Saturday, November 18, 2017

Russia is Not Zimbabwe, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 17 – There is a dramatic moment in the 1986 British film, Defense of the Realm, in which an editor tells a journalist played by Gabriel Byrne who is seeking to expose the way in which the official secrets act is misused that “there is a lot wrong with this country, but it isn’t Bulgaria.”

            That remark comes to mind after reading Sergey Shelin’s commentary suggesting that “the excessive interest” Russian intellectuals have shown to “the replacement of the irreplaceable [Zimbabwean leader Robert] Mugabe is based on some mistaken ideas about their own country” (

                Most Russians couldn’t find Zimbabwe on a map much less discuss its political system with any intelligence, the Rosbalt commentator says; and consequently, one is compelled to conclude that all the talk in some circles in Moscow about what is going on in that country is in fact not about Zimbabwe but about Russia.

            Unfortunately, for those pushing an analogy between Zimbabwe and Mugabe’s exist and Russia and Putin’s future, there is little evidence.  The length of the former’s rule, his authoritarianism, and his irreplaceability are far from the most important factors explaining what is happening to Mugabe.

            Four others are far more relevant: his role as “founding father” of his country, the decay of the economy under his rule, the presence of organized opposition groups and parties, and Mugabe’s obvious deterioration with age. Only the first of these works in his favor; the other three don’t. But the real reason Putin isn’t threatened with a Mugabe-like exit.

            Over the past half century, Shelin continues, the supreme leader of the country has been pushed out of office only twice: Khrushchev in 1964 and Gorbachev in 1991. “In the first case, he was sent off into retirement by the then-powerful party machine … In the second, by the machine of the power of the Russian Federation which destroyed the demoralized union state.”

            In both cases, there were powerful organizations in a position to oppose the ruler, but now “there is almost nothing.” Institutions are largely meaningless, and they lack the capacity to form “any serious coalitions” against Putin.  The population is “more politicized than it was several years ago, but these are only the first steps up from absolute zero.”

            Expecting a Zimbabwe-like outcome in Russia today is thus absurd, however many people in Moscow want to talk about it.  The country is in stagnation but not collapse and so people aren’t having to reflect deeply about what kind a change of course they would really like to see.

Putin Uniting the Non-Russians Against Moscow on the Language Issue

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 18 – Having unified Ukraine by annexing Crimea and united NATO by his aggressive stance there and elsewhere, Vladimir Putin has now achieved another outcome that does not promise him or his regime well: he has united the non-Russians of his country against him on the issue of school programs in their national languages.

            In many ways, this third Putin achievement could prove to be the most dangerous of all because Russian policy throughout history has been based the divide-and-rule principle of setting one non-Russian group against another in order to allow the Russian center to dominate all of them.

            If the non-Russians are able to come together on this issue, such a united front will make it far more difficult for the Kremlin to do what it has always done: moving against one non-Russian nation confident that other non-Russians will not come to its defense but rather try to make the best side deal they can with the center.

            As so often now, the Internet is playing a key role in this process. An 1200-word open letter to Putin has appeared online calling on the Kremlin leader to reverse his position and guarantee the obligatory teaching of non-Russian languages in the republics of Russia (

            “We consider the system that exists in most national republics requiring the study of all state languages (both Russian and non-Russian) is correct, harmonious and corresponds to the needs of constructing healthy society of inter-nation concord, in which the rights of all indigenous peoples are defended and their interests taken into consideration,” the authors say.

            They point out that the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation provide “the indisputable basis of natural Russian diversity,” a pattern that is enshrined in the law “on the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation” and that must be respected by the Russian government.

            “The exclusion of national languages from the system of education will lead to the violation of the process of the transmission and support of literary languages, something that also will lead to a reduction of the number of those knowing the literary language of their people.” And that in turn will lead to the deterioration of cultural creativity and scholarly activity.

            The letter argues that “the study of a non-Russian national language is the best key to the establishment of equal relations and interrelationships of cultures with each other. When all study the language of one people but that people does not study the language of others,” this leads to a dangerous imbalance.

            On the one hand, the subordinate groups, in this case, the non-Russians have additional burdens placed on them as well as additional restrictions in their activities. And on the other, the dominant one, in this case, the Russians, no longer has “the obligation to know the language of other groups” and will also suffer as a result.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Russian Elites Sharply Increase Their Purchases of Housing and Business in Europe

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 16 – In the first months of 2017, wealthy Russians doubled the number of purchases of housing stock abroad, especially near universities for their children, and increased by 600 percent their purchases of existing businesses that they may eventually move to and run, according to a report by

            Using figures from the international consulting company Knight Frank, the Russian financial affairs agency says well-to-do Russians are rapidly increasing purchases of property and businesses abroad as a result of Russia’s economic crisis and the deterioration of relations between Moscow and the West (

            But the company’s figures also show that the average amount Russians are spending to purchase housing abroad has fallen 38 percent over the last two years, a reflection of economic hard times at home and more important the fact that Russians ever further down the income pyramid are now working to emigrate.

            The purchases of businesses abroad, Marina Shalayeva of Knight Frank says, clearly indicate that Russian investors are no longer just looking for passive income but rather are focusing on places where they could work themselves. And the purchases of housing for their children suggests they are taking a genuinely long view about the future.

            These figures are significant because they indicate that those Russians who can are now voting with their feet and not planning to return anytime soon or perhaps ever, thereby depriving their country of birth much of the managerial talent and capital it will need to recover from the current economic malaise.