Friday, May 22, 2015

Russia Now in ‘a State of War for Survival with the US,’ Russia Today Commentator Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 22 – Rostislav Ishchenko, a commentator for Russia Today who gained notoriety for arguing that Moscow should “preventively occupy” the Baltic countries, says that Russia today “is in a state of war with the United States and that each of its citizens is on the front lines regardless of whether he is fighting with arms in his or her hands.”


            In a speech to a May 17 conference on “The Ukrainian Crisis and Global Politics” organized by the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISI) and in an  interview given to Prague’s “Parlimentni Listy” portal yesterday, Ishchenko presents these and other notions which because of his closeness to the Kremlin deserve attention.



            In his speech in St. Petersburg, Ishchenko, who is also president of the Moscow Center for Systems Analysis and Prediciton, said that it was already long past time to speak about the existence of a state of war, about why it had come about, and about how Russia must prosecute it in order to ensure its national survival.


             According to Ishchenko, “the war was inevitable” because the US needed to expand its markets and could do so only by turning Ukraine against Russia.  Only Russia could resist the US, he says, because of Moscow’s nuclear arsenal, one “approximately equivalent” to that of the US, even though Russia’s economy is much smaller.


            Indeed, he continued, “GDP and other economic indicators do not play as important a role” as many imagine.  “The barbarians destroyed the Roman Empire even though their GDPs were microscopic” in comparison with Rome’s. That must be kept in mind, he said, now when “a war for survival, for determining who will live in the brave new world,” is taking place.


            In this situation, he argued, it is important to understand that “we are on the frontlines. We have a common enemy and we have a common victory. Each of us is fighting for his or her future. It is not important what weapons we are employing, guns, computers, or pieces of paper. We are fighting for our lives” and for “the survival of our people and of ourselves.”


            “Unfortunately,” Ishchenko said, “the eney is a very serious one. This is the largest economy in the world. One cannot defeat it today or tomorrow however much we would like. Yes, we will take losses, in the Donbas and in other places, not just in Ukraine.” Instead, Russia is facing as its zone of operations “all of Eastern Europe.”


            In his Prague interview, Ishchenko provides context for these extremely militaristic and aggressive views.  He argues that Putin’s “greatest service” to Russia has been that he has restored the country’s power step by step rather than by radical measures, so gradually that only now can Russians “see the gigantic extend of the work he has carried out.”


            The war in Ukraine is a result of a general overreaching by the United States, a trend that reflects the “dizzy with success” feelings many American officials had after the collapse of the USSR and their sense that the US could do anything. Now, thanks to Putin’s rebuilding of Russia, they are learning that they have underrated the power of those arrayed against them.


            “Putin has acted correctly,” Ishchenko says. “Now his time has come and he can calmly offer the US any compromise. Washington has gone too far. Compromise for it is defeat and loss of face.” Because that is the case, the US will increase tensions in what will prove a failed effort to reverse the situation.


            As far as Ukraine is concerned, Ishchenko argues that “the civil war [there] will not only continue” in the Donbas “but spread throughout all of Ukraine.” And he adds that those parts of Ukraine, like those parts of other former Soviet states, will ultimately rejoin Russia in one form or another.


“There won’t be such small states around Russia,” he suggests. “Most likely they will become part of Russia [because] that is what the people populating these regions are seeking. If there won’t be such a possibility, then they will form under a Russian protectorate a confederal or federal union (or even two or three of these).”

‘Moscow Not Prepared to Offer Russian Regions What It Demands Kyiv Give Donbas’ – But They May Seek It Nonetheless

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 22 -- “Moscow is not prepared to offer [Russia’s] regions freedom analogous to that which it is demanding for [Ukraine’s] Donbas,” despite the fact that Russia is nominally a federation and Ukraine is constitutionally a unitary state, according to a lead article in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta.”


            In an editorial entitled “Is the Russian Federation Federal?” the editors note that Moscow is demanding Kyiv offer broad rights to its regions – although few in the Russian capital talk about extending such rights to regions of Ukraine other than those Russian-speaking ones in the east (


            Kyiv has consistently responded that there isn’t going to be any federalization at all, the editors say. For the Ukrainian authorities, it is a matter of principle that “Ukraine is a unitary state and that it will agree only to decentralization, that is, to the delegation of part of the authority from the Center to the regions.”


            Moscow considers that “insufficient, unconstructive, a dead end, and something which will lead to the escalation of the conflict between Kyiv and the Donbas,” although such an approach is exactly the one Moscow has adopted in its dealing with its own republics and regions.


