Monday, September 1, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Ukraine Leads Russians to View Putin’s Past Actions More Positively and the West to View Them More Negatively


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 1 – Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is having an impact on how people view his past actions, leading more Russians to approve of his actions at Beslan a decade ago and some Poles to renew their questions about whether Putin was involved in the 2010 downing of a plane in which Polish President Lech Kaczynski was killed.

 

            Ten years ago, the tragedy at the Beslan school occurred, an event that shook Russian society especially because many Russians at the time blamed the security services rather than the militants for the massive loss of life among children.  But a new Levada Center poll finds that in the wake of Ukraine, Russians are less critical of what Moscow did at Beslan than they were.

 

            As reported by today’s “Kommersant,” 62 percent of Russians are now certain that Russian officials “did everything possible to save the hostages,” an increase from 46 percent saying that a year ago and from the 54 percent who agreed with that position immediately after the events (kommersant.ru/doc/2557219).

 

            Moreover, the new poll found that only 14 percent of Russians consider the storming of the school by the security services during which the children lost their lives as “unsatisfactory,” down from 61 percent who took that view in 2004.  At the same time, the number viewing what the special services did in a positive way rose to 56 percent from four percent in 2004.

 

            And those who question what the authorities did that cost 334 lives, including 186 children, have fallen in numbers. Today only four percent of Russians believe that the authorities needed the tragedy because they couldn’t negotiate with the separatists, down from 14 percent a decade ago.

 

            Moreover, the share of those who think that the authorities acted as they did at that North Caucasus school “only in order to save face” has fallen from 34 percent to 14 percent.  All these trends, Levada Center experts say, are related to what is going on in Ukraine and the support Vladimir Putin has for his actions there.

 

            But the Ukrainian events and especially Moscow’s obvious duplicity about them has had a different consequence abroad, leading some to reconsider whether they should have accepted Putin’s statements about his past actions and conclude that some of the things that they had thought were beyond the pale might not have been.

 

            Perhaps the most dramatic indication of that shift is the declaration by former Polish interior minister Antony Macerevic that he is now convinced that Putin ordered the shooting down of the Polish plane on April 10, 2010, that was carrying then Polish President Lech Kaczynski (gordonua.com/news/worldnews/Eks-glava-MVD-Polshi-Putin-ubil-Kachinskogo-chtoby-napast-na-Ukrainu-38700.html).

 

            In a speech last week, Macerevic said that “the aggression of Russia must not surprise anyone. The Polish national elite died because Putin was preparing for aggression, but our politicians do not see this. Instead of supporting Kaczynski whatever mistake he made, they gave his life into the hands of Russia, into the solicitous hands of a KGB officer,” Vladimir Putin.

 

            Had the world listened to Kuczynski then or had the Polish president survived and continued his warnings about Russian intentions, the former Polish minister said, the situation in Ukraine might have been avoided by timely action.  And that is exactly what Putin wanted to prevent from happening.

 

            Whatever the truth about the April 2010 Polish plane downing is – and the jury is still out -- the increasing disconnect between what Putin says and what people can see with their own eyes seems certain to reopen discussion of a variety of events in which some suspect he acted in ways very different than he has claimed.

 

            Perhaps the most sensitive of these concerns the killing of more than 300 Russians in the apartment bombings in 1999, an event that Putin successfully blamed on the Chechens and used to both restart the Chechen war and boost himself into the Russian presidency but one that many investigators have long suspected he was directly involved in.

 

            The asking of such questions may corrode his standing, first abroad where the Kremlin leader’s dishonesty is most obvious and then inside Russia where Putin’s propagandists have worked hard to hide it. And both developments are yet another indication that Putin like others who have based their rule on dishonesty may win some battles but will ultimately lose the war.

Window on Eurasia: On 75th Anniversary of Start of World War II, Putin has Begun a New War in Europe, Sokolov Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 1 – Seventy-five years after Hitler began World War II in Europe with his invasion of Poland, Vladimir Putin has begun another war in Europe with his invasion of Ukraine. And both the pre-histories of these conflicts and the behavior of the two aggressions are “very similar,” according to Moscow commentator Boris Sokolov.

 

            Writing on Grani.ru today, Sokolov points out that World War II became possible not only because of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which allowed Hitler to avoid a two-front war from the start but also by the Nazi leader’s use of the notion of “oppressed German minorities” and efforts by England and France to avoid a conflict (grani.ru/opinion/sokolov/m.232549.html).

 

            Putin has also invoked the supposed “oppressed status of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine” to justify his military actions, Sokolov and he has cleverly exploited the desire of Europeans and the West more generally to avoid any conflict with Moscow that might harm the economic and political well-being of the latter.

