Two Troubling Questions about Putin: Is He Sick? And Is He Getting Rid of Witnesses?

January 5, 2016
President Vladimir Putin. Photo by Reuters

Only Three Groups of Russian Regions Likely to Do Relatively Well in 2016, Zubarevich Says

Staunton, VA, January 5, 2016 —  The absence of property rights, the excessive involvement of the state in the economy, ineffective investments and massive corruption would all have to be changed for the economies of Russia’s regions and Russia as a whole to expand, Natalya Zubarevich says.

Moscow’s leading academic specialist on regional affairs adds that “the old model of growth ceased to work in 2013 when stagnation began.” And she suggests that Russians need to recognize that they stopped growth “with their own hands.” That situation was then compounded by political mistakes.
Despite that, three categories of regions are likely to see a growth in production. The first includes those federal subjects involved in agricultural industry, mostly in the southern part of the country. Because of sanctions and counter-sanctions, their competitors have been removed allowing them to raise prices and earn more.
But growth in this sector can only be slow unless there is more investment, and investment in this sector has fallen for the third year in a row.
The second privileged group includes those with new oil and gas fields where production is going up, including Sakhalin, the Nenets AO, Sakha, and Irkutsk regions. Old fields where production is stable or even falling will not do so well. Indeed, they are likely to see their incomes continue to fall.
And the third group includes those regions where military industry is concentrated. These are the places Moscow is spending and investing, and they include Bryansk, Tula, Vladimir, Yaroslavl, and Ulyanovsk regions, as well as Mari El. If military spending continues to rise, they will do well.

“It is already time to understand that the crisis which has begun is not like the previous one: it is slow, deep and long. And it will not be cured by oil prices alone,” Zubarevich says.

With Each Passing Day, Russia Winning Propaganda War in Donbass, Sedova Says

Staunton, VA, January 5, 2016 — One of the aspects of Russia’s occupation of portions of Ukraine is that with each passing day, Russian propaganda outlets are operating in many cases without any Ukrainian efforts to counter them, a reality that is creating facts on the ground as diplomats like to say that Kyiv will find it ever more difficult to reverse.

Those in Kyiv and Western capitals who seek a frozen conflict as the best means of avoiding new violence forget that reality just as they have in other frozen conflicts that Moscow has been involved in around the periphery of the Russian Federation, a neglect that Russian officials have in every case exploited.
In today, journalist Yana Sedova makes the case that in the course of the year just past, Ukraine “hasn’t been able to win back the information space” in the Donbass. Instead, by their failure to act, they have ceded it to Russian outlets and those of the pro-Moscow breakaway republics.
That has allowed anti-Ukrainian voices to put out, without much challenge, their noxious views about “’the Kyiv junta,’” “’Nazi Ukraine,’” and “’American puppet masters,’” and inevitably that has an impact in small ways and large that grow the longer this situation continues.
In some ways even more worrisome, this anti-Ukrainian media reaches beyond the line of the front and even into Ukrainian military bases, undermining coherence and stability, Sedova says. The Ukrainian ministry of information policy has put out a report suggesting that it is working hard, but in fact, it seems more concerned with coming up with a concept paper than with acting in ways that are required.
Two Troubling Questions about Putin: Is He Sick? And Is He Getting Rid of Witnesses?

Staunton, VA, January 5, 2016 — In the dies non that exists in Russia over the winter holidays, two uncomfortable and potentially dangerous questions have been raised about Vladimir Putin: Does his fall off in public activity mean he is sick? And are recent deaths evidence that the Kremlin leader is getting rid of witnesses to his crimes?

That such questions are being asked at all is more important in terms of public attitudes than the answers that anyone may give to one or the other.
Yesterday, Moscow’s independent TV Rain, citing a report by the Center for Economic and Political Reforms, said that in recent weeks, Putin’s activity has fallen to “a record low for the past 15 years,” sparking concerns that he is either tired or sick.
Between 1994 and 2012, the center’s analysts found, Russia’s three presidents, Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev issued between 123 and 149 decrees monthly. But since 2013, they found that Putin had issued “almost half as many” and that “the number has contracted further.” In 2013, he issued 970; in 2014, 837; and in 2015, 638.
Nikolay Mironov, the center’s director, says that this fall off in activity “may be connected with physical problems” or simply the result of the wearing down of someone who has long been in office. The decline began in May 2013, and since that time, many have suggested that Putin doesn’t look as well as he did earlier.
He notes that the decline in official activity includes not just decrees but other forms of orders issued to subordinates. Over the last year, Mironov continues, the president has distanced himself “from all important questions,” as shown as well by the way in which he answered questions at his recent press conference.
But the director points to the most important consequence of this: Under Russian conditions, if the president doesn’t formulate his orders in a written form, many in the bureaucracy and society do not know what they are supposed to do – and being at a loss, they may either do nothing or go their own ways.

Today, Zoryan Shkiryak, an advisor to the Ukrainian interior ministry, suggested that the recent deaths of two military commanders who undoubtedly have access to many of Putin’s most closely held secrets suggests that the Kremlin leader may be killing off witnesses to his own crimes.

He points specifically to the death on December 27 of Major General Aleksandr Shushukin, who led the occupation of Crimea, and of Col.Gen. Igor Sergun, the head of the GRU, who has long done secretive dirty work “at the order of the Kremlin in the war against Ukraine.”

Of course, the two deaths may be a coincidence, but they are convenient and getting rid of the executors of regime policy has long been a tradition for the Soviet and Russian security services. They in this as in much else operate according to the principle “no person, no problem.” That Putin might do the same should not surprise anyone, Shkiryak says.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick