Thursday, August 17, 2017

99.7 Percent of Taymyr People Say Life ‘Unbearable’ Since Amalgamation with Krasnoyarsk Kray



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 17 – Life has become “unbearable” for the residents of the former Dolgano-Nenets Autonomous District, a poll of residents finds; and 1197 of 1200 of them have appealed to Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders to adopt a law that will allow them to reverse that 2005 action.

            Their request for a referendum on this point has been turned down twice by the Krasnoyarsk authorities; they are now in the process of making a third such request; but because they do not expect a positive answer, they are appealing to Moscow for a new law that will give them that right (svoboda.org/a/28679409.html).

            Dolgan and Nenets activists say, and the indigenous population overwhelmingly agrees that “after the dissolution of the autonomy” in 2005 as part of Vladimir Putin’s regional amalgamation drive, “life in the Taymyr became unbearable: the quality of state services declined, as did the state of roads and transport, medicine and education.”

            Twelve years ago, the residents voted 70 percent in favor of amalgamation but only because they were promised that their lives would become better.  The reverse has happened, and the people there are angry.  Indeed, they have been among the most prominent critics of Putin’s program since the outset.


            The appeal by the Taymyr activists is almost certainly going to be ignored by Moscow and turned down by Krasnoyarsk. After all, regional amalgamation is one of Putin’s signature programs.  But the new poll showing almost universal unhappiness with that program in the Taymyr will have three important consequences:

            First, it will further radicalize opinion in the Taymyr, many of whose residents have protested and been repressed in various ways for more than a decade. Second, it will encourage dissent in the five other autonomous oblasts that Putin has succeeded in folding into larger and predominantly ethnic Russian federation subjects.

            These include the Evenk AO which was also folded into Krasnoyarsk kray, the Ust-Orda Buryat AO that was included within Irkutsk oblast, the Komi-Permyak AO which was combined with Perm oblast to form Perm kray, the Agin Buryat AO which was combined with China oblast to form the Transbaikal kray, and the Koryak AO which was linked to Kamchatka oblast which also became a kray.

            But third – and this is by far the most important result – it will send a powerful message to Russians as well as non-Russians within the Russian Federation that they are not alone if they find Putin policies objectionable and that by itself may encourage ever more of them to speak out in opposition to the Kremlin leader. 

Putin’s Lower Profile This Summer Reflects Desire to Project New Image, Experts Say



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 17 – Even though Vladimir Putin reappeared yesterday after a week of being out of public view (themoscowtimes.com/news/putin-watch-over-before-it-even-started-58678), the Kremlin leader’s personal activities this summer have been significantly less frequent than in earlier years, experts say.

            They argue that this reflects his desire to present himself in a new way, as a severe but caring father of the nation who focuses on his official duties rather than youthful leader full of vigor with an active private life, a stance he adopted earlier to underscore the differences between himself and his predecessor Boris Yeltsin.

            In an article today, two URA.ru journalists, Mikhail Vyugin and Aysel Gereykhanova surveyed a variety of commentators as to why there have been significantly fewer well-covered personal activities of the Russian president this year than there were in earlier summers of his rule (ura.news/articles/1036271854).

                “For the first time in the last five years, summer has not become a season of ‘popular’ news from Russian President Vladimir Putin,” they write, a change that is striking because “Russians are accustomed to the idea that summer is a time for demonstrating … that he is not only a leader but a man able to combine work with relaxation and hobbies.”

            Vyugin and Gereykhanova survey Putin’s activities over the last decade during the summer months and point out that this summer is especially less busy than the last pre-election summer of 2011. Then, Putin went to the bottom of the Taman Gulf, bringing up two amphoras, and took part in a motor-show with the Night Wolves, arriving on a Harley-Davidson.

            This year, however, the Kremlin leader has been much less in the public eye as far as his private activities are concerned.  Valery Fadeyev, the secretary of the Russian Social Chamber, says that instead, Putin has visited the regions where gubernatorial elections are scheduled to give support and direction.

