Tuesday, June 30, 2015

‘Moldova has Left Russia’s Sphere of Influence,’ ‘Nezavisimaya Gazeta’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – Local election result in Moldova show that Moldovans are disappointed in the Customs Union and do not want Russia as “a big brother,” according to Svetlana Gamova of “Nezavisimaya gazeta.” Instead, they highlight the continuing importance of geopolitics in Moldova and the fact that that country “has left Russia’s sphere of influence.”

            In today’s paper, reporting on the Moldovan election results announced yesterday, Gamova, who head the Moscow paper’s “department on countries of the near abroad” said that the results showed that earlier public opinion polls had been wrong producing many unexpected results (ng.ru/cis/2015-06-30/1_moldavia.html).

            In Chisinau, where a third of Moldovans live, a representative of the pro-European Liberal Party was elected mayor rather than the candidate of the pro-Russian Party of Socialists, a pattern that was repeated in smaller cities and towns across the country, according to the Moscow journalist.

            “All Moldovan voters see Moscow as being behind the socialists,” she writes.  “Last fall, when the leaders of the Socialist Party appeared on television meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow that helped them get into parliament and become the largest fraction.” But Russia’s failure to provide a market for Moldovan products has led to massive disappointment.

            That disappointment in Moscow is so profound, local political analyst Andrey Andriyevsky says, that while some in Moldova may call for closer ties with Russia even in the future, “one can say with a great degree of certainty that these parties and politicians will no longer guide Moldova either at the local or the national level.”

            According to him, “the Socialists made a mistake by constructing their program in parallel with the Soviet past and this played against them. Just as did their constant counterposing of Russian to the European Union. Moldovans were disappointed in the EU earlier,” but now they are disappointed in Russia.

            Being disappointed in both, Viktor Stepaniuk of the Popular Socialist Party says, “Moldovans today want to remain between the unions (east and west) and at the same time work with the one and the other.” That reflects the fact that “in every Moldovan family there is someone working in Italy or Spain and someone else working in Russia.”

                To the extent he is right, that would suggest that while Moldova indeed has left Russia’s sphere of influence, it has not yet joined the EU’s, largely because the latter has not reached out to it and helped integrate its economy with the Western one.

Accords between Federal Subjects and Foreign Countries ‘a Threat to Russia’s Sovereignty,’ Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – The efforts of the government of Trans-Baikal kray to rent land to China and Mongolia have sparked debates in the Russian media about whether subjects of the federation should be able to conduct business in this way as they have been doing since the late Soviet period (regions.ru/news/2553417/).

            Typically, such agreements have been about relatively small issues; and no one in Moscow believes that they should occur without clearance from the capital.  But now one Russian analyst, S.A. Balashov of the Sulakshin Center, is arguing that all such agreements should be tightly controlled lest they become “a threat to Russia’s sovereignty.”

            In a commentary on Politobzor.net, Balashov says that it is imperative that the central Russian government recognize this fact and understand that it must ban all such accords (politobzor.net/show-58032-regionalnye-mezhdunarodnye-soglasheniya-ugroza-suverenitetu-rossii.html  http://regions.ru/news/2553417/).

            Russian legislation governing such agreements is extensive, but it is full of “gaps” and “shortcomings” that some regions exploit in order to sell off land and other goods to foreigners in order to get what Balashov calls “’easy money,’” a pattern increasingly common at this time of economic stringency.

            At present, Russian law specifies that agreements between regions and foreign countries are not treaties “because the regions of the Russian Federation are not recognized as subjects of international public law.” And it calls on regions who want to sign any agreement to clear them with Moscow.

            Most such agreements are harmless, of “a general character,” and “about ‘friendship and cooperation,” he says, but “the problem is that many accords lack clear formulations which have to be filled in later by real concrete content,” that is, content supplied after Moscow has given its OK to them.

            Indeed, Balashov says, the problem is with the coordination procedure. At present, Moscow has only 20 days to review the agreements before it goes into force, and the regions have a great deal of flexibility as far as to which Russian government ministry they appeal to. Thus, they can sometimes play one off against another.

