Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Demand for Role in Ukrainian Affairs ‘Unheard Of,’ Former Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Says

Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 16 – Moscow’s demands for a voice in the definition of the policies of the Ukrainian state are “something unheard of in the contemporary world," Georgy Kunadze, who served as deputy foreign minister of the Russian Federation at the beginning of the Yeltsin period, says.

 

            “It is impossible to satisfy them,” he continues in the course of a wide-ranging interview posted on Profile.ru yesterday. And when they are not satisfied, “when they are rejected,” everyone knows what that will mean (profile.ru/rossiya/item/86016-v-perspektive-vozvrashchenie-kryma-neizbezhno).

 

            Making such demands in fact is simply the latest indication that the Kremlin’s policy toward Ukraine reflects not careful calculation but rather is “improvised,” Kunadze says. As Putin himself has acknowledged, he didn’t originally intend to annex Crimea but when that became possible, he moved ahead anyway.

 

            One can only hope, the former Russian diplomat says, that this action will not be repeated in an attempt to gain a land corridor to Crimea or to go even further to reach Transdniestria.

 

            As to Ukraine’s future, Kunadze continues, it will be able to retain its formal status as an independent state much as Moldova has.  But at the same time, it has “a not bad future” ahead of it. It will never be a police or fascist state, and now as a result of the conflict Russia unleashed, Ukraine “will be a much more firmly consolidated state” because “for the first time after acquiring independence, tens of millions of Ukrainians have recognized themselves as a nation.”

 

            Kunadze says he does not know whether Crimea will be returned to Ukraine. Some say this is impossible, but they would also have said a few months ago that the annexation of Crimea by Russia was impossible. Thus, at some point, “the return of Crimea is inevitable,” although that will take place only after there are serious changes in Russia itself.

 

            The real question, he continues, is “whether the current Russian authorities will make peace with the very fact of the existence of an independent democratic Ukraine.”  Given the links between them, that is far from certain as the recent actions of the Kremlin indicate, and it could become even more difficult for Russia to tolerate in the future.

 

            ‘If a country as similar to us as Ukraine is will be able earlier than we to overcome the post-Soviet syndrome and to become a successful contemporary state, its example could prove infectious for Russia. In this case, the victory of Ukraine [would be] a stimulus for changes in Russia,” Kunadze says.

 

            The former diplomat says he hopes very much that Moscow will not try to apply its Ukrainian approach in Kazakhstan or elsewhere. Trying to do so, he suggests, would be “a catastrophe.”  But given the direction Putin has moved first in Georgia and now in Ukraine, there is reason to fear that he will not stop.

 

            What Putin has done and is doing is against Russian interests, Kunadze says. He mentions that during perestroika, Georgy Arbatov of the Institute for the Study of the United States and Canada liked to say that Moscow was planning to do the very worst thing it could to the Americans – “deprive [them] of an enemy.”

 

            Gorbachev and Yeltsin did a great deal to do just that.  As a result of the American “loss” of its main opponent, Russians “initiated the process of the decentralization of international relations and political globalization.”  But now Moscow is moving in exactly the opposite direction, giving the US and the West “their historic main enemy.”

 

            And what that means, Kunadze says, is that Russia by its own actions has “initiated the process of what is in essence the anti-Russian consolidation of the West.  The consequences of this process can be catastrophic for our foreign policy and with a small lag for our domestic ones.”

 

            Russia simply doesn’t have the resources to compete, Kunadze says, except in a single area – nuclear weapons – and such weapons are “an instrument not of policy but only and uniquely of constraint.” They are “our final suicidal trump card which guarantees that no one will try to seize Moscow.”

 

            Moreover, he continues, Russia has lost the “soft force” war by its actions. It cannot attract anyone to its banner but instead pushes people away. In the end, Russia “won’t be able to win in Ukraine. This issue instead is whether it will be able to lose in a worthy fashion” and thus escape the disastrous situation its own policies have created.

 

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Russian Occupation Further Tightens the Noose around Crimean Tatars


Paul Goble

           

Staunton, September 16 – In the wake of the Russian-organized elections, the Russian occupation authorities raided the offices of the Crimean Tatar Milli Mejlis and those of the Crimean Tatar newspaper, “Avdet,” the latest indication that Moscow plans to suppress any and all independent Crimean Tatar activity on the Ukrainian peninsula.

