Sunday, April 14, 2024

Appellate Courts Lengthening of Sentences in Political Cases Sends Chilling Message to All Russians, Shlosberg Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 12 – Decisions by Russian appellate courts to lengthen the sentences initially imposed Lilya Chanyshev, Boris Kagarlitsky, and Oleg Orlov are part of disturbing effort by the Kremlin to sent a disturbing and repressive message to all Russians, according to opposition politician and commentator Lev Shlosberg.

            On the one hand, it shows that the powers that be “control the decisions of courts even after they have ruled; and on the other, it highlights the reality that someone on top now has the power not only to direct court decisions but to make them even tougher if the Kremlin wants that outcome (

            The Putin regime has not yet returned to a period of mass executions, Shlosberg notes; and so it is lengthening the terms and worsening the conditions of detention as a surrogate, confident that in the information age, that will work. After all, when “one person is convicted, the fear that inspires will paralyze millions.”

            The cruelty of the regime is thus in clear view because it shows that the regime reserves to itself the right to declare that in this or that case, the courts “didn’t impose” enough of a sentence or severe enough conditions. And that cruelty could easily be extended beyond the political to the population as a whole.

Latent Disloyalty among Russians Now So Great It Could Explode in Kremlin’s Face in a Crisis, El Murid Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 12 – Over the last two years, the number of Russians who refuse to answer pollsters’ questions has soared, a trend that calls into question all claims the Kremlin makes about popular support for the Putin regime and one that means latent disloyalty in the population could explode in a crisis, Anatoly Nesmiyan who blogs under the screen name El Murid says.

            Two years ago, only 30 percent of Russians answered all the questions pollsters put to them; now only six percent do, El Murid continues. “Under conditions of the most severe terror and the threat of imprisonment, the level of self-censorship has literally increased exponentially” (

            Russians are now “reluctant to answer dangerous questions to strangers even when they are promised anonymity;” and that in turn “calls into question the results of all surveys since those who refuse to do so do that not because of their loyalty but rather precisely because of the opposite,” he says.

            And that means that “polls which reassure the powers that be because they show the overwhelming majority supports any adventures of the leadership should not deceive anyone.” Today, Russian “realities are in fact completely different” and in the event of a crisis could have profound consequences “if someone more serious than Prigozhin … completes what he started.”

            In the absence of such a challenge, of course, the state can maintain itself through terror and this latent opposition doesn’t matter very much. But if such a challenger does appear, then all bets are off because the large latent opposition will suddenly come forward and support the insurgent against the existing powers that be.

            That in turn explains both the fears of officials who want to keep themselves in power and the hopes of those who hope to turn them out and bring change to Russia.

Russia Not Finding New Oil Fields where Cost of Production is Less than Sale Price, ‘Vedomosti’ Reports

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 12 – In 2023, Russian geologists identified fewer new oil fields than in any year of the last six; and most of those were either too small or too inaccessible to be profitable, Vedomosti reports. As a result, the production of new fields will amount to only one month of Russia’s domestic needs.

            This failure is forcing Russian oil producers to drill ever more wells in fields first developed in the Brezhnev era, the paper says; but even that has not been able to boost production by more than one percent (

            What that means, experts in the field say, is that Russia has only “nine to 17 years” until there is “a complete exhaustion of profitable reserves of oil” and that any expansion in production will take place only if oil prices soar from their current levels or if Moscow is willing to subsidize such production while taking a loss.

Because of War in Ukraine, Russians with Disabilities Being Offered More Jobs but Many Can't Accept Them, Disability Activists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 12 – The labor shortage in the Russian Federation caused by the mobilization of men to fight in Ukraine and the flight of others to avoid serving there has led Russian companies to be more willing to offer employment to people with disabilities but as yet too few to make a serious dent in unemployment among that category.

            The Russian government hopes that this trend, which saw employment among those with disabilities rise by 10 percent between 2023 and 2024 will continue; but they face the challenge that the number of people with disabilities, some caused by the war, is continuing to rise as well (

            To that end, Moscow has toughened the provisions of laws about quotas for jobs for Russians with disabilities, taking that power away from the regions but not setting quotas above four percent of all employees and not imposing penalties sufficient to force companies to meet them.

            And what is more serious, activists for the disabled say, is that Russian infrastructure is so bad that most people with disabilities can’t get to a job if it is offered and must turn down positions that do not allow distance working, something that isn’t possible in many industries in the Russian Federation.

            As a result, while some Russians with disabilities have benefitted from this fallout of Putin’s war in Ukraine, many may still be suffering, with preferences increasingly going to veterans of this conflict who have been wounded there rather than to this class of people as a whole.

Russian Police Using Torture More Often and Russians are More Tolerant of That, Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 12 – There are no official statistics on the number of cases of torture by police in Russia; and few of their victims are prepared to bring charges against those who abuse them. But a Russian expert in this field says that the amount of torture is increasing and Russians as a whole are more tolerant of that than they were.

