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 WANTS TO ERECT ‘IRON CURTAIN’ TO BLOCK OUTFLOW OF CAPITAL. As part of his anti-crisis program, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has proposed the erection of “an iron curtain” to keep capital from flowing out of the Russian Federation and to block banks from purchasing foreign currency (babr.ru/?pt=news&event=v1&IDE=48422). Such a program, if implemented, might buy Russia some time but would ultimately exacerbate economic problems there and elsewhere. Meanwhile, polls show that one-third of the Russian people do not believe what Moscow is telling them about the impact of the economic crisis on Russia: they can see the continuing decline in the stock market, the value of the ruble, and the amount of government holdings (www.polit.ru/economy/2008/10/27/smi.html). And Russians are taking action: residents in Moscow and other urban areas tell pollsters they are cutting back on their purchases (www.romir.ru/news/res_results/495.html).
FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION MUST TARGET SENIOR OFFICIALS, ANALYSTS SAY. Moscow officials say that Russia must step up the fight against the massive amount of corruption in the country and point to studies showing that 70 to 90 percent of militia officers as well as many teachers and doctors now see bribes as entirely normal and acceptable. But analysts argue that the current campaign will fail unless the authorities are willing to bring charges against more senior officials (www.sobkorr.ru/news/4909C02D2396F.html). Not only do “anti-corruption campaigns” like the current one only increase public cynicism about the regime, but some officials are using corruption as a means of isolating their regions or sectors from all others (www.chaskor.ru/p.php?id=622).
MASSIVE WAVE OF STRIKES NOW LIKELY, RUSSIAN SOCIOLOGISTS SAY. Petr Bizyukov, an expert at the Moscow Center of Social-Labor Rights, says that Russian sociologists have concluded that Russia is on the brink of a major outbreak of strikes, much like those in the 1990s, because of the failure of some enterprises to pay their workers (www.sobkorr.ru/news/490AFD6778FEB.html). But it is not just workers who are ready to take public action. In Barnaul this week, pensioners seized the city administration building to demand that officials meet their demands for providing more money for pensions and other services (babr.ru/?pt=news&event=v1&IDE=48379).
MOSCOW WANTS TO ISOLATE, CONTROL RUSSIAN SECTION OF INTERNET. The Russian government wants to create a firewall between the Russian Internet and the rest of the world wide web, a project that will take some years to complete and may not in fact be effective (www.cnews.ru/news/top/index.shtml?2008/10/24/324624). The information ministry has announced its support for it, as has the pro-Kremlin United Russia party faction in the Duma. Meanwhile, the Duma is moving to define the Internet as media and thus subject it to registration and regulation (www.nr2.ru/technology/203580.html). And the Russian intelligence agencies are moving against some blog sites (www.nr2.ru/society/203508.html).
SRASBOURG COURT TO TAKE UP KATYN CASE. Now that a Russian court has ruled against a suit seeking the rehabilitation of the Polish officers killed by the NKVD at Katyn in 1940, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has agreed to take up the case
(www.agentura.ru/?id=1225445880). That body is likely to rule against the Russian government, but Moscow seems certain to ignore any decision it does not like.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF SAKHALIN SUE BIG OIL COMPANIES. The numerically small peoples of the North has filed suit in South Sakhalin against international oil companies to block the use of a pipeline through regions that have been used by the Northern peoples from time immemorial (www.rg.ru/2008/10/24/reg-sakhalin/sud.html).
NON-RUSSIANS DEMAND ACTION AGAINST SKINHEAD ATTACKS. The Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus is demanding that the authorities bring charges against the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) which has distributed leaflets calling on Russians to kill “persons of Caucasus nationality” (www.sobkorr.ru/news/2/4909B98EA8E3D.html). Meanwhile, the Naberezhniy Chelny section of the All-Tatar Public Center (VTOTs) has called on the Kremlin to air television programs about the actions of radical nationalists in advance of the November 4th holiday which is supposed to promote reconciliation among the peoples of the Russian Federation (www.novayagazeta.ru/news/345943.html).
AZERBAIJAN TO END FOREIGN RADIO BROADCASTS ON LOCAL AFFILIATES. Nushiravan Maharramli, the head of the Azerbaijan government’s Television and Radio Council, said that Baku will block broadcasts by the Voice of America, Radio Liberty and the BBC from being carried on local affiliates, a decision that both Washington and London have criticized (www.voanews.com/english/2008-10-31-voa54.cfm). But Moscow analysts have suggested that Baku’s move is simply part of a broader effort by countries in the region to control their own information spaces. And they argue that Washington at least will not complain too much because it cares more about oil than about media freedom (www.ia-centr.ru/expert/2829/).
RUSSIAN OFFICIALS BLOCK CONSTRUCITON OF NEW MOSQUES IN MOSCOW. For the last 15 years, Muslim leaders in the Russian capital have frequently announced that they will soon open a new mosque in Moscow, but no new mosque has been built, leaving the capital’s two million plus Muslims with only four. According to one Muslim commentator, that reflects an unwritten but nonetheless powerful Russian order not to allow any mosque to be erected (www.islamnews.ru/news-15293.html). Meanwhile, however, in other parts of Russia, mosque construction continues at a vigorous pace. And in one symbolic move, a statue of a Muslim poet has now gone up in Ulyanovsk (Simbirsk), the birthplace of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin (www.islamnasledie.ru/news.php?id=1334).
SHAIMIYEV PLEASED WEST HASN’T BLAMED ISLAM FOR FINANCIAL CRISIS. Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev told the fourth session of the Russia-Islamic World Strategic Vision Group at its meeting in Jiddah that Muslims should be pleased that the West, in searching for someone to blame for the current economic crisis, has not pointed the finger at Islam (www.rg.ru/2008/10/31/islam.html).