Thursday, August 31, 2023

Russians Don’t Oppose Putin on Ukraine Because He has Ensured that Large Swaths of Them View Themselves as Winners over Last Two Decades, Busygina Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 29 – Many observers blame the failure of Russians to oppose Putin on the war as the result either of the historical subservience of the people there to their rulers and to the related sense they have that nothing depends on them and therefore there is no need for them to take a position in opposition to the regime.

            Those factors matter, of course, Irina Busygina, a Russian scholar at Harvard’s Davis Center, acknowledges; but she argues that “attitudes toward the war which we see in Russia are the result of the last 20 years of the construction and operation of the Putin system” (

            “During that period,” she says, Putin has created a system in which not only those close to the throne “but also broad social groups have won something or at least have come to perceive themselves as winners, even if they do not formulate that status in words.” As a result, they are inclined to support or at least not oppose those responsible for that success.

            To be sure, this is not the kind of inclusiveness often viewed as “the prerequisite for democracy.” Instead, “it is the kind of growth that maintains the undemocratic status quo” given that its main feature is that all groups benefit but some benefit far more than other. The gap is less important than it may seem because people compare themselves within their own group

            According to Busygina, this isn’t “a primitive system at all.” It is complex and “a whole art” because those in power must “give enough but not too much” and dose out what they give in such a way that everyone feels he or she has benefited even if much has been taken away from them and everyone else.

            “In this highly sophisticated system … where the state of ‘we are generally satisfied’ is maintained in large groups, she continues, “asking for any change will not only be risky because then the powers that be will take away what they gave but almost insane,” the US-based Russian scholar says.

            Consequently, “supporting the system or at least not speaking out against it openly is rational; and anyone who violates this rule becomes an outcast and a dangerous madman whom the group will immediately expel from itself.” But this of course is “only part of the story,” Busygina says.

            “Group reactions might be different if losses were taken into account, especially if they were viewed as significant.” Thus, “to prevent this from happening, the system constantly monitors the situations so that groups will focus on what the system has given and not on what it has taken away.”

            Russians long ago stopped thinking about democracy and liberalism. These ideas were discredited even before Putin came to power. Putin simply excluded them completely from politics; and Russians “gradually lost the ability to discuss serious topics,” let alone act on any conclusions they might reach.

            “This has gone on for years, and 23 years is a long time. Over time, this combination has worked: ‘I won’ and ‘it cost me practically nothing.’ The gains are tangible but the prices are not.” The Kremlin quite obvious “took everything into account.”

            And that means that “when Putin launched his war against Ukraine, everything was already prepared: the calculation was that the Kremlin would get precisely the public response it has.” Outside observers may be bewildered; but those within the system feel “deep satisfaction” because all their calculations and efforts have worked.

India has Protested But Russia Hasn’t Beijing’s New Official Maps Showing Portions of Their Territories are Chinese

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 29 – For years, Russians and others have been alarmed by the appearance on Chinese sites of maps showing portions of their countries as lying within the borders of the Peoples Republic of China. Now, they have even more reason for anger: the Chinese government has officially confirmed these maps for use in schools and the media.

            But Russians are likely to be even more upset by the fact that Moscow, unlike New Delhi, against which China has advanced territorial claims in this way has not said anything publicly and officially, a pattern that Russians will view as unjustified deference especially given the Kremlin’s talk about defending every inch of “the Russian world.”

            The new maps, showing portions of territories in Russia and India as part of the Republic of China, are part of a set just released by Beijing’s Cartographic Service of Standard Maps ( and

Russians Give to NGOs Helping Military Because They Feel Government has Failed to Do Its Job, Expert Says New Poll Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 29 – This year, far fewer Russians have given to charitable organizations than they did in the past, with a single exception – NGOs which are in the business of helping Russians in the military. The reason? Irina Krasnopolskaya of the Higher School of Economics says a new poll shows Russians feel they have to give to make up for government failures.

            According to a poll conducted by Tiburon Research for the Help is Needed Foundation,  Russians now give to military-focused NGOs only somewhat less than they give to those which help animals and the ill (

            The overall decline is the result, those surveyed say, not of the fact that they have less money to give but rather than they are less willing to trust NGOs who have been labelled foreign agents or undesirable organizations, something that has happened to many Russian ones increasingly.

            The poll found that almost half of all respondents – 43 percent – “do not understand how charitable organizations are distinguished from government ones” and “mor than half cannot name a single individual from the charitable sector whom they trust.” Instead, they give names like Putin and Prigozhin because these are names known to them.

East European Outrage Prompts Vatican to Clarify Pope’s Remarks about Russian Culture

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 30 – Earlier this month, Pope Francis told an audience of young Russians that he hoped they would draw on their national traditions in building the future, remarks that not surprisingly sparked outrage in Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe (ru/politics/2023/08/30/ukraina-raskritikovala-papu-rimskogo-za-obrashhenie-k-rossiyskoy-molodezhi.html and

            Not surprisingly, the Vatican’s press office has now issued a clarification pointing out that the Holy Father, a consistent critic of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, did not intend by his remarks to “exalt imperialist logic” (

            Specifically, the press office said that “in the off-the-cuff greetings to some young Russian Catholics in recent days, as is clear from the context in which he pronounced them, the Pope intended to encourage young people to preserve and promote all that is positive in the great cultural and Russian spirituality.”

            The leader of the world’s Catholics, the representative said, “certainly [did not intend] to exalt imperialist logic and government personalities.” This statement may calm the current conflict; but at the very least, it is an indication of just how sensitive religious and ethnic issues remain in Eastern Europe.

