Saturday, December 31, 2022

Intensifying Repression Means There are Far More Political Prisoners in Putin’s Russia than Activists Can Document, Davidis Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 31 – Those who remember Jeane Kirkpatrick’s 1979 article “Dictatorships and Double Standards” will recall her observation that totalitarian states are far more able to cover their tracks as far as repressions are concerned than authoritarian ones, something that often means they are not seen as being as horrific as they in fact are.

            Her observation springs to mind on reading the report of Sergey Davidis, head of Memorial’s program for supporting political prisoners, about the rapid deterioration of human rights practices in Putin’s Russia during the course of 2022 (

            Davidis argues that the number of political prisoners in Russia that his organization has been able to count has increased from 430 in 2021 to 516 this year but that the repressiveness of the Putin system and its draconian controls over information mean that the actual now is far larger and that the 516 is “only the tip of the iceberg.”

            A year ago, he continues, experts described 2021 as “the worst year for human rights” in the history of the Russian Federation. “The level of repressiveness seemed excessive for achieving the goals of the authorities regarding control of Russian society.” But “as it turned out,” 2021 was only a prelude for a still worse 2022.

            The deterioration of human rights in Russia across the board over the last ten months has been driven by the war. To be sure, some repressive campaigns like the one against the Jehovah’s Witnesses have continued “by inertia,” but most reflect new steps by the powers that they feel confident they can take given the state of war.

            That includes new laws, more repressive application of old ones, and an intensifying rejection of even imitative democracy and “the decorations of a legal state.” That trend has only accelerated now that Russia has been expelled from the Council of Europe for its criminal invasion of Ukraine, Davidis says.

            Two developments related to this are especially disturbing, he suggests. On the one hand, the Russian authorities are increasing disdainful of relying on even their own law, with ever more officials acting in ways that are prohibited by the texts on the book or asserting that “the words of Putin are higher than any law.”

            And on the other, there has been “a further ideologization of repressions,” with ever more frequent persecution for displays of a lack of respect to the symbols of the regime, from the role of the USSR in the war and its veterans to the FSB and Vladimir Putin personally,” the Memorial activist says.

            In these catastrophic conditions, Davidis concludes, it is extremely difficult to talk about successes and achievements; but there have been some and they deserve to be noted including most importantly “mass resistance to the war and the dictatorship” given that those who engage in such actions know they risk facing repression.

            “No less important,” he says, “is the appearance of dozens if not hundreds of public initiatives of solidarity which unite both those who have left Russia and those who have remained in the country. These networks of solidarity and support involve providing help to refugees, political prisoners, those who resist mobilization, and many others.”

Five Takes on Nostalgia for the USSR in Putin’s Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 31 – Ever more Russians are expressing nostalgia for Soviet times, but exactly why and what it means remain matters of dispute. Marina Aronova of the SibReal portal reproduces the views of a sociologist, an historian, a psychologist, a political scientist and a legal affairs expert (

            Maksim Alyukov, a London-based Russian analyst, says that much of the nost” algia is the work of Putin’s propaganda machine. And he stresses that Putin can use it for a variety of purposes. “If Russia has to pull out its forces [from Ukraine] but Putin remains in power, then the Kremlin will use its defeat for revanchism” and launch more aggression.

            Historian Irina Karatsuba says Russian nostalgia for the USSR is about a past that never was, but the most serious aspect of this is that it reflects and encourages a focus on the past rather the present and future. Now, “we have no image of the future.” And it is that lack that opens the way for the growth of nostalgia even more than propaganda does.

            Psychologist Anastasiya Nikolskaya says that the identification with a strong Soviet past reflects an unspoken sense of current weakness both within Russia and between Russia and the world. Russians need to feel strong because unlike smaller nations which have ethnic identity, Russians have primarily an imperial one.

            Political scientist Fyodor Krasheninnikov says that neither Putin nor the Russian people are nostalgic for all the Soviet past: both he and they are interested in and attracted by only a small number of its aspects. Putin likes those parts which make a ruler irreplaceable; Russians like those which stress social justice and paternalism.

            And legal affairs expert Rodion Belkovich says that Russian interest in nostalgia for the Soviet past flows primarily from the increasing infantilization of the population, with ever more people wanting someone other than themselves to take responsibility for decisions and to ensure that the population is taken care of regardless of what happens.

Are American Media as Focused on Snow Storms in Siberia as Russian Outlets are on Storms in the US? Russians Want to Know

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 31 – Moscow state television gave such extensive coverage to the horrific snow storm which hit the northeastern United States that inquiring minds in Russia want to know whether American television gives equal time to snow storms in Siberia, according to the latest joke circulating in Moscow.

