support from law and precedent.

            Moscow analyst Aleksey Makarkin adds that the Pentarchy could form a tribunal if the question was really about canon law, but in his view, what the Orthodox are complaining about is a political rather than a religious question and therefore the Pentarchy can’t and won’t decide to do so.

            Under things as they are, the only church body that could condemn Kirill would be a council of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate itself. “No other structure can do this.” And Kirill remains in control of that, although much of his political base among the bishops is in Ukraine where he has created a large number of new bishoprics.

            But despite that, Kirill remains under attack from elsewhere. The World Council of Churches is thinking about expelling the ROC MP. A denunciation of the ROC MP and Kirill for its support of Putin’s war in Ukraine drafted by Fordham University has been signed for more than 500 theologians from various countries.

            Rowen Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, has led British religious to denounce Kirill and his position on Ukraine, arguing that the least the Moscow Patriarch should do but hasn’t is to call for a ceasefire in the fighting there. Instead, Williams says, Kirill is lining up ever more closely with the Kremlin.

            Criticism of Kirill has also come from Metropolitan Ioann, the Orthodox archbishop of Paris, and from leader of the ROC MP in Lithuania. Ioann has been a longtime critic and Moscow is ignoring him, but the Russian church has moved to purge Kirill critics from the Lithuanian church and may force its head into retirement as he is approaching 75.


Friday, April 29, 2022

Growing Concentration of Russia’s Population in Big Cities and Ports Marks It as a Third World Country, Novichkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 19 – Moscow’s economic policies rest on three fundamental misconceptions that are leading to the degradation of the country and the loss of a chance for the kind of development in all spheres that Russia needs, according to Nikolay Novichkov, an economist who sits in the State Duma as a member of the Just Russia Party.

            First of all, he says, Russian leaders and intellectuals believe that urbanization is not only desirable but inevitable and that the central government should do what it can to promote that regardless of what happens to the rest of the country (

            But that assumption fails to recognize that “the concentration of the population I the capitals and in port cities is a characteristic of ‘third world’ countries” where the small number of modernized and expanding urban centers develop brilliantly and the rest of the territory is degraded and depopulation, Novichkov continues.

            Many think and act as if there is no alternative to this, but of course there is, the economist argues, suggesting that the country needs to promote the development of the many smaller urban centers and rural areas. Not only will that lead to more development but it will promote the kind of diversity on which development depends.

            That is because by creating the opportunities for Russians to remain in smaller centers or even rural areas will block “the destruction of the way of life” people there have lived for a long time, “reduce the social primitivization of economic behavior, and much, much else besides,” Novichkov continues.

            The second myth or better misunderstanding driving Russian policy making, he suggests, is the believe that the government should extract from the market as  much profit as possible and put it in reserve funds to be used at some future point. That is doubly wrong and its pursuit is hurting Russia horribly.

            On the one hand, it means that this money isn’t going into investments that could lift the country on a continuing basis. Instead, it is being squirreled away abroad in stocks and demand deposits. And on the other, precisely because this money is kept abroad, there is always the chance the other countries no friends of Russia will seize it or at least make it difficult to get at.

            And the third fundamental misconception, Novichkov says, is that exports must be “the foundation of the economy.” Obviously, Russia should be engaged in trade, but its leaders must not think that “’exports are our all.’” Focusing on exports alone leads to the unrestrained growth of some industries and the decay of all the rest.

            Moreover, because of the advantages and hostility of other countries, Russia is reduced to selling not manufactured goods but raw materials alone, with the country’s leaders thinking that they can use the money they earn to buy everything they need abroad while not spending on the development of Russia itself.

            Once these myths are recognized and rejected, Novichkov concludes, it will be possible for Moscow to come up with far better economic policies than it has adopted up to now, policies that will based on the proposition that investing in people across the entire country and increasing their purchasing power will do far more than selling raw materials abroad.

Re-Creating a Tauride Guberniya in Ukraine Could Affect Administrative Map of Russia Itself

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 19 – Several Russian politicians are urging that Moscow re-establish an administrative district on part of Russian-occupied Ukraine that would resemble the Tauride Gubernia which existed in Soviet times by including both Crimea and the adjoining regions along the Sea of Azov.

            Oleg Tsaryev, the former speaker of the self-proclaimed Novorossiya parliament, says that he is confident that such an arrangement would bring “peace and order” to the entire region, and occupied Crimea’s Russian Duma deputy Mikhail Sheremet has made the same point, urging that the Tauride Gubernia be restored in its tsarist borders (

            They and other Russian officials have been encouraged to think in that direction by the application of Rozovki, a town near the border of the DNR, to join that region, something officials have suggested may be a good idea but that shouldn’t be undertaken while the war is still going on.

            Nonetheless, the public statements of Tsaryev and Sheremet suggest that behind the scenes, Russians are planning to redraw borders within Ukraine as well as between that country and the Russian Federation, with those pushing these ideas convinced that a period of border changes is at hand.

            Moscow political analyst Vladimir Kornilov is among those advocating a “go slow” approach as long as the fighting is going on not only because borders will be affected by the outcome of battles but also because the territorial division of Ukraine may be an important aspect of the negotiating process.

            But there is another and perhaps more serious reason why Russian analysts for the moment at least are adopting a wait-and-see attitude, and it is to be found within the Russian Federation itself. Over the last decade, a plethora of Russian politicians has called for replacing Russia’s oblasts, krays, and republics with tsarist-style guberniyas.

            Indeed, some have pushed that idea as a means of restarting Vladimir Putin’s still-failed plan to combine smaller non-Russian federal subjects with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian ones ( and

            If Moscow begins to talk too openly and widely about creating guberniyas in Ukraine, some in Russia are likely to do the same in the Russian Federation, a development that almost certainly would trigger opposition in the existing non-Russian republics and a scramble for power among ethnic Russian oblasts and krays.

You Can Now Own – Virtually – a Part of Russia, Thanks to Joint Georgian-Ukrainian Project

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 19 – A Georgian company in cooperation with Ukraine’s Digital Information Ministry is selling off all Russian territory virtually via the use of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a digital collectible based on blockchain technology, to troll Putin and provide funds for Ukraine.

            To start, the firm is auctioning off 2443 regions and cities of Russia in Ethereum cryptocurrency. So far, it has sold 23 regions for a total price of 18,704 US dollars. Those who want to make such a purchase can do so by selecting a place on the interactive map the company has posted online at

            Later, the company says, it will put up for virtual sale major pieces of Russian architecture such as the Kremlin and Putin’s various palaces; and after that, it has plans to offer for sale the mummy of Lenin (, again with all proceeds going to help Ukraine.

According to the company’s website, this represents “an answer to Russian imperialist aggression … Putin is known for grabbing other country’s territory. So, let’s give him a taste of his own medicine.” And all indications are that this project and others like it are in fact helping Ukraine.

Crypto-asset tracker Elliptic says that since Putin launched his expanded invasion of Ukraine on February 24, “tens of millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency donations” have flowed into Ukrainian coffers (

For many, such crypto-currency sales are an exotic unknown. But as RFE/RL explains in reporting this one, “NFTs are essentially proof of ownership of virtual assets, and their sales have skyrocketed in recent years, including $69 million for a 13-year-long digital collage by American artist and graphic designer Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple.”

The Georgian firm says it has Russian lands available for purchase in all shapes and sizes to fit any interest or pocketbook.