            After the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack, Olga Sadovskaya, a lawyer with the Command Against Torture organization, says, “Russians began to consider torture an acceptable method of putting pressure on those arrested.”  Before that, most “condemned this practice” although it was nonetheless widespread (

            According to Sadovskaya, approximately one Russian in ten has been subjected to physical abuse by police; and a study by the Command Against Torture group published last fall showed that it has been widespread, even though officials refuse to talk about it (

Putin Transforming Russia into the Dying Ottoman Empire of the 21st Century, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 12 – If Putin remains continues his current policies, over the next 20 years, Vladimir Pastukhov says, “the result is easy to predict: Russia will turn into the Ottoman Empire of the 21st century, a technologically backward, arrogant pace, vulnerable both militarily and socio-politically,” the new “sick man” of Europe.

            And at that time, less than the life of a single generation from now, the London-based Russian analyst and commentator continues, Russia and the world “will receive from history answers to all those questions about the future which seem insoluble today” (

            Pastukhov says that he “does not believe in the future of the Putin regime” because it is not securing the foundations required for the next stage of the scientific-technological revolution which is taking place online in the world surrounding Russia.” Instead, it continues to rely on what it inherited from Soviet times and has not gone beyond that.

            “Fortunately” for Putin, it has turned out that “there was still something to squeeze out of that legacy,” enough to “wipe out Ukrainian cities from the face of the earth and threaten the rest of the world with nuclear suicide,” the commentator say, things that have “given rise to the illusion of power that so pleases the vanity of average people.”

            But there is a problem: “while eating away at the Soviet legacy,” Pastukhov points out, Putin’s regime “does not create anything in return, literally a hopeless development. Indeed, “Putin’s technological renaissance is like the last sigh of relief of a seriously ill patient before death.”

            In branch after branch, “under Putin, Russia has finally and apparently irrevocably lost the technological race, losing not only to the collective West  but to the collective East as well.” And despite the Kremlin leader’s hype about his short-term victories, losses in these spheres will determine the future.

Putin’s Vision Increasingly Millenarian and Apocalyptic, Arkhipova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 11 – In recent years, Aleksandra Arkhipova says, Putin has become increasingly millenarian and apocalyptic, a view that compels him to try to slow down those processes which are leading to deterioration and destruction around the world and try to create a bastion in which Russia will survive as a saving remnant.

            The independent Russian ethnographer says that for such an individual, “it is important to slow down any development” lest it contribu to catastrophe and preserve what he can “frozen like a fly in amber.” Only a “select few will be saved” and then “only through special efforts” by leaders like himself (

            “Therefore,” Arkhipova continues, the current Kremlin leader “fights new technologies and genetics, sees biological weapons everywhere, looks with suspicion at all new social and gender practices and protects everything traditional, trying to isolate it from external destructive influences.”

            She argues that “this frozen world for him is a mixture of good old Soviet practices of the 1960s and 1970s and some notions about ​​​​Orthodox Rus,” a combination that leads him to want to restore Komsomol organizations but have the youth of Russia attend Orthodox church services.

            And in this attempt “to save the world from what is destroying it,” Arkhipova concludes, Putin clearly believes that “Russia must be mothballed in a ‘patriotic isolationism,’ in which it relies only on itself and on the values of the Soviet Union of the 1970s and of Russia’s Orthodox past.

Ever More People and Elites in Regions and Republics Now Want Independence from Moscow to Escape Responsibility for Putin’s War in Ukraine, Feigin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 11 – In the regions and republics of the Russian Federation, there is a new driving force for seeking separation from Moscow and outright independence, Mark Feigin says; and that is this: people in these places know that unless they escape, they will be among those held responsible for Putin’s war in Ukraine.

            Separatism now, the former vice mayor of Samara says, represents “an attempt to evade responsibility for the war,” just as separatism in the union republics at the end of Soviet times was an attempt to evade bearing responsibility for “all the sins of the Soviet Union” (

            And consequently, the current political observer and blogger continues, “these trends will inevitably grow” as more and more people in the Russian Federation recognize that unless they separate, they will be among those held responsible by the West and others for Putin’s crimes in Ukraine.

            Federalism is not really an option, Feigin says. Federations can be built only in a state of calm; and now, Russia is neither in that condition nor a federation. It is a unitary state. And that makes the disintegration of the country more likely. Indeed, according to Feigin, “Russia now faces inevitable collapse” as it is hard to keep minorities in hand except by force.

            After all, no one will believe that “there will never be another usurpation of power. Nobody can guarantee this: Russia is going in circles.” That means it must become either ever more coercive or allow the country to collapse and disintegrate. And the latter option is the better choice for more and more people.

            “Why pray for the strengthening of the unity of the state?” he asks. “The Soviet Union collapsed and that was a good thing. Some peoples managed then to gain freedom and sovereignty.” Now, those who didn’t get these things then should be allowed to do so, Feigin concludes.


Duma Votes to Geld Lawyers, Reducing Possibilities for Russians to Get a Real Defense

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 10 – The Duma has passed a bill that gives Moscow the power to strip lawyers who have fled Russia to practice there and restricts lawyers who have remained in Russia of their ability to defend Russians charged with crimes, thus limiting the possibilities for lawyers to call attention to abuse at a time when the Putin regime largely controls judges.

            Under the new law, lawyers will not be certified for life but only for three years at a time, allowing officials to strip them of their powers to act as defense attorneys, and the register of lawyers will be maintained by Moscow rather than by the regions (

            And the new measure restricts the powers of lawyers to seek information from the powers that be for their clients and even explicitly gives the powers that be the power to ignore requests from attorneys, something the authorities have often done even up to now but in violation of existing statutes.

