Sunday, April 19, 2015

Russian Who Went to Fight in Donbas Says He was ‘Not in an Army but in a Criminal Band’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 19 – Bondo Dorovskikh, a Russian businessman, volunteered to go to Ukraine to “fight fascism” and defend  “the Russian idea;” but he says he rapidly discovered the situation in the Donbas was not as he had been led to expect and that he had been enrolled “not in an army but in a criminal band.”

            His testimony on this point, given in a 3,000-word interview with Radio Liberty, provides both a frightening glimpse into the world of the pro-Moscow statelets in southeastern Ukraine and an encouraging indication that ever more Russians are appalled not only by what officials there are doing but also by what Moscow is saying (

            “I really thought,” Dorovskikh said, “that Russia was in danger, that mercenaries were fighting there and trying to seize our country, that the Donbas is Russia’s advance post where we must stand and defend our interests. Only having crossed the border did we see literally within the first five minutes” that this was not the case.

             Russian television exerted a powerful influence on him, the former volunteer says. Had it not presented its version of reality, he would never have thought of going to the Donbas to fight. Now, he said, he recognizes how distorted an account it offered and offers about events in Ukraine.

            His recruitment to the Donbas cause was simple; indeed, he said he was shocked that there was no more checking about the people who signed up than there was. “More than that, there were cases when someone with a Xerox copy of documents” but not the real ones crossed the border.” Once in the Donbas itself, no one asked more than one’s name.

            The organizers handed out guns without any particular checking of the abilities of those to whom they were given, Dorovskikh continued. They handed out the guns only on Ukrainian territory, but the division of volunteers into the various forces such as the Specter Brigade into which he went took place in Russia, in Rostov oblast.

             In that brigade,he said there were “several Russian cadres officers, but most of the band members were local people, with only ten to 30 percent consisting of volunteers from Russia. Some of the band members sold their weapons for cash; others apparently used them for the same end. But still others seemed very interested in learning how to fight.

              Neither the hierarchies of the DNR or LNR were especially happy with independent battalions like the one he was in nor were the ordinary people in the areas in which they operated.  One woman, for example, told Dorovskikh “We don’t need Putin; [and] we don’t want to be in Russia.”

Most of the people in his band, he continued, were indifferent to politics. Many of them had criminal backgrounds; and those that did devoted a great deal of time to searching out for former militiamen, perhaps for revenge. In all things, “they were far from politics” and were interested only in having an adventure or engaging in violence.

As far as the future is concerned, he said, “if Russia had not gotten involved, [the self-proclaimed republics] wouldn’t have happened. Russia is inclined to support this movement further and therefore the fighters will hold on for a long time yet.”

Dorovskikh said he “would advise people not to go to the Donbas. This is false patriotism. There is no Russia there. Instead, what is going on is real aggression. More than that, if you go, you will simply become part of a band.” Any volunteer would certainly not have anything to do with “defending the Motherland.”

Russians have been shown on television something that looks like the Great Fatherland War,” he said. But in reality, the conflict in Ukraine is “real aggression. We came to this territory, and the Russian authorities are supporting terror. If we hadn’t gone there, if Russia hadn’t gotten involved, there wouldn’t have been thousands of dead.”

 “In general,” he concludes, “there wouldn’t have been any of this” in Ukraine.





Moscow Lacks Available Forces to Seize and Hold Baltics, Estonian Military Expert Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 19 – Yury Dolinsky, a Russian analyst who specializes on the Baltic countries, says that most residents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, however much they say they are worried about the Russian threat, believe that their membership in NATO will keep Moscow from invading or force Moscow to withdraw if it does invade to test the Western alliance.


            But Jaan Murumets, a senior Estonian military analyst who now works at Tallinn’s Center for Defense Studies, says that there is another reason why Russia will not invade: it lacks the available forces to seize and then hold the territory of the three countries and control their borders (


            In remarks widely quoted in the Estonian and Russian media, Murumets said that a rapid Russian invasion and re-occupation of the Baltic countries “would be physically impossible.” Moscow would need “a minimum” of two divisions for each of these tasks, something it does not currently have available.


