Wednesday, March 21, 2018

HIV/AIDS Epidemic Now Greater Threat to Russia than Terrorism, Duma Deputy Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 20 – One of the consequences of Vladimir Putin’s “good news only” order in the run-up to the elections is that now that they are over, the bad news Russian outlets had held back is now coming tumbling out, likely putting a damper on any particular enthusiasm Russians may have for the outcome.

            Among the most serious of these pieces of bad news is a report by Rosstat showing that HIV/AIDS infections are rising dramatically and that newly registered infections have increased continuously from 57,200 in 2010 to 88,600 in 2017 ( and

            The state statistics agency argues that these numbers reflect better identification of those with HIV/AIDS rather than an increase in their overall number, but many observers, including Duma deputy Fedot Tumusov, say that everyone knows that the real numbers, both base and increase, are far higher than the government acknowledges.

            This disease, the deputy insists, is “the real threat to the nation. Not terrorism, but HIV/AIDS. And until the government develops a real program for combatting it … we will be fighting with statistics written down on paper and not for a real decline in the numbers.”

            Rosstat continues to say that there are only 940,000 HIV infected Russians, “less than one percent of the population,” but most health care experts say the real number is far higher. Worse, they point out, the increases have been accelerating over the last few years after a period of relative stability up to 2013.

            And they point out that “the more people who are infected with the virus, the greater the probability of its spread because once someone has been infected, he or she remains a carrier of the virus for life.”  The experts call for devoting more attention to drug users and supplying them with clean needles.

            They also urge providing free condoms on the streets for both homosexual and heterosexual Russians, and they call for expanding government support for treatment of those with HIV/AIDS. Last year, Moscow boosted spending on such treatment but “fewer than 40 percent” of those who needed it received it.

            Last year, health officials say, many Russians with HIV/AIDS were not able to get any anti-retroviral medications because of their cost, something they hope will be a thing of the past now that Moscow has taken responsibility for buying them away from the regions, thus driving down costs.

When Putin Came to Estonia – in 1991

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 20 – Vladimir Putin has never visited Estonia as Russian president, but he did come to that Baltic republic once in September 1991 as a St. Petersburg official to help draft an agreement between Tallinn and Moscow on rules governing the crossing of the state border between the two countries.

            Putin’s visit has been referred to on occasion in the past but now Eesti Ekspress provides some new details about it (; in Russian, at

            On September 17, 1991, Estonian Prime Minister Edgard Savisaar dispatched his advisor Yevgeny Vasiliyev to Narva to meet with Putin who at that time was foreign policy chief for the St. Petersburg mayor to prepare a protocol on regulating the crossing of the Estonian-Russian border at Narva.

            At that time, the Estonian newspaper points out, Estonian Foreign Minister Lennart Meri was occupied with relations with the West, but “in the eastern direction, Edgard Savisaar” was the dominant player and discussed agreements directly with Moscow and with officials like Putin from Russia’s Leningrad Oblast.

            According to an aide to Vasiliyev, the talks with Putin did not result in any significant changes in the protocol which had been prepared earlier by a joint team of experts, “but at the request of St. Petersburg [that is, Putin] one point was added concerning the transfer of money across the border.”

            As a result of this, the two sides agreed that they needed to “develop temporary rules of control about the dispatch of money across the border by October 10. Putin several times telephoned from St. Petersburg and gave his agreement to the decisions.” Reportedly, there was respect shown on both sides.

            Again, according to Vasiliyev’s staff, the paper says, “over coffee that evening, Putin said that the striving for independence was visible throughout Estonia.” [emphasis supplied]

            On September 18, Savisaar and representatives of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast met in Narva and signed an agreement between the Estonian government and the leadership of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast.  Savisaar then returned to the Estonian capital, and Putin invited his Estonian interlocutor to “continue their acquaintance in Petersburg.”

            Perhaps significantly, Putin did not sign for the Russian side. Instead, the border protocol was signed by a member of the St. Petersburg Council of Peoples Deputies, Aleksandr Belyayev and the chairman of the Leningrad Oblast Soviet, Yury Yarov, both of whom had been involved in the anti-Gorbachev August putsch attempt.

Roman Catholicism ‘a Traditional Religion of Russia,’ Moscow’s Ambassador to Holy See Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 20 – For an ambassador to the Holy See from most countries, an assertion that Roman Catholicism is a traditional religion in his or her country would be little more than a diplomatic nicety. But when the Russian ambassador to the Vatican says the same thing, it has the potential to reshape life in Russia and beyond.

            On the one hand, Russia unlike other countries makes a sharp and even legal distinction between “traditional religions” of which there are currently four – Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism – and all other faiths, with the former having special status and greater access to officials than the latter.

            And on the other, Orthodox Russians have long viewed Roman Catholicism as a threat to their nation’s existence. Many, for example, say Aleksandr Nevsky’s decision to ally with the Mongols was justified because only in that way could he defeat Catholic forces which, some Russians think, would have ended Orthodoxy and transformed Russia into a greater Poland.

            In an interview he gave at the end of last week to the Vatican Insider, a publication of Turin’s La Stampa newspaper, Aleksandr Avdeyev said “Catholicism is a traditional confession for us,” a declaration that could lead to a revision of both these attitudes and arrangements (

            (Not surprisingly, given the potential of Avdeyev’s remarks to change many so things, Regnum’s Stanislav Stremidlovsky headlined his weekly report on Russian-Vatican ties “The Ambassador of Russia to the Vatican: ‘Catholicism is a Traditional Confession for Us” (

            Avdeyev’s statement about the traditional nature of Catholicism in Russia was embedded within language suggesting that Moscow increasingly sees the Vatican as an important ally against modernism in the West. The diplomat emphasized the warming ties between the Kremlin and the Holy See and said that these “contrasted with the relations between Russia and Europe.”

            “In Russia there are more than a million Catholics,” Avdeyev continued, making “Catholicism one of our traditional confessions. A new cathedral will be built in Moscow, I think they have already found a place. Churches will be built in other regions of Russia. There are problems but they can be resolved via dialogue between the Churches and dialogue with local administrations.”

            And the Russian diplomat praised Pope Francis and his efforts to “achieve security, stability and the resolution of problems via dialogue and negotiation. His decisive positions on all forms of terrorism in Syria as in other countries are also very valuable. We feel that he is close to our positions.”

            Avdeyev’s remarks suggest that the Kremlin is prepared to make Roman Catholicism the fifth traditional religion of Russia, something Patriarch Kirill will see as a slap in the face, perhaps accelerated by the Russian churchman’s disastrous foray into Bulgaria recently and will certainly oppose.

            That could open the way at least potentially for allowing other churches, including the Old Believers and Protestants, to seek a similar status, although that is at best a question for the more distant future. But clearly the Kremlin by this action is tilting away from Orthodoxy on an issue the Russian church cares very much about.