Thursday, September 15, 2016

Angry Krasnodar Farmers Write Open Letter to Putin

By Richard Arnold

The saga continues for farmers in Krasnodar protesting corruption in their region and the unfair distribution of land. The farmers originally planned to caravan to Moscow but were intercepted by a delegate sent from the federal government who promised to address their complaints (see EDM, April 6). Presumably, their complaints were not addressed satisfactorily, as the farmers have since held numerous demonstrations in the region. They tried to hold a protest during the visit of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in August but were stopped by police (Kommersant, August 22). Having failed to gain the attention of the federal authorities, on August 21 the farmers organized another convoy of tractors destined for Moscow. They only made it as far as Rostov, where they were due to meet a deputy of the local regional administration. The protest was stopped, ostensibly because they had failed to inform the local authorities. The convoy was encouraged to take up the matter with Krasnodar governor Benjamin Kondratev, despite complaints that he was unable to overrule previous court decisions. A deployment of armed police then compelled the farmers to halt their protest and return to Krasnodar (Kommersant, August 23).  

One has to admire the persistence of the Krasnodar farmers who, on September 8, published an open letter to President Vladimir Putin in the weekly newspaper Argumenti Nedeli. The letter bemoans the shrinking of the rural population—most vividly evidenced by the twofold decline in children enrolled in rural Krasnodar schools. The writers attribute this state of affairs to the dominance of agricultural holdings controlled by those who “do not live in villages, hamlets or [Cossack] hamlets; their children do not study in our schools, are not treated in our hospitals and, therefore, do not need to develop rural settlements.” The situation is worsened, in the opinion of the farmers, by the “raider seizures of agricultural holdings,” who are virtually immune from prosecution on account of their lobbyists and lawyers. The farmers also note the uneven enforcement of court decisions as well the lack of uniformity in court decisions, which, they say “is also a crime.” The letter ends by asking the General Procurator to ask six questions “of all holdings, conserves, and physical persons affiliated with state structures of power in the Kuban: 1.) What is the focus of the enterprise and how did they enter the holding? 2.) How many hectares of land are in the holding or concern and how many are from municipal lands? 3.) Where and to what do they pay taxes? 4. How much do they receive in subsidies and grants? 5.) How much credit do they obtain, at what price and rate? Are there sunk credits? 6.) Check for judgments illegally handed down on land questions.” The article ends by claiming that if “we revive the villages, we save Russia!” (Argumenty i Fakty, September 8). This sort of David versus Goliath story is certainly not unique to Russia; across the world, it is a consequences of the increasing intensity of industrial farming practices. But there are certain characteristics in the Krasnodar case that may render it particularly problematic for the Putin regime.

On the one hand, the farmers’ use of patriotic invectives and the image of the downtrodden narod (nation, people) is precisely the ideological cornerstone of Putin’s regime. Given the brazenly public nature of the open letter, Putin arguably cannot afford to do nothing lest his carefully cultivated image as the “fatherly tsar” and a “people’s champion” lose some of its luster. Yet, resolving this problem to the satisfaction of the farmers risks alienating elites who draw succor from the corruption currently tolerated. On the other hand, the timing of the letter just before the September 18 Duma elections is undoubtedly designed to have maximum impact on the administration. In many ways, the letter forms an interesting juxtaposition to the formal process of elections and a recognition that trying to influence the regime through conventional means is futile. Many believe that change to the Putin system will come from regional politics; the further development of this case will test that proposition.

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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hitherto Secret Communist Party Documents Corroborate Evidence That Holodomor Was ‘Genocide’

By Paul Goble

It is a hallmark of the post–World War II era: those peoples who have been subject to mass murder, expulsion from their homelands, or other crimes intended to destroy them as an ethnic community have wanted the world to identify what happened to them as a “genocide.” Meanwhile, those who have inflicted such violence have generally done everything they could to deny the charge. This type of denial is often relatively easy because, with a few horrific exceptions, no leader declares in advance that he is planning to commit “genocide.”

Consequently, there is usually a fight between the one side and the other. But definitive evidence is routinely scarce that the actions of one state against an ethnic group or nation rise to the level of “genocide” as first defined by Raphael Lemkin to describe the Holocaust and as codified in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948.

