Saturday, November 18, 2017

Putin Wants to Ban All Non-Russian Oil and Gas Shipping on Northern Sea Route

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 18 – Vladimir Putin on Thursday told key ministers and business leaders that he wants Russian-flagged ships to have the exclusive right to move oil and gas across the Northern Sea Route and is prepared to consider extending a similar ban on non-Russian shipping to “other sea routes of our country.”

            Specifically, he said he wants to offer “ships sailing under the Russian flag the exclusive right to carry and store hydrocarbons along the Northern Sea Route,” an action that will “allow the growth of the amount of such shipments, strengthen the position of domestic shipping companies and create additional opportunities for the renewal of the fleets belong to them” ( and

            Putin added that “a corresponding draft law is now being considered in the State Duma,” one that he said will be “adopted in a short time.”  And then he added that he was aware that “there are proposals to extend this norm to other waterways of our country.”

            The Kremlin leader’s declaration puts Russia on a possible collision course with China and other countries interested in using the Northern Sea Route and makes it likely that they will explore routes further from the Russian coast in order to continue to make use of it ( and

            But more even than that, Putin’s words set the stage for new clashes between Moscow with its expansive claims of control over much of the Arctic and other Arctic powers both traditional and on the rise. 

Any Consistent Russian Nationalism Must be Western in Orientation, Shiropayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November18 – Aleksey Shiropayev, a self-described national democrat and longtime liberal Russian commentator, argues that any consistent Russian nationalism must be oriented toward Europe and oppose the imperialists in Russia who remain trapped within the paradigm of the Mongol horde.

            “The failure of the Kremlin’s aggression against Ukraine inevitably intensifies the crisis of Russian identity,” pointing to either its final “agony” or toward its fundamental “revision.”  The regime calls for “’popular unity’” but the way forward, he insists, is by separation into two camps regarding the Russian mentality (

            The first “type,” Shiropayev says, is “the traditional, archaic, ‘old Testament’ imperial and anti-Western, ‘Muscovite,’” in short.  “Its heroes are Ivan the Terrible and Stalin.  “The second type is anti-imperial and pro-European” and traces its origins to the free cities of Novgorod, Pskov, Tver and Ryazan of pre-Mongol times.

            Today, this second type takes the form of urban protests, the strivings of the young and the middle class to identify themselves in ways that open the way to the future rather than keeping them trapped in the past, the commentator continues. Indeed, the rise of “anti-Putin Russian nationalism” which is opposed to the Crimean Anschluss is the archetype of this kind.

            Nationalism has a bad name in Russia, but that’s because it is linked in the minds of many with the past or with trinkets rather than as it should be with the defense of Russianness as a form of European identity and a defense against the horde-like approach of the current government.

            Such Russian nationalists, he acknowledges, are not fundamentally different from those who describe themselves as Westernizers, especially since Russian nationalism understood in this way is not narrowly ethnic but rather about the promotion of a genuinely civic communal identity.

            Shiropayev suggests that the time has come to form “an informal, secular cultural-political net movement which could be called Alt-Rus,” for “Alternative Russians,” in order to reach out to all those “who want to be Russian but at the same time live in a contemporary and democratic country.”

            What this constitutes, he says, is an affirmative answer to the question as to whether “a positive, progressive Russian identity of the post-imperial era is possible or not.” 

            For this to take off, Shiropayev argues, Russians needs to go through the process of national self-determination within Russia “via federalism and regionalism.” There is  no reason that there shouldn’t be “several” genuinely ethnic Russian states on the territory of the country as it now exists given the enormous size of the Russian Federation.

            And he concludes with this observation: “everything will be decided not at the level of the clashes of Putinites and liberals, Russians and non-Russians but on the level of the opposition within the very understanding of Russianness itself.”

Two Unusual Faith Communities in Russia – ‘the Orthodox Godless’ and ‘the God-Fearing Atheists’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 18 – The relationship between faith and declared religious identity is never simple, but the gap between the two appears to be especially large in present-day Russia where a significant number of self-described atheists say they believe in heaven and many self-proclaimed Orthodox Christians declare they don’t believe in God.

            Those are just two of the findings of a new Levada Center poll released this week. Noting that the share of the population declaring itself atheist had declined from 36 percent in 1991 to 13 percent now, it found that the number of self-described believers had gone up from 14 percent to 34 percent over the same period (

            The survey did find that the percentage of Russians identifying as Orthodox has declined since 2009 from 36 percent to 25 percent, an indication that other faiths, including Islam, account for the continuing growth in the intervening period.

            But the most interesting finding of the new survey is that “almost every third atheist in Russia believes in the existence of hell and every fourth in the existence of the devil.” The optimists slightly outnumber of the pessimists in this regard. The center thus concludes that “faith and superstition can coexistence independently from one another in an individual.”

            The same kind of split exists among Orthodox Christians, with 17 percent of them denying the existence of the devil, and 11 percent saying they believed in heaven but not in hell. Thus, every sixth Orthodox denies the basic doctrine of Christianity – life after death” without that constituting any problem for his or her saying they’re believers.