Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Is Putin about to Build an Expensive Bridge to a Nowhere He’s Creating?



Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 18 – Vladimir Putin has announced plans to build a bridge from the mainland to Sakhalin Island, an enormous expensive undertaking; but at the same time, he and his regime are taking ever more money away from that oblast, now one of Russia’s wealthiest, leading to economic decline and population loss.

            But what is still worse, commentator Lyubov Barabashova writes on the OpenRussia portal, what Putin is doing on Sakhalin, he is also doing with regard to the Kuriles and many other of the country’s most distant regions: he is taking more money from them to make up for the growing deficit in Moscow (openrussia.org/notes/714962/).

            As a result of the development of oil fields by foreign companies, Sakhalin oblast today “is one of the wealthiest in Russia,” she says; but that is about to come to a screeching half if Moscow goes through with its plans to take 68 billion rubles (1.1 billion US dollars) out of the regional budget over the course of the next three years. 

            As the money came in, the regional authorities invested much of it in subsidies and benefit packages for the population, actions that slowed the outmigration of Russians from the island: In the 25 years after the end of Soviet controls on movement, Sakhalin’s population declined from just over 700,000 residents to 480,000.

            People are still leaving but at a much slower pace because of the benefits that the regional government has been able to afford up to now. But if Moscow goes through with its plans to cut the amount the region retains or gets back from the center, many fear that outmigration will accelerate creating a security problem for the country.

            The amount the central government wants to take from Sakhalin’s budget is twice what the island’s authorities spend on social supports for the population, medical care and education.  All those programs will have to be cut back, people will suffer, and those who can, the most educated and the youngest, will then leave.

            Cultural programs are already slated to be cut back and there soon won’t be any money for veterans and pensioners, Barabashova says.  People are angry: the residents of Sakhalin have already collected 17,000 signatures on a petition in defense of the existing budget, and regional officials are appealing to Moscow via the Duma.

            The regional government has not begun to prepare adjusted budgets to take into account the cuts, she says, hoping against hope that Moscow won’t do what it says it will.  But the odds are against them in that regard.

            Perhaps still more important, what Moscow is doing to Sakhalin is echoing elsewhere in Russia, Barabashova says.  A representative of another petroleum center, the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, says that if Moscow cuts funds for Sakhalin, “then there is no sense for other regions to work well and earn money.”

            They will see, the Yamal deputy says, that if people work well, Moscow will simply take everything away from them; and so they will decide that it isn’t worth working well. Better to do nothing and take what crumbs the center will in fact give. 

Putin TV Not about Propaganda but about Dehumanizing Its Viewers, Yakovenko Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 18 – It is long past time calling “the content of Russia media propaganda,” Igor Yakovenko says. Propaganda is about promoting and spreading an ideology, “a system of ideas concerning the future and ways of achieving them.” But there is no Putinist ideology, and there isn’t going to be any.

            In an article in Yezhednevny zhurnal, the Russian commentator says that the immediate goal of Putin television is “to cover with dirt the opponents of the regime, foreign and domestic.” That puts it in sharp contrast with Soviet propaganda which despite its hypocrisy and falseness at least had a broader message (ej.ru/?a=note&id=31699).

                For the hosts of state television programs now, he continues, there is no broader message. Attacking and destroying the reputation of anyone the Kremlin doesn’t like is sufficient because “the goal of Putin television is the establishment of an industry of the de-humanization of the population” by destroying all norms and values. 

            Many opponents of the regime willingly participate in such programs confident that their arguments are stronger and that that will make a difference. In many cases, as Yakovenko documents, they are right about the arguments but wrong about their ability to have an impact given that the hosts don’t want a debate but a show and don’t engage in genuine discussions.

            “Exceptionally rare are the cases when a second point of view in practice looks justified,” he argues.  And consequently, those who do agree to take part in such programs are in fact “helping to achieve the plan of the organizers of these shows, to raise the level of hatred toward enemies of the powers foreign and domestic,” and to belittle anyone who disagrees.

            As result, “opponents of the powers may speak wisely and even completely convincingly” from the point of view of practice, but that doesn’t matter because that is not why they are invite to take part in shows that are not about propaganda in the usual sense but about the destruction of all decent norms of human behavior.

A ‘Small Color Revolution’ Breaks Out inside Russia – Among the Circassians



Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 18 – One of the defining characteristics of the Putin years has been Moscow’s fear that someone somewhere will succeed in launching a color revolution within the borders of the Russian Federation and thus undermine or even overthrow the existing regime. Now, a Nezavisimaya gazeta journalist suggests, such a revolution may have started.

            In an article in today’s edition entitled “The Small ‘Tulip Revolution of the Circassians,” Artur Priymak says that Circassian efforts to defend their holy tree and their anger at official treatment of Ruslan Gvashev who has led that effort have attracted attention “at the highest levels” (ng.ru/events/2017-10-18/11_430_revolution.html).

            Gvashev points out that Circassians from across the North Caucasus decided to say a prayer in May at a tulip tree in Sochi for their ancestors who fought the Russian advance in tsarist times. But officials weren’t prepared to allow that because the tree is not listed in the kray’s register of holy places. For going ahead anywhere, Gvashev was arrested and charged.

            He declared and then ended a hunger strike against his mistreatment, Priymak says; and he attracted broad support from Circassians. When officials refused his appeals, the journalist says, “many citizens of Abkhazia were ready as a mark of protest to give up their Russian passports.”

             Abakhaz officials flew to Moscow and Sochi to discuss the situation and to point out the significance of the tulip tree in Circassian life, according to Abkhaz political scientist David Dasania. He added that as a result, the views of Russian officials had changed and that they will consult more broadly with the Circassians. 

            “Now the Sochi authorities will consult in the first instance with respected Shapsugs [a subgroup of the Circassians] and of course with Ruslan Gvashev,” Dasania says. Others including some in the Adyge Khase organization “will lose status as negotiators” even if they retain their positions in that organization.

            According to Dasania, what has taken place with Gvashev is entirely the work of local officials and there has not been any “’order’ from Moscow” in his case.  The local bureaucrats understood the actions at the tree not as a prayer which they would have had to respect but as a meeting whose participants could be arrested for failing to get approval in advance.

            So far, the Circassians have not succeeded in convincing the local officials that they are wrong, and consequently, on Monday of this week, the court of first instance left Gvashev’s conviction in place even after a kray court reversed its original finding, something that has clearly outraged the Circassians and created a situation no one in Moscow wants.

            And while the Russian journalist’s application of the term “tulip revolution” to this series of events may be overblown, it is clearly the case that yet another people has found its voice and a way to use the contradictions within the powers that be to advance its agenda, thus meeting one of the key parts of the definition of a color revolution.

            This case and this “revolution” are clearly not over.