 

This latest manifestation of lawlessness – which was in part carried out by masked men rather than police in regular uniform – represents, Crimean Tatar activist Kurtseit Abdullayev says, “a direct attack on the Crimean Tatar people,” because “the Mejlis is [their] only representative organ” (http://ua.krymr.com/content/article/26586784.html).

 

He suggested that the raids, which apparently sought to find banned Islamic literature and which led to the confiscation of some computers, had been launched because the Milli Mejlis and its leaders Refat Chubarov and Mustafa Cemilev had successfully called for a boycott of last weekend’s vote.

 

Fewer than half of eligible voters took part – people could vote if they showed a Russian passport or residence document – and a far smaller share of Crimean Tatars did.  Yesterday, Catherine Ashton, EU foreign affairs chief, said “the European Union does not recognize the legal basis or the legitimacy of these elections” (grani.ru/Politics/Russia/m.233035.html).

 

 

 

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Another Putin Regional Amalgamation Project Unravelling


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 16 – As part of his push to reduce the number of federal subjects in the Russian Federation by amalgamating smaller non-Russian districts with larger and predominantly ethnic Russian regions, Vladimir Putin orchestrated a referendum to unite Dolgan-Nenetsk AO and the Evenk AO with Krasnoyarsk Kray.

 

            But the forced marriage of the three, achieved largely as a result of promises by Moscow and Krasnoyarsk that the numerically small nationalities of these regions would be taken care of, has not worked well, with few of those Russian promises in fact kept and many of the numerically small non-Russians suffering from their loss of status.

 

            And those difficulties, which they may seem small given that Dolgan-Nenetsk had only 40,000 people and Evenkia only 18,000, have cast a long shadow and slowed or even stopped one of Putin’s signature plans, the elimination within Russia of all non-Russian republics, including large ones like Tatarstan.

 

            The difficulties that arise when such amalgamation projects are attempted were very much on public view yesterday at a meeting of deputies from these two downgraded areas help in Krasnoyarsk (nazaccent.ru/content/13158-v-krasnoyarskom-krae-obsudyat-osobyj-status.html).

 

            Among the problems the deputies raised were the departure of representatives of federal agencies from these regions, something that prevents residents from getting the aid they need if as is the case for many they cannot afford to travel the often enormous distances from what is now northern Krasnoyarsk Kray to the republic capital.

 

            Gennady Shchukin, the president of a group that represents the numerically small nationalities of the Russian North, said that the status of the downgraded regions needed to be raised in order to resolve some of the problems which their residents now face as a result of the amalgamation effort.

 

            He told the meeting about a member of the Nganasan people who had to sell his deer on whom he relies for much of his livelihood in order to raise enough money to buy medicine in town, a situation that arose, Shchukin said, because there are no drug stores in the tundra now and because there are no officials to help such people get the assistance they need.

 

            Participants at the meeting drafted proposals for new regional legislation that would boost the status of the two regions, steps that would largely but not completely reverse the results of the 2005 referendum on the ground even if Putin and his supporters will still be able to claim that that vote reduced the number of federal subjects by two.

 

           

 

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Can and Must Exploit US-Led Fight against ISIS, Silantyev Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 16 – The US campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria gives Russia new opportunities to advance its interests in the Middle East, according to Roman Silantyev, an influential Russian specialist on Islam who has gained notoriety but also much support for his criticism of Muslims both inside the Russian Federation and abroad.

 

            In a statement to Interfax today, Silantyev says that Russia should extract as much profit as possible from the American campaign against the Islamic State, something he said would be easy for Moscow to do as long as it focuses on its own interests rather than on saving “US allies” (interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=56472).

 

            Up to now, he continues, ISIS “is not a serious threat” to Russia. Indeed, it may even have helped Russia because some Islamist radicals who have been working inside the Russian Federation have left to fight for it and the struggle against ISIS has led some Persian Gulf monarchies to reduce their support of Islamists inside Russia as well.

