Friday, June 30, 2023

If Regions Want Moscow to Meet Their Demands, They Must Back Them Up with Force, Russians Conclude Putin has Told the Country

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 29 – Ingushetia’s Council of Teips has asked that the authorities release the Ingush Seven defendants, but in the view of many Russians, Putin’s behavior in the Prigozhin case shows that Moscow won’t do that unless the Ingush organize a military force and launch a revolt. “Then, we’ll talk,” Russians say the Kremlin leader has effectively told the regions.

            That is just one of the anecdotes Russians are telling each other that tell much about how they really understand the reality around them. These are regularly collected by Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova. Among the best of the rest in her latest collection ( are the following:

·       Anyone calling for respecting laws and each other, ending obscurantism, leaving Russia’s neighbors alone and stopping lying and stealing is by definitive a Russophobe who wants to suppress Russia’s national uniqueness.

·       Putin didn’t take Kyiv in three days last year but he has managed not to surrender Moscow this one.

·       Will Navalny try to use Prigozhin’s defense and ask to be released from criminal responsibility if he emigrates?

·       Russia is truly a special country: it provides state funding to PMCs which its laws say are illegal; and then the president brags about this.

·       Seventy-three percent of Russians say the country is now moving in the right direction while only 16 percent say it is on the wrong path. Never before has the suicide rate in Russia been so high.

·       Every sixth Russian says that a nuclear strike on Ukraine would be acceptable. This isn’t an anecdote: this is an indictment of the entire society.

Moscow Must Double Share of GDP It Now Spends on Healthcare Just to Return Mortality Rates to Where They were at End of Soviet Times, Nigmatullin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – Academician Robert Nigmatullin says that despite progress in medicine, 200,000 more Russians are dying each year than did at the end of Soviet times. That is creating serious labor shortages and thus harming the economy. And to get back to Soviet levels, Moscow must boost healthcare spending from four percent of GDP to 7-8 percent.

            “Mortality among the working age population is a colossal economic problem, the head of the Academy of Sciences Institute of Oceanography says. “In many spheres, we don’t have enough people.” But there is a lack of understanding of the link between this problem and healthcare spending (

            And this socio-economic problem is only going to get worse because Russia can no longer import cutting edge medical advances but must come up with them on its own, something that other experts say will inevitably require spending even more money on medical science and healthcare delivery than would otherwise be the case.

            But instead of increasing spending in this area, Moscow is cutting back or misusing money allocated to healthcare on bureaucracy rather than actual healthcare, something that will almost certainly guarantee that in the future, mortality will rise further and the economy  will decline further as well.


Putin Destroyed Russian State by Making All Its Institutions Like Prigozhin’s PMC, Matveyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 27 – Prigozhin’s PMC is not some outlier on the Russian political landscape, Ilya Matveyev says. Instead, the way in which that institution replaced and undermined the Russian military typifies the way in which Putin has effectively destroyed the Russian state more generally.

            In fact, the Russian scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, argues, what is typically referred to even now as the Russian state is in fact one giant set of privatized and semi-privatized institutions that relate to one another and to the Kremlin on the basis of that reality (

            When Putin became president, he declared that “Russia needs strong state power and must have it,” but over the 23 years of his rule, he has weakened the state in terms of its monopoly over the legitimate use of violence. And as a result, Matveyev says, his “’poalitiwer vertical’ has turned out to be as fragile as a porcelain cup.”

            “The fragility of the Russian state as shown by Prigozhin is the result of the actions of Putin himself, who built this state.” Putin wanted to modernize the Russian economy but “he did not trust either private business nor what is important the state itself.” Thus, he turned to the formation of state corporations which became a gray zone in between.

            As a result, Matveyev continues, “’statism’ in Putin’s version is not a commitment to the Weberian ideal of a rational, meritocratic corps of bureaucrats but rather to an ideology of specifically understood ‘national interests’ for the implementation of which all means are good and formalities are of little importance.”

            Under these arrangements, personal loyalty to Putin became everything and loyalty to the state ever less important. And that led to a situation in which state corporations and the PMCs which are a subset of them often resisted the demands of the state, typically in non-violent ways but now in violent ones as well.