Even Robert Conquest, in his magisterial study of the Soviet-orchestrated famine in Ukraine, The Harvest of Sorrow (1986), could provide only circumstantial and indirect evidence that what Joseph Stalin did to the Ukrainians was “genocide.” And even though nearly three out of four Ukrainians and most people of good will have been convinced on the basis of his research and that of others that the killing of 4.5 million Ukrainians by organized hunger in 1932–1933 was, indeed, an act of “genocide,” many scholars and governments dispute that. They no longer question, as some did earlier, that there was mass murder, but they argue that it was conducted against a class, the peasantry, and thus does not fall under the definition of “genocide.”

That makes the appearance of documents proving that what the Soviet government did was in fact directed at an ethnic community and therefore genocide especially important. A collection of the originals of such documents is now on public view at the Kyiv Memorial to the Victims of the Holodomor. And both singly and collectively, they show that Moscow systematically carried out a policy of replacing Ukrainians who had died with ethnic Russians and Belarusians, thus transforming the ethnic composition of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and, consequently, its successor, the Republic of Ukraine. Such actions, intended to destroy or at least undermine the existence of the Ukrainian nation fall within the UN definition (, May 15, 2015).

The curators of the Kyiv museum are convinced that the documents they have put on view about Moscow’s policies of replacing Ukrainians with Russians and Belarusians not only mean that the Soviet state stands guilty of “genocide,” but also shows that what the Bolsheviks did in that regard almost 90 years ago, “in part explains the separatism in the East of contemporary Ukraine.”

The portal posts pictures of some of these documents. And after reading them, it is exceedingly difficult for anyone of good will to avoid these devastating conclusions.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Migration Flows—and Not Just Russian Flight—a Problem for Kazakhstan

By Paul Goble

Almost all discussions about migration to and from Kazakhstan focus on the departure of ethnic Russians and other Russian speakers since 1991. This emigration wave has increased the dominance of the titular nationality there. But while the Russian exodus has cost Kazakhstan some of its more highly educated specialists, it has generally not created the difficulties, including outright violence, sometimes associated with other kinds of migration. Indeed, the return of ethnic Kazakhs from abroad, illegal immigration by various groups the state has been unable to control, and increasingly large migration flows within the country have left some regions without the necessary workforce and imposed untenable burdens on others.

In a new article for the portal, Fazilya Yunsaliyeva says it is important not only to look at these various kinds of migration but also to recognize that what matters in most cases is “not so much their size as their structure and their territorial distribution.” Even small shifts in numbers caused by in- or outmigration can have serious consequences for a place’s ethnic, age and gender distribution (, May 6).

Since 1993, the Kazakhstani government has sought to regulate patterns of ethnic migration by means of quotas governing not only how many people may enter the country but also affecting, if not determining, the number leaving or moving from one region to another. And since 2007, Astana has expanded this program to regulate not only ethnic patterns but also the age, gender and skill sets of people on the move. Generally, it has been successful, but not always. And as a result, migration has left some regions without the people they need, and others with new burdens. That reality has sparked tensions and even conflicts that in, several cases, have involved deaths.

Among the most serious migration problems have arisen as a result of the government’s campaign to attract Kazakhs living abroad—a group known in the Kazakh language as “oralmans.” More than 800,000 of them have returned from other countries in Central Asia, China, Mongolia and the Russian Federation, but they have insisted on settling almost exclusively in Kazakhstan’s urban centers, where their skill sets are less in demand. Oralman immigrants have generally refused to move to more rural areas, where they could be put to better use.

This imbalance, Yunsaliyeva says, has sparked conflicts between the oralmans and employers as well as between these newcomers and native-born Kazakhs. On occasion, such situations have “ended in bloodletting,” a euphemism for deaths and serious casualties. But these conflicts have had yet another consequence, prompting many of the oralmans who had come back to Kazakhstan to try to leave, this time often for Russia, Germany and Ukraine. They have also prompted many more ethnic Russians to think about leaving Kazakhstan, further worsening the country’s overall stock of human capital.

Indeed, the journalist says, looking forward one can see that while outmigration to Russia has declined since the highs of the early 1990s, more departures by members of this community are likely, making Kazakhstan more Kazakh but leaving it, for a time at least, without the skilled personnel it needs for modernization.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Centenary of 1916 Central Asian Revolt Likely to Worsen Region’s Relations With Russia

By Paul Goble

One hundred years ago next month, the tsarist administration—which had heretofore excluded Central Asians from the military draft because of its contempt for their abilities as soldiers—was forced by the exigencies of war to announce a draft in the most recently occupied portion of the empire for positions in the Russian military’s rear. That policy reversal sparked a four-month-long popular uprising in which tens of thousands of Central Asians died. But as a result, their sense of national and regional identity grew at the expense of any remaining loyalty to the Russian state. As such, the June 1916 revolt set the stage not only for the Basmachi resistance movement in the 1920s and 1930s but also for the independence of the countries in the region.

