Below are a few news items from the last week about developments in the post-Soviet space that have been overshadowed by the Georgian events but that merit attention.
EUROPEANS WANT LAVROV OUT FOR FOUL LANGUAGE; RUSSIANS DEFEND HIM. According to one Russian news portal, the French and German governments have told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he should dismiss Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov because of the latter’s use of four letter words during his meeting with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband (newsland.ru/News/Detail/id/298490/cat/42/). But if the Europeans are outraged, many Russians continue to be delighted by Lavrov’s use of crude expressions when dealing with Western diplomats (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1027898&NodesID=2).
MEDVEDEV SAID PLANNING TO REPLACE ONE-THIRD OF REGIONAL LEADERS. President Dmitry Medvedev reportedly plans to replace the leaders of 26 regions and republics of the Russian Federation over the next two years – 16 in 2008 and 10 in 2009 -- including those like Tatarstan’s Mintimir Shaimiyev who were elected and have been in office for many years (forum.msk.ru/material/news/531192.html).
RUSSIA GAINS MOST IF UKRAINE REMAINS UNSTAB LE. Increasingly, Moscow analysts are suggesting that Russia will gain more from continuing political instability in Ukraine than even from the installation of a pro-Russian regime there, something they say is unlikely to happen anytime soon (www.ia-centr.ru/publications/2350/). Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials reported that more than 1500 people in Stavropol are now carrying Russian passports (za.zubr.in.ua/2008/09/13/2010/).
MOSCOW TO RISE AT UN ISSUE OF ETHNIC RUSSIANS IN BALTICS. Russian diplomats has announced that Moscow will again raise the issue of the status of ethnic Russians, in Estonia and Latvia during this fall’s annual United Nations General Assembly session
(www.nr2.ru/policy/196927.html). And various Russian media outlets in Russia but not in Estonia are talking about the need to establish an autonomous formation for Russians in Estonia (www.km.ru/magazin/view.asp?id=E213A671E4B64F3C88D8A8F81098005F).
CHECHENS DO ESPECIALLY HARD TIME IN RUSSIAN PRISONS. To paraphrase Sidney Poitier’s famous comment in the classic movie “In the Heat of the Night,” the worst kind of time anyone can do in Russian prisons is Chechen time. Ethnic Chechens now held in Russian prisons and camps are consistently treated significantly worse than members of any other group, according to prisoner rights organizations (www.vestnikcivitas.ru/pbls/251).
TURKEY, ARMENIA TO COOPERATE IN WINE PRODUCTION. Following Turkish President Abdulla Gul’s visit to Armenia for a football match, Turkish and Armenian officials announced that their countries would cooperate in the production of wine, another indication of the warming of bilateral ties (www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/article.php?enewsid=115198).
KREMLIN CAN USE SOLZHENITSYN – BUT THE RUSSIAN OPPOSITION ISN’T ALLOWED TO DO SO. The pro-Kremlin United Russia Party has pointed to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as an ideological guide for Russia, but the Moscow militia moved quickly to block members of the opposition Union of Right Forces (SPS) from handing out copies of Solzhenitsyn’s class story, “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.” The authorities said that SPS was engaging in an unlawful demonstration by doing so (www.sobkorr.ru/news/48CBCF33CCE31.html).
OMON BLOCKS UDMURTS DEMO ON 450TH ANNIVERSARY OF ABSORPTION BY RUSSIA. Members of the elite OMON forces moved quickly to break up a demonstration in Izhevsk by Udmurts who were angered by official celebrations of the supposedly “voluntary” inclusion of their region into Russia. In addition to disputing the accuracy of that Russian version of events, the protesters were angry that officials had spent enormous sums on the celebration but were unwilling to pay for Udmurt language textbooks for the republic’s remaining national schools (mariuver.wordpress.com/2008/09/17/protestnaja-akcija-v-izhevske/).
65TH ANNIVERARY OF SOV IET COUNCIL OF RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS RECALLED. Even as members of Russia’s religious communities debate whether to call for the creation of a government body to oversee relations between the state and religious groups – the Orthodox Church is opposed; almost all other groups are in favor – religious and mainstream media devoted extensive coverage to the 65th anniversary of the Soviet Council of Religious Affairs, providing new details on a body infamous for being controlled by the KGB and other security agencies. See among others www.ej.ru/?a=news&id=8437, religion.ng.ru/history/2008-09-17/5_sovet.html?mthree=3, and religion.ng.ru/facts/2008-09-17/1_harchev.html?mthree=4.
CENTRAL MUSLIM SPIRITUAL DIRECTORATE MARKS 220TH ANNIVERSARY. The Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate in Ufa which is the successor to tsarist and Soviet institutions responsible for supervising the Islamic community in Russia has marked its 220th anniversary. Talgat Tajuddin, who styles himself the Supreme Mufti of Holy Rus’, used the occasion to reassert his belief that this heritage means he has the best claim to be the chief mufti in the Russian Federation (religion.ng.ru/society/2008-09-17/6_ufa.html).
NORTHERN PEOPLES LEFT OUT OF RUSSIAN SOCIAL SUPPORT SYSTEM. Even as the Russian Security Council announced plans to develop the Russian North and the adjoining regions of the Arctic Ocean, scholars examining the status of the peoples of that region say that most ethnic groups there are falling through the social safety net Moscow provides for others (www.raipon.org/Новости/tabid/179/mid/748/newsid748/3216/Default.aspx). But these groups may now benefit from new rules at the World Bank which will give preference to national development programs that provide more support for indigenous populations like them (www.raipon.org/АКМНССиДВРФ/Новости/tabid/428/mid/1276/newsid1276/3211/---------/Default.aspx).