Official Repression of Salafis in North Caucasus Seen Radicalizing Other Muslims There

January 1, 2016
Kotrov Street Mosque in Makhachkala

A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories – No. 17

Staunton, VA, January 1, 2016 — The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore.

Consequently, Windows on Eurasia will present a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the end of each week. This is the seventeenth such compilation. It is only suggestive and far from complete – indeed, this week once again, one could have put out such a listing every day — but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of broader interest.

1. For Putin, Well-Being of Russians Ranks Only Third. In the new security doctrine he signed on December 31, Vladimir Putin listed the well-being of Russians third behind the defense of the country and of his political order.

2. Putin Praises Businesses for Hiding Unemployment. Vladimir Putin thanked Russian businesses for keeping employees on the books even when economic calculations might have caused them to be let go, a pattern that has kept the unemployment rate in Russia from soaring. 

3. Rogozin Shoots Himself in the Foot – Literally. Russian politicians like their counterparts elsewhere routinely shoot themselves in the foot figuratively, but Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has taken the next step and done so literally during a military exercise.

4. Officials Denounce Workers at Psychiatric Hospital for Demanding Back Wages. Officials in the Transbaikal have criticized workers at a regional psychiatric hospital for demanding that they be paid the wages they have earned but not paid, an increasing problem across the Russian Federation.

5. Some Russian Radio Broadcasts No Longer Reaching Russian Far East.  The Russian Orthodox Radonezh radio can no longer afford to broadcast to the people in what is now the Russian Far East, a situation that some at the station say presages the eventual loss of that part of the country to others.

6. Orthodox Priest Denounces ‘Satanic’ Toys at Moscow’s Detsky Mir.  A Russian Orthodox priest is furious that the Russian capital’s largest toy store features games, dolls and other toys that reflect satanic values rather than traditional Russian ones and warns parents against buying them for their children.

7. Helmet of Russia’s Patron Saint Was Made in Mongolia and Features Verses from Koran.  The difficulties of using history to fit current political needs have been highlighted by a new discussion of something most Russians prefer to ignore: Aleksandr Nevsky wore a helmut that was made in Karakorum and featured verses from the Koran.  Given that he chose to ally with the Mongol Horde against the Christian West, that should come as no surprise; but it doesn’t quite fit Vladimir Putin’s “single stream” of Russian history.

8. Moscow Students Denounce Eurasianist ‘Conservative Terror’ in Education. Students at Moscow’s Institute of Literature held a demonstration to protest the appearance of Aleksandr Dugin and other Eurasianist writers at their school. They said that such people are seeking to launch a wave of “conservative terror” in Russian higher education.

9. Duma Extends Sochi Eminent Domain Rule to All of Russia. The Duma has voted to extend the special rules that allowed officials to confiscate property in Sochi in advance of the Sochi Olympics to the entire country, yet another way in which Russians are still paying for that Putin extravaganza. 

10. Flying in Russia Increasingly Unsafe.  Private planes in Russian are increasingly unsafe because of the collapse of regulation and inspections, a trend that has increased the number of accidents and deaths in what is already one of the most unsafe air systems in the world. 

11. Pskov Region Has Highest Death Rates in Russian Federation.  Pskov Region has the highest death rates of any federal subject of the Russian Federation, the result of local policies that have deprived many of the people there of critical medical supplies like insulin and access to doctors and hospitals.  As a result, life expectancy there has fallen dramatically, something especially striking because the region abuts Estonia where life expectancy is among the highest in the region.

12. Sakha Head Opposes Giving Land to Russians from Elsewhere. The head of the Republic of Sakha says he is opposed to a Moscow program to give land to Russians from other parts of the country who agree to move to Siberia and the Russian Far East.

13. 70 Percent of Russians in One Poll Say They’re for Trump.  Following the enthusiastic endorsement by Vladimir Putin of Donald Trump as a candidate for US president, nearly three-quarters of Russians in one recent poll say they share that view.

And seven more from countries around Russia’s periphery:

1. To the Celebration of New Year’s, There Need Be No End.  Many Russians celebrate New Year’s according to both the new calendar and the old, but if they took their lead from non-Russians, they could have a New Year’s holiday any month at all.

2. Ukrainians Petition to Bring Holidays in Line with Those of Civilized Countries. A group of Ukrainians has launched a petition drive to bring church holidays into line with those of “civilized countries” rather than Russia.

