Sunday, December 31, 2023

Khrushchev Likely Staged December 1953 Execution of Beria Using a Double, Stalinist Apologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec.31 – All the talk about Putin’s doubles has opened the way for Aleksandr Samsonov to promote the idea that Khrushchev had Lavrenty Beria killed at the time of his arrest or shortly thereafter in June 1953 and then employed a double of the former Stalinist police chief for a fake trial and execution in December of that year.

            The idea that Khrushchev and his allies were so afraid of Beria that they had him executed at the time of his arrest has circulated for a long time, but the suggestion by this Stalinist apologist is new in its talk about the use of a double to fake Beria’s trial and execution adds a new twist to the story (

            At the end of a 2200-word article praising Beria to the skies, Samsonov says that the version of events which holds that Beria was executed on Khrushchev’s orders in June is “the more logical” and that the December “trial and execution were simply staged” to give a veneer of legality to what was a part of an internecine power struggle among Stalin’s heirs. 

            The existence of 19 volumes of testimony that investigators reportedly took from Beria after his arrest casts doubt on Samsonov’s argument, but his words are just one more example of the ways in which each new generation of Russians since 1953 has struggled to come to terms with what Beria’s execution meant (e.g., and


As Long as Russia Exists in Anything Like Its Current Borders, Ukraine will Never Know Peace, Yahun Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – Ukraine has no choice but to support non-Russian movements within the current borders of the Russian Federation, Viktor Yahun says, because if the Russian Federation remains in its current borders with its current system, Ukraine will never know peace. Instead, that country will only “lie in wait and attack again.”

            The former major general of the Ukrainian Security Service says that those who think that pushing Russian forces back to the 1991 borders is sufficient for the future are deceiving themselves (

            If that is all Ukraine achieves, Yahun continues, “the occupiers will crawl back into their swamps and hide there for 20 to 30 years; but they will then come out of these swamps once again. That’s why supporting national minorities and liberation movements on the territory of the Russian Federation is so important.

            The retired security officer says that “there has always been a place for Naziism and racism in Russia” and that such attitudes power the formation of “aggressive social movements.” Most of these are based on the ethnic Russian nation, but some have their roots in non-Russian groups as the recent incident at the Makhachkala airport showed.

Since February 2022, 44 Russian Government Agencies have Stopped Publishing Nearly 500 Data Sets They had Offered

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – Since Vladimir Putin began his expanded invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, a minimum of 44 Russian government agencies have stopped publishing nearly 500 data sets they had offered in the past, putting a serious crimp on the work of business, government, and analysts, the To Be Precise portal says.

            For the first year of the war, this closing off of information had no legal sanction; but in February 2023, the Duma passed a law allowing government bodies to stop publishing data at their discretion (

            That action accelerated the shutdown, To Be Precise says, with data sets of various kinds of economic and financial matters, the losses of the Russian army in the Ukrainian war, crime figures, energy consumption, incomes and property of senior officials, and migration that had been accessible and updated regularly no longer available.

            More than that, the portal continues, some Russian government agencies have taken down information that they had earlier released and made all materials inaccessible to those attempting to access them from foreign IP addressed inaccessible. A list of all these losses can be found at

Russian Nuclear-Powered Ship that Supplied Military Facilities in North Suffers Major Fire and May Now Be Scrapped

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – The Sevmorput, the world’s only nuclear-powered container ship that had most recently been supplying Russian military facilities along the Arctic coast suffered a fire and may now be scrapped on schedule in 2024 rather than having its service extended by yet another refit, The Barents Observer reports.

            Rosatom and the Russian authorities threw a veil of secrecy over the fire after some sparse initial reports given that a fire on a nuclear vessel could have threatened the 270,000 people n nearby Murmansk, the watchdog publication says (

            The ship, built in 1988, lay idle for may years after the USSR collapsed; but in 2013, officials decided to renovate it –and  since 2016, it has been in service, delivering cargo to military bases on the Arctic littoral (         

Recently, Leonid Irlitsa, head of Russia’s Atomflot corporation, said the Sevmorput would be scrapped in 2024 and replaced with several non-nuclear vessels that have become available ( But if history is any guide, there is likely to be a gap between this ship’s end of service and the arrival of its replacements. 

