Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Brexit and Baltic Security—320,000 Balts May Have to Go Home

By Paul Goble

Many have speculated that the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union will have negative consequences for the countries of Eastern Europe in general and the Baltic States in particular because London—hitherto one of the most outspoken defenders of those countries—will no longer be a participant in European forums. That may ultimately be the most serious consequence of Brexit for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. But there is a more immediate danger, one that at least some in Moscow hope will harm the three, simultaneously isolating them from the West and making their governments more susceptible to Russian pressure.

At present, there are nearly a third of a million Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian citizens working in the UK. Negotiations on the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU have not yet started. But if the final deal compels the 200,000 Lithuanians, 100,000 Latvians and 20,000 Estonians in the UK to go home, their arrival en masse could create serious economic and thus political problems for Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius. Such a sudden wide-scale return of Balts to their home countries would directly raise the issue of finding work for the returnees and indirectly call into question how Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians will view Europe in the future.

In a discussion of this prospect, Moscow commentator Sergey Orlov points out that Lithuanians are among the European nations most liable to seek work abroad; and they are especially likely to find it in the UK. Indeed, at the present time, almost 1 out of every 14 Lithuanians is working there. Not surprisingly, he says, Lithuanian officials are worried about what will happen if all or even most of these are suddenly required to go home. The Lithuanian ambassador in London, for example, has called on Lithuanians working there to protest any such decision and to complain vigorously to the authorities about any cases of anti-Lithuanian incidents on the British Isles (, July 15).

The situation with regard to Estonians and Latvians now working in the UK is similar—there are reports of anti-Baltic sentiment among Brits as well as growing anger among all Balts that some in the UK are treating them as less than fully European. But the reactions of Tallinn and Riga have been more muted, not only because the numbers of people involved are smaller—and in the case of Estonia, much smaller—but also because their size relative to their domestic labor forces or populations are smaller as well.

Nevertheless, the Russian commentator says that in the coming weeks, the impact of the problems of returning workers in all three countries are likely to intensify, raising questions about the relationship between the Baltic States and Europe and, thus, about whether these countries should begin to go their own way and come to some kind of better understanding with their eastern neighbor, the Russian Federation. That is unlikely. Much more likely would be a retreat into some kind of hyperbolic nationalism of the kind that has already affected some other Central and Eastern European states. But that will work to Moscow’s advantage as well by isolating these countries further from the West and reducing the willingness of the West to defend them.

That is what Russians like Orlov hope for; and his schadenfreude about Baltic workers coming back after Brexit is clearly on display in the title of his article “Suitcase, Railroad Station, Lithuania,” which echoes the slogan some Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians advanced concerning ethnic Russians living there 20 years ago.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Is It Time for an Updated ‘Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations?’

By Paul Goble

The strength and longevity of the West’s anti-Communist effort during the Cold War rested on two alliances that no longer exist. The first was the alliance between those committed to democracy and freedom and those committed to free market capitalism; the second linked together those who opposed Communism as a system and those who fought Moscow’s imperialist approach to the non-Russian peoples. It seems little chance exists that the first alliance is about to re-form anytime soon—the interests of the two sides have diverged beyond any reconciliation. But Vladimir Putin’s increasingly authoritarian and imperialist policies mean that the second might well be reconstituted, although in exactly what form is unclear.

What a new alliance of pro-democracy and anti-imperial national movements might look like is far from clear. Yet, some ideas about both the nature and strength of such a combination can be gleaned from a consideration of the history of the most prominent of its Cold War antecedents, the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations—or, as it was almost invariably known by both supporters and opponents, the ABN. Earlier this month, historian Vladislav Bykov posted an article about that on the Rufabula portal (Rufabula, July 5).

Bykov points out that 2016 is “a jubilee year” in the history of global anti-Communism: the 70th anniversary of the creation of the ABN, and the 20th anniversary of its dissolution at a time when its organizers believed they had achieved their goals and that these achievements were irreversible. The ABN was created in Munich, on April 16, 1946, by people who had fled the advance of Soviet Communism and were committed to the overthrow of the Communist regime and to the formation of nation-states across the region.

