Sunday, November 30, 2014

Window on Eurasia: State Financing of Moscow Patriarchate Will Further Undermine Orthodoxy in Russia

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 30 – Announcements that the Russian government will give the Moscow Patriarchate two billion rubles (40 million US dollars) over the next two years to open “spiritual-enlightenment centers” at a time when Moscow is cutting funding for the social and medical needs of Russians will further undermine Russian Orthodoxy in Russia.


            On the one hand, it will underscore what Russians already know, that the Moscow Patriarchate is more an agency of the state than a religious organization. And on the other, it will call into question not only the government’s priorities but Patriarch Kirill’s insistence that his church is committed to social justice.


            While ethnic Russians overwhelming say they are Orthodox, they are in fact “ethnic Christians” in much the same way that many, albeit a smaller percentage, Muslims are “ethnic Muslims.”  That is, they associate with the church at the level of identity, but they do not take part in religious activities.


            What this latest Russian government decision is likely to do is to undermine that link between ethnic and religious identity, exactly the opposite of what the Kremlin and its ideologists say they want, and thus drive down rather than boost religious participation, which at least in terms of what the hierarchy says is what its members declare they desire.


            The money is being allocated out of the federal program for “Strengthening the Unity of the Russian Nation,” officials say, and will be used to construct 23 Church-controlled “spiritual” centers in Tver, Saratov, Irkutsk, Daghestan, Mordvinia, North Osetia and other regions (


            Maksim Shevchenko, a member of the Presiential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations, told that in his opinion, young people are not going to flock to these centers as the Patriarchate claims. There are better and “more effective” ways of reaching out to them than rebuilding Soviet-style “houses of culture.


            “Careerists” can be counted on to show up to win points from the bosses, but “the masses of young people will remain just where they were” – beyond the reach of the Russian Orthodox Church or the state.


            Yet another reason for suspecting that this latest state-church effort will backfire is that it has brought new attention to just how much money the Russian Orthodox Church is taking in and thus raising questions about how it is spent, given that there are so many Russians now in need of assistance.


            Figures from 2013 cited by show that the Church had an income of 4.6 billion rubles (150 million US dollars at the rate of exchange then current), a vast sum in Russian terms. The highest earner last year was the Petersburg eparchate, followed by Moscow and then Vologda Oblast.


Window on Eurasia: Why Tatars are Called Tatars

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 30 – The ethnonym “Tatar” has a long a complicated history, one that reflects both the understanding and confusions of investigators and officials and that highlights both real links and imaginary ones, according to Pavel Gusterin, a specialist on Central Asia and the Middle East at the Russian Institute for Strategic Research.


            In a note for the portal, Gusterin says that the term first appears in Chinese sources as a designator for nomadic groups to the southeast of Lake Baikal. The name “Tatar” derives from the Chinese “ta-ta” which some link to what horseman say to their horses to get them going (


            Other scholars, although Gusterin does not mention this, have suggested that this doubling of a syllable is a way of indicating that the people so designated do not speak the language their neighbors know as in the case of the Greek “bar-bar” which becomes “barbarian” and the Turkish “ga-ga” which survives in the ethnonym “Gagauz.”


            Gusterin, however, does cite one nineteenth century French orientalist who explained why the Tatars are sometimes called “Tartars.” According to Jean-Pierre Abel-Remusat, some Chinese dialects have a sound close to “r” and thus when they said “ta-ta,” it came out sounding like “tar-tar.”  That name is also found in Arabic and Persian sources.


            However that may be, the Chinese initially used the term “ta-ta” to designate peoples who would later be identified as Mongols and Tunguses but then began to restrict its application to nomads who attacked China.  The Mongols continued to be called Tatars because the mother of Chingiz Khan was from a Tatar tribe.


In the middle of the 13th century, Europeans began to use the term Tatar to designate the Mongol conquerors of Eurasia and the residents of the new kingdoms and khanates formed in the Volga region, the Caucasus, in Crimea, in Siberia and elsewhere. Over time, Europeans came to distinguish between the Mongols and the Tatars, retaining the latter term for the latter groups.


But because the number of Mongol conquerors was so small, they were rapidly swallowed up by Turkic groups and became in many cases Turkic speakers. Thus, “the name ‘Tatars’ was retained despite the disintegration of the Mongol states.” 