            On the one hand, this is part of the general stratification of all aspects of life under the Putin regime; but on the other, and perhaps most seriously, it eliminates one of the most important defenses those that regime chooses to charge with crimes real or imagined and the possibilities for trained lawyers to call attention to the abuses of the system.

            Indeed, with this step, the last remaining opportunity for those charged with crimes to bring their innocence to the attention of the Russian people is their closing statements. But while these are still often carried by the ever-fewer remaining independent outlets, they are not reported by government media and thus do not reach the population as a whole.

            This reduces the courts to cogs in the state machine and eliminates the possibilities for Russians to defend themselves.  

Saturday, April 13, 2024

For 2024 at Least, Kremlin Likely to Buy Its Way Out of Any Need for New Mobilization Effort, Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 10 – Despite losses in Ukraine, the Kremlin is unlikely to decide to attempt a new mobilization campaign at least this year, Vladislav Inozemtsev says. On the one hand, it wants to avoid the opposition that would generate inside Russia and in the West; and on the other, it has sufficient funds to pay soldiers enough to attract more without a mobilization.

            The Russian economist and commentator who divides his time between Moscow and Washington notes that rumors have been swirling since the end of last year that the Kremlin has little choice but to declare a mobilization of as many as 300,000 men if it hopes to meet its military and political goals (

            But such rumors not only ignore the costs the Putin regime had to bear from its first mobilization effort but also the possibilities it has to avoid those costs if it finds other ways to increase the number of men in uniform – and the likelihood that paying soldiers more to do so will boost support for Putin and his policies, Inozemtsev continues.

            While the Kremlin could bear the direct costs of mobilization, he says, its experience with the first effort in that direction suggests that it would have a far harder time overcoming three indirect costs – anger in the population, more Russian flight and thus a potential shortage of workers in key places, and a greater Western resolve to resist Putin’s aggression.

            Moreover, Putin has another option – paying more to those who agree to sign up and to those already serving – that his government has sufficient funds for and that not only boost the economy by infusing it with new supplies of cash but also generate even more support for himself among soldiers getting higher pay and among other Russians whose pay will also rise.

            But this spiral does have a downside: if pay in the defense industries continues to rise, many will decide that it is better to get jobs there rather than take the risks to life and limb of becoming a soldier. As after the first mobilization, that triggers a spiral the authorities can meet now but may not be able to for a prolonged period.

            And so Inozemtsev’s prediction that the Kremlin is unlikely to use mobilization to make up for losses and increase the size of the army holds only for a relatively short term. If the war continues for several years, the Kremlin leader may not have that option and will be forced to use mobilization or pull back from his aggressive policies.

Russia’s Lack of Infrastructure Makes It Hard to Improve Lives of Arctic Zone Residents and Keep Them There, Shirokov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 10 – The majority of the 2,440,000 people living in Russia’s enormous Arctic zone are working-age men who are often do not remain there for long even with high wages because the conditions of life are so difficult, according to Anatoly Shirokov, deputy head of the Federation Council’s committee that oversees the region.

            At the end of Soviet times, he continues, labor turnover in the region reached 30 to 35 percent; but since then, efforts by the government and private firms have reduced that number (

            But improving the lives of people who live in the urban centers of the north requires improving the infrastructure that supplies them. At present, the absence of railways, highways and sea lanes means that goods needed in these centers often have to travel outrageous distances to get there at all.

            Shirokov gives the following example which he describes as typical: The Deputatsky settlement in Sakha uses coal that is mined in Khakassia in southern Siberia. From there, the coal goes by rail to Murmansk, near Scandinavia, then is sent by ship to Indirka where it is loaded on barges and sent up a Sakha river to the settlement.

            That lengthy route raises the price of coal by 11 times, and the residents of Deputatsky have to pay it – and companies and the government have to pay them higher salaries or they wouldn’t be able to do so. That slows development and means that residents of the north leave when they can, a pattern that makes northern development even harder.

            Unless and until Moscow build the infrastructure needed to shorten such routes, the center’s plans for the north and its ability to ensure that there is a sufficient population there to guarantee the country’s national security in that direction at a time of rising international tensions will remain problematic.

Gagauzia will Ask Russia for Assistance if Chisinau Sends Forces into the Republic, Gutsul Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 10 -- Gagauzia will ask Russia for assistance of all kinds if Chisinau sends any military forces into the autonomy, Yevgeniy Gutsul, its bashkan (head) says, although she expressed the hope that the Moldovan authorities would not act in any way that might make such an appeal or such aid necessary.

            Tensions between Chisinau and Komrat and the involvement of Russia in this dispute have both increased over the last month. (For a discussion of these increases, see this author’s article at

            And those tensions have only increased further with Gutsul making a second visit to Rusisa in less than a month, a visit some Russian commentators say has given Gagauzia financial independence ( and

            Gutsul’s latest visit to Moscow and her statement about asking Moscow to intervene have only raised the temperature still further, as has Chisinau’s decision to send a senior official to Komrat on the very day that Gutsul was in Moscow (

            In the past, when tensions have peaked, Chisinau and Komrat have found ways to back down; but with Moscow’s increasing involvement, the Gagauzia government may be less inclined to do so, raising the possibility that the situation in and around that Christian Turkic autonomy is now set to spiral out of control.