            That is just one of the new anecdotes being passed around in Russia today as assembled by Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova ( Among the best of the rest are the following:

·       Russian attitudes have proved so changeable on the war in Ukraine that it needs to be asked whether it is possible to fight with such people?

·       The way the new Russian Moskvich was produced, by taking a Chinese car and changing the labels, suggests it will be no problem for Russia to double domestic production by 2025. After all, to change the labels won’t require many workers or much money, let alone reform of the branch.

·       After Putin cancelled his usual year-end addresses, his spokesman was forced to deny that the blahblahdor is his favorite dog breed.

·       Some Russian bookstores have pulled copies of Cippolino from their shelves because the story contains an absolutely impermissible story about the revolt of vegetables against fruits. Many fear this is the first step toward pulling onions from food stores.

·       Moscow officials are blaming Western hackers for the fact that Russians are now going to have to repay all their taxes for 2022.

·       Foreign Minister Lavrov can’t understand why the Ukrainians hate Moscow. Haven’t we bombed them enough to transform them into a fraternal people?

·       Judging from Medvedev’s recent outbursts, the most powerful thing in Russia is the bile from his liver.

·       Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu congratulates the Russian army even when it retreats.


Putin has Shifted Russia from Being a Raw Materials Supplier to the West to Being a Raw Materials Supplier to China, El Murid Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 31 – In all the talk about Russia’s shift from the West to the East, Anatoly Nesmiyan, who blogs under the screen name “El Murid,” many have ignored what is a most important continuity: Russia indeed no longer is a raw materials supplier to the West; it has become a raw materials supplier to China.

            If one looks at trade figures, El Murid points out, “Russia supplies China exclusively raw materials and almost nothing else except them.” That raises an interesting question: “whether there is all that much difference in being a raw materials appendage of the soulless West or being the same thing but for China” (

            The Kremlin will insist on calling this a partnership, he continues; but if it is, it is one  in which China is completely dominant and Russia completely subordinate, precisely the relationship the Kremlin claimed it has broken with the West to prevent from ever happening again.

Russian Opposition Failed in 2022 for Nine Reasons, Ukrainian Commentator Says

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 31 – Many outside of Russia had hoped those who call themselves the Russian opposition would play a more prominent role in opposing Putin and his war in Ukraine, but their hopes have been dashed, not just by Kremlin repression that has forced many opposition leaders into emigration but also by nine failures of the opposition itself, Yevgeny Popov says.

            The head of the southern Ukraine office of the International Renaissance Foundation identifies and discusses each of these shortcomings, clearly in the hope that the Russian opposition will eventually be able to overcome them (

            First of all, Popov says, the opposition abroad today lacks “any ties with society” and has not tried to overcome that by creating organizational structures inside Russia.

            Second, the émigré opposition has put its efforts on the development of media platforms, holding meetings and reporting them virtually rather than on doing the hard work of developing political organizations at home.

            Third, the opposition has failed to be clear about exactly how it will gain power or what it will do once it has it, raising questions about how serious a political force it is and what direction it might in fact take the country if it had the chance.

            Fourth, the behavior of the opposition raises questions as well as to whether it is more interested in taking steps that ensure continued funding from the West rather than actually gaining political influence at home.

            Fifth, the Russian opposition is divided among a variety of groups which show very little willingness to cooperate with one another.

            Sixth, the opposition has failed to specify who will do what in a post-Putin government, leading ever more people to question what it really would do if it gained power.

            Seventh, according to Popov, the opposition spends more time worrying about feathering its own nest than in addressing Russian problems.

            Eighth, all too often the leaders of the opposition fail to see that their positions help the powers they supposedly oppose more than they will lead to change.

            And ninth, in more and more instances, the opposition continues to talk as it did before Ukraine, before Georgia, or before Chechnya, failing to recognize that it is only highlighting just how cut off it is from Russian society.

Demise of Russian Federation Likely to Be More Prolonged, More Violent, and More Supported by the West

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 31 – If the Russian Federation disintegrates, and there are ever more reasons to think it will do so because of the intensification of its domestic problems as a result of Putin’s disastrous war in Ukraine, its demise will be more prolonged, more violent and more supported by the West than was the end of the USSR in 1991.

            Those conclusions arise from a consideration of commentaries concerning the fate of the current empire which have been assembled by the editors of Novaya gazeta and need to be factored in by both those who welcome and support the end of the Moscow-centric state and those who fear and oppose it (

            First of all, the coming demise of the Russian Federation will likely to be far more prolonged. There is unlikely to be any Beloveshchaya moment because Putin has destroyed the kind of institutions which existed in the late USSR and therefore there will be a scramble for power.

