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.
DECLINES IN OIL PRICES COULD DESTROY RUSSIAN FEDERATION JUST AS THEY DID THE USSR, UKRAINIAN DEPUTY SAYS. Yuri Kostenko, the leader of the Ukrainian Peoples Party, said that “foreign investors are already quitting the Russian market in record numbers,” an action that could benefit Ukraine because its economic is “not so dependent” on changes in the price of energy.” But the impact of the fall in oil prices could be even greater, he said: “At the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, a fall in the price for oil became one of the causes of the collapse of the Soviet economy which in turn accelerated the collapse of this state.” Now, he said, “a similar scenario could occur in the Russian Federation as well” (www.nr2.ru/kiev/201720.html).
OFFICIALS OFFER ‘APOCALYPTIC’ VIEWS OF RUSSIA’S ECONOMIC FUTURE. In commenting upon the impact of the world economic crisis on Russia, both current finance minister Aleksey Kudrin (www.regions.ru/news/2173410/) and former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov (www.novayagazeta.ru/data/2008/77/12.html) have offered extremely dark, even in the words of some observers “apocalyptic” visions of the future.
CRISIS DELAYS REFORMS, ALTERS RELATIONS WITH REGIONS, PROMPTS SPECULATION ON CADRES CHANGES. The fall price of oil and the loss of government revenue have put both many previously announced government reforms and national programs on hold (www.nr2.ru/201071.html). These same factors have prompted Moscow to cut financial support for the regions, an action that some observers say means “an end to the power vertical” between Moscow and the regions (http://www.dpni.org/articles/lenta_novo/10193) . And they have driven down the standing of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the polls, leading some to talk about possible personnel changes in the government (grani.ru/Politics/Russia/President/m.142874.html).
MOST RUSSIANS REMAIN CALM; SERBSKY INSTITUTE FEARS WAVE OF SUICIDES. Despite rising prices and new shortages as a result of the crisis, most Russians are remaining calm in the expectation that the current difficulties will not last, according to a Levada Center poll (www.levada.ru/press/2008101700.html). But government psychiatrists at Moscow’s notorious Serbsky Institute expressed concern that the crisis might spark a new wave of suicides (www.pravda.ru/society/287871-samoubijstvo-0).
MUSLIMS OF RUSSIA, CHINA TO EXPAND COOPERATION. At the conclusion of their first ever visit to the Muslim regions of the Russian Federation, members of a delegation of Chinese Muslims signed an agreement with the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR) to organize conferences and exchanges in the future (http://www.islam.ru/rus/2008-10-10/#23205). In commenting on this unprecedented accord, Russian Muslim Dzhannat Sergey Markus said that such cooperation will also have the effect of helping Russia to turn away from the West by introducing more Asiatic influences into the country’s social and political life (www.islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusopinions/5012/).
AIRLINE DEBTS CUT SERVICE TO CITIES IN RUSSIAN FAR EAST. The Russian government agency responsible for air traffic control has announced that it will no longer provide services to nine aviation companies in Siberia and the Russian Far East because these corporations have not paid their bills (www.nr2.ru/tourism/201108.html). The likely result is that these airlines will stop providing service to many cities, effectively cutting them off from the rest of the country given the lack of road and rail transport in that region.
NENETS OKRUG REJECTS UNITED RUSSIA DEMANDS. Although the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party is bringing ever more pressure to bear on it, the parliament of the Nenets Autonomous District, which gave the lowest level of support to that party in the last round of parliamentary elections (49 percent), is refusing to modify its election law to bring it into line with federal law. Instead, that oil-rich northern territory is insisting on its right to keep in place regulations that effectively block any party from assuming overwhelming dominance (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1041077).
MOSCOW PUBLISHES DETAILED ARCTIC PLAN. The Russian government has published a detailed 200-page outline of its Arctic policy for the next 12 years. That plan, which calls for the development of offshore petroleum fields, the delineation of the continental shelf, and the development of fishing and shipping, is available as a PDF file linked to www.barentsobserver.com/russias-arctic-plan.4519017-16149.html.
FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 1991, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS TEAR DOWN AN ORTHODOX CHURCH. Moscow officials have sanctioned the destruction of a Russian Orthodox Church for the first time since the end of communism, an action that has outraged the faithful and many Russian nationalists as well (www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=monitor&id=12908). These groups were angry not only because of the precedent this sets but also because those who destroyed the church refused to show defenders of the building any documents permitting the bulldozing of the structure.
RUSSIA BECOMES 174 KM2 SMALLER WITH TRANSFER OF ISLANDS TO CHINA. On October 14, the Russian Federation transferred to China 174 square kilometers of territory in the Far East as part of its border delimitation accord (grani.ru/Politics/World/Asia/m.142680.html). Despite the miniscule amount of land involved, regional officials and nationalist groups around the Russian Federation complained that Moscow was selling out the country.
NIZHNY MAN TRIES BUT FAILS TO DECAPITATE LENIN STATUE. Militia officers intervened to prevent a man in Nizhniy Novgorod from cutting off the head of a statue of the founder of the Soviet state. He was able to damage other parts of the statue, however. When detailed, the man said he had tried to do so out of hatred for Vladimir Lenin and his communist ideas. Officials told journalists that the man was a career criminal