Monday, October 20, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Might Moscow Partition Crimea as a Way Out of Crisis?


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, October 20 – Almost all discussions about Crimea have talked about it as a single whole and thus considered its future either as being entirely in the Russian Federation or entirely in Ukraine, but in fact, there are two Crimeas, Yevgeny Ikhlov argues, and that could be the basis for a settlement of a kind.

 

            In an article on Vestnikcivitas.ru over the weekend, the Moscow commentator argues that “the simplest variant” of resolving the Crimean dispute “from the point of view of international law” is to “formally return Crimea to Ukraine but keep it under the control of the United Nations” until a referendum can be held (vestnikcivitas.ru/pbls/3556).

 

            But there is a problem with this: “In Crimea there are two subjects of national self-determination: the Russians and the Crimean Tatar people,” and there might even be a third if the ethnic Ukrainians living there become more active and seek a separate status for themselves rather than simply the reintegration of the peninsula in Ukraine.

 

            “The Russians,” Ikhlov points out, “as an ethnic group” form “the majority” of Crimea’s population “like the Albanians in Kosovo,” but they have Russia where “their right to national self-determination” has been realized while “the Crimean Tatar people has no other place on earth for the realization of its rights.”

 

            “Like Palestine, Crimea is a land of two peoples, and there ought to be two state formations, two autonomies or two cantons, if you like,” he continues. Keeping them in one state formation, regardless of its subordination, will simply mean, Ikhlov says, that the Russians will oppress the Crimean Tatars and deny them their rights.

 

            Consequently, he suggested that there ought to be two UN-supervised referenda, one for the larger portion of the peninsula where Russians predominate and a second in those parts of the territory where the Crimean Tatars do. That would reflect “a just and legal position: two peoples, two self-consciousnesses, and two acts of self-determination.”

 

            Such a division would lead to the tragic division of Crimea, “like what has happened in Crimea, in Ireland, in Kosovo, in Bosnia and in Karabakh. Two borders and two walls,” with all the paraphernalia those involved. And it almost certainly would be opposed at least initially by Moscow, Kyiv and the two peoples of Crimea.

 

            But unfortunately, Ikhlov concludes, that is “the price of the crude violation by Putin of the shaky ethnic and civil balance in Crimea and in Ukraine in March 2014.”

 

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Forced to Intensify Efforts to Find New Natural Resource Deposits


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, October 20 -- Vladimir Putin has approved plans to step up exploration for new natural resource deposits in Russia, a move that reflects his earlier failure to support such explorations, his effort to respond to declining domestic production, and his plans for long-term autarchy without any fundamental change in the Russian economy.

 

            On the “Novaya versiya” portal today, Temur Kozayev reports that Putin has given his approval to a call from Vice Prime Minister Aleksandr Khloponin to create a state corporation for such explorations on the base of the Rosgeologiya state company which currently exists (versia.ru/articles/2014/oct/20/naydetsya_vse).

 

            “The goal of the reforms,” the journalist says, “is to secure the independence of the country in geological exploration,” something that sanctions, the opening of the Arctic, and the contract with China make a first order necessity.  But it is unclear whether this step will work or whether it will simply become another paper reorganization.

 

            Academician Aleksey Kontorovich, head of the Institute of Oil and Gas Geology and Geophysics at the Siberian Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says there is no time to waste: Russian production of oil will begin to decline in five to ten years, and gas production may decline as well in the future unless new fields are discovered.

 

            Failure to conduct such explorations over the last 20 years, Ivan Nesterov, the director of the West Siberian Oil Geology Institute, says, have cost the country an enormous sum of money, largely because the government has not been willing to commit the funds needed to explore for new sources as it exhausts old one and to do the kind of basic mapping work required.

 

            In Western countries, all the territory has been mapped, but only 40 percent of Russia as a whole and much less in particular regions has been, with the average share of the territory now on accurate 1:50,000 maps being about 20 percent. And in some major areas, geologists haven’t even been allowed to go at all, such as the Taymyr peninsula.

