Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Russia Supplying North Korea with Ever More Coal and Oil, Moscow Business Paper Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 – In the face of Western efforts to isolate North Korea, Russia has almost doubled its sales of coal and oil to Pyongyang during the first quarter of this year compared to the last quarter of 2016, delivering 26.7 million US dollars’ worth of coal and 1.2 million dollars’ worth of oil, according to Moscow’s Birzhevoy lider.

            The business paper points out that, media claims notwithstanding, these sales do not violate the international sanctions regime because oil is not on the list of goods not to be sold to North Korea but does say that Pyongyang is not able to pay for these deliveries out of current accounts (profi-forex.org/novosti-rossii/entry1008307946.html).

            During the first quarter of this year, the paper continues, North Korea sold Russia goods totaling only 420,000 US dollars. Most of these were either musical instruments or chemical products.

            Last week, Russia began direct cargo and passenger shipping between Vladivostok and a North Korean port (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/05/russia-opens-passenger-and-cargo.html).

Monday, May 22, 2017

Putin No Longer Executive Director of Russia Inc. But Rather Its Honorary Chairman, Pavlovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 22 – The Kremlin has long been “a certain board of directors of Russia Inc.,” political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky says; but Vladimir Putin’s role has now changed. Earlier, he was the all-powerful “executive director.”  Now, he is “more the honorary chairman of the board.” 

            In an interview with Fontanka’s Irina Tomakova, Pavlovsky argues that “honorary chairmen of corporations as a rule do not take decisions.” Instead, they serve as the public face of the unity of the company. This is the role Putin plays: He is the portrait over the entrance to the administration” (m.fontanka.ru/2017/05/19/154/).

            What is important to understand, he continues, is that Putin has not been replaced by anyone as “executive director.”  Instead, “the functions of the executive director have been split up and distributed among several groups.” Putin still sets the tone but others are making many of the decisions, Pavlovsky suggests.

            On various issues, different groups are involved.  “They unite in coalitions” which vary widely in terms of power. But “a single system of taking decisions has ceased to exist.” And because Russian officials are far from being apolitical.  They therefore take their signals from those who make the decisions given that they come from “the closest circle of the president.”

            In Pavlovsky’s opinion, this is good news because it shows that Russia is “moving toward the side of a normal society because politicization is a normal thing. What was abnormal was the many years of moving toward depoliticization.”  And that in turn is all coming out into the open, something that leads to the spread of politicization.

            “For us,” the commentator says, “this will become the norm,” and Russians will discuss the variety of views on offer from the various groups.  These various groups will attack one another even more than they are doing now, and that too is something that means that Russia is moving in a “normal” direction.

            In a comment on Pavlovsky’s remarks, Valery Savelyev accepts most of the former’s arguments and agrees that “the system of power in Russia is changing in a significant way and that Putin is no longer a dictator” but rather something much less powerful (publizist.ru/blogs/4796/18646/-).

            To the extent this is true, Savelyev says, “2017 is very important for us.” It represent the final crystallization of the power-political “construction which has been formed over the last 30 years since 1987.” And in the coming decades, he says, “there will not be any fundamental and radical changes in the construction of the system.”

            Pavlovsky, the commentator says, “wants an active, powerful and capable ‘executive director.””  But Savelyev says that “there won’t be any such director anymore.”  Instead, Russia will become a more normal country with no one person making all the decisions but rather decisions reflecting the struggle of interest groups with each other, sometimes behind the scenes and sometimes competing for public support.

            Russia “has had enough one-man rulers,” Savelyev says. “It is time to get accustomed to a situation in which power will take into account various opinions and interests.” There will always be a place “not only for Putin” but for many others, even someone like Aleksey Navalny and others not yet known.
            Russia will no longer be a place where one person makes all the decisions and everyone else obeys, even though it is likely to remain true for some time that the authorities will not trust the citizens and the citizens “will not believe the authorities.” Nonetheless, Savelyev suggests, “a dialogue [between them] nonetheless will occur.”

            “Putin today is not a dictator … and there will not be dictators in Russia in the next decades,” the commentator says. “We now have a different system of power, one that we must being to learn how to use and realize all its possibilities.” And to the extent that such a chance now exists, it is “an occasion for optimism.”

Russia’s Long Haul Drivers Will Seek to Overturn Plato System in Court

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 22 – Forced to largely end their strike because of the need to earn money to feed their families and confronted with a new hard line among executive branch officials against any talks or compromise, Russia’s long haul drivers are turning to the Supreme Court in the hopes that it will declare the Plato system unconstitutional.

            In today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta, journalist Yekaterina Trifonova says that “the protest activity among the long haul drivers is not being cut but rather being transformed,” shifting from the country’s highways into its courtrooms now that the transportation ministry has refused to meet with them (ng.ru/politics/2017-05-22/1_6992_dalnoboy.html).

            (In one of the vicious ironies of the situation, the Russian transportation minister cancelled a meeting scheduled for today because his spokesman says that since the strike is over, there is no basis for him to talk with the drivers’ union.)

            Andrey Bazhutin, head of the Carriers Union, says that “the attitudes of the owners of the big rigs hasn’t changed: they haven’t paid and do not intend to pay into the Plato system,” regardless of what the Russian authorities claim. And some of the drivers who are back on the road are providing money to those who still are on strike.

            (Some calculations suggest that “approximately 60 percent” of all long haul drivers are not paying the Plato fees even though officials have doubled the fines for non-payment.  And that unwillingness to pay is driving ever more of their economic activity into the shadow structure, something with consequences far beyond the drivers alone.

            According to the union leader, many of the striking drivers are also being helped by ordinary citizens who support what they are trying to do.  And that means that unless Moscow kills the Plato system, the drivers will launch “a third wave of protests” and that it will be “much more powerful” than either the one in 2015 or that of the strike this spring.

            And he says that his union is getting messages of support from regional government officials, something that also gives the drivers confidence that they can and will win out in the end.