Monday, May 23, 2016

Doping Scandal May Cost Moscow Right to Host 2018 World Cup, Analysts Say



Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 – If as a result of the dopining scandal, the International Olympic Committee votes to prevent Russian athletes from taking part in the Rio Games, then FIFA, the international football association which is obligated to follow IOC decisions, would likely strip Russia of its right to host the 2018 World Cup, two Moscow analysts say.

            That would constitute a major public relations disaster for Vladimir Putin who has made the hosting of this competition the most important follow-on event to the 2014 Sochi Olympiad, and it would also eliminate one of the major channels through which he has corruptly purchased the support of key Russian elites.

            Consequently, the IOC decision, which a drumbeat of recent events suggests will go against Moscow, could cast a far larger shadow than many now think and have serious repercussions in Russian politics, repercussions far larger if as yet less attended to than a ban on Russian athletes at the upcoming Olympiad.

            Writing on the “Profile” portal, Dmitry Dedashin and Viktor Khrushchev argues that “the doping scandal which broke out last fall … has gone to a new level,” one in which Russia may become the first country in history to be stripped of the right to send all its athletes to an Olympiad (profile.ru/obshchestvo/sport/item/106843-sport-vysokikh-napryazhenij).

            That prospect has become possible since it now appears, on the basis of statements by Vitaly Stepanov and Georgy Rodchenkov, two former Russian officials in a position to know, that the Russian sports authorities and Russian government engaged in mass deceptions about the use of drugs by its athletes at the Sochi Games, according to IOC President Thomas Bach.

            Moscow’s reaction to this has been to denounce the reporting in the Western media as an anti-Russian “spectacle” and “invention.” But that has not stopped WADA expanding its investigation and the FBI getting involved as well, steps that are likely to keep this issue in the public eye and raise more questions about Russian behavior.



No One Should Be Surprised by Gorbachev’s Support for Putin’s Crimean Anschluss, Malgin Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 – Given his own willingness to use violence against people in Kazakhstan, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia and elsewhere, no one should be surprised that the first and last Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev says he supports Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and, in his place, would have done the same, according to Andrey Malgin.

            But Gorbachev’s remarks which appeared in an interview with London’s “Sunday Times” call attention to his own willingness to use lethal force and “worker detachments” which all too often are forgotten, the Italy-based commentator suggests; and he would have been better served by saying nothing (nr2.com.ua/publications/U-Gorbacheva-ruki-po-lokot-v-krovi-publicist-Andrey-Malgin-119895.html).

            Gorbachev’s reign began, Malgin points out, with his use of force, including “worker detachments” of the kind Putin has relied and also consisting of “ethnic Russian hooligans,” to suppress protests by young people in Alma-Ata and Karaganda against the CPSU general secretary’s imposition of an ethnic Russian in place of an ethnic Kazakh as that republic’s leader.

            There were deaths, and two years later, in another Kazakhstan city, Novy Uzen, Gorbachev sent in the special forces to suppress another demonstration by young people. And again there were victims.

            Less than a year after that, Malgin continues, when the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh petitioned Gorbachev to grant them independence from Azerbaijan, he sent into that republic another group of Soviet internal troops, where they “stood shoulder to shoulder” with the Azerbaijanis, he says.

            Then in April 1989, Gorbachev sent troops into Tbilisi to suppress Georgian demonstrations, and these troops used a new weapon to do their work. In addition to gas, they dispatched many of the protesters with entrenching tools. Sixteen Georgians died on the spot, and 250 more were hospitalized.

            And in early 1991, Gorbachev ordered troops to fire on demonstrators in Vilnius and Riga in a failed attempt to prevent those Baltic countries from pursuing independence. (Malgin doesn’t mention it, but the Soviet leader wanted to do the same thing in Tallinn but was blocked by the commander of the Tartu air base, Maj. Gen. Dzhokhar Dudayev, who closed air traffic over that northern Baltic republic.)

            Despite those who believe Gorbachev wanted to destroy the USSR, the Russian commentator continues, the Soviet president in fact was committed to using force in the name of preserving it, although his use of force probably had the unintended consequence of accelerating the demise of the empire.

            The only thing that might surprise anyone is that Gorbachev delayed so long in making his declaration of support for Putin's Anschluss, but Malgin says there is a likely explanation for that: the former Soviet leader probably didn't want to offend his Western supporters but now has concluded that for him that isn't as important as not offending Putin.