 

            If Russian units do take part in the campaign, they will gain experience “in a real war in the desert,” but Silantyev says, the most important “plus” for Moscow will be the chance to “legally sell to Iran and Syria the latest [Russian] air defense complexes” as well as other weapons systems.

 

            Moreover, he says, “unlike the Americans,” Russian fighters will not have to carefully distinguish among the rebels but instead will be able to attack all of them, something that “will help Bashar Asad restore full control over this country,” not only creating “a more effective defense against the Islamic State” but reinforcing his ties with Moscow.

 

            This could open the way for the opening of new Russian bases there and elsewhere in the Middle East, Silantyev suggests, a move which “would make much more difficult the forcible export of democracy [by the West] into countries which are friendly to us.”

 

            “On the whole,” he concludes, “the collapse of American policy in the Middle East is extremely advantageous for Russia, and it is necessary to use this advantage to the maximum extent possible.”

 

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Laying Groundwork for Ukrainian Scenario in the Baltic States


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 16 – The Russian government is laying the groundwork for a Ukrainian scenario in the Baltic countries, arguing that the three are mistreating ethnic Russians, that the West has failed to oppose such actions, and that Moscow is compelled under the circumstances to work to protect these members of “the Russian world.”

 

            Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s special representative for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, advanced that argument in the course of a Regional Conference of Russian Compatriots of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia held in Riga last weekend (mid.ru/brp_4.nsf/newsline/0AD973C5C78C12B944257D5400382B03).


 

Among Dolgov’s main points are the following:

“The defense of the rights and lawful interests of our compatriots abroad is one of the priority fields of activity of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation -- on which we work actively and proactively.”

“Unfortunately, it is necessary to state that an enormous number of our compatriots abroad, entire segments of the Russian World, continue to encounter serious problems in the context of securing their rights and legal interests. One of the most obvious and vital reasons for this is the unrelenting growth of xenophobic and neo-Nazi tendencies in the world and their consequent, deep penetration into the consciousness of the political establishments in many foreign states.

“Among the main concerns in the context of the growth of manifestations of neo-Nazism and xenophobia in Europe, according to international experts and human rights advocates, is the tendency to legalize ultraright parties and the general growth of xenophobia and intolerance in regard to national minorities and migrants with the connivance of law enforcement agencies.

The dramatic development of events in Ukraine clearly attests to the correctness of this thesis. I remind you that one of the first steps taken by the parliament of that country immediately following the anticonstitutional coup and the armed seizure of power in Kyiv in February of this year was the repealing of the law On the Foundations of State Language Policy from July 2, 2012, which established the status of the regional Russian language, 

“Now I would like to focus on one essential and clear instance that, in many ways, might explain European Union's neglect of the human rights situation. The forces in the EU in this sphere have traditionally focused primarily on third countries … the European Commission stubbornly maintains its unwillingness to intervene in the situation of the massive violation of the rights of the Russian-speaking population of the countries of the Baltic region under the excuse of a lack of jurisdiction. In Brussels they do not want to admit or deal with, for instance, the clearly intentional deviation of the Latvian authorities from the observation of universal human rights norms and standards. 

“We all know well the real scope of the problems with human rights and the rule of law that our compatriots encounter in the Baltic states. This topic is constantly at the center of attention and activity of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation.

“We think it is unacceptable to justify marches of former SS legionnaires in Riga, meetings of veterans of the 20th Waffen SS division in Estonia, or ceremonial, with state honors, funerals for legionnaires/Nazi war criminals from the World War II era. We consider it a shame for Europe and an insult to the memory of those who died defending the world from "the Brown Plague." Elevating Nazi criminals and their collaborators, responsible for the intentional murder of millions of peaceful Europeans, nearly to the status of "freedom fighters" is the peak of cynicism.

“The problem of the mass deprivation of citizenship in Latvia and Estonia remains a serious one. We consider it an unacceptable situation when a significant portion of the population of these countries lacks fundamental political and socioeconomic rights. We demand that the international community put decisive pressure on the governments of Latvia and Estonia so that this shameful phenomenon will be once and for all eliminated from Europe.

