Tuesday, April 30, 2024

While Kremlin Focuses Ukraine, Rest of Post-Soviet Space ‘Disappearing Before Our Eyes,’ Influential Telegram Channel Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 27 – The Putin regime’s obsessive focus on Ukraine is not only isolating Russia from the West but it is reducing Moscow’s influence across the former Soviet space, the SytoSokrat telegram channel says. Indeed, it can be said that Moscow’s expanded invasion of Ukraine has “destroyed what was left of Russian influence in the near abroad.

            The influential channel which is directed at Russia’s security elite says that “immediately, in several places, the Russian positions have gone to hell,” a conclusion justified by the fact in that in place after place, Moscow has been forced to pull back or even worse forced to pull back (t.me/sytosokrata/892 reposted at charter97.org/ru/news/2024/4/29/593337/).

            The situation in the Caucasus is especially bad and especially instructive, the telegram channel continues. Moscow is “shamefully” pulling back there. “For the sake of implementing an ephemeral geopolitical project of a southern corridor to Iran, Moscow has treacherously abandoned Armenia.”

            “The GRU and the FSB tried to overthrow the Pashinyan government by trying to implement a pro-Kremlin color revolution,” SytoSokrat says; but for their troubles, they got “hit in the teeth. As a result, the Armenian government not wanting to deal with Putin’s cum began to redirect its foreign policy toward the West.”

            And despite Kremlin hopes, “the Azerbaijanis did not become allies for the Russians. They see their future in the Turkic world and welcome with stormy applause the withdrawal of the Russian contingent from Karabakh.” Baku shares with Turkey a vision of a Turkish world, which represents “a colossal threat to the territorial integrity of Russia” with its Turkic units.

            Moscow also made the situation for itself worse in Georgia. There, “the Russian special services at the direction of Patrushev are pushing through a foreign agents law” and thereby generating “a powerful anti-Moscow popular movement” that won’t let Tbilisi engage in any rapprochement with the Russian Federation.

            Meanwhile, “Putin’s special services have become more active in the direction of Moldova” but with no more promise of success and an increasing likelihood of failure. Moscow orchestrated a meeting of Moldovan opposition figures and stimulated Gagauz succession, all of which are likely to do nothing more than push Chisinau into the hands of the West.

In Declaring Non-Existent Anti-Russian Separatist Movement ‘Extremist,’ Kremlin Opens the Door to Broad Range of Repression, Legal Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 27 – Moscow’s plans to declare the Anti-Russian Separatist Movement, a body that doesn’t exist, is consistent with its general approach of making its charges more absurd and its sentences for those convicted harsher (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2024/04/russian-justice-ministry-calls-for.html and novayagazeta.ru/articles/2024/04/27/shtraf-detsadu-sud-nad-bibliotekarem-i-seksualnyi-terrorist-i-arest-vracha).

            But that does not mean that this latest action will collapse of its own weight at least any time soon or that it won’t open the way to a new wave of repressive actions against a variety of people who discuss regional and ethnic issues, Russian legal specialists warn (novayagazeta.eu/articles/2024/04/26/spektr-repressii-mozhet-byt-ochen-shirokii).

            Russian lawyer Anastasiya Burakova says that at a minimum, the authorities are likely to use this finding against anyone who calls the territories in Ukraine now under the control of Russian forces “occupied” because from Moscow’s point of view that represents a direct challenge to the Kremlin’s definition of Russia’s borders.

            But in addition, she says, there is the danger that the Russian government will bring charges against any discussion of ethnic and federal affairs by national groups within the Russian Federation regardless of whether these discussions call for separatism or are in fact formally organized into groups.

            “Any discussions about nationalities living on the territory of Russia and about their histories which the powers don’t like may be counted as ‘extremist,’” she says; “and the authors of such expressions may now fall under the pressure” of charges of extremism and punishment for that.

            Burdakova continues: “I have no doubt that the justice ministry suit will be satisfied and the specter of repression may be very broad” especially given the precedent provided by declaring LGBTs members by definition in an international anti-Russian body and that the number of people charged and imprisoned is likely to be large.

            Another Russian lawyer, Valeriya Vetoshkina, with whom Novaya Gazeta spoke, agreed entirely, although she said that the decision by the Supreme Court won’t tell anyone much given the way in which the powers that be now treat all legal forms in a highly variable and elastic way.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Despite Fears, Putin hasn’t Restored Soviet-Style Media Isolation for Russians, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 26 – Despite the fears of many, Vladimir Putin has not blocked the access of Russians to alternative media, commentator Sergey Shelin says; but his policies which have included the closure of some internet sites and Facebook and led some media outlets to move abroad have changed the pattern of the consumption of media in Russia today.  

            Levada Center surveys show, he continues, that Russian reliance on and attitudes toward state television have remained largely the same; but use of and trust in Telegram channels has increased, from nine percent to 24 percent and five percent to 18 percent respectively (moscowtimes.ru/2024/04/25/emigrantskie-smi-nuzhni-mnogim-no-obschenatsionalnimi-ne-stali-a129192).

            But use and trust in Internet sites has fallen, not only because telegram channels and YouTube provide more attractive options, Shelin says, but also because many Russians fear that their use of websites is monitored and that if they visit sites the authorities don’t like, they will find themselves in trouble.

            Telegram channels don’t inspire similar fears, and not surprisingly, they have become especially popular among Russians under the age of 25 who read them more than they watch TV. Even their elders are making the same choice, and today 32 million Russians turn to telegram channels and spend on average 5.1 hours on telegram every day.

            Tens of millions of Russians thus have access to information not controlled by the state via telegram or web pages produced by media centers in the West, a situation very different than was the case in Soviet times when far fewer people listened to “foreign voices” or read underground samizdat.

            And that difference from Soviet times must be recognized and hopefully exploited by those who want to challenge the Putin regime, even though the Kremlin leader still dominates the media landscape in his country in ways far greater than in any free and democratic country, Shelin concludes.

Problems in Russian Logistical Networks Boosting Regional Businesses

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 25 – Growing problems with Russia’s logistical networks, including accidents on its troubled railway system (krizis-kopilka.ru/archives/102248), has given local and regional businesses the chance to grow more rapidly than country-wide businesses which rely on distribution, statistics show.

