Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Constitution Must Declare Ethnic Russians Country’s Only ‘State Forming People,’ Korovin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 26 – Valery Korovin, a member of the Izborsky Club, has asked the Social Chamber of which he is also a member to press for amending the Russian Federation Constitution to include a declaration that the Russian nation is the unique “state forming people” in the country.

            He argues that “the legal enshrinement of this status would be an important step toward bringing the model of inter-ethnic relations into line with one corresponding to its centuries-long experience rather than one which corresponds to the ideological stereotypes of the 1990s” (

            And he suggests that such a step will undercut the appeals of what he calls “’national marginals,’” who organize “’Russian marches’” and promote the notion of “’an ethnic Russian republic’” because they feel that the state in which they are the predominant ethnic group does not recognize its importance.

            It is unclear whether the Social Chamber will support Korovin’s call, but even his appeal for such backing is likely to destabilize ethnic relations in the Russian Federation.  Last week, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Sakha defined the Sakha people in much the same way that Korovin wants the Russian Constitution to do for Russians in the country as a whole.

            That decision – for a discussion, see – has infuriated many Russian nationalists, but its most important consequence, especially given Korovin’s words, is likely to be that other non-Russian republics will take similar steps in the near future.

            Most Soviet and Russian leaders have recognized the wisdom articulated most clearly 60 years ago in √©migr√© historian I.A. Kurganov’s classic work, “The Nations of the USSR and the Russian Question,” that the gravest danger to the country is not non-Russian activism on its own but the kind of assertive Russian nationalism that will alienate all the others.

            In Soviet times and in the 1990s, Kremlin leaders understood this; but it is far from clear that Vladimir Putin does, not only because like ever more Russian leaders he has adopted an increasingly short-term approach to problems but also because he seems infected by a Russian nationalist approach not tempered by another ideology or by pragmatism.

            Consequently, the Kremlin leader may be inclined to go along with what Korovin is calling for precisely because the Izborsky Club activist has suggested it will solve one of the Kremlin’s immediate problems, excessive activism by Russian nationalists that the regime has difficulty controlling.

            But if Putin does so, he will be putting his country at risk over a slightly longer period, something that cooler heads in Moscow are likely to point out. Whether he will listen to their advice or continue to function in his alternative reality, of course, very much remains an open question.  

Ever More Russians Support the Shadow Economy and Believe They Must Violate Laws to Live, New Survey Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 26 – The criminalization of the Russian state under Vladimir Putin is infecting Russian society more broadly, with ever more Russians saying that they support and even participate in the shadow economy and indeed declaring that they believe the only way to get ahead in Russia is to violate its laws.

            A new survey by the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service finds the share of Russians who support the operation of the illegal economy has risen from 17.9 percent at the state of Vladimir Putin’s reign to 29.3 percent now, while the share opposed to it has fallen from 42.2 percent to 16.4 percent (

            Commenting on this survey in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Mikhail Sergeyev, the paper’s economics editor, says that “hopes for the rapid triumph of legality which were characteristic of the first years of Putin’s time have been replaced today with disappointment and depression” (

                Over the last 16 years, ever more Russians approve avoiding taxes by whatever means possible, engaging in various kinds of activity without official registration, and being paid on the side rather than in ways that allow the government to collect taxes of various kinds, he says, citing the words of Andrey Pokida, a sociologist at the Russian Academy.

            Russians “are broadly included in the shadow economy both as its active participants as workers, employers and consumers of off-the-books work and services,” the report shows, with higher rates of involvement in the black market found among those with lower incomes but not absent among those with higher ones.

            According to Sergeyev, “a trend toward the growth of positive attitudes toward the unofficial economy has been observed beginning in 2001.” The situation has not become markedly worse in the last three years, but it has not improved either.

            A major reason that citizens support the shadow economy, the Russian Academy experts say, is “distrust in the possibility of legal earnings … about 30 percent of respondents are certain that they will not have the chance to increase their incomes and standard of living without violating the laws.”

            Sociologist Pokida who oversaw this research suggests that this is worrisome because with the fall of real incomes among Russians increasing, ever more of them are prepared to take part in the shadow economy, depriving the government of income and predisposing them to other illegal actions as well.

             The “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist says that the existence of this trend throughout the last 16 years reflects the fact that Russians have experienced so many crises and thus have little confidence that they can make their way forward without taking advantage of various off-the-books strategies.

            He quotes Moscow analyst Aleksey Markarkin on this point. The first vice president of the Center for Political Technologies says that “in the early 2000s, there was the sense among citizens that the country was escaping from the 1990s when for many the only possibility of survival was the shadow economy.”

            There was a new president, economic growth took off thanks to the oil boom, and the government carried out a successful tax reform. “But,” he continues, “the crisis of 2008-2009 generated disappointment. It continued and with the start of the current crisis when we have fallen from recession into stagnation and from stagnation into recession.”

            As a result, Makarkin says, Russians have shifted the paradigm within which they operate from one of development to one of survival; and they are prepared to do what they have to in order to hold on.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ukrainian Hackers Publish Surkov’s Plans to Destabilize Ukraine in Coming Months

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 25 – In a case where those who live by hacking may die by it, Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s point man on Ukrainian policy, has had his computer hacked by Ukrainian activists who have now posted online two documents detailing on the Kremlin plans to destabilize Ukraine over the next five months.

            A Ukrainian hacker group said yesterday that it had broken into the email accunt of Vladimir Surkov, Putin’s chief advisor on Ukraine and was now publishing two documents, one about Surkov’s plans for destabilizing Ukraine in the next three months and a second on forming a Transcarpathian Republic (

            While there is no way to independently confirm that the documents are in fact from Surkov’s email account, their level of specificity make them plausible and thus deserving of scrutiny. What will be potentially even more interesting is if CyberHunta publishes more such materials in the future as it promises to do.

            The first document is 15 pages long and lists a series of steps Russia should take between November 2016 and March 2017 to destabilize Ukraine and provoke new parliamentary and presidential elections. Among the steps listed are talks with Ukrainian opposition parties to organize protests in the form of a “Customs Maidan” in the second half of November.

            Other measures include activating some deputies in the Ukrainian parliament to expand corruption probes of the Ukrainian president and his team, and perhaps most worrying of all, “to introduce among volunteers [promoting these measures] one’s own people in order to sow panic, provoke church marches, and develop separatism in the regions.”

            The second, shorter document concerns Surkov’s ideas on how best to promote the formation of a Trans-Carpathian “republic” in cooperation with Hungarian groups in order to weaken Kyiv’s rule.