            Putin created such a state “because his main task was the support of a regime of personal power” rather than the creation of a powerful state as such. But paradoxically, “the strengthening of the political regime (that is, the regime of the personal power of Putin) led to a weakening of the state” – and the converse would be true as well.

            As Neil Robinson has observed, it is quite possible to distinguish in the Russian case state building from regime building. Except at the very start of his rule, Putin has focused on the latter rather than the former – and the result is the Prigozhin mutiny “which revealed the weakness of the Russian state.”

             “Behind the monolithic façade of Putinism are clans, networks and corporations pursuing their own goals and quite capable of bringing the country to collapse and civil war,” Matveyev says. Indeed, it is instructive that the revolt of one of these was put down by another, that of Kadyrov’s forces.

            Any movement toward democracy will involve the disorganization of the state as happened in the 1990s, he argues. “But only a democratic transition can ultimately lead to the emergence of a strong, capable state in Russia.”  Putin was right in 1999, but since then he has done everything but follow his own understanding in order to maximize his own power.

‘Moscow Will Burn and We’ll Throw On More Matches’ – Russians in the North React to Prigozhin Mutiny

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 29 – The Prigozhin mutiny echoed throughout the Russian Federation but its impact varied widely. In some places, officials cancelled planned celebrations; but in others, they staged them as if nothing much was happening in Moscow. The Barents Observer has collected the reactions of five residents of the North to this situation.

·       Natalya from Arkhangelsk Oblast said that no one talked about the events at the center. “When I brought up the topic, it was as if I had been at the dacha and missed the revolution. When I asked about that, people responded “What revolution?” (

·       An educational worker in Petrozavodsk speaking anonymously, said that there was interest, shock but most of all fear. “People are afraid about the future for themselves. It isn’t that they take sides: they are just confused. No one talked about leaving: those who wanted to do that already have.”

·       An office worker from Petrozavodsk also speaking anonymously, said that people have already drawn conclusions because “everyone understands what kind of a mess we are in. People are imprisoned for reposting but released if they rebel? … Putin’s authority has collapsed. We are a very big country. If something happens in the south, Karelians say ‘we don’t give a damn: Moscow can burn down and we’ll throw on more matches. People talked about the mutiny like a football match and made bets.”

·       A Petrozavodsk media worker says that the situation is surreal, with the Internet talking about what is happening to the country and the regional authorities going ahead with planned celebrations.

·       A law enforcement officer in the North said “many were wondering how it would end … There was no outrage and there was no fear or panic either. Everyone was confused and perplexed … I don’t even know how I would have felt had Prigozhin become the new president. I would have acted according to the situation. We work here in the provinces and almost nothing depends on us. After the events of the last two years, there isn’t anything people are surprised about. No one really believed something would change; everyone thought it would end in exactly nothing – exactly as it did.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Prigozhin Mutiny Showed Putin Couldn’t Mobilize Much of Anything Against It, Sonin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 27 – Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Prigozhin mutiny is that it showed that Vladimir Putin wasn’t able to mobilize much against it, Konstantin Sonin says; and as a result, it inflicted a serious blow to the reputations of Putin himself, the Russian military, and the special services, “above all the Federal Protection Service and the FSB.”

            The Russian scholar now at the University of Chicago points out that the Russian military surrendered Rostov and the headquarters of the Southern Military District to Prigozhin “without a fight” and the security agencies showed that while they are good at arresting intellectuals, they aren’t much good at protecting the state from real threats(

            But the one who suffered most from this mutiny was Putin because “neither in Rostov, nor in Voronezh, nor in Moscow did anyone come out to protest this challenge to his power” and the politicians who might have been expected to rally to his side with public declarations at least kept silent for some hours.

            That “pause,” Sonin continues, “clearly indicates that the Russian political elite is prepared for the replacement of the leader.” More than that, it shows that they “are prepared for such a change to take place by force.” Prigozhin did not launch his campaign against Putin but Putin has been hit and hit hard.

            Putin may or may not remove Shoygu and oust the generals Prigozhin wanted fired; but “what Putin cannot do is ‘mobilize the country’” and force his officials to stop skimming off money from government contracts because those arrangements are in fact “the essence of the Putin regime.