‘Federalism One of Most Important Tools Putin Uses to Preserve his Personalist Dictatorship,’ Busygina Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 29 – “The history of federalism in post-Soviet Russia has been truly dramatic,” Irina Busygina says. It began as a source of pride for the democrats and a showcase for Russian reforms, but today it “has become one of the most important tools working to preserve Putin’s personalist regime.”

            If Russia is to move toward democracy and freedom, the reasons behind this trajectory and what it will have to do to redirect this path must be carefully examined,  the Russian scholar currently at Harvard’s Davis Center says in a new 19-page essay, How to Reform Russian Federalism (in Russian;

            According to Busygina, “at the beginning of the 1990s, the choice of federalism was foreordained by the character of the political process in Russia: the weakness of the national center … and increasingly chaotic decentralization which was pushed by strong ethnic regions, above all Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.”

            “Under these conditions, the prospect of the territorial disintegration of the country along a scenario like the end of the Soviet Union looked completely real.” Russia was able to avoid that: “the country didn’t fall apart.” Moreover, “the reforms of federalism in the 1990s were presented to the West as evidence of the construction of a new democratic Russia.”

            In fact, that was not the case, Busygina continues. And “with the coming to power of President Vladimir Putin the situation changed radically.” He strengthened the federal center and reduced to almost a vanishing point the autonomous powers of the regions and republics. Moreover, he did this with the assistance of some in the regions.

            The Russian scholar argues that “there is still no satisfactory answer as to how Putin managed to break the ‘Yeltsin’ system of federalism so quickly and why the governors who were deputies in the Federation Council at the time themselves voted to lower their political status.” But it happened and federalism in the genuine meaning of the term was gutted.

            As a result, she continues, “the possibility of gradually correcting the distortions of federalism … was lost along with the hopes for the democratization of Russia.” In its place, “a model of authoritarian federalism was constructed, successfully working for the political survival of the incumbent president and strengthening his popularity.

            Those who want to change this situation must recognize that “federalism is a complex system of relationships, agreements, compromises and bargaining.” It isn’t a luxury in large and complex countries, but “a necessity” if they are to be democratic and capable of modernizing in response to change.

            Indeed, Busygina says, “genuine federalism not only allows but requires constant reforms or at least a constant readiness for reforms.” And maintaining such a readiness requires enormous efforts at the heart of which is a commitment to negotiations. “It involves not only the national center and the regions but all of the most important actors in the political system.”

            What Putin has put in its place is a political system which is “stable but not reformable,” and those who want reform must recognizing that. They must “understand that federalism is a subsystem within the framework of the ‘big’ national political system.” If it is instituted, Russia will reform as a democracy; if it isn’t, the country will continue as an authoritarian regime.

            “The destruction of the current model of relations between Moscow and the regions does not necessarily mean that the federal structure now on view will be destroyed.” That may happen in whole or in part, but those who hope for that must see that their task is the larger one of reforming the political system as a whole.

Moscow is Fighting a War Against Modernity and Russia’s Demise Won’t Lead to Anything Worse than the Situation Now, Etkind Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 29 – Vladimir Putin and his regime are fighting not only against Ukraine but against modernity itself, against a world that will turn away from a dependence on hydrocarbons to a self-renewing energy system, and the approaching end of the Russian Federation won’t lead to anything worse than what we have now, Aleksandr Etkind says

            Etkind, currently a professor of Russian studies at the European University Institute in Florence, made those arguments in Riga where he presented his new book, Russia Against Modernity (New York, 2023) (

            Russia and its elites are “opposed to modernity,” the scholar says, because that country “is completely dependent on the expert of its hydrocarbon raw materials. Any energy transition programs deprive the Russian Federation of its usual sources of income. This is the essence of this confrontation: everything else is its various consequences.”

            Etkind argues that “the desire of the West for Russia to remain united is a consequence of the inertia of the thinking of political scientists in the early 1990s. The collapse of the Soviet Union has not been properly investigated. But the future disintegration of the Russian Federation or its ‘de-federalization’ should be discussed now.”

            If that happens, then the West will be able to overcome its false assumption that “the collapse of empires … is necessarily accompanied by wars and cataclysms.” There will be conflicts and violence, but – and this is the most important thing – they will not lead to a situation as bad as the one the world faces now in Ukraine.

Environmental Protest Triggered Rise of Latvian Independence Movement

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 29 – Environmental protests across the Russian Federation and especially in its non-Russian autonomies has led many to recall that similar protests in the former Soviet republics and occupied Baltic countries in the 1970s and 1980s helped trigger the rise of independence movements there.

            The way in which this happened in Estonia is quite well known – for a discussion, see -- but the process by which environmental protests in Latvia contributed to the rise of the national movement in Latvia is much less so. Now, however, that has been corrected.

            In an article for The Beet which has been carried by the Meduza news agency, journalist Katya Balaban describes in some detail the ways in which “the fight to save the Daugava River’s natural riches [in fact] kick-started Latvia’s independence movement” (

            After Latvia was re-occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, Moscow made plans to build three large dams and reservoirs on the Daugava, a plan that would alter both the local ecosystem and the landscape of Latvia itself. Many wrote letters of protest even at the end of the 1950s to the authorities but to little avail.

            But as the project went forward in the 1970s and 1980s, Latvians began making pilgrimages to areas which would soon be flooded in an action that Latvian historianMartins Mintaurs calls “a silent protest.” Indeed, pictures of what would soon disappearance became the equivalent of flying the banned Latvian national flag (

            According to Balaban, “the only ‘compensation’ for these losses that Latvia’s intelligentsia managed to attain were large-scale archaeological surveys carried out on the territory of the future reservoirs.” But these covered only about 15 percent of the area that was slated to be flooded.