            Political analyst Oleg Matveychev of the Higher School of Economics, suggests that “it would be strange” for Putin to behave now the way he did six years ago.  He doesn’t have to show that he is vigorous; he only needs to show that he is focused on issues of concern to the Russian electorate.

            Dmitry Orlov, head of the Altay Industrial College, sees a more fundamental shift. Putin, he says, has decided to portray himself now as “a wise father” of the nation who takes into account the views of all the people in Russia.  He doesn’t need to appeal to any one group or collection of groups as he may have had to earlier.

            In 2012, Orlov continues, Putin was organizing a conservative majority, but “today he is the leader of the nation. There is thus no need to call focus on any specific group because there are no threats from the opposition as there were in 2011-2012.”   

            An anonymous source, identified only as someone “close to the Kremlin” agrees.  He says that Putin is entering the current elections as “’the president for all’” and “will speak with each electoral group.” That is why he has adopted “a compromise position” on issues like St. Isaac’s, housing renovation in Moscow, and the film Mathilda.

            This same source adds that Putin’s relatively infrequent appearances as a private person are part of this effort: They are intended to generate interest among the population as to when and what he might do next, much as the absence of television shows in the summer months leading to speculation about “a new season of a favorite serial.”

‘Crimea is Ours but Novosibirsk Oblast Maybe Not So Much,’ Some Russians Fear



Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 17 – Journalists often refer to August as “the silly season” because stories that wouldn’t normally pass muster are published in the absence of other news, but sometimes these otherwise neglected stories can at least in part shed light on larger issues and thus deserve attention.

            For the last week, the Russian media, electronic and otherwise, has been filled with stories about the drying out of a lake on the Russian-Kazakhstan border, with  some saying that Moscow has ceded a few hectares of territory to Astana, others denying that, and still others saying everything will return to normal when the rainy season come again.

            Among them are those at kasparov.ru/material.php?id=599475D40AEBD, ej.ru/?a=note&id=31452, and  regnum.ru/news/society/2310718.html). But far and away the most comprehensive is a report by Novosibirsk journalist Pyotr Manyakin (meduza.io/feature/2017/08/17/gde-nahoditsya-granitsa-nikto-ne-ponimaet).

            Last Thursday, local Russian officials on the border posted online a report saying that the drying out of Lake Sladkoye on the Russian-Kazakhstan border meant that as of now, it is completely part of the territory of Kazakhstan. But the notion that Russia had ceded any land to anyone was so abhorrent that soon that statement was taken down and disowned.

            But not quickly enough to avoid sparking controversy. More senior Russian officials denied that any transfer had occurred. However, the FSB made it worse by issuing a statement saying that the lake had been divided between the two countries earlier. That of course implied that any change in the waterline would change the border.

            Kazakhstan’s embassy in Moscow insisted that there had been no change in the border, but then Russia’s natural resources minister Sergey Donskoy said that everything would go back to normal when the lake fills up with new rain water, again implying but not saying that the border had somehow been shifted.

            Russia and Kazakhstan have been working on the demarcation of their border since 2005, and Russians are sensitive to any “gift” of Russian land to anyone, especially after Moscow ceded several hundred hectares to China a few years ago.  But the present case highlights something that few recognize.

            Unlike most countries, Russia in many cases still defines its borders external and internal not by designating lines from one point defined by latitude and longitude to another point similarly defined but rather in terms of named objects and their size, thus opening the way to disputes if the size of a body of water shifts.

            Over the last two decades, Moscow has moved from this traditional way to the more internationally accepted one; but people who live along borders often still think in terms of mountains, lakes or rivers rather than latitude and longitude. That appears to be what has happened in this case.

            But post-Soviet borders remain so sensitive to Russians for other reasons as well, including the unhappiness of many of them with the demise of the USSR and the rise of real borders where there were once unimportant administrative ones that any such report can be counted on to generate controversy.

            Indeed, as one Russian politician, Dmitry Gudkov, put it on his Facebook page, “Crimea is ours but Novosibirsk already isn’t so much. Lake Sladkoye had been in Russia but now it has become part of Kazakhstan,” leading him to ask why there isn’t even more anger in Moscow about this (facebook.com/dgudkov/posts/1647452328629534).