            “Demanding Putin change the way the country is run and the way the war is wages is the same as demanding that he resign,” Sonin says. “If Prigozhin wanted more from Putin than just the resignations of Shoigu and Gerasimov, there was no way he could get that.” And thus what the mutiny shows is the degradation of the Putin regime and another step toward its end.

Putin Must Now Choose Between Being a Stalin or Becoming a Gorbachev -- or Someone Else will Make that Choice, Savvin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – The Prigozhin revolt “didn’t change and couldn’t change” the basic laws governing the current neo-Soviet system in Russia, Dimitry Savvin says. But it has accelerated developments to the point that Vladimir Putin will soon have to decide whether he is going to be a new Stalin or a new Gorbachev.

            The editor of the conservative Russian Riga-based Harbin portal says that even though Prigozhin failed to reach Moscow, he by his actions has effectively ended “the time of half measures” that has characterized the current Kremlin leader especially in recent times. Now Putin must make a clear choice (

            As far as Prigozhin’s actions are concerned, Savvin says, three things are clear: this was a real revolt, it showed the extraordinary degradation of the system and its force structures, and as such it constituted a very serious threat to Putin because it “destroyed the image of Putin as a dictator with absolute power. And that is perhaps the most significant result of all.”

            The neo-Soviet authoritarian system Putin has created needs such a dictator to survive. If there are challenges, they must be put down hard or the entire system will soon cease to work and ever more people will challenge it one way or another, the conservative Russian commentator continues.

            But instead of suppressing the Prigozhin rising in that way, Savvin says, “Putin tried to use his favorite tactic of doing things by half.” But that won’t work: now he must choose to become either “a full-fledged Stalin” or “a new Gorbachev.” The system requires that in order to survive,

            “Consequently,” the commentator argues, “in the near future, there will either be put in pace a mechanism of a perestroika-like transformation or mass terror and the purge of the state apparatus.” There are reasons to think that both are possible and that neither can be excluded at the present time.

            The logic of the Putin regime drives toward the Stalinist option, but the logic of the experiences of the population and Russia’s current isolation from the international economy because of the war with Ukraine points in the other. What is important to remember is that neither will signal a revolution but either may open the way to one.

            Another aspect of the situation that the Prigozhin rising highlighted is that “when a real threat to the Putin regime arose, not a single opposition trend was able to offer any real action plan, not to mention make any demonstration of its own power. These aspirant groups limited themselves to talk about whether they should support Putin or Prigozhin.

            That is of course natural in a situation “when there is no alternative elite” and what many refer to as an opposition is really no more than “small groups of dissidents,” the conservative commentator continues.

            “The only form of liberalization which is possible and even probable in these circumstances is a Perestroika 2.0,” one that may take the form of what has already been happening in Uzbekistan (, and which is likely to involve a peace agreement with Ukraine.

            Such an agreement, Savvin suggests, “in all probability will involve something like the withdrawal of forces to the line of February 23, 2022, some compromise on Crimes such as rent, and so on.” Despite what it says, the West would enthusiastically support such an arrangement; and the Kremlin could present it to Russians as something positive.

            But it is likely that Putin will seek – and indeed is already seeking – a truce, the commentator continues, because what he wants is not peace but a breathing space after which he will find it easy to restart the war.  Which direction Russia will now go remains uncertain, but one thing is clear:

            Putin will now have to make some very serious decisions; otherwise, someone else will make them in his stead.” (emphasis supplied)

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Russia Won’t Disintegrate Right after Putin Goes But Could Later if His Successors Mishandle the Situation, Kynyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 27 – Many analysts and politicians believe the greatest risk to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation will come immediately after Vladimir Putin leaves the scene, Aleksandr Kynyev says; but that view is wrong: the real danger is likely to arise several years later if the transitional government misplays the situation.

            The reason for that conclusion, the independent Moscow political scientist argues, is that the Russian Federation of today is fundamentally different than the USSR of 1991 was (

            On the one hand, the country is overwhelmingly dominated by one ethnic group, the Russians; and except for a handful of republics in the North Caucasus and elsewhere, the titular nationalities are less dominant now than was the case of the union republics of 1991. And on the other, Putin’s policies have destroyed and then blocked the reemergence of regional elites.

