This is a compilation of Russian news you might not have heard. There’s a lot going on in Russia. President Vladimir Putin’s popularity is flagging, so much so that his United Russia Party had to resort to shady dealings in recent elections in Russia’s Far East. The retirement age for pensions has been raised, and people are not happy. They’ve just mounted a big military exercise, but probably not as big as they claim. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church will probably split organizationally from the Russian Orthodox Church.
Paul Goble worked in the State Department during the breakup of the Soviet Union. He retired some time ago and has taught in universities in Estonia. He speaks Russian and Estonian. He maintains a blog, Window on Eurasia, where he summarizes news and opinion from Russia and its neighbors in English. I’ll draw on his posts and a few other sources to note recent developments in Russia. This is far from exhaustive, and probably not even indicative of larger trends. Just things that are happening.
Quick tl;dr for those who don’t want to look through this whole long post. It looks like the events most likely to persist and potentially cause trouble for Putin are dissatisfaction because of the pension changes and the border changes in the North Caucasus. The other issues, like the continuing annoyance to people whose native languages are not Russian of Moscow’s emphasis on Russian in the schools. That was a continuing annoyance in the Soviet Union and contributed to its breakup. Tie that to other upsets, and larger disturbances could result.
Putin’s declining popularity could convince him that he needs to ramp up his foreign involvements, although this prediction has been out there for a year or more, with no significant ramping up of military action.
Russia is a big country, with a wide variety of people. It’s not surprising to find various types of conflict. Sanctions are hurting a vulnerable economy. It looks like Russia will continue pretty much as it has, barring extraordinary events.
With the caveat that public opinion polls are less reliable in Russia than the US –
In a poll by the independent Levada Centre, 39% of Russians listed Putin as a politican they trust. That is a 20% decrease from November 2017, when Putin was named by 59% of Russians, according to the same polling agency. Also this month, 45% of Russians told FOM (Public Opinion Foundation), a polling agency close to the Kremlin, they would vote for Putin if elections were held this Sunday. That rating was down from 67% at the beginning of the year. (more at The Guardian)
In one poll, respondents were asked “In your opinion, have there been more successes or failures in the foreign policy of Russia recently?” Just over half – 52 percent – said there were more successes than failures, a figure down from 64 percent at the start of 2017. Almost a quarter – 23 percent – give the opposite answer, up from 15 percent 20 months ago.
Respondents to a new Levada Center poll say that they view the Internet as providing more objective news than Russian television does on the issue of pension reform, the lifestyles of politicians, the state of the economy, protest actions and foreign policy. This decline in public trust in television parallels the decline in trust in Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials. Indeed, the decline in trust in the one case promotes the decline in the other, and each may thus reinforce the other, with more declines ahead for both if nothing radically changes.
Demonstrations, Opposition, Elections
In late August, a group of Russians at the Petrovsky Zavod station in the Transbaikal attacked a group of Russian soldiers who, after firing warning shots into the air, shot directly into the crowd killing one and injuring several others. According to the Novosti news service, there had been a fight between soldiers and local people in a bar during which the civilians had attacked the soldiers with knives. The service reported that the local man who was later killed by the soldiers was a convicted criminal. It did not specify whether all the others involved were.
A report by a Russian human rights organization says that violence by the authorities against protesters is becoming the norm.
In September elections, three of the four regions where United Russia candidates for governor failed to win outright in the first round were east of the Ural Mountains. Moreover, the ruling party lost numerous mayoral posts as well as a guaranteed majority in many of the regional assemblies. People in the regions feel that Moscow is doing nothing for them despite a rhetorical “turn to the East.” Part of the dissatisfaction is with the raising of the pension age. The numbers of voters have increased in the second-round voting, apparently to protest Moscow’s policies. Bloomberg has more.
There are small moves toward establishing a Social Democratic political party
Russia has its very own ethnonationalist gun-humpers. Blowback from cozying up to the NRA? Russian officials are confiscating the weapons that northern indigenous peoples need for their hunting and fishing economy.
To deal with dissatisfaction with the raising of the pension age, the Kremlin is turning to disinformation.
Global warming will open up the Northern Sea Route around Russia, but Russia won’t have the infrastructure in place to support shipping that way for another decade. This is not extraordinary – developing ports takes time.
Most of the Russian money for the Chernobyl cleanup is being misused. Among major countries with developing economies, such as Brazil, China, and India, Russia has the greatest inequalities among its regions. Global warming is melting the permafrost in the country’s Arctic regions and putting key infrastructure there, including buildings, military facilities, roads, and oil and gas pipelines. Racism against non-Slavs is flourishing in the Moscow apartment rental market.
The Defense Minister, Sergei Shoygu, has suggested “something like” a new Russian capital east of the Urals. This would, of course, have to have been okayed by Putin.
For a year now, anonymous bomb threats have been causing evacuations of railway stations, shopping malls, and other public places across Russia. People are beginning to think that the FSB may be behind at least some of them. Over a million people have been evacuated.
Independent military analyst Alexander Golts says that the numbers of troops involved in Russia’s recent Vostok 2018 military exercise are much smaller than advertised. Here’s an explainer for Vostok 2018. Moscow included troops from China and Mongolia, but not from Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has been wary of Russia because of its ethnic Russian population and has not recognized Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Beijing commentators are playing down the exercise, saying that Russia is using tactics of 37 years ago.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church
The Partiarchate of Constantinople, the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, has moved toward granting autonomy to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. This is a serious blow to Vladimir Putin, who has linked his government closely to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Ukrainian Church has been subordinate to the Russian Church. In mid-September, the Russian Church broke with Constantinople on participating in its structures. There is concern that Moscow will orchestrate physical attacks against Ukrainian churchmen. Here’s more detail and a pop music analogy.
Belarus is a dictatorship in the mode of Russia and is often regarded as a mini-Russia. But its leader, Alexander Lukashenka, is extremely wary of Moscow and has taken steps to insulate himself and his country from Moscow. One of those moves was to refuse to host a Russian military air base. That argument continues. Recently, Lukashenka has tempered his remarks toward being more pro-Russian. An independent television channel has begun operation in Belarus. Will Constantinople grant autonomy to the Belarusian Orthodox Church?
The North Caucasus includes Chechnya, which has tried to break away to form an independent country in the past. The situation there has stabilized, with Ramzan Kadryov in charge and (so far) loyal to Putin. But there are still stresses. The region is poor, and gas and food prices are rising. Kadyrov and Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the leader of Ingushetia, have agreed on border changes. The changes give Chechnya control of areas that contain oil deposits. Protests against the changes are ramping up in Ingushetia. The first president of Ingushetia has come out in favor of the protests. Support is broad, and Amnesty International has issued a statement against using force against the protesters.
Social media in non-Russian languages are becoming more popular than the official television channels, according to a study done in Tatarstan. Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov is urging parents to choose Tatar as the primary language of their children’s instruction. Moscow has been pushing for Russian.
The top photo is mine, from a farm on the eastern coast of Lake Baikal.
Cross-posted to Balloon Juice.