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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
January 12, 2016

Publication: Windows on Eurasia
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Altay Artist Who Sought Independence for Siberia’s Turkic Peoples Celebrated in His Homeland
Staunton, VA, January 12, 2016 --  Today, in Gorno-Altaysk, the capital of the Altay Republic, more than 300 people assembled to honor the memory of Grigory Choros-Gurkin, an artist who briefly headed an independent Altay Republic during the Russian civil war and who supported independence for all of Siberia’s Turkic peoples.

Natalya Yekeyeva, the first deputy prime minister of the republic, told the meeting that “the current status of the Altay Republic” as a place “equal and free within” Russia was what Choros-Gurkin sought, but as the Turkist.org portal points out, the Altay artist in fact sought complete independence for his people and their land.

This is a rare case of Altay activism, but it is noteworthy, not only for calling attention to the plight of the various Turkic peoples in Siberia and the Russian Far East but also for helping to explain why there is what for many may seem the curious situation in which even today there are two federal subjects linked to that name, the Altay Republic and the Altay Kray.

Grigory Choros-Gurkin (1870-1937) was an Altay painter, poet, and ethnographer; but he was also a political leader during the Russian civil war. Then, when both the Whites and the Reds “tried each in its own way to preserve the former empire from disintegration, the Turkic peoples of Siberia no longer saw themselves as part of Russia,” the Turkist portal says.

Among those peoples were those of the Altay; and in early 1918,, Choros-Gurkin headed an independent mountainous Altay government, Karakorum-Altay, which “united ‘the lands and waters’ of the region which belonged to free Altay, ‘Jer Suu Khan-Altay.” His state raised its own flag and began a cultural revolution, opening schools and medical institutions.

Unfortunately, the then-independent republic did not have sufficient forces to defend itself against the Red Army which “drowned it in blood” and inflicted “real terror in the region,” the Turkist portal continues. But even Soviet historians acknowledged that this action had the effect of transforming there “’the civil war’ into a genuinely national one.”

One result of this was that Moscow divided the Altay into two parts, one a kray or territory within the Russian federation and the other “nominally all the same a sovereign state,” a neglected example of Soviet ethnic engineering which reduced the size, population and hence capacity to resist of the Altay Republic.

The Altay kray has an area of 169,100 square kilometers and a population of 2.4 million, 94 percent of whom are Russian; the Altay Republic has an area of 92,600 square kilometers and a population of 206,000, approximately 40 percent of whom are of Turkic background. By dividing the two, Moscow reduced the latter to a kind of reservation for those groups.

After the Karakorum-Altay Government was overthrown, Choros-Gurkin fled to Mongolia and then to Tyva which was at the time an independent country. In the mid-1920s, the artist returned to the Altay, but later he was charged with being “’a Pan-Turkist’ and ‘a Japanese agent’ and shot. He was rehabilitated in 1956.

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Putin’s Power Failure: He's Had Time and Resources to Transform Russia But Has Failed to Do So, Inozemtsev Says
Stauton, VA, January 12, 2016 -  Vladimir Putin has had the time and resources “to transform Russia if not into the next China then into a new Emirates by laying the foundations for economic growth over several decades,” Vladislav Inozemtsev says. But he didn’t do so and as a result, these years for Russia were and remain “lost.”

The Moscow economist says that “the country is being ruled by a man who talks a lot but does practically nothing concrete,” having relied “for more than a decade” on income from rising oil and gas prices. And how, he says, Putin can’t even come up with plans to stimulate business or inspire citizens.

Inozemtsev outlines the reasons for this damning conclusion in an essay on RBC.ru today, reasons that are especially compelling because most of them are not the opinions of this or that opposition commentator but rather are facts and figures published by the Russian government itself.

Putin has been in power for 16 years now, the economist says, and as a result, he and Russia enter his 17th year in even worse shape than anyone could have imagined. Average pay in Russia if converted into dollars is now at the level of 2005. GDP has been falling and will continue to fall. And US $280 billion dollars of capital has fled abroad over the last three years.

