Friday, November 30, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Despite Moscow’s Promises, Russia’s Far East Remains ‘More Dead than Alive,’ Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – Yesterday’s meeting of the Russian State Council devoted to the Russian Far East and the Trans-Baikal and chaired by President Vladimir Putin shows that those regions remain “more dead than alive” and, in the words of two analysts, “nothing is being done about this” in Moscow.

            In an essay posted on “Expert Online” today, Vasily Avchenko and Aleksandr Popov offer a devastating description of the problems of these regions, the failure of Moscow up to now to address them effectively, and the growing anger of both Putin and regional officials concerning the situation (

            The Russian president is “losing patience,” the two said because no decisions taken “up to now have led to radical changes in the social-economic situation of those territories” and there is not “the political will” to overcome what is quite obviously become a serious “institutional crisis.”

            Putin proposed creating a state corporation for the development of the region, an idea that has been floated for some time but that most had assumed had been dropped following the creation of the Ministry for the Development of the East. Putin said he is now “ready to return to this question.”

             Vyacheslav Shtyrov, deputy chairman of the Federation Council, said he backed the idea but added “of course not in the form which Sergey Kuzhgetovich Shoygu proposed.”  Shoygu’s idea “in fact” would represent something like the recreation of the NKVD’s Dalstroy which existed in Stalinist times

            Whether a state corporation would be more effective than the ministry is “an open question,” Avchenko and Popov say. Mikhail Tersky, an economist from Vladivostok noted that the effectiveness of either “depends on the people who will work in [them].” But judging from the way Moscow is proceeding, he continued, “there aren’t any such in the Far East” now.

             Putin and various participants in the meeting proposed special laws and tax policies to help promote the region, but “Kommersant” journalist Andrey Kolesnikov, who attended the session, said that the frustrations of those from the region are now so great that they in effect were saying “Give us a Far Eastern Republic  (

            That may overstate the level of anger, but many in the enormous region of the Russian Federation east of Baikal are clearly ready to strike out in new directions. One of the potentially most interesting involves proposals to “rebrand” the region as “Russia on the Pacific,” a shift that could lead to very different policies there and in Moscow.

            According to scholars at the Far Eastern Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences, “the term ‘Far East’ has outlived its usefulness and does not correspond to the present or even more the future role of the eastern regions of Russia.” It should be dropped along with the ideological baggage it carries (

                “In the very name ‘Far East,’ Academician Petr Baklanov, who heads Vladivostok’s Pacific Ocean Institute of Geography, says, “there is a certain relativity connected with Eurocentrism” among people in Moscow, an attitude that gets in the way of the expanding involvement of the region with the Pacific Ocean and the countries which live on its shores.

            But of course, Yuri Avdeyev, a scholar there adds, “the issue is not just about the name but about a change in the vector of Asian policy.” Until recently, he notes, “the military presence of Russia dominated in the region,” but today within a radius of 1000 kilometers of Vladivostok, there live 300 million people, five times more than live within the same radius of Moscow.

            And the GDP of that region is currently “more than 6.6 trillion US dollars, three times more than of all of Russia put together,” he notes. Russia on the Pacific “must be constructed above administrative borders as it is something more than the potential of a specific territory.” It needs specialists, institutions and businesses so that Russia can cooperate with the Pacific Rim.

            “Both heads of the Russian eagle as before look to the West,” Viktor Larin, the director of Vladivostok’s Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography, says. Therefore, “rebranding” the region has “principled importance from the psychological point of view” if the region and Russia as a whole are to succeed.

            None of the scholars planned to raise this issue officially at least not yet because there are many in Moscow would view such a proposal as raising a kind of secessionist flag. But several of them do have specific ideas about what might be done, and at least some of the latter are likely to become part of the conversation in the near term.

            Avdeyev suggests that Vladivostok should be raised in status to become “the third capital of Russia.” Khabarovsk is “really the capital of the Far Eastern Federal District but Vladivistok is the center which links Russia, Europe and Asia.” Unless something at least that serious is done, he argues, the situation is likely to become dire indeed.

