September 12, 2006, Volume
CLASHES IN KARELIA UNDERSCORE MOUNTING ETHNIC TENSIONS.
September 4, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Relative calm has settled over the industrial city of Kondopoga in Russia's northwestern Karelia Republic after clashes between Slavs and natives of the Caucasus on September 1-2 left two dead.
Police detained some 100 participants in the violent riots that broke out in Kondopoga after the August 30 incident between a group of ethnic Russians and Chechens at a restaurant, Chaika, owned by a Chechen man.
The fight, which by all reports began as a drunken brawl, sparked angry riots after two of the Russians involved were killed. Angry mobs of Russian youths subsequently attacked businesses run by non-Russians in an attempt to clear the town of all but ethnic Slavs.
Armed with Molotov cocktails, they stormed the restaurant and other Chechen-owned businesses, setting them ablaze.
On September 3, some 2,000 residents turned out at the Kondopoga square demanding that police expel Chechens and other ethnic minorities from the Caucasus from the town.
Russian television networks showed footage of young men using rocks to shatter storefront windows.
The violence began to subside only after riot police arrived in Kondopoga on the evening of September 2.
Aleksandr Verkhovsky is the director of the Moscow-based human rights group Sova. He said unrest continued through the night of September 3, and that the situation remains tense.
"Last night [September 3-4], the unrest continued, but on a much smaller scale," Verkhovsky said. "The [rioters] tried again to set fire to this unfortunate cafe, Chaika, even thought it had already been almost completely burned down the night before. The firefighters immediately put out the flames. The [rioters] also tried to set fire to another building in another part of town, but it's not completely clear what the target was. The OMON troops dispersed all the crowds who tried to gather at night."
At least some of the rioters were members of local nationalist groups. But Verkhovsky dismisses early reports that the mobs had been augmented by large numbers of youths flowing into Kondopoga from similar nationalist groups elsewhere in Russia.
"I think there aren't many of them," Verkhovsky said. "There are definitely some representatives of the organization called 'Movement Against Illegal Immigration," who arrived together with their leader. But according to all the reports, only a very small number of [Russian] nationalists came. Some did come from Moscow, and from Petrozavodsk. I don't know the other places they came from, but there aren't many of them there."
The riots come as ethnically motivated attacks are on the rise in Russia. Foreigners, Jews, and dark-skinned migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia have all come increasingly under attack during the past several years.
The Karelia riots follow a market bombing in Moscow August 21 reportedly orchestrated by three young Slavs to kill non-Russians.
The riots were strongly criticized by Ramzan Kadyrov, the prime minister of the pro-Moscow government in Chechnya.
Speaking today, Kadyrov blamed local officials for the violence and said he would find "legal methods" to intervene if necessary.
"I am against it and I will not allow it. I will do everything to defend the rights of Chechen citizens," Kadyrov said. "Those were not friends of Russia who [attacked the Chechens]. Someone put them up to this. We must approach this issue objectively and prevent such incidents from occurring again in the future."
Verkhovsky agrees that local authorities are largely to blame for the incident.
The police were present from the beginning of the original brawl, he says, but remained largely passive.
Only now, he says, have local authorities apparently gained control of the situation -- and largely by abiding by the will of the mobs.
"We'll see what happens tonight (August 4-5), but probably everything will be calmer, because additional police forces have been sent to the town," Verkhovsky said. "Also, the attackers have gotten the results they wanted -- local authorities have basically endorsed the decisions made by residents."
Verkhovsky says city officials decided to strip the Chechen owner of the Chaika restaurant of his property.
All Kondopoga residents who are Caucasus natives -- some several dozen at most -- will be subject to document checks and expelled if they are found to be in the city illegally.
This, he says, likely means that many of them will have to go. (Valentinas Mite)
RACE NOT THE ONLY FACTOR BEHIND KARELIAN VIOLENCE.
September 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The recent unrest in Russia's Karelia Republic has been portrayed by pro-Kremlin television networks and mainstream media as a battle between a local criminal gang and an upstart rival.
That line has also been taken by both local and state officials, including the speaker of the State Duma, Chechnya's pro-Moscow prime minister, and the northwestern republic's prosecutor.
