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.
RUSSIAN ECONOMIC CRISIS DEEPENS AND SPREADS … The Russian stock market and reserves continue to fall (www.vedomosti.ru/newspaper/article.shtml?2008/10/31/166938), Gazprom has declined from the third largest corporation in the world on September 1st to the 37th now (www.oilru.com/news/90462/), ever more Russians are fearful of losing their jobs and are cutting back on the purchases of even the most basic goods, and the Russian Orthodox Church is so fearful of losing its assets that it has asked the Kremlin to guarantee the Patriarchate’s bank deposits (babr.ru/?pt=news&event=v1&IDE=48489), and Moscow newspapers are closing their correspondent offices in Russian regions (www.sobkorr.ru/news/4912BB6B0F64A.html).
…AS ONE ANALYST PREDICTS A REPEAT OF 1962 NOVOCHERKASSK RIOTS. While there has been a great deal of hyperbolic language from the usual sources about Russia heading into a revolutionary situation as a result the economic crisis, Yevgeny Gontmakher, a senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Development, argues that there are serious possibilities that Russia could face a number of popular protests like the one that took place in Novocherkassk in 1962, an event that forced the Soviet authorities to use force against it (www.vedomosti.ru/newspaper/article.shtml?2008/11/06/167542). His article has sparked reactions of all kinds, with some worrying about just how widespread these protests might be and others concerned about whether the Russian force structures would be willing to shoot their own people.
WEEK’S TWO ANNIVERSARIES ATTRACT MORE MEDIA ATTENTION THAN PARTICIPANTS. There was intense media coverage of both the November 4 and November 7 holidays, with people debating what they meant and whether it is time to remove Lenin from the mausoleum on Red Square among other issues (www.nr2.ru/society/205197.html), but as in recent years, neither holiday attracted the large crowds that various groups sought, with most Russians treating the two as days off from work rather than occasions to celebrate or protest (www.sobkorr.ru/news/491496FF43135.html).
MEDVEDEV PROMISES REVIVED LOCAL ADMINISTRATIONS IN CHECHNYA, INGUSHETIA. In a part of his message to the Federal Assembly that has attracted little attention, President Dmitry Medvedev promised to promote the development of “institutions of local self-administration” in among other places Chechnya and Ingushetia. He did not say how he would prevent these institutions from becoming the focal points of inter-ethnic and inter-religious struggle, although he acknowledged that Russia is so complicated that Moscow will have to move forward by “trial and error.” (www.islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusnews/5476/).
TURKMEN DIPLOMAT SERIOUSLY BEATEN IN MOSCOW. The third secretary of the Turkmen embassy in Moscow was hospitalized after being beaten on the street there, the latest attack on a diplomat from Central Asia and one sufficiently serious that Turkmenistan has demanded an investigation (www.islamnews.ru/news-15478.html).
RUSSIA MAY START SUBSIDIZING CUBA AGAIN. Moscow may again as in Soviet times extend special credits to Cuba to allow that island nation to purchase Russian goods and services, according to Russian news agencies (news.politsovet.ru/n_news.asp?article=27058).
COULD THERE POSSIBLY BE MOVEMENT ON THE KURILES? Following Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Tokyo, there is again speculation in the Russian press that there might be a compromise solution to the Kurile islands dispute, something that would allow the two countries to sign a peace treaty for World War II and lay the foundation for broader cooperation. At present, Moscow is prepared to return two of the four small islands Stalin seized at the end of World War II, but Tokyo is demanding as it always has the return of all four. Given that Moscow has made territorial concessions to China to resolve border disputes, some in Russia think the Kremlin may now be willing to meet the Japanese demands or at least offer some additional but unspecified inducement (www.gzt.ru/politics/2008/11/05/163259.html).
MASSIVE INCREASES IN CORRUPTION IN FORCE STRUCTURES REPORTED. Russia’s chief military prosecutor Sergey Fridinsky said that corrupt practices in the force structures in 2008 involved 1.6 billion rubles (64 million U.S. dollars), with the amount up 3.5 times in comparison with last year overall. He added that some 290 officers have been charged and convicted (www.gzt.ru/incident/2008/11/06/111546.html).
RUSSIAN CORRUPTION SPILLING OVER THE BORDER INTO FINLAND. Russian transportation companies are so corrupt that they are infecting organizations and governments in neighboring countries, including Finland, according to a report on corporate crime set for release in Helsinki (www.yle.fi/news/left/id106398.html). Approximately 100 Finnish firms have been compromised as a result, and increased cross-border trade will likely make the situation worse.
MOSCOW APPEARS READY TO PUSH FOR SINGLE MUSLIM ORGANIZATION. Andrey Sebentsov, the Russian official responsible for working with religious organizations, lashed out at regional Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) for their lack of cooperation and failure to prepare the haj either properly or equally across the country (www.islamnews.ru/news-15540.html). Sebentsov’s words were some of the sharpest in recent years on that subject and suggest that he and perhaps others in the Russian government will soon seek to create a single country-wide MSD that will serve as Islamic equivalent of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
FILM ‘FSB BLOWS UP RUSSIA’ AVAILABLE FOR ONLINE VIEWING. A film which documents the role of the FSB in blowing up Russian apartment buildings in 1999, events that became the ostensible cause of Vladimir Putin’s launching of a new war against Chechnya, is now available for viewing online at www.russianw.com/articles/article.php?ID=77.
GREEN FLAG OF ISLAM FLIES OVER KREMLIN – FOR QADDAFI VISIT. Moscow drivers were shocked a week ago when they saw the green flag of Islam flying over the Kremlin. Many called news outlets to express their outrage, but it turned out that the flag had been raised on the occasion of the visit to the Russian capital of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi (www.rosbalt.ru/2008/11/1/538105.html).