 

            Foreign exploration companies had been involved, but they are now leaving. As a result, Kozayev says, Russia must develop its own capacity in this area as a matter of national security. That will require an enormous investment, something Moscow could make if the money did not drain off in corruption.

 

            The Khloponin proposal that Putin has now approved would put the state at the center of this “import substitution” effort, but the leaders of many major Russian oil and gas concerns do not think that is the way to go. Instead, they argue that the government should help them do the job.  Consequently, Putin’s approval of the idea is unlikely to be the end of the story.

 

            But given the withdrawal of Western firms and the commitments Moscow has made to China, the Russian government may feel it has no other choice than to try to boost an exploration organization that in the years since the end of the USSR, it has given remarkably little support. And if it does not, then Russian production of oil, gas and other natural resources will fall further and faster in the future than many are now projecting.

 

Window on Eurasia: ‘Putin is Leading Russia into Chinese Slavery’ – Nemtsov’s Ten Theses on Crimea


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, October 20 – As Andrey Illarionov has wisely put it, the debate among Russian opposition figures concerning what should be done with Crimea is in fact a debate about the future of Russia or, as he puts it, “tell me what you think about Crimea, and I’ll tell you what you think about the future of Russia” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=54449B88A5FEE).

 

            That makes the debate, sparked by the statements of Andrey Navalny and Mikhail Khodorkovsky that they would not give Crimea back even though Russia illegally stole it more important as an indication of what Russians are thinking and where Moscow might go in the event that Vladimir Putin’s Ukrainian adventure leads to a change in direction in Russia.

 

            Boris Nemtsov, a leader of Parnas and Solidarity, has now weighed in on this debate with “Ten Theses about Crimea,” an indictment of Putin’s policies which he argues will leave Russia as a backward supplier of raw materials to China and thus make it “a slave” to Beijing (echo.msk.ru/blog/nemtsov_boris/1421574-echo/).

 

                His ten theses are the following:

 

  1. “The seizure of Crimea was illegal and violated two important international accords, the Budapest memorandum … of 1994 … and the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Russia and Ukraine of 1997.”
     
  2. “The ‘referendum’ in Crimea was conducted” in a way that means it will “never be recognized in the world” as legitimate.”
     
  3. “Public opinion of the Crimean residents is clearly pro-Russian. This is a fact which Putin uses to justify his seizure of the peninsula.”
     
  4. “The rights of the Crimean Tatars, the indigenous people of the peninsula, are being violated in  the crudest way.”
     
  5. “Crimea is a territory not recognized in the world, a status which condemns it to stagnation.”
     
  6. “Russia does not have the money to quickly establish land communications with the peninsula or reconstruct Crimea.”
     
  7. “The problem of Crimea must be resolved by peaceful means. A military solution does not exist.”
     
  8. “The Crimean issue must be the subject of talks between Russia and Ukraine with the participation of the European Union. The basis for a dialogue exists. Putin needs the end of sanctions and the lifting of his outcast status, Ukraine needs money and the preservation of the unity of the country, and Europe needs peace and a predictable policy in the east.”
     
  9. “The seizure of Crimea has had a very serious impact on the economic interests of Russia and worsened its international situation.”
     
  10. “The aggressive policy toward Ukraine has led the country to international isolation and as a result the Kremlin has been forced to bow to China. Russians are a great European people which Putin is leading into Chinese slavery.”

Window on Eurasia: Putin has ‘No Alternative’ But to Use More Force in Ukraine, Sokolov Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, October 20 – The meetings in Milan show that “Putin does not have a real alternative to the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis by the use of force, and that makes the Russian president really dangerous” in the coming days and weeks, according to Moscow commentator Boris Sokolov.

