Daily Archives: October 17, 2007

October 17, 2007 — Contents


(1) Another International Evaluation, Another “F” for Russia

(2) Annals of Russian Racism

(3) Russia, Into the Vortex

(4) Putin’s Illusion of Stability

NOTE: Check out La Russophobe‘s latest installment on the Pajamas Media megablog, where she explains why Russia is becoming more and more interested in jumping under the sheets with Iran: In addition to a latent hatred of Western values that gives Iran’s a run for its money, slowly Russia is becoming a Muslim nation.

NOTE: Yesterday, this blog passed the 300,000 page-view milestone. Congratulations to us (and by “us” we mean YOU)!

Another International Evaluation, Another Pathetic Failing Grade for Putin’s Russia

Reporters Without Borders has released its latest ranking of countries according to the amount of freedom they allow to the press.

Once again, Russia has received a barbaric failing score — it ranks 144th out of 169 countries surveyed, the bottom 10% of all countries in the world, surrounded (and exceeded) by banana republics like Swaziland, Gambia, Nigeria and Sudan. Yes, that’s right, Sudan has a higher score for press freedom than neo-Soviet Russia!

RWB states
: “We have witnessed widespread violence targeting journalists, and actually impunity for those who take journalists as their targets.” Moreover, “there is no possibility for the opposition to access national TV and national radio, except on Ekho Moskvy,” which reaches only part of the population. It concludes: “Russia is not progressing. Anna Politkovskaya’s murder in October 2006, the failure to punish those responsible for murdering journalists, and the still glaring lack of diversity in the media, especially the broadcast media, weighed heavily in the evaluation of press freedom in Russia.”

The report notes that all the other G-8 members made better progress since the last survey than Russia did — and Russia’s score from RWB alone is so far out of proportion to the rest of the G-8 that it clearly justifies booting Russia out of the group, as John McCain has properly suggested should be done.

What we see is Russia, just as in Soviet times, cutting itself off from all alternative sources of information, living more and more in a bubble cut off from reality, unable to see its own faults, unable to reform, doomed to be brought down by its own insularity. It’s inexcusable, outrageous, barbaric for Russians to make exactly the same mistake twice.

Annals of Russian Racism: Manipulating Conscription

Scholar/blogger Paul Goble has previously reported that Russia is on the way to becoming a Muslim-dominated country; now he reveals how the Kremlin is seeking to manipulate military call-ups to continue Slavic domination in the ranks:

Confronted with what commanders see as a disastrous demographic situation, the Russian defense ministry has been manipulating this fall’s draft in an effort to secure a more ethnically Russian and less culturally Muslim military, according to an analysis published in a Moscow newspaper today.

The declining number of men in the prime draft-age cohort in Russia and the rising share that members of Muslim nationalities form among their number has confronted the Russian military with several unattractive options, according to Vladimir Mukhin in NG-Regiony. If the armed services rely more heavily on professional soldiers rather than draftees, that will put additional strains on the Russian military budget. If the army drafts more ethnic Russians, it will likely harm the economy by removing from the workforce some of the most qualified professionals. But if the army drafts men in equal proportions across the Russian Federation, Mukhin writes, then the military will increasingly consist of men from historically Muslim nationalities, something that commanders fear could undermine discipline among those in uniform. According to Mukhin, are convinced that “a large stratum of Orthodox Slavs in the army guarantees stability, excludes the threat of terrorist actions and other extremist phenomena, and also reduces the probability of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional conflicts among the soldiery.” Consequently, although they are loathe to say anything about it given the sensitivity of ethnic relations, officials responsible for drafting men into the military and other security agencies are carefully but quietly reducing draft quotas for what they call “socially unfavorable regions” like Daghestan Chechnya and Ingushetia. But because it is precisely these historically Islamic regions have relatively larger pools of potential draftees, this effort has the effect of allowing more “ethnic Muslims” to escape military service while forcing a higher percentage of ethnic Russians to don a uniform.