3. Ukrainian Renaming on the Cheap. Some are proposing that Dneprpetrovsk remain “Dneprpetrovsk” with only the sources of the name changed and that streets like Luxemburg named for “Roza Luxemberg” keep their names, but be considered in honor of the Grand Duchy rather that the German communist so that the names will remain the same and save money.

4. Ukrainian IDPs Outnumber Muslim Migrants in EU.  Ukrainian officials say that Russian aggression in Crimea and the Donbass has led to more than a million internally displaced persons, a figure greater than the much-more-attended-to one of Muslim refugees coming into Europe. 

5. ‘Anti-Russian Sentiment’ Prompts Lukoil to Pull Out of Baltic Countries.Russia’s Lukoil has closed its stations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, citing the anti-Russian attitudes of the three countries.

6. Tashkent Doesn’t Have Sufficient Funds to Pay for Planned Giant Jail. Economic problems can have positive consequences: the Uzbek government has announced that financial difficulties mean that it will not be able to build the enormous new prison Tashkent had been planning .

7. 95 Ways in which Belarus isn’t Russia A blogger has come up with a list of 95 facts about Belarus which show that it isn’t the same nation or country as the Russian Federation, a useful guide for the many in Moscow like Vladimir Putin and in the West who don’t view Belarus and Belarusians as separate and distinct.

Moscow Will Somehow Find Money for North Caucasus But Not for Other Regions, Zubarevich Says

Staunton, VA, January 1, 2016 — “The most probable prognosis” for Russia is “stabilization at a lower level: less investment, less production and less consumption,” according to Natalya Zubarevich, who adds that “this ‘stability’ may last several years and result in the economic and social degradation of the country.”