 

            Putin’s goal of securing a pro-Russian government in Kyiv now seems further away than ever, given that few pro-Moscow deputies are likely to be elected to the Ukrainian parliament this fall, and consequently, the Russian president has every reason to try to employ the Russian army to force Kyiv to “capitulate” (grani.ru/opinion/sokolov/m.234135.html).

 

            Such plans, the Russian liberal critic of Putin’s regime says, “can be blocked only by the effective resistance of the Ukrainian army and energetic pressure from the West.” Unfortunately, at Milan, no such resolve was demonstrated because Europeans fear that harsher sanctions might lead Putin to cut off their gas supplies, and they “are afraid of a cold winter.”

 

            That, of course, “can only encourage the aggressor.”

 

            Putin would be satisfied with “freezing” the conflict in southeastern Ukraine if Kyiv would pay the social costs of taking care of the more than 4.5 million people in the Donbas and would even be prepared to hand control of the Donbas back to Kyiv if the Ukrainian government would recognize as legitimate his occupation of Crimea.

 

            But Kyiv isn’t prepared to do that, Sokolov says, and current polls suggest that “there will be almost no pro-Russian deputies” in the Verkhovna Rada to be elected on October 26.  And Putin needs to achieve his goals in the next few months before the situation in the occupied territories becomes “truly catastrophic” and potentially explosive for Russia itself.

 

            Given that confluence of events, the Moscow commentator says, it is likely that “soon Russian forces and separatists will step up their military activities in an attempt to defeat the Ukrainian army, to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the parliamentary elections, and to provoke in Ukraine a political crisis” that will end either by making the current regime more willing to make concessions or by bringing to power a pro-Moscow government.

 

             Given the approach of winter and the reluctance of the EU to put its gas supplies at risk by a new round of sanctions, Putin has every reason to move quickly. And “if Russian forces and their allies in the Donbas do not achieve real successes, perhaps, they will attack along the entire line of the border under the banner of some kind of “Kharkov Peoples Republic.”

 

Window on Eurasia: Russia Faces ‘Time of Troubles’ if Putin Doesn’t Occupy Ukraine, Strelkov Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, October 20 – Russia faces a new “time of troubles” if Vladimir Putin doesn’t escalate the conflict in Ukraine and establish control over all its territory, according to Igor Strelkov, the former defense minister of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk Peoples Republic. And he adds that Putin’s personal survival depends on such an escalation.

 

            In a press conference first reported by the Novorossiya Information Agency and then repeated by Ukrainian outlets, Strelkov says that some in Moscow are prepared to sacrifice Novorossiya in order to escape sanctions and go back to the status quo ante Crimea (inforesist.org/girkin-ugrozhaet-putinu-gaagskim-tribunalom-v-sluchae-otsutstviya-radikalnyx-dejstvij/).

 

            But he insists, there is very little chance that such a turn of events is possible. Instead, if Moscow does not act decisively now, there is every chance that “the time of troubles” which is only beginning” now will deepen and have ever more negative consequences for Russia and for its president.

 

            Consequently, the longer Moscow tries to avoid taking decisive action, the more dangerous and prolonged the current crisis will become, Strelkov argues.

 

            Putin is prepared for “more radical actions” but he hasn’t done so “because of the inability of his command to act in ‘the new circumstances.’”  And consequently, he needs to replace those who are restraining him from taking those actions just as Stalin did “after the catastrophic defeats of 1941.”

 

            Unless he does so, both Russia and Putin himself face disaster. And Strelkov expressed the hope that Putin “is sufficiently intelligent in order to understand” that he needs a renewed team capable of decisive action in Ukraine and elsewhere. “This is a question of the survival not only of Russia but of [Putin] personally.”

 

            Strelkov obviously has powerful reasons of self-interest for making such a declaration, but his argument undoubtedly has some support, perhaps more powerful than many suspect, in Moscow and even the Kremlin. And thus it is a factor that cannot be ignored, however hyperbolic and disturbing it may be.

