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Volume 72, Number 29 (July 13-19, 2020)
FEATURED NEWS STORIES
Khabarovsk Protests Continue Click here to read more
Armenia, Azerbaijan Exchange Border Fire
THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION
Accounting Office Proposes Alternative Solutions for Adjusting National Project Goals
SR: Government Overpromised on Economic Goals, And Now It Can’t Deliver
Meduza: Federal Protection Service Polls Are Putin’s Primary Source of Information
State and Law
State Council to Tackle National Priorities, Oversee Work of Regional Authorities
Experts: Safronov Case Shows Journalists, General Public Now Vulnerable to Treason Persecution
AGORA Rights Organization Decries Overreach of Pandemic Surveillance
OTHER POST-SOVIET STATES
Leading Opposition Candidates Absent From Official Presidential Ballot
NG: Impact of Opposition Activity in Belarus Will Determine How Kremlin Deals With Its Opponents
Arms Control and Nonproliferation
FM: US Insistence on Drawing China Into Arms Talks Shows New START Treaty Won’t Be Renewed
Gololobov: Referral of MH17 Case to ECHR May Prompt Russia to Leave Council of Europe
Gatilov: West Seeking to Supply Rebel Militants Under Guise of Humanitarian Aid
Mishutin: President Duda Ekes Out Reelection Win, Continuing Course Toward Alternative Europe
Lukyanov: No Improvement in Russian-US Relations, No Matter Who Wins US Presidential Election
Author: Mark Galeotti
Russia’s Murderous Adhocracy
By Mark Galeotti. The Moscow Times, Aug. 22, 2020, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/08/22/russias-murderous-adhocracy-a71219. Complete text:
At the time of writing, Aleksei Navalny is still fighting for his life, after apparently being poisoned as he left Tomsk. For many, this must have been a “Kremlin hit,” but the uncomfortable truth is that under [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, political murder is no longer a monopoly of the state.
It is certainly not impossible that the Kremlin was to blame. Given the authorities’ unease at scenes of people power at work in Belarus, worries over the protests in Khabarovsk and concern about a general tide of surly resentment at a national government that seems out of touch with the provinces, it could be that Navalny’s “smart vote” campaign and his work in the regions took him across that lethally invisible, unpredictably mobile line that defines the barely acceptable forms of opposition.
However, Navalny’s own claim – that he was alive because he was more of a problem for the regime dead – probably still holds true. Besides which, the state seems to have been caught off guard.
First the doctors were admitting some kind of poisoning, then it was just a blood sugar imbalance. First the police were saying it was nothing, then they were admitting the presence of unexpected chemical traces. First Navalny could not fly because it would be unsafe for others, then that it wasn’t safe for him. First the news said he wasn’t poisoned, then propagandist in chief Dmitry Kiselyov was claiming he was poisoned by the Americans or the British.
To be sure, incompetence and incoherence are not exactly unheard of when it comes to the Kremlin and its security forces. Omsk’s (truly beautiful) Assumption Cathedral has a fine spire, but nowhere near as tall as Salisbury’s; even so, maybe someday we’ll hear a couple of security officers tell of their daytrip there.
However, this confusion is reminiscent of the immediate aftermath of the murder of Boris Nemtsov by what turned out to be Chechen gunmen in 2015. Rival stories abounded, and an investigation hurriedly turned into a cover-up, once [Chechen leader] Ramzan Kadyrov’s fingerprints began to become apparent.
Then, Putin disappeared from view for a fortnight, unable or unwilling to make a choice between acceding to his security forces’ demands finally to do something about the reckless and ruthless Chechen, and the fear of precipitating a new Chechen war. Eventually, Kadyrov essentially got away with it with little more than a slap on the wrist.
The same happened when Rosneft boss Igor Sechin organised the metaphorical “assassination” of Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev in 2017, framing him on corruption charges and seeing him condemned to eight years in a strict-regime labor colony. Putin was visibly uncomfortable with the case, especially when Sechin refused repeatedly to be cross-examined by the defense, but ultimately let the matter drop.
