Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin Can Retain Power Only with War and Violence, Podrabinek Says

Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 17 – Vladimir Putin has no need of Chechnya, Abkhazia, South Osetia or Crimea, Aleksandr Podrabinek says. He has moved against all of them “not for territory but for his own self-assertion and personal power, things which only the state of war can guarantee him.”

 

            That is how he began his rise to supreme power in 1999 with the apartment bombings, the Moscow commentator says in an essay on Grani.ru, and that is how he will continue in Ukraine and elsewhere given that, to use George Orwell’s expression, he is interested only in building and retaining personal power (grani.ru/opinion/podrabinek/m.233046.html).

 

            “The shedding of blood preceded Putin’s ascent to power,” Podrabinek says. And “this was not an accidental coincidence: it was a necessary condition for his rise.” In his case as in many others, “war became the occasion for a change in power and a change in course.”

 

            To have a war, he needed “a casus belli,” and he “did not look for one but created it,” blowing up the apartment buildings in Buinaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk and only failing to blow up another in Ryazan when alert citizens sounded the alarm that the local police arrested and then were forced to release FSB officers who had planted the bomb.

 

            “On that very same day, September 23 [1999], the first bombing raids were made on Grozny. More bombings followed and “thus began the second war in Chechnya,” whose conduct was now in the hands of “a young, energetic and decisive president.”

 

            There is no other explanation than official involvement for what happened in Ryazan, but Russians prefer “not to remember” or if they must to do so “exclusively in an emotional key and not in an analytical one. Unfortunately, this is the normal way of things in Russia,” the Grani commentator says.

 

            Efforts to find out the truth were quickly drowned out by meetings about the tragedies. “Such is the nature of our national character,” Podrabinek says. “The beauty of suffering overwhelms everything else – justice, curiosity, honor and duty before those who have died.” Ceremonies are enough to get Russians to come to terms with their past as officials want.

 

            But 15 years on, “an understanding of the events of the fall of 1999 is essential in order to correctly evaluate the moving forces of Putin’s current policy.” That was when the Putin era began. It “began with terrorist acts and wars.” Indeed, it was precisely those that allowed Putin to come to power and “in a planned fashion take civil rights away from society.”

 

            In the intervening period, “each military event and each terrorist act has been used by [Putin] to tighten the screws still more, to make the laws harsher and to strengthen his personal power.  War is his life, his means of existence. It is a pretext for the salvation of society … Only in an atmosphere of war can he exist.”

 

            “Peaceful life is full of political discussions and elections,” a state which Putin will find himself on the losing end and he “understand this” very well. He always has and always will need an enemy.” Even when he installed the superficially more liberal Medvedev in his place, Putin “compensated with a war with Georgia.”

 

            “In the absence of a foreign enemy,” Putin is “ready to use the image of an internal one,” throwing “healthy national forces” against those as well.  He need only shout “’The Fatherland is In Danger!’” and this lumpen including former military personnel, imperialists, fascists and radical Orthodox will “joyously” throw themselves against that enemy too.

 

            No one should forget that this is Putin’s “cadres reserve, his last hope for preserving power if it suddenly turns out that he doesn’t have enough forces to withstand a foreign enemy.”  That is how he began and that is how he is continuing, Podrabinek says, concluding that to keep himself in power forever, “force [too] is not a goal but [only] a means.”

 

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Following Tatars, Bashkirs Want Republic Presidency Kept As Well


Paul Goble

           

                Staunton, September 17 – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s suggestion at the end of August that the people of Tatarstan should have the right to decide the title of their republic leader (business-gazeta.ru/article/112750/) has opened a Pandora’s box with some in other republics now demanding the retention of the title “president” for themselves.

 

Yesterday, Murtaza Rakhimov, the former president of Bashkortostan, said that his republic must seek to have a president just “like in Tatarstan” because the substitute title some Bashkirs have proposed isn’t appropriate.  The title “president” must be retained. To do otherwise, he said, would mean that “the system” and not the people has the last word (prokazan.ru/news/view/94977).

 

            Putin and his advisors may think that this is a small thing, something that will mollify non-Russian leaders at a time when the Kremlin continues to push for greater centralization, but in fact, it is likely to spark a new round of debates and demands for more authority to be given to the republics.

