Thursday, February 22, 2018

Has Moscow Peeled Off Another Country from Anti-Moscow Block in Post-Soviet Space?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 22 -- Moscow is reading Azerbaijan’s decision not to take part in a Chisinau meeting on March 2 with the Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia as the end of GUAM, the association of countries that seeks membership in Western institutions rather than being dominated by Moscow.

            That will transform GUAM into GUM, Bogdan Bezpalko of the Russian Presidential Council on International Relations says because the enterprise in the Moldovan capital in partnership with the Atlantic Council “bears an openly anti-Russian character and Azerbaijan does not want to take part in it” ( 

            “Up to now,” the Russian commentator says, “all attempts to create anti-Russian blocks on the post-Soviet space have ended in failure, chiefly because the idea of opposing Russia comes from the West and contradicts the economic interests of the post-Soviet republics not one of which is in a full sense its own actor and independent.”

            Bezpalko adds: “Accusations against Russia that it is interfering with ‘the European choice’ of former republics of the USSR are invented.”  Those countries which want to work with European institutions are free to do so, but those that do have in every case, he says, suffered economically.

            The Kremlin would certainly like to see GUAM collapse. It celebrated the decision of Uzbekistan which joined the association in 1999 to pull out of that grouping in 2002. And it is clearly pleased that Azerbaijan appears to be following along the road of Uzbekistan now.

            But Moscow may be counting its chickens before they are hatched: Azer Kerimli, the head of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of GUAM says that the Chisinau meeting “is occurring outside of the GUAM format” between three countries which have signed association agreements with the EU.

            Azerbaijan ahs not, but “we will continue to work in the Parliamentary Assembly,” the Azerbaijani diplomat said. About that, “there are here no issues

Had Moscow Not Deported North Caucasians, World War II Might have Ended a Year Earlier, Khasbulatov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 22 – Almost 50 years ago, a prominent American specialist on the Soviet Union said the difference between Hitler and Stalin could be summed up in the following way: If Hitler’s generals had told him that he would lose the war by using railroads to send Jews to death camps, Hitler would have chosen to kill the Jews even at the cost of military victory.

            Stalin, Jeremy Azrael said, would have made the opposite choice. He would instead have stopped deporting non-Russian groups he didn’t like in order to ensure that his generals would win the war, reckoning that he would always have time to do with the peoples of the Soviet Union after he and they had done so.

            Many scholars both in the West and in Russia would still agree with that assessment, but a new article by Yeltsin opponent Ruslan Khasbulatov argues that Stalin and his secret police chief Lavrenty Beria were so committed to deporting peoples from the Caucasus that they acted in ways that delayed their defeat of Hitler by a year and cost the Soviet people untold suffering.

            In an article for Nezavisimaya gazeta corresponding to the anniversary of the deportation of the Chechens and Ingush in February 1944, Khasbulatov, who is of mixed Chechen and Russian background, argues Beria and Stalin held back troops that should have been used against the Germans to deport the North Caucasians (

                He says that Beria when questioned after his arrest following the death of Stalin admitted as much about the 120,000 Soviet troops he didn’t commit to fighting the Germans. “These divisions were prepared,” he told his inquisitors, “for conducting the operation for deporting the Chechens and the Ingush.”

            According to Khabulatov, Beria’s words were half true and half false. On the one hand, there is clear evidence that Stalin planned to deport the North Caucasians well before he did it. But on the other, Beria held the troops back so that he rather than the generals could gain glory later. Anyone else who had done so would have been sacked, but Stalin protected Beria and thus shares responsibility for his actions.

                Had Beria and Stalin committed the 120,000 Soviet forces against the Germans when they were critically needed, Khasbulatov says, the Germans would have lost and fled from the Caucasus.  “Most probably,” he continues, “the war would have ended a year earlier and all of Germany would have passed under the control of the Soviet Army.”

            That they were not committed but instead retained for selfish ambition and the deportation of the Chechens and Ingush, the commentator says, is “the most serious state crime and testimony of the complete inadequacy not only of Beria but also of Stalin” as a military commander.

            Instead of fighting Germans, Beria’s lieutenants in the NKVD spent their time in Grozny inventing conspiracies and planting false papers. Most of the names in them weren’t genuine because most Chechen and Ingush men were, unlike the Soviet secret policemen, in the ranks of the Soviet army fighting the enemy as became clear in the 1960s and 1970s.

            “The deportation of the Chechen-Ingush people, one of the most ancient in the Caucasus and very close to the Georgians who came to their aide when they landed in misfortune” was undertaken by Stalin and Beria who thought “exclusively about their own skins” and not about their country.  They proved “more Russian” than the worst Russian nationalist as a result.

            Their crimes, Khasbulatov argues, “should be qualified as genocide. Stalin and Beria are the greatest criminals. This isn’t to deny their outstanding role in the history of the USSR. However even Hitler played an outstanding role in the history of Germany having done much of use for the German people” despite his crimes.