Not surprisingly given the centrality of that long-ago event for contemporary Central Asians and the Muslims of the former Soviet space more generally, scholars, commentators and political activists are beginning to put out stories about it. Such stories will inevitably have the effect of reminding Central Asians of the attitudes of Russians toward them and hence exacerbate feelings between the two civilizations. One of the most important of these to have appeared thus far is a study by Tajik historian Kamol Abdullayev, which focuses less on the conflict than on its meaning for today (, May 12).

While Russia succeeded in crushing the 1916 revolt, he says, it did so only at the cost of enormous political losses. The suppression of the revolt did not strengthen the tsarist officials. Instead, it undermined the authority of those like the jadids (modernist Muslims), who had hoped to work with the Russians and be integrated into Russia on par with European minorities. Furthermore, Petrograd’s crackdown strengthened the influence of those who argued that the only possible Central Asian reaction to Russian rule was militant opposition.

The destruction of a role for the jadids was, in Abdullayev’s opinion, among the most serious consequences of the revolt and its suppression. It meant not only the intensification of national identities and separateness from a broader society but also undermined the prospects for a more peaceful and democratic development of the region’s societies. And that, along with the violence of Russia’s reactions to the revolt, highlighted not the strength of the Russian empire but rather its weakness and its fears.

But the very most important meaning of 1916—one that Central Asians will be focusing on now—he suggests, is that those century-old events represented the moment when the region began to escape its “subordinate colonial position” and become an actor with its own desires and goals that others had to take into account. Unfortunately, Abdullayev says, the divisions that existed among Central Asians in 1916 limited its development in that direction, just as the continued existence of such splits does today.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Words Versus Deeds: Russian Attitudes Toward NATO’s Defensive Preparations in the Baltic

By Alden Wahlstrom

In March 2016, Estonia received its second shipment of FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile systems. The initial shipment was delivered last September (ERR, September 3, 2015). Estonia received the “Block 1” version of the system, the newest model on the market. The updated systems have improved guidance, faster flight times, and can operate at a range up to 2,500 meters. The exact number of systems delivered and the total cost of the purchase was not made public, but the purchase itself was financed out of the $3.4 billion in European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) funding that the United States promised in 2014 (Kommersant, March 22).

According to Estonian Defense Minister Hannes Hanso, building up Estonia’s defense capabilities against tanks and other armored fighting vehicles is a cornerstone of the country’s military strategy. Estonia’s defense budget reflects just how seriously the government takes building up its military capabilities. In February, the Estonian Ministry of Defense announced that it is allocating $818 million for procurement over the next four years (ERR, February 25). This is a significant commitment for a country whose entire 2015 defense budget was just over $450 million.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of conflict in eastern Ukraine have enflamed regional domestic anxiety about territorial integrity, pushing Estonia and its neighbors to boost their defensive capabilities, and it has prompted the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to refocus their attention on securing the Alliance’s eastern flanks. Of the Baltic countries, Estonia is taking the most serious steps toward developing the capabilities necessary to defend itself from invasion. Ruslan Pukhov, the Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), a Moscow think tank, thinks that Estonia’s actions need to be taken seriously. In an interview with Kommersant, he said, “unlike other countries in the region, Estonia is seriously preparing for war… and Russia, as the country that these measures are aimed at, needs to respond adequately” (Kommersant, March 22).

Estonia’s push to further develop its military capability poses little real threat to Russia. Russia’s Armed Forces are orders of magnitude larger than the Estonian military in terms of active personnel. With a force of around 750,000 men, the Russian military is larger than one half of Estonia’s entire population. This is not to mention how entirely overwhelming Russia’s military capabilities are in comparison to those of Estonia. Thus, it is unlikely that Estonia itself is the real concern for Russia. Moscow is more focused on NATO’s increased activities in the region—which is itself reacting to Russia’s growing aggression.