Beijing Exploiting Situation where Moscow has No Choice but to Discount Prices on Goods China wants to Buy and Pay Higher Prices on Those China wants to Sell

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – The Kremlin is celebrating the growth in bilateral trade between Russia and China, but it fails to mention that this has been achieved only because not having any other alternative, Moscow has been giving Chinese significant discounts on what Beijing wants to buy and paying higher prices for goods Beijing is ready to sell.

            The Chinese recognize that Russia has no choice but to put up with this and so are profiting by it, demanding ever higher discounts on Russian raw materials China wants to purchase and raising prices on goods like automobiles that Russia wants to buy  ( and

            But this situation not only is angering Russian firms and Russian consumers but is placing real limits on any future growth in bilateral trade because there are limits to how far Russian sellers are prepared to cut prices for the Chinese and how much China can raise prices on goods Russians want before the latter will refuse to pay.

            Consequently, not only are the benefits of this trade mostly one-sided but the growth in the size of this exchange is profoundly limited. Indeed, some experts are now saying that there will be a slowing in the growth of such trade even this year and that it may cease to grow at all in the future.


Kremlin Using Telegram Channels to Work Around Bans on ‘Russia Today,’ ‘Novaya Gazeta Evropa’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 30 – To spread its propaganda abroad and especially among √©migr√© groups, the Kremlin is now exploiting a network of telegram channels now that many Western governments have blocked Russia Today, the Moscow-controlled television channel on which it had relied earlier, according to an investigation by Novaya Gazeta Evropa.

            The paper has identified more than 100 telegram channels in various languages that spread the same line and cooperate with each other even though they are nominally independent and traces the way in which the Putin regime has been funding and directing them over the last six months (

            While none of these has the audience that Russia Today did before it was blocked – most have only a few thousand or tens of thousands of visitors – together they are giving Moscow a powerful tool to continue to reach opinion leaders in various countries, one that the paper says the West does not yet appear to recognize as a danger.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Putin’s System Stable Because It’s Backed by Those who Don’t Want to be Restrained by Anything but Force, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – A major if underappreciated source of the stability of Putin’s system is to be found in the large number of people in Russian society who do not want to live by any ethical system and instead prefer a world where those who win out are those who are most willing to use force, according to Vladimir Pastukhov.

            The share of such people in any human society has always been large, the London-based Russian analyst says. At the dawn of the appearance of human beings, these people formed the overwhelming majority. But with the introduction of religions that promoted ethical norms, their share fell but their numbers remained large (

            The introduction of ethical norms allowed humanity to evolve in a positive direction far more quickly than any Darwinian model would have predicted, but such norms never came to dominate entire populations – and hence there has always been the risk that some leaders will exploit the desire of those not living ethically to act as they want.

            Because Putin caters to such attitudes, he and his regime have “an almost inexhaustible resource” among those “left behind by the evolution that was guided by ‘the ethical vector.’” Such people were “uncompetitive” when ethical norms held and the rules wer dictated by laws and institutions.”

            But when the man on top releases them from such rules, they “feel like fish in water where no rules apply except elements of violence,” Pastukhov continues. Such people were marginalized in the past, but now they feel they have “moved to the very center” of power “and are settling there like Huns on the ruins of Rome.”

            “A new Neanderthal is now ruling the roost” in the political system and not just there but also in places like the Academy of Sciences, the Writers’ Union and elsewhere as well. “This is now his world; he is the winner; and he will not give it up without a fight.” That gives Putin a basis of support far broader than many suspect.

            If Russia is to change, it will have to be won back “not from Putin but from these people” but others who are committed to an ethical agenda, Pastukhov says. And that won’t be easy because the beneficiaries of Putin’s unleashing of ethical bindings, however much he talks about them, are ready and willing to fight.

Putin Regime Now Requiring Newborns to Apologize for Their Nudity after First Cry, Russians Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – After millions of people in the Russian Federation reacted with horror to news about a party in Moscow where attendees dressed in their underwear or less, some Russians are speculating that the Russian government will soon require all newborns in the country to apologize for their nudity after their first cry.