 

            If as seems certain Moscow resists that, then tensions between the center and the Russian Federation’s non-Russian republics are likely to continue to grow, quite possibly sparking a new round of declarations like the sovereignty declarations that spread across the RSFSR at the end of Soviet times.

Window on Eurasia: Crimea Shows Russia Can Absorb South Osetia Now without Worrying about West, Amelina Says


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 17 – Russia can annex South Osetia without worrying about the reaction of the West, Yana Amelina says, but it must do so in the near future or both Russia and South Osetia will face “quite dangerous geopolitical explosions” in the Caucasus given the reordering of power relations in that region.

 

            Amelina, a senior researcher at the influential Russian Institute for Strategic Studies and longtime advocate of the annexation of South Osetia, told Osetian Radio that both Russians and Osetians would benefit and thus “the sooner South Osetia is reunited with Russia the better” (osradio.ru/tema_dnia/74317-jana-amelina-esli-v-obozrimom-budushhem-ne.html).

 

            She said that most Osetians have long wanted this and that “now many Osetian politicians and activists in North and South Osetia, including those who earlier supported the development and strengthening of independence consider that a suitable moment [for re-unification] has come and that the issue must be resolved.”

 

            Amelina argued as she has often over the past several years that the Osetians would benefit because their “divided” people would be reunited, their security issues would finally and completely be addressed, and they would see their economy boom because of its inclusion in the larger Russian market.

 

            At the same time, she said, Russians now would welcome such a move. “After the return of Crimea,” she said, questions like “’but what will the West say’” have lost their importance.  “The patriotic wave which has swept over all of Russia with the Crimean events clearly testifies that the inclusion of the Republic of South Osetia would be received in a positive way.”

 

            But Amelina warned that there is only a narrow window for Russia to act.  “If in the foreseeable future reunification does not take place, then South Osetia will encounter sufficiently dangerous geopolitical challenges” and those challenges will inevitably affect the Russian Federation as well.

 

            Given that in her words “small states” like Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia “objectively do not have the geopolitical, human, material and moral resources needed for full-scale development,” it is “obvious” that outside powers are going to play an increasing role there. Russia must take the lead, she says, and annex South Osetia.

 

Window on Eurasia: ISIS, Led by Militants from Former Soviet Republics, Preparing to Attack in Russia’s Muslim Regions, Moscow Experts Say


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 17 – Many of the leaders of the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria come from Muslim regions of the Russian Federation, and they plan to launch attacks in its regions, coming in via Afghanistan and Central Asia rather than the more direct but more difficult route across Turkey and Iran, according to Moscow experts.

 

            Both the danger of such new jihadist attacks in Russia and this route help to explain, commentator Ruslan Gorevoy says in surveying this expert community, why Moscow has been devoting so much attention to improving security in Central Asia in the hopes of stopping ISIS militants there (versia.ru/articles/2014/sep/15/dzhihad_dlya_rossii).

 

                ISIS has two centers of power, Gorevoy says, the main Iraqi one and the shadowy Syrian one.  Most reportage has focused on the former and largely ignored the latter. “Why? Because almost all of its leadership without exception are people from the Soviet Union,” who “speak Russian,” and who know “about all our realities.”

 

            According to the Kurdistan-24 news agency, “up to 80 percent of ISIS groups in Syria are former residents of the North Caucasus and the republics of the Middle Volga.”  The remaining 20 percent, it says, “are former citizens of the Soviet republics of Central Asia. These people speak Russian more often than Arabic among themselves.”

 

            The Central Asian countries have not been able to establish tight control over their borders, even when Moscow has provided as it has in the case of Tajikistan military units. As a result, terrorists can cross them easily and with impunity, and that is the first stage in a campaign against Russia itself, Gorevoy suggests.

 

            He points with alarm to the recent “loss” in Kazakhstan of a 50 kilogram container of Cesium 137, something officials have tried to minimize but in fact likely is the work of terrorists, including those with links to ISIS. As a result, the commentator says, ISIS is approaching Russia’s borders and with nuclear bomb-making materials.

 

            A major reason for the large number of Central Asians and North Caucasians in ISIS, he continues, is that the group pays well. Kyrgyz members are paid on the order of 5,000 US dollars a month, more than twice what gastarbeiters from that Central Asian country could earn in Moscow or other Russian cities.

