Saturday, January 24, 2015

Most Russian Cities are Dying and Without Immigration More Will, New RBK Study Concludes

Paul Goble


            Staunton, January 24 – Over the last 25 years, 71 percent of Russia’s 1100 cities lost population, almost one in five lost more than 25 percent of its residents, and 18 lost more than half of their residents, a clear indication that the dying out of Russia many have talked about is not confined to villages and rural areas.


            That is the conclusion offered by three researchers at Russian Business Consulting in what they say is the first of a series of articles investigating changes in Russia’s urban landscape since 1989 that they will be publishing in the course of the coming weeks (


            There are currently 1128 cities in the Russian Federation, including both occupied Crimea and the administratively closed centers, and as of the beginning of this year, 69.5 percent of Russians, just over 100 million people live in them. Over the last 25 years, 60 places lost city status, but one -- Magas, the capital of Ingushetia -- was built from scratch and acquired it.


            Between 1989 and 2014, there were 8.2 million more deaths than births in Russia’s cities, the study says, and the population would have sunk in far more of them had it not been compensated by the influx of migrants from the villages and other countries and the inclusion of additional territory and hence population in some cities.


            Because of these factors, the researchers say, the urban population of Russia grew by 3.7 million over the period, but if one does not include administrative changes, then the growth in Russia’s cities over the last 25 years was only 0.9 percent.


            The number of cities with populations less than 12,000 – which is one of the criteria for classifying a place as a city – increased from 157 to 246. Most of those should have been stripped of their urban status, but only nine were – and those two, Chekhov and Gornozavodsk in Sakhalin Oblast, were among the top ten population losers during the period.


            Even slightly larger cities suffered declines, the RBK researchers say. Among cities with 50,000 or fewer residents, their combined population fell from 18.9 million to 16.7 million. “And these are official data,” the investigators say. “In reality, the situation could be still worse.”


            Places in the far east and far north suffered the most while the cities with the greatest growth were either those in the North Caucasus, those in oil and gas processing regions, or Moscow. North Caucasus cities grew primarily as a result of greater births over deaths and migration from rural areas. Moscow grew because of migration from other regions and countries.


            The population of St. Petersburg is dying out “more strongly than in Moscow,” but the losses of the northern capital were “largely compensated by migration and the inclusion within the borders of the city of neighboring municipal formations.”


            Sixty-seven regions of the Russian Federation have seen a population decline since 1989, with most of the losers being in the predominantly ethnic Russian regions of the center of the country or in company towns where the industry closed.  “By the end of the 1990s, Russian industry had contracted by 50 percent” from where it was in 1990, official statistics show.


            The only oil and gas city that grew on its own without immigration was Shali in Chechnya, but its growth had less to do with the expansion of industry than with subsidies, given that four-fifths of its budget came from outside aid.  “In other words,” the RBK writers says, “the city grew but it lives not on its own money.”


            “Thanks to high prices for oil in the 2000s, the negative tendencies in the development of Russian cities slowed down,” but with the price of oil having declined, they suggest, these trends are likely to reassert themselves in the years ahead, especially flight from the smallest cities to the megalopolises. Ethnically Russian cities are likely to suffer the most, with the populations there aging as a result.


Russian Orthodox Church Wants to Canonize 19th Century Missionary who Converted Muslims

Paul Goble


            Staunton, January 24 – In another indication that the Moscow Patriarchate plans to end the restrictions it has imposed on itself concerning missionary work among traditional religions, including Islam, the Russian Orthodox Church is seeking to canonize Nikolay Ilminsky, a 19th century scholar who worked to convert Muslims in the Middle Volga and Central Asia.


            At the very least, it is certain to alarm some Volga Tatars because it was Ilminsky (1822-1891) whose work led to an increase in the number of Kryashens, as the “baptized” Tatars are known and who at present consider themselves a nationality distinct from the second largest nation in the Russian Federation, the Tatars.


            Indeed, in advance of the 2002 census and to a lesser extent before the 2010 census, Russian officials and activists promoted the Kryashen identity as a means of reducing the size and thus the importance of the Volga Tatars within the Russian demographic and political firmament.


            But Ilminsky’s role in the 19th century, which involved developing Cyrillic-based alphabets for many peoples in the region in order to publish Christian literature and thus to convert Muslims to Orthodoxy, was far larger, and as a symbol, he remains central to the Russian imperial project there.


As a result, many Russians in recent years have sought to boost his status. Canonization would represent a major step in that direction.