            And that is the case even though “Russia in distinction from Ukraine is a federation” by its constitution and is much larger and more diverse ethnically, linguistically, culturally and historically than is Ukraine.


            Indeed, at the present time, the Moscow paper continues, “it is impossible to imagine that any of the regions of Russia” could have an independent foreign policy. They cannot even have political parties based on ethnicity, something that in a genuinely federal state would be “completely normal.”


            The real as opposed to constitutional nature of the Russian state is shown, the paper suggests, by the reaction to Chechnya’s proposal to allow polygamy. Russian anger on that score is completely logical if Russia is a unitary state but it would be illogical if Russia were a federal one.


            This is not to say, the editors continues, that polygamy is “a sign of federalism.” Rather, it is to insist that “under conditions of de facto unitarism, a region will talk about its rights and freedoms by means of the most challenging jests, which demonstrate the radical difference,” something that it would not be as inclined to do in a genuine federation.


            “Kadyrov’s Chechnya has thus in fact declared that it has won the right to be distinctive, even though by form it is part of a unitary model, with a single language, flag, educational system, branches of United Russia and even a Putin Street. But [Moscow] considers that Chechnya has not won anything” and that its efforts in this direction have been defeated.


            Many in Russia argue for a unitary approach because many regions and republics, including Chechnya, receive subventions from Moscow, forgetting of course that that could have been avoided at least in the case of that republic if the center had agreed to allow Grozny to keep the profits of its oil industry.


            But that is a lesson Moscow has not learned at least for itself, that it might have been possible to avoid the worst “polygamist excesses” by allowing the development of genuine federalism.


            The “Nezavisimaya gazeta” editorial is important not only for the logic it outlines and for the way in which it underlines the Kremlin’s hypocrisy but also because it shows one of the ways in which Vladimir Putin may unintentionally bring the Ukrainian conflict back into the Russian Federation itself.


            While Kremlin propagandists and many others in both Russia and the West will have no difficulty maintaining these two contradictory approaches in their own minds or at least discourse, others in Russia, Russian and non-Russian alike, will see Moscow’s push for federalism in Ukraine as an occasion for them to push for it in their own country.


            To the extent that happens – and there is evidence among both ethnically Russian regions and the non-Russian republics as well – the most serious consequence of Putin’s campaign for the federalization of Ukraine may be demands for real federalism in a country that is constitutionally supposed to have it already, his own.


            And if as seems certain the Kremlin leader opposes such efforts, the outcome could be truly serious indeed. After all, as many seem to have already forgotten, the USSR did not fall apart because Mikhail Gorbachev allowed power to flow out of Moscow to the republics but rather when, after having done so at least rhetorically, he tried to take it back.



Occupied Crimea Shows How Moscow Plans to Destroy Non-Russian Languages Elsewhere

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 22 – Vladimir Putin has made much of the fact that Russia declared that there are to be three “state languages” in occupied Crimea – Russian, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar – but only the study of the first will be obligatory, an indication of how the Kremlin intends to destroy other languages not only there but elsewhere in the Russian Federation.


            That is the upshot of discussions in the Crimean parliament this week. That body’s vice speaker, Remzi Ilyasov, himself a Crimean Tatar, proposed that students be required to study one of the languages on an obligatory basis, but according to media reports, no one supported his proposal (


            Instead, they said Russian must be obligatory because Crimea is in their view “a subject of the federation” and that the study of any other languages, including the two “state languages,” could take place “exclusively on a voluntary basis.”  That means those who want to study Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar must also study Russian and can choose to study the others  only by giving up one or another subject, something few parents are likely to do.


            Not only does this show the real direction of Putin’s language policies (see, but it represents a challenge to all non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation, most of whom require some of their pupils to study the republic language.


            That is something that many Russian nationalists very much oppose, and now that there is what calls “the Crimean precedent,” these nationalists are going to feel entitled to demand an end to the existing practice and insist that Russian be the only required language regardless of the Russian and non-Russian constitutions and laws.


            If such demands are met, the future of many of the non-Russian languages will be put at risk. As points out, among the languages in the Russian Federation that UNESCO has declared to be “at risk” are Bashkir, Chuvash and Yakut, all of which are being kept alive by official support in the schools.


            Indeed, the portal says, the elimination of the obligatory study of these languages in such schools will be equivalent to “linguistic genocide.”




Thursday, May 21, 2015

Forced Marriage Sets the Stage for a New and More Fateful Chechen War, Kirillova Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 21 – Many in Russia and elsewhere have been horrified by personal tragedy of the forced marriage of a young girl to a 57-year-old Chechen that Ramzan Kadyrov and some Russians have defended, but they should be more concerned about how this event sets the stage for a new Chechen war in the near future, according to Kseniya Kirillova.