            The destruction of regional elites has been the centerpiece of Putin’s policies since the beginning of his time in the presidency, a policy that has involved not only the elimination of elections for governors and their appointment by the center but also the reduction in the powers of the regions relative to the center.

            Among the heads of federal subjects today, 56 percent are outsiders; and among their deputies, this figure is “about 28 percent,” Kynyev says. Governors can’t appoint any of their key officials without clearance from the center and thus Moscow can prevent the formation of any regional power base.

            The one place where regionalist attitudes remain significant is in regional legislative assemblies, the political scientist says. “But they are everywhere integrated into the ranks of the United Russia Party” which Moscow controls. “Theoretically,” that could change with a weakening of the center; but that is anything but likely.

            Of course, Kynyev continues, “everything could be changed if the federal authorities themselves begin to change the rules of the game at the federal level” in the course of the transitional period.

            “The institutions of that period cannot fail to be authoritarian simply because with the highest possible degree of probability, the new powers will be institutionally a continuation of the current authoritarian Russian political model. That is, for a certain period, this will be the old system with new faces as leader or leaders, analogous to the situation between 1953 and 1957.”

            According to Kyyev, “this will certainly be a new personalized system. Possibly, it won’t want radical changes and will only partially change the system under a new style. But if it wants more radical changes, then certain forks in the road will appear.” If those in power choose the wrong ones, then the danger of disintegration will increase.

            If those in the transitional government try to hold on to power for too long, that could prove “a fatal error as far as the stability of the system is concerned.” They need to act quickly so that “changes in the first instance will come from the center,” thus giving the center new legitimacy relative to the regions.

            But there are real risks. “In attempting to strengthen and gain popularity, the new federal powers certainly will begin to change governors, especially unpopular ones. The new populist appointees … can become real new regional leaders, having to begin with serious credits of social trust and low anti-ratings,” Kynyev says.

            “The biggest risk of all,” however, “will arise if the federal transitional government, fearing new elections for itself decides that it would be best to start with local and regional elections and then, only after them, hold elections at the federal level.” Such a strategy would “create conditions for a new collapse which objectively do not exist now.”

            Elections at the federal level should take place first so as to strengthen the center. Only after they are held should voting take place in the regions to form new and legitimate governments there. That will result in hard bargaining but not in secession, in contrast to a situation if regional voting took place before federal.

            “Unless a legitimate and credible power emerges at the center,” Kynyev continues, “then precisely regions led by more legitimate authorities may begin to demand full independence” as happened in Yugoslavia and in the USSR.

            He adds: “The most important thing in the development of new rules of the game must be an understanding that for the stability of the federal government, it is better to have in the regions not miniature autocracies but regional systems of checks and balances, lest new ‘regional barons’ emerge as happened in the 1990s.”

            And Kynyev concludes: “There is no greater threat to federal unity that the emergence of small regional dictatorships and vice versa: if there are independent forces at the regional level, they will inevitably fight with each other to gain influence and thus appeal to the center, effectively strengthening it.”

Putin has Truly Transformed Russia -- into a Joke, Some Russians Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 27 – As the implications of what Prigozhin’s mutiny continue to be discussed, there has been a veritable explosion of anecdotes about what it all means, with some Russians now summarizing the situation by declaring that Vladimir Putin has truly transformed Russia – into a bitter joke.

            That is just one of the stories now circulating among the residents of Moscow that have been collected and posted online by Russian journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova ( Among the best of the rest are the following:

·       Russians are compelled to seek explanations in historical parallels. Among the most widespread over the last several years is one between the Prigozhin mutiny and the August 1991 coup.  Both were directed against the president, both failed and in both cases, troops returned to their barracks. In 1991, four months later, neither the president nor the country which he headed was left. Is the same thing about to happen again?

·       Officials keep changing their position on whether Prigozhin and his men will be charged with anything. One day, they will be, officials say; the next, they won’t be, the same people say. Wouldn’t it be easier just to adopt a law saying that on even numbered days, Prigozhin will be under investigation and charged; and on odd-numbered days, he won’t be?

