Category Archives: Siberia

Russian investigators uncover Kremlin’s military aid to Assad regime

Recently the media and blogs have been full of speculation on Russian troops fighting in Syria. However, the exact scale of Russian involvement in the Syrian civil war remained unknown. Kremlin has (predictably) denied deploying Russian soldiers, vehicles or aircraft in Syria. Yet in the social media age, truth has slipped through the cracks.

Ruslan Leviev’s “War in Ukraine” team that got its fame for uncovering Russian spetsnaz deaths in Ukraine in spring 2015 months after the official “ceasefire”, looked deep into the emerging data on Russian servicemen in Syria. The investigators found proof of sudden Russian troops influx at Russia’s naval depot in Tartus in 2015 and Russian UAVs and military vehicles propping up Assad regime troops in the fighting close to Latakia, a strategic port to the north of Tartus.

Russian political journalist Konstantin von Eggert told Russian “Radio Liberty” Putin’s Syria gambit could seek rapprochement with the West via fighting Islamic State militants while at the same time saving Assad’s regime as part of the Middle Eastern geopolitical big game (a game that, just like in Ukraine, claims civilian lives by the hundreds). Von Eggert also suggests fighting ISIS could backfire due to terror attacks on Russia and Russia’s property all over the world. With Caucasus Jihadis pledging allegiance to ISIS, that prospect can quickly become terryfying.

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Russia’s Ex-Soviet Neighbors Struggle to Contain Ruble Fallout

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LONDON — The ruble’s precipitous depreciation over the past year is forcing many of Russia’s former Soviet trading partners into devaluations, while others are struggling to defend their currencies from collapse.

The ruble has fallen 8 percent this year versus the dollar after shedding 43 percent in 2014, driven down by lower oil prices, stagnating growth and Western sanctions over Moscow’s role in Ukraine.

Most ex-Soviet states are heavily reliant on Russia for trade, investment and remittances.

Here is a list of moves by central banks across the former Soviet Union this year:

The hryvna has fallen about 40 percent since Feb. 5 when the central bank abandoned the dollar auctions it had been using to support its currency. Instead it raised interest rates by 550 bps to 19.5 percent. The country has enough reserves to pay for just five weeks of imports.

The central bank devalued the Belarus ruble by 18 percent in a series of steps early in January. It forecasts the currency to weaken 3 to 7 percent in 2015 against the euro-dollar-Russian ruble basket.

The official rate of Moldova’s lei fell 1.9 percent to a new record low on Tuesday. It has fallen 25 percent in 2015. The central bank raised interest rates by 500 basis points on Tuesday..

The central bank raised interest rates on Feb. 10 to 10.5 percent from 9.5 percent to protect itself from the fallout of the Russian crisis. Its dram currency has fallen about 15 percent in the past year.

The central bank raised interest rates on Feb. 11 and sold $40 million to support its lari currency which has depreciated around 10 percent this year against the dollar

Oil-exporter Azerbaijan said Monday that it had abandoned a peg between the manat and the dollar in favor of a dollar-euro basket. Azeri reserves fell by $1 billion last month.

Gas-rich Turkmenistan devalued the manat by about 19 percent to 3.5 to the dollar, effective from Jan. 1.

The tenge was devalued by 19 percent against the dollar last February and authorities have refused to devalue again, even it has appreciated since then against the Russian ruble, the currency of Kazakhstan’s main trade partner. Non-deliverable forwards (NDFs) are pricing a 15 percent tenge devaluation to the dollar in the next three months.

Russia bans Siberia independence march

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Moscow also threatens to block BBC Russian service after it carries interview with march organiser on its website

Rosneft’s Vankor oil field: Many Siberians would like to resource extraction companies pay taxes there rather than in Moscow.

Russian authorities have banned a Siberian independence march and threatened to block the BBC Russian service over its coverage of separatist protests.

In sharp contrast to the treatment of separatists in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Moscow has made it clear that it does not welcome similar aspirations at home.

The media watchdog may block the website of the BBC Russian service over an interview with Artyom Loskutov, an organiser of the March for Siberian Federalisation, the newspaper Izvestiya reported on Tuesday.

