What is happening in Russia?
(May 2nd 2020)
Putin disappeared for almost two weeks. Then he started appearing on the TV screen and said something unintelligible. For the Russian regime, this is bad news, because Putin, even when he appears on the screen, shows weakness and behaves uncertainly. When the Russian Czar behaves like this, it causes rejection from everyone, including from the highest officialdom. The whole situation, with the unconvincing and occasionally disappearing Czar Putin, reminded me of the situation after June 22, 1941. On this day, the Wehrmacht attacked the Soviet Union and pinned down the Red Army, having killed or captured 3 million soldiers in a few months. At that time, Stalin disappeared until July 3 i.
Real assistance to the population is hardly provided ii. Putin said that people should stay at home, and at the same time they will receive a wage. But he has not centrally imposed any ban on going to work. And in addition, he did not introduce a system that obliges businesses to pay wages. What he said was just words. So businessmen said that they don’t care what Putin says – either you work, or we dismiss you. Millions of people continue to work in Moscow and other cities.
Putin left a number of important decisions on quarantine to the discretion of the regions. This is also a bad sign for the Kremlin. The weakening of the center is accompanied by the strengthening of regions that have received special powers for anti-crisis measures. In principle, both processes are correlated and both indicate developing cracks in the foundation of the system and the threat of “feudalization”. However, now there is no request for the collapse of the state.
So regional governors have taken up the task. In some regions, quarantine is only introduced. Slightly. In the North Caucasus Republic of Ingushetia, the population have massively refused to comply with the quarantine due to the fact that people do not have money. People move freely in cities and towns, they work, buy food at markets, and celebrate weddings. This has led to an increase in diseases, now in Ingushetia every day dozens of people are admitted to hospitals with a diagnosis of pneumonia iii. The problem is that people have no choice, they have to go to work to survive.
In Moscow, the situation is strange. Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin has introduced special electronic passwords for those who want to take the metro to work (you must get such a password at the city municipality or a from your boss at the workplace). It is being suggested that in the future people will have to enter special passwords if you want to leave the house for food, but this is still being discussed. However, the introduction of electronic passes immediately led to disaster. Since no one is paying wages to most Muscovites, millions of people have to continue to work. Cafes, restaurants and non-grocery stores are closed, but many businesses are open. Early on Wednesday (April 15th) morning, about 1 million Muscovites came to 330 metro stations. At each station police officers were waiting for them, checking their passwords. Immediately, there were traffic jams. Thousands of people were squeezed into crowds at the narrow entrances to metro stations. People stood close together for a long time in 330 crowds. There is little doubt that many were infected at this point…
As far as I can see, there is growing public anger against the regime on the one hand, and fear of illness on the other. This is also a negative scenario for the government.
Thus in Russia we can see
А) Some weakening of the Central power of the Kremlin
B) Strengthening of the power of regional governments
C) Growth of public irritation and anger.
On April 20th, there was a riot in the North Caucasus Republic of Ossetia (a subject of the Russian Federation inhabited by a people called Ossetians; they are mainly Christians and speak a language close to Farsi). The authorities in Ossetia kept silent about the real number of Coronavirus cases, and poorly organized the process of hospitalization and treatment. As a result, masses of people began to flock to the center of Vladikavkaz (the capital of Ossetia) and put forward demands to the government to fix the situation. https://www.facebook.com/100000508025633/videos/3605409226152643/
As expected, the month of “self-isolation”, which left thousands, if not millions of people without means of livelihood, provoked mass discontent. The day of April 20 seeems to have become a turning point. Residents of Vladikavkaz in Ossetia went to the rally, some of the police refused to disperse the protesters. Demonstrators began throwing stones at the remaining guards. However, Police in Vladikavkaz track the cars of protesters, and then arrest people on the road.
Meanwhile, in other cities protests took place on the internet. In Rostov-on-Don, a self-isolated “rally” was held in YandexMaps. People wrote demands for an emergency declaration (in this case, demanding the government be obliged to pay money for those who lost their jobs and businesses), some demanding the overthrow of the dictatorship. Individual users in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk and other cities joined the “rally”.
However, the Russian monarchy can be very stable in spite of everything, in conditions of fear and the passivity of the population. But clearly some people are starting to not be so passive.
More information here:
The protests in Ossetia, as it became known, were initiated by a local Covid-dissident – Vadim Cheldiev. He is an opera singer and a sort of rebel (he took part in various public protests in this Republic), as well as a Stalinist. He is currently under arrest. He is quite well-known in Ossetia, so his call to go to the square was heard.
He was arrested for claiming that there was no epidemic, and for criticizing the authorities, and received a large monetary fine. After that, he called on people to go to the square in Vladikavkaz, the capital of Ossetia, to protest (Russia has adopted laws that make it a criminal offense to spread “incorrect information about the pandemic”, as well as criminal penalties for “spreading any false information”, and criminal penalties for “insulting” officials).
However, the key problem is that people are locked in their homes, and many are running out of money and unable to buy food. Therefore, people were outraged by what was happening and demanded the resignation of the head of local government, the end of forced isolation/confinement, etc.
In mid-April 2020, Vadim Cheldiev published a video on his YouTube channel, in which he called for the use of “iron ZIU” (a bank card) to help the poor who are suffering from loss of work and income as a result of isolation in the context of the coronavirus epidemic. He also asked food traders to help poor Ossetians.
Later he said that the epidemic doesn’t exist, and that it was invented by the regime in order to rob the people.