This is one of the lethal side-effects of “adhocracy.” Putin’s system is a substantially deinstitutionalised one, in which the president’s favor is the main asset everyone wants to earn, and formal roles and responsibilities matter less than how one can be of use today. The boss largely doesn’t micromanage, but rather sets broad objectives and hints at what kinds of things he would like to see.
This generates flexibility and initiative, but at the cost of duplication and control. Ambitious and cynical figures work to what they believe Putin wants, or else find ways to justify their own interests as being in line with those of the state.
In Navalny’s case, there is no lack of potential enemies. Someone he was investigating for one of his forensically presented and devastating video exposés of official corruption, who assumed that the Kremlin would ultimately forgive direct action? A political figure who feared Navalny’s electoral tactics or who assumed that the Kremlin would like to see him taken out of the equation? One of the big beasts of the system, who doesn’t have to care too much what a frankly diminished president thinks, or who believes he can count on the boss’s indulgence?
So far, at least, we don’t know, although in the modern age almost everything comes out eventually. However, it does point to one of the dangerous and alarming aspects of the Putin system, especially as the president himself seems less willing or able to play the role of the Great Decider and rein in his more murderous adhocrats.
A state that kills is a terrible thing, but its red lines can generally be observed, and it can ultimately be held to account. But a state that permits a whole range of actors and interests to kill with impunity is an even more uncomfortable thing, as the red lines may be invisible, intersecting and mobile, and the challenge of accountability is even greater.
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Author: Nikolai Patrushev
Does Russia Need Universal Values? Spiritual and Moral Values as the Foundation of a Nation's Sovereignty
By Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. Rossiiskaya gazeta, June 18, 2020, p. 1. Complete text:
The proposed amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation open a new chapter in the history of the Russian state. These changes will protect our basic family values and historical truth. They will help us provide proper spiritual and moral education to our young people. They will help the state support and protect our culture as a unique heritage of Russia’s multiethnic population. They will strengthen the fundamental elements of the welfare state in Russia. This is why adopting these amendments is crucial and extremely significant for defining our country’s goals and development plans.
Spiritual and moral values shape people’s worldview, guide them in their daily activities, help people understand each other and inform people’s behavioral patterns and models.
Usually, the question of proper values arises when a nation has to make an important decision regarding its future path.
This year, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of our Great Victory and the whole country discusses the proposed constitutional amendments, the question of values acquired particular importance. The West responded to these events in Russia by ramping up its information campaigns and propaganda in an effort to rewrite world and Russian history, downplay the importance of our victory, and deal another blow to Russia’s system of traditional spiritual and moral values.
Yet no matter how hard our “partners” from across the Atlantic have tried to tear down the system of values that Russia has developed over many generations, our values remain largely unchanged.
A very brief and by no means exhaustive description of the Russian system of spiritual and moral values is given in the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation. They include, among other things, the primacy of spiritual matters over material wealth; protection of human life, right and freedoms; family; constructive labor; service to the motherland; moral and ethical standards; humanitarian ideals, mercy and justice; solidarity and collectivism; historical unity of all the ethnic groups living in Russia; and continuity of our country’s history.
An equally important list of our spiritual and moral values is given in the National Character Education Strategy for 2015-2025. It includes values like empathy, justice, honor, good conscience, willpower, personal dignity, positivity and aspiration to perform one’s moral duty to oneself, family and homeland.
The traditional system of Russian values was shaped by centuries of our history. It is the spiritual and moral foundation of our society. It was this system that enabled the Soviet people to achieve victory in the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War – a historic victory of global significance. It is this strong foundation that enables us to maintain and strengthen our sovereignty, and build our future in spite of all the difficulties and contradictions of historical development. Our country has literally brought forth its values through suffering, and now the main task before future generations is to preserve and multiply this wealth.