There is the additional risk, the director of regional programs at Moscow’s Independent Institute for Social Policy, that there will be a further decline in oil prices on which both the federal budget and regional ones (because of transfers from Moscow) rely.
But she says that even in the worst situation, Moscow is likely to find money for the republics of the North Caucasus, where any cutbacks in spending could lead to new violence; but the fate of other regions is likely to be increasingly dire with the center increasingly transferring unfunded liabilities to them.
If oil prices stabilize or unexpectedly rise to a “more comfortable level,” the regional geographer says, the Russian economy could eventually grow by one to two percent a year, “but these tempos would be below that of other countries. And that means that [Russia] will fall further and further behind [them].”
Zubarevich, Moscow’s leading specialist on developments in Russia’s regions, backs up her projections with an analysis of the current situation. She points out that the current economic crisis in Russia is very different from its predecessors in that it is not part of a worldwide trend but rather an internal one driven by “Russian ‘rules of the game’ which block growth.”
The crisis began in 2013 “with the stagnation of the economy and the slow reduction in investment.” The following year, it was intensified by “external factors” including Western sanctions after Crimea and the decline in the price of oil and by internal ones like the counter-sanctions of the Russian authorities which unleashed inflation.
In the past year, the geographer says, world prices for other Russian raw material exports also began to fall; and as a result, “the Russian economy passed from stagnation to recession” and has remained “at the bottom” since the summer.
Declines in income and trade have affected “almost all regions” of the country, she says, “Russians are adapting to the crisis by sharply reducing consumption.” Investment has fallen in 51 regions, industrial production has fallen in 34, and processing industry output has declined in “more than 40.”
The only reason that production hasn’t fallen in more of them is that defense industry production has increased in some. “But do not forget what this costs,” Zubarevich says. About 21 percent of the federal budget now goes to defense, but that rise has been possible only by cutting back social spending significantly.
Given the absence of investment, talk about import substitution is just that talk: “without investments, there will not be import substitution.” Instead, there will be inflation, a decline in quality and a reduction in consumption. “The Russian powers that be have forgotten that it is impossible to move the economy by television” alone, although some Russians may be affected.
Zubarevich advises her readers on this New Year’s day to stop watching television and stop participating in social networks online. Instead, she suggests, they should turn to “wise books and good friends” and they should maintain their sense of humor about the authorities. Any country whose people do that “has a future.”
But she warns in conclusion that “in Russia one will have to live a long time in order to see a positive trend. There won’t be any rapid changes, but,” the geographer says, “time is working for us.”
Absent ‘Revolutionary Change,’ Russia’s Population Decline to Accelerate in Coming Decades, Experts Say
Staunton, VA, January 1 – Unless “revolutionary” steps are taken – something Moscow has shown no taste for given that it has spent less than half as much on boosting s than it did on the Sochi Olympics – Russia’s demographic decline will accelerate in the coming years and its population will fall in this century to just over half of what it is now.
Those are just some of the worrisome projections of Russian demographers surveyed by Aleksey Polubota and Varvara Sobolyeva in an article for the Svobodnaya Pressa portal posted online today that follows the December 25 vote by the Federation Council to extend the maternal capital program, albeit at reduced levels.
The decision to extend the program, the two journalists say, “says on the one hand that the state recognizes the seriousness of the demographic challenges standing before it” but “on the other, demographers have said for a long time that such a measure is capable of giving only a short-term effect.”
Boris Denisov, a demographer at Moscow State University, says that maternal capital has had an impact in some places on how many children Russians have and when they have them but he stresses that the program has not been all that large. Over nine years, Moscow has spent 20 billion US dollars on this effort to boost the birthrate, less than half of what it spent on Sochi.
Now, the Russian government is reducing the amount it spends on this program still further and consequently, the size of the Russian population will fall because the number of women in prime childbearing age groups will fall, deaths among the last “’Soviet generations’” will increase, and migration won’t be able to compensate.
Igor Beloborodov, a specialist at the Russian Institute for Strategic Research (RISI), says that if the government had not extended the maternal capital program, the country’s demographic situation would be even worse given the impact of the economic crisis. But he said no one should expect any “grandiose increase” in the birthrate as a result.
“For example,” he says, “in regions like the Caucasus and Buryatia, the level of second births even earlier was relatively high, but in the northwestern regions of Russia, where the demographic crisis is most manifest, the situation has remained almost unchanged” despite this program.
Beloborodov suggests that Russia should adopt “more creative decisions” in this area, including a television propaganda campaign to promote the idea that families should include three or four children and not just one or none as now. In doing so, he says, Russia would not only be saving itself but showing the way for other countries as well.
The immediate challenge for Russia is truly enormous, he continues. Given the decline in the number of women in prime reproductive age cohorts, “young [Russian] mothers must give birth significantly more than now. That is, if today, on average for improving the demographic situation, they need to have 2.2 children each, by 2025, this figure could be boosted to 2.5.”
(Beloborodov does not say so but such a boost in such a short period of time is almost unprecedented in international experience except immediately after military conflicts and for a relatively short period at that.)
And Yury Krupnov of the Moscow Institute of Demography, Migration and Regional Development, says that Moscow is going to have to do a lot more if it hopes to avoid a real demographic collapse. In the short term, Russia cannot avoid falling into another “demographic pit.”
Over the next 13 years, he says, the number of women in prime childbearing cohorts will fall, with the lowest point being in 2025 when there will be almost half as many such women as there were in 2010, “with all the ensuing consequences” of fewer babies, smaller families, and declines in the population.
Many in Moscow have been shouting about “victories and a large birthrate” in Russia in recent years, but “nevertheless, by the end of this century according to the mid-range scenario, if the current trends continue, there will remain a little more than half of the current population – about 80 million people.”
That prospect should cause officials to think about “revolutionary means” of boosting the birthrate, including those which will change cultural attitudes and patterns. If Russia is to avoid this disaster, Krupnov says, women should have on average four children rather than the one they do now.
Washington Unwittingly Promoting Restoration of USSR, Donbass Politician Says
Staunton, VA, January 1, 2015 –  Most Russian commentators argue that the United States is doing everything it can not only to break up the former Soviet space by pulling the non-Russian countries away from Moscow but also to undermine the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation itself.

But Oleg Tsarev, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who has been part of the Kremlin’s Novorossiya project from the beginning, argues in a new article that the United States is unwittingly promoting the restoration of the USSR, something he describes as “a strategic mistake of Washington.”

As perverse as his argument appears to be, his words deserve attention both as an indication of how some pro-Moscow elements in occupied Ukraine feel and as a reflection of the kind of messages Russian propagandists may be delivering not only there but also in other parts of the former Soviet space and more generally.