            That is just one of the new anecdotes offered by Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova in her latest collection ( Among the best of the rest are the following:

·       Moscow has made it clear that those who fail to anticipate and expose the next enemy of the Kremlin will be identified as enemies and punished accordingly.

·       Russia’s rulers can’t stand to watch half-dressed performers but they look at destroyed Ukrainian cities and the orphans that this destruction has left in its wake with real pleasure.

·       In defense of Russian national traditions, schools there are prohibiting female pupils from wearing trousers even when it is cold. Soon, the government will require floor-length sundresses and executions for the use of contraception.

·       Enquiring minds want to know: how many of the 500,000 men Moscow has mobilized for the war in Ukraine are still alive.

·       Just imagine how outraged God is to find out what those he created in his own image are up to.

Russia’s Growing Cultural Isolation Leading to Stagnation, Shulika Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – Russians are obsessed with the ways in which their country has been isolated in terms of international athletic competitions, Kirill Shulika says; but they seem far less concerned about a more important form of isolation: Russia’s growing isolation in cultural matters, a trend that is leading to intellectual stagnation at home.

            Increasingly cut off from Western literary works, films and cultural exhibitions, the Russian commentator says, and having lost so many of its own cultural figures who have either fled abroad or gone silent, Russia is at risk of losing the kind of invigorating competition that spurs development (

            And this situation is made still worse, Shulika continues, in that the state with rare exceptions is not providing the kind of support that might allow some figures in the Russian cultural firmament to flourish. That this is possible is shown by the success of the state-funded film, “The Guy’s Word.”

            The increasing sterility of Russian cultural life is not so much the result of the regime’s insistence on loyalty, he suggests, than on its unwillingness or inability to provide funds as the Soviet government did and on its demand that Russian cultural figures simultaneously create in isolation and somehow earn their own way.

            The experience of the last year in Russia has demonstrated that “in culture, as in any other field, everything grows when there is a competitive environment. The loss of that leads to stagnation. The emigration of many cultural figures has reduced internal competition, and isolation has had a negative impact on competition from abroad.”

            Those managing Russian cultural life need to remember, Shulika concludes, that “if you stop publishing books by some writers, it is not at all certain that others will write better.”

For First Time Ever, Uzbek Foreign Ministry Summons Russian Ambassador and Gives Him a Dressing Down -- for the Imperialist Language of Close Putin Ally

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – For the first time ever, Uzbekistan’s foreign ministry summoned Russia’s ambassador to Tashkent, Oleg Malginov, and gave him a dressing down for suggestions by Putin ally, Zakhar Prilepin that Moscow has the right to annex countries like Uzbekistan from which migrant workers to Russia come.

            Tashkent told the Russian diplomat that Prilepin’s recent statements were something Tashkent viewed “with a feeling of deep concern” because the Russian writer’s statements were “deliberately provocative and may have a negative impact on historically friendly relations” ( and

            The Russian diplomat and then the Russian foreign ministry replied that Prilepin’s views were his own and should not be interpreted as a statement of the Kremlin’s position, although neither explained why someone so openly imperialist and aggressive should occupy a position close to Vladimir Putin.

            It is entirely understandable why Tashkent would react to Prilepin’s views as it did. A few days earlier, the writer had said that Russia’s demographic problems could be resolved by the annexation to the Russian Federation of new territories, particularly those like Uzbekistan from which migrant labor was now coming into the country (

            Prilepin further declared that after Russia defeated Ukraine and organized a victory “parade” in Kyiv, Moscow would be in a position to make such demands. “I am not joking,” he said. We will raise the issue of disavowing the disintegration of the Soviet Union” and then we will take the former republics back. 


Friday, December 29, 2023

‘Has Putin Already Sold Russia to China?’ ‘Censoru.Net’ Portal Asks

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – The Russian State Duma has begun to maintain a Chinese-language version of its official site, a move that has prompted the anti-censorship site,, to ask in despair whether Vladimir Putin has “already sold Russia to China” and wants Beijing as “the future master” of his country to be apprised of the latest developments in Moscow.

            Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin made the announcement. He declared that “it was decided to launch a version of the official website of the State Duma in Chinese” as “relations between our countries are developing dynamically and there is enormous interest in Russia in China” (

            The Chinese version of the Duma site has already gone up and the article features a screenshot of what it looks like. The portal says that Volodin further justified the decision by saying that “Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world,” having earlier dismissed English as a dead language.”