We must protect the values of our multiethnic, multifaith nation against those aggressively pushing neoliberal values, which often contradict the very essence of our worldview. Our geopolitical foes are actively imposing those values on others in order to control the development of civilization and secure a dominating global position.
They are continuing their attempts to destroy Russia’s multiethnic unity and diminish the importance of traditional spiritual and moral norms as the foundation of our cultural, spiritual, political and, ultimately, national sovereignty.
Undoubtedly, most nations share common fundamental values – i.e., common ideal goals and societal attributes. Everybody likes justice, security and welfare.
When we talk about the values that are dominant in foreign cultures and which are alien to the Russian people, we usually call them “Western values.”
Also, many older and middle-aged people remember the term “universal values,” which was widely used during the so-called perestroika and in the early days of modern Russia.
While I do not deny that there are certain values that humanity has in common, I want to stress that at that particular time, the concept of “universal values” made the “Western world,” which was completely unknown to most people in Russia, closer and easier to understand. At the same time, it helped promote social and moral standards that were not always in line with traditional Russian values.
“Western values,” which have been increasingly promoted as “universal” in recent decades and defined as such in the European Union’s official documents, have become a popular stereotype.
In order to understand their meaning and significance, it is important to trace the history of their interpretations in official EU documents.
The preamble of the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht, Feb. 7, 1992) talks about “the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.” The treaty states that the EU “is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, nondiscrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”
It is worth recalling that certain European values like the eight-hour workday, gender equality and women’s suffrage were only made possible by the 1917 events in Russia. For example, France did not allow women to vote until 1944; Switzerland, until 1971; and Portugal, until 1974.
Unfortunately, real life shows that official declarations about “universal values” are little more than empty words. Once these norms were enshrined, the Western world quickly adopted the neoliberal development model.
Basic concepts like “family,” “mother” and “father,” “man” and “woman,” were intentionally eroded in the West and replaced with artificial surrogates like “parent one” and “parent two.” These surrogates were so unnatural, even from a purely biological viewpoint, that this practice immediately resulted in a civilizational conflict within Western Europe.
Furthermore, these new standards contradict the fundamental tenets of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other religions, and are absolutely rejected by them.
As far as social behavior is concerned, neoliberalism instills individualism, selfishness, hedonism and consumerism. It insists on absolute freedom of expression, no matter what form it takes. Yet even in the West, there are a lot of people who do not agree with these antivalues.
I can give you a lot of examples. For instance, we all remember the mass protests in France in January 2013 against legalizing same-sex marriage. Over 300,000 people took to the streets in Paris. When voting on the “Marriage for All” bill, France’s National Assembly was divided practically 50-50 – 225 lawmakers out of 565 voted against the law [sic; 229 out of 558 – Trans.]. Given how polarized France was at the time, one cannot help but wonder whether these values are truly “universal” or whether they are being imposed artificially.
The COVID‑19 pandemic exposed the negative consequences of these newly imposed Western values – primarily, increased individualism and selfishness, indifference, and inability to mobilize and cope with a looming threat.
All this was further compounded by another process that Western countries pretend not to notice: the quickly vanishing middle class. And it is the middle class that has always formed the conservative majority and preserved traditional values.
This process was triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union. When this geopolitical disaster happened, the Western neoliberal elite realized that their primary ideological foe was gone, and they were free to do whatever they wanted. Prior to that, they needed the middle class for ideological purposes – to demonstrate the supposed “superiority” of the Western system. But once the situation in our country changed, the middle class became unnecessary.
In turn, the disappearance of the middle class along with migrant crises triggered the resurgence of barbaric nationalism, which is practically endorsed by the US and the leading nations of the “united” Europe in countries like Ukraine.
