Kremlinsplaining and Its Discontents

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Vladimir Putin Explains How to Debate the 1917 Revolution
Delovoi Peterburg
November 3, 2017

Discussion of the 1917 Revolution should be based on facts and documents, President Vladimir Putin emphasized in his greeting to participants of international events occasioned by the Russian Revolution’s centenary.

“The turbulent, dramatic events of 1917 are an inalienable, complicated part of our history. The revolution had a tremendous impact on the evolution of Russia and the world, and it largely defined the political, economic, and social picture of the twentieth centure,” noted the president, as quoted by TASS.

The president also said the interest of public figures, scholars, and the media in a deep and comprehensive interpretation of the era was legitimate.

“Yet I am convinced that even the most heated polemics must be based on facts and docoments, on an objective and respectful attitude to the past. I hope that your meetings, which shall bring together people from many countries, will contribute to this constructive discussion,” Putin said.

Earlier, Rossotrudnichestvo (Russian Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation) reported it would be holding various events commemorating the centenary of the October Revolution at Russian Culture Houses in over eighty countries.

“Russian Culture Houses in more than 80 countries [will] host exhibitions, science conferences [sic] and seminars, which aim on delivering an objective approach to historical events to foreign audience,” the agency said.

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Attack of the Bio Samples
How Conspiracy Theories Flourish
Vladimir Ruvinsky
Vedomosti
October 31, 2017

Vladimir Putin’s story about the collecting of “bio samples” in Russia by persons unknown for unknown purposes has stirred up Russians. It is a telltale case of a double distortion and an example of society’s sensitivity to conspiracy theories, which flourish in an impoverished informational environment.

The president made his remarks at a meeting of the Human Rights Council. They were seemingly spontaneous. Council member Igor Borisov had complained to the president that, according to his information, certain people were using video surveillance systems in Russia to gather images of Russians for unknown purposes. That was nothing, responded Putin. Bio samples from different ethnic groups and regions were also being “deliberately and professionally” collected nationwide. The question was why.

The story took on even more dramatic overtones when the president’s press secretary tried to explain it.

According to Dmitry Peskov, “Certain emissaries conduct such work: employees of nongovernmental organizations and other entities.”

The Russian secret services had reported them to the president, Peskov claimed.

But you did not need the secret services to tell you this. The notion of “bio samples” is broad, including, for example, blood tests, which have been done in Russia for approximately 150 years, and performed by Russians and foreigners alike. Obviously, Putin had in mind genetic samples. Methods for rapidly deciphering DNA sequences were discovered in 1977. DNA became a research subject at approximately the same time in the Soviet Union, and nowadays genetic research is carried out worldwide. Genes and genetics are global phenomena, and the DNA of all human beings is 99% identical.

There are two main areas of research. Medical genetics, in which individual samples from sick and healthy people are studied to determine, in particular, predispositions to certain diseases, and population genetics, which studies samples from different ethnic groups in order to reconstruct the history of peoples [sic], notes biologist Mikhail Gelfand. Research objectives can overlap. Apparently, Putin had population genetics in mind, but data has long been collected in Russia for both medical genetic and population genetic research. This work has been done by pharmaceutical companies (as part of clinical trials), medical centers (as part of genetic counseling), and researchers (as part of their search for the genes that trigger diseases).

Russia has been actively involved in international genome projects. In 2015, the results of a multi-year study of the gene pool of Slavic and Baltic peoples were published. The study was done by Russian and international geneticists, and one question they explored was who the Slavs were. In the same year, the Genome Russian Project, supported by Putin, was launched. Its aim is to create an open-accesss database containing anonymous genetic information about 3,000 men and women, the indigenous people of Russia’s various regions. The project has been coordinated by an American, Stephen O’Brien. There have been no reports the secret service has any gripes with the project.

Perhaps it is a commercial conflict. Valery Ilyinsky, director of the company Genotek, told RIA Novosti that two research centers in Moscow and Petersburg had been collecting bio samples from different Russian ethnic groups and sending them to colleagues in the US for research studies, but these studies could have bee done in Russia as well.

In the absence of a foreword such as I have just provided (I wonder how much the president was told), what Putin said sounded ominous, of course. Ignorance generates feelings of fears and danger. It is one step from there to conspiracy theories about genetic weapons and a future biological war that would threaten to destroy Russians. (According to Gelfand, even theoretically, it would be possible to devise a genetic weapon only against an ethnic group that had been living in isolation for a thousand years, which does not apply to Russians.) Of course it was wrong to claim that Russians were being targeted for biological war, stipulated Federation Council member Franz Klintsevich, but one must be ready.

