Saturday, April 21, 2018

Ten Signs Putin and His Russia have Serious Problems


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 21 – Vladimir Putin and his country are in far deeper trouble than the Moscow media he controls or than the Western media which all too often relies on what the Putin outlets say and views his standing and that of his country almost exclusively as a derivative of what the West does or doesn’t do.

But in the last 48 hours alone, ten stories have appeared which suggest neither he nor his country is doing as well as many would have it, either out of a misplaced sense that Russia’s nuclear arsenal trumps everything – forgetting that it didn’t save the USSR – or the problematic conviction that the West needs an interlocutor or a threat.

These ten things do not mean that Putin is about to be ousted or the Russian Federation collapse. Both he and it have important reserves, but rather these are offered as a corrective to the all too common narrative that Putin is a miracle worker and his country is what he likes to present it, a worthy successor to the Soviet Union. Neither of these things is true.

Here are the ten:

1.      Putin is losing support at home and abroad. A VTsIOM poll finds that fewer than 50 percent of Russians now trust him and, for the first time since 2013, Time magazine has not included him in its list of the 100 most influential people in the world (wciom.ru/news/ratings/doverie_politikam/  and meduza.io/news/2018/04/20/putin-vpervye-za-pyat-let-ne-popal-v-spisok-samyh-vliyatelnyh-lyudey-mira-po-versii-time).

2.      One part of the Russian government is trying to ban the Telegram messenger service while other parts are purchasing VPNs and other technology in order to do an end run around Kremlin policy, thus giving the Kremlin one of its clearest defeats in a long time (snob.ru/selected/entry/136678 and nv.ua/opinion/yakovina/stolknovenie-s-telehoj-2465568.html).

3.      Senior officials in Tatarstan and some other non-Russian republics are directly attacking Vladimir Putin’s language policies and thus Putin personally, something that they had avoided doing in the recent past out of fear how he might respond (iarex.ru/news/57280.html).

4.      Russian officials concede that 68 percent of the medicines Russians use are imported and that in most cases there is no domestic alternative. If those drugs do not continue to flow into the country, many Russians will die (forum-msk.org/material/news/14567249.html).

5.      Russian space industry analysts say that 70 percent of the electronics in Russian satellites is imported and again there are no obvious domestic alternatives (charter97.org/ru/news/2018/4/20/287083/).

6.      The only factory in Russia that produces armored personnel carriers for the military and security forces has just gone bankrupt, an indication along with delays in the refitting of ships and the production of new ones of severe problems in the defense industry and in the government’s ability to finance any significant military buildup (newsland.com/community/129/content/ne-vpisalsia-v-rynok-edinstvennogo-v-rossii-proizvoditelia-bmp-poprosili-obankrotit/6308512).

7.      The Russian economy has so many bottlenecks that any strain leads to significant problems. Moscow officials have just announced that the World Cup this summer will affect when residents of the Russian capital will get hot water in their residences (snob.ru/selected/entry/136682).

8.      Russian prosecutors and siloviki are so desperate to improve their statistics about fighting extremism that they are searching about for anything that they can plausibly or even implausibly suggest constitutes that “crime.” Among their targets this week: An Omsk man was charged with extremism for daring to criticize the sad state of roads in his region (newsland.com/community/7149/content/zhitelnitsu-omskoi-oblasti-obvinili-v-ekstremizme-za-zhalobu-na-plokhie-dorogi/6308189).

9.      With Russians across the country protesting against improper handling of garbage, Russia was stung this week by an international ranking which showed that Russia ranks first among all former Soviet republics in per capita air contamination. Even Putin has mentioned that there are some cities in the Urals where it is not safe to breathe (fergananews.com/news/29576).

10.  And Forbes reports that Russia now has a significantly smaller GDP than the single US state of Texas does (newsland.com/community/8211/content/u-kogo-bolshe-ekonomika-u-tekhasa-ili-u-rossii/6306913).

Russian Authorities in Some Places Simply Forgetting Small and Distant Villages, Leaving Them to Die


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 21 – The heroine of Nevil Shute’s classic novel, A Town like Alice, observes that there is something worse than being a prisoner of war in a camp: that is being a prisoner of war but not held in a camp and thus denied even those minimal rations and supports that such camps provided. 