            Putin likely believes that his destruction of these institutions means that he has saved Russia forever, but as the author of these lines and others have long argued, Putin by his actions has not so much restored the Soviet Union as restored the conditions that led to that empire’s demise.

            The Kremlin dictator likely can hold things together longer than the most optimistic of his nationalist and regionalist opponents think, all the more so because unlike Gorbachev, he isn’t limited by a fear of shedding massive amounts of blood. But while he can delay the demise of the Russian Federation, he is unlikely to be able to block it for all time.

            Second, the demise of the Russian Federation will almost certainly be far more violent, not just because Putin will make it so but because there are vastly more guns in private hands and even the emergence of region and in the case of Chechnya republic armies that could be put in play if the situation deteriorates.

            Even at the end of Soviet times, there was a single power vertical as far as the organs of coercion were concerned. That is less obviously the case now, and the cost is likely to be a violent one with all sides – and there will be many – willing to use what weaponry they have to pursue their goals.

            And third – and this could be the most important factor of all – the attitude of the West toward the demise of the Russian Federation is changing. Given how often many in the West have taken credit for the demise of the USSR since 1991, it is all too often forgotten that most of these same people supported the continued existence of the Soviet Union right up to the end.

            Putin’s war in Ukraine have led an ever-increasing number of their successors to recognize that the real Russian problem is not just Vladimir Putin but in the fact that it is still an empire and that it will continue to challenge the international order as long as it is allowed to remain one.

            That doesn’t mean the West is on or is about to go on any campaign to destroy the Russian Federation, as some of the more hysterical in Moscow already believe and as Ukraine’s appeals to the regions and nations within the Russian Federation have given rise to concerns both in Russia and the West.

            But it does mean that the West will approach the demise of the Russian Federation very differently than it did the end of the USSR, without one hopes the combination of triumphalism and neglect that marked the earlier case but with one also hopes greater understanding, involvement and support.   

Russian Liberals’ Unwillingness to Drop Imperial Perspective has Led Russia’s Regionalists to Join Forces with Non-Russian Nationalists, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 31 – One of the most fateful developments of the last year, Kharun Sidorov says, is that the unwillingness of even anti-Putin and anti-war Russians to move away from a Moscow-centric vision of Russia in the future has pushed Russian regionalists to join forces with non-Russian nationalists.

            Until a year ago, Russian liberals were willing to at least cooperate with Russian regionalists, the Prague-based commentator says, including the latter in their meetings in Vilnius; but now, the failure of the liberal bloc to support a radical shift away from a Moscow-centric future for Russia has changed that (

            That has led to a radicalization of both regionalists and nationalists, and this close cooperation has taken place under the aegis of the Ukrainian authorities, which have also reached out to those Russians who are willing to allow for the independence of non-Russians now within the borders of the Russian Federation and genuine federalism for those who remain.

            The two most important signs of this development have been the emergence of the Free Nations League and the Forum of Free Peoples of Post-Russia, both of which were initiated by activists in Kyiv with the support of the Ukrainian government, which also took steps to reach out to non-Russians and regionalists inside Russia itself.

            What this confluence of developments will mean remains to be seen. On the one hand, it is certain to infuriate both the Kremlin which will increasingly view nationalists and regionalists as threats that must be suppressed and the Russian liberal opposition which appears to view such activists almost as strikebreakers who are undermining a common anti-Putin and anti-war effort.

            But on the other hand, it will likely energize both the regionalist and nationalist movement, with the former drawing on the increasing radicalism of the latter and the latter gaining support from the former. That matters because the non-Russians form as smaller percentage of the Russian population now than they did in 1991, 20 percent compared to 50.

Friday, December 30, 2022

War Spending Almost by Itself Kept Russian Economy from Collapse in 2022, Shirokov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – Dramatic increases in military spending because of Putin’s war in Ukraine played the key role, alongside income from exports of oil and gas, in keeping the Russian economy from collapse, Aleksandr Shirokov says. That is obvious if one considers declines in other parts of the economy.

            Production of consumer goods and export has fallen by ten percent or more, and the government has cut back spending on social needs like education and health care, the analyst says. If war spending continues at its current level or more in 2023, the situation will only get worse (

            On the one hand, the real economy and public welfare will continue to decline; but on the other, the Kremlin will still be able to claim that the economy is growing – but only by neglecting to explain how that is happening at a time when the Russian people and the Russian economy are in fact getting worse.

            After detailing the way in which military spending has affected overall economic figures and government incomes, Shirokov says that all this puts Russia in a very different position from those of other advanced countries at peace. There growth depends on consumer demand but in Russia military spending is financed by the government budget.

            “And there are already the first signs that Russia will not be able to support for a long time record high military spending.” When that happens, the entire house of cards will be at risk of collapsing, Shirokov suggests.