In the past, officials responsible for the draft did not need to do this. While Muslim nationalities were growing faster than the ethnic Russians, the difference in numbers was not so great that, after members of the former were rejected on medical grounds, that this difference had a major effect. But now, not only are young Russians now more likely to be medically unfit than they were earlier, as numerous articles attest, but the difference between historically Russian regions and historically Islamic ones as a source of draftees in the Russian military is staggering and potentially explosive. Mukhin notes that this year, the draft age cohort in Chechnya is approximately equal to that of all the predominantly ethnic Russian federation subjects in the Leningrad military district. But no one in the Russian military would be pleased were the two areas to yield the same number of draftees. Consequently, the “NG-Regiony” journalist continues, the Russian Federation General Staff has “artificially carried out draft measures which increase” the number of ethnic Russian draftees relative to the number of ethnic Muslim ones by expanding quotas in areas where the former predominate and reducing them where the latter live. So far, the military’s tilt to ethnic Russians against ethnic Muslims has not been the subject of much discussion in the media, but some ethnic Russians — including activists in groups like the Soldiers’ Mothers Committees — are beginning to notice that their sons have a greater chance of being called up than do the sons of Muslims. In the future, this trend could become even more pronounced, if current demographic trends continue and if the Russian military continues its current set of preferences. The first is virtually a certainty, and the second is almost as likely given the statements of many senior commanders and their links to the Russian Orthodox Church.

According to Kommersant-Vlast’, today, declines in the number of men in the draft age cohort and the simultaneous increase in the share ethnic Muslims form within it are set to increase over the next decade of more, further reducing Moscow’s options and sparking new tensions. The article notes that Russian statistics show that the numbers of people in the workforce in Russia for the first time began to fall this year after gradually rising even during the difficult years of the 1990s because of the Russian Federation’s complicated age structure.But this year, the decline was only a miniscule 300,000. Next year, according to an estimate prepared by the Moscow Center of Demography and Human Ecology, the decline will be more than twice that, and by 2010, it will exceed 1.2 million each year, a figure that will continue until at least 2020. This trend, the article suggests, “cannot but have an impact on the Russian economy” and on the Russian military but is one that current Russian policymakers, however much they try and talk, can do little or nothing about because those involved have already been born. And officials cannot soon have much effect on the changing ethnic mix, given the higher birthrates among Muslims than among ethnic Russians. As the article notes, the ten regions with the highest birthrates per 1,000 are all non-Russian, with most being Muslim, while nine of the ten with the lowest are predominantly ethnic Russian. Neither ethnic Russians nor ethnic Muslims are likely to remain entirely comfortable with a situation in which Moscow keeps the Russian Federation’s military and security services ethnically Russian just as demographic forces make that country’s population ever less so.

Russia, into the Vortex

Blogger/scholar Paul Goble reports that Russia is becoming more and more a carbon copy of Germany as Hitler rose to power:

Contemporary Russia resembles Germany at the time of Hitler’s rise in Germany, with a population increasingly dominated by “the ideology of revaunchism,” according to a leading Russian specialist on ethnicity. And as a result, fascism is rapidly gaining ground.
Sergei Arutyunov, the head of the sector on the Caucasus at the Institute of Ethnology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, offered that judgment at a meeting in Moscow yesterday devoted to inter-ethnic relations in Russia in the year since the Kondopoga riots. One of the more outspoken Russian ethnographers, Arutyunov is not so much reviving Western discussions in the 1990s about the possible emergence of “Weimar Russia” as focusing on the increasingly negative attitudes of that country’s ethnic Russians toward other groups and especially toward migrants. Other participants at yesterday’s session provided data that appears to support Arutyunov’s conclusions. Aleksandr Brod, director of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, said that in the year since Kondopoga, the problems of inter-ethnic relations in Russia had remained “just as they were” or become even worse. Since the beginning of 2007, he said, there had been more than 170 cases of inter-ethnic violence, which had led to 51 deaths and 230 major injuries. Most of these crimes, he noted, had occurred in the Russian capital, Moscow oblast, Nizhniy Novgorod oblast and St. Petersburg. Brod added that the authorities have been unwilling to talk about how to address this problem. The law enforcement organs do not respond to complaints, actions, and the literature of neo-Nazi ideologues. [And prosecutors] either do not want or cannot take up these cases.” And Vladimir Muromel, head of the Moscow Center for Ethnopolitical and Regional Research, agreed. “What has happened” in the year since Kondopoga? he asked. “What has been done for preventing inter-ethnic conflicts. The laws remain the same,” as does “the concept paper on nationality policy.”

