Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jews Again Leaving Russia Because ‘After Putin, There Will Be Another Putin’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 2 – For the first time since the 1990s, the number of Jews emigrating from Russia to Israel has gone up dramatically, doubling between 2013 and 2014 to 4685. But this new wave is different from its predecessors in that its members are younger, better educated, and almost exclusively from Moscow.

            Moreover, this new group is convinced that they have no future in Russia because “after Putin, there will be some other Putin,” a dramatic change in expectations compared to how many Jews and others felt in the 1990s when they were pessimistic about Russia in the short term but optimistic in the longer run (

            The emigration of Jews from Russia is only a small part of the total number of Russian citizens who are leaving for permanent residence abroad, a figure that is also increasing. In the first nine months of 2014, 203,659 people left, compared to 120,756 who departed during the corresponding period of a year earlier.

            Officials of Israel’s absorption ministry view this year as a turning point given that the number of Jews from Russian seeking to obtain Israeli citizenship is two and a half times greater than for any year since the end of the 1990s. And they also see dramatic changes in the composition of this flow.

            Ekho Rossii interviewed several of those who have moved to Israel. Their comments say a great deal about broader processes in the Russian Federation.  Dramatist Mikhail Kaluzhny said he had wanted to leave in 1991 but decided against it until finishing his university coursework.

            Then on graduation, he said, he delayed going because “all the most interestsing” developments where occurring then in Russia. “Why leave?” But “now,” Kaluzhny said, he had made the decision to leave because the surrounding political, emotional and everyday environment had alienated him and left him with little hope for Russia.

            He said that his departure was “directly connected with politics.” First of all, he visited the Maidan in Kyiv and recognized that no such protest was ever likely to happen in Russia. T Then the Russian government blocked foreign grants which were critical to the operation of his profession.

            Finally, “after Crimea,” he said, his family was driven by “a desire to distance itself” from all this, above all from the [Russian] government.”

            Officials in Israel say that those new repatriants “especially from Russia” are taking Israeli citizenship not so much out of a great love for Israel but rather because they are angry or fearful about conditions in the country in which they had been living. Such repatriants are on average “younger, healthier, and smarter” than those who came earlier.

            At the end of the 1990s, “two thirds of the repatriation were from the periphery, from very small cities. But the current Aliya to judge by the structure of the last three years consists of people from two major cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg.” We observe” Israeli experts say, that the current wave largely consists of the creative intelligentsia.

            Vladimir Yakovlev is a representative of this group. The founder of the “Kommersant” publishing house and the “Snob” portal, he arrived in Israel seven months ago; but he said that he feels himself completely at home because “my circle of contacts here almost completely corresponds with what it was in Moscow.”

            “We llive in one apartment building with friends from Moscow. I meet people onteh street whom I constantly met in Moscow … This isn’t a matter of every second person but every first.” Those who are leaving now, he said are doing so because “they are afraid to be where they would like to live.”
            According to Yakovlev, the reason so many find they cannot stay in Russia is that “there is no generally accepted and understood system of values” in that country. “This means that there is no common security, no common social guarantees, no striving for culture and education, not even a striving for work. There is none of this.”

            As a result of the failure of Russia’s rulers to articulate such a set of values in the 1990s, life in that country has become a kind of “Russian roulette.” Everyday you fear that something you don’t expect will happen to you – and even when it doesn’t, you live with the fear that it will.

            The people who are leaving Russia now, Yakovlev continues, “are the young intellectual elite of the country. For any civilized country, the young intellectual elite is the highest value which exists because it is the future of the country.” But Russia doesn’t care about it and thus is fated to become “a giant raw materials supplier” to others.

            That has always been true in Russia, he said, only the methods of repression against the intellectual elite have changed. Stalin shot them. Brezhnev “marginalized them.” Putin “is driving the intellectual elite out of the country.”  And many of them are landing in Israeli which is more than happy to receive them.