            Last fall, with the blessing of Metropolitan Anastasii of Kazan and Tatarstan, Kryashens and some others began assembling the materials necessary for Ilminsky’s canonization, a cause Russian Orthodox activists in Moscow have now taken up as well ( and


            According to one Orthodox missionary among the Kryashens now, Father Dmitry Sizov, “believing Kryashens even during [Ilminsky’s] life considered him a holy man,” a view that has “only intensified in our times” not only among them but among the Chuvash and other indigenous peoples of the Volga and Urals regions.


            Some to this day call him “the apostle of the Volga indigenes” and “the apostle of the Kryashens,” Sizov says.


            Ilminsky had many followers among civil and religious authorities in the region, and a major reason that some in the Moscow Patriarchate may want to declare him a saint is that the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia earlier canonized one of them, Bishop Andrey, who was executed by the Soviets. 

Is Kadyrov Working with Surkov to Become Part of a New Putin Tandem -- or Even More?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, January 24 – Ramzan Kadyrov’s outspoken comments on Ukraine and his organization of an enormous pro-Muslim demonstration in Grozny in response to the attacks and march in Paris are raising questions among some in Russia as to his current and future goals and how congruent they are with those Vladimir Putin has.


            Those questions have acquired even more urgency, Polina Rostovtseva says in a report yesterday on, because of the role Putin’s own eminence gris, Vladislav Surkov, played in Kadyrov’s rise earlier and of the role Surkov’s associates are said still to be playing with the Chechnya leader now (


            Until the Grozny meeting, no individual leader in Russia had been able to organize a meeting larger than those organized by Putin. (The Bolotnaya meeting was a collective enterprise.) And that, Rostovtseva says, leads one to ask what the Kremlin thinks about that and whether Kadyrov “could repeat the fate of Joseph Dzhugashvili.”


            Polling agencies “close to the Kremlin,” she says, show that in recent months, Kadyrov ranks higher than most regional leaders and at a par with many federal ones. Moreover, he has shown himself more willing to speak out on issues like Ukraine about which others defer completely to the Kremlin.


According to one source, this means that many in the Kremlin consider the Chechen leader “not only a regional politician who is responsible for controlling the Chechen region” but also “possibly” as someone who could assume a more powerful central post closer to Putin.


Konstantin Kalachev, the head of the Moscow Political Experts Group, says that in Russia today, there are only “two real politicians” – Putin and Kadyrov. “All the rest only play at politics” and even those within Putin’s command “are secondary relative to Putin. Kadyrov is also secondary but of all the regional politicians, he has the most informal authority.”


            Surkov’s people may be promoting this. In 2007-2008, Kremlin sources told, Surkov himself worked on Kadyrov’s image. He was interested in transforming the Chechen leader into “a quasi-Putin.”  Now, these sources say, “several” of Surkov’s people “to this day” continue to work with Kadyrov.


            One Kremlin source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that “the stronger Kadyrov’s postion has become, the more actively they advise him to swear his faithfulness to Vladimir Putin.” Another source who used to work in the Kremlin says Putin may view too much support for Kadyrov or anyone else as a warning sign.


That in turn raises the question as to how the Kremlin views the meeting in Grozny Kadyrov has just hosted.  Pavel Svyatenkov, a political analyst and commentator, says it is clear that the Chechen leader viewed the meeting as a change to “position himself as a leader of the Muslims in Russia and correspondingly as a figure of federal importance.”


The Kremlin should be concerned about that because any strengthening of Kadyrov’s position will be opposed by some in Moscow particularly among those who will conclude that what Kadyrov is doing could “weaken Russia’s position in Chechnya.”


            The journalist says that people acquainted with the situation say that Surkov’s people were involved in organizing the meeting and that they did so along the lines of the Nashi street movement they had put in play earlier.  If so, one of her interlocutors said, that means that the Kremlin “not only sanctioned this political show but helped organize it” possibly to advance Kadyrov as a link to Muslims at home and abroad.


            .Some analysts, Rostovtseva says, believe that Kadyrov sought to use the meeting to “build up his own political capital and to demonstrate that not so much to the Kremlin as to society as a whole.” Obviously, there is “life after Vladimir Putin, [and] Kadyrov is a young politician” and it is far from clear that he will be as loyal to any successor as he is to Putin.


            Aleksey Grazhdankin, deputy director of the Levada Center polling agency, says that Kadyrov will find it hard to build on his Chechen base because many Russians have anything but a positive view of him. But Kalachev suggests that his low ratings now could easily change given his backing for traditional values and Russia’s moves in Ukraine.


            The political analyst suggests that one should consider what Kadyrov is doing from a longer-term perspective of perhaps ten to thirty years.  If so, then many things become possible: “Could anyone have thought in 1914 that sometime a Georgian with the name of Dzhugashvili would head the territory of the former Russian Empire?”