Demise of Communist System Left Russians Living without a Public Future, Levinson Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – Because the communist system so monopolized the public future, Aleksey Levinson says, its collapse 30 years ago left Russians without a significant public future to believe in and act upon. Instead, they act as if their country’s future will be just like the present or talk about trivialities.

            What was important about the Soviet system, the Levada Center sociologist says, is not that it was communist but that it was about the collective future. “And with the demise of the state and its ideological platform, this future disappeared,” depriving Russians of “the future as a category of time” (

            What remains and did so “almost untouched,” Levinson continues, are private futures, those of the individual, the family, friends, coworkers and so on. “In these structures, everything is very much in order with regard to the category of the future.” Were things otherwise, the country would have descended into complete chaos.

            But the lack of a common public future is a serious matter, especially as it affects not only the population but as far as one can tell the elites as well. In the focus groups he conducts, the sociologist continues, Russians simply can’t describe the future when asked that question directly.

            When they are asked what would be the worst that could happen, they do have opinions, he says. Some talk about the disintegration of Rusisa, “the end of the world after which there is nothing and cannot be.” Others, talk about nuclear war.” And still a third talk of a civil war which would lead to either the first or the second.

            But when asked about what would be the best, they talk about trivial things such as a stable ruble or oil at 90 US dollars a barrel. And they can’t imagine a future, even a distant one, any different than the present at least as far as their ruler is concerned. In short, they have no vision of the future and so are increasingly lacking one of the present as well.

Belarusian is ‘Language of the Opposition’ and Lukashenka Wants to Destroy It, Maytak-Annaorazov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – When Alyaksandr Lukashenka came to power in 1994, he restored Soviet efforts to make Russian the language of Belarusians hoping that would help him to become president in Moscow; but now, he is taking even harsher steps against Belarusian because it has become “the language of the opposition,” Marat Maytak-Annaozarov says.

            But it has acquired that status because it corresponds to the desires of the population, the Belarusian opposition commentator says. Many who speak it now choose to go underground or even emigrate, further enraging the Minsk dictator and leading him to take ever more extreme actions against the language as such (

            He has removed Belarusian from state television, insisted that government actions down to the level of traffic police are only in Russian, and most seriously for the future closed Belarusian schools not only in the cities as the Soviets did but in the villages. UNESCO has already declared Belarusian a language at risk.

            And if nothing is done to stop Lukashenka, Maytak-Annaozarov says, the national language faces extinction. Indeed, at the present, he continues, the language can only be saved by the efforts of Belarusians and their supporters abroad.

Pro-War Russian Nationalists have Failed to Get the Political Breakthrough They’d Hoped for, SOVA Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – Putin’s war in Ukraine has divided Russian nationalists just as it has split all other groups in Russian society, Vera Alperovich says, with those who oppose the war becoming increasingly silent while those who back it have become ever more active but increasingly unhappy that their support has not won the entry to power they had hoped for.

            Some of the latter have continued to work to recruit volunteers to fight in Ukraine or even gone there themselves, the SOVA analyst says. That allowed them to gain an expanded media audience in Russia, but this by itself has not improved their access to the halls of power or in elections (

            There are at least two reasons for this, Alperovich says. On the one hand, the nationalists have failed to set themselves apart from the powers and thus haven’t gotten support as being independent of them. And on the other, the powers don’t want any demonstrations even of support that the authorities themselves do not entirely control.

Once Non-Russians Gain Independence, Russia Should Be Reconfigured into 17 Russian Republics, Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – A new and genuinely ethnic Russian Russian Federation should consist of 17 republics, according to a commentator writing anonymously for the telegram channel of the Forum of Free Peoples of Post-Russia, one based on the belief that the non-Russian republics now within the current Russian Federation will all leave.

            That idea will be opposed by three different groups: those who don’t want the borders of the Russian Federation to contract at all but don’t want any radical changes, those who don’t believe that all the non-Russian republics will want to leave, and those who believe that some Russian regions may also seek independence as second, third or more Russian countries.

            Given this combination of opponents, it is almost certainly utopian in conception and impossible to achieve. But the proposal itself, available at, is important because it highlights two important realities that are often lost sight of by those discussing Russia and its possible futures.

            On the one hand, given that the non-Russian republics form only about 20 percent of the population of the Russian Federation now as compared to nearly 50 percent of the population of the Soviet Union, whatever happens or should be considered now must be fundamentally different than what happened in 1991.

            And on the other hand, it calls attention to the fact, often lost sight of, that Moscow engaged in ethnic engineering with regard to Russian areas just as often as it did with regard to non-Russian ones, drawing borders so as to include or exclude various resources, including population, to limit the ability of these areas to challenge Moscow.