Its founding document declared: “In the name of the great goals of human progress, the freedom of nations and the freedom of peoples, the struggle with Bolshevism has decisive importance. We are the national-liberation anti-Bolshevik center consisting of organizations from countries enslaved and despoiled by Bolshevism. We are struggling for independence. In this struggle, we are uniting our forces for the achievement of the common goal of liberation and are establishing the Anti-Bolshevik Block of Peoples.”

Ukrainians played a central role in the organization of the ABN, but there were also Turkestanis, Belarusians, Hungarians, Slovaks, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and ultimately more than 20 different nations, not only from behind the Iron Curtain in Europe and within the borders of the Soviet Union, but of peoples in Africa, Asia and Latin America who were also struggling with Communism and imperialism.

Drawing on the ideas of the pre-1939 Promethean League, the ABN made its core principle “anti-imperialism” because its founders considered Bolshevism to be “the latest reincarnation of the Moscow Empire.” Many Russians shared their views, but the ABN did not include them, because its leaders “did not trust Russians,” Bykov points out.

For 40 years until his death, Yaroslav Stetsko was the president of the ABN, a man whose career went from the Ukrainian underground to a Polish jail to a Nazi prison camp and, ultimately, to a dinner in his honor given by United States President Ronald Reagan. On his death in 1986, his widow, Yaroslava Stetsko, succeeded him. Earlier, she had been in charge of the organization’s publications, including the still valuable ABN Correspondence, which was published in Munich in English, German and French.

Today, 70 years after the ABN was founded, reasons have been multiplying for creating something like it for the future. Vladimir Putin has attacked both democracy and the rights of nationalities; and those opposed to his policies—and they include many ethnic Russians, it should be said—may want an organization that seeks to defend against the Kremlin leader’s attacks, especially because it is important that democracy inform the rights of nations and the rights of nations inform democracy.

But it remains to be seen whether this is possible. On the one hand, there are far fewer people in the West than there were in 1946 who have experienced on their own skins Moscow’s brutality and far less interest in the West in assuming any additional responsibilities with regard to promoting these values. The remaining groups are divided between these two sets of values as well as among the various nations involved. And many in the West now cast doubt on the entire enterprise of democracy promotion, let alone the defense of the rights of nations to self-determination however defined.

On the other, however, as Putin’s actions continue, ever more people both in the former Soviet space and more broadly are seeking to oppose him by as many different tactics as possible. A new ABN, one committed to uniting the values of the defense of democracy and the defense of national rights, could provide a focus for many and thus promote the combination of values that the United Nations in general and the West in particular have long declared that they support. Consequently, at the very least, this anniversary and the appearance of Bykov’s article provides the occasion for discussing this possibility.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Moscow’s Donbas ‘Curators’ Seek to Quell Panic Among Soldiers in Separatist Donetsk

By Paul Goble

One of the darkest parts of the murky history of Moscow’s “hybrid” war in Ukraine is the role of Russian “curators”—the Russian advisors who direct the activities of the military and civilian structures in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics (DPR, LPR) on the basis of orders they receive directly from the Kremlin. Most of the time, these people operate in the background and even use false names in order to hide who they are and what they are doing. But a recent incident of panic in pro-Moscow militia units forced some of them to blow their cover as it were, inviting closer attention to the types of roles played by Moscow operatives that the Western media rarely discuss.

A week ago (July 7), Ukrainian monitors noted the spread of “mass panic” among soldiers of the first army corps (Donetsk) of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (, July 7). In order that this panic not lead to disorder in frontline units and possibly even the collapse of the pro-Moscow structures there, “Russian curators” were dispatched to sort things out, sending some of those who were spreading panic to military jails and reassigning others to units in the rear (, July 7; Charter97, July 8).