The only thing going up is the military budget. It has increased in ruble terms by 7.5 times and in dollars by 4.4 times; and at the same time, “the bureaucracy has finally been converted into a ruling class with hundreds of new heraldic devices.” Russia now is involved in two wars, which have alienated its neighbors and led to sanctions from the major powers.

For most of his 16 years in power, Putin benefitted from rising oil and gas prices; but instead of using the earnings to transform Russia, he and his regime took the money for themselves and left Russia and the Russian people in even worse shape than many of them had been before he came to power. Now with oil prices falling, all that is becoming clear.

Russia is producing less gas now than it did in 1999, even though Qatar over the same period has increased its output by more than seven times. Two years ago, Rosneft bought TNK-BP for $55 billion but now Rosneft itself is evaluated as being worth only “about $34 billion.

The only place where there has been any real growth as opposed to growth as a result of rising prices for raw materials has been in the non-state sectors. Under Putin, it has been the state rather than anything else that has been “the brake.”

Countries that experience a sudden burst in income either from rising world prices for their raw materials or because of increased production almost invariably invest in infrastructure, almost all countries that is except for Putin’s Russia, Inozemtsev points out. Over the last 16 years, Russia hasn’t put in place a single kilometer of contemporary high speed rail.

During the last two years, it has built 1200 kilometers of new roads annually, “four times less than was the case in 2000,” the first year of Putin’s power. In a similar war, Gazprom figures show that the country has managed to increase the level of gasification of Russian villages by 0.1 percent to 65.4 percent over the last 16 years.

At that rate, Inozemtsev says, “the task of complete gasification will be fulfilled at the start of the 22nd century.” Russian ports are handling fewer goods than they did earlier, and cargo on the Northern Sea Route today is lower by a lot (130,000 tons as against 460,000 tons) than it was when Putin came to office.

What has Putin offered Russians? “Only beautiful promises,” which keep being repeated each year and whose fulfillment is pushed off ever further into the future.

Putin has made the country more dependent on petroleum exports. In 1999, oil, oil products and gas formed 39.7 percent of all exports. By 2014, they made up 69.5 percent. But those who live by oil prices can die from them as well, especially if the economy is dependent on export earnings to make its way rather than on domestic production.

But despite all the money that poured into Russia for a time because of this oil and gas boom in exports, “no industrial transformation took place in Russia: in the course of all the Putin years, it was and remains the only one of the emerging markets where the growth of industrial production lags behind the rate of GDP growth.

Putin’s Russia is overwhelmingly dependent on imports in many sectors, and “if our ‘partners’ want to achieve the complete collapse of the Russian economy, it is sufficient for them to prohibit the import into the country of these supplies.” Meanwhile, pensions, education and health care have all been cut back or allowed to deteriorate.

And in foreign policy, the 16 years of Putin have not brought much to celebrate. His actions have transformed Ukraine from a friend to an enemy and driven away most of the former Soviet republics. He has begun a military operation in Syria only to discover that it will take more money than Moscow has.

This is not a record anyone should be proud of or that Russia can afford to see continued for much longer.

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
United Russia Doesn’t Have Program for the Future, But Non-Russian Groups Do
Staunton, VA, January 12, 2016 -- There are many parallels between Russia today and Russia in the past. One of the most intriguing is that now, as in 1990-1991, politicians in Moscow are increasingly unable to offer any program for the future while activists in many of the non-Russian republics have clearly developed ones.

That divide, one that may again cut support for the center while boosting it for the republics just as at the end of the Soviet period, is highlighted this week by two announcements. United Russia says it won’t make any promises because it can’t see clearly what is going to occur in the future, but the Karelian Republic Movement has issued a detailed program.

RBC reports today citing a Kremlin source that the ruling United Russia Party will avoid making any specific promises in the election campaign at least until June 2016. “It it is not very clear what can be promised and therefore [that] document will be abstract,” he says.

