Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Some Russians Blame Lenin and Stalin for Moscow’s Problems in Ukraine


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 30 -- Following the Crimean Anschluss, Russians have stopped focusing their anger on Nikita Khrushchev, who transferred Crimea from the RSFSR to Ukraine, as a primary source of their problems with Ukrainians and shifted attention to the role Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin played in creating the current tensions between the two nations.

 

            Some Russians, largely out of ignorance, Ilya Lazarenko writes in a commentary on Rufabula.com, believe that “Lenin created Ukraine, added Kharkiv to it, and so on.”  But such views arise from the “one grandmother said to another” school of historical interpretation and need to be fought (rufabula.com/author/ilya-lazarenko/116).

 

The facts, the Ukrainian commentator continues, are these, “the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) appeared as a result of the Ukrainian Peoples Republic (UNR),” had borders which “corresponded with the borders” of that earlier state, and was demarcated according to regins which were “predominantly” Ukrainian in population.


But those historical realities were overwhelmed in the minds of many Russians by government propaganda beginning a year or so ago which claimed, among other falsehoods, that “Lenin was the creator of Ukraine,” a claim that not only denigrated the Ukrainians as a nation but implied that Lenin had made a mistake and that Moscow must “correct” it.

 

The events of 1917 and the years following are complicated but not that difficult to understand, Lazarenko says. Two days after Nicholas II abdicated, the Ukrainian Central Rada was set up in Kyiv as a coordinating council for the Ukrainian national movement which at that time was pressing for the autonomy of Ukraine within a Russian federal state.

 

Even when the Bolsheviks ceased power in November 1917, Kyiv did not immediately declare independence because it was placing its faith in the Constituent Assembly. But even before the Bolsheviks suppressed that body, they issued an ultimatum to Kyiv to subordinate itself to their regime, something the Ukrainians rejected.

 

Even then, however, Kyiv did not declare its independence, but its refusal to recognize the Bolshevik regime led a group of Bolshevik deputies of the All-Ukraine Congress of Soviets to go to Kharkiv where they proclaimed what was in effect a marionette state, the Ukrainian Peoples Republic of Soviets.

 

When Lenin dissolved the Constituent Assembly, Lazarenko continues, “the legitimacy of statehood on the territory of the former Russian Empire completely broke down.” And as a result, the Ukrainian Peoples Republic declared its independence.  Although later destroyed by the forces of the Bolshevik regime, it continued to exist de jure in the emigration until 1992.

 

That summary should make it clear, he says, that “the USSR was not established by the Bolsheviks from nothing” as some Russians think, “but was the result of the recognition of the right of Ukrainians to self-determination under the pressure of objective circumstances -- a strong Ukrainian national movement and a Ukrainian statehood recognized even before the Bolsheviks.”

 

 More intriguing are Russian commentaries about Stalin’s role in creating the current situation in Ukraine as a result of his decision to annex Western Ukraine, something that became possible as a result of his alliance with Hitler and invasion of Poland but that, as many Western specialists have pointed out, has had serious consequences for Ukraine and Moscow ever since.

 

In an article on the Russian nationalist site Stoletie.ru, Mikhail Slobodskoy argues that by annexing Western Ukraine, the Soviet leadership allowed into the USSR “a Trojan horse” that ultimately played a key role in the destruction of the USSR and the radicalization of Ukrainian nationalism (stoletie.ru/territoriya_istorii/zapadenskij_trojanskij_kon_628.htm).

 

            “The events in 1939 developed so rapidly,” he says, “that the Soviet leadership apparently then simply was not able or not able correctly to calculate all the negative consequecnes connected with the unification of Western Ukraine to the USSR,” given that the different historical experiences of Ukrainians there who were now to be tied to Soviet Ukraine.

 

            It is very likely, Slobodskoy says, that “the leadership of the USSR” – his euphemism for Stalin – “simply did not have any other geopolitical possibility” and may have been driven by a desire for “the triumph of historical justice” by the inclusion of lands that in most cases had been part of the Russian Empire.