            Gusterin says there is a parallel between what happened in this case with what happened among the Slavs. In the former, the chain of identities was “Mongols-Tatars-Volga Turks;” in the latter, “Varyags, Rus, and Eastern Slavs” – “with only this difference: the Rus did not conquer the eastern Slavs.”


            In the khanates the Golden Horde established, the Russian researcher says, only the elites were called Tatars. But as the khanates disintegrated or were conquered, the term was transferred to the population as a whole, and that process led Russian researchers and officials to call all their populations “Tatars.”


Thus, from the 15th to the 19th centuries, Russian sources used the term “Tatar” to designate “the Azerbaijanis, the peoples of the North Caucasus, the Crimea, the Volga, Central Asia and Siberia, including the Astrakhan, Kazan, Crimean and Siberian Tatars.” But they stopped using it for the Mongols, Tibetans, Tunguses, and Manchurian nationalities.


            By the early 20th century, Gusterin says, “the majority of Tatars [as Russians used the term] called themselves Tatars,” as was shown by the results of the first Soviet census in 1926. The following year, the Soviets published a list of them, which included the Crimean Tatars, the Volga tatars, the Kasimov Tatars, and the Tobolsk Tatars.


            They were officially recognized by the Soviet state as “separate peoples.” In addition, there were listed the Belarusian Tatars, whose ancestors had been brought form Crimea to Poland but who had adopted the Belarusian language while remaining Muslims. And Moscow promoted the distinctiveness of these various identities in contrast to other Turkic groups with historical names like the Balkars, the Bashkirs, the Karachays, the Kumyks and the Nogays.



Window on Eurasia: Only Regime Change Can Save Moscow’s Environment, Yablokov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 30 – Many people in many countries are angry about this or that aspect of their lives, but they do not become a political force until they decide that the solution to their problems requires either a change in the policies of the government or, more radically, a change in the regime itself.


            That may now be happening with environmentalism in the Russian Federation. Aleksey Yablokov, a biologist who founded Russia’s Greenpeace organization already in Soviet times, says that the situation in the environment in the Russian capital is so dire that it can be saved only by a change in the political regime (


            He describes five threats to the health and welfare of Muscovites, stressing that some of these are well understood by the population while others are not and that some of the steps the powers that be have taken in recent years, steps that he calls “the de-ecologization of the state” are making things worse.


            The first threat, Yablokov says, are chemical emissions. When there was an accident at the Moscow Oil Processing Plant on November 11-12, two million Muscovites called the city government’s hotline to complain about the smell.  And it is likely that as many as half of all Muscovites in fact suffered from that problem.


            But despite the alarms raised, this problem was not as serious as many other chemical emissions into the air and water. This incident caused only a few tens of thousands to suffer from breathing problems, and “only several hundred” residents landed in hospitals as a result. Many other accidents and even regular emissions have caused far more problems.


            The second environmental threat, he continues, is the release of radioactivity.  “Moscow is the only capital in the world on the territory of which there are nuclear reactors,” with at least 11 research reactors in the city or in the surrounding oblast.  Most have been stopped, but their radioactive cores have not been removed and remain “extremely dangerous.”


            Government monitoring, as the recent oil plant accident showed, “is not particularly effective,” Yablokov says. And while simultaneous accidents in all the radioactive facilities is small, even one can be a challenge, especially since, as in one recent case, officials kept fire fighters from entering a reactor building for four hours out of security concerns.


            The third environmental threat comes from automobiles. “100 percent of the residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg breathe dirty air,” and for 95 percent of this, “automobiles are guilty.” Their emissions poison people both when they breathe in the particles emitted and even when they don’t: some of the poisons enter through the skin.


            And those who think that the situation is better in the winter are wrong, Yablokov says. The cars stir up chemicals put down on the streets and thus spread these poisons into the air and thus into the lungs of Muscovites.


            The fourth threat is from dirty water. The water processing facilities in the two Russian capitals work well, but the water has to pass through pipelines which are aging and which often follow sewage lines that leak.  As a result, officials acknowledge that “three to four percent” of the water Muscovites use has more contamination than standards require.


            The actual percentage is almost certainly larger because in some parts of the Russian capital, the water is contaminated by rare earth minerals that can make people sick immediately or over time, Yablokov says.


