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.
RUSSIA SUFFERS 50 BILLION US DOLLARS IN CAPITAL FLIGHT IN OCTOBER. Sergei Ignatov, president of the Bank of Russia, said that his country had seen approximately 50 billion U.S. dollars flow abroad during October. That figure compares to a total of 30 billion during the first seven months of this year and 83 billion during 2007 (lenta.ru/news/2008/11/10/ottok/). Meanwhile, the Russian stock market and ruble exchange rates continued to fall, with the Fitch Rating Agency saying that it projects lowering the sovereign credit rating of Russia from stable to negative (www.kasyanov.ru/index.html?layer_id=101&nav_id=9&id=1093).
DEMONSTRATORS SEEK CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT, NOT OF CONSTITUTION. Even as the Duma voted to extend the terms of the Russian constitution and Duma deputies, a group of approximately 150 members of various opposition figures like Boris Nemtsov and Garri Kasparov and groups like the Left Front, the Moscow SPS, and Solidarity staged a demonstration in Moscow. The participants carried signs reading “Hands Off the Constitution!” “Freedom for Russia, Bread and Water for Medvedev,” and “Let us Change the Powers that Be but Not the Constitution (www.sobkorr.ru/news/491DA240C51A3.html).
DUMA TO ELIMINATE RIGHT TO JURY TRIAL FOR THOSE CHARGED WITH STATE CRIMES. Because some juries have refused to convict people the Russian authorities have charged with anti-state crimes like terrorism, espionage, and the like, the Russian government is pushing in the Duma a bill that would deprive those charged with such crimes of the right to trial by jury. According to Vladimir Vasilyev, the chairman of the Duma security committee, this step will “increase the effectiveness of measures to prevent terrorism and strengthen the struggle with this phenomenon.” But opposition figures have expressed concern that this represents yet another step away from democracy there (www.ng.ru/politics/2008-11-14/2_sud.html).
PUTIN ERA APPROACHING ITS END, KASYANOV TELLS FRIENDS. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov reportedly is telling his friends and associates that the Putin era is approaching its end and that “the tower of Babylon” Putin attempted to erect will be replaced by something else (www.warweb.ru/GetMaterial.asp?Page=405112008). Meanwhile, another former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, according to the same source, is telling people that “Saakashvili is a mistake of Putin’s own making,” a reflection of the Kremlin leader’s failure to purse a clear-signed course on Georgia (www.warweb.ru/GetMaterial.asp?Page=105112008). And in another comment about the Russian political system, Dmitry Furman, a senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Europe, said this week that it is difficult to say what is happening at the top of the Russian political system because “the system of power has become more closed than it was in the Soviet period” (www.apn.ru/news/article21004.htm).
MEDVEDEV’S NAMING OF OFFICER TO HEAD INGUSHETIA COULD BACKFIRE. Although Yunus-Bek Yevkurov has been wildly popular so far in Ingushetia as the replacement for the much despised Murat Zyazikov – Yevkurov’s “thaw” in dealing with the Internet has been especially significant in this regard (www.ingushetia.org/news/16559.html) -- President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision to turn to a military officer for this post may prove a mistake because the appointment of generals to such positions in post-Soviet Russia has not worked out for Moscow very well in the past (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1052522).
RUSSIAN DIASPORAS MUST STAND UP FOR THEIR RIGHTS, MOSCOW OFFICIAL SAYS. Aleksey Lobanov, the chairman of the World Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots, told a conference of this group that ethnic Russians living abroad must be far more willing to demand proper treatment from the governments of the countries in which they find themselves (www.rosbalt.ru/2008/11/02/538288.html).
ETHNIC, CLASS CONFLICTS TEARING MOSCOW SCHOOLS APART. Media reports about clashes between pupils, students and teachers of different ethnic, religious and social classes in Moscow schools has sparked an intense discussion of what many writers are calling “a civil war” in Russian society and an indication that “the danger of conflicts in Russian society is extremely high and constantly growing” (www.rian.ru/authors/20081110/154758878.html).