            Then, in October 1986, the Latvian literary newspaper Literatura un Maksla published an article by journalist Dainis Ivans and water specialist Artur Snips which questioned the entire project and described the negative impact it would have on the country as a whole ( un M_ksla, Nr.42 (17.10.1986).pdf ).

            “The day after the article’s publication,” Ivans says, “my apartment turned into the headquarters of the resistance” which included petitions signed by as many as 30,000 people against the Soviet project (

            Because the damming of the Daugava would affect Belarus as well, members of the Belarusian intelligentsia also got involved. And then, Ivans continues, “an Eastern Europe-wide movement began. Estonians, Lithuanians, Slovakians and Hungarians began coming to me to ‘learn from our experience.’”

            Balaban recounts what happened next: “Two months after the article came out, the authorities tried to stop the protest wave by banning not only publications about the construction of the Daugavpils HPP but also any mention of the word “Daugava” itself. “It reached the point of absurdity.”

            For example, Ivans recalls, “The June 17 Plant was ordered to stop producing a line of waffles that had a blue wrapper with the word ‘Daugava’ printed on it,” Īvāns recalled. Then in December 1987, the Latvian National History Museum organized an exhibit on the Daugava only to have it shut down by Moscow on the same day it opened.

“To circumvent the censorship, musicians started singing about the river during concerts,” Balaban says, and Ivans adds that “the word ‘Daugava’ became like a password.” And then, “in May 1987, students from both Latvian and Belarusian universities traveled down the Daugava in boats with signs in support of preserving the river.”

According to Ivans, ““Standing up for the Daugava meant the same thing as standing up for an independent Latvia. Many people know that the fight against the Daugavpils HPP was the start of our revolution … In defending the Daugava, people came to the realization that it was possible to stand up against the Soviet authorities.”  

Then, in November 1987, Moscow decided to cancel the dam and reservoir project on the Daugava; and four years later, Latvia recovered its independence.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Publication of Fiction and Poetry in Kazakhstan has Collapsed Since 1991, Astana Figures Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 28 – The number of copies of books of fiction and poetry published in Kazakhstan in 2021 was only one-eighth the number of this category of publications issued at the end of Soviet times when such publications were state-subsidized and now amounts to only six copies for every 100 residents of the republic under market conditions, statistics show.

            QMonitor journalist Akhmet Bayan says not only are there far fewer books of this type being published but the number of copies each has fallen radically. At the same time, some of the demand by Kazakhstanis for fiction and poetry is being satisfied by imports from the Russian Federation (

            The Kazakhstan National State Book Chamber reports that in 2021, republic publishes issued more than 5,000 books with a total print run of 12.6 million copies. But 9.3 million of these were textbooks for schools and universities. Only just over a million copies were of fiction and poetry directed at adults.

            The situation with respect to fiction and poetry for children in Kazakhstan is much worse: two years ago, only 380,000 copies were published, down from 7.7 million in 1990, of which 4.6 million were in the Kazakh language – and this despite the fact that the number of school-age children in Kazakhstan has increased over the last 30 years.

            In 2021, the Book Chamber reports, Kazakhstan imported more books from the Russian Federation than any other former Soviet republic, spending a total of 14.7 million US dollars on such publications. Belarus spent 13.0 million US dollars, Ukraine, 9.4 million US dollars, and Uzbekistan, 9.5 million US dollars.

            “It turns out,” Bayan says, that “Russian publications occupy half of the Kazakhstan market, and that a significant part of the second half, that is the production of domestic output goes for textbooks” – although the Chamber says that deliveries from the Russian Federation fell sharply in 2022.

            Summing up, the journalist observes that “the needs of the Russian speaking population of the Republic of Kazakhstan are quite fully being satisfied by Russian publishing houses, but Kazakh-speaking citizens, and especially Kazakh-speaking children, are experiencing a genuine book hunger,” something that does not bode well for the future.


Hot Summer Behind Protests in Daghestan’s Cities

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 28 – Officials in Daghestan acknowledge that there have been problems with water and electric supply to people in that North Caucasus republic for more than 30 years, but rising summer temperatures this year have sparked protests because many people are suffering from the lack of water and air conditioning.

            Madina Gadzhiyeva, a journalist for Takie Dela, says that people have suffered from such shortages in earlier years but that the temperatures this year have been so high that power and water shortages are taking a serious toll on the population and leading people to go into the streets (; for more on the recent protests, see

            According to Gadzhiyeva, the problems are most severe in Makhachkala, the capital, and other major cities where people live in apartment blocks and can’t life well unless there is air conditioning. People in the villages are suffering from the heat as well, but most of them, she suggests, are used to living without the amenities people in the cities expect are their right.

            The journalist does not extrapolate this problem to other parts of Russia, but the problems Daghestanis face are certainly being faced by people elsewhere. And as temperatures rise and infrastructure collapses, what has so far been confined largely to this North Caucasus republic seems certain to spread to other parts of Russia, particularly the south.


Archival Documents Show CPSU Leadership Knew Far More about USSR’s Problems than Many Assume

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 28 – Given Yury Andropov’s famous remark that he and other CPSU leaders didn’t know the country they were living in, many have assumed to this day that the Politburo and its Central Committee departments really lived in isolation from what was going on in the Soviet Union.

            But the editors of Nezavisimaya Gazeta say that this vision of reality is deeply flawed and that information prepared for the CPSU Central Committee’s Secretariat “mercilessly exposed” even the greatest flaws in Soviet life including crime, alcoholism, and theft at state enterprises (

            On the basis of their review of a 2020 book containing reports sent to the secretariat in 1965-1967, the editors conclude that “the analytic reports contain invaluable information about real life in the USSR – and without any embellishment. The level of reliability of statistics and facts in the preparatory materials is probably the highest possible achievable in principle.”

