Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Putin Regime Attacking Russian Middle Class’s ‘Territory of Freedom,’ Inozemtsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – The compact between Vladimir Putin and the Russian population consisted of two parts, one in which the population as a whole gave up their claims to participate in politics in exchange for stability and higher incomes and a second in which the Kremlin leader bought off the emerging middle class by recognizing for them a certain “territory of freedom.”

            The first of these has been weakened as a result of the economic crisis brought on by the collapse in the price of oil and the imposition of sanctions and counter-sanctions, but for many parts of the population, it has frayed but not come apart, as a result of the Kremlin’s efforts to ensure that certain basic payments are made on which the population depends.

            But the second compact, Vladislav Inozemtsev argues, is in danger of rupture because “the powers that be are confidently carrying out an attack on the middle class, on that stratum of ten to fifteen million people who have been able to achieve something in the new Russia and who were and remain the most active part of society” (intersectionproject.eu/ru/article/politics/nevynosimaya-tyazhest-bytiya).

            While the Russian government continues “to do a great deal” for government employees and pensioners and thus largely retains their support, the Moscow economist says, it is undermining its support among this group because it is cutting into what the members of that group have expected as their rightful “territory of freedom.”

            The Kremlin may assume that the support of the mass population is sufficient, Inozemtsev says, but “experience shows that the elderly and the employees of budget institutions in practice never save the powers that be from the next revolution or Maidan” which in almost all cases are led by “the most well-off and responsible citizens.”

            The Moscow commentator points to three of the areas where these attacks on the Russian middle class are taking place: against debtors, with the imposition of new fines on middle class activity, and regarding foreign ownership and foreign bank accounts.

            More than 38 million Russians have bank loans, amounting to a total of 10.5 trillion rubles (160 billion US dollars). Of this some 891 billion (15 billion US dollars) are in arrears. Those who are behind in their payments are increasingly subject to restrictions on their travel abroad under a 2007 law.

            These people are part of the growing army of those not allowed to travel abroad. They number almost two million now, a number projected to rise to 4.5 million by next year, is huge. In Moscow almost, “all most four percent of the adult population” now falls into this category, Inozemtsev says.

            But thanks to more recent laws, those who are in debt and behind in their payments may also be prevented from having the right to drive a car.  “Just imagine,” Inozemtsev says, this happening in the US and “reflect upon the political future of a congressman or senator who would risk introducing such a bill in Congress.”

            The Russian middle class is also under attack by the government in the form of fines imposed on drivers either for parking without paying or violating other traffic laws, violations that are now being caught on video cameras.  Such fines can rarely be appealed and consequently they add to anger among the middle class toward the government.

            Indeed, Inozemtsev says, there is now a clear sense that “the authorities are terrorizing the most independent and relatively well-off part of the population, the very ‘middle class’ which for long years was the main beneficiary of economic growth in the country and the support of the Putin regime.”

            And third, the middle class is the most effected by new restrictions on foreign bank accounts. Given that Russians own “more than 700,000” pieces of property in Europe alone and that there are as many as 100,000 Russian students in European countries, there are many Russians who need foreign accounts. Now they are at risk of fines and other punishments.

            Such actions will affect “at a minimum” two million Russians, many of whom will compare the way they are being  treated with those closer to the Kremlin.  And such comparisons, Inozemtsev implies, will hardly be likely to make them more supportive of Putin and his regime.

Russia’s Smallest Nations Being Pushed into ‘Abyss of Nothingness,’ Latkin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – Claims by Russian officials and some scholars that everything is fine with Russia’s numerically small nationalities are simply not true, with the majority rapidly declining in number and both they are the few that are “growing” being debased and rendered meaningless as separate peoples, according to Aleksand Latkin.

            In the current issue of “Literaturnaya Rossiya,” the commentator says that there are no 40 indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, that 24 of them report a decline in their numbers – “a real sign of dying out” – but that in what he calls “a cruel deception,” the remainder report growth (litrossia.ru/item/9069-aleksandr-latkin-po-napravleniyu-k-bezdne).

            The latter, who include the Evenks, the Evens, the Chukchis, the Khants, the Nentsy, and the Mansi report growth rates between 0.9 percent (for the Chukchis) to 8.1 percent (for the Nentsy).  But those numbers are fraudulent in an important sense given that the average life expectancies in all 40 now range between 35 and 49 and their cultures are being destroyed.

            “The spiritual situation of these peoples is SHOCKING,” Latkin continues, as a result of Russian companies running roughshod over the land where these peoples have lived from time immemorial and the creation of a culture of dependency that is the chief reason that the numbers of some of these groups have in fact gone up.

            Moscow has set up a system of special benefits for members of those numerically small nationalities. The amounts of these benefits are microscopically small, but the situation of these nations is now so dire that not only do many real members of these nations take them, creating a culture of dependency, but many who aren’t sign up as members to get them.

            Latkin cites court cases where people with one grandmother or grandfather was an Evenk have gone to court and force it to declare that they are Evenks, even though they do not have any connection to the nation except for that.  After such a finding, they and all their descendants are counted as Evenks, allowing Moscow to claim that such nations are growing.