            And the fifth threat involves the destruction of the city’s green spaces, an action that is directly traceable to the commitment of the Sobyanin administration to build more churches and restaurants in the name of creating “recreational” opportunities for the population. But this is “dangerous for city residents,” the ecologist says.


            “Americans have calculated that one large tree in a city preserves the life of one resident,” Yablokov notes, and in recent years, the city authorities have cut down “tens of thousands of trees” and thus put at risk the same number of Russians living there.


            He also points out that drivers sitting in long lines “receive a larger dose of harmful substances than do pedestrians,” noting that Moscow has fewer cars per capita than do Paris or New York but longer lines.  Bike riders also breathe in this contaminated air. Thus, promoting bike riding as a way of improving health, as officials now do, may have just the opposite effect.




Window on Eurasia: Can the People of Pskov Oblast Save Themselves by Themselves?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 30 – Ignored by Russian officials in Moscow and Pskov, some 2,000 people and businesses of Veliky Luki in Pskov oblast have organized a Union for the Rebirth of Pskov Kray to provide assistance to those who need it most in one of the most economically depressed regions of European Russia.


            The group, which journalist Aleksandr Kalinin says, has given itself “a somewhat pretentious name,” has been active for a decade and includes many who are not themselves well off but who have not fallen into the poverty and despair of many of their neighbors (


            And the Union has helped dozens if not hundreds of single mothers, veterans of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster clean up, invalids, and veterans of World War II, the Afghan war and the Chechen war, people who have slipped through the increasingly thin state-supplied safety net.


            Its individual actions may seem small and unimportant in the grand design, Kalinin says, but to those who receive its help, they matter profoundly and ultimately they may matter more than the actions of the distant political parties and equally distant state institutions.


            In one case, the Union gave a woman who had lost her cow the money to buy another one so she could have milk for her children. In another, it provided funds so that the daughter of an invalid mother could continue her education and become a nurse. And in a third, it found and renovated an apartment for a Chechen war veteran who had returned home without legs.


            All of these people had sought assistance from state agencies, assistance that they are entitled to under the law. And all had been refused. But rather than allow them to suffer, the Union raised money by various activities, helped with renovations, and secured access to those who would never have had a chance otherwise.


             But its members have done more: They have collected books for rural libraries which could not afford to buy them. They have bought furniture and other goods for poor people. They have organized concerts to raise money for poor children. And they have sent the most seriously ill to Moscow and Petersburg for treatment.


            The Union’s good works continue to expand, Kalinin says, noting that it and its members are filling a need that the Russian authorities won’t or can’t. And he concludes that while such social assistance is important, it is “secondary” to the political implications of such self-organization.


            The Union is empowering people offering the help and helping those who can’t get it from anyone else. “May God grant,” the journalist concludes, “that every one of our political parties would be conducting something similar in local areas.” Russia and not just Pskov would be much better off.


Window on Eurasia: 75 Years On Russia Again Engaged in a Winter War

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 30 – Seventy-five years ago today, Moscow launched what became known as the Winter War against Finland. It used much the same propaganda and tactics it is using against Ukraine now. It faced far greater resistance than its vast disproportion of forces had led it to believe. And thanks to that resistance, it achieved far less than Moscow had expected.


            Not surprisingly, many commentators in Ukraine and even in Russia and Finland are drawing parallels between the two Russian wars, parallels which carry with them lessons for all sides about the failures of international diplomacy, the continuities of Russian policies, and the relative importance of arms.


            Ukrainian commentator Oleg Shama in an essay in “Novoye vremya” provides the basis for these and other observations conclusions for the present situation in Ukraine and the world as well (


            In August 1939, with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Hitler and Stalin came up with a grand bargain dividing Europe into spheres of influence, Shama recalls. On the basis of that, Moscow forced the three Baltic countries to capitulate to its demands and then illegally annexed them to the Soviet Union.


            But the Finns refused to go along. They “wanted to retain their neutrality” in the looming war, and they recognized that the presence of Soviet forces on their territory would not only be an insult to their independence but would inevitably draw them into that conflict on one side or the other.


            But the Soviet government had no intention of backing away from what it thought were its rights under the Molotov-Ribbentrop accord, Shama says, all the more so because Moscow believed that Finland should be part of the USSR since it had been part of the Russian Empire between 1809 and 1917.