“On the other hand,” he noted, “foreigners are being driven out, the quota for [new] arrivals has been reduced twice, and the authorities have begun to speak more carefully about repatriation” even of ethnic Russians lest that become the occasion for new conflicts. Not surprisingly, the statements of these specialists have not attracted much attention beyond the Internet sites of a few human rights groups. But of course, this lack of coverage itself is part of the problem: the dangerous growth of the sense that the time has come for Russians to take their revenge against members of other groups.

The onset of fascism is not the only apocalypse identifed by Goble, but rather only one side of a vice moving to crush Russia between its pincers. The other side is open class warfare, exactly the same as Russia had leading up to the Bolshevik revolution:

Fifty percent of Russians say that “contradictions” between rich and power are now “very sharp” in their home areas — more than twice the share of those who say the same about relations between ethnic Russians and non-Russians, longtime residents and migrants, and Orthodox Christians and Muslims. At the end of September, the Moscow Center for Social Prognostication asked 4,000 Russian Federation citizens about their views as part of that institution’s effort to evaluate the relative attractiveness to the electorate of the various parties competing the upcoming parliamentary elections. The respondents were asked “which social contradictions in [their] region (town) in [their] view are the most sharp?” They were given the opportunity to indicate that a particular conflict was “very sharp,” “present but not very sharp” or “don’t exist or are small.” Here are the percentages – with the three possible responses listed respectively in each case – for the top 11 categories: rich and power – 50.5, 29.1, and 11.0; the authorities and the people – 48.0, 31.3, and 11.4; Moscow and the provinces – 36.6, 33.1, and 21.0; and ethnic Russians and non-Russians – 24.5, 36.3, and 29.9. Other categories and the responses included clashes between younger and older generations – 23.1, 43.4, and 24.3; the authorities and the oligarchs – 18.7, 34.0, and 38.0; long-time residents and migrants – 18.2, 40.8, and 31.7; and Orthodox Christians and Muslims – 16.0, 33.8, and 40.9. And still a third set of categories and the responses of Russians to them involved tensions between democrats and opponents of democracy – 12.1, 35.1, and 43.5; the Western oriented and supporters of an independent path of development for Russia – 11.0, 32.0, and 47.7; and between active and passive people – 9.5, 33.9, and 47.3.

As Mikhail Tulskiy points out in his APN commentary on this poll, these results suggest that the Russian electorate should be more responsive to those politicians, parties and groups which advocate left-of-center policies and that voters today are less exercised by ethnic, religious and migration issues than many now assume. Indeed, the Moscow analyst argues, only Russians living in Moscow and St. Petersburg identify the influx of migrants as being a sufficiently sharp problem to push it up to third place in the ranking, with Russians living elsewhere evaluating this particular divide as being of less moment. That judgment may be correct, but there is another possibility: If one combines those concerned about relations between Russians and non-Russians, Moscow and the provinces, and Orthodox and Muslims – categories that overlap – then these “ethnic” issues could in fact prove more potent than a first reading of these results might suggest. Such a possibility is suggested by the findings of a second poll that was released last Thursday by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) concerning Russians’ attachment to and attitudes about religion as faith and as identity.

Although 53 percent of the respondents identified themselves as religious, compared to six percent who indicated that they were “convinced atheists,” only ten percent of the Russian sample indicated that they took part in religious life on a regular basis. But more intriguing, those questioned by VTsIOM pollsters at the end of August and beginning of September were asked to specify the reasons why they believed Russians turn to religion, a surrogate for the unasked question of why the respondents themselves did so. Twenty-one percent said that people turn to religion because a particular faith is part of their own national traditions, with roughly the same saying they did so for comfort in times of grief or seeing it as providing a moral ideal for their lives. Significantly smaller shares said it reflected fashion, belief in the supernatural, or backwardness. Intriguingly, ten percent of the sample said they saw no indication that Russians were in fact now turning more to religion. And in response to a third question – what should be the source of moral values for the rising generation, 67 percent said the family, 17 percent said the school, five percent said television and the mass media, and only four percent said religious organizations. That last pair of figures prompted some Russian news agencies to suggest that Russians “trust television and the mass media more than ‘spiritual leaders’” to provide the primary source of moral guidance for members of the next generation in that country. That almost certainly is a distortion, but the fact that these data permit someone to draw that conclusion highlights a fundamental truth: religious groups in Russia today overwhelming have far less influence as moral leaders than they do as signifiers of national traditions and identities.

