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.
MIGHT PUTIN RESIGN AS PREMIER TO PROTECT HIS AUTHORITY? According to Andrey Uglanov, editor of influential “Argumenty nedeli,” Russian politicians have been discussing whether Vladimir Putin should resign as prime minister lest he be forced to take actions as a result of the deepening world financial crisis – for which, they insist, he bears no responsibility -- that might reduce his authority. Having handed over that post to a “kamikaze” figure, Putin could remain above the fray as leader of the nation, Uglanov said. Among those being discussed as replacements are Boris Grzylov, Oleg Morozov, Igor Shuvalov, Sergei Ivanov and Aleksei Kudrin (news.politsovet.ru/n_news.asp?article=26812).
RUSSIAN AID TO ICELAND CHANGES BALANCE OF POWER IN NORTH ATLANTIC. An editorial of the “Barents Observer” Internet portal says argues that if Russia saves the Icelandic economy with a four billion euro loan it has offered, that could change the geopolitics of the North, strengthening Russia’s position there at the cost of U.S. ties with Europe
(www.barentsobserver.com/if-russia-saves-iceland.4517200-16149.html). Not only would this represent a step in Moscow’s bipolar strategy (www.rbcdaily.ru/2008/09/26/focus/382226), but it would as readers of Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising” will remember, potentially eliminate the island base that has been critical to NATO security.
MOSCOW’S NUCLEAR POSTURING DESPITE NUCLEAR PROBLEMS. From October 6 to 12, the Russian air force has conducted an exercise named “Stability-2008” which involves long-range bombers and the testing of strategies that would be employed with nuclear weapons (top.rbc.ru/politics/06/10/2008/250753.shtml). That action comes on the heels of growing reports that Russia’s nuclear shield is in increasingly bad shape and that the Soviet-era weapons Moscow has relied on are no longer useful for many purposes (www.apn.ru/publications/article20765.htm and forum.msk.ru/material/news/536154.html).
ROGOZIN SEEKS NATO’S HELP TO FIGHT PIRATES. Dmitry Rogozin, Moscow’s representative in Brussels, is seeking NATO’s help to fight pirates in the Indian Ocean (www.regions.ru/news/2170616/). But at the same time, he lashed out at NATO for signing an accord with the United Nations without bothering to inform Moscow in advance of its subject (www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=179006).
CHECHEN DECISION TO RENAME STREET FOR PUTIN ANGERS SOME. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov renamed Victory Prospect for Vladimir Putin in honor of the Russian prime minister’s birthday, an action that offended many Russians and led some to question why no one was criticizing Kadyrov for doing something even more insulting to the Soviet victory in World War II than did Estonia when Tallinn relocated the Bronze Soldier
MOSCOW’S DECISION TO DOUBLE IMMIGRANT QUOTAS SPARKS FEARS. The Moscow has decided to double the number of immigrants allowed into Russia next year, a decision driven by the country’s domestic demographic problems but one that has provoked fears that the new immigrants will spark a rise in crime in major Russian cities
RUSSIAN PRISONS RELEASING LARGE NUMBER OF VIOLENT CRIMINALS. An increasing number of people convicted for violent crimes in the 1990s are now being released into Russian society, with the number doubling in one oblast alone. This has sparked fears that there will be a sharp rise in crime given Russia’s lack of rehabilitation programs in prisons and of reentry facilities as well (http://www.newizv.ru/news/2008-10-08/99401/).
RUSSIAN OFFICIALS FACE RISING TIDE OF ILLEGAL GUN OWNERSHIP. The Russian police are currently seeking to recover more than 215,000 illegal guns, a figure more than 225,000 times the number Soviet militia were looking for in 1991, according to the interior ministry. The actual number of guns illegally held by the population is likely far higher (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-10-06/99179/).
ETHNIC RUSSIANS JOIN TRANDNIESTRIA AS FIFTH COLUMN, MOLDOVAN SAYS. “Timpul,” an opposition newspaper in Moldova says that ethnic Russians living there have become the second (after Transdniestria) “fifth column” in that country and work as agents of “Russian imperialism (www.rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=179004).
SAUDIS BOOST HAJ QUOTA FOR RUSSIA BY 3,000. Last year, the Saudis increased the Russian haj quota by 5,000; this year, they have boosted in by 3,000, the result of Russian pressure and the argument that many Muslims were not able to make the pilgrimage during Soviet times (www.islamonline.ru/m/nov/?i=3733).
WAS THE FSB PULLING A ‘RYAZAN’ OUTSIDE PETERSBURG MOSQUE? Muslims in St. Petersburg think that the FSB was about to stage a provocation outside a mosque in their city by planting an explosive there much as they are convinced the security service did in Ryazan in 1999, according to Kavkaz Center (kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2008/10/09/61487.shtml).
LOST IN TRANSLATION? Three examples this week: The Russian democratic opposition is thinking about adopting the name Solidarity when it holds its constituent congress on December 13 (www.sobkorr.ru/news/48EDC563DC90E.html). The first Russian Islamic rapper has chosen to call himself Mujahid MC (www.islam.ru/pressclub/gost/musrep/). And Russian movie dubbers are rendering references to “Caucasians” in American crime films as “persons of Caucasus nationality,” a term that in Russian has a very different meaning than the former does in English (www.islamcom.ru/material.php?id=686).