            The Kremlin tried diplomacy, demanding in talks with Helsinki that lasted more than a year that Finland rent Khanko Island and agree to a shift in the border 60 kilometers away from Leningrad. Such a concession, Soviet diplomats and generals said, was required to ensure the defense of the northern capital. But the Finns refused and in October 1939 broke off talks.


            On November 3, Moscow mobilized the Leningrad military district, and on November 26, Russian special forces organized a provocation involving what Soviet propagandists asserted was an attack on USSR forces by Finnish ones.  Helsinki denied involvement and said it would conduct a full-scale investigation.


            But Moscow wasn’t interested in talks, and on November 30, 1939, Stalin ordered his forces to begin to attack Finland. On that date, Soviet planes dropped 600 bombs on Helsinki, killing 91 Finns.


            “Despite Kremlin propaganda,” Shama continues, “the Finns were not prepared for war. Their army consisted of 30,000 soldiers and officers,” and they had been reducing their defense spending for two decades confident that the League of Nations would prevent any attack and guarantee their security.


            But the unprovoked Soviet attack so angered the Finns that thousands of them immediately took up arms and went to the front, often without uniforms because none were available.  They were vastly outnumbered in personnel and arms, but they were inspired by Marshal Mannerheim who said “we are fighting for our home, faith and fatherland.”


            Soviet forces were inspired by a quite different idea: they had been told that they were “freeing the Finnish people from the oppression of the capitalists,” but after a few days Soviet soldiers on Finnish land were asking themselves “Why are we liberating the Finns? They live so well.”


            Moreover, the Soviet forces found they had no one to liberate because the Finns withdrew from the border regions, burning their homes and farms so that the Soviets would not get anything they might use against Finland.


            Then, one day into the fighting, the Soviet media announced that in a “liberated” village near the border, a new Finnish government had been formed, headed by Otto Kuusinen, the communist whose revolt Mannerheim had himself put down in 1918. A day later, he signed a mutual assistance pact with the Soviet government to “legalize” the Kremlin’s aggression.


            In preparation for this campaign, the Soviet military had created, beginning in October 1939, a “Finnish Peoples Army,” filling it with Finns and Karelians who lived on Soviet territory and then even with Belarusians. That step led to a Soviet joke at the time, Shama says: “Minsk Finns will march onto Finnish mines.”


            Finland had erected some defenses earlier, and the Soviet command was well aware of those and quite prepared to go around or over them. But, as the Ukrainian commentator points out, Moscow had not taken into account the Finnish will to fight and expected an easy and quick victory, one that was supposed to be complete by Stalin’s birthday on December 21.


            The Soviet advance slowed as Finnish resistance grew, but the Finns, having suffered 25,000 combat dead in the course of 105 days of fighting, finally had to sue for peace, even though they had inflicted 126,000 dead on the invaders. And they had to yield a tenth of their territory to Moscow.


            But that was less than Moscow expected to gain, and so it could hardly justify the claims of victory it put out and that were accepted by some in the West.  Moreover, the way in which Finland and the Soviet Union treated their combat losses spoke volumes about the differences between the two countries, differences which are in evidence in Ukraine and Russia now.


            When the war began, Mannerheim ordered that “each soldier killed was to be buried with military honors” in specially designated cemeteries. In the Soviet Union, Andrey Zhdanov, head of the Leningrad CPSU obkom, “categorically forbid telling relatives of dead soldiers about the destruction of their near ones” and to take other steps to hide such losses as well.


            On this anniversary of the Winter War, Ukrainians are thinking about that conflict perhaps more than any other people except for the Finns.  Roman Bochkala, a Ukrainian military analyst, spoke for many in his country when he wrote of that long-ago conflict in terms every Ukrainian would recognize as like the one now (

            Like Ukraine, the Finns faced an overwhelming adversary, “a horde [which] wanted to suppress its opponents by its size. David went into the ring against Goliath. And he won.”  Of course, Bochkala writes, the Finns were frightened but they were not intimidated, and “they fought like lions.”

            They understood something that Ukrainians should as well: “in war, the main thing is not quantity but motivation and intelligence.”

