Monday, March 2, 2015

Nemtsov Feared Revolutions But What He Sought is Revolutionary


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, March 2 – Boris Nemtsov “was afraid of becoming a victim of a revolution” whose results he feared could lead to an even more horrific situation in Russia but as a result, Moscow commentator Boris Sokolov argues, he “became a victim of the dictatorship because a revolution didn’t happen.”

 

            Four years ago, Sokolov recalls, Nemtsov told an interviewer that “there are three possible scenarios of a revolution in Russia.” The most probable would be a nationalist one, involving pogroms of ethnic minorities. The next most probable would be a socialist or communist one, the result of declines in the standard of living and increase in corruption.

 

            And “finally, in third place, in terms of probability,” the opposition leader who was murdered in the shadow of the Kremlin said, there could be “a liberal revolution, called from by the absence of freedom and democracy.” But regardless of the one that will occur, Nemtsov suggested, there will be bloodshed (grani.ru/opinion/sokolov/m.238611.html).

 

            But regardless of which one occurs, the late opposition figure said, “Putin bears 100 percent responsibility” for the likelihood that a revolution will happen.  As a result, Nemtsov continued, he personally is no supporter of revolutions because “there will be many victims,” adding “I could be one of them.”

 

            Such views – Nemtsov wanted a revolutionary transformation of Russia without a revolution – simultaneously explains why he had so much support among many liberal Russians and non-Russians and why he was such a threat to the Kremlin leader.  Indeed, Sokolov says, it helps to explain why Putin wanted him out of the way.

 

             The pro-Kremlin media have been working overtime to come up with various suggested versions to “distract attention” from the fact that Putin and his regime are “the most likely” to have ordered this murder, the Moscow commentator says, noting that each new invention is “more absurd” than the one before it.

 

            In fact, Sokolov says, there are only two “real versions of the murder.” The first is that “the murder of Boris Nemtsov was exactly the same kind of state crime as the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko and the order for it could be given only by the first person of the state” – that is by Putin.

 

            And the second is that “the opposition leader was killed by some radical supporters of the ‘Anti-Maidan’” organization Putin and his regime itself set up to block public protests in Russia and thus to ensure Putin’s continued rule. But this is highly improbable because of where the murder was carried out, right under the Kremlin walls.

 

            Thus everything we know points to Putin as the man responsible, Sokolov says. The Kremlin leader had two obvious reasons for wanting Nemtsov dead. On the one hand, “of all the politicians on the liberal wing of the non-systemic opposition, only [he] could gather mass demonstrations,” something Putin clearly fears.

 

            And on the other, the Kremlin leader knew that Nemtsov was getting ready to publish a report proving that the Russian military is fighting in the Donbas, something that calls into question Putin’s line.  “Either of these causes would have been sufficient” for Putin decide to have Nemtsov killed.

 

            Both the skills of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine and the propensity of many journalists east and west to confuse balance with objectivity and to refuse to draw any conclusion about Putin’s involvement in the absence of “a smoking gun” likely means that no one will be able to prove this to everyone’s satisfaction. Putin is certainly counting on that.

 

            But having killed Nemtsov, Putin has not killed his message, as the demonstrations in Moscow, St. Petersburg, throughout Russia and the world yesterday show.  And if one can overlook the media debates about how many or how few people marched, it is worth noting what they were marching for.

 

            As another commentator pointed out, Nemtsov’s ideas were truly revolutionary even if he did not want a revolution. What he did want was the elimination of the all-powerful presidency in Russia and the introduction of a government responsible to the parliament, an end to imperial unitarism and aggression and the rise of real federalism in its place, and an end to government control of the media (kotsubinsky.livejournal.com/454817.html).

 

            Obviously, each person will take from Nemtsov’s statements what he or she wants. But two trends are already obvious. The first is that outside of ethnic Russian areas, democrats and nationalists have found a reason to march together just as they did in 1989-1991 (irekle.org/news/i1991.html).

