Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Buryats, a Large Nation in Russia, Fear They Are on Verge of Extinction

By Paul Goble

Not surprisingly, many of the very smallest nations now within the borders of the Russian Federation fear that they will not survive for more than a few decades. Numbering only a few thousand or even less, they feel on their own skin, as it were, the predictions of international experts that they cannot hope to survive as separate nations given the lack of support from the Russian government and the pressures of globalization.

But disturbingly, this sense of doom is infecting ever larger nations there, peoples whose numbers and institutions would seem to make them good candidates to survive well into the future. Indeed, all but the largest nations in the Russian Federation—the seven who number more than a million each—now appear to be at risk of losing first their language and then their identities in this generation or the next. This has been mainly due to Moscow’s Russification policies (see EDM, November 5, 2012; March 17, 2015; see also, November 27, 2013; January 23, 2014) as well as the impact of international media and economic change.

According to Bato Ochirov of the ARD portal, for cultural and historical reasons, Buryats are not capable of either evolutionary or revolutionary change. The first is precluded by the nature of the state in which they find themselves at present, and the second is impossible because of the nomadic past and individualistic nature of their 500,000-strong nation. Consequently, those Buryats who are most accomplished will seek their fortunes elsewhere and be assimilated; and those who remain will increasingly degrade, he suggests (ARD, September 16).

“Therefore,” he argues, “if one reflects on the prospects of the contemporary Buryat nation” and tries to study the fates of other peoples that the Buryats are “most likely to repeat,” the most obvious candidate is the Evenks. A numerically small people of the Russian North, the Evenks arose as the result of the intermixture of “several aboriginal tribes of Eastern Siberia.” Like the Buryats, the Evenks reflect three anthropological types and are involved in three distinct economic activities: reindeer herding, cattle herding and fishing.

Also like the Buryats, he continues, “the Evenks live in China and in Mongolia. At the time of their inclusion into Russia (the 17th century), the Evenks numbered approximately 36,135.” They had increased to 64,500 by the time of the 1897 imperial census, but declined to 35,527 in the 2002 Russian census. In short, they are on their way to exhaustion and extinction.

About half of the Evenks live in the Republic of Sakha, but the rest are widely spread around the country, again like the Buryats. Indeed, the dispersal of the population accelerates the rates of loss of language, assimilation, and loss of historical identity, Ochirov says. “All peoples who lose ‘their own’ are on a common path, that of slow withering away and dying. The conditions of life of the representatives of such a dying people, as a rule, are not enviable.”

That a leading intellectual of the Buryats—a nation that, after all, has important co-ethnic groups in Mongolia and in China—should be saying this now is a mark of despair. Ochirov clearly hopes to provoke his fellow Buryats to respond by changing the situation. But his words suggest that he has little confidence they will be able to do so.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Non-Russians Are Following Ethnic Russians Out of the North Caucasus

By Paul Goble

The flight of ethnic-Russians from the republics of the North Caucasus over the last two decades has not only attracted widespread attention but also generated concern among officials in Moscow (see EDM, November 10, 2011; October 30, 2012; April 22, 2015). Federal authorities view ethnic Russians as guaranteeing Russian control over the other ethnic groups in the North Caucasus and anchoring the non-Russian republics to the Russian Federation. But in the wake of the departure of the ethnic Russians, members of other nationalities are leaving as well, the result of population pressure, conflicts of various kinds, the absence of jobs, and hopes for a better future. And unlike guest workers from Central Asia or the South Caucasus, few of these people have “gone home,” even during the current economic crisis.

The departure of the Russians has been well documented, but that of the non-Russians much less so. In part this is because local officials routinely falsify census returns in order to claim larger populations and thus greater assistance from Moscow. Not only are individuals who live and work elsewhere sometimes still counted as residents of their republics, but various categories of “dead souls” are also added to the census lists. Nonetheless, the flight of non-Russians is beginning to attract more attention as the phenomenon expands in size.

In a Kavkazskaya Politika article, Anton Chablin describes what is happening in the Nogay steppe, on the frontier between Stavropol and Dagestan. Chablin’s article, provocatively titled “The Russians have already left, and the non-Russians are leaving,” examines the situation in one aul (a fortified village in the Caucasus) (, September 15). Earlier, he discussed this process in somewhat less dramatic terms for two other locations in that region (, October 29, 2014; September 14, 2015).

Twenty years ago, the village (aul) of Novkus-Artesian, which Chablin cites in his recent article, had approximately 3,500 residents, of whom 1,500 were ethnic Russians. Now, half of Novkus-Artesian’s Russians have left; and despite high birthrates among the Nogay and other non-Russian groups, the total population today is less than 2,500. That means that not only ethnic Russians have left but that non-Russians are also leaving in increasing numbers. Assuming Novkus-Artesian is fairly typical, then extrapolating these figures to the North Caucasus as a whole leads to the conclusions that hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russians and an equal or perhaps now even greater number of non-Russians have migrated out of the region.