            In a commentary for Novy Region-2, Kirillova says that this unfortunate marriage is “yet another sign which shows that Russia will not be able to avoid a new Chechen war,” something that in turn will “become one of the signs, causes, and at the same time consequences of the collapse of the present-day Russian Federation” (

            Kadyrov has thrown down the gauntlet before Russian force structures in recent months, she points out. He has arrogated to himself the right to kill those he doesn’t like and to shoot to kill any representatives of the force structures who come to Chechnya without his permission. Now, he has challenged Russian law. And in each case, he has “come out the winner.”


            But it has become obvious to ever more people that the autocratic power of Kadyrov is “guaranteed only by the personal protection of Putin. Neither the force structures nor even more ‘the systemic liberals’” are happy about the actions of “this little feudal prince whose ambitions are growing with each day,” Kirillova says.

            That in turn means, she suggests, that “in the event of ‘a palace coup’ or as a result of other processes which lead to a weakening of Putin’s influence, the [Moscow] elites will do everything in order to remove this unpredictable competitor.” And because they have few levers, they will be forced to launch “a new war.”

            (Kirillova does not allude to it, but there is another possible outcome: Putin could move to sack Kadyrov, either directly or by promoting him to Moscow.  That would entail risks as well, but dictators have often moved against those on whom they have up to that point relied. And Putin would win points in some quarters by getting rid of Kadyrov.)

            But Kadyrov’s ouster is hardly going to be the end of the story either, Kirillova points out. “Chechnya is not just Ramzan Kadyrov.” If he goes, many Chechens who oppose both him and Moscow will come out of the underground and be prepared to engage in conflict and quite possible terrorist attacks.

            That danger may be staying Moscow’s hand and keeping Kadyrov in power, but it is a high risk strategy, one that means increasingly Chechnya will be an independent country within the Russian Federation, living by its own laws and demanding ever more support – and thus horrifying not only members of the elite but ordinary Russians as well.



No ‘Frozen Conflicts’ Will Be Resolved While Russia has Veto in UN Security Council, Vike-Freiberga Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 21 – Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the former president of Latvia, points to an inconvenient truth that few want to recognize: no frozen conflicts in the former Soviet space will be resolved as long as Russia retains its veto in the UN Security Council and thus is in a position to block moves toward a resolution.


            Speaking on the sidelines of the EU Eastern Partnership in Riga yesterday, the Latvian leader said that despite the existence of the OSCE Minsk Group “there has been no progress” on a resolution of the Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan because Moscow doesn’t want any (


            “The conflict in Transdniestria also is frozen but there is no progress in its resolution. Georgia has lost its lands. Ukraine has been subjected to military occupation, [and] international law is incapable of resolving these issues,” she says. As long as Russia has a veto in the UN Security Council, “one should not expect resolutions from this organization.”


            There are three reasons for paying close attention to what Vike-Freiberga said. First, as a representative of a small country that has often suffered at the hands of large one, she can like Baltic leaders before 1940 and other Baltic leaders like Vytautas Landsbergis and Toomas Hendrik Ilves now can speak the truth that others feel compelled to avoid doing.


            Because the task of diplomats is diplomacy and because diplomats must maintain a certain optimism to keep going to work, few in Western countries involved in dealing with Moscow have been willing to acknowledge that Moscow doesn’t want settlements in many cases and that it can use its clout at the UN to block them.


            Second, Vike-Freiberga’s words are especially worth attending to now because many in the West appear to have concluded that moves toward a frozen conflict in Ukraine represents “progress” and “the best available outcome” in the wake of Russia’s Anschluss of Crimea and intervention in the Donbas.


            That is a dangerous self-deception, one encouraged by Moscow and its supporters, because it would guarantee that the kind of problems one sees across the post-Soviet space would not only spread to and be institutionalized in Ukraine but would encourage Vladimir Putin to apply the same tactic elsewhere in Latvia, Kazakhstan, or Belarus.


            And third, the Latvian leader’s observation is important because it should be the beginning of a discussion about a post-Ukrainian crisis world.  Putin has so violated international law with his actions in Crimea and the Donbas that it is now time to think about a post-Ukrainian crisis world.


            After the dislocations of World War I, Europe created the League of Nations; after those of World War II, the international community created the United Nations. Now, because Putin has violated the principles on which that body rests, it is time to begin to think about creating a new international body, one that can block aggressors like Putin rather than give in to them.