After Terrorist Attack in Moscow, Tashkent Asks All Imams in Uzbekistan to Surrender Their Passports

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 10 – Because Moscow has identified Tajik nationals as the executors of the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack, Central Asian governments are responding in various ways to the risk that the Russian government will act in some way more directly against them and their citizens.

            One of the most dramatic of these reactions has come in Uzbekistan where the government on April 3 demanded that all imams and deputy imams in the surrender their passports so that they can’t travel abroad (

            Officials of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Uzbekistan deny that this has happened and say that no one is blocking the imams of Uzbekistan from travelling, but various imams tell Radio Liberty’s Uzbek service that they have received such an order and that many of Uzbekistan’s 7,000 imams and deputy imams have apparently felt compelled to obey.

            These imams say that in their view, what the government is doing is not just an act of deference to or fear of Moscow but rather an attempt to use this case to further tighten control over religious life in Uzbekistan because of Tashkent’s fears that there has been a growth in religious radicalism there.

Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate Says It is Canonically Attached to Russian Patriarchate but Not Subject to the ROC MP’s Orders

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 10 – A week ago, the synod of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate rejected Moscow Patriarchate Kirill’s statements about a “Russian world” and Russia’s “holy war” in Ukraine to demonstrate the EOC MP’s independence (

            But that declaration wasn’t enough to prevent Estonian commentators and officials from refusing to extend residence permit of the head of the EOC MP who, Tallinn said, had become even more pro-Kremlin since the original decision was made (

            Nor was it enough to prevent some Estonian officials from seeking to declare the EOC MP a terrorist organization ( and seeking to confiscate property held by the EOC MP (, compelling that church to combine with the Estonian Orthodox Church loyal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople.

            Since 1993, Estonia has had two Orthodox churches; and many have seen that arrangement as a model for other Orthodox hierarchies in the former Soviet space (, although Moscow’s demands have made that an increasingly problematic idea (

            Now, both to defend itself and to keep that option alive, the synod of the EOC MP has issued a 700-word declaration ( Its central provisions are as follows:

·       The EOC MP, it declares, is “an Orthodox Church which has operated in Estonia historically” and through that time has been “both historically and canonically connected with the Russian Orthodox Church.
“Very often everything that occurs in Moscow is automatically viewed” by others as defining EOC MP practice. But “this does not correspond to reality and is a misunderstanding. The EOC MP is not responsibile for the words of the Patriarch.”

·       Moscow does not give “direct orders” to the EOC MP but there is “a canonical connection” between the EOC MP and the ROC MP.

·       “We cannot unilaterally break such canonical ties because we are autonomous. That is not in our power and this would deeply contradict our conscience.” Moreover, “the ROC has not adopted at the church level anything that would force us to break this canonical link.”

·       These ties and prayers for the Patriarch do not mean that the EOC MP approves all the actions of the Patriarch.

·       The possible combination of the EOC MP and the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church is “improbable” because the latter was formed with the approval of the ROC MP, and any effort now to forcibly combine them would be an attack on the rights of believers.


This declaration is unlikely to satisfy those in Estonia who believe that the EOC MP is Moscow’s agent in place, but it may worry some in Moscow as well because in it, the EOC MP defines itself as far more independent in views and actions that the ROC MP and the Kremlin behind it will be happy about.

If the EOC MP continues in this direction, Estonia may continue for a time to have two Orthodox churches but neither will be the Moscow church the ROC MP wants and many Estonians fear. If the EOC MP doesn’t, then demands for closing it down will likely continue to grow among Estonians and Estonian officials. 

Friday, April 12, 2024

Third Post-Soviet ‘Great Game’ Now Taking Place in Central Asia with Expanded List of Players, Satpayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 10 – In the 19th century, Russia and Britain struggled for influence in Central Asia, a conflict in the shadows that historians now refer to as “the Great Game.” Since the collapse of Soviet power in 1991, the region has passed through two “great games” and is now in the midst of a third, Dosym Satpayev says.

            The Kazakh political analyst says the first post-Soviet great game took place between 1991 and 2001, the second between September 11 and 2021 when the US introduced and then pulled forces from Afghanistan; and the third after Putin invaded Ukraine ( and

            According to Satpayev, the current phase of the great game involves Russia, China, the US, the EU, Turkey, India, Afghanistan and the Arab world and has as its focal points six major issues:

1.     Intensified competition between these various countries for access to raw materials and especially rare earth minerals;

2.     Chinese efforts to become the paramount power as far as consumer goods are concerned;

3.     Cooperation and competition among the countries of the region in the development of transportation corridors;

4.     Increased Russian economic presence as part of Moscow’s turn to the east;

5.     Intensified competition between Turkey and the Arab countries for economic, political and religious influence in the region; and

6.     Given increasing water shortages, intensified competition for access to and use of transborder rivers.

Among Russians, Both National and Regional Identities Highly Problematic, Sokolov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 10 – The identities of many non-Russian nations within the borders of the Russian Federation are well-developed, but the identities of those counted as Russians both as a whole and at the regional level are not, according to Denis Sokolov, who coordinates armed resistance for the Civic Council and is a member of the Free Ingria movement.