 

And the second is that the Russian people themselves care coming up with their own slogans on the basis of his legacy.  The march in Moscow yesterday featured not the manufactured slogans of pro-Kremlin demonstrations but the expressions of the people themselves (gordonua.com/publications/Nemcov-eto-lyubov-Putin-eto-voyna-Samye-yarkie-lozungi-traurnogo-shestviya-v-Moskve-69169.html).

 

Among the most striking and resonant were the following:

 

    • Nemtsov is Love; Putin is War.
    • We Will Not Forget; we will not forgive.
    • Russism kills.
    • Heroes do not die.
    • I am Boris. I am Nemtsov.
    • Fear for one’s children and grandchildren is stronger than the fear of one’s own death.
    • Struggle.
    • I am not afraid.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Putin’s Russia Now ‘One Large KGB Special Op,’ Golovakha Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, March 1 – Russia’s problem is not Vladimir Putin but rather that “the special services have begun to rule that country and to transform it “into one large special service and its activities into one large special operation,” something even Stalin never permitted, according to Yevgeny Golovakha, deputy head of the Kyiv Institute of Sociology.

 

            This is just one of the conclusions the scholar offers in the course of a wide-ranging interview published today on the occasion of the first anniversary of Putin’s acknowledgement of the use of Russian forces inside Ukraine about conditions in Ukraine and in the Russian Federation (news.liga.net/interview/politics/5198471-golovakha_u_vlasti_zakonchilos_vremya_na_eksperimenty_i_oshibki.htm).

 

            According to Golovakha, the last year in Ukraine’s history is most similar to the period of the Ukrainian Peoples Republic after 1917. Then too, Ukrainians wanted “dignity and independence but got a tragedy. Now is also a tragedy,” but whether it will be an “optimistic”one as some say or not depends on whether Ukrainian leaders can learn from their mistakes.

 

            They do not have much time, he argues, because “if in past years, we could allow ourselves to experiment, now there is no such possibility.”

 

            That does not mean that Ukraine is about to disappear from the map of the world as some fear. “Ukraine will continue in some form.” But the question is “in what borders, with what kind of a government and in what form? Putin’s goal is to marginalize it, and such “a marginalization of Ukraine is the worst prospect.”

 

            The last year has led to a rise in civic activism and volunteerism, and it has “not led to a final disappointment” or to a situation in which there would be a mass rejection of the ideals of the Maidan.  One can only be glad about those things, even if they are in many ways the product of war which inevitably consolidates a society.

 

            But at the same time, he continues, Ukrainians are “at the edge of nervous exhaustion,” and the level of optimism about the future has fallen significantly since last summer: Polls show it down by 20 percent, the sociologist says. And both the deepening economic crisis and the shortcomings of the government are only making that worse.

 

            Golovakha said that when he learned that the Ukrainian revolution was “a revolution of dignity,” he immediately observed that “dignity costs people very dearly.” Those who insisted on it in tsarist and Soviet times, paid heavily for doing so. And one must recognize that people cannot live on dignity alone; they need other things are to survive.

 

            The Ukrainian government since the Maidan “unfortunately” has not been more open than was its predecessor, Golovakha continues. “There is no normal conversation with its this level, with us even today things are absolutely Soviet as far as the closure of the state is concerned.

 

            The sociologist says that he understands how difficult it is for leaders raised in the Soviet past or even the post-Soviet period to change their ways of doing business, but what is a particular matter of concern, he suggests, is that many of the new people who have entered the government have assimilated these earlier values rather than introducing new ones.

 

            But the situation in Russia is much worse. “There is nothing new in the state system of present-day Russia. It is entirely a throwback to the Soviet model,” with its imperial schemes, symbolism, mass psychology, and the like, he says. That has allowed Russia to maintain order, but it requires enemies and “absolutely contradicts” the European path Ukraine has chosen.