 

            When they return home, he continues, at least some of these people are prepared to continue the fight for ISIS as recent arrests and seizures of arms in Kyrgyzstan demonstate.

 

            Russian officials have put on a brave face about this, with Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov saying that he can take care of any ISIS operatives who may appear. But experts are less sure about that, at least over the longer term.

 

            Denis Maltsev, a senior researcher at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, says that ISIS does not threaten Russia directly at present but that it does threaten to destabilize Russia’s neighbors. And that in turn means, he concludes, that the terrorist threat inside Russia will grow. “It is only a question of time.”

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Russian Government’s Ignorance about Its Own Population having Tragic Consequences


Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 17 – If an ordinary Russian doesn’t know the exact population of Moscow, that is a shortcoming but not a tragedy. But if the Russian government “doesn’t know how many people live in a small village, that is a tragedy because as a result, “doctors, teachers, policemen and then the entire population disappear.”

 

            That is the sobering conclusion offered by Nadezhda Petrova in the current issue of “Kommersant Dengi” where she shows that the Russian statistical agency frequently does not know such things and that Russians are suffering both immediately and over the longer term (kommersant.ru/doc/2558368).

 

            Petrova gives as an example of this a rural settlement in Vologda oblast where there are two nurses stations, two libraries, one school, five stores, 2.4 kilometers of paved roads, and 566 residents in 57 villages spread over a territory of 461 square kilometers.

 

            According to local officials there are in fact about 100 additional residents but because they were not counted by the census and recorded by Rosstat, the district’s aid from the center is based on the smaller number and the services available to the population are thus significantly smaller than they should be.

 

            Moscow experts say that for every 100 people not counted, districts are not given on average one million rubles (25,000 US dollars), a figure that may seem small but that cuts into all public services and leads private firms to pull out of these regions as well. And this combined trend continues to push down population in Russia’s rural areas.

 

            And these experts say that in their experience, “there is no case when the data Rosstat provides coincide with the data gathered by local officials,” typically in the form of economic books which were introduced in 1934 and largely used until 2010. But there is also no case where decisions are made by Moscow on the basis of the latter rather than on the former.

 

            In that latter year, experts and officials say, Moscow decided to ignore the economic books and rely on Rosstat alone.

 

            This pattern is having a “multiplier” effect, driving down resources for rural areas and “forcing the process of the depopulation of rural localities,” experts say.  That is because “in all cases,” Moscow provides aid that is leads to cutbacks in basic services greater than the current declines in population.

 

            Some in rural areas suspect that Moscow wants to depopulate the countryside and thus is quite content with this arrangement, and they point out that the inability of local officials to cope with the existing level of population given that the center says it is lower allows Moscow to claim that local governments are incapable of managing the situation.

 

            In the words of one, “in this way, the authorities continue to centralize” everything.

 

            There are only two ways out of the situation, Petrova says: change the way that money is allocated to the localities or improve the quality of statistics. The first is almost impossible given that the country is so large, but improving statistics may be almost impossible, at least given the attitude of Rosstat.

 

            The statistical administration’s solution to undercounts? Impose higher fines on those not counted by the census even though Rosstat can’t say either who they are or how many they are with any degree of accuracy.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin Demand for Role in Ukrainian Affairs ‘Unheard Of,’ Former Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Says

Paul Goble

 

            Staunton, September 16 – Moscow’s demands for a voice in the definition of the policies of the Ukrainian state are “something unheard of in the contemporary world," Georgy Kunadze, who served as deputy foreign minister of the Russian Federation at the beginning of the Yeltsin period, says.

 

            “It is impossible to satisfy them,” he continues in the course of a wide-ranging interview posted on Profile.ru yesterday. And when they are not satisfied, “when they are rejected,” everyone knows what that will mean (profile.ru/rossiya/item/86016-v-perspektive-vozvrashchenie-kryma-neizbezhno).

 

            Making such demands in fact is simply the latest indication that the Kremlin’s policy toward Ukraine reflects not careful calculation but rather is “improvised,” Kunadze says. As Putin himself has acknowledged, he didn’t originally intend to annex Crimea but when that became possible, he moved ahead anyway.

 

            One can only hope, the former Russian diplomat says, that this action will not be repeated in an attempt to gain a land corridor to Crimea or to go even further to reach Transdniestria.