Karelia's prosecutor's office has opened 17 criminal cases into the violence that erupted in the city of Kondopoga after a brawl on August 31 between ethnic Chechens and Slavs led to the deaths of two ethnic Russians. Thousands took to the street, targeting businesses owned by people from the Caucasus. Chechen families were evacuated as the violence continued unabated and calls were made for the removal of all residents from the Caucasus.
The office's immediate reaction was to announce that it saw "no ethnic basis for the conflict." Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, who entered the public fray almost immediately in defense of Chechens living in Russia, warned that "those who unwittingly play the nationalist card and inflate nationalistic hysteria should realize they put in jeopardy the integrity and sovereignty of the Russian Federation."
But claims that the incidents are purely criminal in nature are difficult to digest for others.
Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin told Channel One television before flying to the region to investigate that regional authorities have their heads in the sand if they believe race was not a factor in the violence.
The president of the predominantly Muslim Republic of Tatarstan, Mintimir Shamiyev, said during an interview with "Argumenty i fakty," No. 36, that the Russian government has failed to give proper attention to such conflicts. He said the courts do not recognize ethnic hatred as the root cause, instead conveniently laying the blame on extremism or hooliganism. He warned that such "hypocrisy and double standards generate anger among the people."
The reason for such skepticism is simple. It is widely accepted that the power structures in Russia are overseen by the "siloviki" oligarchy, but the country also features a corrupt state bureaucracy that in many cases has fused with organized crime. Thus, the idea that the siloviki's role can be separated from anything in which they have an interest is very unlikely.
It is no secret that small businesses commonly operate under "kryshas" that provide protection via various security and state bodies, including the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB).
This reality of doing is business in Russia is especially true for immigrants working as retailers, in food markets, and in the entertainment and gaming business. Exactly where they come from is irrelevant -- all that matters is that they work within the bureaucracy that is protected by governments and law enforcement.
However, the immunity from prosecution granted to outsiders protected by kryshas can lead to animosity from locals who do not enjoy such privileges -- particularly if outsiders' untouchable status is flaunted openly.
And that, at least according to some reports, may have been the case in Kondopoga.
Sergei Katanandov, the head of Karelia Republic, told "Izvestia" on September 6 that a "group of immigrants from the Caucasus terrorized the city." As examples, he cited incidents in which members of the group drove into the city in Mercedes bearing no license plates, whereupon they proceeded to terrify local residents. He also claimed that unidentified individuals belonging to the group had beaten a police officer, adding that the officer's lawsuit was eventually dropped -- likely, he suggested, because he had been paid off.
Such impunity was apparent during the August 31 brawl as well, leading state investigators to probe why police who arrived on the scene apparently did nothing to stop it.
The case in Kondopoga is just the latest example in which authorities exhibited complete ineptness as racially charged disturbances erupted.
"Vremya novostei" and "Komsomolskaya pravda" on September 5 compiled a list of such cases, all sharing traits of corruption and cover-ups by local officials that helped lead to unrest.
June 2006, Rostov Oblast: Clashes take place between local youths and members of the local Daghestani community in the 30,000-population city of Salsk. The disturbances were attributed to the "redistribution of spheres of interest." Members of the Daghestani community resorted to using weapons, and one person was killed and eight locals wounded. To quell the violence, the city government calls in a detachment of Interior Ministry riot police, the OMON. Local residents attending a city meeting demand that more be done to punish the perpetrators of the violence and call for the eviction of "every Daghestani from the krai and oblast." Arrests had been made as of September, but the situation remained tense following the beating of a local official at the hands of a young Daghestani.
June 2006, Irkutsk Oblast: In the village of Targis, local residents clash with Chinese migrant workers. Six people are injured, with police siding with local residents. Seventy-five Chinese workers are subsequently expelled.
May 2006, Chita Oblast: The village of Haragun becomes the scene of anti-Azeri riots in which one is killed, several are injured, and 16 are arrested. Unhappy about the influx of Azerbaijanis, local residents demand at a meeting that they be evicted. Afterward, homes, property, and vehicles are the target of violence and arson.
August 2005, Astrakhan Oblast: A conflict erupts in the village of Yanyki between local Kalmyks and Chechens. More than 400 people take part in the violence, in which one person is killed, several are wounded, and 14 are arrested. During an assembly attended mostly by ethnic Russians, demands are made for the expulsion of "non Slavs."
