Saturday, January 14, 2017

Russian Nationalities Agency Becomes Cash Cow and Fighter against Dissent

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 14 – Most analysts, including the author, assumed that Moscow’s latest effort to create a nationalities ministry in the form of the Federal Agency for Nationality Policy would fail either because the Kremlin would not give it enough power to be effective or because any grant of such power would cause other ministries and agencies to gain up against it.

            But that conclusion was wrong because once again Vladimir Putin has used a bureaucratic innovation not in order to advance its stated goals but rather as a means of handing out enormous sums of budgetary money to his friends and accomplices and as another instrument in his continuing battle against any dissent.

            Two article this week underscore that unfortunate reality.  On the Kavkazskaya politika portal today, Anton Chablin details the enormous sums the Federal Agency for Nationality Policy has been allocated at a time of budgetary stringency and where much of this money is ending up (

            Over the next eight years, the Russian government has announced that it plans to devote 40 billion rubles (580 million US dollars) to its nationality program, much but far from all of that to be divvied up by the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs both to other government agencies, to NGOs, and to private companies.

            Nearly a fifth of this total will go to Russian-occupied Crimea to help those who were deported earlier. Just over a quarter is slated to go to NGOs to help the state realize its nationality policy goals. And, in Chablin’s words, “millions … for teachers of Russian,” with a significantly lower amount for instruction in other langauges.

            About three percent of the total is to go to support the Russian Cosacks, about the same amount for the adaptation of migrants, and some 2.7 billion rubles (45 million US dollars) to assist the numerically small peoples of the North.

            But what is indicative of what is really going on is this, Chablin notes: One firm, clearly well-connected with the Kremlin, received a contract from the Federal Agency that included a pure profit of more than 25 percent of the total grant, a figure that probably understates just how much money this program is corruptly putting into the hands of Putin’s cronies.

            The second article by Ramazan Alpaut, which appeared on Radio Liberty’s IdelReal portal, argues that the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs is being used by the Kremlin in the first instance to fight what it calls “extremism” but what other describe in many cases as legitimate dissent (

            “As is well-known,” Alpaut writes, “in the conditions of present-day Russia an extremely broad spectrum of things can fall under the term extremism. Akhmed Gisayev, president of the Human Rights Analysis Center in Oslov, suggests that Moscow’s nationality agency will play a role in suppressing many of these things under the guise of fighting extremism.

            Others, like Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya of the International Crisis Group are less certain that things will work out that way given that there are other institutions who have “broad authority” and who are charged with fighting extremism. They won’t be happy to see any of their powers pass to the Federal Agency even if as now that body is headed by former siloviki.

            In her opinion, the Federal Agency will direct much of its efforts to creating a civic Russian nation, something that she says may prove possible because of the success the Moscow media have had in structuring public opinion on other issues.

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