            Further, Nezavisimaya Gazeta says, “misleading the party was punishable. It was possible to lie, distort and remain silent only in one direction, downward toward society and gullible citizens.” It was a dangerous criminal offense to lie to one’s superiors at the very top of the Soviet system.

            The editors provide example after example of this remarkable honest in reporting upwards. And while these are important to an understanding of what conditions in Soviet times were like and what the party leadership knew about those conditions, it seems likely that the purpose behind this editorial is more contemporary.

            Indeed, it appears that the editors are providing an implicit comparison with the situation of Soviet times with that of today, when lying downward has intensified and when lying upward becoming more common, a situation that means Moscow today is closer to the situation Andropov described than Andropov and those in his position at the end of Soviet times.   

Yadrintsev’s ‘Siberia as a Colony’ Not a Call for Independence but for Regional Development, Chernyshov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 28 – Nikolay Yadrintsev, one of the two founding fathers of Siberian regionalism, was a passionate advocate of independence for his native region at the start of his career and a supporters of that idea at the end of his life because of disappointment at the failure of the tsarist regime to develop Siberia.

            But his most oft-cited work, Siberia as a Colony (1881), which he wrote after being imprisoned and exiled for his pro-independence views, was not the call for Siberian independence many assume to this day. Instead, Sergey Chernyshov says, it called for Siberia’s development as a colony ( y-izobrel-sibir/32557313.html).

            Chernyshov, who is seeking to create a free university in Siberia devoted to regional development – on those plans, see,  says that after exile, Yadrintsev adopted a conservative Russian position and believed that his native region should be developed precisely as a colony.

            Only when the tsarist authorities failed to move in that direction did he return to his earlier radicalism in the period just before his death by suicide. This correction in intellectual history is important because many of even the most knowledgeable commentators suggest Yadrintsev’s Siberia as a Colony had exactly the opposite message.

            Chernyshov is not seeking to dethrone Yadrintsev from his position as a founder of Siberian regionalism and even as an advocate of Siberian independence but rather to correct the widespread view that his positions on these issues remained constant and were in fact reflected in Siberia as a Colony.


Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Kremlin Doesn’t Want Opposition Candidates in 2024 Younger than 50 Lest Their Ages Cause Russians Reflect on Putin’s, ‘Meduza’ News Agency Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 28 – Two sources in the Russian Presidential Administration tell the Meduza news agency that the Kremlin doesn’t want the systemic opposition parties to field any candidate for president younger than 50 lest their youth makes Russian voters reflect on the increasingly elderly Vladimir Putin.

            The sources say that the Kremlin is concerned that if such candidates were to run, Russians would despite everything reflect on the fact that the 70-year-old Putin is, in their words, “already not the man who came to power with a firm hand” (

            Age is an issue for Russians.  According to a Russian Field poll last spring, Meduza reports, Russians said it was their third greatest concern about the Kremlin leader. Only his supposed “softness” in dealing with others and his inattention to domestic concerns mattered more to them (

            In the past, Kremlin operatives have been concerned about ensuring that Putin, who is very short, doesn’t appear alongside those who are much taller, but now that he has passed 70, age apparently has become an even more important criteria in their planning – and that has consequences.

            If younger candidates are kept out of the race next year, that will delay still further the generational change in the Moscow elites; and that in turn will mean that when change does come as the actuarial charts guarantee, it will be more rather than less radical and more likely to produce instability. 

New Kalmyk Novel Recounts History of Buddhist Cossacks in the North Caucasus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 28 – Vladimir Putin has insisted and many Russians and Westerners have accepted the idea that the Cossacks are all Russian Orthodox Christians and committed to promoting a fundamentalist version of that faith as well as a narrowly and Kremlin-defined kind of Russian nationalism.

            But historically and to this day, many Cossacks have been Muslims (in the North Caucasus and Middle Volga) or even Buddhists (in Kalmykia and the Transbaikal). Those seeking to revive Cossack traditions actively promote this. The author of these lines even has a pamphlet from the 1990s entitled How to Raise Your Transbaikal Cossack as a Buddhist.

            (On the religious diversity of the Cossacks, who included Jews and animists as well, see, and

            (And on the revival of Cossacks independent from and often at odds with the Kremlin more generally and their acceptance and even support for such religious diversity, see and

            The Buddhist Cossacks have received relatively little attention except for their role in the anti-Bolshevik movements in the Transbaikal and Mongolia during the Russian Civil War a century ago. Now, however, that may be beginning to change with increased research of the Buddhist Cossacks of the North Caucasus and a new novel about their troubled life.

            For a scholarly discussion of the Buddhist Cossacks of the North Caucasus, who are known as the Buzavy or Kalmyk Cossacks, see Mergen Ulanov and Arya Andreyeva, “Buddhism and the Don Kalmy-Cossacks in the Socio-Cultural Space of Russia” (in Russian, Novyye isseledovaniya Tuvy no. 2 (2021): 101-114 at

            But perhaps more important for bringing the story of the Buddhist Cossacks up to the present day, is a new novel by Natalya Ilishkina. Entitled Ulan Dalay, which translated from the Kalmyk, means “the red ocean,” the Kalmyk name for hell. It has just been reviewed in Novaya Gazeta Yevropa (

            Ilishkina traces the history of a family of Buddhist Cossacks from tsarist times through the Soviet period during which they were subject to the worst forms of repression all the more so because they did not fit into the template of either Russian or Cossack history that the authorities were working with.