 

            “But by including Western Ukraine within the country, the leadership of the USSR by its own hands allowed in a unique ‘Trojan horse,’ which was absolutely alien socially and historically on what was then the common territory” of the Ukrainian SSR and of the USSR as a whole.

 

            Moscow first encountered this reality when following Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, people from Western Ukraine were among the first to join the German forces to fight the Soviet ones. But even after the war and until at least 1953, Western Ukrainians continued their armed resistance to Soviet power.

 

            But the destructive influence of the Western Ukrainians re-emerged with the beginning of perestroika, Slobodskoy continues, during the discussion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, something which “literally” became a Pandora’s box for the USSR.  “The unification of Galicia to the USSR on the whole played a negative role in the fate of the entire former Ukrainian SSR and, as we see, Russia” as well, he says.

Window on Eurasia: Lukashenka Quietly Purging Pro-Moscow ‘Fifth Column’ in Belarus


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 30 – Concerned that Moscow might engineer a regime change in Belarus as a follow on to its actions in Ukraine, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been purging pro-Russian officials from his regime – but in a very quiet way lest he provoke Moscow as a result, according to “Nasha Niva.”

 

            The Belarusian daily reports that “the families of officials who are noted for their sympathies to the Kremlin and the chauvinist ideas of ‘the Russian world’ are simply being quietly dropped from the lists of leaders” in Minsk, sometimes with no announcement they are being dismissed (nn.by/?c=ar&i=136066 and obozrevatel.com/abroad/82695-lukashenko-nachal-izbavlyatsya-ot-rossijskoj-pyatoj-kolonyi.htm).

 

            The latest example of this, “Nasha Niva” says, is the removal of Lev Krishtapovich as deputy director of the Information-Analytic Center of the presidential administration.  Without any announcement at all, his name simply has ceased to appear among its leaders in new publications.

 

            At the age of 65, Krishtapovich might have retired, but that is not what has happened. Instead, he is now in charge of the scientific-research department of the Belarusian State University of Culture, a distinctly less important and less influential post.

 

            In recent years, he had been one of the most prominent exponents of what is sometimes referred to as “West Russism,” the notion that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians are a single ethnos rather than separate nations. Several of his books pushed that idea, including one with the provocative title “Belarus and Russia: A Historiosophical and Civilizational Unity.”

 

            But he was even more famous or infamous for his dismissive comments about Belarusian history, his opposition to Mensk’s program to preserve architectural monuments in Belarus, and his having received, last year from Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Order of Friendship.”

 

            Indeed, it is even possible that that action by Putin triggered his removal, the Belarusian paper implied. If so, Kristapovich's dismissal is even more significant as an indication of Lukashenka’s fears and his moves to defend himself and his country from Moscow.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Papal Nuncio in Kyiv Denounces Russian Aggression in Ukraine


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 29 – Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, the apostolic nuncio in Kyiv, has denounced Moscow for conduct “an undeclared war” against Ukraine that has destabilized the situation of that neighboring state. This follows his earlier call for the West to “more decisively intervene” to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.

 

            At the same time, Gullickson, 64 and born in the United States, said that in addition to Moscow, Ukraine has “another enemy, its own elite.”  And he called on religious organizations in Ukraine to “more objectively analyze” what is going on rather than seek to win points for themselves by speaking out one way or another (ng.ru/faith/2014-09-26/2_pope.html).

 

            The nuncio made these points at a meeting of Aid to the Church in Need organization. He said that Ukraine’s destabilization had “to a significant degree” occurred because of the actions of its earlier “criminal oligarchy” but had been intensified by “Russian aggression against its territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

 

            “Even if Moscow’s intervention ended tomorrow,” the archbishop said, “Ukraine besides the rehabilitation of the east would have to deal with some extraordinary challenges in order to escape from corruption and build a just society.”

 

            The nuncio added that in his view, “the military actions in Ukraine directly touch on the Catholic Church because of ‘the essential harm’ inflicted on its churches” and because some Catholics “have been forced to leave the territory of Ukraine which has been ‘occupied’ by Russia.”