 

            Russia always was and always will be “imperialist and chauvinist,” Golovakha says, regardless of who is in office. The only question is how many resources it has to devote to those goals. When it is rich, “it will continue expansion … when it is poor and weak, it will gather its forces and not try to change borders.”

 

            The murder of Boris Nemtsov, he suggests, was one of a series of “ritual murders on symbolic dates. If you recall, Anna Politkovskaya was killed on ‘Putin’s birthday.’ I suggest,” Golovakha continues, “that the murder of Nemtsov on the eve of an anti-war march was no coincidence.”

 

            As to the possibility that Russia will disintegrate into several republics, the Kyiv sociologist says, the threat exists, although it is far from clear whether Ukrainians would benefit from it and Ukrainians should be skeptical about anyone who suggests this or any other outcome is “’inevitable.’”  Such predictions should not be taken seriously.

 

            Regarding leadership, he says, there is no question that Putin is a leader. But he has done little more than rely on “prejudices, stereotypes and xenophobia.” That almost always works, has given him an enormous popularity rating and the chance to do whatever he likes as far as the Russian people are concerned.

 

            As for Poroshenko, Golovakha says, he is “a transitional leader” in “a transitional time.”  So far, he has pursued a policy of “maneuvering without definite successes and without an explanation of his motives and goals.” Given the challenges, one can understand why, but to be successful, he will have to move beyond such a tactical approach.

 

 

 

Putin’s Russia between the Reichstag Fire and the Kirov Murder

Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, March 1 – No one can disagree with Yuliya Latynina that with the murder of Boris Nemtsov, Russia has entered a new era, one in which the political opponents of the regime are killed or intimidated by that possibility and one about which it is critically important that all recognize that reality (echo.msk.ru/programs/code/1501598-echo/).

 

            Not surprisingly, in the wake of this horrific political execution, commentators are employing analogies as a means to try to understand what has taken place and to be in a position to predict what may happen next.  At present, they have offered three pairs of analogies about the nature and implications of Nemtsov’s murder (news.liga.net/news/incident/5198508-podzhog_reykhstaga_pervye_mneniya_o_posledstviyakh_ubiystva_nemtsova.htm).

 

            One of these involves analogies with the Reichstag fire by which Adolf Hitler overturned the remnants of Weimar democracy and moved to establish the Nazi dictatorship and with the murder of Sergey Kirov, an action Stalin sponsored and then exploited to launch his Great Terror in the USSR.

 

            A second concerns those between a political leader prepared to use what Russians often refer to as “big blood” to get his way and those who argue that he like other dictators can achieve his goals by making use of more carefully targeted and media-generated to induce fear and intimidate his own population and others as well.

 

            And a third concerns analogies between a situation in which this action is part of a carefully controlled effort by Putin to impose his new order on the people of the Russian Federation and one in which he has created a monster over which he may not have absolute control and which in fact may overpower him.

 

            All of these pairs are suggestive, and each provides useful insights that may help to shape an adequate picture of what Putin is about.  But at the same time, their very multiplicity is an indication that the current situation, while it bears similarities to these past events, is not identical to any of them and that the future may thus be quite different than any of these suggest.

 

            That commentators should have reached for analogies with the Reichstag fire and the Kirov murder is hardly surprising. Both events are well known, and both opened the way to state terrorism and the rise of Hitler and Stalin to supreme and unchallenged power. Given Putin’s obvious agenda, each is suggestive, but the two are not the same.

 

            The analogy with the Reichstag fire would suggest that Putin is ready to move immediately against all of his opponents and to unleash murderous violence against anyone who disagrees with him. That with the Kirov murder, in contrast, would suggest that he is still consolidating his dictatorship and will exploit Nemtsov’s death to further that process.

 

            A similar difference is to be found in the second set of analogies, between one with a dictator ready to use “big blood” to impose his will and one who believes that he can achieve as much and with less collateral damage to his own goals by carefully targeting his opponents and then using the media to intimidate far more (echo.msk.ru/blog/ilya_ponomarev/1502660-echo/).

