|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Russia's Demographic Emergency Highlighted
"If the present trend is not reversed, in 75 years, the population of Russia will fall to 45 million [from 143.5 million today]," said Sergei Mironov, the speaker of Russia's Federation Council (upper house of Parliament), in an Oct. 16 TV interview. He warned, "It is clear, in the tough competition of the 21st Century, that it is impossible to hold such a huge territory with such a small number of people. So Russia will disintegrate into smaller states."
Mironov thus became the latest top official to acknowledge that in Russia, under the radical neo-liberal destruction imposed in the 1990s, the potential relative population density has fallen below the current level of population. That is, of course, an absurd situation, given that the frontier area of north central Eurasia is among the least densely populated on the planet, in absolute terms. But without a decisive break in the axioms of economic policynot bandaids, nor mere campaigns for a healthy lifestylethe result of the still-dominant free-market practices is the premature death of citizens in the prime of life, and the inability of those who survive to form families and raise children.
The rate of development of the biological holocaust in Russia was driven home by two reports issued the week of Oct. 17. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released "Russia in 2015: The Goals and Priorities of Development," which warned that tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS are chief among a set of diseases the spread of which threatens Russia's national security. The UNDP estimates 860,000 people have HIV/AIDS in Russia. The country's TB mortality rate is the highest in Europe. One of the UNDP authors, Kirill Danishevsky, was quoted by the Moscow Times as saying: "There are two regions in the world where life expectancy is declining: It's sub-Saharan Africa and Russia."
The UNDP reported that the gap in life expectancy between men and women is the world's highest, at 14 years. The causes of higher deaths among men are chiefly suicide, homicide, and alcohol abuse, as well as smoking. Fifty thousand people in Russia die annually from alcohol poisoning. An Oct. 17 report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that 7% of Russian men in the sample city of Izhevsk, a defense industry center, drink "surrogate" alcohols, such as samogon (moonshine), medicinal compounds, antifreeze, aftershave products, etc., adding other toxic substances to the alcohol they consume.
Speaking at the Rhodes Dialogue of Civilizations conference earlier in October, a Russian Orthodox priest named Father Alexander Ilyashenko made a heartfelt appeal to restore the moral standards that permit family-formation. He cited the projections made by Russia's great scientist, Dmitri Mendeleyev, in his last book, Towards the Knowledge of Russia (1906), according to which Russia by this time should have a population on the order of 640 million.
Shanghai Group To Meet in Moscow
The Prime Ministers of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) nations will meet in Moscow Oct. 26. On the agenda is the question of deepening Eurasian economic relations. In addition to SCO members Russia, China, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, the Prime Ministers of observer nations India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan will participate for the first time.
Russia Promotes Nuclear Cooperation with India
Russian Foreign Ministry expert Alexander Shilin, from the Department of Security and Disarmament, said at an Oct. 19 seminar in Moscow that "Russia upholds the idea of enlarging cooperation with India in the sphere of atomic energy. The United States has suggested three variants of amendments to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Those amendments will be considered by Russia and other NSG member countries shortly." The seminar was organized by the Moscow-based non-proliferation think tank the PIR Center.
On the eve of his mid-October visit to India, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had said that the NSG guidelines need to be amended to meet India's energy needs.
Ivanov observed Russian-Indian military exercises while he was in India.
Crises Flare in Russia's 'Near Abroad'
Destabilizations along the "arc of crisis" have occurred from Azerbaijan in the Caucasus, across to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. The events of mid-October included the following:
* Azerbaijan: Elections are scheduled for Nov. 6. On Oct. 20, the security ministries in President Ilham Aliyev's government charged that a coup attempt by Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DRA) leaders and several members of the current cabinet had been foiled. The Ministers of Health and Economics (Farhad Aliyev, no relation to the President) were fired, and then arrested. The two dismissed officials were charged with conspiring to illegally bring to power former official Rasul Guliyev, who has enjoyed political asylum in the United States for nine years, but also lived in London. Arrests of DRA officials began the night of Oct. 16. Guliyev's attempted return to Azerbaijan was stopped when Ukrainian police detained him at the Simferopol airport on an Azerbaijani warrant connected with old embezzlement charges.
Who's doing what to whom is not entirely clear in this picture. But it is the case that President Ilham Aliyev recently refused to grant automatically the U.S. request to build a base in Azerbaijan for military operations in the region, although he's the son of longtime Anglo-Soviet agent Haidar Aliyev, and despite the fact that he resided in London for several years as head of Azerbaijan's oil company, during its dealings with BP. On Oct. 20, Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SRV) chief Sergei Lebedev flew to Baku for consultations with Aliyev.
* Kyrgyzstan: Two prison uprisings took place. On Oct. 18, a riot against poor conditions of detention forced the evacuation of staff from a jail near Bishkek. On Oct. 20, matters turned lethal. Tynychbek Akmatbayev, a member of Parliament who had helped to calm the first event, was killed, as were two aideskilled by inmates at the TB hospital attached to Prison #31, where Akmatbayev was making an inspection visit.
Utro.ru reported that one of the inmates was Kyrgyzstan's top organized-crime boss, who was in a feud with another crime figure, the latter being Akmatbayev's brother. The head of Kyrgyzstan's prison administration, who attempted to calm the situation, was also killed. The inmates yielded, at least according to reports, when the Prime Minister himself, former security boss Felix Kulov, walked into the facility and ordered them to lay down arms and hand over the dead and wounded officials.
* Georgia: There has been a war of words between the Georgian Parliament and Foreign Ministry, and Russia's Foreign Ministry, over the pace of Russian withdrawal from bases in Georgia. On Oct. 11, the Russians strongly condemned the Georgian Parliament for "provocative" demands. At the same time, cracks within Georgia's "Rose Revolution" coalition led to the ouster of Salome Zurabishvili, the former French diplomat, as Georgia's Foreign Minister. She announced her intention to remain in Georgia and campaign against "pro-Russian" and "neo-Communist" tendencies.
* North Caucasus: In the wake of the Oct. 13 raid on security offices in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria (in Russia's North Caucasus), the London Economist, Paul Goble's "Window on Eurasia," and many other sources are crowing that, although they were put down, the attacks represented a turning point in separatist struggles across the entire Russian North Caucasus, including Dagestan. Despite Moscow's intensified efforts after last year's assassination of pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov and the Beslan, North Ossetia school massacre, insurgents have been able to attack again and again, in what the Economist, in its lead commentary for the Oct. 15-21 issue, called "Caucasian Dominoes."