In reporting on this incident, Dmitry Tymchuk, the coordinator of the Information Resistance Group, commented that “the Russian curator of ‘the Republican Guard’ of the DPR, a colonel of the armed forces of the Russian Federation who operates under the code name ‘Berkut,’ promised to personally get involved in the case and supervise the course of ‘the investigation.’ ” But even Tymchuk, who is one of the closest observers of what Russia is doing in Donbas rarely references these “curators” (, July 7). Consequently, it is worth asking who and what they are.

The “curator” system has its roots in the early Soviet period, when Moscow routinely dispatched special plenipotentiary representatives to various places to sort out problems, promote Moscow’s policies, and impose control over local and regional officials. Vladimir Putin’s establishment of the presidential plenipotentiaries over the federal districts a decade ago is one heir of that tradition. The curators in Donbas are another, where they are apparently being used the same way they have been in other frozen conflicts across the former Soviet space.

The curators for the DPR and LPR are organized in a pyramid. At the top is Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s prime troubleshooter, who oversees two curator offices in Moscow—one for the DPR and a second for the LPR—consisting of public relations specialists, military experts, economists and others. The next level, which appears to include far more people, are the “republic” curators who operate with staffs in the capitals of the two breakaway republics, communicating to officials there what the Kremlin wants and imposing Moscow’s will as much as possible. And the final level, by far the largest, includes individuals from the Russian Federation who are attached to military units, political organizations, newspapers and radio stations, as well as other distinct institutions. These people carry out the orders they have received from above (, November 15, 2015).

Those Ukrainian officials who have looked into Russia’s curator system say that it is critically important that Kyiv identify by name and position all these people not only so as to understand the exact “algorithm” by which Moscow is orchestrating things in the DPR and LPR but also to be in a position to track what the Kremlin is likely to do next given the insatiability of Russian aspirations in Ukraine (, November 15, 2015).

Friday, July 1, 2016

Moscow Seeks to Isolate Finno-Ugric Peoples in Russia From Those in the West

By Paul Goble

Twenty of the 24 Finno-Ugric peoples live on the territory of the Russian Federation, and more than 3 million of the 25 million people in the Finno-Ugric world are citizens of that country. Since 1991, the three Finno-Ugric countries in the West—Estonia, Finland and Hungary—have sought to develop relations with their co-ethnics in Russia. The latter have welcomed such initiatives and participated in a variety of cooperative ventures, including a series of world congresses of the Finno-Ugric peoples. In general, the members of this group continue to be enthusiastic about these contacts.  But the latest such meeting, held on June 15–17 in the Finnish city of Lyakhti, highlighted a disturbing new trend: efforts by Moscow to cut the Finno-Ugric peoples of Russia off from their Western counterparts. Such Russian actions not only recall the worst excesses of the Soviet period but also cast a dark shadow on the future of the Finno-Ugric peoples under Moscow’s control.

Andrey Tuomi, a Karelian journalist for Vesti Karelii, says that as a result of Moscow’s policies and in spite of the desires of the Finno-Ugric nations in Russia, a yawning “gulf” is opening up “between the Russian and Western parts of the Finno-Ugric world that was earlier a single whole.”  He argues that this means that such sessions as the recent congress, as happy as they make all delegates and observers given the personal contacts they can make, have become “a dialogue of the deaf with the blind” between “two worlds and two realities.” Tuomi’s words are a devastating conclusion for someone who has invested so much of his career to promoting contacts among all Finno-Ugric peoples (, June 24).

The three European Finno-Ugric countries were represented at the congress by their presidents and delegations as large or larger than any they had sent in the past. Whereas Russia was represented by a deputy minister of culture, Aleksandr Zhuravsky, and delegations that Moscow reduced the size of in order to ensure they included more officials and fewer activists.  But it was what Zhuravsky said that provides the clearest indication of where Moscow is heading in this area.

If the Finno-Ugric presidents talked about problems and possibilities, Tuomi says, the Russian representative had a message that can be summed up in a single phrase: “Russia has done everything possible for the preservation of national cultures and languages, but European partners cannot understand this.” Zhuravsky’s speech was “quite aggressive and accusatory and did not fail to mention sanctions.” Finally, perhaps most outrageously for the Finno-Ugric peoples, the Russian official collectively dismissed them as “aborigines living on the territory of the Russian state” who need to “be shown their place in the imperial system of values.”