            But there is an even bigger problem: At present, there are no penalties for regions which fail to submit their agreements with foreign countries for review, and consequently, many regional heads ignore the legal requirement to do so. Of the accords between regions and foreign countries now in force, “about 500” have been registered, but 1500 haven’t.

            That means, Balashov says, that “75 percent of the agreements” may be modified by the regions after Moscow has given nominal clearance, opening the way to abuse.

            Draft legislation would correct some of these problems, he says. It would specify to whom the regions must apply, it would give Moscow more time to respond, and it would impose penalties on those regional officials who did not submit the original or any changes for review. Most important, it would specify that no agreement would enter into force until Moscow agreed.

            Given that many regions want to rent land or sell natural resources to foreigners to get “’easy money,’” Balashov continues, changes in the rules governing such rentals and sales also need to be made, including a requirement that no such agreement could enter into force without the prior written consent of the federal Ministry of Economic Development.

            Unless and until such changes are made, these agreements have the potential to threaten the sovereignty of the Russian Federation, the analyst concludes.

Russian Protests against Orthodox Church Construction Move beyond NIMBY

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – “The struggle around the construction of churches in Russian cities has reached a new level,” according to Anna Alekseyeva of “Novyye izvestiya.” It no longer is just the usual “not in my back yard (NIMBY)” feelings but not focuses on the arrogance of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy and the complicity of Russian government authorities.

            The Moscow journalist quotes Deacon Andrey Kurayev who suggests that “many people simply have a desire to take part in protest actions” and that protests nominally against church construction are in fact “anti-government” but less risky than more overtly political ones and, when the people win, they gain a sense of efficacy (newizv.ru/society/2015-06-30/223010-protesty-vzmyli-pod-kupol.html).

            In recent times, Alekseyeva reports, “the Russian media has reported about meetings and pickets against the construction of churches which often are going up in parks and squares. The activists note that they are not against religious objects as such but only against their construction in beloved recreation areas.” Such people are typically opposed by “hired ‘Orthodox activists.”

            If the local authorities held hearings and if the Church respected the outcome of such meetings and court decisions, these conflicts would not be serious. But often such consultations take place “only on paper, and local residents frequently find out about them only after the beginning of construction.”

            Opponents of the construction of a church in St. Petersburg’s Malinovka Park have been fighting the Church for two and a half years. They’ve collected more than 30,000 signatures on petitions against the construction and gone to court three times. But the city’s legislative assembly have ignored them and approved construction, politicizing the issue.

            Boris Vishnevsky, an opposition figure in that legislature, then intervened with the governor who said he would block any construction despite the decision of the legislature.  But local people say they will continue their pickets and organize flashmob demonstrations to keep the officials and churchmen from doing an end run around them.

            Something similar has been going on in Toliatti in Samara Oblast, Alekseyeva says.  There demonstrators have called for the location of the church to be shifted but have been ignored. At their latest protest, they carried signs declaring: “’No to the church; yes to sports facilities’” and “’Why don’t we listen to the people?’”

            They were opposed by others carrying signs saying “’More churches, fewer fools’” and “’We will build the church and revive moral values.’” Their opponents plan to take them to court, but neither side has much use for the city authorities who promised once to move the church but appear to have reneged on that.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, there is a similar struggle in one of the capital’s districts. Opponents and supporters of church construction have attracted the leaders of political parties to their respective sides, prompting Patriarch Kirill to declare that everyone should calm down and reach an agreement without further conflict.

According to Deacon Kurayev, “the political forces in such conflict serve as a crystallizing element for the dissatisfied. This is not simply a spontaneous protest but involves people who are professionally active in this sphere and travel from meeting to meeting,” sometimes presenting themselves “as local residents.”

But across the country, Russians are upset that  local officials and the Church act behind the scenes, ignore their feelings and often present them with faits accomplish. As Aleksandr Verkhovsky of SOVA says, most are not anti-Church, but they want to be listened to. If officials and churchmen did so, all these things would be nothing more than “normal city conflict[s].”

Unfortunately, that is not how either the officials or the hierarchs prefer to act, and in response, NIMBY objections are growing into something else, Alekseyeva suggests.