·       The symbol of the French Revolution was the storming of the Bastille; the symbol of the October Revolution is the Avrora firing its guns; but the symbol of Prigozhin’s rebellion is a tank stuck in the gates of a circus.

·       Putin said something in his recent addresses to the nation but not what people were hoping for. He didn’t say “I’m tired; and I’m leaving.”

·       When any Russian says the situation in the country is simply terrible, others accuse him or her of embellishing the situation.

·       Those who shot down and killed Russian soldiers during the Prigozhin rising apparently won’t be punished, but those who wrote about this action and posted their words on line will go to jail for as much as 15 years for discrediting the Russian army.

·       Kremlin spokesmen have now said that Putin has managed with his speeches to turn the fate of Russia 360 degrees.

·       The Russian national guard will now arrest anyone who did not take notice of the fact that after Putin made his statements, the fate of Russia changed dramatically for the better.

·       Russian siloviki are tired of making distinctions: they’ll now arrest people who supported Prigozhin and those who didn’t.

·       Russians now have been shown that you can’t protest with a poster but you can if you have a weapon in your hands.


Mutinies like Prigozhin’s Typically Harbingers of Larger Events Like Revolutions or Civil Wars, Rogov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – The Prigozhin mutiny is “not the end of history but its beginning” as far as Russia is concerned, Kirill Rogov says; because “mutinies, even failed ones, very often in history are harbingers and beginnings of a process” that will lead more or less quickly to a revolution, putsch or civil war.

            That is because the appearance of mutinies is “the manifestation of a process that can be defined as ‘the collapse of a regularly functioning state,” the Russian analyst says, a trend typical of “an aging personalist regime where formal institutions have for a long time been made subordinate to personal ties” (

            And such mutinies, Rogov continues, inevitably raise questions in the minds of elites as to what can lie ahead if the leader who earlier guaranteed stability now appears to have lost the ability to do so. The answers they give to those questions then inform their actions toward that leader and each other in the future.

            What is likely to happen next and how quickly depends on two things in particular, Rogov says: Will Putin dismiss Shoygu and his senior generals as Prigozhin wanted? And will the Russian government punish those in the Prigozhin forces who killed Russian soldiers during the mutiny?

            If Putin does the first, that will smack of the kind of deal that will further erode his authority; and if the Russian state fails to do the second, that will likely leave the Kremlin without an effective army and only invite more challenges, political and military, to its waning power.


Chinese Analysts Say Sakha Wants Independence but Russia Can Block that At Least for Now

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 25 – In advance of a Yakutsk conference between Sakha and Chinese officials intended to boost trade between the two, Chinese analysts say that in Sakha, the desire for independence is widespread but that Russia will never allow that given the importance of the republic to Moscow’s economic and geopolitical goals.

            What is striking, Moscow analyst Ivan Dalny says, is this: this Chinese “propaganda about ‘the independence of Yakutia [Sakha] completely repeats analogous declarations of our Western opponents, including the Ukrainian (

            “The difference is only that the Chinese, in solving their own tasks, work on their domestic audience, while the West and its Ukrainian agents work on the Russian, including directly on the Yakut in a language of international communication, which depending on circumstances is either Russian or English,” the analyst continues.

            On the basis of articles which have appeared over the last several weeks on the Chinese blog platform, Dalny draws three fundamental conclusions about Chinese intentions, all of which the Russian analyst says are problematic or simply wrong and reflect the tendency of Chinese bloggers to substitute what they wish to believe for what is:

            First, they indicate that the Chinese believe that Sakha is “the second largest (after China itself) territory in the world populated by representatives of ‘the yellow race … and is already linked to China by close historical ties.”

            Second, Sakha is “extraordinarily rich in useful minerals but the severe natural conditions and extremely difficult economic situation is forcing people to massively leave this region and in the foreseeable future threatens its complete depopulation” unless perhaps Chinese people move in.

            And third, these articles argue that “Chinese-Sakha relations must be developed as broadly as possible because besides the advantages to both of such cooperation, with time this will give Sakha a certain independence,” something it can’t possibly achieve on its own.