 

            Those who argue that Putin is ready to employ widespread violence to get his way may be right. His blowing up of the apartment buildings in Moscow, his war against the Chechens, and his use of force in Ukraine shows he has little regard for human life be it that of Russians or anyone else.

 

But the other part of this pair, one that suggests he will continue to use the carefully targeted repression he has used up to now, is at least possible. Alexander Herzen once described Nicholas I as “Genghiz Khan plus the telegraph.” Putin who understands the power of media may be called “Stalin plus television.”   

 

Given his skillful use of the media, the Kremlin leader may well have concluded that he doesn’t need to use mass violence. Instead, he can induce fear and intimidate people at home and abroad by carefully calibrated actions, dosed out in such a way that he gets the benefits of repression but suffers little or none of the opprobrium or blowback.

 

            And that consideration helps to explain the appearance of another pair of analogies, that between those who view Putin’s regime as a tightly-integrated and controlled one and those, like Kseniya Sobchak, who argue that he has created a monster which he has at least partially lost control over (kontrakty.ua/article/85047).

 

            The difference between those perspectives on Putin has its antecedents in two novels on Stalin’s terror, Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon” which presented the Stalin system as a totally controlled and Victor Serge’s “The Case of Comrade Tulayev” which suggested that the dictator started something that took on a life of its own.

 

            It is too soon to say which of these various analogies is correct. All are suggestive, but in employing them, it is critically important to keep in mind that arguments by analogy inevitably have limits because there is always more than one analogy available and because every new situation is different – at the very least because the actors in it are aware of the past.

 

First Putin Marginalizes His Critics, Then He Kills Them, and Then He Shifts the Blame


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, March 1 – The horror and revulsion all people of good will feel about the murder of Boris Nemtsov in the shadow of the Kremlin has led many to treat this latest crime as if it were something new. In fact, the killing of Nemtsov is only the latest example of Vladimir Putin’s much-tested approach to dealing with his political enemies.

 

            That approach, as Ilya Milshtein suggests, has now become almost institutionalized. First, Putin marginalizes his enemies, then he or his allies kill them, and then he muddies the water by putting out multiple versions of what supposedly has happened, confident that few will connect the dots and hold him responsible (grani.ru/opinion/milshtein/m.238474.html).

 

            That was what happened in the case of Galina Starovoitova. That was what happened in the case of Sergey Yushchenkov. That was what happened in the case of Anna Politkovskaya. And that is what is happening in the case of Boris Nemtsov. All of them were “driven in the status of marginal figures and then killed.”

 

            But all too many people are not prepared to recognize that reality, either out of fear in the case of many in Russia itself who even now are asking “who will be next?” or out of concern in the case of some Western leaders that speaking truth about what Putin is about could provoke the Kremlin leader even more.

 

            Both groups need to follow the advice of the late Pope John Paul who told his fellow Poles that they must “not be afraid.”  Boris Nemtsov wasn’t, and neither must Russians nor Western leaders. Instead, they must recognize that they are not dealing with a normal leader but with a dangerously abnormal one.

 

            Normal politicians forget about those who cannot challenge them. The books they write and the meetings they organize or speak to can all be ignored. But Putin is not a normal politician, and he does not respond that way. Instead, he focuses on those who disagree with him, seeks to marginalize them, and then directly or indirectly removes them from the scene.

 

            Putin cracks down on such people as his enemies, and he and his minions call them exactly that, enemies, “agents of the State Department, a fifth column, and various other words which in other times would have meant execution of the camps, but in ours provoke extra-judicial violence.”

 

            All this is because the regime Putin has built in the Russian Federation is “simply unthinkable without hatred.” That is its core value, “and the entire history of Putin’s Russia is the history of capably directed hatred toward various individuals, social groups, countries and nations.”

 

            “First there were the Chechens, then the oligarchs with their television channels, later the Georgians, now the Ukrainians, Europeans, Americans, and always those who disagree,” Milshteyn says.  And when something awful happens, Putin and the Kremlin PR operation goes into overdrive to push multiple versions to obscure what is going on.