            Moreover, “one should not forget,” the Estonian defense analyst continues, “that Lithuania’s border with Russia is only with East Prussia [that is, Russia’s Kaliningrad oblast].  Moscow would thus need the territory of Belarus for any such large operation. How prepared is the political leadership of Belarus to participate in such an adventure?”


            Murumets concedes that “Estonia itself could not give a worthy response in the event of an invasion by the Russian Federation and that Russian forces are in a position to seize Tallinn, Paldiski and other key points, but not for long.”  Russia lacks the troops to support such an occupation and Estonia has resources of its own.


            The Estonian analyst’s words appear to be a kind of refutation of the conclusion of Zbigniew Brzezinski who said not long ago that “One fine day, that is, literally in one day, Putin will simply seize Riga and Tallinn. Then we will say how horrible that is and how upset we are … But of course, we will not be able to do anything about it.”


            Murumets, in fact, is making another and more important point.  Militarily, Russia is overextended given its campaign in Ukraine. But by suggesting that Moscow isn’t in a position to openly invade Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, he is in effect urging them and their Western supporters to focus on the other steps Moscow can take against them.


Not long ago, the Estonian defense analyst suggested that Russia would be unlikely to invade. Instead, he argued, Moscow almost certainly would use an indirect or “soft” approach, one that subverted the existing order of one or more of the three but in a manner unlikely to lead NATO to invoke Article Five.


            The Baltic militaries and NATO forces are focused on how to prevent or repel a Russian invasion.  What Murumets is insisting on is that Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians need to focus on all the domestic divisions Moscow has exploited and could be expected to exploit further in the future.


            If Russian tanks came over the borders of the Baltic countries, their militaries would certainly fight and NATO might come in. But if Moscow uses television broadcasts, corruption, and the other features of Vladimir Putin’s “hybrid war” to undermine them, neither the Baltic armies nor NATO are likely going to be in a position to respond.         


            Consequently, while Murumets is almost certainly correct that Moscow won’t invade Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, he is even more correct in suggesting that the three and their supporters in the West need to think about more than the use of military power to deter and repel Russian aggression.


            During World War II, US General George Patton observed that with tanks, fixed fortifications had ceased to be effective: mobile war allowed anyone who understood the situation to go around them. Now, it is time to recognize that military forces, however important they are, cannot be the only focus of defense: an opponent like Putin will simply go around them.

Russian Citizens Find a Substitute for Elections: Protests Demanding Ouster of Incumbents

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 18 – Vladimir Putin’s efforts to exclude the people of the Russian Federation from voting on the heads of federal subjects may be backfiring because it is leading some citizens there to take to the streets to demand that their current regional rulers be ousted and gaining confidence in their power, a development that can hardly please the Kremlin.


            Two such protests-as-substitutes-for-elections have just occurred, one in the Republic of Karelia and a second in Perm kray.  In Petrozavodsk, 150 Karelians took part in a follow-up meeting to demand the retirement or ouster of incumbent Karelian Republic head Aleksandr Khudilaynen (


            Two weeks ago, Karelians assembled in front of the republic government headquarters to demand the release of two Yabloko activists and the departure of Khudilaynen.  “The demands of the picketers have not changed,” a blogger said, but “what has changes is the attitude of the people: Unlike at the meeting two weeks ago, there were many more smiles and jokes.”


            The reason is that Khudilaynen’s regime met one of their demands: Olga Zaletsky and Aleksandr Kornilova have been released; and the demonstrators are “certain” that their activism and nothing else led to that outcome. But Khudilaynen is still in office and there are no elections. As a result, organizers say, “mass actions in the Karelian capital will continue.”


            Sergey Popkov, an ecologist and civic activist, says that “all of us together will mark the May holidays and the Day of victory, and then we will continue our protest campaign. We still don’t know how the new republic law on meetings will work … but “the more the authorities attempt to prevent protests … the greater will be the resonance.”