            “Stalin and Beria are criminals also because over their long period in power, they trained” a cohort of leaders who shared their contempt for human life and tried to “introduce into the fabric of the Soviet man the gene of obedience and servility toward those in power.”  And that has left an impact that still must be addressed.

            What is needed, Khasbulatov says, is “the adoption of a law establishing criminal prosecution for any attempt to justify the deportation of peoples.” Such an action would have a much more significant impact on Stalinism than calls for “’repentance’” ever will. 

            “But the most important thing is that this law will bring a certain peace into our complex poly-ethnic society, and today that is something everyone needs, including those at the very top of the political pyramid.”

Russian State Cult of Cyrillic Alphabet a Relatively Recent Development, Bagdasarov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 22 -- Moscow’s extremely harsh response to Kazakhstan’s decision to shift from a Cyrillic-based script to a Latin-based alphabet obscures the fact that the state cult around Cyrillic is a relatively recent development and only took its current form under Vladimir Putin, according to Roman Bagdasarov.

            In today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta, the historian points out that alphabets always trail the spoken language and that “the periodic reforming of language is natural,” although because of the role of the state in education,  it is something that is invariably “politicized” (

                Over the course of Russian history, Bagdasarov says, “language reform has marked the change of the state system: the secularization of the alphabet under Petr I, the shock linguistic construction in the USSR, and finally, the transformation of Cyrillic into a (so far) unofficial symbol of present-day Russian statehood alongside the official flag, hymn and coat of arms.”

            Among the state-supported celebrations that mark this latest development, he continues, are the establishment of May 24th as the Day of Slavic Writing and Culture, various campaigns against the Latin script as now regarding Kazakhstan, and the legal specification of Cyrillic as the alphabet not only of Russia but of its republics in 2002.

            In many ways, Bagdasarov says, “the most surprising” event is the Day of Slavic First Teachers Kirill and Mefodius, who “according to the overwhelming opinion of scholars invented not Cyrillic but Glagolithic, which is used today by the Croatian Greek Catholics [only] on very big holidays.”

             This “state cult of the Cyrilllic alphabet and its transformation into one of the bindings [of the Russian people] is an invention of the late Soviet period,” the scholar continues. Yes, the tsarist administration limited the use of the Latin script, but it more than tolerated the use of the Latin script for French in which many documents were written.

            “Russian apologists of Cyrillic are not inclined to remember that the texts of the classics of the 18th to the beginning of the 20th centuries were written in another orthography, and its sovietization became an intentional change of the ‘bourgeois’ cultural heritage and its ‘worker-peasant’ adaptation.”

            For many Russians now, however, this “Sovietized Cyrillic script is viewed almost as a civilizational code.”

            The situation in Kazakhstan is completely the opposite, Bagdasarov says. “For this country as for the majority of other Turkic language countries, the symbol of state and ‘civilizational’ sovereignty has become the Roman alphabet (the Latin script).”

            That is because, he continues, “if there is a Russian world, then there is also a Turkic world: If someone wants to revive the unity of Slavic peoples, then why should Turkic peoples not think about their unity – all the more so since this unity in the 1920s was part of the conception of the nationality policy of the Country of the Soviets.”

            “If someone were to decide to create a Day of Turkic Writing and Culture, then undoubtedly it would become November 1, 1928, when the parliament of the Republic of Turkey unanimously voted fore a law on the transition from Arabic to the Roman alphabet,” a step that played “a decisive role for the new Turkic alphabets for the Turkic peoples of the Soviet Union.

            After having promoted this shift to the Latin script for the Turkic peoples within its borders in order to “justify aggression toward its neighbors, “the Bolsheviks in the mid-1930s became convinced that they couldn’t control these processes” and imposed Cyrillic-based scripts on the languages of these peoples.

             (The only case where Moscow’s early promotion or tolerance of the Latin script had any positive consequences from its point of view, Bagdasarov says, was with in Karelia where the Finnish language was written in Latin script and this fact used as “a propaganda argument” during the Soviet-Finnish war of 1939-1940.)

            A major reason why Moscow has been against the use of Latin script by the Turkic peoples both within Russia and within the former Soviet space is that the Latin script makes them more similar one to another and thus promotes horizontal ties. The Cyrillic scripts Moscow imposed promoted distinctions which are quickly lost with the Latin.

            The efforts of the Kazan Tatars to move to Latin script in the 1990s were blocked, and today, only Karelian is written in the Latin script, one of the reasons why it is “the only language of the titular ethnos of a republic that has not been given state status.” Crimean Tatar in the occupied Ukrainian peninsula is now written in a Cyrillic-based script.

            Alphabets are closely tied to the issue of disappearing languages, Bagdasarov says. If the Turkic peoples or the Finno-Ugric peoples could establish common scripts, something they could easily do with Latin-based alphabets, they would have a better chance of survival. But so far, he says with apparent regret, no one is focusing on that possibility.