The march was due to take place on 17 August in Novosibirsk, Siberia’s largest city.

The federal communications monitoring service has sent a letter demanding the interview be deleted for violating a recently passed law against “calls to mass unrest, extremist activities or participation in illegal public events”.

The BBC said it had no plans to remove the material in question and had requested an interview with Russian officials about the matter.

Russia’s prosecutor general has issued warnings to 14 media outlets covering the protest under the country’s extremism law, and blocked an event page for the march on Russia’s most popular social network. The editor of, which was forced by the prosecutor general to remove an interview with Loskutov, later argued in a Facebook post that the article had not been in violation of the extremism law because it did not name a specific time or place. It also noted that the activists had not yet been given permission for the march.

The Novosibirsk mayor’s office reportedly denied permission on Tuesday to hold the march “in order to ensure the inviolability of the constitutional order, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian Federation”.

Loskutov, an artist who is known for organising an annual absurdist rally called Monstration, told the Guardian that the activists had re-applied for permission to hold a March for the Inviolability and Observation of the Principles of Federalism.

Washington and Kiev have said Russia is providing arms, men and funding to the separatist rebels fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine, while cracking down on similar trends at home. Moscow passed a law in December to make spreading separatist views punishable by up to five years in jail.

Loskutov said the Novosibirsk protest was meant to both ridicule the Kremlin’s hypocrisy on self-determination in Ukraine and to raise the issue of Siberia’s delayed development. Most of Russia’s oil and gas output comes from western Siberia, but the region lags behind Moscow, St Petersburg and some southern areas in quality of life ratings.

“It’s using the rhetoric that our government and their propaganda use,” Loskutov said. “They decided to tell us how great it is when some republic moves for self-determination. Okay, well let’s apply this to other regions. Can Siberia allow itself this same rhetoric? It turns out it can’t.”

Olesya Gerasimenko, a correspondent for the Kommersantnewspaper, said most Russians in the regions would not support secession, but would back greater economic autonomy, including measures forcing resource extraction companies to pay taxes in the regions where they operate rather than in Moscow.

“If we support the Ukrainian people’s right to federalisation, why don’t we support the Russian people’s right to federalisation?” Gerasimenko asked. “The mood of the separatists in Russia is socio-economic in nature, not for the autonomy of a certain region, so this is all exaggerated. But in light of recent events in Ukraine, it seems more dangerous.”

Blocked BBC Interview Highlights Authorities’ Insecurities

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In a move that showcased Russia’s strained rapport with press freedom and its fear of any challenge to the country’s current composition, the state media watchdog briefly blocked access to a BBC Russian-language service interview about an upcoming piece of unsanctioned performance art that was set to encourage greater autonomy for Siberia. The next step may be to shut the website down entirely, according to local media reports.

The Interview

The BBC’s Russian-language service published an interview last week with Novosibirsk activist Artyom Loskutov.

During the interview, Loskutov spoke of plans for an Aug. 17 street performance, which he referred to as “a march for the federalization of Siberia.”

The farcical performance’s handful of organizers planned to call for the creation of a Siberian republic, or alternatively for its regions to acquire the same rights as a republic. According to Luskatov, the planned performance aimed primarily at provoking a public discourse about perceived inequalities between Russia’s regions.

But to the Russian authorities, the performance has been no laughing matter.

Of the Russian news websites that reported the upcoming performance, 14 pulled down their articles following demands from state media watchdog Roskomnadzor, Izvestia reported Tuesday. On Friday, Roskomnadzor blocked a page announcing the march on Vkontakte, Russia’s largest social network.

Roskomnadzor asked the BBC’s Russian-language service to remove the interview from its site, owing to the prohibition on inciting “mass disorder, extremist activities or participation in public activities violating the legal order,” Izvestia reported.

Acting head of the BBC’s Russian-language service, Artyom Liss, wrote on his blog Sunday that Roskomnadzor announced it had restricted access to the webpage featuring the interview in accordance with Russia’s anti-extremism legislation.