            He adds that from now on, “the activity of the protesters will be coordinated by a public committee ‘For the Retirement of the Current Governor’ that was set up a few days ago.” Its membership include “about ten people, including public figures and deputies, journalists and entrepreneurs.”


            “Our goal is the conduct of free, independent and honest elections for the leader of the region. For us what is important is the holding of elections and not the specific candidates who will take part in them. It is important that residents of the republic take responsibility for the life in the region.”  At the same time, he says, there are many possible challengers.


            Meanwhile, a meeting of an estimated 220 to 400 people in Perm took place to complain about rising prices, unfilled promises from the government, and problems with industry there and to demand that the kray’s governor, Viktor Basargin, leave office ( and


            Sergey Ukhov, one of the organizers of the meeting, says he and others taking part had complained to the police about a group of unidentified people who sought to disrupt the action by handing out placards containing “negative information about certain of the organizers of the action.”




Kremlin’s Five Top Lies Last Week about Ukraine

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 19 – As it has taken to doing, Kyiv’s “Delovaya stolitsa” newspaper publishes today a list of “the top five propagandistic myths, fakes and stupidities of the Kremlin” for the past week.  Obviously, given the barrage of Moscow’s lies about Ukraine, these lists are highly selective, but they are also extremely instructive.


            This week’s “TOP-5” list, compiled by Dmitry Bukovsky, contains the following items (


  1. Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the Moscow-installed leader of the self-proclaimed DNR, repeated his claim that his “’forces’” are about to attack the Ukrainian city of Mariupol and said they would take it “without serious resistance” ( The DNR head has made this threat before, and his “’forces’” have found it hard to advance anywhere. They would certainly face resistance in Mariupol. The only reason this is a matter of concern is that it was reported by a Western news agency in an uncritical way.
  2. The Moscow newspaper “Gazeta” reported that Greece’s defense minister had told journalists that “the Greek population in Crimea had been subject to attacks by the fascist government of Ukraine, and the presence of Russian forces became a defense for Greek families” (  The Greek embassy in Kyiv says the minister never said that and that in any case there were no such problems. What is disturbing is that this made-up statement was carried by a ordinarily much-respected Moscow paper and may be taken on faith by its readers in Russia and elsewhere.
  3. Igor Martynov, who heads the Russian occupation office in Donetsk, says that he plans to restore that “’capital of ‘the DNR’ to is former status as ‘the city of a million roses,’” something that he almost certainly cannot afford to do and a step that could only be taken if the regime shifted funds away from the people for this stunt (  “The separatists have money,” Bukovsky says, “but not for the support of the poor.”
  4. Despite claims by DNR officials, there have been no pitched battles between units of the Armed forces of Ukraine and Ukrainian “’volunteer’ punitive battalions,”  a claim pro-Moscow groups have put out in the past in the hopes of provoking them or leading Kyiv to disarm and disband these units (
  5. And in a theme that Soviet and now Russian propagandists have not been able to resist, the ‘Russian Force” website has claimed that “’four American soldiers raped two [Ukrainian] underage girls” ( The Russian site despite a complete lack of evidence reported that local people had protested and forced Ukrainian officials to investigate. The latter concluded, the Russian site says, that the Americans were guilty but could do nothing because of the soldiers’ supposed “full diplomatic immunity.”

25 Years Ago, Gorbachev’s Economic Blockade Failed to Keep Lithuania in the USSR

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 19 – On April 18, 1990, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev imposed an economic blockade on Lithuania, an action that harmed the USSR as much as it hurt Lithuania but that did nothing to dissuade Lithuanians from seeking the recovery of their independence – a reminder of the limits of economic actions when a people is committed to political goals.