            That won’t be easy, and most commentators, diplomats and politicians will continue to create epicycles rather than recognize that the Ptolemaic world of the UN is no more.  The price of that ostrich-like approach, as Vike-Freiberga points out, will be more frozen conflicts, more violence, and less real peace, whatever Moscow and those who go along with it say.

151 Years after the Genocide and One Year after Sochi, the Circassian Issue Isn’t Going Away

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 21 – No nation more skillfully used an international event than did the Circassians during the Sochi Olympiad to call attention to the Russian-orchestrated genocide of their people 150 years earlier. Despite Moscow’s best efforts, few independent reporters talked about Sochi without talking about the continuing crimes against the Circassians.


            In the past year, the Circassian issue has receded from the front pages of the world’s press given that there is no event equivalent to the Sochi Games which were held on the killing fields of 1861. Moreover, unlike the 150th anniversary, the 151st which takes place today is not a “round” one and thus not surprisingly attracts last attention.


            But actions over the past year – both those taken by the Circassians in the homeland and in the diaspora and those employed by Moscow to try to block their activism – not only show that the Circassian issue isn’t going away but also suggest that the Circassians are now building on their successes of last year, albeit in ways that have so far attracted less attention.


            As the world learned in the run up to the Sochi Olympiad, the Circassians were expelled from the Russian Empire in 1864 after resisting the expansion of Russian power into the North Caucasus for 101 years. In the course of that expulsion, thousands were killed or died in the process. 


            Not surprisingly, that event much like those of 1915 for the Armenians and the Holocaust for the Jews has defined both Circassian national consciousness and the Circassian national aspirations ever since with the Circassians seeking international recognition and condemnation of this crime, the re-unification of their nation, and the ultimate restoration of their state.


            Over the past 12 months, the Circassians in the homeland, who number approximately 500,000, and those in the diaspora who exceed five million, have continued to pursue all three of these goals; and equally not surprisingly, they have taken advantage of other developments and been opposed by Moscow in their pursuit of justice.


            The last year has brought three reasons for optimism among Circassians, each of which has dictated their specific tactics, three reasons for adjusting their longer-term strategy, and three reasons why they now face more resistance from Moscow, resistance that in fact underscores the amount of progress they are making toward their goals.


            The three reasons for optimism among Circassians have been expanding international recognition of the events of 1915 as genocide, a new uncertainty about borders in the post-Soviet space given Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, and renewed tensions between east and west that means the messages of those oppressed by Moscow have a larger audience.


            The Circassians see themselves and present themselves to others as a people who were victims of a genocide even before the Armenians and believe that if Armenians can gain the recognition of the international community on that point, so can they.  Moreover, the Circassians, a large number of whom live in Turkey, have a particular advantage in that they can be useful to Turkey in balancing Armenian claims and putting the events of 1915 into a broader context.


            The new uncertainty about borders in the post-Soviet space also provides hope for the Circassians, a people that first the tsars and then the Soviets divided and that the Russian Federation has refused to do anything about. Once borders are seen to change, the possibilities for border changes elsewhere clearly increase.


            And the Circassians have benefitted as well from the new rise in east-west tensions: During the Cold War, many in the West displayed particular sympathy to ethnic minorities in the USSR; but after 1991, most of that sympathy disappeared because Western governments were focused on Moscow and did not want to rock the board.  That has now changed.


            Each of these developments has dictated the tactics of the Circassians over the past year.  Circassians have sought to piggyback on Armenian claims, they have talked even more about the injustice of the divisions of the Circassian nation in the North Caucasus, and they have focused on those countries, such as Ukraine and Estonia, who are most at odds with Moscow.


            Circassians regularly appear at Armenian rallies. They have published numerous maps about what the borders of Circassia looked like before the Russian conquest and promoted contacts among Circassians in the North Caucasus, and they have sent requests to the parliaments around the world calling for recognition of the genocide.


            The Russian government has not stood idly by. It has pursued a policy of carrots and sticks in the Caucasus itself, a divide and rule strategy against the diaspora, and a propaganda campaign against Circassians as such.  In each case, Moscow has had some success, but over the past year, the limits of its ability to affect the situation have become ever more obvious.


            The Kremlin would like to keep the Circassians quiet in the North Caucasus lest their activism intensify Russia’s problems there, but because the Soviets chose to include the remaining Circassians in two bi-national republics, anything done to or for the Circassians there has the effect of exacerbating Russia’s relations with the Turkic nations with which the Circassians are currently paired.