Right-wing and nationalist parties are on the rise in Europe, as well. New Western values resulted in, among other things, torture in Guantanamo Bay and Afghan prisons. It is because of these values that [young people] refuse to serve in the military and protect their homeland. The countries that refuse to accept these values are often punished with blanket sanctions that target their entire population. The entire system of traditional Western values has been overhauled to such an extent that its current “universal” standards have very little in common with the customary values of European civilization, which are more familiar to us.
This is not just one set of values being replaced with another. Rather, it is a new ideological system that seeks to destroy all traditional religious and moral values as the foundation of a country’s cultural and political sovereignty.
New Western values impose an alien worldview on people. Western ideologues force entire nations to make a choice: either accept the “universal values,” or have their own values denounced as wrong and immoral.
Thus, any attempt to conform Russia’s – or any other country’s – values to the official “universal” ones is in fact an act of social and cultural aggression, and its purpose is to destroy this country’s traditional system of values.
Today, with society increasingly relying on digital technologies, with the system of international relations and international security deteriorating, the West is seeking to indoctrinate Russian citizens and ethnic Russians throughout the world with neoliberal dogmas. It is not only attacking traditional Russian spiritual and moral values, but also values that are truly universal and common to all of humanity, undermining the foundations of states. To this end, it actively uses various ideological formulas like “culture wars.”
The new standards have had an equally devastating effect on the international security system. Attempts to replace international law with the “might makes right” principle, attempts to spread “freedom and democracy” with bombs and missiles in countries where the Western interpretation of freedom and democracy is unacceptable for a variety of historical, religious, ethnic and other reasons have resulted in real tragedies in Iraq, Syria and Libya. The barbaric bombings of Yugoslavia will forever remain a shameful chapter in the history of all the NATO countries.
In this “hybrid warfare,” our opponents attack us on all fronts at the same time. Their primary objective is to erode the centuries-old traditions of various nations, as well as their languages, religions and historical memories. Russia is a multiethnic state, and its people will under no circumstances accept such standards and values.
In this context, it is important to understand what Russia offers the world instead.
Unlike the West, Russia essentially offers a new civilizational choice, which includes equality, justice, noninterference in [countries’] domestic affairs, and mutually beneficial cooperation between states without condescension or preconditions.
Russia is proposing to make national sovereignty – including cultural, spiritual and moral sovereignty – the supreme value and the foundation for civilization-building. There is no doubt that the number of those who makes this choice will keep growing in the world, which will create an increasingly favorable environment for various nations to develop and prosper.
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Author: Irina Khalip
A Holding Cell for Every Candidate
By Irina Khalip. Novaya gazeta, June 22, 2020, p. 8. Complete text:
Minsk – Apparently, when [Belarussian President Aleksandr] Lukashenko jailed all [other] presidential candidates 10 years ago [see Vol. 62, No. 51‑52, pp. 1‑6], he was the picture of restraint.*** After all, back then he didn’t lost his nerve until election day. Until then, he seemed almost normal – at least for those who didn’t live in Belarus. But that’s hardly the case now.
The collection of signatures [in support of presidential hopefuls in the 2020 race] is not even over yet, and two potential candidates have already wound up behind bars, along with members of their initiative groups. On June 18, former head of Belgazprombank Viktor Babariko and his son Eduard went to the Central Electoral Commission to register, but never made it [see Vol. 72, No. 25, pp. 12‑13]. They were detained and brought to financial investigation department of the State Oversight Committee (SOC). Lawyers were not allowed to see the detainees – they were told training was under way. When journalists arrived at the SOC, a person in a suit showed up and locked the door from the inside. In the evening, the father and son were transferred to a KGB pretrial detention center.
Criminal cases against them had been launched a week earlier. On June 11, about 50 SOC employees conducted a search at [Belgazprombank]. In the evening, it turned out that two criminal charges had been filed: tax evasion and money laundering. Arrests began the next day, but Babariko remained free.