            Re-Russia provides a compilation of data showing that local and regional businesses have grown almost ten percent in the last year after seven years of stagnation, with their sales rising 11 percent in real terms, both far greater than the all-Russian companies have been able to achieve (re-russia.net/review/728/).

            If Russia’s infrastructure problems continue to grow and that is likely because Putin has been pulling money out of projects intended to address these problems and improve the networks, then that will mean that local and regional companies will play an expanded role in many local and regional markets and hence local and regional politics.

            That will constitute a fundamental reversal of trends that Putin’s earlier policies had put in place and may mean that regional and local officials backed by regional and local businesses will become more independent-minded in their thinking, confident that their businesses and officials are now in a better position to address problems than ever before.

            In most countries, as residents of smaller cities and towns now, improved transportation networks have nationalized marketplaces and centralized economic and political decision making. But in Russia today, the new data suggests that the situation is going in precisely the opposite direction. 

Moscow Patriarchate’s Moves against Anti-War Priests Undermining the ROC MP and Opening the Way for Renewal of Orthodoxy in Russia, Soldatov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 26 – Moscow Patriarch Kirill is punishing ever more Russian Orthodox priests for anti-war views, an action that may win him support in the Kremlin but that is undermining the authority of his church structure and even opening the doors to the creation of an alternative Russian Orthodoxy to replace it, Aleksandr Soldatov says.

            Kirill’s actions not only violate the rules of the ROC MP but offend believers and have led the Ecumenical Patriarchate to restore the priestly rights of those he has punished and thus create a group of religious who may form the nucleus of a new Russian Orthodoxy within Russia itself, the specialist on Russian religious life says (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2024/04/26/rpts-b).

            (For a constantly updated list of the priests the current Russian patriarch has sought to exclude from church life for their opposition to the war in Ukraine, see shaltnotkill.info/presledovanie-hristian-za-antivoennuyu-pozicziyu-ili-podderzhku-ukrainy-v-zashhite-ot-agressii-so-storony-religioznyh-organizaczij-i-vlastej/).

            As a result of Kirill’s actions, Soldatov says, “a new host of confessors of the Christian faith has appeared in Russia today, one that is suffering in the first instance from its new persecutors in the person of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, its bishops and other church officials obedient to him.”

            One of their number, Andrey Kurayev, who was stripped of his office as a proto-deacon, has gone into emigration and not long ago became a priest subordinate to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, says that what is happening shows “the complete powerlessness of Kirill and his satraps.”

            Russian Orthodox publicist Sergey Chapnin who now lives in the United States says that Constantinople has opened the floodgates and the number of those who will follow Kurayev into the ranks of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s priesthood will exceed Kirill’s ability to control the situation in Russia itself.

            For the first time in many centuries,” Soldatov continues, such priests have a chance to escape serfdom from the patriarchy, and the jurisdiction of the ROC MP on its own ‘canonical territory,’ ceases to be absolute and unconditional – the first step toward the dismantling of the post-imperial totalitarian structure of the ROC in the form it took after 1943.”

Poorer Federal Subjects Forced to Use Compulsion Not Cash to Meet Russian Military Quotas

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 25 –Moscow has been able to meet its goals to sign up men for military service by offering men enormous bonuses that will lift them and their families out of poverty. But because some federal subject governments lack the cash to fund such bonuses, they are falling back on compulsion.

            And in at least some cases, they appear to be using that compulsion to achieve other ends, including destroying smaller local minorities by sending their men to die in Ukraine or possibly by forcing members of those groups to reidentify as members of the dominant titular nationality to escape that fate.

            This behavior seldom attracts much attention not only because the numbers of people involved are likely small and so don’t attract the attention of the central media but also because the media outlets in these federal subjects are typically firmly under control of the governments there who have little interest in having such stories reported.

            That makes a story by Radio Svoboda journalist Fidel Agumava about what is happening to the Soyots in Buryatia especially important not only in and of itself but also because of the light it shines on what is likely far more widespread phenomenon (sibreal.org/a/rubyat-semi-pod-koren-kak-vlasti-zagonyayut-lyudey-na-voynu-po-kontraktu/32920096.html).

            As she documents, Buryat officials working with the Russian military are using compulsion to meet Moscow’s recruitment goals because the republic does not have enough money to offer the kind of bonuses that other regions and republics either on their own or with special help from Moscow are able to do instead.

            And Agumava shows that this use of compulsion is selective in that it is directed more at the Soyots, a Buryat sub-ethnos, than at other Buryats, an apparent indication that Ulan-Ude may be taking advantage of the Kremlin’s mobilization program to engage in its own kind of ethnic engineering.

             This report at the very least should introduce a notion of caution that Moscow can buy its way out of its recruitment problems. Moreover, it also should lead to an examination of exactly what is happening in Russia’s poorest and often non-Russian republics, especially outside the North Caucasus where Moscow provides funds for such bonuses to keep things quiet.

Moscow Increases Quotas for Immigrant Workers Despite Demands by Many Russians that They Be Cut

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 26 – The Russian government has increased the quotas for migrant workers to come to Russia despite widespread demands among officials, commentators, and the Rusisan population that the influx of workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus be significantly restricted (pnp.ru/social/v-rossiyu-khotyat-zavezti-eshhe-bolshe-migrantov.html).

            The quotas themselves are far smaller than the actual numbers of migrants coming in, and what the Russian government is doing may in fact be part of a plan to meet the needs of business and industry by boosting official quotas and satisfying the population by attack “illegal” immigration.

            That approach may have worked before the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack, but now almost certainly it is likely to trigger more popular anger at the government, something the Kremlin and its minions certainly do not need at the present time (paperpaper.ru/kvoty-na-trudovyh-migrantov-vyrosli-p/).

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Russian Justice Ministry Calls for Declaring Non-Existent ‘Anti-Russian Separatist Movement’ an ‘Extremist’ Organization

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 26 – Last fall, Grigory Golosov, a professor at St. Petersburg’s European University, said that Moscow has come up with a new means of going after those it doesn’t like: first declaring that those the Kremlin doesn’t like are part of an international movement and then declaring that movement to be “an extremist group” even if no such organization exists.