On the one hand, that means that changes in the ethnic balance caused by the departure of the ethnic Russians may not be as great as many have assumed, given the departures of non-Russians. And on the other hand, it highlights a potentially serious problem for other predominantly ethnic-Russian regions to which non-Russians from the Caucasus are likely to continue to move, especially as non-Russian fertility rates remain high and infant mortality rates across the region fall dramatically, pushing up overall population figures.

According to Lev Kuznetsov, the Russian minister for the North Caucasus, not only are birthrates still high among non-Russians there but infant mortality has been cut by 20 percent. As a result, he suggests, there will soon be even more non-Russian outmigration from the region. He suggests setting up a program to distribute those leaving there across the Russian Federation (, September 15).

That is a typical Russian bureaucratic response, but lying behind it is the real fear that non-Russians from the North Caucasus are going to be showing up in more places in Russia and that their arrival will sow the needs of a new round of interethnic conflicts in Russian cities.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Turkish-Kurdish Clashes Raise Security Concerns in the South Caucasus

By Erik Davtyan

The governmental crisis and military operations of the Turkish Army against Kurdish forces has not only threatened the internal situation in Turkey, but is increasingly having a destabilizing effect on neighboring countries as well. Considering the wide geographic extent inhabited by the region’s Kurdish population, developments pertaining to the Kurdish question have clearly always interested Syria, Iraq and Iran. But as the conflict spreads eastward, security concerns are rising in Armenia and, to some extent, Azerbaijan.

On September 8, a minibus carrying Turkish police officers to the interstate border with Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic was destroyed by a bomb attack (, September 8). This blast killed at least 14 Turkish officers and is, in fact, one of the most serious attacks by Kurdish forces in recent years. The attack took place near the Diludju border check point in Igdir province, an area that connects Turkey with Azerbaijan and separates Armenia from Iran. Thus, this attack’s location provoked deep anxiety in nearby Armenian villages, especially Ranchpar.

Considering the possibility of unexpected scenarios in Turkey-PKK relations spinning out of control, the national security threats to the rest of the region should not be underestimated. Armenian Turkologist Levon Hovsepyan explains that “military actions in regions close to the border with Armenia, indirectly (if not directly) influence the security environment” (, September 15).

Meanwhile, with Turkey preoccupied with its domestic political and military turbulence, Armenian authorities launched a four-day (September 3–6) “Shant 2015” (Lightning 2015) command and staff military strategic exercise. As the deputy chief of the General Staff of Armenia’s Armed Forces, Movses Hakobyan, said, the “exercises aim to reveal the capabilities of the state in case of possible war” and added that “this is the first time Armenia is holding exercises of such scale, involving all state agencies” (, September 4). As part of this training, Armenian authorities simulated a situation whereby a camp for migrants crossing Armenia’s borders is opened in the district of Nubarashen, Yerevan. Though this simulation does not mean that there is a real threat of penetration by Kurdish migrants, it is obvious that, when planning the schedule of the trainings, Armenian authorities were weighing the possibility of such developments, including instability in Turkey’s bordering Igdir province. Indeed, the camp that was “opened” in the Armenian capital, as part of the Shant 2015 exercise, is quite close to the Armenian-Turkish border, which means that Armenia is primarily concerned about the possibility of uncontrolled migrant flows coming into the country from Turkey.

The latest armed Kurdish activity against Turkey has also provoked anxiety in Azerbaijan. Igdir province is the only passage through which Azerbaijan neighbors Turkey. Therefore the possible emergence of a chaotic situation in this part of Turkey would undermine the border security of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. In the wider context, the escalation of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict weakens Turkey’s position in the Middle East, which is not welcomed in Baku. Azerbaijan’s large ally plays a key role in the South Caucasus, especially by supporting Azerbaijan on a myriad of issues, including the Karabakh conflict. A member of the Azerbaijani parliament, Fasil Mustafa, said that “Azerbaijan should minimize the threats coming from Turkey” (, September 8). The deputy believes that Azerbaijan should mobilize the Azerbaijani the population in Igdir and strive for a victory of the representative of the local Azerbaijani community in the upcoming elections in Turkey (scheduled for November 1).

In other words, as Kurdish forces extend their area of military operations, they directly or indirectly engage more states in the existing crisis, raising some security concerns in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Moscow Losing Siberia to China, Commentator Says

By Paul Goble

The willingness of Russian officials to rent land in the Transbaikal region to China (see EDM, June 24) gives Beijing control over a choke point that it could use to block Moscow’s access to the Russian Far East. And as Russian commentator Oleg Lusenko further argues, given the decay and depopulation of the region, this situation can lead to Beijing taking control over a territory equal in size to that of China itself. Lusenko has examined both the rental deal and the ways in which China can exploit it—including by potentially provocative ways, such as the setting of forest fires—to prevent the Russian government from maintaining control there (, September 3).