            As a female POW in Malaya during World War II, she and a group of other women were forced to march from one camp to another because none of the Japanese commandants wanted to assume responsibility for them and indeed none had specific orders that they should be given a place in the regular camps. As a result, they were ignored and died at a faster rate.

            Many have written about how the Putin regime’s various “optimization” campaigns have accelerated the death of villages across the Russian Federation by depriving them of schools, medical points, stores and transport.  But in an eerie echo of Shute’s lines, there may be something even worse for many Russian villages and that is to be forgotten altogether.

            According to an article by Regnum journalist Anna Alyabyeva, many Russian villages will soon cease to exist because the authorities are eliminating the key institutions – schools and hospitals – that have kept them going. By 2023, there won’t be any hospitals in villages and by the mid-2030s, no schools (regnum.ru/news/society/2407208.html).

                But at the same time, the Russian government has announced various programs to help “save” the Russian village. Unfortunately, the journalist says, these programs are not only underfunded or a priority for many regional leaders but don’t even involve many of the villages that are most at risk. The latter are thus simply ignored and left to die even more quickly.

            Alyabayeva says that in many cases, officials in the cities don’t know anything about small and distant villages, are uncertain as to who is supposed to do something, and consequently in the end don’t do anything at all. She cites figures from several oblasts and republics where such population points simply disappear, unassisted and apparently unmourned as well.

‘Nobody Talks about the Armenians Anymore’


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 21 – Adolf Hitler was convinced that he would get away with the Holocaust of European Jewry because “nobody talks about the Armenians anymore,” a reference by the Nazi leader to the world’s failure to focus on the mass murder of the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

            Hitler was wrong on both counts: he and his regime were held accountable for his acts of genocide by an international community which has committed itself to the proposition that no such crime must ever be allowed to happen, and ever more governments around the world are officially recognizing the events of 1915 as a crime against humanity.

            But the Nazi believer’s calculation has been replicated by other leaders who assume that the enormous flow of events will mean that few will keep track of what they have done and thus allow them to escape responsibility, as Hitler thought he could, for their actions either by lying about what happened or quite often by eclipsing one crime with others. 

            All too few people today, for example, talk about Vladimir Putin’s crimes against the Chechen people or against the Georgians, preferring to focus instead on his more immediate crimes in Ukraine, in the elections of Western democracies, and in the poisoning of Skripal. As a result, each new crime becomes a kind of “cover up” for the earlier ones. 

            Given the limited attention span of most individuals and nearly all governments, this use of one crime to obscure others is often successful; and all too often after an initial expression of horror about an action, many stop their criticism, turn away, and focus instead on more recent outrages.

            Media-savvy politicians like Putin – and he is far from alone in this -- count on this all too human limitation; and all too often, they are rewarded when those who were initially concerned about some action turn toward other crimes as they are presented.  That is something that all those who care about human rights, democracy and freedom need to fight against.

            This week marks a case in point. One year ago, on April 29, 2017, the Russian Supreme Court banned the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Happily, the international community reacted with outrage to this action which, Moscow’s protestations notwithstanding, was about keeping the followers of that faith from professing it.

            Over the last 12 months, the Russian authorities have violated the rights of that denomination more than 250 times; and this week, in a horrific “commemoration” of the court’s decision, they stepped up their persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses across the Russian Federation (sova-center.ru/misuse/news/persecution/2018/04/d39249/ and golos-ameriki.ru/a/jehovah-witneses-persecution-in-russia/4355976.html).

            The Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in the United States has issued a statement declaring that “these most recent raids represent a serious escalation of state-sponsored human rights abuse, one reminiscent of Soviet-era repression and Nazi persecution experienced by minority groups in the early days of these former regimes.”

            “Without international awareness,” the Witnesses’ office in New York says, “we anticipate that this situation will increase in both severity and frequency in the days ahead.” Tragically, the international community now appears far less focused on this issue, and the Kremlin may assume that it can get away with its vicious campaign.

            A half century ago, the great Russian memoirist Nadezhda Mandelshtam wrote that “happy is that country where the despicable is at least despised.” Sometimes speaking out against the abuse of human rights is all that anyone can do; failing to speak out is never a good option: it gives those behind such actions the conviction that they can get away with their crimes.