            In an interview with Vadim Shtepa for the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal, Sokolov, who was trained as an anthropologist, says that this lack casts a serious shadow on the possibilities for political action either by those who want to act as members of a Russian nation and those who aspire to regional identities (

            According to the activist, “Russians as a compact group identifying as Russian do not exist” because the Russian state “has taken this identity hostage,” leaving those among this group who oppose that state uncertain of who they are and often even incapable of explaining what it means to them to be a Russian.

            At the same time, Sokolov continues, “when we speak about regionalist identity, either this is a certain construct which looks primarily like something from folklore or it is a political project that has not yet achieved its goals.” Consequently, just like for Russians as a whole, those in the regions have not been able to consolidate as such and act as the non-Russians do.

            Indeed, he says, regional identities “unfortunately have not been formed as of now and in practice are absent.” Talk about them is either a question of talking about some past or an expression of hope that they can take shape in the future. And anyone discussing them as if they are in the same rank as the ethnic identities of non-Russians must disabuse himself of that idea.

            In conclusion, Sokolov says that “the West is afraid of the collapse of Russia” and believes that “somehow this can be avoided – although we don’t need to do anything for the collapse of Russia. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and his entourage are doing this more quickly and effectively than anyone else.”

Since 2013, the Russian Economy has Barely Grown and Russians have Become Poorer, Statistics Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 10 – In Soviet times, officials loved to compare wherever the country was economically with 1913, the last year of normalcy before war and revolution changed everything. Now, Russians look back to 2013, the last normal year before the Crimean Anschluss and Putin’s expanded war in Ukraine.

            But when they do, they see not the growth figures Soviet officials celebrated but rather a decade of stagnation in which the Russian economy showed little growth and in which the Russian people became poorer, according to a survey of available data by the Important Stories portal (

            Among the figures the portal offers are the following:

·       Since 2013, the Russian GDP has grown 11.5 percent or 1.1 percent a year; over the same period, the world economy has grown 2.7 percent a year.

·       Real disposable incomes of the population have fallen and are now lower than in 2013.

·       Prices have doubled since 2013, with inflation averaging 7.15 percent a year.

·       The US dollar now costs 2.7 time as much in rubles as it did a decade ago.

·       Expressed in dollar terms, the incomes of Russians have fallen ever further behind those of most other countries in the industrial world.

·       The government’s share in the economy has risen slightly and that of the population has fallen.

·       Government earnings from oil and gas now constitute 30 percent of the budget, down from 50 percent a decade ago.

·       There are no immediate prospects that Russia will rise into the top ranks of the world’s economies, but there are also none that it will fall below the middle rank either.

Moscow Must Carefully Distinguish Between Temporary and Permanent Immigrants to Ensure that the Former Don’t Become the Latter, Shustov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 10 – One of the biggest shortcomings in Russian discussions about immigration is a failure to distinguish between those who come to Russia to work and then go home when the work is done and those who come to Russia and plan to remain there permanently, Aleksandr Shustov says.

            Russia needs both, the Rhythm of Eurasia writer says; but it must ensure that those who come to fill jobs for which there is a shortage of Russian workers then go home and not remain permanently and transform the ethnic mix of the country (

            And at the same time, Shustov continues, Moscow must work to promote permanent immigration only among groups that are culturally, politically and linguistically similar to the ethnic Russian majority of the Russian Federation. Doing anything else, he suggests, could prove suicidal.

            To ensure that both things occur, he argues, Russian officials must distinguish between the two groups and have specific policies for each rather than as now discussing the issue of migrants as if it were a single thing and adopting policies for the entire group that may compromise one or the other of Russia’s needs.

Is the Russian Federation Set to Fall Apart on Its Own?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 9 – The Congress of the League of Free Nations which took place in Estonia April 6-7 provided not only many insights about the direction such groups are now moving ( but also an occasion to reflect about some larger issues as well.

            A commentary by the IdelReal portal about the meeting ( notes that many who took part in the meeting assume that Russia is about to “fall apart on its own” and that their task is less to struggle for that outcome than to to be prepared to take advantage of that situation once it occurs.

            Indeed, in the minds of many such people, especially those who are now forced to live abroad, there is little they can do otherwise. But one consequence of that they spend a disproportionate amount of time drawing borders on maps and talking about not the immediate tasks but about a much-desired future that will occur only after some unspecified interval.

            On the one hand, such attitudes give their discussions a certain air of unreality that leads most outsiders to dismiss them and their notions as irrelevant. And on the other, they can in at least some cases promote a kind of passivity among those who want such futures, a self-serving feeling that they will be benefit from changes they can’t or at least aren’t working to promote.

            But even more than that, such views reflect a widespread attitude that the future of Russia will be like that of the Soviet Union in 1991, a collapse that in the minds of many happened somehow naturally rather than as the result of the activism of ethnic and regional elites and political struggles at the top.

            Because the collapse of the USSR was so quick and at least for the first few years relatively peaceful, many people both from Russia and the West assume that the same pattern will hold in the future even though the demographics, politics, and attitudes of outside players have changed significantly.