            Kaluzhny seconded that view: “Out compatriots in their majority are unfortunately a guarantee that after this Putin there will be another Putin. The level of aggression and force which makes Putin Putin isn’t changing … I am not certain that the situation in Russia will ever change significantly.”

That is why people are leaving. They can imagine that there will arise “in Riga, Berlin, Tel Aviv or Montenegro some kind of intensive cnetrs of Russian cultural life which perhaps will not be important sources of inspiration for hundreds of thousands of people. But for hundreds and thousands, they will be.”

Post-Soviet States Entering Second Anti-Communist Revolutionary Period, Shmelyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 2 – The post-Soviet world is entering its own version of 1968, Aleksandr Shmelyev says, “and everything which is taking place in Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Russia and so one can be conceived as a wave of ‘secondary anti-communist revolutions,’ as attempts to put the authorities under the control of society.”

            In 1968, 23 years after the end of World War II, “a new generation of Europeans who were not satisfied with the post-war level of civil rights and freedoms appeared,” the Moscow commentator says. Now, 24 years after the end of the USSR, a new generation has appeared with the same anger and the same goal (

            “Despite 24 years of a divided history and anything but simple relations among the post-Soviet states, Shmelyev says, civil society encounters in them approximately one and the same set of problems.”  Among these are “weakly developed democratic institutions, an appalling level of corruption, unjust laws, the absence of an independent judicial system, insane income differentiation, the treatment of the political opposition as ‘enemies,’ intolerance to minorities, and torture in the police and penal system.”

            At the same time, however, he continues, over this almost quarter of a century, “under conditions of relative freedom and inclusion in the globalized world have appeared a sufficient number of citizens who disagree with such arrangements but do not have the opportunity to change them by political means.”

             According to Shmelyev, “the Internet is allowing those protesting from Mensk, Kyiv, Moscow, Yerevan and so on to be in constant contact with each other, to share experiences and to support one another.” In the post-Soviet space, this is facilitated by the fact that there is as yet no real language barrier: most of these communications are in Russian.

            Consequently, “if one can speak about ‘a Russian spring’ in the social-political sense, then only in this context as a series of mass protests against post-communist authoritarian hybrid systems. Then, analogies with ‘the Arab spring’ appear completely logical,” the Moscow commentator says.

            “No one knows,” he says, how the current round of events in Yerevan will end. “In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Ukraine, street protests grew into revolutions; in Thailand and Belarus, they were harshly suppressed … in Turkey and Russia, the brakes were applied and a reaction followed; and in Syria, things descended into a long civil war.”

            But if one considers these phenomena from a global perspective and not from a conspiratorial geopolitical one, “it is almost obvious that the future of each of the post-Soviet republics lies with those who are now protesting in the streets.” They have the advantage over those in power generationally and in terms of education.

            And consequently, Shmelyev says, “sooner or later, Lukashenka, Nazarbayev, Putin, Sargsyan, Aliyev, and Karimov will pass into history together with the systems they have created. The question involves only when and at what cost in victims.”

            Shmelyev’s optimism on that point arises from the fact that he places what is going on in the post-Soviet states in a broader context – there have been mass civic protests in almost 80 countries since the beginning of the crisis in 2008 – and in three characteristics which the post-Soviet cases share with the others.

            First of all, he says, “contemporary protests do not need leaders and organizers.” Consequently, parties and trade unions play very little role in them and “cannot take them under control.”  Horizontal ties are more important for the protesters, and they are suspicious of any vertical organization.

            Indeed, he continues, “the agora of modern times does not need representation; its strength is in the absence of leaders whom the powers that be can so easily intimidate, deceive, buy off or isolate.”

            Second, those protesting are not supporters of any particular ideology.  They may “advance some specific demands,” but “at a deeper level they are typically moved by a global dissatisfaction with the authorities whom they view as backward and out of date.”

