Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Buddhism Becoming 'a Protest Religion' in Russia and Kremlin is Worried, Supporters Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 28 – The forcing out of the leader of the Buddhist community of Kalmykia had more to do with Moscow’s wanting to show deference to Beijing by getting rid of someone closely linked to the Dalai Lama and the cause of the restoration of the independence of Tibet than his criticism of Putin’s war in Ukraine (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2023/01/kalmyk-buddhist-leaders-ouster-as-much.html; cf. windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/10/to-curry-favor-with-china-moscow.html).

            But two Russian supporters of Buddhism say that there is more at work. Journalist Aleksandr Plyushchov says that “right before our eyes, Buddhism is becoming a protest religion in Russia” (echofm.online/opinions/vnezapnaya-forma-protesta). And commentator Stanislav Kucher, himself a Buddhist, says that the Kremlin fears Buddhist ideas and may seek to ban it (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=63D7D5F619B5F).

            Such a prediction may seem “rash,” Kucher continues, especially to those who think that Buddhists are quietist and passive. But in fact the basic principles of Buddhism are about questioning all authority, something anathema in Putin’s Russia, and can become the basis for radical even militant action as happened in Mongolia during the Russian Civil War.

            Because Buddhists have these ideas and because there is evidence that Buddhism is not only intensifying among historically Buddhist peoples but spreading to Russians and becoming a source of radicalism, Moscow has good reason for fearing them, especially because the Russian state is in fact virtually powerless against radicalized Buddhists.

            (For background on this faith in Russia that has seldom received much attention and that is having unexpected impact on people there, see among others, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/04/even-buddhists-are-becoming-restive-in.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/09/buddhism-spreading-in-russia-despite.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/02/window-on-eurasia-many-russians.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/06/tyvans-say-buddhism-and-shamanism.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/06/militant-buddhism-and-shamanism-could.html).

Monday, January 30, 2023

Moscow’s Making Heroes Out of Wagner PMC Criminals Carries with It Ever Greater Risks for Russia and Putin Regime, Eggert Says

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 27 – In recent months, the Kremlin has made heroes out of the criminals who have gone to fight and die in the ranks of the Wagner PMC out of the belief that poverty in Russia will ensure that a continuing stream of Russians will be willing to follow the same course, Konstantin Eggert says.

             “I have no doubt,” the Russian commentator for Deutsche Welle says, “that Putin’s entourage has cynically calculated to use this means not only to support the army in the field but to ‘cleanse’ the country from the criminal element” (dw.com/ru/kommentarij-cvk-vagnera-menaet-i-izmenit-rossijskuu-zizn/a-64533988).

            But it is already becoming clear that the costs of this strategy are far higher than the Putin regime recognizes and that they will constitute real threats to the Putin regime itself in large measure because the Wagner PMC is destroying the state’s monopoly on armed force that Yeltsin and then Putin worked so hard to restore.

            Moreover, Eggert continues, “today, the heroization of murder for money as a patriotic action has acquired such a scale that profound social consequences are becoming inevitable.” Arms are flowing into Russia from Ukraine at a rate greater than was the case during the Afghan war.

            As a result, “in the eyes of the [Russian] people anyone who is armed has the right to that for the government has given an indulgence on that point even to rapists and murderers as long as they fight.” And in so doing, “the state has revealed its weakness” for all to see, including those who are now armed.

            As the world has already seen, Eggert continues, the impoverished Russian world is quite prepared to commit serious crimes. Now, increasingly, those crimes are going to be committed inside the Russian Federation itself by criminals who have served in Ukraine and have returned home.

            The regime will either have to face the collapse of its authority or be compelled to move in an even more draconian fashion to control society, the commentator suggests. But there is another danger that Eggert does not mention that may prove an even greater threat to the continued rule of Putin and his team.

            And it is this: Russia has no tradition of military coups, in large part because the country’s force structures are tightly organized and penetrated by the security services. But if the monopoly on the use of force is lost, then the military may face competitors in the forms of groups like the Wagner PMC.