Cheldiev’s hero is Joseph Stalin. His country is the Soviet Union. In 2016, he supported Bitarov (the head Of Ossetia): “I believe in our new head, Vyacheslav Bitarov. To be honest, I do not remember such positive changes occuring in the Republic before. I am proud of such an elder! I am sure that he will succeed. Our business is to stand by his side for the good of the Motherland! ” But later Cheldiev threatened him: “Vyacheslav Bitarov, you should know: people have long wanted your blood and the blood of your relatives”
Well… Vyacheslav Bitarov is not just the head of the Republic of Ossetia, but a multi-millionaire who owns many, if not all, profitable businesses in Ossetia. At the same time, Ossetia is one of the poorest republics in Russia.
I know personally some Ossetians a little bit. They are warlike mountaineers who created a small militia that defeated a large Georgian army several times. 600,000 Ossetians live in Russia, and about 50,000 in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, which separated from Georgia with the help of Russia. 80% of Ossetians are Christians and 20% are Muslims. Ossetians are at war in the South with Georgia and they are sort of at war with the Ingush (a Muslim people close to the Chechens) in the East (Republic of Ingushetia is also part of Russia).
This tribalistic enmity makes Christian Ossetia a natural geopolitical ally of Russia and a pillar of the Russian Empire in the troubled Caucasus.
However, despite these tribalistic and geopolitical settings, the majority of Ossetians live in extreme poverty, and many hate the rich clan in power that is linked to the Kremlin. The situation is exactly the same in neighboring Ingushetia. If it were not for tribalism and disputes over land, the lower classes (workers, self-employed, farmers, small traders) of Ossetian and Ingush society would have long ago united against the Kremlin and against the richest authorities. However, the Russian Empire has always effectively relied on tribalist contradictions.
26th April: An illegal street party was held in the suburbs of Moscow. Unlike Americans, Russians who remain at home do not receive assistance from the state. Many people are running out of money and food. The riot in Ossetia and yesterday’s street party in the suburbs of Moscow, as well as the spread of anti-covid conspiracy theories, are forms of reaction to this.
In general, Russian people nowadays (with the exception of the Caucasus) are not prone to riots. Modern Russians are very afraid of the state and they are very atomized. Nevertheless, these days the anger is gaining strength.
On the other hand, in Russia, people do not like the Western left-liberal agenda (Greta Tumberg, climate change and the fight against Harvey Weinstein). But conspiracy theories are quite popular here. Many believe that Covid-19 is a fantasy of the pharmaceutical companies, the Russian government, or God knows who.
The Russian state is a huge gas station that supplies Europe and China with energy, oil and gas. The ruling class in Russia appropriates the lion’s share of revenues from the oil pipe and gas valve. They need workers who maintain the pipe, security guards who protect them from the rest of the population, an army that protects them from other States… That is all. The rest of the population of Russia stands in their way. Why should they help anyone? This country is the property of the ruling class, and this class is most interested in controlling mineral resources. Even if the population decreases several times, why should this become a problem for them?
To be fair, civil servants and pensioners who stayed at home can get paid. But people in the private sector don’t get anything if they don’t work. Some work remotely, but many are forced to commute to work, or they sit at home without money.
4. Worker protests in Yakutia (written May 2nd, 2020)
The patience of shift workers in Yakutia, engaged in gas production, broke on April 27th when they went on strike and set up a picket line, where they expressed their demands for maintenance and nutrition in the conditions of the spread of the Coronavirus.
As early as April 11th positive tests were detected in many shift workers, and later the remaining 10,500 residents of working settlements took tests, but even weeks later there are still no results. People are not able to maintain even a semblance of social distancing as they live in cramped conditions, several people in a small space, and they have to share common baths and canteens. These are temporary migrant workers, migrating from other parts of Russia for about 6 months in order to get a far higher wage than they’d get in their own home town.
Hundreds of gas workers took part in the protest rally. This is the second major protest in Russia after the events in Ossetia.
Note that there are 4 other Coronavirus-related texts on this site:
Contestavirus, a chronology of strikes, riots and other forms of social contestation sparked off by this crisis
Cameravirus, about facial recognition cameras, including their developing use in the state’s arsenal of weapons given the pretext of combating the virus
i Not quite clear what is meant by this comparison, since Stalin appeared strong on July 3rd 1941, after everyone thought he’d fled Moscow, whereas Putin appeared weak, uncertain and was largely unintelligible. In a country as centralised and as accustomed over centuries (from the Czars to Lenin to Stalin and everybody since) to regarding their state leader as their all-powerful King, such weakness has encouraged competing politicians to become a great deal louder in their “criticism” of Putin – openly calling him and his elite thieves, oligarchs who’ve robbed Russia blind, criminals who should be in prison. Not that they in any way could or should be seen as something better – often, for instance, they demagogically manipulate xenophobic attitudes, verbally attacking the Caucasians, the Armenians and the Chechens around Putin (in the 90s it was the Jews around Yelsin who were attacked).
ii Putin has given only the equivalent of $2bn to the 86 regions, with a population of about 145 million people – ie a bit over $13 per person.
iii Officially, there’ve been 114,431 cases of Coronavirus infections reported in Russia so far and 1,169 deaths (figures for May 2nd – https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/04/20/coronavirus-in-russia-the-latest-news-april-19-a69117 ), but many say the true figure is probably 2 or 3 times that amount . The original link to this article on April 19th (which has now been suppressed) managed to contradict itself very blatantly (usually such self-contradictory statements are made with a day’s gap; after all even a goldfish might remember something contradictory said just a moment before). It said “There have been 47,121 cases of coronavirus infections reported in Russia so far and 405 deaths…. …Three hundred and sixty-one people have been killed by the virus.”