Russia’s Illusion of Stability

The Chicago Tribune reports:

The prospect of Vladimir Putin at the helm in Russia for years to come has been hailed by Russians and foreign investors as an assurance of interim stability, but analysts say the concentration of so much power in a single set of hands jeopardizes stability in the long run and negates the system of checks and balances Russia so desperately needs.

“This system may look stable now,” said Maria Lipman, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center. “But the stability is fragile because it hinges on one man as the safeguard for everything.”

Western leaders had hoped the Russian Constitution — and its requirement that the president step down at the end of his second term — would represent an ideological bulwark that Putin couldn’t sidestep. Putin, however, has devised an end-around that could keep him in power for years to come by announcing he will head the ruling party’s ticket in the Dec. 2 parliament election and may become prime minister. Officials in the Bush administration say Russia can build a democracy only if it strengthens its institutions. The Kremlin has moved in the opposite direction, they say, concentrating power in Putin’s hands.

Concentration of power

“In any country, if you don’t have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday in Moscow after meeting with Russian human-rights leaders. “I think there is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. I have told the Russians that,” Rice continued. “Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media, and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the” lower chamber of parliament.

An election in March will produce Russia’s new president, but that person is likely to be a loyal subordinate anointed by Putin — someone who would remain accountable to Putin, even if Russia’s government structure requires the prime minister to answer to the president. Putin, who recently turned 55, said the possibility of becoming prime minister hinges on two conditions: Russia’s dominant, pro-Putin party, United Russia, must emerge victorious in the December election, and the president Russians vote for in March must be someone he can work with — in his words, “a decent, competent and contemporary man.” Both caveats are foregone conclusions. Putin’s sweeping popularity ensures that United Russia will run away with the parliamentary elections and likely retain a majority large enough to change the constitution.

While the Kremlin insists it’s up to the voters to select the country’s next president, few in Russia believe that person will be anyone but Putin’s choice. Many analysts in Moscow believe that Viktor Zubkov, the obscure bureaucrat Putin selected as his new prime minister Sept. 12, is also the man he envisions as the next president. Zubkov, 66, is a longtime ally of Putin’s, having worked for the Russian leader in the St. Petersburg city government in the early 1990s. And unlike two other leading candidates for the presidency, First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev, Zubkov has no strong ties to competing clans within the Kremlin. If Zubkov is Putin’s choice, he could serve as a figurehead president until 2012, when Putin could legally run again for president. Or, if Zubkov steps down before that, Putin could return to the presidency sooner. “It’s obvious Zubkov is being prepared as the successor,” said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a Kremlin expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Sociology Institute. “He’s a very convenient figure for Putin. To make Putin stronger as prime minister, someone has to weaken the position of president, and Zubkov fits perfectly. He has few connections, he’s loyal and he can be easily managed by Putin.”

It’s the kind of behind-the-scenes engineering that comes from a regime dominated by former KGB agents, Kryshtanovskaya said. The Kremlin prefers to call this approach to governance “managed democracy.” As the Boris Yeltsin era showed, plunging Russia into democracy headfirst doomed the country to chaos and failure, the thinking goes. The state needs to ease post-Soviet Russia into the age of liberty and civil society. Stability first, then full-fledged democracy, the Kremlin insists. In reality, managed democracy is an exercise in Kremlin doublespeak, analysts say. Putin’s designs on retaining power are its latest example.

Moves against democracy

Putin’s government has abolished the election of governors, made it increasingly difficult for human-rights groups to work in Russia and enacted laws that make it virtually impossible for opposition parties to gain seats in parliament. While the Kremlin’s moves against democracy have drawn criticism from the Bush administration and Western European leaders, Russians themselves have not been stirred by the issue. The way they see it, Putin has improved living standards, and that makes democracy a back-burner issue. His approval ratings have consistently hovered between 75 and 80 percent. In fact, an opinion poll earlier this year found that more than a third of Russians would like to see Putin become president-for-life.

While oil prices remain high, Putin likely will continue to bask in his popularity. However, analysts warn that his government has done little to diversify the Russian economy to reduce its oil dependence, or address some of the country’s most pressing problems, including corruption, a plummeting population, a brittle Soviet-era infrastructure and an ailing health-care system. “They’re living off the fat of high oil prices,” said Michael McFaul, a Russia affairs expert at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “That could come back to haunt them.”