This was not the first time the president has been sold a pack of imaginary threats. In 2007, FSB director Nikolai Patrushev reported to Putin that bio samples were being sent from Russia to the US. They were being used, allegedly, in a program for developing a “genetic bioweapon” targeting Russians. Patrushev claimed the weapon would be capable of damaging the health of ethnic Russians to point of killing them or rendering them infertile (as reported by Kommersant). Consequently, the Russian customs service banned the export of all bio samples, including hair, blood, and clinical analyses, which threatened the lives of thousands of Russians, who needed to be paired with bone marrow donors in German clinics. The ban was lifted after public protests, but the notion has proven tenacious.

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Central Bank Says Russians Mistrust Low Inflation Figures
Yevgeny Kalyukov
RBC
October 31, 2017

A survey conducted by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation has shown that most Russians had noticed a price rise for goods that, according to official statistics, had become cheaper.

Most Russians do not believe Russia’s inflation rate has slowed to 3% per annum, according to the Central Bank’s report. Commissioned by the bank, the survey showed 56% of Russians were certain that by the end of 2017 the total rise in consumer prices would be “considerably higher than 4%,” and 75% of respondents claimed that over the previous twelve months prices had risen no more slowly or even more quickly than earlier.

“People are not yet ready to believe inflation really has slowed to such a low level. A considerable role in this discrepancy has also been played by the volatility of prices for individual goods and services,” the Central Bank report says.

Zoya Kuzmina, head of the review group in the monetary policy department at the Central Bank, noted that Russians’ subjective perception of changes in prices of goods they purchase regularly was at odds with official statistics.

“In reality, sugar prices have decreased nearly by 50% on the year. Fruits and vegetables have also become cheaper, while prices for tea and coffee have increased somewhat (by around 2%). But respondents said prices for all these goods had increased,” Kuzmina explained.

According to Kuzmina, the survey’s outcome confirmed Russians “would need a little more time to get used to low inflation.”

According to the Central Bank’s reports, inFom’s October 2017 assessment of Russians’ inflationary expectations for the next twelve months had risen to 9.9%. The Central Bank, however, was confident that conditions for decreasing the populace’s inflationary expectations would emerge as inflation became entrenched at around 4%.

In early August 2017, Alexander Morozov, director of the Central Bank’s research and forecasting department, advised Russians to think less about rapid price growth, since it was just such sentiments that facilitated increased inflation.

Earlier, Central Bank chair Elvira Nabiullina warned that excessively low inflation could generate new difficulties for Russia’s “emerging economy.”

See my previous posts on the subject of official economic statistics in Russia:

Articles translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Yekaterina Kuzmina/RBC. The emphasis in the translations is mine.

 

Loyalties

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Dmitry Yegorchenkov and Nikita Danyuk (right), assistant heads of the Institute of Strategic Studies and Forecasting (ISIP) at the Russian People’s Friendship University, after lecturing at the Russian Congress of University Vice Chancellors for Morale and Discipline, Moscow, October 21, 2016. Photo courtesy of the institute’s Vkontakte page

Ideological Underachievement
Russian universities to examine the loyalty of students and lecturers
Alexander Chernykh
Kommersant
October 24, 2016

Kommersant has learned that volunteers at Russian universities have been working to assess the “protest potential” of students and professors. The results will be “compiled as memorandums for official use by state authorities.” Attendees of the Russian Congress of University Vice Chancellors for Morale and Discipline, which took place this past weekend, discussed the assessment. The authors of the study have discovered that the “destructive promotion of anti-state ideas has been occurring” among the student bodies and faculties of the capital’s universities. On the eve of the presidential election, they intend to shift their focus to regional universities.

It was the sixth time the Russian Congress of University Vice Chancellors for Morale and Discipline had taken place in Moscow. Representatives of 642 educational organizations from eighty-one regions attended the congress. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev sent his greetings to the congress, and  guests of honor included Stanislav Sulakov, acting head of the Moscow Center for Extremism Prevention (Center “E”), Metropolitan Merkurii, chair of the Synodal Department for Religious Education and Catechesis, and Ernestas Mackevičius, presenter of the news program Vesti.

The meeting of the vice chancellors kicked off with a discussion of a sensitive issue.

“For twenty years, we have had to prove that the country needs discipline and morale in the universities,” complained Zinaida Kalinina, a vice chancellor at Tula Pedagogical University.  Even Pushkin said, ‘The university completes the soul’s education.’ Let them argue with Alexander Sergeyevich [Pushkin]!”

Alexander Stradze, former head of the Department of State Policy on the Education of Children and Youth, one of the first officials to be dismissed by Olga Vasilyeva, the new Minister of Education and Science, tried to define the vector of the discussion. He introduced himself as assistant head of Rossotrudnichestvo, but from force of habit he attempted to preach to the vice chancellors.