            Consequently, the new list of 17 “Russian” Russian republics that might constitute a Russian Federation after the independence of the non-Russian republics now within it is worth attending to as an indication of how borders should be withdrawn to create a genuine Russian federation.

According to the commentator from the Forum of Free Peoples of Post-Russia, these are:

·       Lapland (the former Murmansk oblast)

·       Ingria (the former Leningrad oblast and St. Petersburg)

·       Novgorod (Novogorod oblast)

·       Pomorye (Astrakhan kray minus the Nenets AD and Vologda oblast)

·       Eastern Krivia (Smolensk, Tver, and Pskov oblasts)

·       Zalesye (Moscow and Moscow, Yaroslav, Ryazan, Kirov, Nizhny Novgorod, Kaluga, Tula, Vladimir, Ivanovo, and Kostroma oblasts)

·       Black Earth (Voronezh, Belgorod, Tambov, Lipetsk, Kursk, Oryol, and Bryansk oblasts)

·       Volga (Samara, Saratov, Volgograd, Penza, and Ulyanovsk oblasts)

·       Don (Rostov oblast)

·       Kuban (Krasnodar kray without territories transferred to a restored Circassian Republic)

·       Stavropol (Stavropol kray)

·       Urals (Sverdlovsk, Perm (without the Komi-Permyak District), Chelyabinsk, Kurgan, and Orenburg oblasts)

·       Tyumen (tyumen oblast without the Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenets ADs)

·       Chaldonia (Omsk, Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Kemerovo, and Irkutsk (without the Ust-Orda Buryat District) oblasts, and the Altai and Krasnoyarsk (without the Taymyr and Evenk districts) krays)

·       Trans-Baikal (Trans-Baikal kray without the Agin Buryat district)

·       Far East (Magadan, Amur and Sakhalin oblasts, the Khabarovsk and Primorsky krays, and the Jewish AD)

·       Kamchatka (Kamchatka oblast without the Koryak AD).

Genuine Federalism in Russia Must Rest on Ten Principles, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – In a nine-page policy paper for Reforum, Vadim Shtepa, a prominent Russian regioalist and the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal lists the ten principles on which “a reset” of federalism in the Russian Federation must take place if that system is to live up to its name.

            Shtepa points out that the current debate about whether Russia will or won’t disintegrate is taking place almost entirely from the point of view of the center rather than that of the regions. As a result, it ignores the positive goals and aspirations of the latter and focuses only on what the center will retain or lose (

            At the same time, the regionalist says that “the phenomenon of Muscovite hyper-centralism in both Soviet and post-Soviet times has inevitably led not to the development of federalism but to the rebirth of an imperial model of the metropolitan center and its colonies.” That means that what Russia needs is not some revival of federalism but its “reset.”

            To achieve that, Shtepa continues, the country must follow ten basic principles, each of which he discusses in some detail:

            First, the federation must be voluntary. Those who do not want to join must be allowed to leave and go their own way.

            Second, it must be symmetrical -- that is, all of its subjects must have equal status rather than as now some having more than others.

            Third, the country must undergo “de-Muscovization” – that is, the country requires a political capital that is separate from its cultural or economic one.

            Fourth, the borders of the component parts of the federation, which Shtepa refers to as republics, must be inviolable and based on mutually agreed to treaties.


            Fifth, the republics must stop being viewed as “subjects” of the center and instead be “states” which decide what to delegate to the center rather than as now, the center deciding what to delegate to its subjects.


            Sixth, human rights must be given priority over any decisions by either the central government or the governments of the states.


            Seventh, the principle of subsidiarity must be the operational basis of the system, an arrangement that will mean that the fewest possible decisions and taxation powers will be transferred to the central government from the states.


            Eighth, each state must have the freedom to decide which federal programs to participate in and to what degree.


            Ninth, the federal center must be blocked from taking any steps that violate these principles of federalism.


            And tenth, the federal treaty in which all this must be agreed to must become a fundamental part of the constitution of the new federation.”


            All this may seem utopian now and the details of each of these principles remain to be worked out, Shtepa concludes; but they represent only way that Russia can remain in one piece and move forward in the future.

Russians Told ‘Bomb Shelter’ Outdated Term and that USSR was ‘Murdered at Its Prime’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – Words matter because they affect how people understand what is going on around them; and this week, there were two striking examples of efforts, one by regional officials and a second by a Moscow commentator to change the words Russians use about two key things.