 

            That is all the more so because Strelkov casts himself as a Putin loyalist and plays to Putin’s own vision of himself as a transforming leader, someone who can grab victory out of defeat by a throw of the dice as he believes he has done in the past. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Tajikistan has Failed to Stem Explosive Population Growth, Experts Say


Paul Goble
 
            Staunton, October 19 – The population of Tajikistan has grown by more than 50 percent since 1991 and is projected to rise to ten million in 2020, a reflection of Dushanbe’s inability to overcome popular resistance especially in rural areas which has left that country’s fertility rate at seven children per woman, by far the highest in the post-Soviet countries.
 
            As a result of this growth, which a 2002 program was supposed to slow, 44 percent of the population is under the age of 15, and only seven percent are of pension age, a pattern which demographers say required enormous government spending on social needs, something Dushanbe is not able to afford (centrasia.ru/news.php?st=1413629400).
 
            And as frightening as these demographic statistics are, they may understate the problem. Dushanbe experts say that the population is growing by more than the 2.5 percent annually the government says because “as a rule, parents in rural areas do not register the birth of their children until the latter enter school.”
 
            The high growth rate of the population has outstripped the ability of the Tajik economy to absorb new workers. At present, Tajik secondary schools are graduating about 150,000 students each year, but they face daunting job prospects. According to the government, there are now seven applicants for every new job.
 
            That reflects the fact that Tajikistan is the poorest country in the CIS and that it has relatively little agricultural land. Only seven percent of its territory is suitable for agriculture, and as a result, it has a rural population density significantly greater than in any of the other Central Asian countries.

            Dushanbe, with the support of international organizations, has sought to promote family planning and a reduction in fertility rates, but while the educated urban part of the population supports such measures, “rural residents,” experts say, “consider [such measures] to be interference in their personal lives and an attack on the traditions and customs of the people.”
 
            As a result, Tajikistan is undergoing “de-urbanization.” Since 1991, the urban share of the population has declined from 31.0 percent to 26.4 percent.  Forty-six percent of the population is in agriculture, and a majority in that sector consists of women, who often see having more children as a help with farm work.
 
The only demographic trend the Tajik government has promoted with success is out-migration.  As a result of domestic poverty and government policies, “every second working-age” Tajiks is currently “working beyond the borders of Tajikistan” – and increasingly their families are going with them.


Window on Eurasia: North Caucasus Cities Among Most Polluted in Russian Federation


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, October 19 – Makhachkala, Nalchik, Vladikavkaz, and Grozny are among the most polluted cities in the Russian Federation, ranking 75th, 71st, 64th,and 77th respectively in a list of 87 cities released at the end of last week by Ministry of Natural Resources, yet another problem for the residents of that restive region.

 

            The ratings, based on 2013 data, were based on a combination of statistics on “the level of pollution of the atmosphere, water use and its quality, handling waste, the share of extractive and industrial firms on a particular territory, access to public transport, level of energy use and other factors” (mnr.gov.ru/upload/files/docs/reyting_2013.pdf and            


 

            The compilers acknowledge, Kavpolit.com says in its report, that “the standing of many cities is lower than it might have been as a result of incomplete or incorrect data,” something that pushed the ratings of several cities down and may play a particularly negative role in the case of the North Caucasus.

 

            But however that may be, the North Caucasus figures are disturbing and make Moscow’s ongoing campaign against environmental groups like the Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus especially unfortunate because it means that there will be little public pressure to clean up what is obviously a public health disaster.

 

             Aleksey Yakovlev, an ecologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences told Kavpolit.com that he is always skeptical about such rankings but that there is no question that the environmental situation in the cities in the North Caucasus both those listed and others is bad and is almost certainly getting worse.

 

            That is because, he continued, Moscow is pushing for investment at all costs and among those costs are “the health” of the population of the North Caucasus. Thus, “it is necessary to change the direction not only of ecological policy but of all policy” if the people in the cities of the North Caucasus and indeed in all Russian cities are to have a better future.