“We will not be reconciled to the creeping restriction of the Russian language that we are observing in the Baltic states. We consider the well-known measures taken by the Latvian and Estonian governments aimed at reducing the status and position of the Russian language to be a gross violation of fundamental, universal norms in the realm of human rights. The official declaration from Riga that a Russian school that has existed on Latvian soil since 1789 must be completely liquidated by 2018 is unacceptable to the civilized world. 

“The international community must decisively prevent the further gross restriction of the rights of the Russian-speaking population of the Baltic countries and the worsening of already alarmingly politicized Russophobia. 

“Respected colleagues! Your role -- the role of civic organizations and structures -- at the current stage of international development is constantly growing. This is a very important circumstance that must be viewed with proper attention. I wish you all successful work, a martial spirit, and the preservation of the true priorities and strategic vision that unites us all. For my part, I want to assure you that we will, without reducing our effort, continue serious proactive work in the leading international forums with our foreign partners and colleagues in order to give you and your work the most serious support.” (From the translation made by Robert Coalson, the full text of which is available at facebook.com/notes/robert-coalson/k-dolgovs-speech-to-russian-compatriots-in-the-baltic-states-september-13-2014/10152351116608597.)

 

            Three things make Dolgov’s words both significant and disturbing: First, it represents a new ramping up of an old Moscow tactic of trying to undercut Western support for the Baltic countries all of whom are members of both the European Union and NATO by talking about their treatment of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, a tactic that has often worked in the past.

 

            Second, he explicitly linked the situation in the Baltic countries to what happened in Ukraine after the Maidan earlier this year, pointing out that Kyiv’s decisions on the status of the Russian language there had “unfortunate” and “far-reaching” consequences. Moreover, such complaints about treatment of Russian speakers in Ukraine preceded the Russian invasion.

 

            And third, Dolgov openly encouraged ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in the Baltic states to become more active, promising that Moscow will support them.  While some might be inclined to dismiss this as nothing more than a propagandistic exercise, there are unfortunately compelling reasons to think that it is more than that.

 

            Yesterday, Latvian television reported that residents of Latgale, a predominantly Russian-speaking region in southeastern Latvia near the Russian border, are reporting that the Russian embassy in Riga has been recruiting Russian speakers in Latvia, including recently released criminals, to fight for the Russian insurgents in Ukraine (nr2.com.ua/News/Lithuania_and_Baltics/SMI-Latvii-Posolstvo-Rossii-verbuet-naemnikov-k-terroristam-DNR-i-LNR-80005.html).

 

            Pro-Russian groups in Latvia like the “Russian Union” say they “understand those residents of Latvia who want to fight in the Donbas in order to defend Russians there.” But so far they have been careful to say that there are no plans to have them fight on behalf of a similar cause in Latvia itself.

 

            But such reports are inflaming the situation because it is all too easy to imagine how Russians in Latvia to fight on the pro-Moscow side in Ukraine could be redirected to fight for a pro-Moscow side in Latvia itself, especially given Dolgov’s suggestions about the need to defend Russians and Russian speakers there.

 

            One Latvian Russian expressed her fears about this possibility to a Riga television channel. She said: “I think that this could happen also with us! Why are they going there? They must not be released. Someone must stop them. I consider that they are enemies of Latvia.” And she concluded that she found the entire situation “horrific.”

 

 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Many in West Still View Putin’s Moves in Ukraine as ‘Anomalous’ Rather than a New Course, Polish Expert Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 15 – Many in the West view what Vladimir Putin has done in Ukraine as some kind of “anomaly” that he can correct and then cooperation between Moscow and the West can be restored to what it was, but Putin’s actions are making that position ever harder to sustain, according to Marcin Zaborowski.

 

            In an article in Warsaw’s “Gazeta Wyborcza,” the distinguished head of Poland’s Institute for International Relations says that this Western deference to Moscow has been a feature of most of the last two decades despite various actions by Russia that should have called it into question (wyborcza.pl/1,75968,16627302,Rosja__nowy_wrog_Zachodu_.html; available in Russian at inosmi.ru/world/20140914/222984883.html).