            Just how sensitive such things are for Russians was suggested recently by London-based Russian analyst Vladimir Pastukhov. On the EchoFM channel, he said that in his view, “the main question which will be given to Putin in the court of history won’t be about his usurpation of power or his theft of billions” (

            Instead, the Kremlin leader will be asked “only one question: was the choice in favor of China really an historical choice by the Russian people of their new (in fact, old) fate as a vassal state under Asian despotism – or was it the personal choice by Putin’s thieving elites of a new ‘roof’ to the detriment of and contrary to the real interests of the Russian people?”

Stalin Pulled Soviet Soldiers from Front Lines to Deport Kalmyk Nation, Descendants of Those Sent to Siberia Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – Most of the Soviet siloviki used to deport the punished peoples from their homelands to Central Asia and Siberia came from police units behind the lines rather than from troops on the frontlines of the German war. But in Kalmykia, these rear echelon security forces weren’t sufficient, and Moscow pulled troops off the main front.

            That is what survivors of that deportation, which occurred 80 years ago on December 28, 1943, say; and it is a recollection that casts doubt on the widely held view that while Hitler was ready to compromise his military effort to kill Jews, Stalin was never ready to risk losing at the front in order to wage war against his own people. He was prepared to wait.

            Not only does this memory explain why the Kalmyks remain one of the most anti-Russian nations in the Russian Federation (, but it provides support for those who argue that Stalin was more like Hitler than many think (

            Two other aspects of Stalin’s deportation of the Kalmyks suggest that he and then subsequent Soviet leaders were especially angry at that Buddhist nation and were interested in its destruction both during the deportation when roughly half of them were killed and even after the survivors were permitted to return.

            On the one hand, the Kalmyks were deported not to Central Asia where the climate was relatively better but to Siberia where they suffered more, and they were distributed across that region family by family so that they could not form the communities that allowed other deported peoples to survive (

            And on the other, when the Kalmyks did return, they did not regain almost a third of the territory their republic had included before World War II, a continuing irritant for them and source of tension with Astrakhan which remains in control of that land (

Kazakhstan’s Lake Balkhash May Soon Die as Aral Sea Already Has

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 27 – Yet another body of water in Central Asia is at risk of disappearing in the coming decades. That is Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan which is seeing its water levels decline because of climate change, increased use of water by countries living along the rivers that feed it, and the risk that Astana will build a nuclear power plant using its water as coolant.

            If the first two threats have long been identified, the third is coming into focus after Russia pushed for it to become the contractor for such a project, and the Almaty region earlier this fall agreed to build the plant on Lake Balkhash. That has provoked protests, and Kazakhstan President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev has now called for a referendum on the issue.

            It is unclear what the results of any such vote will be, but if the construction of the plant is approved and goes forward, Lake Balkhash will see its flora and fauna disappear, as the plant warms its shallow waters; and China is likely to reduce still further the flow of the Ili River which feeds the lake (

            That will kill off the lake far faster than similar decisions and processes did the Aral Sea because Lake Balkhash is so much shallower – most of it is no deeper than six meters – and thus spark an epidemiological crisis in the region as well as destroying some or all of the industry and agriculture around the lake.

Putin has Created a War Economy in Russia and Thus Made It Unlikely His Successors will Be Able to Change Moscow’s Aggressive Stance, Martynov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 28 – A year ago, many in Russia and the West felt that if Putin were to depart the scene, Russia would return to what it was before February 2022. But today, Kirill Martynov says, Putin has transformed Russia into a war economy and thus made it unlikely that his successors will be able to change course quickly.

            On the one hand, the editor of the Novaya Gazeta. Evropa says, many of who have fought in the war are likely to be unwilling to accept anything short of victory; and on the other, the war itself has created a new class of winners who would see their gains disappear if the war were to end (

            According to Martynov, “Russia at the end of 2023 has no other development model left except military mobilization.” Some in the Russian elite aren’t happy about that, but the beneficiaries from the war, including most important the new class of “guardians,” will fight them tooth and nail to prevent a return to anything like the pre-February 2022 situation.