            Vadim Shtepa, who lives in Karelia and who supports Ukrainian efforts to defend their nation against Vladimir Putin’s aggression, reflects on this anniversary? “What can one say? The only thing is to wish our Ukrainian friends [in this new Winter War] to be no weaker than the Finns!” (

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Oil Price Collapse Should Lead Russians to Recall and Act on Stalin’s 1931 Warning, Orenburg Blogger Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 29 – The continuing decline in oil prices, a political move by the West against Moscow, should cause Russians to recall Stalin’s warning in 1931 that “we are 50 to 100 years behind the advanced countries and must catch up within ten years. Either we will do that or they will crush us,” according to an Orenburg blogger.


            Russians must recognize that the world has changed, that they must pursue a strategy of mass mobilization, and that they must replace the current elite with one that understands that need and will do what it takes to prevent disaster, Yevgeny Super on the portal (


            Too many people, including prominently Development Minister Aleksey Ulyukayev, think that Russia can escape its current dilemma by liberalization, but such an approach will fail, not only leaving Russia more dependent on the international economic system it cannot control but also depriving Russians of the sense of responsibility for their own fate.


            Ulyukayev, Super says, reflects this approach and fears any talk of mobilization “like fire” because it would involve forcing people to “fulfill common tasks,” rather than allow them to continue to avoid “personal responsibility” by pointing to the “’hand of the market’” or the decline in the price of oil.


            Russians instead should remember the “historic” words Stalin uttered on February 4, 1931, and launch a similar mobilization program to rebuild and expand Russia’s industrial base.

Such an effort, Super suggests, would allow the country to withstand any foreign challenges just as Stalin’s allowed the USSR to hold out “against the united force of Europe in the Great Fatherland War.”


            Indeed, he writes, “what is needed is an immediate mobilization without which there will not be industrialization. A labor, moral and political mobilization. But in the first instance a mobilization of the elite itself because otherwise the people will not have faith and any plans and appeals of the bosses will go down the drain. Together with the country.”


            The current elite as typified by Ulyukayev isn’t capable and therefore “it must go” and go one hopes “peacefully and voluntarily.” But to save Russia, go it must.


Window on Eurasia: Each of the Nations of Daghestan Ought to Have a Separate Republic, Writer Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 29 – Some in Daghestan now think that it is time for each Daghestani nation to have a separate republic rather than continue to live in a single “all-Daghestan ‘collective farm,’” an attitude that may be indicative of what other larger nations are thinking about their status relative to the Russian Federation.


            In a Daghestani Internet forum, Murad Abdullayev says that the current multi-national republic has had its day and that “possibly the time has come” for each of its various peoples to form their own republics within the Russian Federation, given their increasing size and increasing conflicts (


            Since the Daghestan ASSR was formed, “the share of the population of [that republic] in Russia has increased by a factor of eight,” and “the current Republic of Daghestan has become a headache for Moscow.” It doesn’t pay its taxes and now owes Moscow more than anyone else except Ukraine, and on its territory, there is a war going on which the leadership change did nothing to stop.


            The problem of taxes would be solved if each people had its own republic. “The majority of Avars are too proud to steal and lie; the Darghins are able to divide up their profits, and the Lezgins are law-abiding … Now, [none of them] pays taxes because each thinks that someone else must solve the problem.”


            “The Lezgins consider,” Abdullayev writes, “that the Avars must solve the problem because they are ‘in power’ in Daghestan; the Avars think that the Dargins must pay because they live better, but the Dargins respond that the Lezgins are the wealthiest Daghestanis in Russia.”


            None of them is prepared to take responsibility for “’the collective farm’” because none of them feels a part of it.  Given that, the writer says, they view Daghestan not as a mother but as an evil stepmother, someone from whom it is almost an act of nobility to take something from to help their own.




Window on Eurasia: Fate of Post-Soviet Space and of Russia Itself at Issue in Ukraine, Kazakh Scholar Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 29 – The fate not only of Ukraine but also of the entire post-Soviet space and even the survival of Russia itself as a single unified country is being decided by what is happening in the conflict in southeastern Ukraine, according to Aydos Sarym, a political scientist from Kazakhstan.


            He told the UNIAN news agency that what is going on in Ukraine is forcing everyone in the post-Soviet space to make “a moral and political choice” and nowhere is that trend stronger than in Kazakhstan in which reactions to Ukraine have become “a litmus test” of all the divisions, “generational, ethnic and so on,” which exist there.