 

            When NATO took the decision to expand the alliance eastward, Zaborowski notes, it “at one and the same time signed an act of cooperation with Russia which de facto created two categories of members”: those where NATO forces already were and those where they would not be put “in order not to anger Moscow.”

 

            In the 17 years since that time, the Western alliance has tried various means “to show Russia that it very much wants to have friendly relations,” but the Kremlin has not been mollified and has only demanded “a further softening of NATO’s position,” something some in the alliance have supported.

 

            However, the Polish expert says, “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has led to a change in the situation.”  The alliance could not ignore what Putin has done, but some in the West nonetheless continue to believe that “the actions of Russia are an anomaly” and that if Putin backs off, everything can go back to where it was.

 

            The NATO summit at Newport clearly showed that “this position has undergone a change” and thus “we can speak now about a transformation of the very approach to Russia” more generally.

 

            “The largest countries of the West recognized,” the Polish expert says, “that Moscow has become their opponent and that the alliance must oppose it.” That represents a turning point, even if there were few concrete steps to follow it up. Many in Eastern Europe were unhappy that the alliance did not announce new bases, and the Ukrainians were clearly disappointed.

 

            Given that, one might ask, Zaborowski says, “what difference it makes that NATO recognizes the Kremlin as a threat if it doesn’t take serious military actions.” The difference, he argues, is that there has been a mental shift and “for a patient to begin to cure himself, in the first instance, he must acknowledge to himself that he is ill.”

 

            “This still doesn’t mean that NATO is ready to move toward a cure,” he continues, “but it is beginning to recognize threats and demonstrated in Newport a true understanding of its own weaknesses. But the patient is still vacillating as to whether he needs a cure … and [some hope] that the illness will pass on its own.”

 

            At Newport, NATO announced some steps but they remain only plans, “and even if they are realized, the balance of forces in the region will not be changed in a principled way.” That disappointed many of the East Europeans, “but if we received little, then Ukraine besides words of support did not receive anything.”

 

            Ukraine left Newport on its own. NATO provided only “symbolic” assistance, and as a result, the Polish commentator says, “Kyiv remains in a gray zone.” In part, this is the fault of the West which hasn’t moved forward to help it, but in part it is the fault of Ukrainian elites who until recently weren’t fully committed to joining the West.

 

            After two decades of trying to make friends with Russia, “the West has begun to understand that [Moscow’s] goal is not friendship but the restoration of its former strength and opposition to the West.” And at Newport, “many states for the first time since the end of the Cold War looked at Moscow with Polish and Baltic eyes.”

 

            That, however, is not enough,  Zaborowski says. NATO “must begin to think not only how to react by the faits accomplis created by Putin  but also begin to create such facts on its own.”  And it must recognize that “the absence of support for Kyiv may even incline the Russian president to further actions in Ukraine.”

 

In its absence, “the threat from Russia is moving ever closer to our own borders,” something that few in the West are yet prepared to recognize.

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Backs Donbas Participation in Ukrainian Elections


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 15 – In a change of tactics reflecting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement on Saturday that Russia wants to have a “neutral” Ukraine rather than to create another Transdniestria lest that further alienate the rest of Ukraine, Moscow will back the participation of the Donbas in the October 26 Ukrainian elections.

 

            Under a plan reportedly being overseen by Putin advisor Vladislav Surkov, Moscow will back the so-called “Opposition Bloc” in these elections to gain more influence over Kyiv’s future policies rather than support those who want a boycott (news.liga.net/news/politics/3291852-kreml_menyaet_taktiku_na_parlamentskikh_vyborakh_v_ukraine.htm?fb_action_ids=10152475324312639&fb_action_types=og.recommends).

 

            This bloc, the Ukrainian news agency Liga points out, has a better chance of winning seats than does the Party of the Regions which polls suggest would not exceed the five-percent barrier in a part of Ukraine it dominated earlier if it chose to run.  That is probably why, the agency says, that party and Moscow have decided on a different strategy.

 

            There are some 20 majoritarian parliamentary electoral districts in areas controlled by Russian forces and pro-Moscow militants, and if this plan goes forward, the Russian side almost certainly could guarantee that a majority or even all of these would vote for pro-Moscow candidates.