 

            There are important differences, of course, not least of all in the status and attitudes of Russians in Ukraine as opposed to Volksdeutsch in Poland and elsewhere.  Unlike the Germans 75 years ago, Russians in Ukraine were not suffering any deprivations and overwhelmingly opposed being absorbed by Russia.

 

            And there are differences as well between Hitler’s use of force and Putin’s. Hitler openly and shamelessly used his forces for his invasions. Putin and his regime, in contrast, Sokolov points out, have tried to hide what they are doing and when they cannot hide it they have simply lied about what is going on.

 

            “But a fact remains a fact: the Russian army has gone into the territory of Ukraine. Russia is the aggressor. And Russians must recognize that [their] country has attacked a neighboring country and that today, Ukrainians are in the position of the Poles in September 1939.”

 

            Given what he had achieved by his covert and successfully if not plausibly denial efforts in Ukraine over the past six months, “why then did Putin [finally] send in the regular army?” the Moscow commentator asks. The answer is simple: Putin “does not like to lose and the Ukrainian army’s seizure of Donetsk and Luhansk was considered in Russia and the world as [his] defeat.”



            Today, on the 75th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, there are “no fewer than 10,000 soldiers of the regular Russian army” who have invaded Ukraine and are fighting there, Sokolov says. And they are having success because Ukrainian commanders did not think that Putin would send in regular army units with their advanced weaponry.



            The future course of military actions there “depends on Putin’s behavior,” the commentator says.  If he keeps the Russian forces at their current level or only boosts them slightly, the Ukrainians can hold on for several months but “then they will inevitably be forced” to sue for peace given the exhaustion of their military capacity in the absence of outside aid.



            The best Kyiv can hope for in that event will be the creation of a new “frozen conflict” in eastern Ukraine, one which Moscow will be able to exploit against the Ukrainian government as it has done up to now with Transdniestria against Chisinau and Abkhazia and South Osetia against Tbilisi.



            And at the same time, he writes, “Putin will continue to destabilize Ukraine including with diversionary and terrorist methods hoping to bring to power in Kyiv a marionette pro-Russian government,” Sokolov says.



            But “there is another still more dangerous variant” possible, he continues. “Putin could use a larger group of Russian forces up to 50-60,000 men.” In that case, “the Ukrainian army could resist no more than a month after which the territory of Ukraine would be occupied by Russian forces and some kind of Kremlin puppet would sit in Kyiv.”



            Either of these variants would have “catastrophic consequences for the existing system of international relations,” he says. “Under the threat of aggression, almost as in 1939 would be all the post-Soviet republics and Eastern Europe.” To prevent that from happening, “the West has very little time remaining.”



            But to date, the actions of Obama, Merkel, Holland and Cameron “recall more the behavior of Chamberlain and Deladier at Munich” than they do those like Churchill who called for standing up to Hitler. And it should be remembered that in September 1939, neither England nor France provided direct help to Poland even after Hitler invaded.



            “In part,” Sokolov says,  this was because “they knew about the secret protocol to the Soviet-German pact and that the Red Army would very shortly invade Poland” as it did 16 days after Hitler sent his forces in.



            “It is possible that today the will of the West is to a certain extent paralyzed by the fear of a broad-scale Russian-Ukrainian war, which in fact has already begun.” Even though Europe and the US have finally acknowledged that Putin has sent his troops in, they have failed to respond immediately but only said that they will do something if Putin doesn’t stop.



            “If the European and NATO continues to be slow in responding on these vitally important issues, they risk becoming a powerless League of Nations which was not able to ward off World War II,” Sokolov concludes.

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Moscow to Help Iran Escape Western Boycott


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 1 – Russia will help Iran do an end run around Western sanctions, something that Western realists can be counted on to blame on the West’s support for Ukraine but in fact an action that reflects a yet another rejection by Moscow of international law and its own past commitments.

 

            In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Vladimir Skosyryev says that Western sanctions on the two countries have contributed to “the rapprochement of [their] positions on the Iranian nuclear program, the war in Afghanistan, and the problems of the Middle East.”  But the most important consequences lie elsewhere (ng.ru/world/2014-09-01/1_iran.html).

 

            The just-completed visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Moscow has opened the way for “a significant broadening of trade and economic cooperation by barter” between the two countries, the Russian journalist says, a development that will undercut the West’s sanctions on Iran and reduce the chances of reining in Iran’s nuclear program.

 

            The statements of Javad and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov allow one to concude that “having encountered with open antagonism from the side of the West, Russia and Iran have decided to more closely coordinate their actions in the international arena,” even though the two men did not specify “the parameters of this coordinate precisely.”