“The state’s educational ideology has moved away from paternalism,” he explained. “Yes, it’s easier, probably, to work with loyal subjects, with subordinates. But the country and the conditions are no longer the same today. Nowadays, we bring up children in terms of humanism, free choice, and support for individuality. This path is justified in any democratic society.”

Alexander Balitsky, vice chancellor at Izhevsk Technical University and a former lecturer in the department of scientific socialism, tore the ex-official’s speech to shreds.

“Everything we do has often been canceled out by sociocultural circumstances,” Balitsky began in a roundabout way. “And these circumstances even often originate  in our ministry.”

Mr. Balitsky casually, as it were, mentioned that the Ministry of Education and Science has been implementing a nationwide project entitled “Time to Act,” and read aloud a message from [ministry] officials to university students.

“Twelve of the country’s best entrepreneurs will share their know-how and teach you think in new ways. On September 22, entrepreneur Oskar Hartmann—” the vice chancellor underscored the entrepreneur’s [non-ethnic Russian] given name and surname,* while the audience applauded and laughed in support “—will talk about how you need to think to become a dollar millionaire by the age of thirty.”

“Nifty, eh? There’s an ideal for you. I have nothing against entrepreneurs, but these are not the core values we need. With all due respect to the Ministry of Education and Science.”

“But now there have  been changes in the ministry,” an audience member reminded him.

“Thank God,” the speaker replied.

“Yeah, and there won’t be anymore Soroses,” someone joyfully shouted from the crowd.

“I think the expert community understands the country is in a state of undeclared war,” said Nikita Danyuk, assistant head of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Forecasting (ISIP) at the Russian People’s Friendship University. “It is hybrid in nature, and there are many fronts.  One of them runs inside our country: it is the mental front.”

Complaining that “western planners” use the “practice of inspiring coups,” he acknowledged university students were one of the main “destructors.” To keep the country from “plunging into chaos and anarchy,” Mr. Danyuk’s team had drafted a special educational program, entitled “Scenarios of Russia’s Future,” a series of lectures on “combating politically destructive forces.” Over the past two years, Mr. Danyuk and his colleagues had visited over forty universities in Moscow and a dozen regional universities, where they had encouraged the students to openly express their own views on political issues “and even join in the discussion.” Surrounded by his colleagues, however, Danyuk admitted the real purpose of the trip had been to assess the “protest potential” of students and lecturers.

“The outcomes of the project were compiled as memorandums for official use, including by government officials and officers of certain specialized organizations,” Mr. Danyuk announced proudly. “Unfortunately, the destructive promotion of anti-state ideas has been occurring among professors and lecturers—not openly,  but without being shy about it.”

Danyuk said that society was “most exposed to destructive spin doctoring during the electoral  cycle.”

“Fortunately, our country negotiated the milestone of the parliamentary elections nearly without losses, but our project will be relevant until 2018, when the presidential election will be held. And from the viewpoint of prevention, it will be relevant beyond then.”

The Institute of Strategic Studies and Forecasting at the Russian People’s Friendship University is headed by Georgy Filimonov, a professor in the department of the theory and history of international relations. The university’s website relates that, from 2005 to 2009, Prof. Filimonov worked in the presidential administration as a foreign policy advisor. According to Mr. Danyuk, the “Scenarios of Russia’s Future” lecture series has been implemented with the involvement of the Anti-Maidan Movement, political scientist Nikolai Starikov, and “other media figures.”  The project has already been the source of controversy. In May 2015, students and lecturers at the Russian State University for the Humanities attempted to disrupt a lecture by Nikolai Starikov at their university. Mr. Danyuk confirmed to  Kommersant that he had been at the event. In his opinion, the protest had been organized not by students, but by lecturers at the university.

A series of books recommended for reading by Nikolai Starikov, on sale at a newstand in Pulkovo Airport, Petersburg, October 23, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader
A series of books recommended for reading by Nikolai Starikov, on sale at a news stand in Pulkovo Airport, Petersburg, October 23, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader

“The strategy of our foreign so-called colleagues has changed. The protest potential has now shifted to the regions, and we are really interested in making contact with people from regional universities and organizing events there,” he said.

At the end of the event, the vice chancellors queued up to talk with Mr. Danyuk, vying with each other to invite him to their universities and assess the “protest potential” of their colleagues.

* According to an article, dated March 15, 2016, in the magazine Sekret firmy, businessman Oskar Hartmann was born in Kazakhstan to a family of Russian Germans.

Translated by the Russian Reader