First, several members of the initiative group who worked at Belgazprombank were arrested. This was followed by the arrest of Svetlana Kupreyeva, a Babariko family friend. Svetlana is a retired accountant who lives in a modest apartment with her 81-year-old mother and does bookkeeping for some small businesses to supplement her income. She never worked at Belgazprombank – she just happened to be a longtime friend of Viktor Babariko’s wife Marina (who died three years ago). The SOC officers who detained Svetlana Kupreyeva left a warrant in her apartment that states she is suspected of tax evasion with damages to the state estimated at 8,950,222 Belarussian rubles (almost $4 million).
Following Babariko’s arrest on June 18, [Belarussian] Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei invited European Union ambassadors [to a meeting]. Of course, Makei was merely providing a platform – the talking head was SOC chairman Ivan Tertel. He went on for a long time about how Babariko is a criminal who siphoned half a million dollars abroad, and that even in Europe you get a prison sentence for that and things don’t get politicized.
On Friday [June 19], the SOC was joined by the prosecution system and, naturally, the KGB. Belarussian Prosecutor General Aleksandr Konyuk stated that because Babariko headed a criminal group, another criminal case has been launched under Art. 285 (“creating an organized crime group”). And since the banker’s actions as head of this organized crime group damaged national security interests, the case is being handed over to the KGB. Given this slew of charges, Babariko is clearly going to remain in jail not just until the election, but after it as well.
While Viktor Babariko and members of his initiative group are in a KGB pretrial detention center, another candidate and his associates are being held in Minsk’s Pretrial Detention Center No. 1 – namely, Sergei Tikhanovsky (a popular blogger who runs the “Country for Life” YouTube channel) and 10 other people. At first, the authorities refused to even register Tikhanovsky’s initiative group – he was thrown in jail for 15 days and refused registration under the pretext that he needed to sign in person. Tikhanovsky’s wife Svetlana then registered the group as hers, and appointed her husband as director. That helped, but not for long: Tikhanovsky was arrested on May 29 at a rally to collect signatures, together with 10 others in the initiative group. They have all been charged under Art. 342 (“organizing activities that grossly violate public order”).
On Thursday and Friday – the last days to collect signatures – Belarussians held rallies in solidarity with the political prisoners: They lined up, ostensibly to give signatures, and the queues went on for miles. In Minsk, they stretched from Yakub Kolas Square to Independence Square. Similar rallies took place in Grodno, Brest, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Lida, Pruzhany, Molodechno and Soligorsk. People stood on the streets until late into the night without any kind of posters (after all, this was a line to submit signatures, and everyone stuck to that format). Only occasionally, they would shout, “Let [them] go!” Passing cars honked in support, and Viktor Tsoi’s song “We Want Change!” – what else! – could be heard from open windows. It was clear to everyone that at that moment,“3% Sasha” (Belarussians’ only nickname for Lukashenko at that point [after online polling showed that Lukashenko had support from only 3% of voters – Trans.]) was losing his last 3%.
[Lukashenko] can still leave voluntarily or hold the election and finally lose honestly. He can even flee the country, taking along the paintings stolen from Belgazprombank. But for some reason, he’s not doing that. He’s probably pinning his hopes on the siloviki [defense, security and law-enforcement officials – Trans.]. But even they may lose their nerve. Lukashenko likes to recall how [former Uzbek leader Islam] Karimov and [Tajik President Emomali] Rakhmon shot their own people. “My friend Rakhmon entered Tajikistan’s capital with a machine gun to establish order.” Of course, Lukashenko’s memory is spotty: He remembers Rakhmon, but for some reason has forgotten about [Romanian leader Nicolae] Ceausescu.
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Author: Anastasia Kornya, Yelena Mukhametshina and Svetlana Bocharova
By Anastasia Kornya, Yelena Mukhametshina and Svetlana Bocharova. Vedomosti, July 3, 2020, p. 1. Complete text:
On July 2, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) presented preliminary results of the national vote on the constitutional amendments, which concluded a day earlier. The official results will be announced by the CEC on July 3. However, it is already clear that the vote can be recognized as valid and legitimate, CEC chairwoman Ella Pamfilova said. After processing all the ballots, the CEC says 77.92% of the voters were in favor of the amendments and 21.27% were opposed, with a turnout of 67.97%.