Such large-scale violence is occurring with increasing regularity, and there are signs that the trend will continue. The Federal Security Service (FSB), which by law is responsible for quelling mass unrest and ethnic disturbances, kept a low profile during the Kondopoga events -- leading to a serious consequence. Russian nationalists throughout the country have been stirred to action, under the banner: "Down with xenocracy -- the rule of foreigners." (Victor Yasmann)
FIVE YEARS AFTER 9/11: THE KREMLIN'S WAR ON TERROR.
September 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The coordinated terror attacks that hit the United States on September 11, 2001, resulted in a fundamental shift in U.S. policy. In Russia -- a self-declared ally in international antiterrorism efforts -- changes have been felt, as well.
As the world watched the events in New York and Washington in horror and disbelief, Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to react.
He picked up the phone and called George W. Bush, becoming the first world leader to offer condolences and support to the U.S. president. Putin may have felt that he, more than other heads of state, was uniquely qualified to address the issue of terrorist attacks.
"What happened today underlines once again the importance of Russia's proposals to unite the efforts of the international community in the fight against terrorism, against this plague of the 21st century," Putin told Russian television viewers the same day. "Russia knows firsthand what terrorism is, so we understand more than anyone else the feelings of the American people."
With the smoke of the 9/11 attacks still hanging in the air, Putin had publicly linked the attacks to his own country's battle with Chechen separatists.
By that time, Russia had already experienced several terrorist attacks attributed to Chechen militants.
In 1995, radical Chechen militant Shamil Basayev staged the first in what would become a series of terror operations, seizing 1,500 hostages in the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk. Nearly 170 hostages died during rescue efforts, while Basayev and most of his men escaped.
In 1999, bombs destroyed apartment blocks in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk, killing more than 200 people. Moscow blamed the explosions on Chechen fighters, and launched its second war in the breakaway republic soon afterward.
The threat of terrorism had been on Putin's mind since the start of his presidency in 2000. He had repeatedly pushed the idea that Russia, the United States, and Europe had to join forces to combat it.
So when Bush declared his "war on terror" in the wake of 9/11, he found a staunch ally in the Russian president. Putin offered his cooperation in the U.S. operations in Afghanistan, facilitating the stationing of U.S. troops in Central Asia and opening Russian airspace to humanitarian flights.
He also redoubled his efforts at home. Putin made clear that the war on terror extended to Russian soil -- specifically, to the North Caucasus, where the Kremlin's 2-year-old military campaign was degenerating into the guerrilla warfare that continues to this day.
What the West had originally condemned as a vicious antiseparatist campaign, Putin labored to refashion as a legitimate part of the global struggle against terrorism. His efforts were largely successful and Western criticism of the war slowly subsided. The Kremlin, claiming success in Chechnya, established a pliable regime in Grozny.
Ruslan Martagov is a former spokesman for an earlier, Moscow-installed Chechen government -- that of Doku Zavgayev in the mid-1990s -- who now heads the Antiterror Foundation in Moscow.
"September 11 was an unexpected gift for Mr. Putin," Martagov says. "From then on, he started calling the fight against the Chechen separatist movement in the North Caucasus a �fight against international terrorism.' If before he was perceived in the West as [someone using aggressive jargon] like �strangle, kill, wipe out,' after the events of September 11 he managed to enter the league of those combating international terrorism."
Since 9/11, Russian officials have repeatedly made implicit connections between Chechen separatists and Al-Qaeda, blamed for the 9/11 attacks. Afghan and Arab fighters have routinely been reported as battling alongside separatist forces in Chechnya.
Chechen militants, likewise, have allegedly been found among terror cells in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia, and, more recently, Iraq.
One year after the 9/11 attacks, Chechen fighters were reported to be seeking refuge in Georgia's remote Pankisi Gorge.
Putin, whose ties with Georgia had gone cold, used the opportunity to threaten air strikes on its territory if Tbilisi refused to rout the "terrorists" themselves.
"Today nobody can deny -- we know this for sure, and it is confirmed by international sources of information -- that those who took part in preparations for the attacks on the United States one year ago and those who were directly involved in the Russian apartment-block explosions are entrenched on the territory of Georgia," Putin said.