Monday, June 27, 2016

Putin’s ‘Hybrid War’ Against Russia’s Smallest Nationalities

By Paul Goble

Moscow’s approach to the country’s smallest non-Russian nationalities has historically been measured by the opening and closing of schools, the level of support for non-Russian language institutions, the share of officials from indigenous nationalities in key positions, and so on. Over the past decade, the Russian government’s approach has not been good even on these measurements. But lately, Vladimir Putin has adopted a “hybrid” strategy that is even more negative: specifically, the Russian government has been relying on market forces as well as on the use of nominally ethnically-neutral regulations to undermine or coerce some of Russia’s smallest nationalities. Both hit these minute groups far harder than the surrounding ethnic-Russian communities. Thus, this “hybrid” strategy must be factored into any assessment of Putin’s nationality policy.

Like its Soviet predecessors, the Putin regime has ignored the rights of indigenous peoples whenever the recognition of these rights limit top–down economic development goals. That has been particularly true in the development of the oil and natural gas industry in Russia’s northern regions, where Moscow has tilted the playing field against the indigenous populations and in favor of the oil and gas developers (, November 18, 2014;, May 4, 2016;, May 11, 2016). In recent weeks, the central government has done the same thing with regard to the coal industry, allowing its leading firms to ride roughshod over the claims of the indigenous ethnic groups (, accessed June 27).

Perhaps even more important to the fate of the smaller nationalities of Russia—that is, those with fewer than 100,000 members each—Moscow has ended many of its subsidies to them and left them to face market forces alone. Inevitably, this has the effect of limiting the ability of these communities to have media and schools in their own languages, and it forces members of these groups to shift to Russian as their primary language (for examples of this trend in the Middle Volga, see, November 10, 2015).

Two Russian policies announced in recent weeks show that calling Putin’s approach to the smaller nationalities a “hybrid” war is fully justified—specifically, his government is achieving certain goals by taking indirect actions while denying that this is what Moscow is doing. The two cases have not attracted much attention because they involve two groups who live in the Russian Far East: the Orochi, who number under a thousand, and the Udege, who number approximately 1,500.

In the former case, Russian authorities issued a ban on the use of nets to catch fish, something that they have pointed out affects members of all groups. But the reality is that it hits the Orochi and other traditional peoples hardest because that is their primary means of securing enough food (, June 12). And in the latter case, Russian officials have ignored a court order requiring them to hand over land that the Udege have traditionally used for raising food, apparently convinced that there is no reason that the members of that nationality should be so privileged (Regnum, June 22).

More such cases undoubtedly exist. Indeed, by using such “hybrid” means, Putin achieves what earlier Russian rulers could not: the destruction of ancient and unique cultures of peoples who have, often inadvertently, stood in the way of Moscow’s economic goals.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ethnic Balance Shifting Against Moscow East of the Urals

By Paul Goble

In Soviet times, the predominantly Russian Slavic share of the population east of the Urals rose to 80 percent, overwhelming the non-Russians there and ensuring Moscow’s control. This eastward migration of Slavs came about both as a result of state coercion under Joseph Stalin and thanks to large subsidies for workers prepared to live far from European Russia. But with the collapse of subsidies starting in Mikhail Gorbachev’s time, the Slavic share of the population in that enormous region has fallen to 60 percent, with the non-Slavic share rising to 40 percent. If current trends continue, the two groups will be roughly equal in size within a decade, and the non-Russians will be a majority within two—a shift that parallels but is far greater and more rapid than that of Russia as a whole.

That is the conclusion of Yury Aksyutin, a specialist on demography and ethnic regions, in an article in the current issue of Novyye Issledovaniya Tuvy (, June 2). Aksyutin focuses on the change in the ethnic composition of populations of specific regions and republics. His research shows non-Russians increasing relative to Russians in many of these territories even more rapidly than they are in Siberia and the Russian Far East as a whole. If anything, this trend is intensifying as aging Russian populations die off or depart and younger non-Russian groups have more children—even though their fertility rates are falling toward all-Russia averages, as Russian scholars invariably point out.