            Following the victory of the Sajudis movement in the elections for the Supreme Council of Lithuania at the end of February 1990, the Lithuanian parliament declared the restoration of the independence on March 11, pointing out that the Soviet constitutions allowed union republics to leave the USSR if they chose to do so(


            Four days later, Moscow’s answer arrived: The Soviet government said that such an exit could be possible only after a new Soviet law governing such a step was adopted. Gorbachev for his part publicly called for talks, even as he was conducting secret negotiations with Lithuanian Communist Party head Algirdas Brazauskas concerning independence.


            The Lithuanians refused to back down and so Moscow issued an ultimatum on April 13: drop all talk about independence or face economic sanctions in the form of a blockade. Again, Vilnius did not retreat, and the Soviet government introduced sanctions against Lithuania as of April 18.


            The Soviet blockade of a republic Moscow viewed as being part of the USSR began with restrictions on the supply of oil and gas to Lithuania, then other products and raw materials were added. Not surprisingly, prices for these goods shot up and forced the Lithuanian Supreme Council to introduce rationing. Gorbachev then introduced a naval blockade there.


            But the Soviet blockade quickly backfired on Moscow, not only because it limited the Soviet government’s ability to supply the non-contiguous Kaliningrad oblast but also because Lithuania stopped providing electricity to Soviet army units on its territory and sending goods to the USSR.


            Nonetheless, the Soviet sanctions bit and bit hard, and on May 23, the Lithuanian Supreme Council appealed to the international community to consider what Moscow as doing as “economic aggression” and thus a measure that was equivalent to “any other form of aggression” against a foreign state.


            Failing to get the support it hoped for, the Lithuanian Supreme Council five weeks later, on June 29, declared a 100-day moratorium on its March 11 declaration and called for negotiations with Moscow. These talks led to nothing, and on December 28, the Council reinstated the March 11 declaration on the restoration of independence.


            That action led Gorbachev to send additional Soviet troops to Lithuania -- there were already 100,000 there –to enforce the Soviet draft. But in fact, it was an act of intimidation. Two weeks later, on January 13, 1991, those troops fired on peaceful demonstrators at the Vilnius TV tower, killing 13 and ending any chance that Lithuania would remain within the USSR.


             This history deserves to be remembered for its own sake, but it also should be recalled for what it says about politics and economics.  When a nation has decided on a political choice, it may be quite prepared to suffer even the most severe economic losses in order to achieve what it seeks.


            That is something all who believe that sanctions alone are sufficient to achieve their political ends need to recognize.  They may be useful, but they are seldom as decisive in such circumstances as their authors imagine.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Even Russians Old Enough to Remember Soviet Times Idealize Food Situation in the USSR

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 18 – Even as the diet of Russians deteriorates in quantity and quality as a result of the economic crisis (, Russians, including many old enough to have experienced the gastronomic joys of the Soviet past, are engaged in mythmaking that idealizes that past, something that threatens their futures.


            Irina Sokhan, a specialist on applied political science at the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg, says that it is not surprising that young people may think the past was better but the fact that older people who can remember hunger, deficits and long lines do is something that must be explained (


            Russians today, she says, have an “ambivalent” attitude toward the situation with regard to food in Soviet times. “On the one hand, ther eis a demand for making sense of the entire extent of the totalitarian inheritance; on the other, there is the phenomenon of the impossibility of accepting new knowledge to the extent that it is accompanied by traumatic experiences.”


            Sokhan examined the way in which Russians, both those of the generation that could be expected to remember the Soviet past and those of younger cohorts who can’t, respond to articles and books about food in Soviet times, a popular subject at the present time and one that that is generating a certain amount of nostalgia.


            Most older Russians and many younger ones are familiar with the Soviet book, “Tasty and Healthy Food,” which was published numerous times after 1945 and which presented an idealized version of what was possible in a country where shortages were endemic and long lines typical even for the acquisition of basic foods.


            In Soviet times, it was intended to provide an image of what Soviet people could hope for rather than what they actually experienced, Sokhan says. “Today, [the book] is continuing to play this role,” presenting an idealized version of what was possible and suggesting that the Soviet population ate better and more interesting foods than it does now.