According to the CEC chairwoman, the speed with which the electoral system entered all the data and displayed the results was unprecedented. Never before has it processed all ballots so quickly. According to Pamfilova, the CEC handled this campaign – which was, again, “unprecedentedly” complex – “quite well.” There were just a handful of violations that may affect the final figures at a few isolated polling stations, she said. Results were annulled at a polling station in the small town of Ramenki outside Moscow after the chairman of the local electoral commission was caught stuffing ballots. In addition, ballots cast in portable boxes at 23 polling stations in six provinces were disqualified. The CEC explained that the abnormally high number of votes against the amendments in Komi Republic (68.88% as per the CEC dashboard on the evening of July 1) was caused by a technical error when displaying the results. On Thursday [July 2], the figures looked much more typical – 65.08% in favor of the amendments and 33.94% against them.
According to the CEC, a total of 58.5 million people voted early (in the six days before July 1), which is 54% of all the eligible voters. Of that number, 62% (36.8 million people) voted at polling stations and 36% (20.6 million people) voted remotely. The total number of those who voted remotely over the course of seven days was 23.1 million people, which is 30% of all those who voted.
Critics of the vote have also published their comments. Based on his analysis of the data, mathematician and electoral statistics expert Sergei Shpilkin says the official results show a number of deviations that can be explained by data tampering – the actual results should be approximately 65% of people voting in favor of the amendments and 35% voting against, with a turnout of 42%. The Golos [voters’ rights] movement issued a statement citing numerous cases of ballot stuffing, people voting without being properly identified by their passports and people voting on behalf of others. The statement also criticizes local electoral commissions for maintaining completely unwarranted “secrecy” with respect to their data: “In violation of openness and collectivity principles, many commissions across the country tried to prevent their own members as well as independent observers from accessing electoral documents – voter lists, reports, etc. In many cases, these restrictions involved unlawful ‘disqualifications,’ removals and even physical violence.” However, Golos adds, none of this really matters because people were not able to make their choice freely due to how the process was arranged by those who proposed the amendments and organized the vote. “And in this sense, the vote really was ‘unprecedented,’ ” the statement reads.
The Kremlin considers the outcome of the vote a “triumph,” the president’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said. “This was a triumphant vote of confidence in President Putin,” he said, emphasizing that the Kremlin did not expect “such a high turnout or such a high level of support” for the amendments. The Nenets Autonomous Region (NAR) was the only region where the protest vote prevailed (55.3% voted against the amendments with 43.8% in favor of them). However, the Kremlin does not think this indicates that people in the NAR do not trust the president, Peskov stated. Such an outcome was probably caused by local factors. Specifically, people in the NAR were angry because the authorities are planning to merge their district with Arkhangelsk Province [see Vol. 72, No. 18‑20, pp. 10‑11]. The Kremlin does not plan to punish the governors of regions with the lowest turnout, Peskov promised. A region’s performance in the vote will be evaluated “based on how clean and transparent it was, not based on forced turnout or rigged results,” the presidential spokesman added.
Putin himself was more reserved in his assessment of the vote outcome. He said that the vast majority of the Russian people supported the amendments because they think the authorities can work even more efficiently. Those who voted against the amendments, on the other hand, did so because they are not happy with the government’s performance. “It is true that many problems remain unresolved. People often have to deal with unfair situations and callous bureaucracy. Many people still live in very difficult conditions. We in the government often think that we are doing all we can. But reality shows us otherwise – that often, we don’t do enough. We need to work faster and smarter. We need to be better organized. We need to be more efficient.” Overall, by approving the amendments, the people have given Russia enough time to get fully established as a strong nation, Putin hopes. “We are still very vulnerable in many respects. Many of our institutions are still quite flimsy, so to speak. We need stability in domestic affairs; we need time to make our country and our institutions stronger,” he said.
