Friday, March 1, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Five New Statistics about Russia That Say More Than a Glance Might Suggest

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 1 – Five new statistics about Russia this past week – one about Muslims in the army, a second about the state of its roads, a third about the number of illegal migrants in the country, a fourth about Russian attitudes toward religious instruction in the schools, and a fifth about public trust in television news – say far more that a first glance might suggest.

            First, Boris Lukichev, the head of the Russian Armed Forces Administration for Work with Believing Soldiers, said that “up to 20 percent” of those in uniform are Muslims and that in some units and districts, their share is much higher. As a result, the military is working hard to provide them with mullahs and opportunities to attend prayers at mosques on Fridays (

            Luichev’s figures, which he said were based on a recent poll, are much higher than Russian officials typically acknowledge, but even more significant is his statement that if a soldier professes Islam, then “the task of a military religious person is to help him remain a Muslim in [the Russian] army and on the basis of this religion fulfill his military obligation.”

            Unlike some populist politicians in Russia who see support by staking out an anti-Islamic position, Russian commanders appear to have calculated that they are going to be relying so heavily on Muslim draftees in the future that they cannot afford to do so whatever their personal inclinations may be.

            Second, Konstantin Romodanovsy, the head of Russia’s Federal Migration Service, said that there are some 10 million immigrant workers in the Russian Federation at the present time and that 3.3 million of them are there illegally, largely because they have overstayed the time for which they were admitted (

            Most of these are from the countries of Central Asia, he continued.  Not only are these numbers much higher than he and other Russian officials have admitted in the past, but they are testimony to the inability of the state to enforce its immigration laws and to the opposition from businesses to their doing so.

            In that, the Russian Federation is not terribly different from many other countries. But given Russian expectations about the state and claims by the Kremlin about its commitment to enforcing the law, this situation is certain to disturb many Russians and heighten demands for an even tougher approach to immigrants to Russian cities.

            Third, the World Economic Forum announced that the Russian Federation ranks 136th out of 144 countries surveyed in terms of the quality of its highways. Russian roads compared most closely to those of Mozambique, Guinea, and Mongolia, and were notably better only than those in Romania, Haiti and Moldova (  

            That ranking will not surprise anyone who has used Russia’s roads, but it represents one of the most important choke points in that country’s economic and political development. Not only does this lack of infrastructure limit economic growth, but it limits Moscow’s options in its relations with its far-flung regions and republics.

            Indeed, the political consequences may be the more important because bad roads mean that Moscow and the regions are more isolated from one another than they would be if the highways were better and that the center has fewer levers on the regions and the regions have more options for avoiding central diktat than would otherwise be the case.

            Fourth, the Levada Center reported today and “Izvestiya” highlighted its finding that “only 22 percent” of Russians support the introduction of religious instruction in the country’s schools, a figure that undercuts the ideological plans of both the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate ( and

            Opposition to religious instruction comes not only from non-Orthodox groups such as the Muslims, but also from those who identify with Orthodoxy but fear that such courses take too much time away from basic instruction, undercut the secular nature of the state, and divide rather than unite pupils who are Russia’s future.

            And fifth, the Public Opinion Foundation reported that while Russians overwhelmingly rely on state-controlled television for their news, they are increasingly skeptical about what those channels tell them, a situation that calls in question the Putin regime’s decision to rely on control of television as opposed to other media outlets (

            Its poll found that about 90 percent of Russians turn to television for their news, far more than to Internet sites, radio or the print media, but that the public’s trust in television has fallen from 52 percent to 45 percent over the last year as has the percentage of Russians who believe television provides objective news, 41 percent now as opposed to 47 percent a year ago.

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