Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Long-Haul Trucker Leader More than Single Issue Candidate for Russian President

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – Andrey Bazhutin, the leader of the Carriers Union which is behind the long-haul truckers’ strike in Russia, is already proving to be more than a single-issue candidate for Russian president, raising issues of decentralization of state power as well as calling for the elimination of the Plato system that the truckers want.

            Not surprisingly, the union leader has focused on issues that animate the truckers, the elimination of the Plato system and improvements in roads and services in order to improve deliveries and bring down prices for ordinary Russians (

            But in addition, Bazhutin is calling for changing Russian law to allow municipalities to get involved in economic activity, a step that would give them an alternative source of income and allow them to help their populations cope with economic decline; and he is urging candidates in municipal elections to join him in making this demand.

            Meanwhile, there were two other developments over the last two days regarding the long-haul truckers’ strike. On the one hand, the Daghestani government, which earlier had been the most solicitous in meeting trucker demands, has now reversed course and taken a hard line against the drivers (

            And on the other, and in the obvious hope that such reports will undermine any public support for the truckers, a Moscow newspaper is reporting that “more than half” of all long-haul truckers in Russia are foreigners who, it is implied, are exploiting the country in which they work (

Moscow Sees West Behind Regionalist Threats to Russia’s Territorial Integrity

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – The first session of the Federation Council Commission on Countering Hostile Interference in the Affairs of Russia suggests that there has been a significant change in Moscow’s concerns. No longer is Western support for non-Russians the primary problem but rather Western backing for opposition movements and regionalism.

            Given that the expression of such views is likely a harbinger of where Moscow will crack down next and hardest, opposition groups and regionalist movements are more likely to be the next target than ethno-nationalist ones, a major change in focus that in turn suggests the Russian leadership has reached two main conclusions.
            On the one hand, this shift suggests the Kremlin is now focusing on the increasingly active opposition movements and especially the young people who support them despite never having known any other Russia than the one ruled by Putin, a shift that many have argued reflects the center’s concerns about participation and voting in the upcoming presidential vote.

            And on the other, it indicates that many in Moscow now believe that the non-Russians within the Russian Federation are far less of a threat to the territorial integrity of the country than Vladimir Putin and others have maintained in the past and that regionalist movements within Russia are very much more of one than they have ever indicated up to now.

            The second shift is in some ways the more interesting, although it has received less attention. Yesterday, as Kommersant reports, Senator Andrey Klimov, chairman of the Federation Council commission, referred to the Urals Republic, something few in Moscow ever do ( and

            Foreigners, he said, have encouraged opposition groups, including regionalist ones, to think that the West will help them. “In my native Perm kray,” Klimov said, “the question of establishing a Urals Republic was raised, “a question that was actively cooked up from the outside.”

            What is especially striking is that the idea of the Urals Republic was pushed in 1993 by the then head of the Sverdlovsk Oblast, Eduard Rossel, who since 2009 has been a member of the Federation Council. And some of his followers have raised this issue in recent times, an indication that regionalism is an increasingly important phenomenon.

            But that phenomenon has domestic roots and not the foreign ones that Klimov and his colleagues are suggesting, likely in the hopes that they can use such charges to discredit the movements and also to justify the use of the police power of the Russian state against those who do support.

            (For a discussion of the issue of regionalism in Russia today, see this author’s “Regionalizm – eto natsionalizm sleduyushchey russkoy revolyutsii” at

No Foreigner Cracked Russians’ Top Ten Statesmen of All Times and Places

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 28 – The Levada Center poll concerning whom Russians see as the most outstanding statesmen of all times and places has attracted most attention because it found that they list Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as number one with Vladimir Putin and Aleksandr Pushkin tied for second.

            But perhaps equally important is that Russians did not list a single non-Russian in the top dozen: the highest ranked of those was Napoleon at 14th place. But as Aleksey Makarkin points out, there is in that too “not a little of Russian patriotism” because of “pride about a victory over such a great military commander” (

            For Russians who took part in this poll, “Russia is undoubtedly the center of the world, and foreign history interests them not very much.” Indeed, they are inclined to list as outstanding statesmen Russian poets and novelists before considering any political leader from any other country. 

            But the most important finding of the poll that must be explained, the Moscow commentator says, is the extremely high support Russians now display for Stalin. “The simplest and completely true explanation of this phenomenon,” Makarkin says, “lies in the authoritarian culture characteristic of Russian society.”

            Russian society doesn’t respect institutions very much. Instead, it places its bets “on a strong and just leader capable of imposing order.” And despite what many think, the 1990s were not an exception in this regard.  Many saw Boris Yeltsin at least initially as a strong leader who could make changes. Only later did that change, the Moscow commentator continues.

            But something far more fundamental is at work, Makarkin says. Stalin “unites people who on other issues support very different views.” That is possible because there are in effect many Stalins, and different people now can support that Stalin they find most attractive ignoring all the others.

            Thus, some Russians may support Stalin because they are loyal to the current regime, but only “if they see in Putin a continuer of the course of the Soviet leader.” But others may support him precisely because they reject Putin, viewing him as insufficiently tough and aggressive and thus comparing him unfavorably with Stalin.

            Other present-day Stalinists may be Russians who suffered in the 1990s and remember Stalin as an ascetic leader who cracked down hard and justifiably against the bourgeoisie.  And still other “Stalinists” can be found among those who view the Soviet leader as “’an effective manager’” and as the man who won the war.

            “In this way,” Makarkin says, “Stalinism penetrates into various social groups. The common cause is a lack of empathy and in the atomization of society which can be united only for a time and only against an enemy which it is shown on the television screen.”  The sufferings of others simply aren’t that important to them.

            That helps to unite a society which is otherwise not united, but what must be remembered, Makarkin continues, is that not one of these groups “would want to live in Stalin’s times. No one would want to be pulled from his warm bed and carried off by the secret police. No one would want to lose his property, not to speak about his life.”

            At the same time, he concludes, one shouldn’t see this lack of interest as a good thing because “the justification of Stalinism by an enormous segment of Russians doesn’t testify to the moral health of society.” Instead, it testified to exactly the reverse, even if those who name him an outstanding leader don’t really want to live under all the various Stalins he represented.