            It did that with the LGBT community, Golosov says, adding that it is likely to do so with feminism, a move many Kremlin supporters already are calling for and noting that such moves will make it easier for Moscow to prosecute those advancing ideas at odds with Putin and his regime (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2023/11/kremlin-deploying-two-more-means-of.html).

            The latest victim of such an approach consists of those who promote regionalist and nationalist ideas. They do not form a single organization, but Moscow has decided that they do and thus can be treated in the same way that it has been persecuting the LGBT community in Russia.

            Nine days ago, the Russian justice ministry called on the Russian Supreme Court to declare the Anti-Russian Separatist Movement and it structures extremist organization at a hearing on June 7 (minjust.gov.ru/ru/pages/izveshenie-o-vremeni-i-meste-rassmotreniya-administrativnogo-dela-7-iyunya-2024-g/).

            In its letter to the Court, the justice ministry said that “the Anti-Russian Separatist Movement is an international movement for the destruction of the multi-national unity and territorial integrity of Russia;” but it did not provide any details about just what this Movement is and what its organizations international or local may be.

            The Sova-Center monitoring and analysis group in reporting this development said that the experience of the LGBT movement strongly suggests that the Russian authorities will use this declaration as an “elastic” means of bringing new and additional charges against activists the Kremlin doesn’t like (sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2024/04/d49736/).

            Russian prosecutors will no longer have to point to specific actions to bring charges of separatism against anyone. Simply declaring that someone is a member of this “Anti-Russian Separatist Movement” will be enough -- even though as the Sova-Center points out no such “movement” exists.

            According to the Sova-Center, Moscow is likely to use such a declaration against regionalist as well as nationalist groups and also against people outside of Moscow who are not interested in separatism at all but rather only in creating genuine federalism in the increasingly unitary Russian state.

           This has sparked a large number of sharply critical comments by Russian independent news organizations and bloggers (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=662C9F2C5D0E6). 

Moscow May Restart Regional Amalgamation Effort but Unlikely to Touch North Caucasus, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 24 – Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko says that there are several regions in the Russian Federation which should be combined with their neighbors to make it easier for Moscow to administer the country but that such efforts must be carefully prepared lest amalgamation spark resistance.

            Her comments now (ria.ru/20240424/obedinenie-1941914211.html and versia.ru/valentina-matvienko-zayavila-o-neobxodimosti-obedinit-neskolko-rossijskix-regionov) are almost an exact repetition of those she made more than a decade ago (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/02/window-on-eurasia-are-russias-non.html).

            But although amalgamation has long been on hold, Matviyenko’s call for unifying federal subjects may take off. On the one hand, there have been increasing rumblings about that among non-Russians who fear that Putin will follow his latest “re-election” with a move against them (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2024/03/before-end-of-2024-putin-will-abolish.html).

            And on the other, there have been similar calls by some officials in the Russian government in recent months, also repeating earlier arguments made by the same people (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2023/01/kremlin-now-planning-to-combine.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2023/01/if-moscow-restarts-regional.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/04/deputy-prime-minister-wants-to-replace.html).

            Nonetheless, resistance to such moves continues to arise even when officials seek to combine cities and towns (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2024/04/local-resistance-spreads-and.html). And experts warn that Moscow would again face opposition if it sought to combine regions or republics, slowing or even killing such moves (svpressa.ru/politic/article/412973/).

            However that may be, Putin has shown himself much enamored of the idea of combining federal subjects and may indeed move ahead now to distract attention and demonstrate his control. Given that, Stavropol’s Center for the Support of Social and Civic Initiatives has issued a report about the regions and republics most likely to be combined (akcent.site/novosti/31161).

            As summarized by Aksent’s Anton Chablin, the Center provides the following checklist for the next 18 months:

·       In the Far East, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast is the most likely candidate for unification and may be combined with Khabarovsk Kray. Combining Khabarovsk Kray with Primorsky Kray or Primorsky Kray with Sakhalin are unlikely.

·       In the Urals, Moscow may seek to unite the Tyumen matryoshka of Tyumen Oblast, Yamal, and Yurga but that would face serious local resistance. More realistic is the combination of Kurgan and Chelyanvsk Oblasts.

·       In the North-West, Moscow is unlikely to repeat its failed effot to unite the Nenets Autonomous District with Arkhangelsk Oblast; but it may seek to combine Pskov Obalast with Novgorod Oblast and Leningrad Oblast with St. Petersburg which has the status of a federal subject.

·       In the South, no changes are likely in the North Caucasus because of local resistance; but Moscow may try to combine Sebastopol and Crimea in those occupied portions of Ukraine.

·       And in Central Russia, some of the poorer oblasts which are losing population may be combined to form larger ones and give Moscow a victory on the amalgamation front, the Center says.

 

Media Stories Promoting Ethnic Divisions in Russia have Grown by Orders of Magnitude Since Launch of Expanded War in Ukraine, FADN’s Bulatov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 24 – Since February 2022, the number of stories promoting ethnic divisions within Russian has increased by more than 15 times for the country as a whole and more than a thousand times in some republics, according to Abulgamid Bulatov, who monitors media for the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs (FADN).

            He said that the number of such stories in 2023 exceeded the number in 2021 by 15 times and that this growth was far greater in the non-Russian republics. There the increase was by a factor of “500, 600 and in some cases more than a thousand times” what it had been before the war (tass.ru/proisshestviya/20648187).

            The worst examples of this growth, Bulatov continued, were in Buryatia, Daghestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia. And he added that the focus of these articles typically was on questions of historical memory with authors questioning established versions of historical events and thus trying to set the non-Russians against the ethnic Russians.

            Bulatov did not provide more specifics or define the way in which his monitoring group decides which articles are guilty of the offenses he is concerned with. But his numbers are striking especially since Moscow has closed down many media outlets in the republics and elsewhere during this period and tightened controls over most of the others.

            It is possible that FADN is now counting stories which appear on Internet platforms that are based abroad. But even if that is the case, this trend highlights the way in which many non-Russians are responding to Putin’s continued insistence on a single stream of Russian history in which all its peoples now share a common view of the past.