            Russia has always used its own agents abroad to divide and disorder ethnic and other groups.  In the past, it has had some success among the Circassians, but over the past year, Circassian leaders in many countries have become more sensitive to this threat and far more ready to respond, thereby limiting Moscow’s abilities in this direction.


            And Russian propaganda about the Circassians has become ever less successful because it is seen not only by them but by others as part of the broader and fundamentally dishonest disinformation campaigns that Moscow is deploying against Ukrainians and other nations. As a result, what might have worked 18 months ago is not working now.


            The Circassians recognize that their task is enormously difficult and will take a long time to achieve, but the past year has brought them what may be the most important victory they have won in a long time: they recognize this reality, and they are acting in a step by step way to pursue their goals.


            As a result, the Circassian issue is not going away, whatever Moscow propagandists say, and the future for Circassians and Circassia is brighter now than it was before Putin’s spectacle in Sochi allowed that nation to capture the imagination of much of the world.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Putin Launches Broad New Attack against Non-Russian Languages

Paul Goble


            Staunton, May 20 – Vladimir Putin wants to make the number of hours of Russian-language instruction in Russian schools inviolable, something that will mean non-Russian parents will be able to secure instruction in their native languages only by sacrificing other programs and thus putting the future academic and professional careers of their children at risk.


            Such an approach, announced by the Kremlin leader yesterday at a joint session of the Council of Inter-National Relations and the Council on the Russian Language, can be expected to find enthusiastic support from Russian nationalists and be viewed as “ethnically neutral” by many observers abroad.


            But its consequences for non-Russians are likely to be severe, reducing still further the number of languages in which their children can receive instruction in their native languages and the number of hours devoted to them and sparking outrage and protests among many of these groups who view the defense of their language as a key part of the defense of their nation.


            Putin said many things his defenders will use to deny what the obvious thrust of his words. Thus, he told the group every nation had the right to its own language, that violating that will lead to problems, and that moves forward must not harm Russian or non-Russian languages (


            But no one should be misled. First, the Kremlin leader explicitly said “the state must constantly raise the quality of instruction of Russian for pupils regardless of their place of residence or specialization” and that Russian must become a separate self-standing category subject rather than being part, as it is now, of a “language and literature” one (


            If that happens, it would mean that non-Russian children could only gain access to more hours of instruction in their native language by cutting hours on other, non-language subjects, something that was never true even in the harshest Soviet times. As Putin noted, “the education ministry will ensure that the number of hours in Russia will nowhere be reduced.”


            Two of Putin’s other comments provide additional evidence of where he is going. On the one hand, he insists that 96 percent of all Russian Federation residents speak Russian, a figure that includes many who speak another language as their first and would like to have more instruction in that language.


            And on the other, Putin pointed to the situation in Russian occupied Crimea where he said three languages – Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tatar – have equal rights, an assertion with which no independent observer of what is occurring there with the attacks on Ukrainian and especially Crimean Tatar languages would concur.


            At present, Putin continued, instruction in Russian Federation schools is conducted in 30 languages, although he did not mention that in most of the non-Russian 29 this instruction is severely restricted in hours and to the lower grades; and he said that courses were available in 89 languages, including many foreign languages.


            Putin’s Russian first approach was also underscored by his expressions of concern about lexical borrowings in Russian, something that many Russian nationalists are especially upset about. As in his other comments, Putin sought to portray himself as concerned about this but at the same time unprepared to be draconian as yet in doing anything ab out it.


            One detail of yesterday’s meeting is especially important. It was supposed to take place on February 6 but was delayed because of the visit to Moscow of French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who had come to discuss the situation in Ukraine.


            A Putin aide suggested that the delay gave “specialists” additional time to “better prepare for the meeting.” That may be true, but what is certainly the case is that it gave those pushing for the expanded use of Russian and the imposition of new limits on non-Russian to express their views and in a very public manner.


            Last week, for example, Russian activists in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Buryatia and Komi complained in an open letter to Putin that pupils in their republics were not being allowed to study Russian as their native language and called on him to do something to protect the Russian nation (


            And Russian commentators like Mikhail Delyagin of the Moscow Institute for the Problems of Globalization had time to claim that forcing Russian speaking children to study local languages in the national republics was promoting ethnic friction. Naturally, he said nothing about non-Russians being forced to study Russian (


            Such statements, of course, allow Putin and his entourage to present themselves as responding to the popular will; and Russian nationalists are already celebrating what the Kremlin leader has done as “a serious step in the defense of Russian” and proposing additional steps as well (


            Non-Russians are likely to respond in the coming days and weeks, and their views about what Putin is about are likely to be very different than those of the Russian president and his Russian nationalist supporters.