According to Tsaryev, “the US, guided by the theory of controlled chaos, has organized ‘color’ revolutions and wars throughout the entire world” and flooded Europe with refugees. “The goal of these actions” is to make the US appear to be the only “safe harbor” for capital and thus prop up the American economy which is near collapse thanks to rising government debt.
“Potentially, Russia could be a center around which countries that want to challenge the world hegemon the US could assemble,” he continues. And therefore, the US has sought to undermine stability in Russia’s neighbors and even Russia itself. It has had some success in the former case but little in the latter.
“Economic sanctions, insufficient successes in import substitution, the eternal problem of post-Soviet countries – corruption and as a result the outflow of capital – and problems in credit and monetary policy have led to a decline in Russia’s GDP,” Tsaryev acknowledges. But he says that the Russian leadership has prevented Western actions from having the impact the US wants.
Indeed, the pro-Moscow Donbas politician says, “the paradox of the situation is that thanks to the actions of the US not only in the majority of post-Soviet countries but also in Europe itself can arise processes which sharply reduce the standard of living and destroy the state institutions of the authorities.”
“In other words,” Tsaryev says, “around Russia may arise such a zone of chaos and powerlessness that will mean that the problems inside Russia will appear insignificant in comparison.” And in that case, Moscow will “inevitably become a center around which unification processes will begin.”
He argues that “this is not the first such occasion in [Russian] history. Similar processes occurred when Russia established itself in the form of the USSR after the Civil War,” when Russia was in much worse straits than now but when the situation in the territories immediately around it was even worse.
“When people have nothing to eat, when there is no law and order, when you or members of your family can be killed, raped, or stolen from at will, questions of ideology for a large part of the population become less important,” Tsaryev says.
That is what is happening in Ukraine and many other places as well, thanks to US actions, and as a result, “despite the Russophobia imposed on the population, people will be ready to unite even with Mars and not just with Russia,” he suggests.
According to Tsaryev, Washington’s destructive actions will only intensify with the worsening of the domestic situation in the US. But “if the situation in Russia can hold out, and [he says that he] is certain that it will because its strong army will prevent an intervention and its strong power is capable of decisive actions to maintain order, then Russia has good chances for the restoration of its former greatness.”
“At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union,” he continues, “we passed through such difficulties and were tempered to the point that the coming crisis doesn’t frighten us … [Russians] were the first to go into crisis, to survive, to restore ourselves, thus we look to the future with optimism.”
Moreover, he concludes, Russian civilization has a millennium of historical experience. Many times many people have “unsuccessful sought to divide, conquer and put us on our knees, but each time after all the tests, our country, like the Phoenix, is reborn from the ashes and becomes even stronger and more beautiful.”
Official Repression of Salafis in North Caucasus Seen Radicalizing Other Muslims There
Staunton, VA, January 1, 2016 – Although the number of terrorist acts in the North Caucasus fell in 2015, largely because of the departure of radicals to Iraq and Syria, official repression of Salafis there and especially efforts to exclude them from the legal zone is radicalizing other Muslims and inadvertently helping the Islamic State, according to experts.

Yekaterina Sokryanskaya, director of the International Crisis Group’s North Caucasus project, says that increasing official pressure on the Salafis was directly connected with a shift in Russian policy regarding those who wanted to leave the region to fight for ISIS or other radical states (
“If earlier jihadists practically departed without any obstacles to the Middle East, then from the middle of 2014 and especially in 2015 after the beginning of bombing in Syria, the authorities imposed harsh obstacles to their departure and sought to control all the dissenting religious space,” she says.
More cases were brought against those who had fought with ISIS and then returned, and in Daghestan, the authorities took various steps first to isolate and control and then to suppress the salafi communities. This process is “not new,” she says. “It has existed since the mid-2000s,” but many thought this effort had “exhausted itself” and been discarded.
“However, before the [Sochi] Olympiad, the old methods were recalled, and in the last year they began to acquire quite wild forms,” Sokiryanskaya says. In 2014, Daghestan led the regions and republics of the North Caucasus in terms of the number of killed and wounded in counter-terrorist actions.
Last year, those numbers fell by about half, but “mass detentions of mosque parishioners throughout the republic were carried out.” Those detained were entered on official black lists and could not thereafter move about the republic freely or travel outside it. Indeed, such pressure “became unbearable.”
One of the most important events of the last 12 months, Sokiryanskaya says, was the conflict between salafis and officials over the Kotrov mosque in Makhachkala and the closing of a number of other mosques in Daghestan. (For background on this,
Official pressure on the Kotrov mosque continues, ostensibly with the goal of forcing a change in imams. But there is an increasing sense, the analyst says, that the authorities want to drive the salafis out of the legal field. “This is a very bad thing,” she says, “because it weakens the position of the moderate salafis and plays into the hands of the extremists.”