In response to Estonia’s Javelin procurement and increased NATO activities in the Baltic, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov recently said, “We need to put an end to spreading horror stories about Russia planning to send tanks into the Baltic States, Sofia, or Budapest. No one is planning to do that. Plans of that sort do not exist” (, March 24). According to him, Baltic countries are only stoking these fears in order to secure financial support from NATO. However, in reality, Antonov’s remarks reflect the perpetual disconnect between what Russian officials say and what the Russian government does.

Moscow recently announced a major restructuring of its tank forces, which will greatly increase Russia’s force presence in its “Western strategic direction,” along the country’s western border. This restructuring involves changes to the 20th Combined Arms Army and the re-formation of the 1st Tank Army (see EDM, April 5). Disbanded in 1999, the 1st Tank Army played an important role in Russian/Soviet military history. After participating in the Battle of Kursk, the largest tank battle to date and a turning-point victory in the Soviet military campaign in World War II, the 1st Tank Army continued on to help take Berlin in 1945 (, June 1, 2015;, February 1, 2016). The Soviet Union’s role in helping to defeat Adolf Hitler is a central element of the Russian political myth heavily promoted by Vladimir Putin’s government. Thus, the revival of the 1st Tank Army as part of a broader restructuring—purportedly in response to US and NATO presence along Russia’s border—was certainly not lost on Russian officials or many of their constituents.

But such attempts to portray Russia as a country facing an encroaching threat from the rapid militarization of countries along its border fall flat when contextualized in a timeline of events in the region over the past two years. In fact, the North Atlantic Alliance had significantly drawn down its forces in Europe prior to 2014. But Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea, its direct support for separatism in eastern Ukraine, as well as invasion of Donbas—amid claims of defending the “Russian World”—prompted NATO’s expedited return to the region. Under these conditions, Estonia and its neighbors rushed to build up the capacity to defend their territorial integrity.

Estonia’s actions and the actions of NATO as a whole directly counter the narrative that Russia would like to promote about itself at home and abroad. Putin and other high-ranking Russian officials have worked hard to try to portray Russia as a guarantor of global security. Meanwhile, countries across Europe are coming out to name Russia as a top security threat. In early March, Estonia’s defense minister released a report that explicitly named Russia as the singular external force threatening Estonia’s security. Shortly thereafter, Georgia’s President Giorgi Margvelashvili named Russia the top threat to security in the Caucasus. Likewise, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter recently included Russia in a shortlist of top threats to US security (, March 24). Moreover, these countries are backing their words with action, proving willing to allocate their finite resources, monetary and otherwise, to insure themselves against the danger posed by Russian aggression and revanchism.

Russia’s reaction to the Estonian procurement of Javelins perfectly illustrates the Kremlin’s irritation at having its image challenged in this way. Initially, an undisclosed source from the Russian Ministry of Defense said that talking about Russia invading Estonia is “nonsense” and not worth discussing (Kommersant, March 22). But two days later, Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Anatoly Antonov gave a statement disputing the idea that Russia has plans to invade the Baltic. He continued on to say that Russia’s top priority is preventing the spread of terrorism in Russia and surrounding countries (, March 24). The chairman of the Duma Committee on International Affairs, Aleksei Pushkov, weighed in shortly thereafter, saying that the West is not prepared to partner with Russia in a united anti-terrorism coalition, but instead the West “makes a lot of noise about the necessity to defend the Baltics, which is under no threat, from Moscow” (, March 25). Pushkov’s sentiments reflected the Kremlin line, voiced later by officials in the presidential administration.

Conspicuously, officials in Moscow opted for a strategy of linking the discussion of developments in the Baltic States to the subject of international terrorism. Essentially, this is a continuation of the Kremlin’s informational strategy showcased in Syria. Among Russia’s goals for entering Syria was the desire to promote Russia’s status as an indispensable guarantor of global security and to discredit western claims that Russia is a threat. Thus, by presenting the spread of global terrorism as an alternative danger, Russia is currently trying delegitimize NATO activity in Central and Eastern Europe. In particular, Moscow is painting NATO’s defensive preparations on the Alliance’s eastern flank as a misallocation of resources caused by the West’s misreading of the global threat environment and a broader unwillingness to work with Russia in order to address the “real” risks to international security.