To appease the agency’s concerns, Liss announced that background information on Loskutov — who is known for his controversial performance-art activism — had been added as an introduction to the interview, along with a note on the not-entirely-serious nature of the event.

Izvestia quoted an unidentified source close to Roskomnadzor as saying that the agency was contemplating blocking the BBC Russian-language service’s website in the country altogether. The website — and the interview with Loskutov — are both accessible in Russia as of the time of publication.

Russia’s restriction on Internet content seen as subversive is not unprecedented. In March, the Prosecutor General’s Office ordered restrictions on access to such opposition-friendly websites as,, and the blog of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, saying they called for “illegal activity and participation in mass events held in violation of the established order.”

Constitutional Issue

What has offended Russian authorities about the initiative — beyond the proliferation of information about an unsanctioned public event — is the unconstitutional nature of the idea of creating a Siberian republic or changing the status of its regions, according to Dmitry Zhuravlyov, director of the Moscow-based Institute for Regional Problems.

“I can understand the position of these people [organizers of the march] on a psychological level,” Zhuravlyov said. “They want to have more control over the riches of Siberia, and that is understandable. But what is unacceptable to Russia is that this whole idea goes against the Constitution. You cannot change the status of your region just like that.”

Lately, Russian authorities have been particularly wary of talk of separatism and of modifications to the country’s federal structure. President Vladimir Putin signed legislation last month introducing prison sentences for violations of Russia’s territorial integrity.

But Loskutov’s initiative, at least as it was described in the BBC interview, was not meant to advocate for Siberia’s separation from Russia. Rather, Siberia’s standing within the Russian Federation is what lies at the heart of the matter for Loskutov and a small number of Siberians.

“Historically, Siberia is everything that lies beyond the Ural Mountains,” Loskutov told The Moscow Times on Tuesday. “But it is not important which Siberia we are talking about — the historical territory or the smaller federal district. What is important to us is the message that there are inequalities between regions in this country. This is what we want to draw attention to.”

Siberia, in the broadest geographical interpretation, contains nearly all different types of federal subjects found in the country: republics, territories, regions, autonomous regions and areas.

Regions vs. Republics

The Russian Constitution endows republics, which were historically defined along ethno-cultural lines, with more rights than regions. Republics, for example, have the right to proclaim their own state languages, to be used alongside Russian in local and regional state institutions. Republics also have their own constitutions and legislatures, and more latitude in the management of resources. Article 5 of the Constitution even refers to republics as “states,” although they are not considered sovereign.

But revamping the constitution to change the status of Siberia’s regions — a legal procedure both the regions and central government would have to agree to — would not be an ideal solution to inequalities between Russia’s regions, Zhuravlyov said.

“The regions of Siberia are not divided along ethnic lines [a mere 6,000 Russian citizens identified themselves as “Siberian” in the 2010 census] and there is almost no support for this project,” he said. “They do not need a republic. What really needs to happen is tax earnings need to be redistributed in order to better cater to regional needs. This needs to be done for the sake of all regions, not only for Siberia.”

In the 2000’s, Russia’s tax system underwent drastic changes that channeled tax revenues from regional budgets into the federal coffers. Because of these reforms, the federal government decides which regions get financial help from Moscow.

A History of Siberian Regionalism

The first movements in favor of Siberia’s autonomy, known as Siberian regionalism, emerged in the 19th century. Despite calls for greater self-governance, only marginal factions of the Siberian regionalist movement advocated separation from Russia.

For a brief period in the aftermath of the 1917 Revolution, Siberia actually became independent from Russia. During that time, regional assemblies and councils were established.

Failing to garner popular support, these formations were absorbed by Soviet authorities in 1921, which tamed Siberia’s former aspirations of self-governance.

During Boris Yeltsin’s presidency in the 1990s, tensions between Siberian regions and the central government emerged, with advocacy groups sprouting up to lobby for the regions’ cause.

Territorial-administrative regions such as Sakha-Yakutia declared their status as republics while coalitions like the Association of Siberian Towns and the Siberian Agreement, whose signatories vowed to cooperate in agricultural and industrial production, materialized.

These groups did not advocate for Siberia’s separation from Russia but rather for increased autonomy from Moscow.