            If that happens, then it is not beyond the realm of possibility that some in the military may be thinking about how best to protect themselves against that threat and even to conclude that they must control the political center in order to do so. If that happens, then the heroization of contract killers will pose the most possible threat to the current regime.

Tatar Leader Could have Outplayed the Kremlin by Going Abroad and Denouncing the War in Ukraine but Chose Instead to Submit, Grigoryev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 30 – Winston Churchill famously denounced the appeasers before World War II by saying they had chosen shame to avoid war but would end with both shame and war. Only slightly updated, Andrey Grigoryev says, that observation applies to Rustam Minnikhanov, elected Tatarstan president but now much reduced in power and influence.

            While most people assume Minnikhanov had no choice but to submit to Kremlin demands that republic stop calling him president and do so now rather than only at the end of his term, the IdelReal commentator says that he actually had a choice that could have brought him and Tatarstan a real victory rather than a humiliating defeat.

            Over the past month, the Tatarstan leader has lost influence in Russia, abroad and in Tatarstan itself, making his position and that of the republic he heads far less secure than it was. But if Minnikhanov had adopted a different strategy that might have been avoided, Grigoryev argues (idelreal.org/a/32243115.html).

            The Tatarstan president could have flown abroad and denounced Putin’s war in Ukraine and the Kremlin leader’s anti-federal policies within the Russian Federation, the commentator says. Despite what many might think, this wouldn’t have been political or even physical suicide but almost certainly the best way for him to achieve what he has sought.

            “Unlike the majority of Russians forced to leave Russia at the start of the war, for Minnikhanov this wouldn’t have been a leap into the unknown,” Grigoryev says. “For more than 20 years, he has created international links and to all appearances hasn’t forgotten about them” or his partners abroad about him.

            But what is most important, the commentator says, is that any such anti-war moves by Minnikhanov would have been “met with great interest and even support.” The Kremlin would be furious but it could do little besides question the legitimacy of his election, something that would open a Pandora’s box of questions about Russian elections more generally.

            Minnikhanov certainly had the physical ability to flee, given his control of his own aircraft and the fact that it has gone abroad several times since Putin began his invasion. To be sure, the siloviki and special forces of Russia are strong, but they are not omnipotent and probably wouldn’t have been able to stop him.

              The Tatarstan leader did not choose this path and likely will now be ever more marginalized as will his republic. But if he did not choose it, perhaps other republic leaders might especially at a time when the West is increasingly signaling that it is not only open to the dismantling of Russia but to the independence of some of its component parts.

              At the very least, the risk that one or more of the leaders of Russia's regions and republics may choose to do so if Putin keeps up the pressure will give them some leverage they didn't have and cause the Kremlin to worry about what might happen if anyone followed this missed opportunity.

Regionalism isn’t Separatism, as Europeans Know but Moscow Doesn’t, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 29 – There is little or no public support for the independence of Karelia from the Russian Federation, despite the statements of some emigres and the insistence of some Moscow officials that all talk about regionalism is simply a cover for separatism, Vadim Shtepa says.

            Europeans understand the difference between regionalism and separatism but many Moscow officials do not, the committed Karelian regionalist who promoted the one but not the other before being forced to flee abroad in 2015 because Russian officials refused to recognize the difference (severreal.org/a/mozhet-li-kareliya-otdelitsya-ot-rossii-/32235862.html).

            Regionalism, as the editor of the Tallinn-based regionalist portal points out, is about promoting the interests of a particular territory within a state by involving the local population in the politics of the state and their region. Separatism in contrast is all about seeking the exit of a territory from an existing state and its becoming part of another or independent on its own.

            “Our Karelian Republic Movement,” Shtepa says, “was a regionalist not a separatist organization. European political analysts understand the difference between these two terms perfectly well. Regionalists don’t have as their goal ‘the separation’ of a region but its maximum self-administration, political, economic and cultural.”