            On the one hand, officials in Saratov Oblast put out the word that residents should not speak about “bomb shelters” because that is “an outdated term.” Instead, they should use “recessed rooms” instead, a less emotional term but one that is almost Orwellian in its deceptiveness (

            And on the other, Dmitry Agranovsky, a Moscow lawyer and commentator says, Russians should stop saying that the USSR collapsed because in fact it was “murdered in its prime,” a truly Orwellian rewrite of history that invites Russians to engage in a search for enemies (

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Putin’s War in Ukraine wasn’t Inevitable But Possibly Occurred Because of His Covid Isolation, Golosov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – Despite what many believe, there was nothing inevitable about Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch his expanded war in Ukraine, Grigory Golosov argues. Personalist dictatorships like his often survive without doing so for a long time, especially if they use elections to legitimize themselves and don’t want to rock the boat.

            But the political scientist at St. Petersburg’s European University says, there is always the danger that this constraint will become less significant in the eyes of such rulers especially if elections are so easily managed or other factors intervene that cause them to decide that war may serve their interests (

            If a personalist ruler’s isolation increases, Golosov argues, there is an ever greater chance that he will think about ideas from his past. And that is exactly what occurred with Putin in 2020 and 2021. During those years, he was in covid pandemic isolation and clearly thought a lot about geopolitics and especially the geopolitical model he had learned in Soviet times.

            According to the political scientist, “it is certainly possible that these happy reflects led him to the conclusion that a rapid success on the Ukrainian front would not permit him not only to strengthen his power in Russia” as the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 did “but allow him to go down in history as the worthy continuer of the goals of Russian tsars.”

            Such calculations, Golosov suggests, would have given Putin “psychological comfort,” but they would not have allowed for input by others that might have given him a more objective picture of reality and the risks involved of launching a major war, risks that many of his senior officials were certainly aware of.

            Personalist dictatorships are especially “error prone for the simple reason that they remove the control mechanisms that reduce the possibility for making wrong decisions,” Golosov says. The covid pandemic only intensified that and “in this sense, Russia has been simply unlucky.”

            But this lack of luck, just like the lack of luck which kept both tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union from surviving far longer than they did, has far broader consequences, most seriously for those in countries ruled by such people but also for others who are forced to respond.


Putin Seeks to Have it Both Ways about Possibility of Another Mobilization, Gallyamov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – Vladimir Putin is seeking to have it both ways concerning the possibility of another mobilization, commentator and former Putin speechwriter Abbas Gallyamov says. On the one hand, media leaks about that sends a message to the West that he is prepared to fight on in Ukraine for an indeterminate future.

            But on the other hand, he adds, the Kremlin leader’s insistence there won’t be a new mobilization and that the media shouldn’t be talking about it are intended to reassure war-weary Russians that there is no danger that they will be forced to serve (

            In this as on so many other occasions, Putin is trying to have it both ways, Gallyamov continues; but it is clear that plans for an additional mobilization have been developed and could be put in place at any point when the Kremlin leader decides he needs more cannon fodder. All his denials are intended to distract domestic attention, while the leaks are for foreign ears.

            This strategy may not work as Putin hopes, however, according to the commentator. Russians are less isolated from foreign news and less influenced than they were by domestic propaganda than they were. And consequently, the leaks Putin welcomes for foreign consumption may further undermine his standing with Russians at home.

Helsinki’s Willingness to Take in Ingermanlanders in 1990 Prevented What Might have Become ‘a Second Karabakh’ in the Russian North, Finnish Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – Finnish President Mauno Koivisto’s declaration in April 1990 that his country would welcome Ingermanlanders was driven by a fear that their drive for autonomy might involve Finland in something like a Karabakh dispute in the north and that that could prompt Moscow to take severe measures against Helsinki, Kristiina Hyakiyo says.

            But that declaration, which ultimately led to the emigration from the Russian Federation of 30,000 to 35,000 Ingermanlanders to Finland had the effect of undermining the drive for autonomy within Russia that Moscow had promised in 1920 but never carried out, the Finnish researcher says.

            The author of a University of Helsinkki doctoral dissertation entitled “The Difficult Path Home. The Beginning and Expansion of the Process of the Repatriation of Ingermanland Finns at the Time of the Disintegration of the USSR” summarized her findings for Finnish state television (

            What happened in 1990 had an important pre-history during World War II. At that time, Finland took in approximately 63,000 Ingermanlanders; but after 1945, 55,000 of them returned to the USSR, only to be confined to the GULAG. Koivisto knew that history well, Hyakiyo reports, and felt some responsibility to these people.

            But he was frightened that the Ingermanland drive for autonomy could land Finland in difficulties with Moscow. Two months before the Finnish president made his declaration, Ingermanland activists confronted Leningrad oblast officials with copies of the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty and demanded autonomy. At that time, everything seemed possible, the researcher says.