            That Russia faces serious even existential problems and that Vladimir Putin’s policies have put that country on course to disintegrate is certainly true; but when and even if things will go all the way along that road and whether they will do so quickly or only after a very long interval are issues that should be confronted and then acted upon.

            The author of these lines last year offered a discussion of these issues in which I suggested that the approaching end of Russia is far more likely to resemble what happened in 1918 than what happened in 1991 (; a Russian translation is available at

            In that presentation, I argued that the coming collapse is likely to be far more immediately bloody than was 1991 and far more likely to result in the re-assembly of more parts of the empire under a Moscow-centric state even more brutal than the one Putin embodies and that the role of outsiders in this process now as in 1918 may paradoxically lead to that outcome.

            My remarks last year were just one effort to push the discussion into more fruitful directions, and it is my hope that both those who live under Moscow’s yoke and those who would like to see that yoke smashed will focus on some major questions that unfortunately in my view are not being discussed.

            Among these, two are overwhelmingly important at the present time. For activists in or from the regions and republics of the current Russian Federation, the critical issues are simple: What should they be doing now and in the future to promote the demise of the Muscovite state? And what can they do to avoid taking steps that are counterproductive?

            And for those abroad who either recognize that the continued existence of a Putinist Russian Federation is an existential threat to the West and/or want to see a better life for the peoples on the current territory, the questions are even greater: What should they be doing now to promote those ends? And how can they avoid doing so in ways that subvert their own ends?


Thursday, April 11, 2024

Nearly Half of All Russians Oppose Putin but Half of These Opponents Do So from One Side and Half from the Other, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 8 – Surveys show that far more Russians oppose Putin than many think, with nearly half saying they are against the current Kremlin leader, Sergey Shelin says; but this group is split between those who oppose him because they are democrats and those who do so because they are even more authoritarian and aggressive than he is.

            The independent Russian commentator says that this pattern constitutes “the paradox of the opposition.” It is far larger than many suppose, but it consists of almost two equally large wings that agree on nothing except that Putin should be replaced by someone else with different policies (

            There is thus little chance that this opposition will ever be able to drive Putin from office or install someone it favors in his place. But the size of the opposition also means that the incumbent ruler does not have the overwhelming support that he and his minions suggest – only enough that together with repression and the divisions of his opponents to keep him where he is.

Russia Faces the Same Natural Disasters Every Year and They will Only Increase Given Official Negligence and Spending on War in Ukraine, Russian Commentators Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 8 – Each year, Russia suffers the kind of natural disasters that it did 12 months earlier – floods in the spring, forest fires in the summer, and broken heating and water pipes in the winter – at least in part because officials act as if each case is something new rather than an event that has been predicted and that they could have prepared for.

            Worse, Russian commentator says, the situation is getting worse with each passing year not only because the powers that be are devoting less attention to bringing infrastructure up to standard but because the Kremlin is diverting ever more money to the war in Ukraine and its desire to present the Russian Federation as a super power.

            This is becoming a theme in an ever-increasing number of commentaries about the natural disasters Russia is suffering from now (e.g., and

            And that in turn is becoming a growing problem for Russian leaders at all levels. So far, Kremlin has succeeded in focusing the blame on regional and local officials rather than allowing it to be directed at himself, although continuing references to the way the war in Ukraine are making that worse likely undercuts the possibilities that tactic has for success.


Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Duma Urged to Give Most People in Northern and Eastern Russia Same Rights as the Indigenous Numerically Small Peoples, Thus Threatening the Survival of the Latter

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 8 – A group of Duma deputies is calling on their colleagues to approve a measure that would strip the already hard-pressed but numerically small non-Russian nationalities of the North, Siberia and the Far East of their special rights to conduct their traditional way of life and put the survival of these peoples at risk.

            Since Soviet times, Moscow has given members of these small nationalities the exclusive right to hunt and fish as they have done for time immemorial. Those of other nations who have moved in among them have often sought to be given the same rights as those enjoyed by the numerically small peoples even though these arrivals in do not have a traditional lifestyle.

            Now a group of Russian parliamentarians, led by LDPR deputy Leonid Slutsky, have proposed a new law that would grant to all those born in these regions regardless of nationality and all those who have lived there no less than 35 years again regardless of nationality to enjoy the rights that (

What Slutsky’s proposal would do is to overturn for the Russian Federation as a whole a system that has long been under attack at the regional and local level by ethnic Russians and others ( and

            But this idea may tragically be one whose time has come given that in the last few years and especially since Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea in 2014 and his expanded invasion of Ukraine since 2022, the position of the numerically small peoples has been challenged in a variety of ways ( and

            It is far from certain whether this proposal will be adopted, but the very fact that it is now being pushed highlights the growing willingness of Moscow politicians to pander to ethnic Russian and corporate interests and ignore the rights of non-Russian and especially small non-Russian nationalities even if Moscow up to now has recognized those rights at least on paper.

            But one thing is clear: if this draft legislation does gain support, that will radicalize the numerically small peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East and at the same time radicalize other larger non-Russian nations who are certain to view this move as yet another move by the central government to weaken their positions and threaten their future as well.

