Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Moscow May Block Twitter Despite Saying It Views Trump’s Tweets as Official US Policy



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – Roskomnadzor, the Russian government agency which oversees the media, has warned Twitter that it would block the service if it did not remove the account of the Open Russia organization from its lists within a few days (openrussia.org/notes/717247/).

            The action follows the agency’s blocking of Open Russia sites as being in violation of Russian law, an action that the Open Russia site has already posted guidance on how to get around this ban (openrussia.org/notes/717233/), yet another case of the offense-defense competition between those who want to control the Internet and those opposed to that.

            But this Moscow action is intriguing as it comes on the heels of a declaration by Vladimir Putin’s press secretary that the Kremlin views US President Donald Trump’s tweets official statements of American policy and provides regular summaries of them to the Kremlin leader (tass.ru/politika/4804815 and themoscowtimes.com/news/kremlin-considers-trumps-tweets-as-official-statements-says-putin-spokesman-59913).

            “Everything which is published on [Trump’s] official Twitter account,” Dmitry Peskov said, “is considered in Moscow to be an official statement.” The spokesman, however, declined to provide any assessment of Trump’s tweets.

Non-Russian Nations Conclude They Must Defend Themselves Because Their Elites Won’t



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – In the face of Vladimir Putin’s continuing attacks on the non-Russian republics, including now a call by his supporters to check the Tatarstan Constitution’s legitimacy (kommersant.ru/doc/3494879) and the failure of republic elites to fight back, some non-Russians are deciding they have no choice but to do so on their own.

            That reflects a new round of radicalization among non-Russian groups and suggests that the coming weeks and months may see clashes not only between them and republic elites they feel are not representing their interests but between these nations and Moscow whose regime they increasingly see as ever more antagonistic to their interests and needs.

            The clearest indication of this shift came at the Congress of the Bashkir People on Sunday, at which a series of speakers suggested that “everything has become clear” about Putin and his approach to the non-Russians and also about the inability or unwillingness of republic leaders to combat this (idelreal.org/a/ufa-syezd-bashkirskogo-naroda/28910452.html).

            Ruslan Gabbasov, the vice president of the Bashkort National Organization, said that after Putin’s speech in Ufa last summer, “the state languages in the republics began to be subjected to persecution.”  He also criticized ideas circulating in Moscow about combining Tatarstan with one or more predominantly ethnic Russian regions.

            These ideas, he said, have generated enormous anger among the Bashkirs who fear that if Moscow gets away this in the case of Tatarstan, it will then attack Bashkortostan and all the other non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation. He called on all Bashkir organizations to take an active part in elections to the republic’s State Assembly scheduled for next fall.

            That is necessary, Gabbasov said, because “in the current Kurultay sit businessmen who are afraid for the businesses and are occupied only with the lobbying of their own interests. The fate of the republic interests them only after all their other concerns.” As a result, they vote however Moscow tells them to.

            “It is time,” the activist said, “to take power into our own hands.”

            Ramilya Saitova, a Bashkir activist, said that national organizations must promote the use of Bashkir in all institutions so that all residents of the republic will feel the need to have it studied. Simply trying to impose a requirement on those who don’t see such a need won’t work. It may even backfire.

            Edige Akhmetov, an activist from Kazakhstan, said that his republic had done that after achieving independence in 1991; and “now our language confidently occupies all the major portions of our life, and in the foreseeable future, it will completely dominate the situation among Kazakhs in Kazakhstan.”

            Garifulla Yapparov, a lawyer, told the congress that one of the first thing Bashkir activists must seek is control over the lands of the republic. Now, the republic government controls only “a little more than one percent,” 100,000 hectares out of 14.3 million. Moscow controls much of the rest.

            And Ayrat Dilmukhametov, a Bashkir activist who in the past has been a political prisoner, said that Bashkirs today “must not commit in the future the mistakes which were made during the establishment of sovereignty in the early 1990s.” People talk about federalism, but in reality, there is no federalism in Russia today.

            Under Putin, the defining document of the country is not the Constitution which calls for federalism but rather the criminal code, he continued. “There is no federalism in the country now, but this doesn’t mean that it won’t exist in the future.”

            As long as Bashkirs exist, “we have the right to self-determination that is recognized by all,” Dilmukhametov said, and we can promote it effectively if “we take into consideration all the mistakes of our ‘Third Republic’ which were committed over the last 27 years … The main thing [now] is not to allow such mistakes” in the future.