            One of these articles says that “in recent years, the military power and economic situation of Russia has declined. The exit of Sakha from under the control of Russia not only would inflict a shock to its national power but have an impact on its international reputation. Therefore the dream about the independence of Sakha will remain a fantasy.”

            Despite that conclusion, Dalny says, the Chinese analysts treat as an established fact that Sakha’s people and even its political leadership are seeking independence now and consider that the most important part of their agenda. But he argues that this is not true and that the Chinese are only deceiving themselves.

Finnish Campaign to Close Russian Consulate in Aaland Islands Start of NATO Campaign to Militarize Them at Moscow’s Expense, Nefyodov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – The ongoing public campaign in Finland to close the Russian consulate in the Aaland Islands is the opening salvo of a campaign by the West to militarize them and threaten Russia’s position in the Baltic Sea region, according to Moscow security analyst Dmitry Nefyodov.

            The neutral status of the Aaland Islands, a 7,000 island archipelago, was put in place by the League of Nations in 1921 and confirmed by the Paris Treaty of 1947, the analyst points out; but then he laments the fact that in the 1990s, the Russian government behaved in ways that raised questions about that (

            On the one hand, none of the bilateral agreements between Moscow and Helsinki adopted in the 1990s addressed the special status of the Aaland Islands, an obvious example of the failure of the Yeltsin government to defend Russia’s national interests. And on the other, in 1998, Moscow even offered to close the Marienham consulate; but its offer was rejected.

            According to Nefyodov, the current effort by Finnish groups to close that office represents the first stage in a campaign to oust Russia from the region and militarize the Aaland Islands now that Finland is in NATO. (For background on that campaign, see

            So far, the Finnish government has not taken a definitive position on the popular demands; but it is likely to support them with time. In response, the Moscow analyst says, Moscow must rely on the earlier international treaties rather than on the bilateral accords of the 1990s.

            What this means is that the Aaland Islands are likely to become an issue for international diplomacy for the first time in decades, something that will require the Western powers and not just Finland to take a position on them.


Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Provocative New Book Views Russian-Chinese Borderlands as ‘a Limitrophe’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – A Moscow scholar has now applied a term, “limitrophe,” widely used between the two world wars for the countries that broke away from the Russian Empire at the time of the 1917 revolution, for a very different location, the borderlands between Russia and China.

            In a new book, The Great Eastern Limitrophe. Transborder Peoples in the State Policy of Russia and China (in Russian; Moscow, 2022), Moscow anthropologist Maksim Mikhalyov argues that the two powers must view the peoples of this region as having a special status within each state (

            According to the author, “the optimum strategy toward the transborder peoples is a policy of minimizing the direct interference of the state in social and cultural processes taking place in the transborder milieu” because these people “fulfill the role of a unique barrier between the main population of the two countries, that is between Russians and Hans.”

            Because clashes between these two civilizations are inevitable, Mikhalyov says, the border peoples if handled in this way can minimize the scope of such conflicts because these people have ties on both sides and have learned how to cope with the dominant civilization under which they live.

            Thus, he continues, “the Russian-Chinese transborder region represents a unique cultural, spiritual, socio-economic and political resource,” one that is worth preserving and should not be damaged lest that open the way to more direct clashes between Moscow and Beijing, something in no one’s interest.

            What makes this limitrophe “decisive,” Mikhalyov says, is “the geographic distance” of this region from the centers which has the effect of making it more difficult for either state to exercise “full control over the course” of life in this area. That should be recognized, even celebrated, rather than combatted.

            If it is preserved, this quality of “the great eastern limitrophe” will be “a unique bullion of creativity, out of which will constantly appear new approaches, ideas, models and teachings” which both Moscow and Beijing can use to help themselves as well as the peoples of this border region.

Soviet Tatar General Gareyev Cared ‘Not Only about the Military but Also about His Tatar Nation,’ Akchurin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – Next month will be the centenary of the birth of General Makhut Gareyev, a Soviet general and military theorist who attracted widespread attention for his role not only as a commander in Afghanistan but also as a specialist on anti-aircraft defense and strategic thinking.