Conference in Estonia Brings Together Ethnic and Regional Movements from Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 6 – Over the last two years, there have been a plethora of meetings of activists mostly in emigration speaking for groups inside the Russian Federation but outside of the Russian capital. Most have divided between those that seek to unite various national groups and those that hope to promote regional ones.

            In general, nationalists have called for independence for their groups, while regionalists have sought real federalism. But the two categories of people in fact overlap with some nationalists recognizing the need for federal arrangements for some nations and some regionalists talking about independence for some regions.

            At a meeting of the League of Free Nations in Estonia, on April 5-6, these two groups in the MariUver portal reported, to “unite national and regional movements” and build on the common ground between them (, and

            Not surprisingly, speakers representing or support national movements attracted more attention; but the real significance of this assembly is that they were prepared to cooperate with regional movements and the regional movements were increasingly ready to speak out in support of independence not only for the national movements but for regional ones as well.

            Thus, the Otepaa session should be a wakeup call for those analysts and policy makers who assume that nationalists invariably support independence as the only option and that regionalists only support federalism and have little or no interest in seeking independence for themselves.


Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Telephone Terrorism Returns to Russia, Lengthening Shadow of Crocus City Hall Attack

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 7 – In the past few days, what Russian officials refer to as “telephone terrorism” – the calling in of warnings that bombs have been placed in various public institutions -- has returned to Russia, forcing officials to evacuate a variety many and adding to the climate of fear that arose in the wake of the Crocus City Hall attacks.

            The most detailed report about this trend comes from St. Petersburg where in the last week alone telephone terrorism has forced officials to evacuate about one thousand people at 153 sites even though in the end no explosive (

            How many other cases of such calls and evacuations have affected Russia this time around is unknown: Officials often seek to suppress information about such calls lest they trigger fears in the population or even fall victim to charges that they are working with those behind such calls about bombings.

            Telephone terrorism is both cheap and relatively risk free. All that anyone needs is a telephone and he or she can be located far beyond the borders of the Russian Federation. And there is good evidence from the past that it is often a copycat crime with people joining in when they hear about this tactic.

            As a result, telephone terrorism can spread rapidly and disorder society. In 2017-2018, such threats forced the Russian authorities to evacuate more than three million people from thousands of schools, businesses, cultural facilities and government offices across the country ( and

Kremlin’s ‘Anti-Terrorism’ Campaign Increasingly Directed at Political Opponents rather than at Real Terrorists, Russian Court Statistics Show

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 5 – Since Vladimir Putin became Russian president in 2000, he has made countering terrorism a centerpiece of his agenda, but with each passing term in office, he has used anti-terrorist legislation and practice less to ward off terrorist attacks than to go after his political opponents, according to analysts who have followed his actions.

            That is the conclusion the Meduza news agency draws on the basis of an analysis of exactly what paragraphs Russians have been charged with terrorism over the course of Putin’s time in power (

            Initially, Russian officials brought charges against people who were thought to be involved in the activities of terrorist groups, but over time, Putin added new paragraphs that allowed the Russian state to charge people with terrorist because they supposedly advocated its use.

            As a result, the number of people charged with terrorism has jumped by 40 times over Putin’s time in office, and Moscow’s much-ballyhooed “struggle against terrorism has been transformed into an industry of repression” against all those individuals and groups the Kremlin leader doesn’t like.

            Not only does this evolving use of anti-terrorism legislation have the effect of lumping together all those who oppose Putin with terrorist groups, something that works to the benefit of those in power; but it also has the effect of meaning that Moscow is devoting less time to fighting genuine terrorism, with the horrific consequences seen at Crocus City Hall.


Monday, April 8, 2024

Kremlin Media Provoke Xenophobia and Can Tamp It Down as Well, Demographer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 5 – Many fear that the upsurge of anti-immigrant xenophobia after the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack is so large that Moscow will be unable to prevent anti-immigrant attitudes from spreading to all non-Russians and that many of the Central Asians now working in the Russian Federation will flee to their homelands.

            But both concerns are overblown, the Important Stories portal says. On the one hand, the Central Asians need the work they have in Russia and have little choice but to remain there (

            And on the other, as Moscow demographer Aleksandr Grepachevsky points out, the amount of xenophobia Russians display is largely determined by the messages the Moscow media sends out. After the terrorist attack, the Kremlin-linked media provoked xenophobia by its coverage.

            However, if the media change their reporting, Russians will “on the whole forget about the terrorist attack, and xenophobia will return to just about the same level if was prior to that event,” albeit with some changes in some places possible but not sufficient to drive large numbers of Central Asian immigrant workers home.

            That conclusion, the demographer continues, is justified by surveys conducted by the Levada Center which show that media messages about migrants have been the most important factor driving both increases in xenophobia and decreases in such attitudes among Russians over the past two decades.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Moscow Church in Estonia Rejects ‘Russian World’ as Being at Odds with the Gospels

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 4 – The synod of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has declared that the idea of “a Russian world” now being pushed by Patriarch Kirill does not correspond to the Gospels and has called on all members of its denomination to “pray for peace and the safety of all residents of our independent Estonia.”