            This was also the period when the Karabakh dispute broke out in the Caucasus, and Koivisto feared that if the Ingermanlanders demanded autonomy, that would look to Moscow like a copy of the Armenian efforts in Karabakh and so he decided to offer immigration to them in order to prevent that from happening.

            It is likely that the Finnish president’s move significantly delayed the drive for Ingermanland autonomy; but it didn’t end it. And today, Ingermanlanders in Estonia and Karelia are pressing for autonomy or even independence, to the growing nervousness and anger of the Russian authorities.

            On those trends which continue to this day, see discussions at, and

            For more background on the Ingermanders and this still submerged nation, see Ott Kurs , “Ingria: The Broken Landbridge Between Estonia and Finland,” GeoJournal 33.1 (1994): 107–113; Ian Matley, “The Dispersal of the Ingrian Finns,” Slavic Review 38:1 (1979): 1-16;,,,, and


Wednesday, December 28, 2022

  Moscow’s Repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses Continues to Intensify

Paul Goble

Staunton, Dec. 28 – During the last 12 months, Moscow’s repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses which took off when Putin’s Supreme Court declared them an extremist organization in April 2017 spread and intensified, with cases brought in more regions, longer sentences on believers imposed, and more raids on members of the denomination conducted.

Seventy-seven more Jehovah’s Witnesses were charged or convicted of engaging in extremist activities, bringing the total number to 674. Prosecutors brought criminal charges in two more federal subjects during 2022, raising that total to 72 over the last five years (

During 2022 alone, 121 Jehovah’s Witnesses were convicted, of whom 57 are now appealing these decisions. According to Jehoavh’s Witnesses organizations, 108  have already appealed and the sentences have remained in place, in most cases without any change in the nature and length of sentence.

In the last year, 45 Witnesses were sentenced to serve time behind bars, up from 32 a year before. The average sentence also increases year on year from five years to five years, six months. In three cases, courts of first instance found Witnesses innocent, but two of these have been reversed by appellate courts.

As of this month, there are 115 Jehovah’s Witnesses in preliminary detention facilities, up from 76 in 2021, 44 in 2020, and 44 in 2019. And during the last 12 months, there were 200 searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ residences in 39 different locations in Russia.

Belarus Must Not Be ‘a Consolation Prize’ for Putin after His Loss in Ukraine, Tsikhanouskaya Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leader of the Belarusian opposition now in emigration, says the West must not allow Vladimir Putin to annex Belarus as some kind of “consolation prize” after the Kremlin leader loses in Ukraine. “An independent Belarus is just as important for Europe as an independent Ukraine.”

            In an interview with RFI’s Russian Service, she says she and her colleagues are constantly working to reinforce the understanding in the West that “Belarus is a constituent part of our common regional crisis and that one mustn’t save Ukraine and not save Belarus” (европа/20221227-светлана-тихановская-беларусь-не-должна-стать-утешительным-призом-для-москвы).

            Today, all assistance is going to Ukraine, “and we completely support this … this is the primary task for all democratic countries but we declare that Belarus also needs your help. We do not ask the West … for arms. We ask for help and solidarity,” Tsikhanouskaya continues. “Don’t forget to talk about the importance of Belarus when you talk about Ukraine.”

            “Don’t forget to say that not only the Kremlin is taking part in a war against Ukraine, the regime of Lukashenka is as well and he also must bear responsibility for this.” The war has allowed him to commit more crimes against the Belarusian people, half a million of whom have fled his repression.

            Many Belarusians abroad are rapidly approaching a point at which their passports must be renewed. They don’t want to return to their homeland as long as Lukashenka is in power. Tsikhanouskaya says she is working to make arrangements with EU governments to have them give special documents to such people so that they can remain abroad and remain Belarusians.

            She says she is also seeking to get a European country to set up a Foundation to help Political Prisoners. There are more than 1400 of them in Belarus. Such a foundation would both focus attention on their plight and help them upon their release.

Russia’s Fundamental Problem isn’t Lack of an Ideology but Lack of a Goal, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – Many Russians are obsessed with the idea that their country must adopt an ideology in order to overcome its current problems, but that is “irrational,” Vladislav Inozemtsev says. Russia’s fundamental problem isn’t its lack of an ideology but rather its lack of a clearly defined and expressed goal.

            Ideologies by their nature are universalist and define what an ideal society should be and what steps are needed to achieve that end, the Russian economist and commentator says. Just being against something, like anti-communists or anti-globalists are, doesn’t by itself constitute an ideological position (

            “Therefore,” Inozemtsev says, “attempts to elevate anti-Westerism to the rank of an ideology appear somewhat insane.” And consequently, “if Russian society wants to restore an ideological character to itself, it can do so by choosing one of three paths:” adopting one of the universalist ideologies, creating an entirely new one, or substituting for ideology banal Nazism.”

