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.
PUTIN BACKS AWAY FROM GO IT ALONE STANCE … During the Georgian war and in response to Western suggestions that Moscow was putting its possible membership in the World Trade Organization at risk, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that Russia did not need WTO membership and might benefit from staying outside its constraints. But more recently, in a statement to Russian and French businessmen meeting in Sochi, Putin said that Moscow is still interested in joining the WTO and wants to work closely with the European Union and other trading partners (babr.ru/?pt=news&event=v1&IDE=47638).
…AS MOSCOW ANNOUNCES IT WILL SEEK CLOSER COOPERATION WITH OPEC. But in addition to closer cooperation with Europe, Moscow has signaled that it wants to work more closely with OPEC to stabilize the price of oil at a high level, an approach that could put it at odds with European countries and others who are consumers of petroleum. Russian Energy Minister Sergey Shmatko said that Moscow would announce its plans in this regard at the next OPEC meeting (/www.mk.ru/blogs/MK/2008/09/25/srochno/372711/).
EVER MORE CORRUPTION IN RUSSIA, BUT BUSINESS FEARS FIGHT AGAINST IT. According to Transparency International, Russia now ranks in 147th place among the 180 countries it surveys, down from 126th place in 2006 and putting it among countries like Syria, Iran, and Yemen (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1030494). Russian officials disputed the ranking (www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=178649), but polls showed that most Russians believe their country will always be corrupt (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-09-23/98515/). One group, however, fears that might not be true. According to a new poll, 70 percent of Russian businessmen say they are “afraid that corruption will disappear,” thus changing fundamentally the environment in which they work (www.mk.ru/blogs/MK/2008/09/25/society/372830/).
COURTS TAKE UP CITIZEN COMPLAINTS AGAINST OFFICIALS MORE OFTEN. Last year, Russian courts considered 47,061 citizen complaints against the Russian government, almost ten times as many as 15 years earlier (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-09-25/98644/. One recent case brought a victory for the citizenry: a court held that those who want to organize demonstrations and marches need only inform officials rather than seek their permission (babr.ru/?pt=news&event=v1&IDE=47704). But Russian citizens may soon face more obstacles in doing so: the Duma is considering legislation that would allow only licensed lawyers to provide them with legal advice in these and other suits (grani.ru/Society/Law/m.141855.html).
INTERNAL DIVISIONS WITHIN RADICAL RIGHT LIMIT ATTACKS, SOVA SAYS. Fights within radical Russian nationalist and xenophobic groups over the last several months may have more to do with the decline in the number of xenophobic attacks on non-Russians in Moscow and other major cities than any action by the authorities, according to the SOVA human rights center (www.polit.ru/institutes/2008/09/25/summer08.html). But if the number of such attacks has declined in the capital, it has gone up in Russia’s regions, something that suggests that more factors are likely behind the statistics (xeno.sova-center.ru/29481C8/BB1133A).
MOSCOW COULD NOT COMPENSATE FOR LOSS OF SEVASTOPOL, ANALYST SAYS. Anatoly Tsyganok, perhaps Moscow’s most distinguished independent military analyst, provides a detailed study of Russian deployments in the Black Sea region and concludes that the loss of Sevastopol as the main base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet “could not be compensated by any other [currently proposed] variant for its basing” (www.fondsk.ru/article.php?id=1642).
RUSSIA WOULD NEED 20 YEARS TO REBUILD DOMESTIC AIR INDUSTRY. The Russian government has allowed all sectors of civil aviation to decline so far and so fast since 1991 that it would take at least 20 years for Moscow to restore the situation to where it was at the end of Soviet times, something for which there is little political will given that only three percent of Russians fly. As a result, Russia will continue to depend on the purchase of foreign-made aircraft and parts and is likely to suffer more air disasters in the coming years (www.politjournal.ru/index.php?POLITSID=e4ac3fd4056bbf273ae5681d0ebc6145&action=Articles&dirid=36&tek=8203&issue=220).
DUGIN TAKEN OFF AIR AFTER SAYING ‘A GOOD LIBERAL IS A DEAD LIBERAL.’ Sergey Dorenko, the chief editor of the Russian News Service removed the outspoken Eurasian leader Aleksandr Dugin from the air after the latter made what Dorenko said were a series of “absolutely unacceptable extremist statements.” Among them was Dugin’s suggestion that “a good liberal is a dead liberal” (www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=48D78835E2AF2). Despite such remarks, Dugin continues to be invited to appear by Russian and international broadcasters.
MULLAHS, RABBIS JOIN PRIESTS IN RUSSIAN MILITARY EXERCISE. For the first time in the history of the Russian Federation’s armed forces, mullahs and rabbis have joined Russian Orthodox priests during the course of major maneuvers, in this case with Forces of the Volga-Ural military district’s “Center-2008” training program (www.islamonline.ru/m/nov/?i=3692).
INCREASED ETHNIC RUSSIAN ACTIVISM LEADS KYRGYZSTAN, UKRAINE TO TAKE MEASURES. With Moscow’s backing, Russian speakers in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine are organizing themselves in order to defend their interests and to promote ties with Russia (www.ia-centr.ru/publications/2425/ and www.russkie.org/index.php?module=fullitem&id=13812). In response, Kyrgyzstan is considering extending its ban on dual citizenship to a larger category of officials (www.centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1222376160) and Ukraine has expanded its checks on those who may have dual citizenship because there the constitution bans such a status.
ONE RUSSIAN IN THREE SUFFERS FROM IODINE DEFICIENCY. Some 50 million Russian currently suffer from diseases that are the product of iodine deficiency, a condition that can easily be prevented by the consumption of iodized salt. Unfortunately, over the last 20 years, significantly fewer Russians than before have consumed such salt. One reason: in the early 1990s, it was not produced within the Russian Federation at all (www.utro.ru/news/2008/09/21/768931.shtml). In other medical news, Moscow officials said that tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are now so widespread that they are a threat to Russia’s national security. Especially disturbing are two trends: in 26 regions, more than one person in a 1000 has tuberculosis, and an increasing number of them have anti-biotic resistance strains which are difficult to treat (www.gzt.ru/health/2008/09/18/142408.html).