            By rejecting Kirill’s position as expressed at the World Russian Popular Assembly at the end of March, the leaders of the EOC MP are following the strategy the Moscow church in Ukraine has in its attempt to defend itself against charges it is a foreign agent in Ukraine (

            Whether that will help the EOC MP to maintain its separate status better than a similar approach has for the Moscow church in Ukraine remains to be seen. On the one hand, Estonia has had a much longer and more successful experience with having two Orthodox churches, one subordinate to Moscow and the other to Constantinople.

            But on the other, the EOC MP has been under increasing pressure from the Estonian government which earlier this year ordered the head of that church, a Russian citizen, to leave after his Estonian residence permit expired (

            Despite the small size of the EOC MP, the Moscow Patriarchate and the Kremlin behind it have always seen its foothold in that Baltic country as critically important; and thus they can now be expected to respond extremely negatively if quietly to this latest Tallinn action (

Population Flight from Russian Far East Being Exacerbated by Climate Change, Klepach Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 5 – The population of the Far Eastern Federal District has declined by more than ten percent over the last 20 years and is projected to decline further by approximately the same amount by mid-century, a trend that makes it difficult for that region to interact with China and other Pacific rim states and threatens Russia’s national security, Andrey Klepach says.

            The main reasons for this decline, the senior economist at VEB says, are well-known: the extreme economic and political centralization of Russia and the consequent emptying out of rural areas and especially those of regions like the Far Eastern FD which are distant from Moscow (

            But there is an additional factor Klepach cites that means that Moscow’s effort to ensure its control over the Far East will continue is going to face even more difficulties in the future than it has in the past; and that is climate change, a global process that means conditions in European Russia will improve by mid-century but those in parts of the Far East will deteriorate.

            Because of projected increases in humidity, precipitation and wind speed in the TransBaikal and the southern portions of the Far Eastern FD, “the favorable zone that now exists there may disappear,” the economist says the research shows; and as a result, ever more people now there will seek to leave.

            That means, he continues, that Russia’s ability to take advantage of the growth in China and the Asia Pacific rim will decline and could mean that other countries – and China in the first instance – with large populations will expand into a region that Moscow views as permanently part of the Russian Federation.

            As a result, Klepach says costs of keeping people there let alone attracting  more people to those areas will be prohibitive, far greater than Moscow has been willing to spend up to now and far less than it is likely to be able to do if it continues to spend money the way it is doing at present. 

Russian Military Likely to Be Even Less Willing to Have Central Asians in Its Ranks after Latest Moscow Terrorist Attack, Sidorov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 3 – One of the consequences of the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack is that the Russian military is likely to be even less willing to have Central Asian migrants join its ranks to fight in Ukraine, a policy that the Kremlin has been pushing in order to avoid an unpopular general mobilization, Vadim Sidorov says.

            The Prague-based expert on ethnic relations in the Russian Federation says that whenever there has been a terrorist incident involving Central Asians, the Russian military has concluded that Central Asians are unreliable as soldiers and does not want them in its ranks (

            In support of his argument that the involvement of Tajiks in the latest terrorist incident in Moscow will have that effect, Sidorov points to the conclusions of Russian nationalist commentator Vladimir Prokhvatilov who said in November 2023 that such soldiers “fight poorly” (

            Of course, there are exceptions to that, Sidorov concedes; but that image of Central Asians in the minds of Russian commanders likely will define how they will view any Kremlin efforts to dramatically expand the Central Asian component of the Russian military now fighting in Ukraine.

Illegal Arms Sales, Possession and Use in Russia Up Dramatically Since Start of Putin’s Expanded War in Ukraine, Experts Say

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 2 – The Russian government’s assertion that the terrorists who attacked the Crocus City Hall venue had illegally obtained the Russian guns they used has attracted new attention to the issue of just how many guns are in private hands illegally and how much that number may have increased in the last several years.

            In 2022, the Russian interior ministry said that there were between five million and 20 million guns, prohibited by Russian law, in private hands. Now experts say, as a result of guns flooding back from the war in Ukraine, the number is far more than that upper limit (

            In the same year, Moscow experts say, the number of crimes in Russia carried out with illegally owned guns rose by a third from the year before, according to official data. In 2023, this figure fell; but experts believe that was the result of orders from above not to call attention to just how bad things have become.

            Whenever Russians have been taking part in a war, the number of guns arriving back into Russia illegally has skyrocketed. That happened after World War II, after the Chechen wars, and after Syria. Now, this flow has increased still further because of the use of PMCs and other forces less well controlled by Moscow.

            Adding to that flow are underground arms factories that the FSB has tried to stamp out with relatively little success, guns coming in from China and other countries, and the involvement of the military, the FSB and the interior ministry in such sales, with many officers making fortunes by illegally diverting guns.

            According to one special services officer speaking on condition of anonymity, the scale of the problem is reflected in this fact: “There is now at a minimum one gun, often unregistered, in each family living in Siberian villages and also in the Far North.” And Russians elsewhere who want guns prohibited by the government can easily do so.

            One measure of just how many such guns are in circulation and thus how easy it is for Russians to get them is that over the last two years, the price of such banned guns has fallen by 90 percent, putting weapons that were beyond the reach of most people now guns that they can easily afford.

            As a result, he and other experts say, terrorists and criminals now have no problems getting the guns they want. And some of them add that the only hope is to legalize guns so that more citizens will be armed and terrorists and criminals will have to think twice before using guns lest they be killed by armed citizens.