To Sell Russian Gas Abroad at a Significant Discount, Kremlin has to Sell It Domestically at a Significant Markup, Russians Lament

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 28 – Media reports that Moscow is selling gas to China and India at a significant discount while selling it to Russian drivers at a significant markup have prompted Russians to observe that the Kremlin had no choice: it had to make money somewhere and what better place than from the Russian people.

            This is just one of the anecdotes Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova offers in her latest collection ( Among the best of the rest are the following:

·       Fools say stupid things but smart people write them.

·       When a Russian arrives in heaven after death, he finds that it looks not at all like what he expected. Why does it look like a barracks? He asks an angel. The angel replies that those who behaved badly during their lifetimes will end up in the Russian part of paradise afterwards – and that Russian part looks like the GULAG.

·       Russians should consider living in such a way that they won’t bore the monitors following their activities.

·       19th century Russians predicted their country’s wealth would grow in Siberia; 21st century Russians are showing that it will grow instead in Cyprus.

·       Russia could have won in Ukraine a long time ago to judge from government claims about armaments. Apparently, it just didn’t want to.

·       The Kremlin wanted to bury Prigozhin on the moon to avoid having his grave become a pilgrimage site. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been able to arrange things as it planned.

·       Russian officials are asked why they are active in Africa. To keep the Papuans away from diamonds. But there are no Papuans in Africa, they are told. And the officials add: you can see that our policy is a success.

·       I signed with a cross but managed to make a couple of spelling mistakes.

·       After Prigozhin’s plane was shot down, Ramzan Kadyrov has decided to travel only by donkey.

·       Bashkortostan has sent horses to Ukraine to help the Russian army fight. The horses say they are now waiting for camels to come from Central Asia to relieve them.

·       Classics of Russian literature have been excluded from government exams this year because too many of them contained criticisms of the tsars.

·       Questions about the war in Ukraine have been included in the school exams this year, but there is a problem: those who give incorrect answers will be charged with discrediting the army while those who give correct ones will be charged with revealing state secrets.


Monday, August 28, 2023

Anti-Chinese Attitudes Widespread in Central Asia, Often Overshadowing Expert Judgments, Umarov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 26 – Anti-Chinese attitudes exist at the popular level throughout Central Asia, although they are most strongly manifested the closer the country is to China, Bishkek scholar Temur Umarov says. What is worrisome is that these attitudes among have the peoples of the region often play a more important role in the decisions of officials than do experts.

            As a result, some Central Asians are ready to accept as expressions of Beijing’s plans the work of Chinese bloggers, even when a more sober assessment by regional Sinologists like himself, Umarov says, would lead to less alarmist conclusions and actions (

            For example, the appearance of maps on the Internet showing supposed Chinese aspirations to absorb all of Central Asia often sparks popular anger and, where possible, even demonstrations. But in almost all cases, Umarov says, there are no reasons to believe that these maps represent anything more than the fantasies of their authors.

            “I am an opponent of the theory that the Chinese have a strategy for the next century and know what they want to achieve in any part of the world decades ahead,” the Kyghyz sinologist says. In, fact, in Central Asia in particular, “Chinese policy has been more reactive than pro-active” and is likely to remain so.

            Except for Kazakhstan where a diplomatic specialist on China has risen to the position of president, the countries of Central Asia currently lack the kind of experts who can provide guidance to the political leadership. That represents a major change from the situation at the end of Soviet times, Umarov says.

            In Uzbekistan, for example, “which in Soviet times was a center for the study of Xinjiang and China as a whole, the country has not been able to retain them since in the 1990s, all either left Chinese studies or Uzbekistan itself. Now, in this sphere, remain only elderly academics” who focus on questions other than the political and diplomatic.  

Pro-War Propaganda in Sakha Quite Different from Moscow’s Version, ‘NeMoskva’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 26 – As the war in Ukraine has ground on, the propaganda media outlets in Sakha use to promote service in that conflict has begun to take on a different tonality than that Moscow issues to the Russian Federation as a whole, with Sakha’s playing up the ways in which fighting in the war is like battling with the elements in rural parts of the republic.

            Service in the war, the NeMoskva portal says, is presented as a simple extension of the Sakha way of life rather than as an act of special heroism, and Sakha outlets stress that going to fight is thus an important way of remaining part of the Sakha nation (

            Such divergence in propaganda in the regions from Moscow’s messages represents not an attempt to challenge by the former to challenge the latter but rather to add to the success of the center. But this linguistic pattern, which the portal documents, further highlights the enormous differences among various parts of the Russian Federation.

            And those differences, if things go wrong at the front, may thus play a key role in what some suggest will be the second transformation of an international war into a civil war on the territory of Russia as a whole.

Tatar Journalists More Likely to Cover Controversial Topics When They Write or Speak in Tatar, One of Their Number Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 28 – Tatar journalists are more likely to cover controversial topics when they write or speak in Tatar than they are when they use Russian, according to Alfiya Minnullina, one of the founders of the online newspaper Intertat, calling attention to a pattern likely true of most non-Russian areas of the Russian Federation.

            Minnullina, 60, was one of the first journalists in Tatarstan to see the advantages that the Internet could give to Tatar-language materials and their distribution beyond the borders of the republic (

            She created the first Tatar-language online newspaper for that audience and then was involved 20 years ago in the creation of Intertat, a portal which still exists and communicates not only to Tatars within Tatarstan but to Tatars living elsewhere in the former Soviet space and more broadly.

            The Tatars of Tatarstan, Minnullina says, “are quite intimidated and accustomed to surviving in difficult conditions … Of course, they have been forced to be afraid. Otherwise, they would have been crushed … There is no point in risking your career or your life; and there is no need to demand such sacrifices from a journalist.”,

            But “at the same time,” she says, “I believe that our journalists don’t hush up sensitive issues,” adding that “in the Tatar-language segment of the media, the truth appears even more often” than in the Russian, something that gives up for the future but presents a challenge to those who try to follow Tatar developments only via the Russian.