Secret Poll Results on Russian Attitudes toward Migrants have Kremlin Worried, ‘Verstka' Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 22 – After the Crocus City Hall terrorists attack, the Kremlin ordered VTsIOM to conduct a secret poll of Russian attitudes toward migrants. It showed a sharp decline in positive attitudes toward immigrants and a sharp increase in negative ones, a shift the Kremlin hopes will be short-lived lest it using migrants to deal with Russia’s labor shortage impossible.

            That is the conclusion of a Kremlin source who on the basis of anonymity shared the results of the poll and discussed concerns in the Russian leadership about its findings with journalists from the Verstka media outlet (verstka.media/v-rossii-sekretno-izmerili-ksenofobiyu-posle-terakta-v-krokus-city-hall).

            According to this source, Verstka says, Russian attitudes toward immigrants shifted from an even split in positive and negative ones to a situation in which those who oppose migrant workers and want them limited or expelled outnumbered those who don’t and aren’t focused on restricting their presence in Russia because of the country’s economic needs.

            Those results, in the wake of the terrorist attack, are consistent with the trends polls conducted by more independent agencies have reported. But precisely because this survey was ordered by the Kremlin itself, it is likely to have greater impact on the thinking of Russian leaders.

            Many Russian outlets and politicians have been calling for tighter controls over migration and even expelling some of those already there, policies that if they were to be adopted in toto would have the direst consequences for the Russian economy given worker shortages in a variety of key industries.

            The Kremlin has little choice but to try to show that it takes popular attitudes on this issue seriously; but it has to hope, the source says, that such demands will cool and the regime will be able to continue to attract and use migrants, something that will become ever more important given demographic trends and the need for manpower for Putin’s war in Ukraine.

 

Kremlin’s Refusal to Break with Soviet Identity has Led to War and Will Lead to Russia’s Collapse, Eppl Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 22 – Had the Kremlin honestly faced up to and then rejected the failed Soviet past, Russia could have joined the West; but instead, it decided that its own survival depended on ensuring that Russia would continue in the Soviet tradition, a decision that has led directly to the war in Ukraine and will lead to Russia’s collapse, Nikolay Eppl says.

            In an essay for the Carnegie Endowment’s Berlin Center,, the Russian philologist and translator argues that “the unresolved question about “the identity of Russia as the heir of the USSR has defined all the zigzags of the country’s existence over the last 30 years” (carnegieendowment.org/politika/92259).

            The reformist course Moscow adopted in the early 1990s, Eppl continues, “increasingly came into contradiction with the unpreparedness of the New Russia to turn away from the identification of itself as an empire and from the former administrative practices as well as dissatisfaction with democratic institutes both by the state and by the society.”

            The experience of criticizing one’s own past could show the Russian leadership that reinventing oneself without committing suicide is possible, that admitting crimes and being willing to take responsibility for them is a manifestation of strength, not weakness,” he argues.

“The refusal to follow this path determined what is happening now with the Russian state.”

        Many Soviet crimes were so heinous that there was at the end of Soviet times and the beginning of post-Soviet ones a real demand for condemning that past, but the regime soon refused to go beyond “cosmetic” and indeed “fictional” denunciations lest the involvement of many of its members in those crimes led to attacks on them.

 

               According to Eppl, “the real dilemma for the Kremlin was whether to turn away from identifying with the USSR and Soviet practices and receive for this the advantages of compete entrance into the club of Western democracies or openly recognize that the former model hadn’t gone anywhere and continues to define the nature of the political regime in Russia.”

              

               For a few years, “the Kremlin allowed itself to avoid making a final choice and balanced between authoritarian and liberal-democratic models,” doing just enough to convince some that it was still headed to reform but protecting itself by using many of the methods drawn from the Soviet past.

 

               But after the protests of 2011-2012, the Kremlin recognized that a choice had to be made; and it made one, by launching the war in Ukraine by seizing Crimea and then using that to make the system inside the Russian Federation fully congruent with what had existed in Soviet times.

 

               “Without functioning democratic mechanisms,” he continues, “there was nothing to legitimate the regime besides patriotic mobilization,” first in Crimea, then in Syria, and then in Ukraine again with Putin’s launch of an expanded invasion of that former Soviet republic in February 2022.

 

               The collapse of an empire is always difficult, Eppl points out, noting that even between 1991 and 2014, the much-ballyhooed collapse of the USSR claimed “no fewer than 200,000 lives.” But collapses can be more or less difficult depending on whether the successor regime breaks with the past or refuses to do so.

 

               When it doesn’t and when it assumes its own survival and that of its own country is at risk if it were to do so, then the situation becomes worse. And for the Putin regime, the war in Ukraine is “critical to the survival of Russia in the form in which its leaders would like to keep it in a deep freeze.”

 

               That explains both the decision to go to war against Ukraine and the way Moscow has explained and fought this war, Eppl says. The Kremlin’s decision to refuse to break with Soviet identity did not and does not “leave it with any possibility besides a return to the USSR with all or at least very many of the characteristics of this process.”

 

               That reality “defines both the official explanations of the goals of this war and the particular ways it is being conducted,” he argues. If there is a war, it must be against fascism and so Ukraine must be declared a fascist state, however absurd that is; and Russian forces in Ukraine must act to restore Soviet symbols, including erecting Lenin statues in occupied areas.

 

               But there is an even more serious consequence of the Russian leadership’s refusal to give up Soviet identity and its efforts to recreate Soviet conditions and it is this, Eppl concludes. These efforts are restoring a system that already failed and will lead in the end to the final destruction of that system and the country that follows this mistaken past.

The Caspian Sea on Its Way to Becoming a Desert, Kazakh Political Scientist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 22 – The Caspian Sea is “shrinking dramatically,” Aida Amangeldina says, a development that puts it at risk of desertification, a development that threatens not only the flora and fauna of the sea itself but also and potentially far more seriously “the socio-economic situation” of the five littoral states.

            Experts have been sounding the alarm about the Caspian following the Aral Sea into extinction for some time (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2024/03/water-level-of-caspian-sea-falling-at.html, windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2023/10/declining-water-levels-in-caspian-plus.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2023/07/northern-sections-of-caspian-sea.html).