            “Unfortunately,” he continues, “this difference is not understood and therefore we are constantly called ‘separatists’ even in the organization of the Solstice music festivals.” Finally, “the authorities de facto banned” our movement. “But today in social media one can see a new outburst of regionalist attitudes in Karelia, although these are informal and mostly youthful.”

            According to Shtepa, it is “completely impossible” to speak “about any regionalist organizations in the present-day Russian situation. There is the National Movement of Karelia headed by Dmitry Kuznetsov (Mitter Panfilov), but I don’t see his movement having many prospects given his ethno-nationalism” which doesn’t correspond to the situation in Karelia.

            Shtepa’s remarks are featured in an article by Valta Yalagin about the history of Karelian political movements over the last century which all point in the same direction.


Putin Fails to See that Lenin, by Making Concessions to Non-Russians, Saved the Empire for 70 Years, Iampolsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 28 – Vladimir Putin likes to insist that Lenin “invented” Ukraine and the other non-Russian nations and that by doing so he put the Muscovite state on track to disintegration. But in doing so, Mikhail Iampolsky says, Putin gets things exactly backwards and fails to recognize that Lenin’s deference to the non-Russians saved the Russian Empire.

            The Russian scholar at New York University says that one of the most interesting if neglected aspects of Soviet history is that in the early 1920s, “the Bolsheviks talked all the time about nations” rather than classes, as one might have expected committed Marxists to do (svoboda.org/a/mihail-yampoljskiy-haos-zahvatyvaet-vsyu-rossiyu-/32243119.html).

            The reason this happened, Iampolsky says, is that the Bolsheviks began to understand in the course of the civil war that Marxist ideas had hardly won over the population of Russia and that they needed to rope in all the national liberation movements by making concessions to nations and nationalism.

            In fact, he argues, the primary reason the Bolsheviks defeated the White Russians was that they were successful in attracting the country’s ethnic minorities to their side. The latter saw the Bolsheviks as giving them a far better opportunity to realize their old dreams of autonomy cultural and linguistic and “in a sense, political as well.”

            As a result, the Russian-American scholar says, “the Russian Empire did not disintegrate in 1917 as had the Habsburg one.” But Putin doesn’t understand that what Lenin did gave the Russian Empire another 70 years, far longer than it would have had if he had not played the role that he did.

            Putin’s failure in this regard also means that he wants to return to the era of Alexander III when the state made almost no concessions to nationality; and because that is  his goal, he see Eurasianism as a kind of vision of the peoples of the region who are supposed to give up their national agendas in the name of a common Eurasianness.

            The current Kremlin ruler has yet to understand that Eurasianism is a deception and trying to rely on it will only hasten the day that the Russian empire comes to its end, Iampolsky suggests. 

Only Half of Residents of Russia Actually Took Part in 2021 Census, Kazan Historian Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 27 – In 2002 and 2010, approximately 93 percent of all the residents of the Russian Federation took part in the census; but in 2021, that figure fell to about 50 percent, Gulnara Gabdrakhmanova says, making the results Moscow is reporting extremely difficult to accept or use.

            The scholar at Kazan’s Institute of History says that only 40 percent spoke with census takers and another 10 percent did so online, according to recent surveys. And when the half who didn’t were queried, 46 percent said census takers never showed up, and 20 percent said they simply didn’t want to take part (milliard.tatar/news/soglasno-vsem-provedennym-perepisyam-dolya-tatar-v-naselenii-strany-prakticeski-ne-izmenilas-2811).

            This is the latest revelation about problems with the 2021 Russian census, but it is unlikely to be the last as ever more commentators and experts are examining the data and identifying the problems of a census that was conducted during a pandemic and in new ways, both of which seriously reduced its coverage and hence its reliability.

Unable to Find Real Oppositionists, the Russian Guard Now Dispersing Fashion Shows, Russians Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 28 – The absence of a real opposition hasn’t stopped the Russian Guard, Russians say. Instead, it continues to look around for anyone it can suggest is a problem. The latest group it has chosen to target turns out to be those taking part in fashion shows in major department stores.