The opposition could have taken two routes: encouraging people to boycott the vote or vote against the amendments. Both strategies could have been effective, but only if they were backed by reasonable arguments that would have resonated with more people than just diehard Kremlin opponents, said Konstantin Kostin, head of the Civil Society Development Foundation. “Instead, critics focused on the fact that the amendments will reset the president’s term limits, making Putin eligible to run for president again. This was their mistake, because most people want Putin to stay in power. Attempts to stoke fears of contracting the virus at polling stations also failed. Turnout was low in the 2011 Duma election [as well], so people who did not go to the polls were inclined to believe stories about fraud told by observers and circulating on social media. This time, however, turnout was high,” Kostin explained. At the same time, the vote may affect the upcoming fall elections in certain territories – for instance, in Irkutsk Province and the Komi Republic, the expert said. In his opinion, it will be difficult to mobilize loyalists for the second time in just two months. Overall turnout is usually lower in gubernatorial elections, so reduced support for pro-Kremlin candidates may have a greater impact on regional elections. “Moreover, with the single day of voting coming up, it is important that the system not become complacent after achieving such a great result [with the vote on the amendments],” Kostin added.
Mikhail Vinogradov, president of the Petersburg Politics Foundation, thinks that those who opposed the amendments are now demoralized and depressed rather than outraged and determined to fight back. But even the Kremlin is not sure what it got a mandate for – to keep everything as is? To tighten the screws on dissenters? To press on with some new initiatives? According to Vinogradov, the Kremlin’s core electorate is driven by similar motives in every election, including the recent vote on the constitutional amendments. Yet the results of this summer’s vote could come back to haunt the Kremlin in the fall – for example, in regions that saw a lot of protest votes in July, Vinogradov says. “Novosibirsk Province, which will elect its legislative assembly and mayor of Novosibirsk [sic; Novosibirsk City Council – Trans.], has always had a large number of competing political forces. In Irkutsk Province, two important factors are conflicts among local elites and a high level of support for the opposition. In the [Russian] Far East, just like in the 2018 elections, voters react to the contrast between the government’s promises to develop the region at an accelerated pace and its actual secondary status in the national economy. Arkhangelsk Province has often been the downfall of governors. The reason people voted against the amendments in the NAR is because they were not happy with the government’s plans to abolish their autonomy and merge their district with another province.” The fact that it will be hard to mobilize loyalists for a second time in such short order may play a role, the expert adds. However, the opposition will also have a hard time of it, since it is often easier to get people to just vote “no,” like with the constitutional amendments, than to back a specific candidate.
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Author: Andrei Vinokurov and Yelena Rozhkova
Protests Come With the Territory
By Andrei Vinokurov and Yelena Rozhkova. Kommersant, July 13, 2020, p. 1. Condensed text:
. . . Khabarovsk Territory Governor Sergei Furgal was arrested in Moscow on Friday [July 10; see Vol. 72, No. 27‑28, pp. 8‑10 – Trans.]. He was charged with murder and attempted murder of several businesspeople in 2004 and 2005. The arrest and charges sparked large-scale protests in the region. Last Saturday, a rally in Khabarovsk demanding Furgal’s release drew, by various estimates, between 10,000 and 35,000 people. It became the biggest [protest rally] in the city’s history. Rallies with similar demands took place across the region all weekend – in Khabarovsk, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Amursk and other cities in Khabarovsk Territory.
Sergei Furgal became head of the region in 2018, after winning the election in the second round against United Russia’s Vyacheslav Shport, who had been head of Khabarovsk Territory since 2009. [Furgal] ran on the ticket of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR).
Two informed Kommersant sources close to the presidential administration said that after the first round, Sergei Furgal came under pressure from the federal center via Yury Trutnev, the president’s authorized representative to the Far Eastern Federal District.