            Moreover, Sarym continued, one should not forget that there are more than three million ethnic Russians and 800,000 ethnic Ukrainians living in Kazakhstan at the present time (


            Many ethnic Ukrainians who earlier had not paid particular attention to their ethnicity are now doing so, he said, and “many Kazakhs are very actively supporting their Ukrainian brothers,” with the country’s social networks increasingly decorated in Ukrainian yellow and blue.


            Kazakhs understand that they have “much to learn from Ukrainians, including how not to repeat the tragic and even fatal errors which were made by the Ukrainian authorities over the course of the last year,” especially as Kazakhstan shares 7500 kilometers of borders with Russia, three and half times as many as Ukraine does.


            All post-Soviet countries are in the position of “post-colonial and post-Soviet transit,” Sarym said. And given the situation in Russia, the non-Russian countries have only two paths for breaking with the imperial past: armed force as in Georgia and Ukraine or “a peaceful path of imitating integration processes.”


            Kazakhstan has chosen the latter, and Ukrainians must understand that what it is doing is using the imitation of integration in order to pursue greater independence. Once they do, they will recognize that the Eurasian Economic Community Vladimir Putin is pushing will have no more success than the CIS.


            Kazakhs are very worried that Russia will try to annex part of their country given statements from Moscow dismissing the existence of their historical statehood and the existence of “revanchist and revisionist attitudes” in the Russian media, attitudes that were marginal a year or two ago but now are at the center of Russian politics.


            Over the last several years, Kazakhstan has had to put down “several attempts at armed uprisings organized by Russian national Bolsheviks,” he continued. And recently, “Russia in violation of the principles of trust and security adopted within the Shanghai Cooperation Accord without warning conducted exercises dangerously close to the borders of Kazakhstan.”


                There are clearly people in Russia who believe that they could carry out “a short victorious war” in Kazakhstan and thus shore up their power in Russia itself. The Kazakhstan military is not in good shape: it is about where the Ukrainian army was a year or 18 months ago. But that is not where the real problem lies.


            “Our problem,” Sarym said, “is that the leadership of the country lived for a long time as a prisoner of the illusion that the entire world is hostile to it and that only Russian can guarantee security both for our country and (above all) the ruling regime.”  Today, as a result of Russia’s “paranoid foreign policy” and actions in Ukraine, “those illusions are being dispelled.”


            Kazakh analysts suggest there are three parts of Kazakhstan where Moscow might try a Crimean-style annexation: the oblasts of Kostanay, North Kazakhstan and Eastern Kazakhstan, which border Russia and have significant Russian-speaking populations.


            But “in the conditions of Kazakhstan, any attempt by Russia to annex the territory of the northern oblasts would lead not to ‘a hybrid war’ restricted to a definite territory but more than that to ethnic cleansings and massive violence through the entire territory of the country.” Thus, for Russia to try it would be “the most complete insanity.”


            Tragically, there are some in Moscow who are nonetheless thinking of making such a move.  Kazakhs have lone joked that “what Zhirinovsky says, Putin is thinking,” a reference to the anti-Kazakh and imperial bombast of the former than often has been a leading indicator of what the Kremlin ruler plans.


            At present, Sarym said, there is no Russophobia in Kazakhstan, “but the situation in Russia today is such that there they are ready to consider Russophobic anything which does not please them or which does not fit with the understanding of [Moscow’s] ruling elite.”


            Ukrainians should take courage from the fact that, despite intense pressure from Moscow, “Kazakhstan does not support the occupation of Crimea and does not recognize the Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine.” Indeed, both of Russia’s “partners” in the new union “have frequently demonstrated” their independence from Moscow on matters Ukrainian.


            That pattern, Sarym said, is not going to change.




Window on Eurasia: Mufti Says Russia’s Muslims ‘Inalienable Part’ of Russian World

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 29 – Stavropol Mufti Muhammad-haji Rakhimov told the Third Stavropol Forum of the World Russian Popular Assembly that “Russian [rossiiskye] Muslims are an inalienable part of the Russian [russky] world,” a statement at odds with some by other speakers who stressed the Orthodox and ethnic nature of that idea.