The NATO-Russia Council met on April 20, for the first time since this body was suspended by the Alliance in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, in 2014. Few had any illusions as to any breakthroughs emerging from this meeting; and indeed, the two sides departed by highlighting their serious disagreements on issues of European security (see EDM, April 25). Meanwhile, Russian jets have repeatedly aggressively buzzed NATO vessels and aircraft in the Baltic and prompted the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission to scramble its planes five times in the span of a week in response to close Russian flybys near Lithuanian airspace (see EDM, April 21; UNIAN, May 2). Clearly, Russia’s actions in the Baltic speak louder the words.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

$330 Million—The Cost of Replacing a Political Rival in Russia?

By Alden Wahlstrom

How much does it cost to replace a political rival in Russia? Can such a thing be bought? Journalist Yulia Latynina of Echo Moskvi seems to think so. On her weekly radio program “Kod Dostupa” (“Access Code”), Latynina uncovered information supporting this idea while delving into the financial information of Sergei Roldugin, details of which were released with the so-called “Panama Papers.”  Perhaps the most interesting Russia-related story to come out of this massive leak involves Roldugin, a Russian cellist and long-time friend of Putin who apparently has $2 billion stashed away in an offshore account. Excluding a select few elite musicians—Andrew Lloyd Webber, Paul McCartney and the like—whose extreme wealth can be directly linked to the success of their careers, a musician possessing such sizeable assets raises legitimate questions about the origin of their riches.

While investigating the transactions tied to Roldugin’s offshore account, Latynina found one transfer of funds that is of particular interest. The transfer was from Dagestani billionaire Suleiman Kerimov and his associated businesses to Roldugin. Twice in 2010, Roldugin’s offshore account received money from Kerimov—once for a sum of 4 billion rubles (about $132 million at the 2010 exchange rate), and a second time for $200 million. As Latynina asked rhetorically on her show, why would Kerimov, a businessman, be willing to just hand over upwards of $300 million to Roldugin at the expense of his personal wealth and his business? One possible explanation for all of this is that it was a business deal. However, when Latynina contextualized these transfers with the events of Kerimov’s life at the time, this seems less likely (Echo Moskvi, April 9).

Apparently, in 2010, Suleiman Kerimov was engaged in infighting with Mukhu Aliyev, the then-president of Dagestan. Aliyev, who initiated the dispute, sought to subjugate or destroy Kerimov, putting Kerimov in an incredibly vulnerable position. However, the tables turned rather quickly. Kerimov began saying publicly that he would replace the president of Dagestan, and he lobbied for Magomedsalam Magomedov to accede to the post. Shortly thereafter, Magomedov was made head of the republic. Both these events and the transfers of money from Kerimov to Roldugin all took place within a period of a few months (Echo Moskvi, April 9).

But why Roldugin? Roldugin has been a long-time friend of Putin. And Kerimov only transferred money to Roldugin during the period when he was politically in need. Not before. Not after. So how does a transfer of money to Roldugin buy Kerimov a favor in a time of need? Latynina notes that the relationship between power and money in Russia is at once inseparable and indirect. Therefore, she speculates, no one should believe that the $2 billion that Roldugin is in control of is entirely at his disposal. Of course, being close to Putin has financial benefits. But this money, naturally, is a supply of funds that would be available to Putin should he wish to access it.

Many Kremlin watchers have been waiting for information to come from these “Panama Papers” that directly ties Putin to cash stashed offshore. This sort of revelation is unlikely to come from the information released last week. But the information released therein has shed light on how corruption works in Russia. As Dr. Karen Dawisha, author of Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, said in a recent interview on RFE/RL, the Panama Papers have helped show exactly how the Putin regime moves state funds and other money into offshore accounts for private use (, April 8). The story pertaining to Kerimov’s political rivalry in Dagestan takes this one step further, possibly providing further insight into the confused, intertwined relationship of power and money in today’s Russia. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Ethnic Tensions Break out in North Caucasian Federal District Capital of Pyatigorsk

By Valery Dzutsati

A massive fist fight between Ingush students and ethnic Armenians in Stavropol region reignited the discussion about North Caucasian migrants in Russian regions. The incident took place in the city of Pyatigorsk, on February 15, but became widely known only in March. An estimated group of 70 Ingush and an unknown number of Armenian young men decided to use violence to settle their differences (, March 3). Interestingly, a local newspaper described the incident as a fight between “the newcomers [the Ingush] and the representatives of the local Armenian diaspora,” as if the Ingush students were not Russian citizens. After the police became involved, 22 Ingush students from the colleges in Pyatigorsk were removed from their programs and sent back home to Ingushetia (, March 3).