            “The population is fleeing, capital is leaving and foreign capital isn’t coming in,” the scholar says. Unless that changes and changes very soon and radically “where will it be, our Russia on the Pacific?”

Window on Eurasia: Militants in North Caucasus Said Skillfully Using Social Media to Attract Ever Younger Recruits

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – Anti-government militants in Kabardino-Balkaria are using social media in a sophisticated way to recruit new members for their groups, according to police officials there, and as a result, “the underground is becoming ever younger,” rather than withering away as Moscow has often claimed.

            Beslan Mukhozhev, the deputy head of the republic Interior Ministry’s Department for Combatting Religious Extremism, said that militant recruiters are “ever more frequently acting through social media sites like ‘Fellow Classmates’” and beginning psychological processing those who visit such sites and particularly young women (

            He mentioned a recent case when “a girl in the seventh class [from KBR] was processed in this way and took a husband in Daghestan.  There [the militants] prepare girls for the underground,” what he labeled “‘militant girl friends.’”
            According to the MVD official, “unemployment and a lot of free time” incline young people in his republic to get involved with Muslim groups out of a certain “romanticism” and desire to be with others their own age.  Mukhozhev’s colleague, Colonel Zurab Afaunov said that in his view, parents are to blame “in the majority of cases.”

             The KBR officer said that he and his fellow officers often see families that are well off and law abiding but whose children “fall under the influence from the side” because “parents do not sufficiently look after them: their children comes home at night and they do not even ask him where he was.”

            Afaunov added that the young people who are what he called “the victims of the recruiters” are in the first instance those “who have encountered difficulties – financial, psychological and moral. Or, for example, having finished school, they have not entered a higher educational institution and remain without anything to do.”

            According to Mukhozhev, “there are many factors” which promote the attachment to radical Islamist ideology, including “shortcomings in the government’s youth policy, the lack of sufficient control over youth, and religious illiterarcy.  Andzor Yemkuzhev, the deputy head of the republic’s MSD agrees: few of the recruits have any idea just what “jihad” means in Islam.

                Such police reports will likely be used by some Moscow officials to press for even tighter controls on the Internet and to deflect criticism for doing so.  But they reflect an underlying reality in the North Caucasus that the central Russian government has still not found any effective way to counter.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Two Non-Russian Republics in the Middle Volga Move to Restrict Demonstrations

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 29 – The Udmurt and Chuvash legislatures have given preliminary approval to United Russia-backed measures severely limiting the ability of opponents of the regime to stage protests, moves that may be bellwethers of changes elsewhere now that some Russian opposition figures have said they want to organize more protests in the provinces.

            Two days ago, the State Council of Udmurtia adopted on first reading which local observers said would “in fact eliminate the constitutional right of freedom of assembly in the republic” by “prohibiting meetings and demonstrations in almost all suitable places for such assemblies” (

Clearly, observers say, the incumbent president of the republic, now that he has decided to run for a fourth term, does not want to have to deal with any more demonstrations or anti-government auto rallies, events which have become a regular feature there during his current term in office.

The new legislation being considered makes it even more difficult for those opposed to the government in Izhevsk to make their case.  For two years already, organizers of demonstrations have had to get the approval of the Udmurt transportation ministry, something they have been denied even as United Russia-backed events have been approved.

“It is symbolic,” one observer noted, “that the scandalous draft law was prepared by the State Council Commission on Nationality Policy and Public Security.”  That group is headed by Envil Kasimov, who “not long ago” was the first Udmurt legislator to come out in support of the current president’s plans to run for another term.

            Meanwhile, in the Chuvash Republic, the State Council has approved on second reading legislation which prohibits meetings closer than 50 meters to railway and bus stations, airports, trade centers, markets, educational and cultural facilities, as well as churches and other religious buildings (

            In addition, the new legislation bans actions closer than 30 meters to government buildings of all levels, on roads, and closer than five meters from the entrances to apartment blocks. The exact distances have been modified during debates, but local rights activists say that these are only “cosmetic” and do not affect the impact of the law on protesters.