            But that book is not the only source of the idealization of the food situation in Soviet times, the investigator says.  Many articles in the popular press and in the glossy magazines do exactly the same time, presenting the images Soviet ideologists wanted people to believe in as reality rather than invention.


             “On the wave of the idealization of everything Soviet is the danger of the total distortion of gastronomic history and as a result of the complete ignoring of the gastronomic trauma,” Sokhan says. Unless the population faces up honestly to the past, it is very unlikely that it will be able to overcome it.


Tajiks Remember When They Forced Moscow to Change Border with Uzbekistan

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 18 – An article about a Tajik protest in February 1925 that blocked the train of Soviet leader Mikhail Kalinin and forced Moscow to revise Tashkent’s approach to its Tajik minority and then change the border between the two Central Asian republics in Tajikistan’s favor has proven to have more than historical interest.


            On the one hand, numerous comments posted on it show that Tajiks still feel very strongly about what they see as Uzbek insensitivity and even oppression of their nation.  And on the other, these same comments highlight the feeling still very much alive among Tajiks that pubic actions can force the hand of Moscow, Tashkent and Dushanbe.


            In an article entitled “How the People of Konibodom United with Tajikistan,” Tajik journalist Akmal Mannonov describes an incident that is little known outside the Tajik community but that is clearly still very much a matter of extreme sensitivity and national pride (


            In 1917, the Tajik portion of the Fergana valley – “from Khodzhent to Konibodom, Asht and Isfara” – was included in the Turkestan Republic, he writes, and then at the end of 1924, it became part of Uzbekistan, something that meant that it was at risk of “repeating the fate of Samarkand and Bukhara are remaining outside of Tajikistan.”


            But the Tajik population in Konibodom was anything but happy about this arrangement, and on February 8, 1925, they blocked the train of Soviet president Mikhail Kalinin and forced him to agree to pay attention to their demands that their language be respected and ultimately that they be included in Tajikistan rather than Uzbekistan.


            Even before the Bolshevik revolution, the Tajik-speaking people of Konibodom were noted for the knowledge of languages and even their supplying of translators of the Russian mission in Kashgar. There were numerous medrassahs and at least 2500 people involved in religious instruction.


            In January 1918, the city was included within the Kokand district of the Fergana Oblast of the Turkestan ASSR. That oblast was predominantly Uzbek speaking, and its leaders did little to help the Tajik speakers, frequently keeping funds intended for them from reaching their intended destination, according to the Tajiks.


            The situation deteriorated after the national territorial delimitation in 1924 when the Konibodom residents work up to discover that they were included within Uzbekistan and that the government insisted on the “’Uzbekization’” of the Tajiks. Almost immediately, the situation boiled over.


            On January 15, 1925, the city’s residents sent a letter to Stalin demanding that they be included in Tajikistan or at least that their language and cultural rights be respected. Nothing happened, and when Kalinin came through their city on the way to a Bolshevik party meeting, the Konibodom residents took their chance and blocked his train.


            Confronted by this popular anger, Kalinin had no choice but to agree to push what the city’s residents wanted, and the results were not long in coming: Moscow instructed Uzbek officials to recognize the linguistic and cultural rights of the Tajiks and ultimately transferred the territory of the city to Tajikistan, thus in the minds of the Tajiks saving it from Uzbekification.


            Borders among the Soviet republics were changed more than 200 times between the end of the Russian civil war and the death of Brezhnev, typically to address the economic and political needs of Moscow or republic leaders but only rarely in response to popular demonstrations.


            The transfer of Konibodom was one of the rare cases in which it was popular activism that forced Moscow’s hand, and judging by the comments appended to Mannonov’s article, many Tajiks are proud of what their ancestors did and apparently view it as a model for how they should act as well.


            If indeed some of them act on that, such demonstrations could exacerbate the situation not only in Tajik-speaking regions of Uzbekistan but become a model for minorities in other post-Soviet countries as well, one more way in which Putin’s talk about Moscow’s need to protect Russian speakers abroad may have some consequences that he would not want.