 

            Not surprisingly, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church does not agree with the papal nuncio, but its reaction so far has been remarkably measured compared to many of its other statements about Ukrainian developments.

 

            Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, the head of the synod’s department for relations between the church and society, said Moscow has heard all this before from those who “stand on one side in a civil conflict – and this is precisely one of those” even though on each side of the conflict there are people with differing views on the future of Ukraine, Europe and the world.

 

            “We would like to hope,” he said, “that all religious communities in Europe, in the world, in Ukraine and in Russia will be able to take into consideration the feelings, aspirations and interests of people who are on both sides of the conflict in the way that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is doing.”     

 

Window on Eurasia: Could the Muslims of Kaliningrad Trigger a Maidan in the Russian Exclave?


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 29 – The 100,000-strong Muslim community of Kaliningrad is running out of options in the Russian legal system to secure land for the construction of a mosque in that Russian exclave and consequently will now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, according to their lawyer Dagir Khasavov.

 

            But meanwhile, continuing opposition by regional officials to a mosque, Irshat Khisamov, head of the Muslim community in the oblast, says, is having “an extremely negative” impact on the members of his community. And many of them believe the governor there wants “a Maidan like the one in Ukraine” (newkaliningrad.ru/news/community/4368182-musulmane-gubernator-khochet-chtoby-zdes-byl-maydan-kak-na-ukraine.html).

 

            Up to now, Khisamov said, he and his fellow Muslim leaders have worked to restrain their parishioners, but he told Newkaliningrad.ru, “you will understand that this is not our question alone. There are more than 100,000 Muslims here, and each has a stone in his heart” because there is no mosque.

 

            “When things explode as they will we cannot say,” he continued, “and we will continue to read homilies about the friendship of the peoples, but if each holds a stone in his heart, then it is difficult to restrain” the faithful. And by implication, the longer the Russian authorities deny the Muslims their rights, the harder that is going to be.

 

            The Kaliningrad mosque case has been a complicated one, but at each stage, the Muslims have lost. Their lawyer says that they are going through the motions of a final appeal to the Russian Supreme Court but “our faith in the Russian court system has been reduced to a minimum … Muslims are hostages of the intolerance of the region’s Orthodox leadership.”

 

            When a Kaliningrad court first blocked the construction of the mosque in April of this year, it declared that all the documents that the Muslims had earlier received permitting the construction of a mosque were invalid and that they must stop work immediately. At that time, Khasavov called the court’s decision “a gift to the radical wing of Islam” (newkaliningrad.ru/news/community/3498015-advokat-mecheti-v-kaliningrade-etot-sud-podarok-radikalnomu-krylu-islama.html).

 

            The Kaliningrad Muslims then sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking him to intervene on their behalf given that they have been trying to gain final approval for a mosque in the capital of their oblast for 21 years (newkaliningrad.ru/news/community/4084643-kaliningradskie-musulmane-putinu-tsukanov-obyavil-voynu-tem-kto-ispoveduet-islam.html).

 

            In their appeal to the Kremlin leader, they also asked him to “remove from office those who are sowing hostility between the two confessions and between the fraternal peoples of Russia.” Apparently, Putin has not done anything in response, and now the situation in Kaliningrad may be on the brink of an explosion few saw coming.

Window on Eurasia: Another Lenin Down, but How Many More Remain?


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 29 – The demolition of the statue of Lenin in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv has attracted international attention, with some seeing this as a provocation by one or another side in the war in Ukraine and others viewing it as an indication of the maturation of the Ukrainian revolution and a sign of the final divorce of Ukraine from Russia.

 

            But this latest destruction of a statue of the founder of the Soviet state -- the 390th to be taken down in Ukraine over the last two years (euromaidanpress.com/2014/09/28/kharkiv-lenin-statue-bites-the-dust-marks-number-390-in-list-of-toppled-lenins-in-ukraine/) -- ought to prompt two larger questions: How many more Lenins are there; and, far more important, what does it mean that they are still around 20 years after the system he founded died?