            And third, Shmelyev says, this means that “the occasion for mass civic protests in our time can be almost anything,” including what many might think are minor or marginal issues.  That makes these protests “practically impossible” either to predict or prevent, and it also means there will continue to be more of them.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Putin’s System in Chechnya Not Sustainable, ICG’s Sokiryanskaya Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 1 – The International Crisis Group has released a report entitled “Chechnya: [Russia’s] Internal Abroad.” Among its conclusions is that stability in that North Caucasus is inherently unstable because it exists exclusively on the basis of personal ties between Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov.

            One of the report’s co-authors, Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya (the other is Varvara Pakhomenko), gave an interview about the report and the possibilities that Chechnya will either be integrated into Russia, descend into chaos or again move toward state independence (

            According to Sokiryanskaya, “instead of a real political resolution and the integration of [Chechnya] into all-Russian activity, over the course of all recent years we have observed the imitation of these processes. As a result,, that model of the resolution of the situation [there] is not capable of leading to a long-lasting peace.”

            Any change in the leaders in Moscow or Grozny could lead to a new outbreak of confrontation between Russia and Chechnya as well as to “an outburst of force within Chechen society.”  If the situation is to be improved, the ICG analyst says, there must be a new settlement “both within Chechen society and between Chechens and Russians.”

            At present, she says, “there is a region on the territory of Russia which while being de jure part of Russia in reality is an almost independent political formation. [It] lives according to its own laws,” it has “its own political system,” “a cult of personality of a republic leader,” and “its own force structure, ideology, religious policy, international relations and parallel economy.”

            “This is a state within a state,” Sokiryanskaya continues, “in which the federal Russian institutions are controlled by local strongmen who are loyal in the first instance to the local regime and to a much lesser degree that federal institution the employees of which they are.” That, she says, “is one side of the coin.”

            The other is that “this political structure was created by Moscow, is supported by Moscow … and financed almost completely by Moscow.”  Kadyrov, she says, is “a creature of the president of the Russian Federation … [Putin] publicly approves what goes on in Chechnya,” and he does so not out of ignorance as his recommendations to Kyiv to pursue a Chechnya-type strategy with regard to the DNR and LNR.

            The system works as long as Putin and Kadyrov are in place and continue as they are now. But any change could undermine stability. Kadyrov would find it extremely difficult to work with any other Russian leader: he had difficulty enough with Dmitry Medvedev, and he would likely find it even more so with a leader not controlled by Putin.

            That does not mean that there is about to be an armed conflict, despite Kadyrov’s words, Sokiryanskaya says.  Kadyrov clearly needs and wants “a strong older male” to lean on. Earlier that was his father; now it is Putin. “But the question remains whether someone will seek to cast doubt on his power in Chechnya, including possibly Putin himself.”

            But “a change in the status quo in Chechnya is possible only if Putin recognizes that the processes in Chechnya are harming his reputation and image.” In that event, the Moscow president might move in radical ways against his Chechen counterpart. That is a real risk for Kadyrov and both he and his entourage have thought about what to do.

            Some would likely flee to the Middle East – that is why Grozny’s efforts to develop ties with countries there matter so much, Sokiryanskaya says – others might try to make an arrangement with the new powers that be; and still others might be prepared to fight. After all, Chechens have been fighting for their land for a long time.

            Kadyrov or his aides probably could not count on the loyalty of the 20,000 armed men nominally under his control in such an event. But “in conditions of contemporary partisan war, one doesn’t need a large number of fighters. Therefore even 1000 well instructed and armed people is no small thing.”

            The Chechen leader could also try to become “the successor of Dzhokhar Dudayev.” Some of the latter’s supporters would back him against the Russians, but most of them, the ICG analyst says, would then want to get rid of him and put one of their own in power. That is not an especially attractive option for Kadyrov.

            The best way forward, Sokriyanskaya suggests, is for some limits to be put on Kadyrov’s freedom of action (She says 80 percent of his interior ministry troops would be happier if that were done.) and for Chechnya to be gradually integrated into the Russian political and legal spaces.

            Moving in that direction, she concedes, won’t easy; but as the current situation isn’t sustainable, not doing so guarantees that the future will be far more troubled than the present and perhaps as chaotic as the not so distant past.