 

            As to Ukraine’s future, Kunadze continues, it will be able to retain its formal status as an independent state much as Moldova has.  But at the same time, it has “a not bad future” ahead of it. It will never be a police or fascist state, and now as a result of the conflict Russia unleashed, Ukraine “will be a much more firmly consolidated state” because “for the first time after acquiring independence, tens of millions of Ukrainians have recognized themselves as a nation.”

 

            Kunadze says he does not know whether Crimea will be returned to Ukraine. Some say this is impossible, but they would also have said a few months ago that the annexation of Crimea by Russia was impossible. Thus, at some point, “the return of Crimea is inevitable,” although that will take place only after there are serious changes in Russia itself.

 

            The real question, he continues, is “whether the current Russian authorities will make peace with the very fact of the existence of an independent democratic Ukraine.”  Given the links between them, that is far from certain as the recent actions of the Kremlin indicate, and it could become even more difficult for Russia to tolerate in the future.

 

            ‘If a country as similar to us as Ukraine is will be able earlier than we to overcome the post-Soviet syndrome and to become a successful contemporary state, its example could prove infectious for Russia. In this case, the victory of Ukraine [would be] a stimulus for changes in Russia,” Kunadze says.

 

            The former diplomat says he hopes very much that Moscow will not try to apply its Ukrainian approach in Kazakhstan or elsewhere. Trying to do so, he suggests, would be “a catastrophe.”  But given the direction Putin has moved first in Georgia and now in Ukraine, there is reason to fear that he will not stop.

 

            What Putin has done and is doing is against Russian interests, Kunadze says. He mentions that during perestroika, Georgy Arbatov of the Institute for the Study of the United States and Canada liked to say that Moscow was planning to do the very worst thing it could to the Americans – “deprive [them] of an enemy.”

 

            Gorbachev and Yeltsin did a great deal to do just that.  As a result of the American “loss” of its main opponent, Russians “initiated the process of the decentralization of international relations and political globalization.”  But now Moscow is moving in exactly the opposite direction, giving the US and the West “their historic main enemy.”

 

            And what that means, Kunadze says, is that Russia by its own actions has “initiated the process of what is in essence the anti-Russian consolidation of the West.  The consequences of this process can be catastrophic for our foreign policy and with a small lag for our domestic ones.”

 

            Russia simply doesn’t have the resources to compete, Kunadze says, except in a single area – nuclear weapons – and such weapons are “an instrument not of policy but only and uniquely of constraint.” They are “our final suicidal trump card which guarantees that no one will try to seize Moscow.”

 

            Moreover, he continues, Russia has lost the “soft force” war by its actions. It cannot attract anyone to its banner but instead pushes people away. In the end, Russia “won’t be able to win in Ukraine. This issue instead is whether it will be able to lose in a worthy fashion” and thus escape the disastrous situation its own policies have created.

 

 

 

Window on Eurasia: Russian Occupation Further Tightens the Noose around Crimean Tatars


Paul Goble

           

Staunton, September 16 – In the wake of the Russian-organized elections, the Russian occupation authorities raided the offices of the Crimean Tatar Milli Mejlis and those of the Crimean Tatar newspaper, “Avdet,” the latest indication that Moscow plans to suppress any and all independent Crimean Tatar activity on the Ukrainian peninsula.

 

This latest manifestation of lawlessness – which was in part carried out by masked men rather than police in regular uniform – represents, Crimean Tatar activist Kurtseit Abdullayev says, “a direct attack on the Crimean Tatar people,” because “the Mejlis is [their] only representative organ” (http://ua.krymr.com/content/article/26586784.html).

 

He suggested that the raids, which apparently sought to find banned Islamic literature and which led to the confiscation of some computers, had been launched because the Milli Mejlis and its leaders Refat Chubarov and Mustafa Cemilev had successfully called for a boycott of last weekend’s vote.

 

Fewer than half of eligible voters took part – people could vote if they showed a Russian passport or residence document – and a far smaller share of Crimean Tatars did.  Yesterday, Catherine Ashton, EU foreign affairs chief, said “the European Union does not recognize the legal basis or the legitimacy of these elections” (grani.ru/Politics/Russia/m.233035.html).