ICELANDIC PRESIDENT INVITES RUSSIA TO USE KEFLAVIK BASE. Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, the president of Iceland, said that Russia should be invited to use the old NATO base at Keflavik, a proposal which he is not entitled to make under the Icelandic constitution and one that “shocked” other Scandinavian diplomats, according to reports in the region’s media (www.barentsobserver.com/russia-invited-to-icelands-airbase.4525408-16149.html).
MOSCOW BEGINS KURDISH LANGUAGE BROADCASTING TO MIDDLE EAST. In yet another indication that Moscow plans to step up its activities in the Middle East, the Voice of Russia radio station announced that it was beginning FM broadcasting in Iraqi Kurdistan. The station said its broadcasts would stay “outside of politics,” but even Russian commentators said that was clearly impossible (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1055634).
LOSSES CLOSE BAIKAL PAPER MILL, LEAVES HUNDREDS UNEMPLOYED. The paper mill on Lake Baikal that environmental activists have sought to shut down since it was opened in Soviet times has now closed, not in response to their protests but rather because it is no longer profitable. But the consequences of the closure on the community there are already serious, with hundreds of people thrown out of work (www.aifvs.ru/nomer/599/01-1.shtml).
MEDVEDEV DENOUNCES KYIV FOR CALLING FAMINE A GENOCIDE. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent a message to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko denouncing Kyiv’s efforts to present the 1932 famine as a genocide directed against the Ukrainian people. Not only is that not true, Medvedev said, arguing that the famine hit many nations of the Soviet Union at that time, but it divides two peoples who should be fraternal allies (www.annews.ru/news/detail.php?ID=172272).
TURKEY AGREES TO TRAIN MULLAHS AND IMAMS FOR RUSSIA. The Turkish government has signed an agreement with the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR) to train imams and mullahs for Russian mosques. The SMR leadership hailed this decision because of what it described as the secular nature of Turkey and hence that country’s understanding of what Islam should be in a country like Russia (www.interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=27334).
RUSSIA’S MUSLIMS WANT MINISTRY FOR RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS. Participants in the fourth All-Russian Forum of Muslims for Eurasian Unity called on the Russian government to create a ministry of religious affairs in order to supervise relations between the state and various religious groups (www.islamnews.ru/news-15700.html). The Moscow Patriachate and the Kremlin have long opposed any such structure, apparently viewing it as a threat to the special relationship between Orthodoxy and the Russian state.
IMAM RELEASED FROM PRISON DISAPPEARS, SUPPORTERS FEAR FOUL PLAY BY OFFICIALS. Ufa Imam Said Bayburin was released from prison camp but disappeared before his supporters could meet him, prompting fears that he may have fallen victim to official violence or deportation (www.islamcom.ru/material.php?id=712). Meanwhile, an analysis posted on the Caucasus Times portal noted that Russian prisons are radicalizing Muslims rather than reforming them, paralleling what it said were developments in the American penal system (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=17741).
MALE LIFE EXPECTANCY IN RUSSIA LOWEST AMONG CIS COUNTRIES. The average Russian male will die before reaching his 59th birthday, the shortest lifespan of males in any country in the Commonwealth of Independent States, although lower than Turkmenistan by only a few months, according to the United Nations (www.annews.ru/news/detail.php?ID=17201) It also said that Russia’s total population is likely to decline by 34 million by mid-century.
RUSSIA WILL HAVE AN ETHNIC CHINESE PRESIDENT BY 2030, DPNI’S BELOV PREDICTS. Aleksandr Belov, the leader of the openly xenophobic Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), says that if Chinese immigration continues at its current rate, Russia will have a Chinese president. But he suggested that that would occur only if there were free and fair elections, something unlikely to happen with an elite that could decide to make a dog president since dogs are “like humans in some respects” (www.nr2.ru/moskow/206195.html).