 

            The exact number of such statues is unknown, but it is certainly in the tens of thousands.  According to one count in 2012, there were “about 1800” in the Russian Federation alone, not counting “up to 20,000 busts,” the mausoleum in Red Square, and some 5,000 streets bearing his name (anvictory.org/blog/2012/01/09/lenin-v-i-v-otnoshenii-russkix-strelyat-i-veshat/).

 

            In other former Soviet bloc countries and former Soviet republics, there are even more, although their numbers continue to decline as more people learn about the crimes Lenin committed and especially as religious leaders focus on his efforts to destroy religion and extirpate Russian national traditions.

 

            But there is one discernable pattern about the demise of Lenin statues: When the Soviet system was viewed as an occupation rather than an organic part of national history, such as the Eastern European countries and the formerly occupied Baltic states, there are very few Lenins left and these countries have made the greatest progress toward democracy and freedom.

 

            Where statues of Lenin continue to be viewed as an integral part of the national experience either to be tolerated or celebrated depending upon the country involved, with more Russians than anyone else prepared to view the founder of the Soviet state as a hero now, often for the un-Leninist reason that he kept the Russian empire from disintegrating in 1917.

 

            And in these countries, there has been much less progress toward democracy and freedom and must less progress toward a modern economy, with economic growth far more anemic except in those which have significant amounts of natural resources that they can sell to other countries.

 

            Obviously, Lenin statues are a symptom rather than a cause of this pattern, but the demise of the large on in Kharkiv suggests three conclusions which it would be well for everyone to keep in mind going forward:

 

            First, except for a very few true communists, Lenin has become the symbol of the Russian empire rather than of any radical social transformation.  Both those who are taking down statues of him, such as the Ukrainians, and those who oppose them, including many in Moscow, clearly view him in this way. 

 

            Second, the Lenin statues, which were part of a broader Lenin cult, were in fact totems of a terrorist transformed into a god and thus one of the clearest indications of just how evil the Soviet system was and how great a burden it still places on the peoples who were subject to its crimes.

 

            And third, the fight over the statues of Lenin 23 years after the USSR disappeared and communists declared themselves to be something else shows how unwilling the West was to face up to the evil of that system and to demand that the losers of the cold war de-communize themselves as part of the settlement.

 

            Instead in the name of not offending their new "partners," costing themselves access to new markets, and putting additional burdens on themselves to complete the job of the cold war, Western leaders proclaimed victory and ignored the ways in which some parts of the Soviet inheritance could haunt the world if they did nothing.

 

            The Ukrainians won a victory in that struggle by taking down the statue of Lenin in Kharkiv. At the very least, they have helped to separate themselves still more from what Ronald Reagan properly called “the evil empire.”  Their victory should be celebrated and others encouraged to emulate it rather than be second guessed by those who fear offending Moscow.

Window on Eurasia: Nearly Half of Russians Want to Send Refugees from Ukraine Back, New Poll Shows


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 29 – Despite the propaganda victories Moscow has reaped from the presence of refugees from Ukraine in Russia and even the profits some Russian businesses have made from them (centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1411935840), 45 percent of Russians now say the refugees should be sent back as soon as conditions permit, according to a new VTsIOM poll.

 

            That figure is up from 39 percent in a June poll, and that increase is mirrored by a fall in the share of Russians who say that their country should do everything it can to provide refugees from Ukraine favorable living conditions, with 40 percent saying that now, compared to 50 percent in June (nr2.com.ua/News/world_and_russia/Polovina-rossiyan-hotyat-otpravit-ukrainskih-bezhencev-obratno-81023.html).

 

            Even more striking, seven percent of Russians surveyed say that the refugees should be sent back as fast as possible rather than waiting until conditions in the eastern portions of Ukraine from which the refugees fled stabilizes.

 

            Those Russians who have had direct contact with refugees appear less sympathetic to them than do others lacking such experiences. Thus, 66 percent of Russians who haven’t seen any refugees in their cities favor simplified procedures for the refugees to gain Russian citizenship. Of those who have had such contact, only 41 percent back that idea.