While the Ingush authorities reprimanded the parents of the Ingush students for the lack of control over their children (, March 3), some Ingush academics defended them. Anzhela Matieva said that the Ingush young men were right to protect their dignity after the Armenians allegedly disparaged the flag of Ingushetia (, March 9). Moreover, it appears that mass street fights between the Ingush and the Armenians in Stavropol region have become a regular occurrence in the past several years.

The Russian government’s strategy of trying to promote a “melting pot” solution for the North Caucasians by sending more students to the predominantly ethnic-Russian regions has been marked by scandals. In Stavropol region, especially in its southern part known as Kavminvody (acronym of Kavkazskie Mineralnye Vody), it appears that various ethnic groups clash particularly often. The latest violent episode in the region and its aftermath indicate that the various ingredients of the Russian “melting pot” may not be incorporating harmoniously; and the government clearly chooses to employ collective punishment to deal with these resulting inter-ethnic conflicts.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

After Ukraine: Russian Nationalists Return

By Richard Arnold

Russia’s Neo-Nazi racist threat has not been in the news recently, but an attack on January 17 showed that the movement is far from toothless. According to reports, a group of young people burst onto a Moscow metro train at the station Biblioteka Imeni Lenina and beat a group of migrants in their 30s and 40s from Central Asia. One man fell to the ground and was kicked and punched repeatedly. Most of the attackers fled the train at the next station, although police did manage to arrest one of the youth. The unfortunate victim of the attack was taken to the hospital (, February 5). The incident is notable not so much for its occurrence—such attacks have been common in the past—but for its occurrence now, especially in light of the Russian state’s effort to fight domestic neo-Nazi ideology.

First, although Neo-Nazi attacks had been declining slowly since 2009 (due mostly to better police enforcement), their fall became precipitous following the Kremlin’s annexation of Ukraine and championing of the rights of ethnic Russians outside the country. According to the SOVA center, there were 525 violent attacks on ethnic minorities in 2009—a number which fell to just 168 in 2015 (, February 2016). Such a decline can be attributed to the exodus of ethnic Russian neo-Nazis to fight for their brethren in the “Near Abroad” (see EDM, June 11, 2014). With the fighting in Ukraine declining from its highest levels, it is a plausible hypothesis that many neo-Nazis are returning to Russia and renewing the fight against domestic “enemies” once more. It is worth noting that this exactly parallels the official putative Russian justification for intervention in Syria—fighting Islamic State terrorists in Syria would stop them returning to Russia to continue the fight for Islamic radicalism in the North Caucasus. Of course, in the above-mentioned case on the train, the attackers were teenagers and young people rather than hardened combat veterans, although sociological studies of skinhead groups have shown that gangs of youth tend to be organized around an “old” skinhead in his mid- to late-twenties (Sergei Belikov, “Britogolvye: Vse o Skinheadakhi” [4th Ed.] Moscow, Ultrakultura, 2011). Should 2016 indeed witness an increased level of skinhead violence, there would be support for the “return” hypothesis.

Second, the January 17 attack was particularly notable for its brazenness despite the considerable efforts of the Russian state to combat racist attitudes. The metro station where the attack occurred—Biblioteka Imeni Lenina—is right in the heart of Moscow and close to the Kremlin. Such an attack is thus a symbolic refutation of the state’s campaign against neo-Nazism. Indeed, the Russian state has launched a number of legal and administrative cases against the display of racist symbols on the Internet and in public. For instance, a court opened a case under article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code (incitement of hatred on grounds of nationality) against a 19-year-old inhabitant of Kursk for posting racist videos to VKontakte (, February 12). And a bookstore in Moscow was fined 30,000 rubles ($387) for displaying bags with the official stamp of the chief of the Wehrmacht on them, in contravention of laws prohibiting the open display of Nazi symbols (, February 11). Many more such cases exist of the Russian state clamping down on the open display of racist symbols and attitudes. While the January 17 attack does not mark the outright failure of this policy to create a more tolerant society, it does indicate that, by itself, the approach will not be sufficient. This is an even more urgent task as Russia gears up to invite thousands of non-white foreigners to the country to celebrate the 2018 World Cup.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Russia’s Arctic Militarization: Words Versus Actions

By Alden Wahlstrom

Russia has no plans to militarize the Arctic. At least, that is a according to Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister charged with overseeing Russia’s defense industry. Speaking in St. Petersburg, on December 7, at the opening of the forum “Arctic: Today and the Future,” Rogozin emphasized that Russia’s rebuilding of military infrastructure in the Arctic is focused on creating the conditions necessary for Russians to live and work peacefully in the region (Kommersant, December 8, 2015). Just two days after this, however, Russia announced the opening of a major new military installation on the archipelago of Novaya Zemlya.