            That is just one of the jokes and anecdotes Russians are now telling each other that reflect how they feel about what they see going on around them. It is from the latest batch collected by Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova (publizist.ru/blogs/107374/45027/-). Among the best of the rest are the following:

·       After Moscow banned the Meduza (“Jellyfish”) news agency, Russian aquariums have been removing all of those forms of wildlife lest they get in trouble too.

·       When a Russian complains he has never criticized the state in public, a policemen tells him that he shouldn’t play the fool. After all, his private correspondence was read by five departments in three special services. Given that, you can’t call it private.

·       The intelligence of Duma members is such that when one of their number slips on the ice of a Friday, his colleagues propose banning that day of the week. At the same time, they have decided to fight James Bond, a notorious foreign agent and allocated a billion US dollars to do so. The money is already being spent.

·       Russians can easily see that the authorities are incapable of fixing potholes on the streets but they nonetheless believe that Moscow will be able to ramp up the production of advanced electronics.

·       Kremlin spokesmen say the US could quickly solve the war in Ukraine if only it would send Abrams tanks not to Ukraine but to Russia.

·       Dmitry Peskov also said that the presidential decrees on the pardoning of Wagner PMC troops were classified. But hasn’t he revealed state secrets by saying even that?

·       When a Buryat court found a local man guilty of defaming the army by writing “no to war” on a wall, the judges showed leniency in that he is an unemployed father of two. Instead of the required fine of 30,000 rubles (500 US dollars), they fined him only half of that amount. Truly, Russia has the most human courts in the world!


Kalmyk Buddhist Leader’s Ouster as Much about China as about Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 27 – By labeling Erdin Ombadykov, the leader of the Buddhist community in Kalmykia, the CIS and Mongolia for 30 years, a foreign agent for criticizing Putin’s war in Ukraine, Moscow has forced him to retire, opening the way for a more pliant Buddhist in Kalmykia and giving the Buddhist leadership in Buryatia an opening to a broader role.

            But as important as the domestic consequences of Ombadykov’s departure may prove, it almost certainly reflects less his criticism of the war than Moscow’s increasing deference to China, given that Ombadykov, earlier studied with the Dalai Lama in India and is close to the Tibetan cause China wants to suppress (akcent.site/eksklyuziv/23560).

            Indeed, it appears that the Kalmyk Buddhist leader’s criticism of the war was more an occasion than a cause for his forced retirement. Ombadykov’s replacement will be elected by the Kalmyk Buddhist community, but it is unlikely that he will have the views or the influence outside of that republic that the former leader did.

            Until a new leader is chosen, the supervision of Buddhist life in that North Caucasus republic will be temporarily divided between the head of the Buddhist monastery there, Mutul Ovyanov, and one of the monks of that monastery, Sergy Kirishov.

            Unlike Orthodox Christians but resembling Muslims and Jews, the Buddhists of the Russian Federation have no single religious leader. The Kalmyk establishment is only one of three officially registered groups. The others are organized around the Buryat and Tuvin communities.

            Unlike the Kalmyk organization which up to now viewed itself as a representative of the Dalai Lama in Eurasia, the leaders of the Buryat and Tuvin communities have declared themselves independent of the Dalai Lama and have not spoken out in support of Tibet. Not surprisingly, Moscow hasn’t attacked either of them.

Many Russian Orthodox Priests Reject Imperialist View of Patriarchate and the Kremlin and Condemn Putin’s War in Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 26 – Because the Kremlin controls most of the media in Russia and because the dangers of dissent are so great, few Russian Orthodox clergy have spoken out against the war and the imperialist vision of Russia that Patriarch Kirill and his entourage accept and promote.