            But the Kazakh political scientist’s discussion of this issue at a conference at the end of 2023 (which has now been published in a 3,000-word heavily footnoted article at beda.media/en/articles/caspian-sea) is a sign that alarm about the fate of the Caspian is now moving from marginal groups to the center of policy concerns.

            Amangeldina says that water level of the Caspian has been declining more or less constantly since the beginning of the 20th century, although a slight rise two and three decades ago led many to conclude that the problem would go away on its own. But in 2023, the sea’s water level reached the lowest level ever, 29 meters below sea level.

            Most of the decline can be attributed to climate change, with precipitation in the region falling and evaporation increasing. But human causes are also critical: ever more people in the area are taking water from rivers that feed the sea and are desalinating the water of the sea itself to meet their needs.

            The situation is not yet irreversible, Amangeldina says; but it will require both the agreement of all five littoral states and international involvement. So far, such agreement has been in short supply. Even the 2018 convention on the delimitation of the sea remains unratified (by Iran) and has not gone into effect, and most governments are focused on their specific needs.

            Unless that changes and soon, the Caspian will likely “repeat the fate of the Aral Sea,” with far larger ecological, economic and political consequences given the size and importance of the Caspian Sea not only for the littoral countries but for the international community as well, she says.

 

Friday, April 26, 2024

Moscow Increasingly Worried about Rise of Roman Catholicism in Belarus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 22 – Both the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate are increasingly worried about the rise of Roman Catholicism in Belarus, with the former concerned primarily about the possibility that the church’s rise will threaten Putin ally Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the latter about the danger that it will weaken the Moscow church in Belarus.

            These fears have been growing over the last several years, following the prominent role Catholics played in the protests following the last “elections” in Belarus and the spread of autocephaly movements among Orthodox churches in the post-Soviet states (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2023/04/moscows-greatest-fear-about-orthodox.html).

            These fears have fed anti-Catholic attitudes both in Moscow and in Minsk (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2024/01/anti-catholicism-spreading-in-moscow.html) and have now led to direct attacks on the Vatican for what one Russian author says is its direct involvement in the rise of an anti-Russian and anti-Belarusian Catholic movement in Belarus.

            On the Rhythm of Eurasia portal, Moscow religious affairs commentator Artyom Karpovich directly attacks the Vatican and Pope Francis for what he says is Rome’s efforts in Belarus  to overthrow both Russian Orthodox and Russia’s ally Lukashenka (ritmeurasia.ru/news--2024-04-22--vatikan-aktivizirovalsja-v-belorussii-72858).

            He argues that the Roman Catholic Church has always been anti-Russian, although he notes the Pope Francis has promised in public not to interfere in Orthodox affairs. But he says that pledge has been undermined by the increasing activity in Belarus of an apostolic administration set up last year to coordinate Catholic churches in that country. (On that body, see vaticannews.va/ru/church/news/2023-03/belarus-novaya-struktura-dlya-katolikov-vizantijskogo-obryada.html).

            According to Karpovich, the pope has taken this position because he fears retaliation from Moscow and Minsk; but the pope’s subordinates believe that they can proceed and that the Holy Father will eventually change his position and allow the creation of a Roman Catholic exarchate in Belarus.

            To that end, the Catholic apostolic administrator has become increasingly active in meeting with Belarusian officials and in providing financial support and guidance to the growing number of Catholic churches in Belarus (eadaily.com/ru/news/2023/04/07/pochemu-v-belorussii-aktivizirovalis-grekokatoliki).

            The Belarusian Catholic church is closely connected with the Greek Catholics of Ukraine. Many of its priests were trained in western Ukraine, and not surprisingly, they and their flocks have supported Ukraine since Putin launched his expanded invasion of that country in February 2022, yet another reason for Moscow’s opposition to Catholicism in Belarus. (On these interrelationships, see dekoder.org/ru/gnose/greko-katolicheskaya-cerkov-v-belarusi.)

            The Belarusian government and the Russian church in Belarus recognize the dangers that this “fifth column,” to use Karpovich’s expression, poses to both. And the former has adopted new laws that give Minsk far greater powers to interfere in and limit the growth of Roman Catholicism in Belarus (apnews.com/article/belarus-lukashenko-religion-repression-dissent-58428374005dd0da383fbac7ad2c5d57).

            Karpovich would clearly like to see the Belarusian government do even more and the Moscow church there become increasingly active in opposing what he believes is a Catholic threat to both. 

Two Weeks Before Crocus City Attack, Tajikistan’s President Expressed Concern about Tajik Involvement in Terrorist Actions Abroad and at Home

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 21 – Two weeks before terrorists attacked the Crocus City venue in Moscow, Emomali Rakhmon, the president of Tajikistan, publicly expressed concern about the participation of citizens of his country in terrorist acts in 10 foreign countries over the last three years and blamed the intelligence services of other countries for recruiting them.

            Tajik and Russian sources reported his speech at the time (tass.ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/20192699), but it is now being given expanded attention in Moscow media because it both confirms one Kremlin version of the Moscow attack and provides justification for taking a tougher line against Tajik migrant workers (ritmeurasia.ru/news--2024-04-21--tadzhikskie-vlasti-trevozhit-rost-chisla-teraktov-s-uchastiem-ih-grazhdan-72843).

            Islamist extremists have also carried out 6700 terrorist attacks inside Tajikistan over the last decade, but the authorities have not been able to arrest all those involved. The Fergana news agency says that more than 4,000 Tajiks are still wanted for such actions by Tajikistan’s police (fergana.media/news/133185/).

            President Rakhmon places the blame for radicalism in his country on the rise of Salafism there, a trend within Islam that calls for jihad against both unbelievers and other groups in the faith, including the Hanafi and Ismaili trends of Islam which are followed by the majority of Tajiks.

            He argues that Salafism has been introduced in Tajikistan in two ways: by Muslims who have studied abroad and then become imams in the mosques of that country and by the return home of 1640 Tajiks who had fought for ISIS abroad and who were pardoned by the state after promising to break with it (tass.ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/20192699).