            In advance of that round anniversary, he has been the subject of numerous articles; but an interview with his fellow Soviet Tatar general Rasim Akchurin is especially interesting because it focuses on Gareyev’s identification with and support for his own Tatar nation both in Soviet times and afterwards (

            That is a topic neglected in most discussions of Gareyev, but it is important because there are a significant number of senior military officers of non-Russian origin; and the ways they combine loyalty to the Soviet and now Russian state and their own ethnic nationality may be critical now and in the future.

            According to Akchurin, “Makhmut Gareyev was a man interested not only in the life of the armed forces but also in that of the Tatar people” and someone who went out of his way to keep track of what was going on among the Tatars and to help them when he could. Akchurin gives as an example Gareyev’s help with the Tatar national cultural autonomy in Moscow.

            Akchurin says that in 1999, Gareyev approached him and asked what he could do to help the autonomy and said that it was critical that the Tatars remain united and that everything that could be done to help promote the development of their culture should be. The colonel general says the full general was as good as his word.

Russian Army Couldn’t Take Kyiv in Three Days, but a Single Regiment Could Occupy Rostov in One and Even Threaten Moscow, Russians Say

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – The Russian people may not have the last word on what the Prigozhin rising and its aftermath mean for their country, but they are already weighing in with jokes and anecdotes about these things that perhaps tell more about the future than any learned commentaries.

            As she has done in recent months, Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova has assembled the anecdote that Muscovites have been telling each other in recent days ( Several of them are priceless, and others are worth recounting as well.

            Among the best of these:

·       It turns out, Russians are now saying, that the entire Russian army couldn’t take Kyiv in three days but that a single parachute regiment could take the city of Rostov in one.

·       Patriotic Russians have been ordered to remove from their memories everything they say over the weekend and to continue to believe that Russia is the strongest country in the world and can defeat everyone.

·       Prigozhin confirmed what everyone knew but can’t admit: the authorities created all the problems in the country including the Wagner PMC.

·       On Saturday afternoon, a suspicious person was spotted at the border with China: he carried a fake passport with the name Shoi-Gu.

·       Russia now has only two allies: dug up roads and calls from Lukashenka.

·       It turns out that Prigozhin’s action wasn’t an insurgency but only a Special Insurgency Operation, so not to worry.


Monday, June 26, 2023

Despite Moscow's Opposition, Push for Restoring Popularly Elected Mayors Spreads in Northern Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – Officials in the Komi Republic dependent on Moscow have rejected a petition by local activists calling for a referendum that if approved would restore the earlier system in which mayors were elected rather than appointed. But despite that, activists in a neighboring republic, Karelia, have now advanced a similar demand.

            (On the Komi campaign, see; on the June 21 decision of the Republic State Council against having a referendum, see

            Despite this clear signal about what Moscow will allow and won’t in the republics, activists in the Republic of Karelia are now pressing for an analogous  referendum that if the voters approve would restore the direct popular election of mayors there (

            It is likely that the center will intervene once again to kill hopes for this referendum, but that is not the point. Instead, it is that activists in one republic or region and paying close attention to what activists in others are doing – and pressing ahead with their own campaigns even if they have little chance of immediate success.

            This recalls what happened during the earlier “parade of sovereignties” and is an indication that what happens in one place may be picked up in another even if Moscow doesn’t approve and even if activists know that they potentially insurmountable obstacles in achieving anything.

            Vadim Shtepa, the editor of the Tallinn-based Russian regionalist portal Region.Expert, says that in his view what is happening may be described as “a domino effect. And if that is the case, then the empire will begin to crumble ‘from below’ because elected heads of municipalities will be interested in local development and not in a war  imposed by the Kremlin” (

Russia has Still Not Learned the Lessons of the Arrest and Execution of Beria, ‘Nezavisimaya Gazeta’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – 70 years ago today, Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria was arrested by his fellow leader of the Communist Party and the Soviet state and six months later he was shot not after a trial for his crimes against the Soviet people but in order to protect the other leaders from becoming victims of such revenge and reprisals as well.

            In a remarkable and lengthy lead article, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta re-examine what happened seven decades ago and conclude that Russians have not assimilated the lessons of what happened then and so have left open the possibility that such acts of revenge and reprisals will occur again (

            The editors point to Beria’s action in the months after Stalin died, including the release of hundreds of thousands of GULAG prisoners, criticism of the Russification and Sovietization policies in western Ukraine and Lithuania, and his calls for a new approach to East Germany to keep its population from fleeing to the West.