Helsinki Boosts Funding of Programs to Promote Revival of Karelian Language

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 26 – The Finnish government has boosted funding of various programs designed to promote the revival of Karelian, a language spoken by roughly eight thousand people in Finland and 11,000 in neighboring Karelia, which lies within the current borders of the Russian Federation.

            Milla Tynnyrinen, the project’s coordinator at the University of Eastern Finland, says “The language has faded out because there has been very little governmental support before. For many young people now there is an element of reclaiming something, taking back something they feel they should have learned as children” (

            One of the instructors involved in this effort, Olga Karlova, agrees. ““Young generations are waking up. They are worried as they realize something important could be gone. Now there is still an opportunity to learn the language as its speakers are still alive and they can hand over the knowledge to the next generations. We should hold on to this straw.”

“Karelian speakers were living in the most Eastern parts of Finland that had to be surrendered to the Soviet Union after WWII,” Tynnyrinen explains. “So the Karelians were evacuated to the Western and Central part of Finland, where everyone around spoke Finnish. To succeed in life you had to speak Finnish.”

Tynnyrinen adds that “although the Karelian language very much resembles the Finnish, for some local Finns back then it reminded them of the Russian language. So there was suspicion towards Karelians and Karelian language was spoken within individual households only,” thus reducing the number of people who used it in Finland even as their number declined in Karelia.

The Finnish government has forbidden the university’s employees to work with people who live inside the Russian Federation, something that is limiting but not ending the impact of what the Finns are doing with Karelian on the state of the Karelian language and the survival of the Karelian nation to the east.

Those working to promote Karelian in Finland believe they will continue to have an impact to the east just as Finnish support for the Saami language has. (For background on that and Moscow’s anger, see, and

One in Every Four Russians – 35 Million People – Suffers from Air Pollution, but Moscow Now Trying to Hide This, ‘To Be Precise’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 26 – This year, the Russian government sharply reduced the release of data on the contamination of the atmosphere coming from industrial plants and automobiles, but the To Be Precise portal has gained access to the materials Moscow has assembled but not released and says they show that one in every four Russians is suffering from bad air.

            The impact of such environmental contamination on public health is not trivial. According to the last data on the subject released, more than 80,000 Russians died from the consequences of bad air in 2019 (

            That number has almost certainly risen as has the number of firms contaminating the air and the impact of automobiles and trucks on the environment, the portal continues; but now the Russian government, reflecting its general trend of not releasing information that may anger people or show the government’s failing, is refusing to release the figures it had been putting out.

            Among the key findings in the now-suppressed government report are three: the amount of industrial pollution has not fallen over the last 20 years despite Kremlin claims to the contrary, more than half of all contamination comes from firms in just 10 regions, and seven of the nine largest polluters are from Gazprom branches.

Regional Leaders in Kazakhstan Increasingly Drawn from Their Native Areas, Makhanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 26 – Under Vladimir Putin, leaders of the various federal subjects are drawn not from the populations they supervise but from outsiders who come either from Moscow or from other regions, an arrangement universally acknowledged to give the Kremlin the whip hand in regional affairs.

            But in Kazakhstan, also a large and diverse country, the situation is very different. According to QMonitor journalist Bauyrzhan Makhanov, over the last 10 years, the share of local politicians in top regional jobs has risen as has their average age and the share with any experience in the capital has fallen (

            In 2013, only seven of the 16 governors came from the regions they led; now, 13 of the 20 do, the journalist says. They are older, and they are less likely to have had any experience in the central government of Kazakhstan.

            On the one hand, that means that they know local conditions better than was the case a decade ago; but on the other, it may mean that they are more likely to defend their regions against the center instead of imposing the will of the center on their regions, a pattern that could make the emergence of regional challenges to the central authorities more likely in the future.


With Prigozhin’s Death, Hell Announces It has a New Chief Chef, Russians Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 26 – With the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner PMC, in a plane crash, Russians are saying among themselves that the chief spokesman for Hell has announced that the underworld now has a new chief chef, an indication that the independent commander has returned to his original profession.

            This is just one of the stories included in the latest collection of Russian anecdotes assembled by Moscow journalist Tatyana Pushkaryova (

Among the best of the rest are the following:

 ·       The law on the conservation of the number of space powers has been maintained with a Russian probe crashing on the moon and an Indian one successfully landing there.

·       Kremlin spokesmen say that Putin didn’t kill Prigozhin because that would have been “unprofitable” for him. This means, of course, that when killing some one is “profitable,” he does it without any particular concern.

·       Russians who can’t bring themselves to write whatever the Putin regime wants should go back to the practice of Soviet dissidents and write for the drawer.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

‘West Must Not Repeat the Mistakes It Made with Russia in 1918 and 1991,’ Viatrovych Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 25 – The West cannot occupy what is now the Russian Federation and destroy its imperialistic approach to the world, Volodymyr Viatrovych says. “The only way to dismantled the [Russian] empire is to destroy it from within” and do that in an alliance with the non-Russian national movements there.

            In remarks to the Verkhova Rada, the Ukrainian politician who serves on the newly created commission to help ethnic groups within the current borders of the Russian Federation says that “national movements … destroyed the Russian Empire twice already – in 1918 and in 1991” (

            And these national movements can do that again after Ukraine defeats Russian forces on the battlefield, Viatrovych says. He concedes that “these movements are weak right now … but let’s remember how weak the Ukrainian movement was some 40 years ago” when Ukrainians too served as “cannon fodder for the empire.”

