Screen grab from video taken of mass fistfight involving Chechen and Russian soldiers on February 23, 2016. The caption says, "Look, they're running!"
Medvedev Visit to Kaliningrad Underscores Moscow’s Worries about Future of Exclave
Staunton, VA, February, February 27, 2016 – One month before Kaliningrad is to lose many of the tariff concessions they have benefited from over the last decade, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and virtually the entire Russian government travelled to the Russian enclave to discuss the situation, a measure of Moscow’s nervousness about what could happen there after April 1.
Yesterday, the Russian government came to Kaliningrad to see what might be put in place of the concessions so that the almost two-thirds of the exclave’s economy dependent on them will not collapse, Russian financial journalist Aleksey Tsarevsky says.
Officials and business leaders both in Moscow and Kaliningrad have known about this deadline for ten years: it was part of the special arrangements made for the exclave as part of its status as a special economic zone; and they have known that many Russian and Belarusian firms are unhappy with the advantages these tariff concessions have given Kaliningrad firms.
But at a time when the federal budget is itself in trouble, the idea of transferring 67 billion rubles (US $915 million) to firms in Kaliningrad in order to compensate for what they will lose in April may be a non-starter; and Medvedev, his ministers and the leaders of Kaliningrad discussed what else might be done.
If a strategy isn’t worked out and soon, it is entirely possible that production in Kaliningrad will collapse, unemployment will rise, and enterprises there will either move to other parts of the Russian Federation or to foreign countries. If that happens, the economic crisis could spark a political one and at a minimum restart the autonomy movement there.
Medvedev for his part said that “federal and regional powers must do everything possible in order to defend enterprises from negative consequences connected with the end of the transition period.” Some money is available, he said; but many of the programs are still at the planning stage and time is running out.
Other federal ministers “acknowledged that the compensation mechanism is a temporary measure at best. In the future, the Kaliningrad economy must undergo radical changes” if it is to grow or even maintain its current level of production and employment. But it is not clear, they suggested, that either the enterprises or the ministries were ready to take such steps.
What that means is that in the weeks after April 1, the situation in Kaliningrad could be truly dire, something that will be especially infuriating to the local population who will be inclined to blame Moscow for their woes especially because they increasingly compare themselves not with the rest of Russia but with Poland and Lithuania.
To the extent that happens, those in the exclave who have talked about Kaliningrad or Koenigsberg as they often prefer to call it as “the fourth Baltic republic” are likely to reemerge, something that at a minimum could complicate the Duma elections there now scheduled for September.
But there is an even more serious lesson from the recent visit by Medvedev et al. For Kaliningrad as for Russia’s other regions, Moscow does not have a policy. Instead, it operates like a fire department rushing from one problem to another. But with the worsening economy, there may soon be too many fires for the current regime to be able to put out.
Lustration Reemerging as Serious Political Issue in Russia, Ikhlov Says
Staunton, VA, February 27, 2016 – As the Soviet nature of the Putin regime becomes ever more obvious – Dmitry Medvedev this week said United Russia should learn from the CPSU – and as more people think about a post-Putin future, the issue of lustration has reemerged as a serious subject for discussion.
In the 1990s and as a result both of euphoria about the end of the Soviet system and the opposition both in the country and abroad to any “witch hunts,” efforts to promote lustration – such as those of Galina Starovoitova – were ignored; but now it is clear, Yevgeny Ikhlov says, that this is an idea whose time has come.
The reasons for that, he suggests, are two-fold: the continued dominance of people whose values were formed by the Soviet regime is blocking Russia’s progress toward democracy and freedom, and the alternative to lustration in the event of radical change is in the Russian context uncontrolled “lynch law” in which the population will take law into their own hands.
Lustration – the imposition of restrictions on holding office by people from a regime that has been displaced by revolutionary change – has a long history both abroad – going back to early modern Spain – and in Russia where the Soviet imposition of restrictions on members of the former ruling class in the 1920s and 1930s were a clear case of it, Ikhlov says.
It is important to distinguish it from other things with which it is sometimes confused, he continues. It is not revenge and, unlike de-Nazification in Germany after World War II, it “doesn’t threaten anyone with any deprivation of freedom.” The only thing it does is impose restrictions on holding definite positions “in politics, administration, the media and education.”
Because that is the case, Ikhlov says, he is “an unreserved supporter of lustration according to clear and transparent rules.” He called for it in December 2011 and says he was “very proud” that his ideas on this point were reflected in decisions and declarations take by the united opposition at that time.
Lustration is becoming ever more important also because the old nomenklatura has recruited new members to its ranks and socialized these people to behave in the ways that the older generation did, by restoring a kind of nomenklatura as a way of blocking the institutionalization of political life, Ikhlov says.
Under these conditions, he continues, “lustration is the only bloodless means of destroying the nomenklatura as a social stratum because it deprives those who received the chance for a career at the price of participation in the violation of the law and the rights of others of the right to a political and administrative career” in the future.
“Here are example of such beneficiaries of illegality,” Ikhlov says. “Someone became a deputy of a party as a result of falsified elections. Another made an administrative career as a result of suppressing the opposition and freedom of speech. A third made a media career by becoming a mouthpiece for propaganda, slander and xenophobia.” And yet another “made a career in the system of culture and education” by using illegitimate means.