Putin Wants to Break Ukraine Not Seize the Donbas, Moscow Analysts Say

Paul Goble


            Staunton, January 24 – Those who hope for a resolution of what Moscow has managed to label “the Ukrainian crisis” need to recognize that Vladimir Putin has no interest in the Donbas or even some mythical “Novorossiya.” He wants to destroy the independence of Ukraine and is using both military and diplomatic means for the achievement of that goal.


            That is the judgment of some of the best analysts in Moscow, two of whom, Igor Eidman and Pavel Felgengauer, have offered parallel arguments and conclusions in their latest commentaries ( and


            According to Eidman, Putin’s tactics in Ukraine remain the same: “the imitation of a step back” in order to allow “two steps forward along the path of expansion.” At present in fact, he points out, “Russia is introducing new military units in the Donbas and increasing attacks on Ukrainian forces.”


            In a related move, “the Russian side is imitating a readiness for dialogue and for some concessions.  As a result, the new Russian attack will not lead to a toughening of the position of the West and a strengthening of sanctions.” No one wants to irritate “’the Russian bear,’” and everyone seems to think that there can be “’a peace process.’”


                But such people “do not understand that the Russian dictator needs all these talks in order to soften the reaction of the West to the expanding occupation of Ukraine.”  He has no intention of stopping. “He doesn’t need the Donbas or even a mythical ‘Novorossiya.’ He wants to destroy the independence of Ukraine.”


            Putin has never accepted the overthrow of Yanukovich, the Moscow commentator says, and he will continue to fight until he has “his own new puppet” in Kyiv, a kind of “Yanukovich-2.”


            “The chief problem for the world,” he continues, is that “the Russian president is ill.” He views himself as a great historical figure blest by God and undefeatable -- rather than a minor chekist officer he in fact is who came to power thanks “to a tragic chain of accidental circumstances.” 


            Given his mania, Putin has “decided neither more nor less to subordinate Ukraine to himself.” Such an idea is ultimately condemned to failure, but he cannot admit that to himself or others and is counting on others to help him achieve his goal.


            Felgegauer, perhaps Russia’s most distinguished independent military analyst, says that those dealing with Moscow on Ukraine “need to understand what Russia’s strategic goals are.” These are “now completely understandable” and involve in the first instance “regime change in Kyiv.”


            Putin doesn’t like the current cast of leaders in Ukraine, but that is far from the central issue, Felgengauer continues.  “Moscow is interested in a constitutional reform in Ukraine which will guarantee what Russia needs” – keeping Ukraine out of Western organizations and maintaining its neutrality.


            Moscow wants a Ukraine in which “pro-Russian forces there will have a veto.” It doesn’t care about Ukrainian territory “as such.”  It is interested “not so much in the Donbas as in Kyiv and in having definite control over all of Ukraine which in general must be a country with limited sovereignty.”


            In pursuit of that goal, Felgengauer says, Moscow is applying “various kinds of pressure on Ukraine: military, political and economic with the goal of destabilizing the situation and changing the regime.” 


            Russia doesn’t yet have a candidate to take over in Kyiv. It even, the Moscow military analyst says, “still hopes that Petro Poroshenko ‘will think it over’” and be prepared to agree to what Moscow wants.  It is even “not against” the notion that the extreme right might seize power given that this would isolate Kyiv from the West by appearing to confirm Russia’s line.


                “Obozrevatel,” the Ukrainian outlet to which Felgengauer gave his interview, summed up his remarks in the following way: Given Putin’s goals of subordinating all of Ukraine rather than seizing the Donbas, “negotiations will not help; it is necessary either to win in war or lose sovereignty.”

Putin Seen Declaring War on Kyiv the Only Way He Can – By Blaming Ukraine

Paul Goble


            Staunton, January 24 – Like the dictators he has modeled himself on, Vladimir Putin has issued the only kind of declaration of war against Ukraine he is going to make: the Kremlin leader has blamed Ukrainians and those working with them for the combat losses Russian forces are suffering in the Donbas and thereby preparing his country for more losses ahead.


            After weeks and even months in which Russian officials have lied about the presence of Russian forces in Ukraine and tried to cover up losses there, Putin said yesterday that responsibility for deaths in the Donbas lies on “those who have given such criminal orders,” even though they know the only way forward is via “peace talks and means of a political character.”