            “If they are weak, you need to help them become stronger,” the Ukrainian deputy continues. “This is reality. The main thing is to form a systemic policy of interaction with these movements. This is the task of our temporary special commission of the Verkhovna Rada (

Further, he continues, “we must establish cooperation with the different minority people of Russia and develop mechanisms for strengthening their self-awareness, develop their media, their political and public structures and national military formations in our armed forces.” That will “not only help destroy the empire but also because the foundation of Ukraine’ future relations with the states that will emerge from its ruins.”

“Of course,” Viatrovych says in conclusion, “we need to change the positions of our Western partners. They should not repeat the mistakes of 1918 and 1991.” Instead, they need to make the destruction of the Russian empire their primary goal and for that “they need to support the people enslaved by Moscow.”

(On Western policy toward the Russian Empire in 1918 and 1991 and its shortcomings, see the paper I prepared for the Sixth Forum of Free Peoples of PostRussia, Washington, D.C., last spring, at  and in Russian translation at

Beijing Wants to Process Reindeer Meat in Yamalo-Nenets AD for Chinese Market

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 25 – The representative of a Chinese corporation visited the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District in the Russian Federation to take part in a conference on permafrost and to express Beijing’s interest in getting involved in the processing of reindeer meat there which could then be exported to China.

            Jiao Jain told the conference that China’s experience with melting glaciers in the Himalayas can usefully be extended to what Russia is going through in the north as a result of climate change, arguing that this shared experience can bring the two countries closer together (

            While in Salekhard, the capital city of the autonomy, the representative of the XY Group said his corporation would like to get involved in the processing of reindeer meat produced in Yamalo-Nenets, a suggestion that local officials warmly welcomed (

            This is the latest example of Chinese penetration of the Russian North and one likely to have ethno-national consequences: 70 percent of the Yamalo-Nenets AD population consists of Nentsy, a numerically small people in the Russian North. They are responsible for almost all of the reindeer herding in the region.

            Chinese involvement with them will give them both an economic and a political boost, economic in that it will bring in new wealth to the Nentsy and politically because it will give them a new ally in their conflicts with Russian gas extraction industries there.

Moscow Even Threatens to Deny Insulin to Diabetics in Occupied Ukrainian Territories who Refuse to Become Russian Citizens, ‘Holod’ Reports

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 25 – Moscow and the Russian occupation authorities have boasted about the more than 150,000 people in Ukraine’s Donbass who have given up Ukrainian citizenship and taken Russian. The Russians have insisted that this process has been entirely voluntary, but an investigation by the Holod news agency shows that it has been anything but.

            While some people in the region undoubtedly have done so voluntary, Yuliya Selikova of the agency says, their numbers are relatively small; and after an initial burst of interest, the number of people giving up their Ukrainian citizenship has fallen. As a result, the Russian occupiers have used coercive measures (

Among those she documents are the following:

·       Officials refuse to give Russian pensions to those who refuse to take Russian passports.

·       Officials say that only those who agree to become Russians can receive medical assistance.

·       Officials are refusing to give insulin and other vitally necessary drugs to those who refuse to take Russian passports.

·       Officials are blocking those who refuse to take Russian citizenship from leaving the region.

·       Officials are refusing to register automobiles owned by people who refuse to take Russian citizenship.

·       Officials are refusing to allow young people to attend school unless their parents adopt Russian citizenship.

·       Officials are intentionally damaging Ukrainian documents at checkpoints.

·       Officials are refusing to hand out graduation certificates to those who refuse to take Russian citizenship.

·       Officials are threatening to confiscate the property of those who refuse to become Russian citizens.


The occupation authorities had announced that this process of citizenship change would end by September 1, apparently so that everyone there would be able to take part in local elections September 8-10. But, Selikova reports, “even forced passportization has not helped,” and now even those with Ukrainian passports will be able to vote.

Protests against Ending Tram and Bus Routes Spread Across Russia -- and Sometimes Succeed

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 25 – To save money under Vladimir Putin’s much-ballyhooed “optimization” campaigns, officials in Russian cities across the country are eliminating trams and cutting back on bus routes. Russians are angry. Many have protested. And sometimes but not always officials have backed down lest these protests grow into something more massive.

            Arkady Gershan, a Russian urbanist who founded the City for People project, says that such protests have become “a countrywide trend,” although he acknowledges that the reasons behind this or that public action vary widely (

            The protests have taken various forms, including online petitions, demonstrations which suggest the authorities are “burying” public transport and thus public life, and the promotion of individual complaints to the authorities about what these cutbacks mean. The latter have proved especially effective.

            On the one hand, because the authorities are required by law to answer such complaints, regional and urban governments are having to spend so much money doing so that it is cheaper to keep the trams and buses running. And on the other, the authorities can decide to keep some routes operating while closing others depending on how many people are protesting.

            While transportation protests are not political in the usual sense, they can be a seedbed for political action. People who see that coming together and demanding change in this sector may soon decide that doing the same thing on other and more politically sensitive issues is no longer something they cannot imagine.

            Consequently, transportation protests which have been going on in Russian cities the last several years may in fact be far more important than the extremely limited coverage they have received in the Moscow media might suggest.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Moscow Patriarchate May Now be Ready to Canonize General Suvorov

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 24 – A year ago, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu asked Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to look into the possibility of canonizing 19th century Russian General Aleksandr Suvorov. Kirill did but at the time did not find that Suvorov qualified or that enough miracles had been connected with his name.