            That has contributed to what has become the received opinion that most of the ROC MP clergy share this view and are even spreading it to their congregations. Some undoubtedly are, but many are not, and their voices are now being heard via the independent Russian Orthodox portal Ahilla as part of its project, “Russia, The Russian Orthodox Church and the War.”

            The portal has sent questions to various Russian Orthodox clergy and laity to learn how they view the war in Ukraine and the slavish support the Moscow Patriarchate continues to give to it, allowing respondents to publish under their own name or anonymously depending on their own desires.

            One of the first to reply is a serving priest who remains in place and chooses to write under the pseudonym, Andrey Svistoplyasov (ahilla.ru/rossiyanam-ya-zhelayu-ostavit-pozadi-vse-eti-bezumnye-imperskie-idei-i-prityazaniya-proekt-rossiya-rpts-vojna/). Below are some excerpts from his words.   

            “I am a member of the ROC clergy, a free-thinking Orthodox; that is, something of a renewalist, ecumenist, reformer, modernist, and the other curse words” some use for people like himself, he writes. Despite that, he remains at his post believing that there is no real use of leaving and value in trying to promote his views. “By leaving,” he says, “I won’t stop the war.”

            Svistoplayasov joined the church in the 1990s when it was an entirely different organization, not close to the state, “poor and modest.” He became a priest in the early years of this century when Patriarch Aleksii II remained as true to the values of Orthodoxy as best he could.

            With the enthronement of Patriarch Kirill, “everything changed for the worse, especially during 2022.” Indeed, the anonymous priest says, “Kirill has discredited the ROC more than any atheist could.” The current church ruler has turned the ROC intro a branch of the state with its own power vertical where the top decides without caring about the views of anyone else.

            Most priests aren’t going to deviate in public from the position the hierarchy requires, but that doesn’t mean that most agree with it. They are horrified by the war in Ukraine and the way in which it is destroying Orthodox there. After all, no Ukrainian can continue to be a member of a church that calls for the destruction of his or her nation.

            Svistoplyasov says he has no plans to quit his post or to emigrate and that he hopes that Russia “will become free.” But he says that he “fears that this is something that will not happen in the near term” and that recovery will be long and hard for Russians because “the consequences of the insane decisions of rulers always are born on the shoulders of the whole people.”

            “I cannot find words which would ease the suffering of Ukrainians and reduce their hurt and bitterness from losses. The main thing I wish for them now is the most speedy liberation of their lands and then peace.” As for Russians, it is a matter of great pain that Russian soldiers are dying abroad “on the land of others without knowing why.”

            And he concludes: “I wish for Russians that they will leave behind all these insane imperial ideas and pretensions.”

Putin Rumored Planning to Close ‘Embassies’ of Regions and Republics in Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 26 – The URA news agency is reporting that the Kremlin is planning to close down the offices of the permanent representations of the regions and republics in Moscow because they complicate the administration of the country and get in the way of efficient administration of the country (ura.news/articles/1036286142).

            But many beyond the ring road are upset about closing an institution that has existed since the dawn of Soviet times and one that has so much symbolic and practical importance, often serving as a lobbyist for the regions and republics and as a model for representations by one region or republic into others.

            Some regions have reportedly begun to close them down in anticipation of this Kremlin move, but at least one, Sakha, is holding an online referendum on whether the distant republic should do so (yakutiafuture.ru/2023/01/29/yakutyane-obsuzhdayut-sluxi-o-zakrytii-vsex-predstavitelstv-rossijskix-regionov-v-moskve/).

            Indeed, while they bear the typically Soviet and unwieldy name of “permanent representation,” they are in the eyes of many the embassies of the regions to Moscow and to other federal subjects as well, historically having served as the basis of embassies for the union republics once they became independent and contributing to horizontal links in the country.

            Closing these institutions which more than three quarters of all federal subjects have in Moscow and more than half maintain in other federal subjects is completely consistent with Putin’s attacks on the remnants of federalism. But it likely would infuriate many regions and republics and make it more not less difficult for them to work with Moscow and together.