            Until his arrest by other members of the Politburo, all these Beria recommendations for change were unanimously approved by the party leadership. But Nikita Khrushchev and the others began to recognize that what Beria was doing could open the floodgates of change that could ultimately threaten their positions of power and even their lives.

            They therefore decided to have the military arrest Beria, to conduct a detailed interrogation of this longtime head of Stalin’s secret police, to blacken his reputation with attacks on his policies and even say he was an English spy, and then in December 1953 to have him shot without any court verdict.   

            The details the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta give to Beria’s criticism of what had been Stalin’s russification and sovietization policies in Ukraine and Lithuania are certain to attract enormous attention given what the current Russian government is doing today. But the paper’s broader point about the Beria affair is certainly even more important.

            The editors’ conclusions on that point are worth quoting in extenso:

“70 years ago, the leaders of the USSR, by arresting Beria, resolved issues of their own security. They had no energy or ideas of their own. Meanwhile, many questions that were raised in those distant days remain relevant to this day. And the main one involves the nature of fear in the leadership when making key, life-changing decisions for the country.

“Beria was convicted and shot. What was he accused of? Nothing less than "the liquidation of the workers' and peasants' system to restore capitalism and the rule of the bourgeoisie. All his notes of March-June 1953, which were approved by the Presidium of the Central Committee and on the basis of which the relevant decisions were adopted, paradoxically formed the basis of the accusations.

“And, of course, Beria was accused of being an agent of foreign intelligence since 1919. It is clear that the accusations against Beria contained all the traditionally punishable "sins" of the Stalin era: treason against the motherland, organizing an anti-Soviet conspiracy, committing terrorist acts...

“Can this kind of punishment serve as a lesson to future generations? At least to someone? Of course not: he was convicted for fictional, non-existent crimes. Therefore, someone can conclude: it is possible to kill, it is possible to create lawlessness, it is possible to falsify trials. The main thing is not to fall into the boss's disgrace.

“After all, it would never occur to anyone that Beria really wanted to restore capitalism in the interests of British intelligence ...

“The lessons of the ‘Beria case’ are numerous and varied. It is amazing how quickly colleagues, associates, and closest employees disowned him. From interrogations, testimony and speeches at the Plenum of the Central Committee, it turned out that Beria was a man of low moral character, rude, poorly educated, self-serving. And he wrote out cash prizes for himself, and forfeited half a million rubles to his son, and in the atomic project - an empty place, and does not read books ...

“Two and a half years later, Stalin's personality cult was exposed on a large scale at the 20th Congress, and ‘the anti-party group’ in another year and a half. Party comrades then quickly disassociated themselves from other long-term ‘leaders’ -- Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich, Bulganin and ... Shepilov, who joined them. Nobody was shot and no one went to jail, so there was some progress and it allowed ‘the leaders’ to live out their lives in peace.

“But from the point of view of the interests of the whole society, the lessons of the Beria case have not been fully learned … [Moreover,] those who remain in power a long time typically have vindicative grievances against otherss. The nightly fears of ‘the leaders’ and their loved ones make them cling to power out of fear of extrajudicial reprisals.

“All this stems from the misunderstood concept of ‘party unity’ as the highest value for the political leadership of the Bolshevik government. Unity around ‘the leader’ was presented as the main need and interest of the whole society. The main enemy of this falsely understood unity is a free press, freedom of political activity, opposition, and criticism.

“So it turns out that while a person is in power, they praise him. But people at the top are usually cynical and have no illusions about their own identity. They do not believe in the gratitude of descendants and the fairness of justice. Since they themselves have administered such “justice” many times against opponents.

“And they stay in power until the last moment, coming up with various projects to stay for one more term, and one more, so that everything looks legitimate.

“Beria, his family and closest subordinates became victims not of justice, but of reprisals. When this becomes impossible, then Russia will be a state of law. Society should not be held hostage to the nightly fears of the elite.”

            Many will read these words as is likely intended not as a description of events 70 years ago but of what has taken place in Russia in the last seven days.