In addition, he followed the U.S. lead and declared that Russia had a right to launch preemptive strikes against foreign countries if it felt that a terrorist threat was emerging there.
Ultimately, however, Putin's efforts in the North Caucasus appear to have yielded mixed results.
Unrest has continued to spill beyond the borders of Chechnya, to neighboring Caucasus republics and beyond, with separatist militants resorting to increasingly extremist methods.
In October 2002, Chechen rebels stormed a Moscow theater, taking an estimated 900 people hostage -- 129 of them were killed in the rescue operation.
And in September 2004, more than 330 people, half of them children, died after Chechen rebel sympathizers seized a school in the southern Russian city of Beslan.
The Beslan tragedy followed the near-simultaneous bombing of two Russian commercial airliners on August 24 and a suicide bomb attack near a crowded Moscow subway station on August 31. A total of 100 people died in those three attacks, all of which were said to be carried out by female suicide bombers from Chechnya.
Since Beslan, however, major terrorist incidents have been avoided in Russia. In addition, Chechen rebel leaders Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev were killed. And in July, Basayev himself was killed in an accidental explosion.
Putin's Chechen campaign continues to enjoy widespread popular support in Russia. Brought to the presidency on promises to "wipe out" terrorists, Putin, for many Russians, is doing what's needed to guarantee the country's security.
Sergei Markov, the director of the Moscow-based Institute for Political Studies, has close ties to the Kremlin. He describes Russia's campaign in Chechnya as an unparalleled success.
"It is justified by the fact that this territory was seized by a coalition of separatists and radical Islamists," Markov says. "Thousands of people suffered from terror. This war was a colossal success: the army of radical Islamists and separatists was crushed, peace and calm arrived. Americans and other countries should very carefully study the Chechen campaign carried out by the Kremlin and take lessons from it."
Not everyone, however, is convinced.
Independent experts like Martagov assert that the ongoing war in Chechnya has fueled violence and extremism throughout Russia.
"Over the past five years, the radicalization of young people has been spreading across the North Caucasus, mainly because there is one thing that our authorities are incapable of understanding -- terrorism is above all an ideology, and you can't defeat an ideology with rifles," Martagov says. "An ideology must be challenged with another ideology. Everything the federal authorities are currently doing results in young people being increasingly disappointed with this government and seeing their only salvation in the most extreme form of religion."
Putin also consolidated the Kremlin's power generally under the banner of combating terrorism.
In the aftermath of the Beslan tragedy, Putin pushed through parliament a package of purported antiterrorism measures that considerably extended Kremlin control over Russian's sprawling regions. These measures included the abolition of popular elections of regional leaders, replacing them with Kremlin appointees.
Boris Kagarlitsky, the director of Moscow's Institute of Globalization Studies, says Putin's administration has also used the September 11 attacks to justify its clampdown on independent media.
"The war against terrorism is a big gift for any government, because it always represents a way of rapidly limiting civil rights and liberties in order to save a way of life that is [allegedly] threatened by an absolute evil," Kagarlitsky says. "For the Russian political establishment, a wonderful opportunity arose to control the press. It is no coincidence that the systematic strangling of the free press started precisely after September 2001."
While Putin has made the war on terror a central part of his domestic policy over the past five years, his allegiance to the methods and policies undertaken by the United States in that war has been limited.
Like many European leaders, he openly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has called for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country, straining relations with Washington. And by maintaining working ties with Iran -- a country once described by Washington as a point on the "axis of evil" -- Putin has clearly shown that his agenda for the global war on terror does not correspond neatly to Washington's. (Claire Bigg)
MOSCOW MULLS ITS CHINA ENERGY STRATEGY.
September 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- As Russia prepares to sell natural gas to China, Russian experts have been busy creating a number of scenarios for such future sales. The one Russian President Vladimir Putin selects will not just have an impact on gas customers in Asia, but will also drastically affect the economic development of Siberia and Russia's Far East.
Historically, China has not been a major gas-consuming country. Instead it has relied on its vast coal reserves to meet its power-generation and home-heating needs. In 2004, China consumed 2.1 billion tons of coal -- one-third of the world's total coal consumption.