The Novaya Zemlya facility is home to the first full regiment of Russia’s Northern Fleet located on Russia’s Arctic islands. Previously, deployments had been limited to smaller individual units. Its primary role is to secure Russian airspace on the country’s northern borders. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, modernized S-300 surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems have been deployed to Novaya Zemlya to achieve this. These systems, which have been modified to be able to work in Arctic conditions, are capable of intercepting aircraft and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) within a 400-kilometer perimeter around the site (, December 9, 10, 2015;, December 9, 2015). This marks a return of anti-aircraft/anti-ballistic missile capabilities to Novaya Zemlya, last present on the island in the early 1990s (Interfax, December 12, 2015).

In addition to the S-300s, the installation on Novaya Zemlya is reportedly outfitted with weapons systems to defend from both air and sea attack. The Pantsir-S1 (NATO name: SA-22 “Greyhound”) is a combination weapons system that includes short- to medium-range surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery. This system is capable of engaging aircraft and missiles flying at lower altitudes and has a 20 km range, providing air defense for the area immediately surrounding the installation. Likewise, the Bastion-P Costal Defense System (NATO name: SSC-5) is capable of defending the area from surface-level ships. This system uses Oniks supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles (NATO name: SS-N-26 “Strobile”; also known as the “Yakhont” in export markets). Traveling at a speed of Mach 2.5, these missiles have a range of 120–300 km and are capable of engaging various surfaces ships, carrier battle groups, convoys and landing crafts. Beyond providing for the general defense of the installation on Novaya Zemlya, the range of the Oniks missiles allows the Russians to create a choke point, preventing the passage of ships from the Barents Sea to the Pechora Sea and onward along the Northern Sea Route.

Further evidence of Russia’s push to establish its presence in the Arctic can be seen in both the organization of the Russian military and in official doctrine. In late December 2014, Russia’s Northern Fleet left the Western Military District to form the foundation of the newly created Arctic Joint Strategic Command. Although it does not have the title of a military district, the Arctic Joint Strategic Command is functionally a fifth military district responsible for securing Russia’s entire northern border and the Arctic. This structural reorganization, which is representative of the priority that the Kremlin is placing on the Arctic, was intended to centralize responsibility for the administration of this zone within the Russian military. Prior to this, these responsibilities were spread across the Western, Central, and Eastern military districts and the Northern and Pacific Fleets (, September 15, 2014). The hope is that this restructuring will allow for the more efficient and effective administration of Russia’s growing military resources in the Arctic.

This structural reorganization came in the lead-up to the Russian government’s release of its new maritime doctrine this past August (see EDM, August 11, 2015). The Kremlin’s Arctic ambitions are reflected in the document, which dedicates a whole section to the region. At a glance, establishing firm control over its northern borders and the nearby Arctic zone is important to Russia for two reasons: 1) ensuring the passage of its Northern Fleet to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and 2) safeguarding Russia’s access to the abundant oil and gas resources in the area. Russia’s new Maritime Doctrine clearly articulates both of these points. However, the doctrine also dedicates significant attention to the increase of Russian military activity in the Arctic and specifies that one of Moscow’s goals is to restrict foreign military activity in the area (, July 26, 2015). Russia’s opening of the military installation on Novaya Zemlya is a major step toward establishing the regional capabilities that will make these goals a reality.

The opening of the new Russian military installation on Novaya Zemlya is all the more notable when contextualized with Russia’s other activities in the Arctic. In conjunction with Rogozin’s aforementioned proclamation, the opening of a new S-400 site in Tiksi, Sakha Republic, was also announced (Kommersant, December 8, 2015). Furthermore, Russia has built five other military bases on its Arctic islands (New Siberian Islands, Alexandra Land, Severnaya Zemlya, Cape Schmidt, and Wrangle Island) and began construction of over 440 military infrastructure projects that were due to be completed by the end of 2015. Future projects include the construction of a major airbase that is due to be completed by 2017 (Kommersant, December 8, 2015).