            But neither they nor those who are born Evenk have the chance to pursue their traditional way of life. Instead, they are forced off the land and enter into a state-encouraged culture of dependency which leads to degradation not only of their ethnic characteristics but also of their human ones.

            One obvious measure of this is native language retention. In Buryatia, only 180 of 2974 Evenks say they speak Evenk; and only 69 of the Evenks counted in the Transbaikal kray say they do. For the Russian Federation as a whole, only 4310 of the 38,396 Evenks say they speak their native language – and many who do don’t speak it well.

            Much of the money that Moscow allocates for these peoples is diverted to other uses by local Russian officials, Latkin says, adding that the only possible way for these peoples to begin to recover, if that is still possible, is for them to be allowed to make their own decisions rather than having them made for the nation by distant Moscow.

IN MEMORIAM: Two days ago, Yurik Vartanovich Aryutyunyan, the head of the ethno-sociology section at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, died. Perhaps Russia’s leading specialist on the North Caucasus, Dr. Aryutyunyan, in sharp contrast to some of his Moscow colleagues, always cared about the peoples he studied and spoke out on their behalf even when that brought him and them into conflict with the central Russian authorities  (tuva.asia/news/russia/8711-arutyunyan.html).

Separatism Putin is Promoting Elsewhere Will Come Back to Destroy Russia, Zapolsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – Vladimir Putin is celebrating Brexit and the wave of separatist challenges to European countries that it has unleashed, Dmitry Zapolsky says; but his happiness is likely to be short-lived because this latest separatist wave will soon engulf Russia and lead to its disintegration.

            Zapolsky, a Russian journalist who was forced to move to Finland, has the unusual background of being a descendant of a Scot entrepreneur who came to Russia at the end of the 18th century.  He thus offers a unique perspective on the implications of the independence of Scotland for Russia (newsader.com/mention/brexit-separatistskiy-trend-kotoryy-razor/).

            Britain may ultimately not leave the EU even though Putin is treating that as a foregone conclusion and a victory for the Kremlin, but the Brexit vote is going to lead to an increase in separatist activity in Scotland, Catolonia, and the Basque country as well as in parts of Italy and Belgium, Zapolsky says; and that will mean that Putin’s “euphoria will quickly pass.”

            “The process of regionalization which has been restrained over the last decades by unbelievable efforts will inevitably explode.” And “after several years,” it will come back to haunt Russia. “Alas,” he says, “for the current system of power and governance in the Russian Federation it is impossible to think up a worse trigger for disintegration than the departure of England from the EU.”

            Consequently, Zapolsky continues, “the Kremlin will do everything so that the EU will not fall apart, although Russians are now being told exactly the opposite on television.”  Even if a reduced EU ended sanctions and even if Donald Trump convinced the US not to pay attention to human rights in Russia, Brexit if it spreads would be bad for Russia.

            That is because, he says, even such changes in Western policy would “not change the course of history: Russia’s problems are not outside it but instead. And sanctions are not significantly deepening them,” however much some hope or fear.

            “All empires die in approximately the same way; only the length of the agony varies in each case. In the case of the Russian Empire, it has been going on already almost a hundred years.” But it will end, and the future for Russia will be “still more difficult” than the present-day situation.

            “England as it has always done in modern history has shown the trend line: a path of disintegration and separatism,” Zapolsky says. “This cup will not pass by Russia.”

            Zapolsky does not make a prediction about when the separatist wave will again crash over Russia, but five developments this week in the Russian Federation itself suggest that it may happen even sooner than he appears to think:

·         First, Mintimir Shaimiyev, the former president of Tatarstan, is reprising his role from the 1990s and urging his republic’s senators to vote against repressive new laws, a call that is likely to be taken up by other non-Russians if the past is precedent (business-gazeta.ru/news/315174).

·         Second, non-Russian nationalities are reaching out beyond their titular republics to their co-ethnics elsewhere in Russia, a process that took off in the 1990s but that has been actively opposed by Moscow since Putin came to power because it can magnify the influence of these groups when they act jointly (natpressru.info/index.php?newsid=10554  and  nazaccent.ru/content/21152-marijcy-iz-semi-regionov-sobralis-v.html).

·         Third, the Russian defense ministry is studying how to fight color revolutions on the territory of the Russian Federation, revolutions more likely to be triggered by members of one or another nationality than by all of them together (kommersant.ru/doc/2753508).

·         Fourth, some Kremlin propagandists like Sergey Markov are now saying that all opposition to the Putin regime is a fifth column with close links to the Ukrainian “junta” and that there must be no mercy shown to those who, working with Ukraine and the West, want to destroy Russia (politnavigator.net/rossijjskaya-oppoziciya-tesno-svyazana-s-kievskojj-vlastyu-moskve-gotovyat-zhestokijj-majjdan.html).

·         And fifth – and this is probably the best indicator – some Russian nationalist commentators are saying that Brexit will lead to the disintegration of the United States, the kind of projection that was favored by many Gorbachev-era analysts arguing against the demise of the USSR 25 years ago (stoletie.ru/politika/breksit_i_ssha_532.htm).