According to the CIA World Factbook, in 2003 -- the last year for which Chinese gas data is available -- China consumed a mere 33.4 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas. That's a fraction of what is consumed in the United States (633 bcm in 2003) or Russia (402 bcm in 2004). Gas presently constitutes only 3 percent of China's energy balance.
With China's energy needs growing, this is set to change. Beijing is already in the market to buy gas and is eager to construct the needed infrastructure to take delivery of the fuel.
The Chinese have signed a 25-year contract to buy liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Australia and plan to construct a third LNG terminal by 2009.
Anticipating rising Asian (namely, China and South Korea) demand for gas, in August 2004, an interagency task force was created by the Russian Ministry for Industry and Energy to prepare a number of scenarios for the development of the gas industry in Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East.
The task force took into account potential sales to Asia, but its primary goal was to consider the development of the gas infrastructure in these two remote regions in order to serve Russian domestic needs.
Presently Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East rely primarily on coal to meet their energy needs. But with an abundance of potentially cheap and environmentally cleaner gas, this is likely to change in the not-too distant future.
The task force reported that current gas reserves in the two regions are around 45 trillion cubic meters, the vast majority of which has not been tapped. Of these reserves, 70 percent are located in Eastern Siberia.
Four major gas fields are being considered as the most likely production centers: the Kovytka field in Irkutsk; the Chayadinsk field in Yakutsk; the Sobinsk-Paiginsk field in Krasnoyarsk; and the Sakhalin fields (the so-called Sakhalin-1 and 2 projects and possibly Sakhalin-3, which has been on the back burner for years). All the fields are known to contain gas, but further exploratory work is needed to determine just how accessible it is.
The analysts took into consideration the possibility that additional reserves of up to 6 trillion cubic meters could be discovered by 2030. If this should materialize, the task force estimates that annual gas production from the region could reach 150 billion cubic meters. But the costs of extracting the gas would be high -- around $7.5 billion.
The task force presented three scenarios to the government.
The first is named "West" and is estimated to cost $37 billion, most of which would be spent in 2007-2010.
It projects that gas from Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Yakutsk will flow into one transportation system, which will deliver gas to the Unified Gas Transportation System (UGS), the all-Russian pipeline network, as well as to China and South Korea. The main field for exports to Asia is projected to be Chayadinsk in Yakutsk. According to the scenario, gas from the giant Kovytka field will not be exported to Asia in the initial stages.
Operations would begin in 2007 and, by 2010, the total gas production from Kovytka and Chayadinsk would be 10-11 bcm, 5 bcm of which would be available for export to China and South Korea. By 2030, "West" projects that production from these two fields would rise to 60 bcm per year of which 25 bcm would be for export.
Exports from Sakhalin in this scenario would be exclusively in the form of LNG.
The second scenario, "Center," calls for the construction of three pipelines, which would connect to the USD system for domestic consumption. This scenario precludes gas from Kovytka being exported to Asia and projects a pipeline under the Sea of Japan to supply South Korea with gas from Sakhalin. China would receive 15 bcm of gas annually from the Chayadinsk field via pipeline. The total cost of this scenario would be $36 billion, most of which would be spent in 2007-09.
The third scenario, "East," differs from the other two in that it projects that the only gas sold to the Asian market would be from Sakhalin and would be transported by pipeline and as LNG. This in turn would necessitate the creation of the Sakhalin-3 project.
The Kovytka field would be limited to only supplying the Russian domestic market.
"East" proposes leaving the Chayadinsk field unexploited, thus removing the necessity of building a costly pipeline from Yakutsk, and saving an estimated $4 billion-$5 billion.
Which scenario Russia chooses depends largely on the projected domestic price for gas in Russia and how it compares with the price for coal, the main fuel used in Siberia and the Far East.
All three scenarios call for relatively small deliveries of gas to China by 2030. The largest projection, in the "West" scenario, calls for a total of 25 bcm per year to both China and South Korea.
Given that South Korea uses more gas than China, the Chinese share of 25 bcm would likely be relatively small. Such a low volume would have little impact on China's energy balance or would make China reliant on Russian gas.
On March 21, RIA Novosti reported that during his visit to China, Putin stated that Russia would sell Beijing 30-40 bcm of gas annually, although the president did not give a time frame.