            To be sure, he continues, “the conformist minority” which now supports the war will support whatever the top elite does, as long as it is presented as “the norm.” “But Putin’s campaign rhetoric shows that he no longer needs the support of a Europeanized minority or is ready to rely on the majority.” Instead of being “a people’s president,” he is now “a war leader.”

            “Support by the new military Putinism, which no longer needs to be disguised as being in the interests of the majority, comes from a closed caste of ‘guardians’ consisting of the beneficiaries of the war and the apparatus of state coercion and terror” numbering 10 to 15 million people,” Martynov argues.

            The siloviki long pursued just such an arrangement, but what is different now is that al other social “elevators” have been blocked, leaving them and their allies among the beneficiaries of the war the only game in town and forcing those who don’t join them into becoming their servants.

            “By starting the war, Putin led the country into a trap from which two years on, there is no obvious way out. The government which comes to power after Putin will be dependent on the beneficiaries of the war and face strong resistance if it attempts to dismantle the war economy” and the aggressive stance which supports that economy.

            As a result, “the future of Ukraine and Europe depends on the results of the US elections,” Martynov says. “Putin’s plan is to again bet on Donald Trump, wait for his return to the White House and conclude an agreement dividing the street in the manner of the popular television serial, ‘The Boy’s Word.’”

            For Ukraine, this means the prospect of a continuation of war to the point of exhaustion; for Europe, it means the threat that Putin will move into the Baltic countries possibly on the basis of a call by “’the oppressed Russian speaking minority.’” And that neither Ukraine nor Europe will be able to count on a united NATO with America in the lead to defend either.

            “In 2024,” Martynov concludes, “we will receive the answer to the main question: is the free world capable of protecting its future from a mortal enemy – even if that imposes some short-term costs on its national economies?”

Kazakhstan’s Wholesale Rehabilitation of Anti-Soviet Basmachis and Turkestani Legionnaires Outrages Russians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 27 – Kazakhstan’s State Commission for the Final Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repressions during Soviet times in the last month has completely rehabilitated 311,000 Basmachi fighters, members of the Turkestani Legion that fought alongside the Germans against Stalin and others who fought the Soviet system.

            This decision has outraged Russians who say that Kazakhstan by doing so is following Ukraine and the West in adopting ever more anti-Moscow positions, including labelling famines in the 1920s and 1930s as Soviet acts of genocide (

            Moscow commentators say that Kazakhstan has not examined the actions of individuals in either the Basmachi movement or the Turkestani Legion but instead adopted a wholesale approach, one that is based on the idea that any resistance to Russians and Soviet rule was and presumably remains legitimate.

            According to such writers, actions like this rehabilitation reveal the true face of the current Kazakhstan government. And they demand that Moscow not be deceived by the diplomatic smiles and language the current leadership of Kazakhstan uses when its members interact with Moscow.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Moscow Faces Difficulties in Boosting Support among Russian Women for War in Ukraine, Starost Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 26 – Because polls show Russian women are less supportive of Putin’s war in Ukraine than are men and because many have engaged in protests demanding that their sons, husbands and fathers be allowed to come home, the Kremlin is now focusing on boosting support among women for the war, Sasha Starost, a Free Russia analyst, says.

            She says that women have been hit particularly hard by the departure of the men in their lives because that has often led to a reduction in their incomes despite the money the government has offered the latter to fight in Ukraine (

            Because such women find it easier than other groups to mobilize spontaneously from below, the Presidential Administration over the almost two years of war has conducted a campaign directed specifically at women in the hopes of generating support for the war and reducing the chances that women will organize anti-war groups.

            So far, however, Starost says, this effort has been far less successful than the regime would like.

            The campaign features three interrelated narratives, she continues: that women are heroes and occupy a no less important place in the conflict than men at the front, that women play a particularly important role in giving birth and then raising a new generation of male warriors, and that women should take over the jobs men have had to leave to fight for Russia.

            This last narrative is especially important, Starost says. And it features both the promotion of distance work for women ready to take on some jobs formerly occupied by men and also a proposal, not yet acted on, to do away with the current list of professions women are not allowed to practice ( 

            But despite this effort, support by women for Putin's war lags that of men; and Russian women continue to organize protests to demand that the men in their lives return home from the front.  