 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Russia’s Systemic Opposition Parties Could Play Key Mediating Role in Post-Putin Transition, Bederson Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 20 – Many are now writing off the systemic opposition parties as moribund and irrelevant (ridl.io/parties-in-a-coma/), but Poland’s experience in the 1980s suggests that they could play a key role in the post-Putin transition from authoritarianism to democracy, according to Vsevolod Bederson.

            The Perm political scientist says that in such a transition, mediators are necessary and that the systemic opposition in Poland played that role and its counterparts in Russia now very easily could (moscowtimes.ru/2024/04/19/nenavidet-i-berech-sistemnaya-oppozitsiya-mozhet-stat-posrednikom-pri-perehode-ot-avtoritarizma-k-demokratii-a128509).

            Bederson points out that in communist Poland, the regime controlled the top echelons of the systemic opposition parties but that below that level there were many members of those groups who were far more opposed to the regime than their party bosses and thus ready to mediate between the old regime and the forces of a new democracy.

            For these systemic parties to play that role, he says, they must maintain contacts with the real opposition, have some but not large political weight, have structures and people in the regions, and not aspire to take control themselves. The KPRF and some of the other systemic parties have at least some of these features.

            And thus it is possible that they could play the role the Catholic parties did in Poland and that Muslim radical groups in the Middle East did. Writing them off in advance is thus a mistake, although looking to them provides no guarantee that they or those who seek to use them will be successful, Bederson concludes.

Kremlin Testing Limits on Rehabilitating Fascism, El Murid Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 20 – For the last three weeks, a controversy has been swirling in Moscow between Aleksandr Dugin and the Russian State Humanities University, on the one hand, and Russian students and their supporters, on the other, over whether to name a new policy center there for √©migr√© Russian Ivan Ilin, a leading articulator of what many call Russian fascism.

            (For details on this back and forth and references to both supporters and opponents of creating such an institution with the odious Putin ally Dugin as its head, see groza.media/posts/students-rsuh-against-dugin and topwar.ru/240721-delo-ivana-ilina-protiv-chego-protestujut-studenty-rggu.html.).

            The Kremlin and government media are treating this back and forth as a private matter and distancing themselves from it; but Anatoly Nesmiyan, who blogs as El Murid, says that it the latest effort by the Kremlin to see how far it can go in rehabilitating fascism and thus bringing its ideological stance into line with its actions (t.me/anatoly_nesmiyan/17950).

            What makes what is going on a bellwether about Russia’s future under Putin, the blogger says; and it  highlights the way in which the Kremlin operates when it wants to see how far it can go in saying openly what it is in fact already doing, in this case, talking positively about fascist ideas that in fact it is already implementing but calling them something else.

            If plans for an Ilin center under Dugin fail as a result of public opposition, the Eurasian leader and his Kremlin backers won’t suffer. He has nowhere to go, and the Kremlin can act as if nothing has happened, El Murid says. But if the center opens, he continues, then Putin will be able to move further in the direction of being openly fascist.

Russians in Central Asia Because of Putin’s War in Ukraine Often ‘Missionaries’ of His Russian World Could Become Its Foot Soldiers, Kkhan Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 20 – Russian citizens who fled to Central Asian countries in order to avoid being compelled to fight in Putin’s war in Ukraine nonetheless bring with them imperialist attitudes and behaviors which make them into “missionaries” of the Kremlin leader’s “Russian world,” Artyom Khan says.

            The Turkey-based journalist who specializes on developments in Central Asia says that even those who condemn the war in Ukraine bring imperialist attitudes to their new places of residence, look down on local people and complain that the latter don’t speak Russian (trtrussian.com/mnenie/imperstvo-na-eksport-relokanty-missionery-russkogo-mira-17858338).

            Such attitudes offend Central Asians, of course, Khan says; but they pose an even greater threat. Not only are they generating inflation with their money that is driving up housing prices to levels where the local people can no longer buy, but they are dominating the banking sector and thus making it and these countries more dependent on Moscow than they were.

            In the future, the observer says, these people may even line up with Moscow if it moves militarily against a Central Asian country like Kazakhstan which some in the Russian capital have already threatened to do; and thus paradoxically, Putin’s opponents over the war in Ukraine could become his allies in a military action against Central Asian states.

Movie Theaters Closing in Russia Even Faster than in Other Countries, El Murid Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 20 – Online streaming services, the Covid pandemic, and fears of violence in public places, including shopping malls where movie theaters are often located have led to the closure of these longtime staples of popular culture in many countries, Anatoly Nesmiyan who blogs under the screen name El Murid says.

            But these pressures are even greater in Russia than elsewhere and they are joined by fears of terrorism and sanctions against the showing of Western movies. As a result, he points out, movie theaters are closing in Russia at an even more rapid rate than in other places (rosbalt.ru/news/2024-04-19/anatoliy-nesmiyan-vmeste-s-privychnymi-tehnologiyami-ischezaet-tselaya-kultura-5061250).

            Of course, El Murid continues, some theaters will remain; but they will be extraordinarily expensive and only for the elites. And as a result, “going to the movies,” which had been one of the most popular forms of mass culture in the Russian Federation, will disappear, further weakening social interaction and cohesion.

2011 Arab Spring More than Election Fraud Protests Behind Kremlin’s Turn to Repression a Decade Ago, Yakovlev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 20 – The Arab Sprin in 2011 had “much greater influence” on the thinking of Vladimir Putin and his regime than did the protests in Russia that took place at about the same time a decade ago in leading the Kremlin to adopt a more repressive and aggressive set of policies, according to Andrey Yakovlev.

            Russia’s elites did not expect the protests, the Rusisan scholar who studied popular attitudes in Moscow then and who is now at Harvard’s Davis Center says; but they experienced real fear about their personal survival because of what was happening in the Middle East (istories.media/opinions/2024/04/18/kak-rossiiskii-biznes-prolozhil-sebe-dorogu-k-rabstvu/).

            Putin experienced such fears, but he was able to move so quickly toward repression and then aggression precisely because so many others in Russian elites, including the top bureaucracy, the siloviki, and the most important business leaders, felt them too and were prepared to support the Kremlin leader’s policies because they did.