            This third path, of course, is “the simplest” and involves opposing Russia to the rest of the world “on the grounds of religious or ethnic exclusivity.”

            What everyone needs to keep in mind, Inozemtsev suggests, is that Russia’s fundamental problem isn’t the absence of an ideology – many countries lack one and as Daniel Bell argued ever more are likely to. Russia’s fundamental problem is that “after the collapse of communism, our society has been trapped in discussions which are essentially meaningless.”

            “Today,” he continues, “we position ourselves as a post-Soviet (post-communist), anti-Western and pseudo-democratic country.” But these negative positions have no positive content concerning how we are different from others, what our goals are, and what we must do to achieve them.

            In many ways, this recalls what led to the rise of Nazism, as Peter Drucker, “quite correctly in my view,” Inozemtsev says, presciently observed in 1939: “fascism is the stage reached after communism has proven an illusion” [The End of Economic Man (New York, 1939, pp. 230-231.]

            “If Russia wants to overcome the problems which have plagued it for 30 years,” the analyst says, “it must select not an ideology with which the country wants to associate itself but a goal which it intends to achieve.” That goal must be clearly defined and articulated and not be confused with talk about processes.

            In this situation, “the goal is everything; movement is nothing: that is the imperative which can save our society” because otherwise leaders will not do what is necessary to reach it but only to maintain themselves in power.

Regardless of Outcome in Ukraine, Russia has Suffered Geopolitical Defeat, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – “The main result of the last year,” Vladimir Pastukhov says, “is the geopolitical defeat of Russia. Putin has already lost the war.” And more than that, “his defat already is creating the preconditions for global changes in the world order, but hardly in the direction he counted on.”

            “This will be a world order in which Russia in the best case will be given a place in the second tier of partners and in which it will be seen by a large part of world leaders as an observer … That would be a good outcome,” and “the Kremlin elites have done all this with their own hands” (

            This defeat, he continues, will remain in place regardless of what happens in Ukraine.” As history shows, a war can be lost long before the final battle. That was true of Germany in World War II; and it is true of Russia today.” Hitler lost when the international community united against him; and Putin has lost for the same reason.

            In an important way, Putin’s war in Ukraine is “special.” Its end came at its beginning when “in his ‘great dispute’ with the West, he was the first to blink and ‘plunge’ Russia into ‘a major war,’” something that all Russian despots have sought to avoid because none has “gone unpunished” for violating that rule.”

            According to Pastukhov, “there is no reason to believe that history will make an exception for Putin.”

            And because that is the case, “the success or failure of his military campaign in Ukraine will not play a fundamental role” in determining what follows. “This is a resource war and not with Ukraine. A defeat in Ukraine will speed up the finale and a victory will delay it a little but not change the essence of the matter. The deed is done.”

            There is of course the risk of a nuclear apocalypse, the London-based Russian analyst says; but it would likely destroy everyone and “if someone does survive, then in that destroyed world, Russia will be on the losing side” – and “if no one survives, then she will be assigned the blame at the Last Judgment.” Despite what Putin thinks, “joking with paradise won’t work.”

Rules Informal and Formal No Longer Being Obeyed in Russia Thus Creating a New Political Reality, Shaburov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – Over the last 12 months, Aleksey Shaburov says, everything in Russia has been “put in motion” with both informal rules and actual laws no longer observed but with no clearly defined new ones put in their place. This has opened a struggle over what the new ones should look like but no clear agreement about either has yet been reached.

            The Yekaterinburg commentator says that up to 2022, everyone understood what the informal rules were and obeyed them and most of the time both those in power and those under them obeyed formal laws (

            But in 2022, everything changed, Shaburov says, with ever more political figures deciding that they could ignore the rules and the laws and try to carve out most power for themselves. There is every reason to think that trend will intensify in the coming year, and that by itself will change the nature of the Russian system.

            When no one is confident that any informal rules or formal laws will be obeyed and that many will test them to try to boost their power, then both at the top of the political system and throughout the population uncertainty about what lies ahead will intensify and ever more people will do what they can to try to protect themselves.

            The consequences of this change, Shaburov continues, are enormous. If earlier, one could speak about contracts between the Kremlin and elites and between the rulers and the ruled, now one no longer can; and that makes these relationships vastly more unpredictable, with people on both sides increasingly inclined to see how far they can go.

            In the past, the powers were careful not to violate what had been the social contract; but given what they have done in the past year and gotten away with, the Yekaterinburg analyst says, they are likely to be far less cautious in the steps they will be willing to take in the future. How the Russian people will react to that, however, very much remains to be seen.