Russia’s Not Retreating, It’s Just Turning 180 Degrees and Marching Forward in a New Direction, Russians Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 26 – Only foreign agents and the rotten West say that Russia is retreating, Russians say. How dare they say anything of the kind! What is in fact happening, Russians point out, is this: under Putin, their country has turned 180 degrees and is now marching forward in a new direction with confidence.

            That is just one of the anecdotes in the latest collection offered by Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova ( Among the best of the rest are the following:


·       Archaeologists have found a man who came to what is now Great Britain 2000 years ago from the territory of Russia today. They are certain of that origin because his skeleton was clutching a birchbark summons to the military registration office.

·       A Putin aide says Mercedes and BMW will soon cease to exist after they have left Russia. That raises the risk that Germany having broken with Russia over Ukraine will cease to exist as well.

·       The Kremlin’s message to Russians on New Year’s this year is simple: Dear Compatriots! 2024 is coming. Please be understanding.

·       Russians say they survived 2023 and will survive 2024.

·       Given the scandal about a naked party, Russians are now apologizing to one another for taking showers in the altogether.

·       And given all the hullaballoo about propagandizing non-traditional sexual orientations, Russian men who dress up as women for plays and movies are apologizing as well, a sign that Russia will soon face a cultural revolution even more sweeping than the one in China.

For First Time Ever, More Russians Rely on Internet than on TV as Chief Source of News, VTsIOM Poll Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 26 – For the first time ever, more Russians rely on the Internet than on television as their chief source of news, 44 percent to 40 percent, according to a new VTsIOM survey, a development that must worry the Kremlin which has relied on state-controlled television to mobilize the Russian population behind it.

            One reason Russians are turning away from television is that ever fewer of them say that it provides “objective information.” The percentage saying that it does is now just over half of the share doing so seven years ago, 26 percent compared to 46 percent (

            Over the same period, the percentage of Russians who say they truest social networks and blogs as sources of reliable information has more than doubled to 24 percent, only two percent less than say they still trust television. And that figure reflects the continuing domination of tv viewing among pensioners rather than among younger Russians.

            These shifts do not mean that television is irrelevant, but they do mean that the internet has become far more important and influential and far more quickly than most suspected. And that casts doubt on the ability of Putin to rely on that medium to structure public opinion in support of his policies as well in the future as television has in the past. 

Kazakhstan Rapidly Expanding Ports and Shipping Capacity on Caspian

Paul Goble

             Staunton, Dec. 26 – Kazakhstan is rapidly expanding the capacity of its ports and transportation links connecting them to the rest of the country as well as the size of its merchant marine and navy on the Caspian, moves that likely to increase east-west trade across that inland sea and put Astana in a position to challenge Moscow’s supremacy there.

            This new push has been announced by Kazakhstan transportation minister Marat Karabayev ( and

            It involves dredging Kazakhstan’s two ports to improve shipping access, developing rail lines leading to these ports, improving their intermodal transportation capabilities, and adding ships both to the country’s merchant marine and navy. To achieve these goals quickly, Astana is turning to Turkey, China and the Arab world for investment.

            For background on this effort and its economic and security consequences, see,, and

2020 Angarsk Prison Revolt Continues to Echo in Transbaikal

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 26 – In April 2020, Russian jailors were forced to call in more than 300 spetsnaz troops to put down with extreme violence in a special regime camp near Angarsk one of the largest prison revolts in that country in recent years (

            In the more than three years since, that revolt has continued to echo across the region with more charges brought against the participants and some investigations launched into charges that guards engaged in torture and rape against those who rose in protest against prison conditions (, and

            Now, in an echo of the April 2020 events, a group of prisoners in an Irkutsk detention center, including some of the participants of the earlier rising, have declared a hunger strike over conditions there (

            Among their complaints are unheated cells and a prison diet featuring kinds of food, presumably pork, that Muslim prisoners are prohibited by their religion from eating, another indication that the rising in 2020 to a certain extent was about Islam and not just prison conditions more generally.

            Oyub Titiyev, a prison rights activist, says that he is “certain” that what is going on is connected with the results of the [2020] rising,” an indication that even when the Russian authorities deploy massive force against prisoners they succeed only in buying themselves time but not in suppressing the willingness of prisoners to rise up when they can.