 

            Putin’s press secretary yesterday said that the killing of Nemtsov was a provocation against the Kremlin. “In fact,” Milshteyn asks, “who could have decided on such a step besides enemies and conspirators? Obama? Merkel? Navalny? It is too bad,” he continues, that “Berezovsky is dead because then it would have been convenient to blame him” as well.

 

            If Putin feels the need, those who carried out the crime may be brought to trial, but those who bear responsibility for it or even ordered it will not. (The history of such crimes testifies to that. See slon.ru/russia/politicheskie_ubiystva_v_sovremennoy_rossii-1220581.xhtml.) But there can be no doubt that “guilt for this murder lies with those in power.”

 

            Putin and his accomplices should be charged with “incitement to murder,” which is a crime under the Russian criminal code.  But he and they have learned that the use of hatred and fear not only protects them from that but brings them major political dividends – and they aren’t about to change either voluntarily.

 

             

 

Zombification of Society Keeps Putin in Power but Will Destroy Russia, Strovsky Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, March 1 – The ongoing “zombification” of Russian society and especially of young people and intellectuals is “a guarantee of the continued rule” of the Putin regime, but it is destroying the prospects for the development of Russia now and in the future, according to Dmitry Strovsky, an outspoken professor of journalism at the Urals Federal University.

 

            In a wide-ranging interview with Aleksandr Zadorozhny of  Znak.com, Strovsky who has been in hot water before for his criticisms of Moscow’s policies on many issues argues that the narrowing and closing of the Russian mind under Putin is already having tragic consequences (znak.com/moscow/articles/27-02-19-41/103622.html).

 

            Moscow’s efforts to limit the range of information and interpretations people have has led to “the colossal problem” of a rise of a new generation whose “quality is falling catastrophically.” Because of shortcomings in their earlier educations, he says, they increasingly act as if there was no history before their appearance on the earth.

 

            Many of the students he sees do not know what happened in Russia over the last two decades. For them, “the 1960s and 1970s are as distant as the times of Napoleon and Kutuzov” are for their elders. And all too often, “the 1930s are just as far away as … the Tatar-Mongol yoke.”  They thus lack any basis for judging their own times, and the Kremlin exploits this.

 

            There are many reasons why this has happened, Strovsky says. “One of them is that today in schools work people who received their training” as the Soviet Union was falling apart, “when the former history was rejected but at the same time, it was absolutely unclear what history we would create today.”

 

            “Having finished university, these people formally are considered pedagogues, but what can they give to students when they themselves” formed at such a time of uncertainty lack “an integral worldview” and have “only the most cloudy idea about where we have come from and where we are going,” he continues.

 

            Moreover, Strovsky says, there was a breakdown in the transmission of values from parents to children. Few of the latter are in close contact with the former and “only a handful knows who were their grandfathers and grandmothers let alone deeper family roots.” They thus have no idea what was good and bad in the past and what is “permissible.”

 

            Instead of families andbooks, the authorities for this rising generation “have become the mass media,” which all too often presents the most “primitive” “black and white” views of whoever is in power – especially when journalists are actively discouraged from presenting discussions of issues and told to put out one version of reality.

 

            And because many Russians are disconnected with the past, they have no basis for judging what those in power are introducing in their lives. For example, Strovsky says, the Kremlin has introduced the term “national traitor” into the Russian lexicon, something it could do because few know that Adolf Hitler used it in his “Mein Kampf.”

 

            “The entire world has condemned Nazi ideology, including at Nuremberg. But now, in the new millennium, it turns out that we are publicly approving some of its obscurantist ideas.” That would have seemed preposterous and absurd only a decade ago, but now it is happening – and few understand the origins of these notions.