According to Lusenko, “the first thing that comes to [his] head when he meets Siberian soldiers fighting in [the eastern Ukrainian region] of Donbas, camouflaged as ‘militiamen of Novorossiya,’ [he] wants to ask: guys, do you not know that they [presumably the Russian government] are selling you and your land at home while you are here fighting in an alien land and will be buried under a stone reading ‘soldier number such and such’?” Moreover, Lusenko says, these Siberian men were sold down the river by Moscow and its agents in the Transbaikal not yesterday but “already in 2010.”

Many Russians have complained about the very idea of renting or selling territory to China, but most of them have reacted entirely emotionally, talking about a flood of Chinese into underpopulated Siberia or about the tendency of Russian women to marry Chinese men and assimilate on their return to China. Lusenko, however, focuses on the details of the controversial deal, which may ultimately not go through because of protests. He particularly calls attention to two aspects: the strategic choice China has made in seeking to rent land in the Transbaikal and the corruption of Russian elites that, even more than Chinese aspirations, appears to be driving the deal.

According to Lusenko, “China is renting land in the Transbaikal not by chance. Control of that region for China is the key to control of all of Siberia. Namely, through here pass the two most important transportation arteries that feed all of Western Siberia, the Far East and Kamchatka. By controlling them,” he writes, “China completely controls a region whose area is comparable with its own territory. And this will happen already quite quickly, when Russia in still more unfavorable conditions than now” goes ahead with the deal.

China’s political aspirations are suggested by the suspicious forest fires that have swept the region. It is quite obvious that these could have been set by “diversionary groups” interested in frightening or even driving out the population in order to make the Chinese deal easier for Russians to swallow. Nikolay Rogozhkin, the presidential plenipotentiary in the Siberian Federal District even suggested this in public, only to be told to shut up by Moscow, which has also restricted coverage of the fires by Russian media.

The timing and manner of Moscow’s decision to pursue this deal is telling, Luzenko says. Rumors about it appeared in 2009, but things really took off during the anti-government protests, when members of the elite began to think about how they could maintain their wealth without changing course. A corrupt deal with China offered a way out, and that is what has happened. Given how much Moscow elites are counting on obtaining money from this deal, their recent opposition to this should not be taken at face value, Lusenko suggests.

That means that Siberia may soon be lost to China, perhaps in a decade or two. To be sure, the commentator says, “Siberia is not as important as Ukraine and the Caucasus, but they are already lost.” Now, apparently, the Russian Far East’s turn has come.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Moscow Massively Funding Pro-Russian NGOs in Baltic Countries

By Paul Goble

The Kremlin’s sweeping crackdown on non-governmental organizations (NGO) in the Russian Federation reflects its belief that such entities inevitably work for foreign governments if they receive foreign funding. And that belief is underscored by its own behavior: At the present time, the Russian government is massively funding NGOs in the Baltic countries to influence the political discussions there by pushing Moscow’s political line and, in some cases, encouraging what can only be described as sedition.

That Moscow has been funding ethnic-Russian and other non-governmental organizations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has long been the subject of discussion in the Baltic media and in the West. Yet, much of this debate has been speculative, allowing the defenders of Russia’s behavior to dismiss such suggestions out of hand. But now, the organization Re:Baltica has conducted a major study of Russian involvement in this sector, a study that documents some of what Moscow has been doing and makes it absolutely impossible for anyone to ignore the ways in which Russia is using this technique to subvert the three countries.

Re:Baltica is a non-profit based in Riga, which has conducted in-depth investigative journalism reports on a variety of issues since its founding in August 2011. It promotes transparency and reform. Its report on Moscow’s hidden funding of NGOs is, thus, completely consistent with its skill set and intentions (, accessed September 10).

The study, entitled “Kremlin’s Millions: How Russia Funds NGOs in Baltics,” was published last week and shows that “there are more than 40 such organizations in the Baltic states.” Those in Estonia and Latvia “have received at least 1.5 million euros [$1.8 million] through legal means in the last three years, according to the most conservative calculations.” Critically, even this figure “excludes cash transactions [the preferred means of providing untraceable money] and financing through Russia-friendly enterprises and individuals.” Figures for Lithuania are not as easily available, because Vilnius does not have income reporting requirements for NGOs (, September 4).

Pro-Moscow NGOs in all three Baltic countries have “some key features” in common. First and foremost, “they do not have significant alternative sources of funding, relying heavily on Moscow,” the report says. In addition, approximately two thirds of them are directly or indirectly connected to pro-Moscow political parties in the Baltic countries and may, Re:Baltica notes, even be a means for Moscow to funnel money to those parties. They frequently present themselves as “anti-fascist” groups committed to what they claim is the rise of fascism in the Baltic States. And in every case, these groups are seeking “to influence the public debate and society” against the West and in favor of Moscow.