Chinese PMCs, Increasingly Active in Central Asia and Elsewhere, ‘Come Out of the Shadows’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 26 – Beijing has been using its own “private military companies” to guard Chinese facilities abroad and to put pressure on governments in other countries including prominently in Central Asia (

            But up to now, it has done so always without fanfare and typically with Chinese officials denying that they have or are using PMCs, calling them by a variety of other names to hide their true nature (

            Now, however, Chinese PMCs have “come out of the shadows” as it were by holding a meeting earlier this month at which there were officials of the Chinese foreign ministry as well as officers of various Chinese security companies (

            This new public stance suggests that Beijing now feels that it can use PMCs more openly and that the Chinese authorities will deploy them even more frequently than they have done up to now, potentially allowing China to put new pressures on weaker states or even use such forces to carry out regime change in some of them.

            The Beijing meeting on PMCs featured speakers who said China has no choice but to deploy such forces because there are now more than 47,000 Chinese companies in some 190 countries around the world that employ 4.1 million people, including 1.6 million citizens of the Peoples Republic.


For Russians, Being a Great Power Compensates for Domestic Shortcomings but Only in Part, Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 26 – There is “no doubt” that the belief, promoted by the Kremlin, that their country is a great power “plays an extremely important compensatory role” with regard to the shortcomings and problems that many Russians face in their daily lives, Lev Gudkov of the Levada Center says.

            But the sociologist says such compensation is far from complete. Instead, most Russians remain far more concerned about their personal problems than they do about steps to make Russia great again are not prepared to make additional sacrifices to achieve that goal ( reposted at

            A major reason for this pattern, Gudkov continues, is that there are differing views as to what being a great power means, with some seeing it as being about ensuring that the population of Russia lives as well as Western countries do but others believing that it is all about having enough military strength to frighten other states and to ignore the demands of others.

            But despite the success the Kremlin has had in using the pursuit of great power status as a compensation for domestic problems, “the majority of Russians ‘really’ would like to live in country” where regardless of its military strength, they would have a good life, one at least as good as those in other states.

            “Only an insignificant minority,” Gudkov says, “is prepared to pay for the greatness of the country” by making more sacrifices. Roughly three out of four Russians over the past 25 years have told Levada pollster that they would rather see Russia’s resources go to improving the lives of Russians rather than building up military power.

            That doesn’t mean that being powerful doesn’t matter to Russians, including to those who say they would like to see more resources going to domestic needs. Even they remain proud of the country’s power, and “the fear of losing that pride paralyzes the potential of civic self-organization.”

            That is because “they do not have any other bases for feeling their own dignity besides being part of an empire.” At the same time, for two thirds of the population, the idea of “empire” involves maintaining power rather than using military force for expansion or dictating the policies of other countries.

            The function of the congeries of ideas about being a great power is “the preservation of collective identity (national pride) and the legitimation of the authorities which in the eyes of the population guarantee this image of the country.” Only a quarter to a third support a policy of militant expansionism, and far fewer want their country to dictate to others.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

More than 70 Percent of Muscovites Want to Limit Influx of Migrant Workers

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 24 – While 54 percent of all Russians favor limiting the influx of migrant workers, more than 70 percent of residents of the capital and a like share of those in Primorsky Kray in the Russian Far East, according to poll data presented at a Moscow seminar on interethnic relations.

            The figures from Moscow are likely high because so many immigrants come to that city because of its higher wages; those from Primorsky Kray are likely almost as high because of the influx of Chinese whom Russian officials there support at the expense of local residents (

            The same survey found that “more than 80 percent” of Russians in the country as a whole are satisfied with inter-ethnic relations, but the figures are lower in Moscow Oblast, Moscow city, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, Primorsky Kray and St. Petersburg, again places where immigrants are the most numerous.

            Participants in the seminar said that foreign countries are seeking to exacerbate interethnic relations in the Russian Federation by promoting territorial demands by one group about another, and playing up historical grievances, creating movements abroad to mobilize ethnic groups.

            They also agreed that external efforts to promote ethnic conflicts were increasing as Russia enters the runup to the presidential elections in March 2024.