As a part of a larger network of new and reopened Russian military installations in the Arctic, the base on Novaya Zemlya is the Russian military’s largest unveiling in the region thus far. The weapons systems deployed there give it firm control over the Western end of the Northern Sea Route, as it exists along Russia’s borders. Continued development in the region promises to increase Russia’s capabilities and extend this level of control across Russia’s entire expansive northern border. Russian officials, like Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin, continuously emphasize that their goal is only to maintain stability and security in the region so that life in Russia’s northernmost regions can develop peacefully and its people can prosper from the resource wealth of the area. Nevertheless, the reality remains that Russia is rapidly changing the facts on the ground in the Arctic. While Moscow claims it is not trying to militarize the High North, Russia’s rapidly expanding military presence in the Arctic increases the possibility for conflict as other countries begin to assert their interests in the region. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Signs of Coming Civil Strife in Trans-Baikal Region?

By Richard Arnold

The Trans-Baikal Region is not generally known for its contentious politics or social disharmonies. But a recent open letter from the Public Chamber of the region to the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan of Chita suggests one could be in the offing.

On December 30, the Trans-Baikal Public Chamber—an organization created in 2010 to resolve social and political problems and defend civil rights in the region—addressed a letter to the head of the city of Chita’s Orthodox Church, criticizing the suggested transfer to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) of a building now housing a museum dedicated to the 19th century “Decembrist” movement. The open letter stated that “the mere posing of the question to transfer the building to the ROC has become one of the most talked-about in the region, caused a wave of indignation, and actually promised to split the society, threatening to develop into civic strife… the pretensions of the Chita Metropolitan might become the start of a dangerous split in a territory marked by peace, stability, and unity in the Trans-Baikal region of which we are proud. We reckon that today it would be a sign of positive historical memory, a sign of respect for people-patriots of Russia, local pride in our region as a place of kindness and knowledge, for the securing of social unity and peace, to preserve the Decembrist museum in its present form” (, December 30, 2015).

The museum commemorating the Decembrists was opened in 1985 in Chita, the location of the first cooperative community they had organized in the region. The Decembrists were originally a group of liberal officers from the Russian army who were encouraged by the reforms of Tsar Alexander I to demand further change and modernization in their society. The group was made famous in the 1825 revolutionary uprising against Tsar Nicholas I, an event interpreted by some observers after the fall of Communism as proof of Russia’s democratic heritage and aptitude for democracy.

At the Christmas session of the local legislature in Chita, Metropolitan Vladimir petitioned for the transfer of the building used to house the Decembrist museum to the ROC. Deputy Roman Shcherbakov supported the transfer, as did the leader of the Zabaikalsky Cossacks, Ataman Gennadi Chupin. Similarly, the consul of the Australian branch of the Zabaikalsky Cossacks called on his followers to mobilize in defense of the church of the Archangel Michael. Activists from the regional branch of the Russian Union of Architects have opposed the conversion of the building into a church; and regional authorities recently prohibited the construction of a church on the site of a local sports stadium. Reportedly, the activists have also contested the claims of Chita’s 140-year-old Cossack organization to a building dating back some 300 years (, December 30). It remains to be seen how the issue will resolve itself, but the contest is a microcosm of one of the larger social debates in Russia today.

The debate over whether Russian national identity is an ethnic or civic category—the Russki/ Rossianie debate—has been in existence since the fall of the Soviet Union (Valery Tishkov, “Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Conflict After the Soviet Union: The Mind Aflame,” 1997). The Decembrists are a symbol of a liberal, civic, and inclusive sense of Russian national identity; the ROC’s attempt to impose control over sites of popular memory symbolizes a conservative, ethnic, and exclusive sense. Some analysts have claimed that this debate is behind the spate of race riots in Russian cities over the past several years, including the 2010 riots on Moscow’s Manezh Square (see EDM, March 5, 2014; Vera Tolz and Steven Hutchings, Nation, Race, and Ethnicity on Russian Television, 2015) as well as calls to establish a segregationist regime with the North Caucasus. Debates over Russian national identity—and the need to undermine the appeal of ethnic-Russian nationalists by assuming elements of their agenda—are also behind Russia’s annexation of Crimea as well as the Kremlin championing the interests of ethnic Russians in Donbas (see EDM, October 23, 2015). Therefore, if not handled tactfully by the authorities, the fate of a relatively minor museum in a remote Russian province could boil over into the kind of social conflict warned about by the Trans-Baikal public chamber.