            Now, the Holy Synod of the ROC MP has taken up the issue again, an indication that more miracles linked to Suvorov may have been reported – last year there were only two reported, a military victory and the fact that flowers in a church near his estate don’t wilt -- and that the church is prepared to canonize the general (

            That conclusion flows from the fact, Father Ioann Burdin says, that there has been no change in Suvorov’s standing as far as the other criteria for sainthood  are concerned: the absence of other than military triumphs, the lack of evidence that anyone venerates him for his Orthodox piety, and absence of support for the idea that Suvorov himself was especially pious.

            Despite that, Father Ioann says, one cannot fail to have the impression that Patriarch Kirill is quite prepared to “canonize any military leader who has crossed himself at least one in his life,” a travesty as far as church law is concerned but probably a politically safe position in Putin’s Russia.

            If in fact the church does canonize Suvorov, it is likely that the Holy Synod will rapidly canonize a large number of other military and political figures from the Russian past.

More than Half of Interior Ministry and Russian Guard but Only 10-15 Percent of FSB in Kalmykia would Support Post-Russian Government, Dovdanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 24 – One of the key factors that will determine the success of efforts by regional and republic populations to secede from Russia and survive as independent states is what share of the existing siloviki in their locales would support them. Obviously, there are no polls on this and any that might be taken would be far from reliable in advance of radical change.

            But Vladimir Dovdanov, the vice president of the Oyrat-Kalmyk Congress which has declared its plans to pursue independence but who has been living in Lithuanian exile since March 2022, provides some intriguing estimates that if true suggest where the battle lines may be drawn.

            He says he is “certain that in the system of the ministry of internal affairs and possibly the Russian Guard [in his republic] 50 to 60 percent of the officers would come over to the side” of those in charge of a Kalmykia that had declared its independence, but that “only 10 to 15 percent” of FSB officers would do so (

            Dovdanov says that he knows that many prosecutors and interior ministry officials are already dragging their feet when they are pressed to charge Kalmyk activists, an indication that many of them are sympathetic to the cause but are afraid that they would suffer adversely if they declared their nationalist position.

            It is impossible to know whether his estimates are anything close to correct either in Kalmykia or in other republics, but they are plausible because the interior ministry and national guard are recruited almost exclusively from the local population while the FSB shifts its offers from one place to another to avoid the development of local ties.

            In the course of his interview, Dovdanov appeals to the West to provide more support to non-Russian activists who have been forced to emigrate. “In contrast to ‘the good Russians’ and systemic opposition structures of present-day Russa, the national movements receive practically no support from the side of Western institutions. And this is a serious problem.”

South Ossetia Seeks to Join RF-Belarus Union State But Moscow Concerned about Reaction of Georgia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 25 – Three times since 2008, the partially recognized breakaway republic of South Ossetia has asked to become part of the Russian Federation; and three times, Moscow has said no, although there are many officials including former president Dmitry Medvedev who favor the idea.

            Now, Tsinkval is trying a new tactic: it has asked to join the union state of the Russian Federation and Belarus where it has already had observer status. Again, it appears likely that Moscow will squelch this effort not because of concerns about international  law but rather about the undoubtedly hostile response to such a move by Tbilisi.

            Aleksey Anpilogov, head of the Moscow Foundation for the Support of Scholarly Research and the Development of Civic Initiatives, suggests that this is the correct logic. International law doesn’t reflect Russia’s interests, but concerns about the consequences of Russian actions do (

            At some point, Moscow may decide that it is in Russia’s interests to allow South Ossetia to join the union state or even become part of the Russian Federation, Anpilogov says. But those who see South Ossetia becoming part of either soon and becoming the basis for the revival of the USSR are jumping the gun.

Moscow Announces Plans for Two East-West Trade Corridors Bypassing Kazakhstan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 24 – For more than two decades, various international consortia have talked about organizing trade corridors between Europe and Asia to bypass the Russian Federation. Now, Moscow has turned the tables and announced plans to create two east-west trade corridors to bypass Kazakhstan which it increasingly views as an obstacle.

            This summer, Russian officials have announced the start of construction of two new transportation corridors from China to Europe that will bypass Kazakhstan: one via Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and then via the Caspian Sea to Astrakhan, and a second by extending the Moscow-Kazan railroad through the Altai Republic or Mongolia.

            Some Kazakhstan experts are concerned about this development, but Aleksandr Knyazev of MGIMO says that they shouldn’t see this latest move as directed primarily against Kazakhstan, although there are elements in it that have that consequence, as a desire by Moscow and Beijing to diversity east-west corridors (

            Moscow is angry at Kazakhstan for delays at its borders, at least some of which reflect monitoring by American contractors to ensure that sanctioned goods don’t enter the Russian market. But so is Kyrgyzstan and China, Knyazev says, stressing that the Russian side still views Kazakhstan as a partner.

            In any case, the construction of these two routes will take some time, possibly years, and so what Moscow has done in making these announcements is likely more a warning to the Kazakh authorities of what could happen rather than a certainty that Moscow plans to isolate Kazakhstan regardless of what Astana does.   

Kyiv Creates Commission to Help Ethnic Minorities in Russia and to Advance Their Cause Internationally

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 24 – Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada has set up a temporary commission to work with the national movements of the numerically small and indigenous peoples of Russia and to promote their cause internationally by pointing out that the world will be a safer place if the Russian colonial empire is demolished.

            The commission consists of 11 deputies and is headed by Yaroslav Yurchishin of Golos and Mariya Mezentseva of Servants of the People. It has already had its first meeting at which these goals were announced ( and

            The members indicated that they plan to draw on the work of the Council of Europe and the OSCE in their work both directly with the peoples themselves and with foreign governments and organizations (

            The creation of this commission represents the latest step in Kyiv’s efforts since 2014 to reach out to the non-Russians within the Russian Federations, nations which Ukraine views as its natural allies in fighting Muscovite imperialism. (For background on this effort, see,,,,,,,, and