            The congress adopted five resolutions: the first denounced the current leadership of the republic for “ignoring all the demands of society” and caving to every demand from Moscow, the second called on the government to seek a delimitation of powers between Moscow and Ufa, and the third called for the formation of “a coordinating council” of all non-Russian republics to take up the fight.

            The fourth demanded that Rustem Khamitov, the head of the republic, agree to set up a monument to the founder of the first Bashkir autonomy Akhmet-Zaki Validi. And the fifth called on all self-conscious Bashkirs to take an active part in upcoming republic elections in order to take back power into their own hands.

            But a resolution the Congress did not adopt because it was not proposed is likely to prove especially telling.  The Bashkir activists consciously chose not to take a position on Putin in the presidential poll, fearful that if they did, they would be subjected to repression from the republic and Moscow, activist Valiakhmet Badretdinov said.

            “We are guided in this case,” he continued, “by that saying which was widely used by our ancestors a century ago: ‘We aren’t Reds, we aren’t Whites; we are Bashkirs.” What happens beyond the borders of our republic doesn’t especially concern us. But he added that after Putin’s Yoshkar-Ola speech, “everything became clear” about the current Kremlin leader.

Not Election Fraud but Elite Privileges May Now Drive Russians Into the Streets



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – Russians are unlikely to go into the streets over election fraud this time around because for almost all of them, Putin’s election is a foregone conclusion and one that they aren’t ready to challenge because to do so would call into question their own decisions to back him in the past, Moscow experts say.

            But at the same time, the Social Chamber in its annual report says that “Russian citizens are increasingly angry about what they see as growing “social inequality” and the special privileges in all walks of life that members of the Putin elite have given to themselves while ordinary people suffer.

            Such views among the Russian population could spark protests in the coming months, particularly if the Kremlin does something like the 2005 monetarization of social benefits that people perceive as directed against them even as the Kremlin continues to protect the well-being of the well-off.

            Yesterday, Deutsche Welle reported that few Moscow experts think that there will be protests over the election as such. Everyone expects Putin to win, and the biggest issue will be the size of participation, something the authorities may manipulate but without affecting the outcome (dw.com/ru/выборы-и-протесты-ожидать-ли-россии-второй-болотной/a-41742509).

                Dmitry Oreshkin says that many of Putin’s supporters will be among those not going to vote because of “the cognitive dissonance” many of them feel.  We have “’risen from our knees,’” the president tells them “but we haven’t begun to live better.” At the same time, they won’t vote against him because that would call into question their past support of the president.

            The Moscow analyst says that he expects the real level of participation in the March 18 elections will be “about 50 percent.”  The authorities will manage to boost that via administrative means to about 60 percent.  But that won’t make people angry or lead to mass protests the way violations of election law did in 2011.

            Yury Krupnov of the Moscow Institute of Demography completely agrees. He says that “the opposition is divided with its leaders fighting among themselves; and therefore, they do not represent any consolidated force.” 

            But Aleksey Titkov says that protests could arise anyway if the authorities make a serious misstep, something like the monetarization of benefits in 2005.  He says, however, that he is “not certain that in the next four months before the elections, something similar will be done.” As a result, protests now seem unlikely.

            But the annual report on civil society by the Social Chamber suggests protests could come from another direction, not so much the management of the elections themselves than growing popular anger about increasing social inequality where the rich get richer and the poor poorer, Yekaterina Vinokurova of Znak reports (znak.com/2017-12-12/obchestvennaya_palata_uvidela_chto_rossiyane_silno_nedovolny_privilegiyami_elity).

                “Sociological studies of recent times show,” the report says, “a growing social demand for justice. No one considers unjust wealth that people have earned by their own efforts.” But many are angry about wealth that has come to people less because of what they have done than because of the loyalty they have shown to the Kremlin.

            Already, the report continues, “citizens are protesting against such state-created strata in numerous places from medicine to justice and against privileges which give someone the chance to avoid the general rules and ignore established norms.”  And polls show that those at the top not surprisingly think the social situation is far better than those at the bottom.

            And the Social Chamber report notes in conclusion that “the absence of dialogue between citizens and the authorities is leading to social tensions and the radicalization of protest.”  In short, if Russians do go into the streets, it is less likely to be about voting than about the ways in which the Russian elite is taking care of itself at their expense.