            At a meeting of the Russian Security Council, the Kremlin leader said that “we often hear, including from today’s official Kyiv” that it is committed to that “means of resolving questions” but “in practice, everything is proceeding entirely differently. I hope,” he concluded, that in the end, good sense will triumph” (


            Putin added that Moscow has not received an answer from Kyiv to Russian proposals for resolving the conflict in the Donbas. “Unfortunately,” he continued, “we not only have not received any real answer to our proposals, but we see “that the Kyiv authorities have given an official order about the start of major military operations” throughout the region.


            Many of those who have been in denial about what Moscow is doing in Ukraine will undoubtedly contort themselves again in order to maintain that Putin is a peacemaker not a warmonger and that Ukraine is to blame for everything, thus allowing themselves an excuse not to take any action.


            But those who do so in the wake of the obvious role of Russian forces in the destruction of the Donetsk airport are deceiving themselves every bit as much as those who 75 years ago accepted Hitler’s suggestion that the Poles had attacked Germany and Stalin’s claim that the Finns had attacked the USSR, forcing those two dictatorships to act.


            Putin’s statement, which such people will write off as just the latest salvo in Russia’s propaganda war, shows how wrong they are. As Yury Vasilchenko points out in a commentary in Kyiv’s “Delovaya stolitsa” yesterday, the Kremlin leader, like his predecessors, is preparing his countrymen for major combat losses (


            And thus Putin’s words delivered yesterday are as close to a real declaration of war as someone like Putin is going to make because he knows that he doesn’t have to be more explicit and that he almost certainly will not be held to account if he continues to lie, muddy the waters, and blame the victim of his own aggression.


            Even yesterday, Vasilchenko points out, Putin couldn’t tell the truth: No one in Kyiv has given the order he says the government there has, and Putin himself still refuses to acknowledge the concentration of Russian forces on Ukrainian territory, something which “testifies to Putin’s intentions to launch an attack.”


            “Beyond any doubt,” the Ukrainian commentator says, Putin’s words represent a declaration on his part that a major invasion of Ukraine is in the offing. Such a campaign “can begin at any moment.” What lies behind Putin’s statement? First, Vasilchenko says, the Kremlin leader want to intimidate the West into re-writing the Minsk agreements in Russia’s favor.


            Second, Putin is preparing his own population for the “enormous number of killed and wounded” Russians are going to suffer in such a campaign by suggesting to his countrymen that they are engaged not as aggressors but as peacekeepers and that all the fault is on the side of the Ukrainians and their backers.


            And third, Vasilchenko continues, Putin is interested in triggering a new wave of “anti-Ukrainian hysteria in the Russian Federation.”  Kremlin propagandists following his lead “will soon hatred to Ukrainians, ‘who have killed our sons,’ demand from the Kremlin ‘a war to a victorious conclusion,’ and accuse the West of being behind the conflict.”


            Putin needs not only the complete support of his own people for his aggression but he also – and according to Vasilchenko, this is “the main thing” – must not allow the emergence of “anti-war attitudes in society,” attitudes which “could appear when caskets with the bodies of Russian soldiers arrive not by the dozens as now but by the hundreds.”


            How should Ukraine respond? According to Vasilchenko, it must simultaneously prepare for the coming Russian attack and “intensify its diplomatic work so that Brussels, Berlin and Paris will not give in to Putin’s blackmail.”  And in no case must Ukraine agree to any modification of the Minsk agreements.




Friday, January 23, 2015

Putin Replacing Law with Morality as Iranian Ayatollahs Did, Fishman Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, January 23 – The recent statement by Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peshkov, that “there are things more important than laws” is the latest sign of a fundamental shift in Russian governance from the dictatorship of laws that Putin promised when he came to office to a dictatorship of morality resembling the situation in Iran and opens the way to totalitarianism.


            Even in a dictatorship of law, Mikhail Fishman points out in a commentary on, the authorities can be highly selective in enforcing this or that provision, but law remains an important benchmark for society. But under a dictatorship of morality, that restriction is gone and the authorities are freed even from that restriction.


            This “Iranianization of Russia,” the commentator argues, is opening the way to the revival of totalitarianism in which law is merely a formality and not something Russians can count on (


            Five or six years ago, Fishman says, Russians would have assumed that the actions of the authorities and courts would involve the selective use of law so that the powers that be could get their way. But now, it is increasingly clear to them that legal formalities are “secondary” to those other things which Peshkov says are “more important than law.”


            What are these things? According to Fishman, “the chief one is the archaic and fundamentalist idea that any alternative to the uniquely true point of view is intentionally amoral” and that the authorities need not defend their position but those who oppose them must try to do so even while the authorities are denouncing them as immoral.


            “Justice instead of law is a broad moral sanction,” he continues, because it allows the Russian courts to dispense with even “the public demonstration of legality” and replacing it instead with propaganda about doing the right thing.  That reduces the importance of law and opens the way to an ugly past.


            “Mutating in this way,” Fishman continues, “the Russian political system has already passed from one stage to another;” and the implications of this shift go far beyond the way in which the authorities are using the courts and the judicial system more generally.


            For example, the Moscow analyst argues, this has led to “the new intensification of fighting in the Donbas,” something that has taken place not so much because Putin wants it but because, as Gleb Pavlovsky noted, the Kremlin leader “has fallen victim to his own propaganda and his regime has fallen into the trap of its own moral imperatives.”


            Russia’s “sovereign democracy” of the 1990s, Fishman says, would today be “correctly described as hybrid with its fake decorations formally constructed on legal principles.”  As a result, the Russian government looked for provisions in the legal code to bring chagtes against Mikhail Khodorkovsky but now it feels no particular need to find them.


            These imperatives have consequences which even their authors do not recognize in advance, Fishman says. Thus, “in place of a virtual war for spheres of influence is beginning a real war [and] the words ‘party’ and ‘fraction’ are losing their meaning to the extent that the parliament has become accustomed to voting unanimously.”


            All this resembles what happened in Iran under the ayatollahs, but there is at least one reason for thinking that “the term ‘Iranianization’ is not completely appropriate.”  And it is this: Iran has been moving away from that even as Russia moves toward it.  No one in Moscow wants to think about the implications of that, Fishman concludes.




Baltic Leaders Unwilling to Work with Russia Must and Will Give Way to Those Who Are, Panteleyev Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, January 23 – Following the “tectonic” shifts in the world that Russia’s moves in Ukraine began, the leaders of the Baltic countries must recognize “the need to have a dialogue with Russia,” the head of the Moscow Institute for the Russian Abroad says. If they don’t, others who are ready to do so “will be found.”


            In an interview with, a portal directed at Russian speakers in the Baltic countries, Sergey Panteleyev says Moscow wasn’t strong enough “at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s” to hold the Balts in but now that the same thing is happening in Ukraine, Russia has the power to do so (


            The Baltic actions were “more or less peaceful,” he continues, “but in Ukraine everything is taking place in a bloody way. Why? Because Russia has become to be reborn, its civilizational ambitions have appeared, and they in particular are expressed in the conception of ‘the Russian world,’ which is oriented toward our compatriots, friend, and partners living beyond the borders of the present-day Russian state.”


            Russia’s newly expressed imperial ambitions, Panteleyev continues, have frightened many in the Baltic countries in particular. “One can recall the parallels drawn between Latgale [in southeastern Latvia] and the Donbas and Crimea [in Ukraine],” parallels that reflect what he called “the peaceful and beautiful ideas directed at the solidarity of people, patriotism and unity.”


             “I would say,” Panteleyev adds, “that the ideas of the conception of ‘the Russian world’ are directed at universal values, which really unite people and do not divide them by race or nationality. They unite cultures.” But it is certainly true, he says, that “this idea is horrific for those who consider Waffen SS veterans to be heroes.”


            One thing that the Ukrainian events have demonstrated, Panteleyev says, is that knowledge of the Russian language is not enough to make one part of the Russian world. Many who speak Russian in Ukraine are fighting pro-Moscow groups, and many Baltic leaders speak good Russian but are nonetheless hostile to Russia and the Russian world.


            But that does not mean that the Russian world is not something real or that Moscow will not continue to struggle for its unity, he suggests. And those who “by struggling with Russians and with Russians” insist on “an alternative point of view” are “laying a serious mine in their own foundations.”


            “In the course of the last year,” Panteleyev says, “we became convinced that the world which was created after the disintegration of the USSR … has begun to collapse.” That world was predicated on Russia being a raw material supplier which would never insist on the advancement of its own interests.


            But “in fact, a miracle occurred,” Panteleyev says. And the world “took note that Russia is being reborn and is reminding everyone about its own legitimate interests. We have seen serious geopolitical changes, noted how Russia has changed its behavior, and how it is ready to revive good relations with old allies and establish new unions including BRIKS.”


            “I am certain,” the Moscow official says, “that we are at the very beginning of a tectonic process of contemporary world construction.” This process will take time given that it involved “changes in world leadership.”  And the Baltic countries and specifically their elites “who continue to take extreme anti-Russian and pro-Western positions in that way cut themselves off from the chance of dialogue with the current Russian state.”


             But “in the context of such global changes,” Panteleyev says, “all the same, other people who will recognize the need for conducting a dialogue with Russia will be found. They will recognize that there are demographic, cultural and historical ties from which there is nowhere to go and which must be restored.”