This trend has important domestic and foreign policy implications. Domestically, it almost certainly means that non-Russians in the titular republics will demand more positions be given to them rather than to Russian minders. This could set the stage for conflicts both within the political elite and in broader society, between the newly self-confident rising non-Russian populations and the declining and departing ethnic-Russian ones. If Moscow concedes the point to the non-Russians, it will have less leverage over these areas; if it does not, it will face a new round of rising nationalism and various kinds of ethnic assertiveness, possibly including a restart of the parade of sovereignties, which in the early 1990s threatened to break apart the Russian Federation (, June 17).

And internationally, it has an impact on Russian national security. Compared to ethnic Russians, the non-Russians in Siberia and the Russian Far East are far more welcoming of the Chinese and Mongolians, viewing them as fellow Asiatics who have also been oppressed by “European” colonial powers. That has already led to a resurgence of pan-Mongol thinking about the Tuvins and to greater cultural and economic ties between Beijing and leaders of the non-Russian regions of Russia east of the Urals. As the population shift continues and the Russian economy declines, such relationships will only multiply and deepen, adding to Moscow’s security concerns about the expansion of Chinese influence there.

One immediate consequence is already apparent: Many of the non-Russians in this region are choosing to study Chinese as their preferred second or third language and are attending universities in China.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Volga Tatars in Iran Being Turkmenified

By Paul Goble

Many observers are aware that ethnic Azerbaijanis constitute more than a quarter of the population of Iran, but fewer have taken note of the fact that other Turkic groups from the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation are present in that country and are undergoing some remarkable ethnic and political transformations. Perhaps the largest of these, and certainly the one with the most resonance in Russia today, are the Volga Tatars, who arrived in several waves over the last century but who are treated by the Iranians as Turkmens and, consequently, are being “Turkmenified.”

A rare window on that community was recently provided by Kazan’s Real Time news agency, which has both interviewed specialists on Turkic groups in Iran and conducted its own research into a national diaspora few have ever heard of (Real Time, June 2, 3). The reason for this new focus lies in Kazan not Iran: Recently, under pressure from Moscow, Kazan Federal University closed its Tatar studies faculty; and the Real Time news agency has been publishing materials on Tatar communities abroad in order to make the argument that Kazan needs to restore that scholarly center in order to keep track of developments across the Volga Tatar world.

Volga Tatars have resided in what is now Iran for more than a millennium, but the largest recent group to arrive was composed of those who fled Soviet power in the 1920s and 1930s, for religious or ethnic reasons. No one knows exactly how many Volga Tatars live in Iran. (Some estimates put their number in Iran as high as 30,000.) The Iranian census avoids asking about ethnic identities. And according to experts like Gorgun University’s Arazmuhamad Sarly, himself an ethnic Turkmen, many of the Volga Tatars have assimilated to the Turkmen community and are viewed both by most Turkmens and almost all Persians as part of that community given that they have learned Turkmen, intermarry routinely, and share culture activities. One of the few remaining distinctions is that, in many places, the Volga Tatars still prefer to be buried in their own national cemeteries (Real Time, June 2).

Turkmen-language publications currently exist in Iran, and many of them contain stories about the Volga Tatars in Iran and in their homeland. But so far, according to Sarly, the Volga Tatars of Iran do not have their own publications or public associations, preferring instead to participate in those of the Turkmens, who are estimated to number as many as 100,000 in Iran. The Turkmen scholar told the Kazan news agency that he would welcome cooperation with Tatarstani scholars to study this group (Real Time, June 2).

It will be interesting to see whether Moscow promotes or allows such contacts to take place. On the one hand, the Russian government would certainly like to have more information about a potential ally, however small, within Iran that it could use to pressure Tehran. But on the other, Moscow may be quite reluctant to allow Tatarstan to be the point of contact because of the possibility that religious influence could flow from Iran into the Middle Volga region.