            For the history of these institutions, see Peter J. Potichnyj, “Permanent Representations (Postpredstva) of Union Republics in Moscow,” Review of Socialist Law, 7:1 (1981), pp. 113.-132. On their role since 1991, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/10/embassies-of-non-russian-republics.html and the sources cited therein.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Western Borderlands of Russia Today Could Become European Far More Easily on Their Own than Could Russia as a Whole, Regionalist Activists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 25 – A week ago, three telegram channels, the Pskov Republic one at t.me/pskrep with 352 subscribers, the Smalandia (Smolensk Land) one at t.me/smalandia/ with 584 and the Tver Land one at t.me/tverzem with 173 followers, announced the formation of a group called the Eastern Kryvian Platform (telegra.ph/Vostochno-Krivskaya-Platforma-01-16).

            The group says that it is pursuing “the restoration in contemporary form of the ancient but now lost statehoods of the Pskov, Smolensk and Tver principalities, three regions along the western border of the Russian Federation which are often described as predominantly Russian oblasts (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2023/01/three-telegram-channels-announce.html).

            Whether this effort will remain only an √©migr√© Internet project remains uncertain. But Makar Mysh of Belsat has now interviewed the activists involved and provides more information on the goals of this group and why they think they may have a chance (belsat.eu/ru/news/23-01-2023-belarus-odnoznachnyj-prioritet-kak-smolensk-pskov-i-tver-gotovyatsya-k-postrossii).

            The three telegram channels arose only in 2022 but there has been an interest in each of them extending back in time to local or regional identities and to the question of their relationship not just to Moscow but to Belarus, the Baltic countries, and the members of the European Union further afield, those behind the new common effort say.

            Putin’s war in Ukraine and the international reaction to it, they continue, provided “additional stimuli” for the development of regionalism and the clarification of the goals of those who identify with that. All of them concede that regionalism has not yet captured the hearts and minds of a broad swath of the population, but each of them is convinced they have to be ready.

            “After the liberation of Belarus from Lukashenkaism-Putinism,” one of their number says, “after Russia begins to destabilization, the issue [of the future of these regions] may leave the realm of history and ethnography alone and become issues of politics and geopolitics,” the organizers say.

            Both their shared ethnography and history dispose them to view themselves as a whole apart from Russia and with close ties to the West, they are convinced that countries the size they would be either separately or together would find it far easier to become fully European than “the enormous empire” the Russian state represents.

The confidence the Eastern Kryvia activists have that they will achieve their goals lies in the fact that Moscow adopted its law punishing those who question the borders of the Russian Federation not after the Crimean Anschluss as many assume but before, in December 2013, when some in these regions in the months before that were calling to be returned to Belarus.

That Putin was concerned about Eastern Kryvia even then highlights its importance and the likelihood that it will emerge if Russia disintegrates, even though many observers still dismiss any possibility of that (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/10/window-on-eurasia-minsk-forming-its-own.html.)


Pessimism of Russian Parents Spreading to Russian Children, New Survey Finds

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 25 – On many occasions, even when parents are pessimistic about their current or future circumstances, they try to arrange things so that their children are not and continue to believe that all is well or will be. Only when things get really bad for a long period does that change, and children’s attitudes come to resemble those of their parents.

            That is what appears to be happening in Putin’s Russia if one judges by the results of the first ever survey designed to come up with an index of happiness among children that was carried out by the Timchenko Foundation (nakanune.ru/articles/120217/).

            Yevgeny Ivanov, a commentator for the Nakanune news agency, suggests that this trend reflects not only that young Russians compare their own poverty with the wealth lifestyles shown on Moscow television but also and more importantly the fact that increasingly the Russian state treats children not as privileged as they were in Soviet times but as economic factors like adults.

            Finding themselves in a situation in which they have to work either to cope with poverty or because they aspire to a better life, Russian children now encounter many of the same problems adults do and thus it is no surprise that ever more of them adopt adult attitudes, including widespread pessimism.