 

            Indeed, Strovsky says, what is going on “recalls the times of the flourishing of totalitarian regimes – in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and fascist Italy. The ‘unity’ of those in power and society, the euphoria on the occasion of grandiose successes on the way to ‘a bright future,’ the absence of doubt, and the subordination of people in the cultural sphere to the interests and the priorities of those in power are all present.”

 

            According to Strovsky, the key task of totalitarian ideology is to eliminate the experience of the past and to eclipse it with the absolutization of the present day” because that allows those in power to make any shift without having to explain their reasons.

 

            “Totalitarianism destroys the links between cause and effect,” the Urals scholar says. And today, the Putin regime is doing what the Bolsheviks did in the 1920s and the Nazis did in the 1920s, eliminating any possibility that people will be able to draw on the experience of the past to criticize the present.

 

            Another reason that the Putin regime has been able to move in this direction is the amount of poverty in Russia. “The pro-Putin majority is relatively poor,” and its members need not only goods but confidence that the state will ensure that they get at least the minimum even if it denies them the opportunity to get more.

 

            For such people, “to be a totalitarian man … is simpler, more comfortable and more profitable” than not to be. “The aura of the unknown disappears, the individual hopes for ‘a strong hand,’ and he feels himself in a more comfortable position.” Moreover, this becomes the basis for supporting the current regime because “if the state dies, so too do the personal plans of such a person.”

 

            “’Non-totalitarians,’” in contrast, he argues, are “creatively oriented, thinking and doubting” and their chances of retaining memory are somewhat higher. But unfortunately, In life, [they] often are fated to greater complexities,” and thus this is not attractive to many, including many who think of themselves as intellectuals but who want a comfortable life.

 

             Indeed, Strovsky says, there are ever fewer genuine intellectuals, people prepared to question authority and challenge it. Instead, they are quite prepared to use “the newspeak” the regime employs to hide its goals and to seek the best possible places for themselves rather than to live up to their calling.

 

            Increasingly and mirroring the behavior of those in power, they focus only on immediate tasks and thus both create ever more problems for society in the longer term, he argues. That is what is happening in education and culture in Russia today. The powers that be may be getting a loyal group of subjects, but they are ensuring that Russia will suffer even more in the future.

 

Kazan Calls for New Treaties between Moscow and Federal Subjects


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, March 1 – Shakir Yagudin, a member of Tatarstan’s State Council, says Moscow does not respect federalism, argues the center should adopt only framework legislation with the subjects adapting it to local conditions  and suggests there is a need for more treaties like the one Kazan has delimiting the responsibilities between Moscow and the federal subjects.

 

            Yagudin, who chairs the legal affairs committee of the republic’s highest legislative body, made those comments, a defense of federalism that recalls those of former Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiyev, to a meeting of the Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights in Kazan this past week (kommersant.ru/doc/2675912).

 

            According to the Tatarstan deputy, far from everyone in Moscow understands or respects the values of federalism as set out in the Russian Constitution of 1993, including both an unspecified number of “federal bureaucrats” and politicians like Vladimir Zhirinovsky who has called for “liquidating” the non-Russian republics.

 

             To correct this situation, Yagudin called for the signing of more treaties between Moscow and the republics delimiting the powers of the two and urged that the Duma pass only “framework” legislation and then have each region and republic adapt it to local conditions rather than as now having central laws ignore and override local needs.

 

            And he sharply criticized the federal center for its nationality policy strategy document because as he pointed out, that document does not even make reference to the existence and importance of the non-Russian republics, which are after all responsible for the lives of many of the country’s non-Russians.

 

            Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights, agreed. “The problem of inter-ethnic concord is connected in the closest way with the theme of federalism,” he said, adding that “our federalism is far from completely being realized.”  And he noted that Shaymiyev played a key role in “’the salvation’” of federalism and of the country.

 

            Another member of the council, Vladimir Ryakhovsky called for respecting the choices of individuals and republics about religious and ethnic issues. Specifically, he said he did not support the Russian Supreme Court’s decision to ban the hijab in schools. Deciding to wear it or not is both a “religious” and a “national” issue and must be respected.