            The mufti added that “contemporary Russian Muslims are sincere patriots who love their motherland and serve it. For the world community, there are no ‘rossiyane’ [the non-ethnic civic identity Moscow earlier had sought to promote]; everyone calls all of us ‘russkiye’ [a term historically used for ethnic Russians].”


            The Muslim leader continued by telling the 1,000 people in attendance that for the Muslims of the Russian Federation, who now form an increasingly large fraction of its population, two factors are “important: a powerful Russia and a strong Orthodoxy” (


            Those pushing the idea of a Russian world would like to ensure that they have the loyalty of those who are Russian citizens even if they are not Orthodox or ethnic Russians, but they face a serious problem: if they include them, they reduce the Russian world to loyalty to the Russian state alone, perhaps the Kremlin’s goal but certainly not that of many Russian nationalists.


            Most speakers at this meeting as at others have sought to avoid the kind of hard and fast definition of the Russian world that would exclude many people, but their efforts to do so have the effect of highlighting the weakness of what is after all the chief ideological component of Vladimir Putin’s rule.


            One participant at the Stavropol meeting, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, in his remarks showed just how difficult it is even for those most loyal to the Kremlin to square this circle in ways that do not drain the concept of most of its meaning and thus limit its utility as a mobilizing tool.


            Chaplin, a close protégé of Moscow Patriarch Kirill and one of the leading ideologists of the Russian Orthodox Church, reminded the group of Kirill’s statement that Russians have always been guided by five values: faith, justice, solidarity, dignity, and a commitment to state power.


            “We have defeated many attacks from the East and from the West, and we will defeat as well those who try to impose on us life according to their alien rules,” Chaplin said. “We will defeat America, not necessarily on the field of battle but on the field of ideas and meaning.” And the reason for that is that “behind us is truth.”


            For Russians, he continued, “there are things which are more important than profit, comfort and even earthly life.” And “we have everything needed so that without retreating into isolationism, we can offer to the world a moral order based on our values.” That “order” will be backed by “thinking people” in the West, the Islamic world, China and Latin America.”


            Chaplin did not say how those who accept Islam or follow Confucianism or believe in democracy and freedom could support a world order defined by Orthodox Christianity, but it may be that he excludes all those from the category of “thinking people” who he says are coming out in support of Moscow.





Window on Eurasia: Moscow Ready to Use Internal Troops against Any Maidan-Like Activity in Russia, Interior Minister Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 29 – In words that are clearly intended to intimidate but that may have just the opposite effect by exposing official nervousness, Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev says that Moscow is ready to use its internal troops against any Maidan-like activity in any part of the Russian Federation.


            The minister told the military council of the commanders of internal forces that their units are “one of the most powerful instruments for opposing the threat of risings like those which have taken place in Ukraine and in other CIS countries” and that he is “certain” that they can succeed in preventing them (


            According to Kolokoltsev, MVD forces under his command are ready to be moved to any region of the country in which such threats appear, something he said could become necessary because those who threaten Russia from abroad are doing what they can to affect its domestic national security as well.  


  At the meeting, he said that the forces had demonstrated their capacities over the course of the last year by inflicting “significant harm” to the militants in the North Caucasus, providing security for the Olympics in Sochi, and protecting important government facilities against terrorist attack.


            And he noted that MVD units had detained more than 850,000 Russians for various legal violations, “including almost 7,000 for crimes.”  The larger figure includes those who were arrested and then released for taking part in demonstrations that did not have the approval of the authorities.



Friday, November 28, 2014

Window on Eurasia: More than 70 Percent of Russians Don’t Have Clear Idea about ‘Russian World’

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 28 – Seventy-one percent of Russians in a poll conducted by VTsIOM earlier this week said they had not heard enough about the main ideological theme of the Putin regime, the Russian world, to be able to describe it; and only one Russian in eight was ready to try to provide a definition of that world to pollsters.


            In announcing these findings, VTsIOM general director Valery Fedorov said that in his view, “this means that we are at the beginning of this project and not at its end,” although he noted that the same survey had found that 63 percent of Russians believe that the “Russian world” is more likely to exist than not.


            The sociologist stressed that the term has a long history: it wasn’t created yesterday or even a decade ago. But for a long time, it was employed only “in a narrow circle of intellectuals, ‘despairing bureaucrats,’ and did not pass” in the population at large. But in the last year, “everything has changed” and people should understand it better.