“None of these violated the law personally: he is simply the beneficiary of the usurpation of power by the ruling stratum to which he has attached himself.” But for Russia to move forward, Ikhlov says, they need to be kept out of politics and the media; and it is better to do that by law than by lynch law.
In order to promote that process, Ikhlov recommends that Russians read the draft legislation that Starovoitova proposedin 1992 and again in 1997 without success. And he provides a copy and a link of what he calls “that legendary document”.
Russian Expats Resent Overbearing Approach of Russian Embassies Abroad
Staunton, VA, February 27, 2016 — Many in the West view ethnic Russian diasporas as working hand in glove with Russian embassies abroad to promote Moscow’s interests, but in fact, there are serious tensions between them – and many Russians living outside of Russia resent the overbearing approach of Russian diplomats.
The latest clash between members of the Russian diaspora and a Russian embassy, one that has attracted attention throughout the Russian communities of Europe and in Moscow as well has occurred in Spain where activists infuriated at Russian embassy interference have published an open letter of complaint.
Because they say there are no “independent” Russian-language media outlets in Spain, the group, which calls itself the Independent Observers Council, on February 14 published its open letter in the Netherlands on the independent Russian-language portal NewsRu.nl. The letter has been picked up and discussed on many Russian sites among émigré communities.
The letter complained in particular about what it called “the unprecedented pressure” imposed on the Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots of Spain, an umbrella group of more than 70 émigré organizations in which the roughly 65,000 ethnic Russians living there participate, by the Russian embassy in Madrid.
“More than 80 percent” of the Russian diaspora in Spain is female and consists either of Russians who have married Spaniards and moved to Spain or those who have come to Spain for work, typically as household servants. There are other groups as well, but “the ‘feminine nature’ of the diaspora to a certain extent defines the main directions” of émigré actions there.
What has outraged the Russian expats in Spain has been the effort of the embassy to politicize the group and force it to adopt declarations against Ukraine, even though many of the Russian émigré groups regularly attract Ukrainian expats to their meetings and activities, and for the Kremlin even if the Russians in Spain do not feel so inclined.
Moreover, the Russian embassy handlers of the emigration have become increasingly heavy-handed, shifting from “recommendations” as in the past to direct orders and demands for the expulsion of Russian expats who are not sufficiently loyal to Moscow from groups which receive Russian government funding.
And these demands from the embassy are coming at a time when Russian diplomats are cutting back their funding of émigré activities. “Financial help was always limited,” one diaspora member says; but now it “has become minimal.” As a result, the émigrés pay for most of their own activities and thus believe that they have the right to make decisions about them.
An embassy spokesman denied there were any problems and said that the expats’ letter reflected the mistaken and “slanderous” views of a tiny minority. He said that many émigrés have praised the embassy and its offers for their support, something they would not do if any of the authors of the letter were correct.
But the Russian émigrés themselves say that the protest letter reflects a sad reality. One from St. Petersburg said that she “doesn’t need to be taught how to love the motherland.” And another from Moscow declared that “those who love freedom should say away as far as possible from Russia and its embassy.”
Clash in Russian Military Unit in Chechnya Involves Russians, Chechens and Daghestanis
Stanton, VA, February 27, 2016 — Although Russian and Chechen officials insist that there was no ethnic component to a fight on Tuesday among soldiers of Russian, Chechen, and Daghestani nationalities, the situation regarding Ramzan Kadyrov and his reappointment as head of Chechnya is so fraught that many are investing it with broader ethnic meaning.
In an article published February 27 in Gazeta, Elizabeta Mayetnaya and Vladimir Dergachev report what little is known about the clashes, which took place on February 23 but about which the first reports appeared only February 26. The Moscow journalists also interviewed one of the soldiers involved.
Apparently the fight among the soldiers began when one tried to break into a lunch line and others objected. They beat the individual soldier who had tried to jump the line; and then others joined in. About 30 soldiers were involved in all. An ethnic Chechen intervened on his behalf, the soldier interviewed said; otherwise the soldier in question could have been killed. He is now in the hospital with “serious trauma.”
Because those who supported the soldier who had broken into line were mostly his fellow Russians and those who opposed him were either Chechens or Dagestanis, the fight quickly took on an ethnic coloration, especially after a video of the fight appeared on the Internet.
This is not the first such conflict that had occurred on this Russian military base in Chechnya, the journalists say. A year ago, there was another incident, several soldiers suffered, but things quickly quieted down. One reason is that the Chechens who work on the base are well paid compared to Chechens in the surrounding community.
Kadyrov on Instagram played down the incident saying that it was the kind of thing that happens in every army in the world. The Russian Presidential Human Rights Council confirmed that clashes had occurred but was unable to provide additional information. Its spokesman suggested that the draft of Chechens into the army, for the first time in 20 years, may have had something to do with it.
The reason for that conclusion, the spokesman said, is that clashes in Russian military units had become increasingly rare during the period when Moscow did not draft anyone from the North Caucasus nationalities. Dedovshchina or hazing occurred, but it was less along ethnic lines than it had been or may be again.
Unfortunately, the spokesman said, it is increasingly difficult to say what in fact is happening in Russian military units. Since the Crimean Anschluss, the Russian military has severely restricted the access of human rights activists to individual units and thus is in a position to keep them from finding out what is going on.
Moscow’s Plan to Create Military Police ‘Falls Victim to Interagency Intrigues,’ ‘Sovershenno Sekretno’ Says