 

            Ryakhovsky also supported Tatarstan’s decision to offer only general courses on religion and ethics rather than courses on specific religions, despite Patriarch Kirill’s criticism of Kazan for that step.  “What does it mean to divide children” into difference classes for Orthodox and Jews?  “What will that lead to?”

 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A New Crisis Breaks Out over the Fate of Lake Baikal


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, February 28 – For most of the last generation, people in Eurasia and around the world have been on a death watch for the Aral Sea. That vigil is now over: the Aral Sea has died. But a serious new if quite different crisis has now broken out regarding Lake Baikal, relations between a Russian and a non-Russian federal subject and between Russia and Mongolia.

 

            Over the course of nearly the same period, Russian and international environmental activists have been concerned about the contamination of the world’s deepest lake by a cellulose factory on its shores. That problem isn’t over, but the new problems that precious body of water faces are also different and considerably more politically sensitive.

 

            The level of water in Lake Baikal has fallen to a level not seen in at least a century, largely because the rivers that feed the lake are putting significantly less water into it, because people are using ever more water from it, and because of a drought last year, Yekaterina Trofimova of “Russkaya planeta” says (rusplt.ru/society/opuschennyiy-i-zarosshiy-15788.html).

 

            Lake Baikal is fed by three major rivers, the Selenga, the Verkhnaya Angara and the Barguzin, and a large number of smaller ones. Most of these are in the Buryat Republic, with only one, the Angara, is the predominantly ethnic Russian Irkutsk oblast, and that division lies behind much but far from all of the current controversy.

 

            According to the Buryat government “and also many scholars and ecologists,” the drought is not a sufficient explanation of the current problem. It and they argue that the Angara hydroelectric dam is largely to blame and that Moscow has ignored the impact the falling water level has had on the environment, including leading to more peat fires in Buryatia.

 

            Irkutsk officials, including those responsible for the energy sector, respond that they are not to blame and say that they have maintained flows at levels set by the Yenisei Basin Water Administration of the Russian government’s water resources board – but they haven’t responded to objections that they should adjust the flow to take into account the drought.

 

            Moscow has now gotten involved. Three weeks ago, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev sought to push off the problem by issuing an order allowing the use of Baikal water by all concerned even though the lake has fallen to a new low level, but he said that this would be allowed only in 2015. What will happen next year is far from clear.

 

            So far, there have not been any real shortages for human and industrial consumption, a pattern that makes it more difficult for those who want to address the problem early on far more difficult. But many environmentalists and many political figures in Buryatia say that the appearance of such shortages is only a matter of time.

 

            The Irkutsk authorities and the Russian officials who operate the hydroelectric dam and other industries respond that Buryatia is complaining too much, that there are no real dangers, and that in fact, the proper response for Moscow is to eliminate the restrictions firms and the dam have been operating under since 2001.

 

            Indeed, the Russian officials and businessmen feel that they have an additional reason for that: the controversial cellulose plant which had been dumping so much waste into Lake Baikal has been closed. There thus should be more room for the development of other industries.  But if that happens, the amount of pollution going into the lake will rise again.

 

            Into this increasingly tense standoff between the Russian oblast and the Buryat republic has come a new player: Mongolia, which wants to gain energy independence from Russia by developing a hydroelectric station on the Selenga, “the main water artery of Baikal, providing half of its inflow.”

 

            Russian and international ecologists are currently seeking to have the World Bank refuse funding to Mongolia for such a project in order to block it, but Ulan Bator has some alternative possible sources of funding so that it may be able to go ahead even if that happens (greenpeace.org/russia/ru/news/2015/13-02-2015-GESnaSelengeUgrozaBaikalu/).

 

            Whatever happens in that regard, Lake Baikal seems set to become not only a source of discord between environmentalists and industrialists and between a Russian region and a Buryat republic but also between the Russian Federation and Mongolia – and standing behind Mongolia, China as well.