 

            Elena Dunayeva, a specialist on Iran at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, told Shoksyryev that last month, Moscow and Tehran agreed on a memorandum of mutual understanding and that next week the two sides would meet in the Iranian capital to work out the details of that accord. Some 100 Russian businessmen are scheduled to attend.

 

            According to the Moscow scholar, “this is an effort to advance trade and economic ties [between the two countries] to a new level,” with Iran selling Russia oil and Russia in a barter exchange selling Iran goods and services. Then Russia will resell Iranian oil abroad, something that is now possible but might not be if sanctions on Moscow were broadened.

 

            Also required for this arrangement to work, Dunayeva says, is the development of new infrastructure because Iran has exported most of its oil via the Persian Gulf rather than the Caspian Sea, although it has some capacity in the latter which could be expanded.

 

            Talks between the six and Iran about Tehran’s nuclear program have been going on for eight years. Recently, according to the Russian journalist, the US has “begun to insist on the introduction of such restrictions on the quantity of enriched uranium” that Iran can have that Tehran considers “unacceptable.”

 

            Those American demands were behind the recent criticism of the US by Ayatollah Hamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, and that reaction helps to explain why Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said in his press conference with his Iranian colleague that Moscow opposes the American proposals.

 

            But as Dunayeva points out, “the Russian position at the talks was always more pro-Iranian than those of Western countries. Like Beijing, Moscow says that Iran should be able to keep that part of its nuclear program which is directed at the development of the peaceful use of atomic energy.”

 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Window on Eurasia: After Crimea, Russian Germans Press for Restoration of Their Republic


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, August 31 – Seventy three years after their republic was disbanded by Stalin and 24 years after the two Germanies were reunited, some of Russia’s remaining Germans have been inspired by the creation of a Crimean Republic within the Russian Federation to increase their efforts to restore a German Republic within Russia.

 

            Given the radical decline in the number of Germans in the Middle Volga – there were more than 400,000 a century ago but only 1400 remains – some in the city of Engels, which once was the capital of the German autonomy, are skeptical that anything can be done (http://nazaccent.ru/content/12956-prizrak-respubliki.html).

 

            Dmitry Reshetov, the director of the Engels Regional Studies Museum, says there are today no places of “the compact settlement of Germans” and consequently little basis for a new republic.  And Erna Lavrenova, a local resident, says she is certain that “no republic is needed here: the old Germans almost don’t remain and new ones aren’t coming.”

 

            But others are equally convinced that the restoration of the autonomy is necessary as part of a broader and still incomplete effort to rehabilitate the Russian Germans, 1.2 million of whom were deported to Siberia and Kazakstan and 800,000 of whom were confined to the GULAG by Stalin (nazaccent.ru/content/12970-rossijskie-nemcy-otmetili-73-godovshinu-deportacii.html).

 

            Many Russians still believe that the Russian Germans deserved to be deported because of their supposed sympathy for and cooperation with the Nazi invaders. But archivist Elizveta Elina says that despite official demands that she and others find evidence for that idea, no such evidence has turned up, and she appears to be certain it won’t.

 

            Supporters of the idea of restoring a German republic in Russia point out that 20 years ago, it appeared that the idea was of interest “only for specialists,” but then it turned out that not only ethnic Germans but representatives of the other nationalities among whom they lived came to believe that it would be a good idea. 

 

            “The number of such enthusiasts is becoming ever greater,” according to Aleksandr Bekker, the leader of the Engels German Rebirth Society.

 

            Representatives of other nationalities are backing the idea, Elena Kashtanova, the head of the information office of the Engels District administration, “above all” because “it is our history” and because there is no reason “to divide peoples” any more.

 

            She noted that her husband had grown up in a village called “USA” which stood for “the United States of Aleksandrovka.” It had a population of 1000 and included Russians, Mordvins, Kazakhs, Ukrainians and Chuvashes as well as Germans. Representative of 35 different nationalities still live there, she added.

 

            Nonetheless, some officials believe that after a few more censuses, there won’t be “even one German” in the region and consequently see no reason to press for a German autonomy. But one activist says that she and her colleagues “won’t allow” the Germans to disappear and will thus continue to press for institutions to keep that community alive.

 

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Belarus has a Name and It Isn’t Belorussia, Russian Court Told


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, August 31 – A man from the Belarusian city of Bobruisk has filed suit in a Moscow court against three Russian news agencies seeking compensation for their use of the word ‘Belorussiya’ instead of ‘Belarus’ as the name of his country, something he says has damaged his honor and dignity.

 

            “I am a citizen of a state with an official name – the Republic of Belarus,” he told the court, and calling that country Belorussia is offensive to him personally and to all Belarusians. He is asking for the court to order the news agencies to change their practice and to award him 14 million rubles (380,000 US dollars) in damages (regnum.ru/news/polit/1842241.html).