‘Sakhalar’ – Ethnic Russians Who have Become Yakuts

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 19 – It is an article of faith in the Kremlin and one for which there is much evidence that assimilation in Putin’s Russia proceeds in only one direction -- that non-Russians lose their languages and cultures and become Russianized and ultimately change their identity and that ethnic Russians never give up Russian and assimilate to a non-Russian group.

            But there are exceptions; and while they are not large in number, they are an indication that ethnic Russians when they find themselves in a situation where another language and culture are dominate may lose their Russian language, speak instead the language of the majority around them, and even reidentify ethnically.

            The NeMoskva portal calls attention to ethnic Russians whose ancestors moved to rural portions of Sakha (Yakutia) long ago, who are surrounded by ethnic Sakha, and who now know the language of the titular nationality better than they do Russian, the language their ancestors spoke when they first arrived (nemoskva.net/2024/04/18/russkie-yakuty/).

            The number of such people is relatively small and may be dismissed as anecdotal; but their existence is important for three reasons: First, it shows that ethnic Russians are not exempt from the rules that govern the behavior of other ethnic communities who find themselves in an overwhelmingly different ethnic and linguistic milieu.

            Second, the existence of such people helps to explain the passion with which many in the Moscow government pursue policies of Russification, a passion driven not only by a desire to spread the Russian nationality to others but also and by fears that Russian identity could be challenged if non-Russians grow in number and retain their languages.

            And third, “the ethnic Russian Yakuts” as NeMoskva translates “Sakhalar” should remind the non-Russians of the power of their own ethnicity and language when these are maintained, a power sufficiently great to overwhelm “the Great Russian nation” that the Kremlin and its propagandists typically insist upon without the kind of pushback some might expect.

 

Attacks on Officials Spreading from Eastern Portion of the North Caucasus to the West – and Republic Officials are Worried

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 22 – Most of the violence against officials in the North Caucasus has taken place in the three republics in the eastern zone of that region – Daghestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya – while the bi-national republics in the middle and the national republics in the west have remained relatively quiet.

             But there is growing evidence that violence against officials is now spreading into the middle portions of the North Caucasus, something that could trigger a new wave of unrest in the region and raise questions about the capacity of the local authorities and Moscow to maintain control there.

            After almost three years of quiescence, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, a republic dominated by the Turkic Karachays but with a significant Circassian (Cherkess) minority, saw on April 21 a deadly attack on a police outpost there (newizv.ru/news/2024-04-22/v-kchr-neizvestnye-rasstrelyali-treh-politseyskih-vveden-plan-sirena-429518).

            Two policemen were killed and a third sent to the hospital as a result of what the Russian media have referred to as “a bandit attack.” But more important as an indication of what is going on is how the authorities in Karachayevo-Cherkessia have responded with actions that suggest this is more than a one-off event.

            Republic head Rashid Temrezov has announced the introduction of what he calls the Siren Plan (t.me/rashid_temrezov/5288). That “plan” has all the earmarks of the introduction of the kind of martial law that Russian officials put in place when they introduce a counter-terrorism regime in response to a terrorist attack without the fanfare such actions involve.

            Specifically, this plan involves “activating police to conduct special patrols, search for armed and dangerous criminals and prevent possible unrest” (ura.news/news/1052759445), a clear indication that in the eyes of the authorities, what the media have dismissed as banditry represents a more serious challenge.

 

Monday, April 22, 2024

Moscow's Muslims Given 2,000 Haj Slots This Year, More than Their Co-Religionists in Any Federal Subject except Daghestan and Chechnya

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 20 – After Saudi Arabia set Russia’ s haj quota this year again at 25,000, the Muslim leadership of the Russian Federation divided those slots among the regions and republics of their country. As in the past, Daghestan and Chechnya were given the most, with 10,000 and 3100 respectively. But strikingly, Moscow city ranked third with 2,000.

            The Saudi number is based on the principle that each country should have a total quota equal to one Muslim for every thousand believers. But the numbers set within the Russian Federation reflect both past demand and a variety of calculations including politics and economics.

            Muslims in Moscow are likely better connected and wealthier than their co-religionists in the North Caucasus. But it is still striking that the city of Moscow was given so many slots, more than Muslims in Stavropol (1100), Kabardino-Balkaria (400), Karachayevo-Cherkessia, occupied Crimea (300), and North Ossetia (180) (akcent.site/novosti/31034).

            More than that, this figure is a useful reminder that the Russian capital has become increasingly Islamic in population, something that many Russians are alarmed by and will be even more disturbed by this reminder of the fact that there are in the eyes of the Muslim establishment some two million Muslims there, far more than the Kremlin admits.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Withdrawal of Russian Troops from Armenia Could Prove Even More Fateful than Their Pullout om Azerbaijan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 20 – Russian and international media have devoted enormous attention to Moscow’s decision to withdraw its so-called “peace keepers” from Azerbaijan and to close the monitoring center it had operated with Turkey since 2020 even though it had a mandate to keep them there until 2025.

            But in a certain sense, this decision became almost inevitable after Baku established complete control over Qarabagh and the Armenian separatist regime there disbanded. After all, if there were no parties to keep separate and defend, there was little reason that these forces should remain despite the hopes, expectations and fears of some that Moscow would not pull them.

            Moreover, Moscow desperately needs additional manpower for its expanded invasion of Ukraine; and the 2500 plus Russian soldiers now being pulled out of Azerbaijani territory either directly or indirectly will be able to make a significant addition to the Russian army now fighting in Ukraine.

            Consequently, while some writers have been alarmist about what Moscow has done in Azerbaijan, asking if Russia is “leaving the South Caucasus” and thus leaving it to other powers (vestikavkaza.ru/analytics/rossia-pokidaet-kavkaz.html and rosbalt.ru/news/2024-04-19/stanislav-pritchin-chto-oznachaet-dosrochnyy-vyvod-rossiyskih-mirotvortsev-iz-karabaha-5060250), such fears seem overblown.

            On the one hand, Baku has long pursued a balanced foreign policy, one that seeks good relations with both Moscow and the West. The departure of Russian troops from Azerbaijan doesn’t change that. And on the other, Baku and Moscow negotiated this departure in advance of 2025 rather than their exit being the result of Baku’s unilateral demands.