            In response to Gorbachev’s statement, the Ukrainian foreign ministry has put him on a watch list of those banned from entering Ukraine. More than that, Kyiv has asked that the European Union impose the same restrictions on his travel to any member country and to impose other sanctions on him.

            Malgin says that if he were in Putin’s place, he would have responded to any question about Crimea “with humor.” After all he could point out that he was at Foros in Ukraine when the August coup occurred and he could simply express his “gratitude” for the support he received from the people on the peninsula.



Only 55 Percent of Russians Who Say They’re Orthodox Believe in God, Surveys Show



Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 23 – Russian Orthodoxy is more an ethnic marker than a faith for many Russians, given that only 55 percent of those who identify as Orthodox say they believe in God and an additional 10 percent say they have doubts about His existence, with large numbers placing their faith in superstitions and even witchcraft, surveys show.

            But precisely because Russian Orthodoxy is more an ethnic rather than a religious identity for many, it has been far easier for the Moscow Patriarchate to offer itself as the foundation of the state, to support in many cases a rapprochement with the Soviet past, and to back the repression of dissent in a manner consistent with the communists.

            In this week’s “Argumenti nedeli,” journalist Denis Terentyev discusses the pretensions of the Moscow Patriarchate to make Orthodoxy the foundation of Russian national identity and the many reasons for thinking this “foundation” is anything but the simple and unified thing its supporters claim (argumenti.ru/toptheme/n539/448944).

            The Patriarchate routinely invokes VTsIOM’s finding that “75 percent of the population of Russia considers itself to be Orthodox” as the basis for its claims.  But such claims need to be examined with care, not only because they conceal as much as they reveal but because of the hierarchy’s frequent “crude falsifications” of all kinds.

            Polls on the religious affiliation of the population first began to be conducted at the end of the 1980s, Terentyev points out. At that time, the sociologists found that from 16 to 19 percent of the population declared themselves to be Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists, while 70 percent said they were unbelievers.

                By 1993, however, 69 percent of Russian men and 82 percent of Russian women declared that they were believers; and the leaders of the various religions drew on “these fantastic statistics” to claim that there were 120 million Orthodox and 40 million Muslims, for a total “greater than the 140 million people” in the country.

            Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center polling agency, adds that Russian Orthodoxy is “an ethno-confessional identity” rather than a faith, with fewer than seven percent of those saying they are Orthodox in fact observing religious rules, fewer than half attending services regularly, and only 55 percent of them saying they believe in God.

            Moreover, he continues, “25 percent of the Orthodox believe in magic and witchcraft, and 30 percent believe in astrology and horoscopes … [and only] about half of the Russian Orthodox have not opened the Bible, with only a handful able to name all ten of the Commandments.”

            Like many in Europe, a large share of Russians identify with a religion but place no faith in it, surveys show.  And an increasing number who declare that they are believers do not link themselves to any particular denomination. In Russia today, such people number 4.2 percent or six million, “more than the population of St. Petersburg,” Terentyev points out.

            Another two million are those who identify as Orthodox but do not link themselves with either the Russian Orthodox Church or the Old Believers.  Few of them organize into congregations but have views produced by personal reading and reflection, Russian experts suggest.

            Roman Lunkin, a specialist on religious life at the Moscow Institute of Europe, says that his survey found that only five percent of Russians polled are part of a specific congregation and regularly attend church.  “Experts have known about these figures for a long time, but they are consistently ignored by politicians and church hierarchs,” he adds.

            Others have made similar points. An article in “Moskovsky komsomolets” yesterday, for example, suggests that superstition, not religion, is overwhelming Russians today (mk.ru/social/2016/05/22/nevynosimaya-legkost-vyrozhdeniya.html), and a commentary on the Russkaya narodnya liniya site today offers an even more disturbing observation.

            It suggests that the neo-paganism now spreading throughout the country is to Russian Orthodoxy what Islamism is to traditional Islam, implicitly calling for the same methods to be directed against neo-pagans that are already being visited upon radical Muslims (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2016/05/23/neoyazychestvo_ne_imeet_nikakogo_otnosheniya_k_tradiciyam/).

            If that approach is adopted, the number of Russians who will say they are Orthodox almost certainly will rise; but the number of them who will actually become believers may in fact decline as it becomes obvious that Orthodoxy is a political category rather than a religious one, something a Russian must declare to fit in rather than a faith he or she can live by.