RUSSIAN MISSIONARY SAYS UKRAINIAN NATION ‘DOESN’T EXIST.’ During a visit to Dnepropetrovsk, Deacon Andrey Kurayev echoed other Russian leaders when he told “Ukrainskoye Pravoslaviye” that there was no basis for an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church because there is no separate and distinct Ukrainian nation. Instead, the outspoken Russian Orthodox cleric said, “there are five different Ukraines,” each with its own language and culture, that have lived together in a single independent state only since 1991 (http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=monitor&id=12433).
KREMLIN AGAIN GIVES NOD TO KIRILL AS NEXT PATRIARCH. The Kremlin has decided that it has no choice but to support Metropolitan Kirill as the successor to Patriarch Aleksii II because of the problems Bishop Diomid and his conservative supporters have posed, according to Mikhail Tul’skiy, one of the closest observers of Russian Orthodox Church politics (www.argumenti.ru/publications/7089). Kirill, longtime head of the Patriarchate’s powerful External Affairs Department, had appeared to be out of the running in recent months because he appeared to be out of favor President Dmitry Medvedev. But now he is again the frontrunner, Tul’skiy says, a status confirmed this week by two decisions of the Patriarchate: backing for his draft on human rights principles (www.gazeta.ru/social/2008/06/26/2767063.shtml; for its text, see www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=documents&div=787) and a warning to Diomid to repent or face removal from office (www.interfax-religion.ru/orthodoxy/?act=news&div=25162).
SAMARA OBLAST’S NEIGHBORS CHALLENGE ITS BORDERS. Tatarstan and several predominantly Russian regions are disputing the borders of Samara oblast, an indication that republic governments are increasingly important actors at least on the territory of the regions they head and that Vladimir Putin’s call for the amalgamation of regions continues to have some unintended and unwanted consequences (www.fedpress.ru/federal/polit/vlast/id_103804.html).
UNEMPLOYMENT RATES VARY WIDELY ACROSS RUSSIA. The overall official unemployment rate in the Russian Federation has fallen from 13.2 percent in 1998 to 7.2 percent now, but not all regions have benefited from this comeback. According to an article in the current “Demoscope Weekly,” the rates vary because of demographic, economic and geographic factors, with those in the republics of the North Caucasus extraordinarily high – more than 40 percent in some places – and those in Moscow under two percent, a pattern that makes a one-size-fits-all approach counterproductive (demoscope.ru/weekly/2008/0337/tema010.php).
RUSSIA’S SECURITY COUNCIL MAY REGAIN IMPORTANCE. Legislation being prepared for Duma consideration later this year would give Russia’s Security Council even more power and authority than it had during the Yeltsin years, a move that if realized would likely change decision making in Moscow about numerous foreign policy issues. But because such a shift would threaten many of the existing foreign policy players, it is far from clear whether the legislation, the draft of which has been published, will in fact make it through the Russian parliament (http://www.iamik.ru/?op=full&what=content&ident=38689).
DNESTR EURO-REGION PLAN SEEN REDUCING MOSCOW’S INFLUENCE. A European Union plan to create a trans-border Euro Region that would link together Moldova, Transdniestria, and adjoining portions of Ukraine would reduce Moscow’s influence across the region by tilting all involved toward the West, according to a Russian analyst (www.nr2.ru/pmr/183132.html). Meanwhile, Moscow is still upset that a committee of the EU parliament has voted to oppose construction of the Nordstream gas pipeline under the Baltic unless all littoral states agree, an action that will delay if not prevent that plan (www.bellona.ru/articles_ru/articles_2008/nord-stream_peti).
RUSSIANS FAVOR RESTRICTING IMMIGRATION, OPPOSE BAN OF RADICAL GROUPS. Fifty-five percent of Russians say they favor restricting immigration as a means of lowering inter-ethnic tensions, according to a VTsIOM poll. And another 26 percent say they favor measures to prevent the emergence of ethnic or religious enclaves in Russian cities. But according to the findings of the same poll, only 28 percent support increasing penalties for xenophobic propaganda, and only 22 percent back a ban on extremist religious and political organizations (http://wciom.ru/novosti/press-vypuski/press-vypusk/single/10303.html).
RUSSIAN UNIVERSITY GRADS TO SERVE IN THE RANKS. Most Russian university graduates, including those who have participated in military training during their years in school, will now serve in the ranks rather than as officers, according to new rules issued in advance of the next cycle of the draft. That reflects both the declining number of men in the prime draft-age cohort and the presence of too many junior officers in the Russian military (www.sobkorr.ru/news/2/486082E39541F.html).
RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY CLOSES 52 WEBSITES FOR ‘EXTREMISM.’ Nikolai Ovchinnikov, Russian deputy interior minister said after examining 263 websites for possible extremist materials, his agency during 2007 had closed down 52 of them. He did not say how many of these had remained closed or continued to operate by changing their IP providers or changing their names (xeno.sova-center.ru/45A2A1E/B47601D).
MOSCOW THREAT TO INVESTIGATE ‘THE EXILE’ ENOUGH TO CLOSE IT. The owners of the Moscow English-language newspaper, “The Exile,” decided to close it down when they learned that the Russian government was investigating it for possible violation of the country’s anti-extremism laws, an indication of just how intimidating such investigations can be. The editors hope to be able to raise enough money to continue to produce an Internet version of the often controversial paper (xeno.sova-center.ru/89CCE27/89CD2B5/B437FB8).
MOSCOW TO SET UP ISLAMIC THEOLOGY CHAIRS IN TWO STATE UNIVERSITIES. The Russian government has announced plans to set up departments of Islamic theology in two state universities in the North Caucasus, a move that comes several years after Moscow set up the first of 20 Orthodox Christian theology chairs and one to which many Orthodox will object just as strongly as Muslims will welcome (www.islamrf.ru/articles.php?razdel=1&sid=3452).
ABKHAZIA PLEASED BY SUPPORT FROM NORTH CAUCASIANS. The government of the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia has said that it is extremely pleased by the support Circassian and other non-Russian republics in the North Caucasus have offered in Abkhazia’s efforts to gain independence. But that support may come with a price: It is a reminder to Moscow of just how dangerous either an independent Abkhazia or an Abkhaz republic within the Russian Federation might be as a magnet for other Circassian groups the Russians have long sought to control by means of a longstanding policy of divide and rule (http://www.elot.ru/main/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=737&Itemid=1).