Thursday, July 28, 2016

Populism in Russia Having Wrecked Key Institutions Now Exhausted, Krasheninnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 28 – Many in the US and the EU are trying to make sense of the new populist upsurge in their countries, Fedor Krasheninnikov says. The situation in Russia may thus be instructive because there the situation is “quite different.” Russian populism “triumphed long ago and destroyed all institutions.” Now, that trend has entered a period of crisis.

            In a commentary in “Vedomosti,” the Yekaterinburg political analyst says the clearest indication of this is that no one among any of the major Russian parties has used populist slogans in the current election campaign despite the economic and social problems that would seem to invite precisely that (

            Vladimir Zhirionovsky of the LDPR  and Gennady Zyuganov of the KPRF both of whom often used populism in the past have not done so in this campaign, Krasheninnikov points out. Instead, they and other systemic party leaders have sought to avoid “any introduction of passions on domestic political issues,” to maintain “stability,” and to keep their minorities in the Duma

            “The role of populism” in Russian politics “grew from the end of the 1990s,” the Yekaterinburg analyst says. The “parties of power” at that time suffered electoral losses because the powers that be at that time “were not prepared for open demagogy,” preferring instead to tell the population “the bitter truth.”

            That choice provided an opening for Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov throughout the period with one exception: the presidential elections of 1996 when Boris Yeltsin and his supporters pulled out all the stops as far as populist appeals were concerned.  That vote, Krasheninnikov says, “became the prologue to the new stage of [Russian] history.”

                “Beginning with the 1999 Duma elections,” he continues, “the authorities always turned out to be more successful populists than any opposition group taking part in the election.” And they continued to do so “even when the socio-economic situation in the country was favorable” with all the talk of “’national projects’” and “’modernization.’”

            In response to the social protests of 2011-2012, the powers that be became even more committed to the use of “demagogy and populism for mobilizing the population in support of the existing authorities.”  And that effort was so powerful and the purge of the political landscape so total that “the only way to remain in legal politics became not conformism but servility.”

            But both because there was nowhere for this official populism to go after the events of 2014 and because of public fatigue with the passing of time, such an approach “has ceased to have such a bewitching influence on society” as it had earlier.  Consequently, the authorities continue to use it while working to ensure that no one else does.

            This development confirms an old truth, Krasheninnikov says. “A system of power build on populism turns out to be vulnerable from two directions: any alternative populism is dangerous to it as is a turning away from any of its earlier promises and slogans.”  And these lead it into a trap in which people simply turn away in boredom.

            “The current elections are so unbearably boring and lifeless,” he says, because “the entire system has been working to ensure that no one will be more interesting than the party of power.” Thus, there are “no new ideas and promises.” Instead, all the promises of past campaigns have resurfaced, without the impact they had then.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Beyond Moscow’s Ring Road, Russians Protest Against Repressive Yarovaya Laws

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 27 – The ancient question, “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make any noise?” needs to be updated for Russia today. Now, people should ask themselves “if there are demonstrations beyond the ring road but not in Moscow, have they in fact taken place?”

            Yesterday, with the permission of the authorities in six Russian cities – Novosibirsk, Yekatrinburg, Ufa, and Kurgan – and, not having that permission, in a seventh – St. Petersburg – Russians came into the streets to protest the repressive Yarovaya “package” of laws that Vladimir Putin recently signed into law (

            But because officials in Moscow refused permission and no march took place in the Russian capital, that became the story for most outlets, yet another indication of the Moscow-centric view of Russia not only in the Kremlin but among many Russians including those who do not live in or perhaps do not even like Muscovites.

            Indeed, Ekho Moskvy devoted more attention to the fact that one activist, Mikhail Lashkevich, had gone by himself to stand at the entrance of Moscow’s Lubyanka with a placard declaring “I am against the terrorist Yarovaya law” for which he was arrested than to all the meetings elsewhere (

            But those meetings reflected the views of many Russians as a collection of online photographs offered by shows (, and they underscore the reality that whatever some may think Moscow isn’t Russia just as Putin isn’t either.

Plan to Settle Two Million Central Asians in Russian Far East Triggers Anger There

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 27 – The Russian Ministry for the Development of the Far East says that it is preparing to announce before the end of 2016 a new demographic policy for that region over the next 15 years, one designed to boost the current population of that Chinese border area from six million to eight million.

            Igor Romanov, the editor of the Beregrus portal, says that “it is obvious” on the basis of the documents that have been released so far that the ministry intends to meet this target primarily by bringing in immigrants from Central Asia, a development that he and others in the region very much oppose (

            He says that experts have subjected such ideas to “the harshest criticism” but that the government continues to believe that moving cheap labor resources to the region, which will supposedly “solve” the needs of the raw materials extraction industry there is the best way to proceed.

            What Moscow should be worried about but isn’t, Romanov says, is the quality of life of the people who live in the Russian Far East rather than their number. Life in the region has been rapidly “degrading in all relations but above all moral, educational and cultural,” and the introduction of Central Asian gastarbeiters will only make the situation worse.

            By inviting them to come to the Russian Far East, he continues, “we will not in  any way compensate for our democratic losses but simply ensure the replacement of the current population with another. Instead of the Russians who remain here will come other people, bearers of an alien culture, the so-called ‘new Russians’ [‘rossiyane’].
            “The Far East is a strategic region. Here are resources; here is the outlet to the Pacific. And here are needed not alien migrants but powerful, state-thinking leaders, people capable of reviving a deteriorating society and reviving truly Russian statehood.” That doesn’t take a lot of people but rather the right kind, Romanov says.
            “The life of Russia itself depends on the fate of the Far East,” he continues, and “here normal [ethnic] Russian people must life, to strengthen Russia and its access to the Pacific by their presence.”  And the Beregrus editor then concludes with words that may worry some in the Russian capital.

            “Two years ago,” he writes, “many volunteers went to the Donbass. Today, it is necessary for them to move to the Far East.” What is at stake, Romanov argues, is nothing less than “the preservation of Russia and its territorial integrity.”