            A Chuvash rights portal says that the initiative for this “draconian” law came from deputies who are members of the ruling United Russia Party ( And criticism of the law came exclusively from opponents of that party in the local parliament (

            Similar legislation is likely under consideration in other regions as well, given how similar these two laws are.  That is undoubtedly the case because Gari Kasparov and some other opposition figures in Moscow have indicated that they believe the next stage of protests needs to involve the provinces as well (

Window on Eurasia: New Russian Defense Minister Increases Draft Quota in Daghestan from 179 to 4000

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 29 – Following an appeal from Makhachkala, Sergey Shoygu, Russia’s new defense minister, has raised the semi-annual draft quota for Daghestan from 179 to 4,000 and promised to increase it further later on, apparently convinced that it is better for young Daghestanis to be in the army than have them join anti-Russian the militants in the forests.

            Because many Russian officers believe that North Caucasians undermine military discipline, because the size of the Russian military has declined, and because outsourcing of many tasks that non-Russians in the military had earlier carried out, Moscow has drafted ever fewer North Caucasians in recent years.

            But Daghestanis, both official and unofficial, have been outraged because the decline has been so precipitous in a republic which Moscow claims has not descended into violence as Chechnya did. And consequently, Daghestani leaders last spring appealed to then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and now to the new defense minister to change the situation.

            Whatever their precise cause – and most Daghestanis seem them as obvious ethnic discrimination – the numbers of draftees from there have fallen precipitously. In 2010, the military drafted 2010 up to 20,000 Daghestanis. Then last fall, Moscow called into uniform service only 179 instead of the announced number of 330 (

            Daghestanis believe that Moscow could draft as many as 35,000 from that republic because of high birthrates, and officials want it to because drafting such people will ease the unemployment problem in that North Caucasus republic and reduce the likelihood that such young men will go into the mountains to fight against the Russian authorities.

            Sergey Krivenko, the director of the Citizen.Army.Law Rights Defense Group, told “Bolshoy Kavkaz” that Moscow has had the right to make such radical changes since 1993 even though the Constitution specifies that all Russian citizens should equally liable to performing military service.

            Each year, he said, “the president establishes a plan for the draft and specifies the exact number of draftees. But the General Staff decides from which region it will call just how many people to military service. Therefore, from the point of view of the law, everything [that has happened in Daghestan] is in order.”

            According to Krivenko, what has driven the numbers down for Daghestan in the first instance are cutbacks in the number of officers who deal with socializing new draftees.  Rather than deal with the problems that soldiers from different ethnic groups present, Russian commanders have preferred to dispense with the problem by not drafting them.

            While Gadzhimet Safaraliyev, a Duma deputy from Daghestan, believes that it was the earlier Daghestani appeal to Putin that made the difference, a variety of other analysts suggested today that Shoygu is the one who made this decision (

            Vladislav Shurygin, a military commentator said that Shoygu decided that “everyone must serve” both because of the constitutional requirement and because “if people themselves want to serve, even more under our conditions when things have not been going so well, then they ought to be welcomed.

            And Leonid Ivashov, a retired lieutenant general and head of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, said Shoygu felt comfortable making this decision because the cutbacks were the “illegal” work of his predecessor. Moreover, he understands that if young North Caucasians aren’t drafted, they will “go into the mountains where they will be paid and given arms.”

            But Shoygu’s decision does not answer two questions about the Daghestanis. On the one hand, it does not indicate whether Moscow will go ahead with earlier plans to form an “experimental” and purely “Daghestani” battalion – what some are calling a restoration of the tsarist “Dikaya diviziya” (

            And on the other, this latest decision does provide an answer as to whether the Daghestanis will become more integrated in Russian society after military service or whether both they and their fellow ethnic Russian recruits will differently about the others after serving together.