 

            Indeed, the larger the influx of refugees, the more opposed Russians are to allowing them to gain citizenship and stay.  Among Russians who have observed a large number of refugees in their regions, 48 percent oppose simplified citizenship procedures, the VTsIOM poll found. Most of those surveyed report that there are at least some refugees in their regions or cities, but almost one in five – 18 percent – say that there aren’t any at all.

 

            Two-thirds of the sample say that Russia is today providing refugees from Ukraine “all the necessary help, but a quarter – 24 percent – say that it is giving them too much. Those who feel that way are most often found among those with lower incomes (30 percent) and in places where there are a large number of refugees (28 percent).

 

            Only one in 25 – four percent – said that Russia isn’t doing enough for the refugees from the war zone.

 

            On the one hand, these results are certainly not surprising: such refugee fatigue has affected many people around the world. But on the other, they must be worrisome to the Kremlin because popular attitudes about the refugees may be a more accurate measure of how Russians feel about the war.

 

            And to the extent that Russians are less and less willing to support the refugees, such attitudes may put some pressure on Moscow to try to arrange things so that the refugees can return home rather than remain where they are now and become a trigger for popular anger at the Kremlin.

Window on Eurasia: Putin Increasing Risk of Regional Separatism by Ending Mayoral Elections, Novocherkassk Commentator Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 29 – Vladimir Putin’s decision to end direct elections for mayors in the name of increasing central control will in fact have the opposite effect, Roman Revunov says, because it will allow governors to amass unprecedented power and be in a position to challenge Moscow or even lead their regions out of the Russian Federation.

 

            In a commentary on Kasparov.ru today, the Novocherkassk blogger argues that those who assume that Putin can control the situation in every case by removing any governors before they are in a position to act in this way are wrong because doing so could trigger even more instability in key locations (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=54291E9C5FADD).

 

            According to Revunov, “besides everything else, direct elections of mayors defends the regions from the extraordinary concentration of power in the hands of the governor,” something that in Russian conditions is “a very important function” and one that Putin will override only at peril to himself and the country as a whole.

 

            “This week in Russia, “there is becoming less democracy and more separatism,” Revunov says, but from an unexpected source: Moscow is pushing the regions to end the direct election of mayors lest someone from the opposition win and instead seeking to have the mayors chosen in effect by the regional governors.

 

            That may seem a small change given that Putin has already eliminated the direct election of the heads of federation subjects, and as long as the center had money flowing in from the sale of oil and gas abroad, it may have been now more than that, Revunov says. But now the situation has changed, the money has run out, and that is affecting regional power arrangements.

 

            Here is why that is the case, the Novocherkassk writer continues.  “Let us imagine a situation in which a certain influential corporation” is able to “purchase” from the Kremlin a governorship for “some wealthy oil and gas region or some poor but border region or indeed in any of them.”

 

            Under the new system which Putin is pushing, “approximately a year or 18 months later, the new baron will be able to replace the mayors of significant municipalities with his own people.”  And having done so, the question will arise: “who really will run the province of our happy kingdom – the little father tsar or the governor in his name?”

 

            It seems fairly clear, Revunov says, that it will be the governor. After all, “Moscow is far away and the governor is here with all his own people.”

 

            To the extent that is true, he continues, “the elimination of direct elections in favor of the appointment of mayors represents a very suitable instrument for the formation of a system of personal power of governors in the regions and as a result a reduction of their loyalty to the central government.”

 

            Such a governor may decide that he has more to gain from building ties with foreign states such as Japan or China than for maintaining them with Moscow, especially if they are able to provide him with more money than the central Russian government can.

 

            Some people assume that Putin will be able to sense this sufficiently well in advance to be able to declare that the governor has lost his trust and then remove him, but in the worst case, “will the regional baron allow himself to be removed?” Or might he seek “protection” from “our Chinese partners” or someone else?

 

            As the center’s ability to redistribute resources declines because the amount of resources at its command falls, giving regional leaders the power to appoint mayors “is a very risky step,” Revunov says, especially at a time when loyalty ends when the money does and when “everything has become a question of price.”