            This is not the only poll result in recent days that is likely to concern the Kremlin. A second poll found that up to 80 percent of Russians say that the “Crimea is Ours” project, itself part of the Russian world idea, has led to a decline in their standard of living (


            And a third found that Russians are now focusing far more on the continuing decline in the value of the ruble than they are on the Russian annexation of Crimea (


Window on Eurasia: Foreign Pressure Did Trigger the Maidan – Pressure from Putin

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 28 – Most analyses of recent developments in Ukraine start with the Maidan, but it may be more useful for understanding why those have occurred if one considers the actions that led to the Maidan and the extent to which these were both unplanned and counter-productive, according to Mikhail Fishman. 


            The Moscow journalist says that the Maidan was “to a great degree provoked from outside,” but “not in the sense in which Vladimir Putin loves to talk about” such color revolutions. Instead, Putin himself was the outside force, and the impact of his actions led Yanukovich to take the decisions which triggered the Maidan.


            The Ukrainian president was already a failure before all this happened, Fishman says, but had he not, under pressure from Putin, turned “180 degrees” on the issue of signing an agreement with the EU at the Vilnius summit, “hundreds of thousands of people would not have come out into the street (


            “No one knows” exactly what Putin said to Yanukovich at their critical November 9 meeting, Fishman concedes, “but there is the suspicion” that the Ukrainian leader knew what was coming given the harsh words he had been hearing from the Kremlin in the summer and fall of 2013.


            Ukrainian and Polish officials have said that even before November, Putin had sought to intimidate Yanukovich with the threat of a Russian annexation of Crimea.  And it is certainly likely that such threats were not delivered on an “extemporaneous” basis but rather part of a general policy.


            What is striking, Fishman says, is that just before the summer of 2013, “Russian officials were not excluded Ukraine’s membership in two trade zones at one and the same time,” and that could have been arranged with some careful sleight of hand, especially as the EU was not moving quickly given its insistence on the release of Yuliya Timoshenko.


            Given this, “it is very difficult to describe what happened between Moscow and Kyiv from May 2013 onward within the framework of some strict logic,” Fishman says. Instead, one needs to consider an alternative approach, one that focuses on Putin’s personality rather than Russian national interests.


             Moscow’s approach was full of contradictions up to that time because Russia’s interests in Ukraine were contradictory, but when Vladimir Putin went to Kyiv, he did so “not as a guest of Yanukovich” as one might have expected but “as “the builder of the Russian world,” something that preceded his change in Moscow’s course.


            Pressure on Yanukovich intensified to the point that “by the end of August, anti-Russian attitudes in Kyiv were more like hysteria” than anything else. And then at the end of September, Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s close aide, took charge. It was clear to all that “Putin was on the attack” and would continue to do so.


            What was not clear then was his goal.


            If Putin wanted to preserve the status quo, his actions included “a change of serious managerial errors” of the kind one has seen Russian leaders make before as in the case with Nicholas I in the lead up to the first Crimean War.  “But possibly,” Fishman argues, what we have seen is “a somewhat different case.”


            That is suggested by the fact that the program Putin advanced when he ran for a third term had no real content and that “the main problem consisted in its complete lack of an agenda: to rule is fine but quite boring” if all he was going to do was to continue what he had already put in place.


            But that left Putin with no challenge and consequently, Fishman says, the Kremlin leader “decided to take a risk” to prevent his country’s slide back into stagnation and to occupy himself with a kind of adventure.  That possibility, one that reflects Putin’s personality, goes a long way to explain what Putin did regarding Ukraine beginning last summer.


            German Chancellor Angela Merkel spent four hours with Putin in Brisbane attempting to find the answer to the question as why Putin had done what he had done. She didn’t get an answer, but the reason for that may not be the one many have suggested: that Putin keeps his cards close to his chest.


            The real reason, Fishman says, is that Putin doesn’t have an answer, that “he does not know why he provoked the conflict in Ukraine’s southeast.”  That would fit the facts that suggest Putin had earlier decided to create a crisis somewhere without reflecting in any detail on just what the consequences of any one of them might be.


            From the Kremlin leader’s perspective, this is a kind of adventure, one that by definition he has decided he does not know in advance just how things will turn out, a dangerous one to be sure but more interesting perhaps to him than being a president who simply adopts a policy of continuation with no opportunities for creativity.