Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Moscow Oblast Could Become a Center of Regionalist Challenge to Center, Butakov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 19 – Many Russians who live far from Moscow lump those who live in the city and oblast together, Yaroslav Butakov says; but in fact, those in the city of Moscow and those in Moscow oblast have “diametrically opposed” interests, a reality that could become the basis for a regionalist challenge to the center from those living close by.

            One of the reasons for this conclusion and this neglect of the differences is rooted in the Russian language itself, the Russian regionalist says. Russians normally use the preposition “pod” which means most generally “under” for places near a major city rather than “okolo” which denotes “in the area of” (

                As a result, many view the oblast as those who are part of Moscow or who want to be for what may seem the entirely justifiable reasons that in Moscow the conditions of life are better.  But in fact, that perspective reflects the colonial position of the oblast relative to the city, something that has become more pronounced since 1991.

            And those who arrive from other regions of the Russian Federation or abroad view the oblast as “only a certain intermediate stage on the path to being included within Moscow city,” much as in some colonial situations, those who worked directly for the masters were viewed as better off than those who worked for their agents.

            That has colored Moscow city’s attitudes as well. It has treated the oblast as a resource to be used as it wants rather than as a place with its own interests. And “it has become customary that the oblast organs give unqualified agreement to any demands of Moscow city even when they aren’t formally asked for their agreement.”

            As a result, Butakov says, “Moscow oblast was almost completely deprived even of that shadow of subject status which other regions not so close to the capital make use of.” And as a result, Moscow city feels comfortable absorbing parts of the oblast that are of greatest value to it rather than those consisting of populations that would benefit.

            Thus, Moscow is taking the less-populated southwestern areas of the oblast which are most useful for the recreation of its own residents but leaves the rest of the oblast with less for itself and does nothing for its population. That makes the administration of the oblast more difficult and reduces still further its sense of independent identity.

            “The most honest” resolution of the current situation, the regionalist says, would be “the complete unification of Moscow and the oblast into a single federal subject.  But Moscow does not want this.”  It doesn’t want the burden of having to raise the standard of living of people in the oblast to something approaching that of the city.

            One indication of Moscow city’s dominance is the transportation network in the oblast which is entirely based on lines running into and out of the city and not on line that connect one part of the oblast to another. 

            And as a result, even though “the interests of Moscow and Moscow oblast are now diametrically opposed, the residents of the oblast in their majority consider themselves as being ‘five minutes away from being Muscovites’ and do not recognize this,” Butakov continues. But things don’t have to stay that way.

            “Moscow oblast regionalism, based on a consciousness of the long-term interests of the development of the economy of the region not as a reserve base for the business of capital state corporations but as an independent unit not only is possible in principle but is also necessary,” he argues.
            The people of the oblast would benefit, but so too would the people of Moscow city who now live at the brink of transportation collapse.  The residents of each have some common interests, he suggests; but these commonalities can be promoted only if each side recognizes that the basic interests of the other are entirely different.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

‘For Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania Should Not Exist,’ Russian Expert on Baltic Region Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 19 – Nikolay Mezhevich, a St. Petersburg professor who heads the Russian Association of Baltic Research, says that “for Russia the [three Baltic] countries should not exist” and that there are no prospects for an improvement in relations because the Baltic regimes can function only as anti-Russian actors.

            In an interview with Rubaltic’s Aleksandr Nosovich following a conference at the Kant Baltic Federal University in Kaliningrad on relations between Russia and Poland, Mezhevich says that relations with Warsaw while bad now can improve but those with the Baltic countries never can (

                Russians and Poles, he continues, have “a common mentality: they are similar people with a common understanding of life. “But “with Lithuania, normalization is impossible,” in any case, Mezhevich says, he does not expect to live to see it.  That is because Vilnius like Riga and Tallinn can only exist by blaming Russia for all of their own shortcomings. 

            Asked by Nosovich what the “optimal” Russian policy toward the Baltic countries should be, the St. Petersburg professor is blunt: “There are no such countries. For Russia, there are no such countries. Legally, they exist, but we do not maintain any economic or political contacts with them.” The Baltics are thus “a dead zone, a Chernobyl.” 

            He nonetheless opposes breaking diplomatic relations with them. “Why given them that happiness?” Mezhevich asks rhetorically. “They are always dreaming about this. But the presence of diplomatic ties does not mean that me should develop any contacts with them because in these countries already nothing will change.”

            Regardless of who wins elections in any of them, “the political regimes [of the three] are set in stone once and for all and will not change. Any Baltic politician who falls into the System will instantly be ‘worked over’” until he fits in with that reality. This is clear in Lithuania and Estonia, “and in Latvia it will be the same.”

Calls to Restore the Chinese Name for Tuva Rile Russians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 19 – Tuva seldom gets much attention except from stamp collectors who prize its triangle-shaped postage stamps that were issued when it was nominally independent before 1944 and from admirers of the late Richard Feynman, whose passion for it was described in Ralph Leighton’s 1991 book, Tuva or Bust.

            It did attract the interest of some when during perestroika, violent clashes between Tuvans and ethnic Russians led to the departure of many of the latter. (At present, Tuva, located on the Mongolian border, has approximately 320,000, 80 percent of whom are ethnic Tuvans, according to the 2010 census.)

            But Tuva’s obscurity may soon be about to change because an activist there has resuscitated earlier calls to restore the name the region had when it was part of China before 1917, the Uryankhai, calls that have alarmed some Russians who see this as a threat to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.
            Earlier this month, Igor Irgit, a Tuvan activist, published a long article in Tuvinskaya Pravda calling for the change, arguing that it was a matter of simple justice to ensure that people there know their long history and thus that it would represent something similar to what the Sakha have done in Yakutia (
            “No one knows from where or even when we took the name Tuva or Tyva and what this means. I have nothing against it,” he continued, “but Uryankhai is closer to my heart.”  Some Tuvans, like Sholban Kara-ool in 2014, have called for this change but not gotten enough support to allow it to happen.

            But “perhaps now,” Irgit says, “this idea has matured and it is time finally to return the true name of the republic to it and to us.” 

            The very idea has outraged some Russians who see in it an effort to mobilize those in Tuva who would like independence or a move by forces in Mongolia or China to reacquire a territory they lost a century ago.  These objections are highlighted in an article by the Regnum news agency’s Siberian editorial staff this week (

            Boris Myshlyavtsev, a Russian ethnographer, says there is no good reason for renaming Tuva. The name, which derives from local toponymy, is ancient; and no one calls the place Uryankhai now except for the Republic of China on Taiwan.  More important, no one in Tuvan calls himself or herself a Uryankhai.

            But the lack of obvious support for the idea does not mean that it should not be nipped in the bud, Anatoly Savostin, a Russian political scientist says. Such “initiatives,” he argues, are designed to “group together definite forces inclined to greater independence in the framework of the state.”

            “It is not excluded,” he continues, “that after renaming it Uryankhai, some will begin to speak about the need to shift [from the Cyrillic] to the Latin script and so on.”  At the very least, all such things will introduce splits within Tuvan society, and such dangers should be a matter of concern for the security services.