Just before the second round, Sergei Furgal even recorded a video message in which he agreed to become Shport’s deputy in case the latter won. But then, the two sources’ accounts start to diverge somewhat: One Kommersant insider said that Yury Trutnev wanted Sergei Furgal to withdraw from the race, which he refused to do. The other Kommersant source states that it was actually the other way around: [Furgal] kept up his end of the deal with the Kremlin, but nevertheless still won the election. Yet another Kommersant source close to the presidential administration says that even after the election, the authorized representative’s office continued to insist that Sergei Furgal be removed from his post. At the very least, [the authorized representative’s office] did not object to the security establishment’s activities against the governor.
Meanwhile, Sergei Furgal grew increasingly popular in the region. In 2019, Khabarovsk held City Duma elections, regional parliamentary elections and an early election for a State Duma seat. United Russia did not win a single seat in the Khabarovsk City Duma, and garnered only two seats out of 36 in the regional parliament. Meanwhile, LDPR candidate Ivan Pilyayev won the open State Duma seat. Basically, Khabarovsk Territory became the LDPR’s political stronghold. . . .
According to a Kommersant source close to the presidential administration, Sergei Furgal’s arrest came as no surprise to the Kremlin’s domestic policy team. It was expected ever since Furgal’s business partner Nikolai Mistryukov was arrested in November 2019. However, Kommersant sources say the protests sparked by the governor’s arrest threw a wrench in the search for an interim governor. A high-ranking federal official maintains that a decision on Sergei Furgal’s dismissal will most likely be made before Thursday. Kommersant’s source in the presidential administration confirmed that the plan was to dismiss Furgal due to “loss of confidence,” as reported earlier by RBC, and replace him with a suitable candidate by the middle of next week. However, that process was complicated by difficulties finding suitable candidates. . . .
Independent political analyst Aleksandr Kynev believes Sergei Furgal’s arrest was a huge political mistake. In his opinion, the smartest thing for the federal center to do right now would be to put the brakes on the case. “This may not be the most comfortable decision, but it is the wisest one for the federal center. Otherwise, protests will continue. It won’t be possible to control the territory by force, since it’s clear that any interim governor will be rejected,” he says. Regional policy expert Vitaly Ivanov believes that the Kremlin will not agree to let one of Sergei Furgal’s deputies run the region. “It is necessary to make a decision. It seems that the best option would be to appoint someone who hails from Khabarovsk, with a good track record in the region, and who has not participated in any United Russia initiatives – someone acceptable to the LDPR. Such a person could calm the region pretty quickly,” he says. Konstantin Kostin, head of the Civil Society Development Foundation, disagrees. He does not think the Kremlin would find it acceptable to have one of the deputy governors take over the post while consultations and a search for an interim governor continue. In his opinion, there’s no need to rush to appoint an interim governor, either, since in the current situation it’s more important to make the right decision than a quick one. “What matters here is [finding] a figure that fits the situation in terms of scale,” he believes. At the same time, he believes that gubernatorial candidates don’t necessarily have to represent the LDPR; it’s possible to come to an agreement with the party by some other methods. Gleb Kuznetsov, head of the expert council of the Expert Institute for Social Research, believes this situation will proceed from the premise that the absence of leadership is worse than unpopular leadership. “The interim governor won’t have it easy, but that person can calm the situation through balanced policies and sensible steps. It could be a local, but an outsider may work as well. The main thing is to show that they know what it’s like to come from the [Russian] Far East and treat Khabarovsk residents respectfully,” Kuznetsov said in summary. Political analyst Aleksandr Pozhalov believes that Sergei Furgal’s remand by the court automatically spells dismissal due to a loss of confidence. In his opinion, the scale of the protests may at best delay the appointment of an interim governor by a few weeks, allowing [the federal center] to use that time to present society with convincing proof of [Furgal’s] guilt. “The authorities are clearly not going to be swayed by public opinion. The scale of the protests will only impact who the replacement will be,” he believes.
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