Further, the source indicated, local candidates will make “programmatic proposals” with “the most interesting of these” being included in the pre-election program. It is important to stress, he said, that ‘precisely these people from the lower levels will propose the programmatic theses.” While he did not say so, that could further fragment the party of power.

In previous elections, United Russia has simply used the statements of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev as its program.

An example of a republic-based group that says it is “obligated to present its program for the elections” and has done so is the Karelian Republic Movement. In a new year’s address to the people of that republic, it says that it will continue to “seek to establish real federal relations between the center and the regions."

The movement says that it will continue to “stand for the implementation of the letter and spirit of the basic law of our country, which defends the rights of the multi-national population of the country through the existence of national republics,” which in turn “are called on in the first instance to defend, support and develop the national uniqueness, traditions, culture and language of the native population that lives in them.”

“We see,” it continues, “that in recent times bureaucrats are trying to emasculate the Constitution of the country by violating some laws and adopting others which contribute to the harming of the rights of the indigenous nationalities.”

Moscow is now so arranging things that the republics lack the resources to do what needs to be done and instead are forced to send their natural resources and the profits of their enterprises to people in Moscow and St. Petersburg rather than to keep it at home, the movement says.

"But we also know,” it continues, “that if the population of the republic supports its national and regional elites and these elites in turn are interested I having the republic and its citizens develop and become richer, then this will give a good chance to defend their rights and demand that the bureaucrats fulfill federal law.”

An example of Moscow’s overreach and anti-constitutional actions is the Russian law that blocks republics from calling their top official president, even when support for this is “very strong” among the local population as in Tatarstan. Other republics can learn from its actions and not fall victim to “the illegal intimidation of the bureaucrats from Moscow.”

The Karelian Republic Movement believes that officials at all levels and in all branches of power should be elected. “The people of Karelia must have the right to choose both the legislative powers of cities, villages, districts, and republics, as well as the heads of executive power, mayors, heads of districts, and also the head of the Republic of Karelia.”

People in these positions must be responsible “to the people who elected them and not to the bureaucrats and politicians from parties which ignore the federal system of the Russian Federation,” the movement declares. And it will seek a revision of the tax system so that the majority of money raised in a republic will stay there.

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Over Long Winter Vacation This Year, Russians Stayed Home and Drank Less, But Some Businesses Benefitted
Staunton, VA, January 12, 2016 -- Over the long Russian winter break which is about to end, ever fewer Russians travelled especially abroad, 40 percent of them drank less, and in general spent “the holidays on the couch,” according to a survey by RBC. But there were some bright spots: stores, restaurants and online movie supplies in Russia itself had better times than a year earlier.

The share of Russians in major cities who travelled abroad this year fell by about 20 percent from a year earlier, and an Internet poll found that for the country as a whole, only 1.9 percent of Russians did so this year as compared to 2.9 percent last. For Muscovites, the figures were higher but also declined, from 6.3 percent to 4.6 percent.

Because so many Russians remained at home generally, that helped retailers to increase sales, and many Russians who did travel within the country did so to make purchases at shopping centers, where customer traffic increased by 20 percent this year over last. The greatest increases were in theaters, game centers and restaurants.

More Russians were buying televisions and refrigerators this year than last, a reflection of their spending more time at home and of the falling value of the ruble against foreign currencies. But surveys of retailers found that in their view, people were behaving more normally than they did a year ago when the first shockwave of devaluation passed through the country.

With regard to New Year’s celebrations, Russian said they planned to spend seven percent less than last year, 29 percent said they were going to buy less expensive presents, and 40 percent said they planned to economize on spending for alcoholic beverages. Eleven percent more than last year – 70.7 percent – said they planned to celebrate at home.

Nonetheless, some restaurants benefitted because fewer people were travelling, and so too did museums. Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery saw a huge boost in attendance, which officials there linked to the exhibit devoted to the 150th anniversary of popular Russian artist Valentin Serov.

A third fewer people bought tickets at movie theaters this year than last, but more spent money for online movies, one way Russians could but back in spending but keep themselves entertained.

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