            The situation with regard to Russian forces inside Armenia is different. There is a Russian military base there at Gyumri and Russia has been providing border guards for Armenia along its borders with Turkey and Iran since 1993 and with Azerbaijan since the front between Armenia and Azerbaijan stabilized in the mid-1990s.

            Now, with Moscow agreeing to withdraw its “peace keepers” from Azerbaijan because the situation has changed, Yerevan has called on Moscow to follow the same logic and pull its border guards from Tavush Oblast along the Azerbaijani border (ekhokavkaza.com/a/pashinyan-rossiyskie-pogranichniki-pokinut-tavushskuyu-oblastj-armenii/32913701.html).

            But Yerevan’s action is not simply an effort to be treated in an equal fashion. In March, for example, Yerevan directly called on Moscow to pull its border guards from the Armenia capital’s airport; and many Armenians have expressed the hope that Russia will ultimately close its Gyumri base.

            And Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has been reorienting Armenia’s foreign policy away from Moscow and toward the West and especially France, breaking with Yerevan’s longstanding one of being closely allied with Russia in order to defend itself against what it fears are threats from Turkey and Azerbaijan.

            Now, some commentators are worried that his efforts to get Russian troops to leave are paving the way for Armenia’s rapprochement with and even membership in NATO, something Moscow completely opposes and will certainly resist (ritmeurasia.ru/news--2024-04-20--mirotvorcy-uhodjat-iz-karabaha-a-pashinjan-idet-v-nato-72836).

            If Armenia succeeds in getting Russian troops to leave, that will create a new geopolitical situation in the South Caucasus; if Moscow works to prevent this as it can be counted on to do, that raises the possibility of more conflict within Armenia and possibly between Armenia and its neighbors. 

 

Demography Now ‘Most Important Constraint’ on Russia’s Long-Term Development, Moscow Economists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 18 – Declining birthrates and longer life expectancies among the elderly by putting additional burdens on Russia’s working age population are becoming “the most important constraint” on Russia’s long-term development, a situation that should lead Moscow to change its policies, Russian economic prognosticators say.

            The number of children born in Russia last year was the lowest this century, these experts say, the result of declines in the number of women in prime child-bearing cohorts, the departure of young men to fight in Ukraine who might otherwise become fathers, and economic uncertainties (ng.ru/economics/2024-04-18/1_8997_children.html).

            Because that means Russia’s population will fall, this trend has attracted widespread attention; and it is one that Vladimir Putin hopes to reverse by his maternal capital program. But the economists say that his program is poorly designed and so does not boost the total number of children but rather modifies decisions about the timing of any additional births.

            But as important as that trend is, the various economists Nezavisimaya Gazeta surveyed say, there is a second one that may prove even more significant in the future. Russians reaching retirement age are now living longer and that alone places greater burdens on the working age population.

            Addressing that problem by raising the retirement age, something Putin has tried, is extremely unpopular; and any effort to raise it still further would generate a backlash. But if birthrates remain low and health care allows Russians to live longer, doing something about the burden older people place on the budget will likely force Moscow to change policies anyway.

            This set of problems is hardly unique to Russia, but it is made worse, the Russian economists say, by Russia’s involvement in a war, the flight of many young people to avoid serving there, and a political system that seems to put more faith into its own press releases than in the facts government statistical agencies collect.

 

Obituaries of Russian Soldiers who’ve Died in Ukraine Highlight Uncertainties of Russians Left Behind, Yeremeyeva Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 18 – Obituaries are written not by the dead but by the living and thus tell more about those still alive than about those who have died, Svetlana Yeremeyeva, who has read hundreds of reports about the deaths of Russian soldiers in the course of preparing her 2023 book, Dead Time, argues in a new article.

            In Novaya Gazeta, she points out that obituaries have only a relatively brief history in Russia. Until the 19th century, low literacy rates and a widespread belief that the individual was less important than the community kept them from appearing in large number. And in Soviet times, the desire to avoid stress individuality kept them formulaic (novayagazeta.eu/articles/2024/04/18/smert-bez-istorii).

            But since the collapse of communism and especially with the rise of the Internet, more and more obituaries are appearing; and their content, Yeremeyeva suggests, provides a useful window into how Russians see themselves and the world of which they are a part by describing the lives of those whose time on earth has ended.

            She provides numerous examples of obituaries of Russian soldiers that have appeared in local newspapers and both on local Internet sites and on aggregator sites that gather death notices from particular regions or have been created to promote a particular image of the war and what Russian patriotism should be about.

            Yeremeyeva says that with regard to present-day military obituaries in Russia, what is most striking is the uncertainty of those who write them. There is no clear and agreed upon way to talk about those who have died because these soldiers’ deaths raise a bigger question -- “why did this death occur? – that cannot be asked at least not yet in Putin’s Russia.

At Least for the Duration of the War, Veterans are to Be Protected from Police Violence, Konstantinov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Apr. 18 – Vladimir Putin has talked about veterans of the war in Ukraine as a major source of the future elite of the country. Now, there is a sign that such veterans already are to enjoy a kind of protection from police action that up to now only Kadyrov’s men and senior members of the Russian elite, Daniil Konstantinov says.

            On April 16, Kommersant reported that Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee of Russia, has demanded that police who beat a veteran in St. Petersburg be investigated for possible charges of exceeding their authority and abuse of office, something he rarely does for such police actions against ordinary Russians (kommersant.ru/doc/6649669).

            And what this means, commentator Konstantinov says, is that veterans appear to have joined the privileged elite of the country, those who are untouchable as far as the police are concerned and that until now included only forces loyal to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and the most senior members of the Russian political and economic hierarchies.

            People in those categories, of course, could be arrested if the Kremlin approved, Konstantinov continues; but they generally escaped the kind of physical abuse that Russia’s police routinely visit on all other categories of Russian citizens without any intervention by the Investigative Committee or the courts.

            This development, which is obviously intended to make joining up more attractive and which may not last beyond the war itself, is certain to worry many Russians who already fear that returning veterans, many of whom have criminal pasts may now feel even freer to commit crimes, even violent ones, against other Russians.