 

                In reporting this story, Russia’s Regnum news agency says that the notion that Moscow insists on the use of Belorussia is an idea being pushed by “a small group of activists inside the post-Soviet republic who consider themselves not Belorusians but ‘Belarusians’ and even ‘Litvins.’” That group opposes the use of Russian there even though most residents speak it.

 

            But the news agency also notes that while it “usually uses the traditional Russian name ‘Belorussia,’ it not only allows its authors to use the term Belarus but even has a project which bears that name.  But at the same time, the agency says, it opposes “attempts to arbitrarily change the rules of the Russian language.”

 

            And Regnum says that Minsk has been taking actions against Russian speakers in Belarussia, thus making many Russians more inclined to use the Russian and not the Belarusian term. It notes that in September 2013, a man was convicted for responding to a Belarusian in Russian and on June 12th of this year, the Minsk Rus’ Cultural Society was shut down.

 

            The Russian agency did not say, but lying behind this case – which the Moscow court will likely toss out – is a much bigger issue: the view of Vladimir Putin and many Russians that there is a “triune” Slavic people consisting of Great Russians, Little Russians and White Russians.

 

            By challenging this notion in a Russian court, a Belarusian activist has seized the opportunity to focus attention not just on these words but on the imperialist agenda lying behind them.

Window on Eurasia: ‘Russia Stands at the Brink of Catastrophe,’ Russian Anti-War Movement Warns


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, August 31 – The organizing committee of the Russian Anti-War Movement says that “Russian stands at the brink of catastrophe” following Putin’s introduction of regular Russian army units into Ukraine, an action that threatens losses equivalent to the war in Afghanistan, a major military conflict in Europe, and a fratricidal war.

 

            Arguing that Vladimir Putin has violated the Russian Constitution and committed state crimes, the group calls on Russians to engage in acts of peaceful civil disobedience to force the regime to change course, to demand that Russians not be sent to Ukraine to fight, and to engage in political struggle until the war ends and those responsible for it are removed from power (www1.kasparov.org/material.php?id=5401F6C1B8CCC).

 

            It reminds Russian soldiers and officers that they have “the complete right to refuse to obey” illegal orders, that they should not shoot at their fellow Slavs,and that they should reflect on who is “your true enemy: those who have converted you into cannon fodder.” 

 

            “To the extent that the continuation of the fratricidal war will inevitably lead to the disintegration of the country, the loss of state sovereignty and territorial integrity, the group further calls on Russian military personnel to “find the strength to fulfill their duty for the defense of the peoples of Russia!”

 

            And to the Ukrainians, whom it calls “dear brothers and sisters,” the organizing group says that “together with you we grieve about those losses which you have born and continue to bear as a result of the criminal policy of the leadership of Russia! We hope for the speediest end to the bloodletting on the much-suffering Ukrainian land!”

 

Window on Eurasia: Nazarbayev Says Kazakhstan Could Leave Putin’s Eurasian Union


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, August 31 – Alarmed by Vladimir Putin’s dismissive comments about his country and by Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s suggestion that Moscow will annex part of Kazakhstan after it finishes with Ukraine, President Nursultan Nazarbayev says that Kazakhstan could leave the Moscow-organized Eurasian Union.

 

            The Kazakhstan president said that “if the rules which were earlier established in the treaty are not fulfilled, then Kazakhstan has the complete right to end its membership in the European Economic Union. Astana will never be in an organization which represents a threat to the independence of Kazakhstan” (newsru.com/world/31aug2014/nazarbaev.html).

 

            “Our independence is our most valued treasure,” the longtime Kazakhstan said, something “for which our grandfathers struggled. First of all, we will never give up our independence, and second, we will do everything possible to defend it,” an almost direct response to Putin and to Zhirinovsky.

 

            Nazarbayev’s remarks are especially significant because for more than two decades he has been pushing for a tighter but rule-based organization of the post-Soviet states, arguing on many occasions including in a book he wrote that everyone will benefit if everyone lives according to the same rules.

 

            By threatening to leave Putin’s version of the Eurasian Union, the Kazakhstan president has sent the clearest signal yet that he does not believe the Kremlin leader plans to play by any rules regardless of what he says, and it reinforces the decisions of Minsk and Astana not to go along with the Kremlin leader on Ukraine.

 

            Consequently, whatever gains Putin thinks he can make by his aggression in Ukraine are being undercut by Russian losses elsewhere. That might restrain some leaders, but it could have the effect of causing Putin to redouble his bets on the use of force, a step that if he takes it could plunge the entire region into disaster.