This figure, however, seems somewhat exaggerated in light of the three scenarios. And given the high costs of these projects, it is doubtful what commercial interests would be served by such grandiose plans.
In February 2005, the U.S. Congressional Research Service issued a report, "Rising Energy Competition and Energy Security in Northeast Asia: Issues for U.S. Policy," which found that:
"Natural gas is an attractive long-term alternative for China in that it is plentiful outside the Middle East and relatively environmentally-friendly. In the short-term, however, the cost of gas infrastructure and the availability of inexpensive coal as a substitute will preclude extensive use of natural gas."
Considering these factors, Russian natural gas, for all practical purposes, will likely first be used to develop Siberia and the Far East and then to meet Moscow's European commitments. How much will be available for the European Union is debatable, but apparently China will do little to compete with Europe for this commodity. (Roman Kupchinsky)
INTRODUCTION OF RELIGIOUS CURRICULUM STUDIED.
September 7, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Public schools in four western regions of Russia opened their doors to an unorthodox beginner this year -- Orthodox Christianity.
Schools in the Bryansk, Kaluga, Smolensk, and Belgorod regions have incorporated classes centering on Orthodox Christianity into their curriculums. The course will be offered as an elective subject in another 11 regions.
The inclusion of the compulsory courses strays from the official stance of secularism in Russia -- a country that is still dealing with the Soviet Union's endorsement of atheism. The Russian Constitution explicitly endorses the separation of church and state.
Valentina Molikova of Bryansk Oblast's General and Professional Education Department told "The Moscow Times" of August 31 that the course will cover such topics as art and the environment, and will also address social issues such as violence and drug abuse.
Svetlana Kalshnikova, deputy head of Belgorod Oblast's Education and Science Department, told the paper that the focus of the endeavor is not about teaching religion, but about "studying Orthodoxy as a traditional national culture."
But some representatives of other religions are not convinced.
The chairman of Russia's Council of Muftis, Ravil Gainutdin, says the introduction of such coursework could threaten the relative stability that Russia's various religious communities currently enjoy.
Especially, he says, in areas with large Muslim populations such as the Republic of Tatarstan.
"The Council of Muftis has a firm opinion on this topic that has never changed," Gainutdin told RFE/RL. "We have been saying the same thing for years. We fully agree with Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiyev, who has said that if somebody were try to introduce [such religious] lessons by force and by breaking the law, it would be a great mistake and would lead to the destruction of inter-religious stability in Russia. We [the Council of Muftis] support this [Shaimiyev's] point of view"
Ravil Yakhyayev, who heads the Tatar community in Kaluga Oblast, is upset by the move. He says adherents of Russian Orthodoxy receive favorable treatment in Russia.
"To put it bluntly, everything is based on Orthodoxy," Yakhyayev said. "Of course, our community is not very happy about that because not every [religious] community is given equal opportunities."
Nadezhda Rassadina, a representative of Kaluga Oblast's Jewish community, shares Yakhyayev's view. She says that some schools are forcing pupils to attend religious classes that were intended to be elective.
"As a representative of a Jewish community, I consider that even if these lessons are elective, they should teach not just the basics of Orthodox culture but the basics of other world religions, too," Rassadina said.
Others question the educational value of the new courses.
Gleb Yakunin, a Russian Orthodox priest and former dissident, tells RFE/RL that there are too many conservative elements in the Orthodox Church. He fears some church representatives will attempt to push their own religious interpretations and ignore more modern ideas.
Yakunin and others are also concerned that the end result will be that more young people will be scared away from the church than attracted to it.
An opinion poll conducted in 2001 by the Moscow-based Public View foundation found that just 18 percent of Russian citizens regularly attend services at a church or a mosque, although 53 percent of the respondents said they consider themselves Orthodox Christians. The statistics were similar for nearly all major religions in Russia.
The perceived need to counter the effects of Soviet atheism might be one reason the idea to introduce religious coursework into Russian schools has found some unlikely supporters.
Igor Kavalevsky, who heads the Conference of Catholic Archbishops of Russia, is one of them.
"I personally support it and I know that the [Roman] Catholic Church in Russia has the same attitude," Kavalevsky said. "It is convinced that introducing the basics of Orthodox culture to schools will aid the religious education of young people and will do harm to no one."