A portion of the Re:Baltica report is devoted to each of the countries. In Estonia, nine Russian-linked NGOs and one individual focus on niche media. For the public record, they said they received 710,000 euros [$850,000] over the last three years, but they “do not report the sources of the grants on their annual reports.” The largest recipient was the Legal Information Center for Human Rights, a group the Estonian security services have classified as a Russian agent. That group also receives money from the Tallinn city government, headed by the pro-Russian mayor Edgar Savisaar. A second group is Estonia Without Nazism, and a third is the Integration Media Group, which prepares materials for the Estonian media on Russian themes. Yet another NGO is involved in supporting Paldiski Radio, which broadcasts to ethnic Russians in that northern port city.

In Latvia, there are seven major pro-Moscow NGOs receiving Russian funds, although only “four have acknowledged” doing so in their annual reports, Re:Baltica says. The public declarations total 680,000 euros ($830,000) over the last three years, but the real figure is almost certainly far higher. People involved with these groups do not want to talk about it. Aleksandr Gaponenko, who is active in several, angrily rebuked investigators by saying: “Is that a crime that I received money from Russia? It’s my right. You get money from America and I am not judging you.” The Russian activist continued: “I don’t want to talk to you about the financial matters, because I’m afraid you are from the CIA. You can get all the information at the American embassy; why are you asking me?”

But Latvia’s foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, has a different take on the situation. He told the researchers that “the goal of these organizations is not to build cultural ties and public diplomacy in the best sense, but rather to serve as a conduit for Russian foreign policy through the local Russian community as well as via the instruments of political influence.”

And in Lithuania, Russia is also actively involved, although information about the three NGOs and one individual thought to be funded by Moscow is far more difficult to track down as there are no reporting requirements. But the pattern is the same as in the other two countries: the four present themselves first and foremost as “anti-Nazi” and have close links with the Russian media and with pro-Moscow politicians.

It is clear that Re:Baltica has surveyed only the tip of the iceberg. Moscow’s involvement in this sector in the three Baltic countries is much greater than even its report suggests. That is troubling not only in and of itself but as an indication of what Moscow may do next. After all, the same pattern occurred in Ukraine before the Crimean annexation.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Resignation of Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s Government Signals Rising Ethnic Tensions in Republic

By Valery Dzutsev

In August, the prime minister of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Murad Kardanov, unexpectedly resigned after three years in office. The governor of the republic, Rashid Temrezov, proposed Ruslan Kazanokov’s candidacy for the prime minister’s position (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, August 27). The change in government came soon after the Circassians of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, also known as the Cherkess, rallied against the republican authorities. The Cherkess demanded the resumption of the work of the so-called Extraordinary Conference of the Cherkess People. One of the primary demands of the conference is for the Cherkess to secede from Karachaevo-Cherkessia to form their own republic (, July 10).

Karachaevo-Cherkessia is a small, but highly diverse republic in the Northwestern Caucasus. The Turkic-speaking Karachays make up the plurality in the republic (about 42 percent), but the other titular ethnicity, the Cherkess (about 12 percent of the republican population), regularly contest the Karachays’ dominance.

Both, the previous and the current prime ministers of Karachaevo-Cherkessia are ethnic Cherkess. The governor of the republic, Temrezov, who is a Karachay, has apparently tried to appease the Cherkess people by replacing one Cherkess with another. Kazanokov used to be the prime minister of Karachaevo-Cherkessia under republican president Mustafa Batdyev (2003–2004), and is considered to be close to the influential Cherkess Derevs clan. Hence, the appointment of Kazanokov appears to be a signal of “peace” to the Derevs family, whose members are now likely to reconsider their decision to fuel discontent among the Cherkess of the republic (Kavkazskaya Politika, September 2).

However, another influential and disgruntled Cherkess leader, former head of Khabez district Rauf Arashukov, is unhappy about Kazanokov’s appointment and the deal that Temrezov may have reached with the Derevs clan. Moreover, Arashukov declared that the authorities could not “buy” his support by offering him another government position. Some analysts suggested that Arashukov could be offered the position of the head of the tax collection agency of Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Arashukov claimed he was not going to amend his principles and “betray his people for the sake of career or personal wealth” (Kavkazskaya Politika, September 3).

If Temrezov were to satisfy both the Derevs, by appointing their man as the prime minister, and Arashukov, by appointing him as the head of the tax collection agency, then the Karachays could be the next to revolt; together, these two positions are considered too important to be centralized under a single faction. As Temrezov paves the way for his reappointment as the governor of the republic next year, the challenges before him appear to be quite formidable, and more political tensions are likely to surface.