A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories This Week

September 11, 2015
Paul Goble

Staunton, September 11, 2015


Moscow Mulls Mobilizing Transdniestria and Gagauzia against Pro-Europe Activists in Chisinau

Staunton, September 10, 2015

An article
in the September 10th issue of Nezavisimaya gazeta highlighting opposition by Transdniestria and
Gagauzia to the pro-EU protests in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau is another
indication that some in Moscow are hoping to use these two groups in the north
and south of that country to block any further Moldovan moves toward Europe.

The Moscow paper’s Svetlana Gamova
writes
most of those taking part in the demonstrations in Chisinau are “oriented
toward the integration of the country in the European Union” while many in the Slavic-majority
Transdniestria in the north and the Christian Turkic Gagauzia in the south
favor integration with Russia.

Dmitry Konstantinov, the speaker of
the Gagauz autonomy Popular Assembly, told her that the Gagauz are offended by
the appearance of Romanian flags among the Chisinau demonstrators. “Our own
path,” he said, “is to the East.” If Chisinau continues in a Western direction,
Gagauzia will seek “a civilized divorce” from Moldova.
The Gagauz parliamentary leader
added that he and his colleagues are making contact with Moldovan politicians
who share their opposition to a turn toward Europe and are prepared to act on
it. Gamova for her part says that the 1994 Moldovan law setting up the Gagauz
autonomy “gives the Gagauz the right to self-determination if Moldova changes
its status.”
That is somewhat disingenuous, of
course, although it may reflect current Moscow thinking. The Moldovan act does
not say that Gagauzia can choose to leave Moldova if it changes its foreign
policy direction but allows that only if Moldova changes its borders by
becoming part of Romania or in some other way.
Also opposed to what is going on in
Chisinau, Gamova writes, is the “unrecognized republic of Transdnistria” in
Moldova’s north. Its leader, Yevgeny Shevchuk, has declared that as a result of
the Chisinau demonstrations, “the situation is destabilizing and Tiraspol
insists on its right to a civilized divorce from Moldova.”
Last weekend as many as 100,000
people came into the streets of the Moldovan capital, the largest protest since
the early 1990s, to demand a change in the government and immediate
parliamentary elections. The protest
continues with protesters camped on in some 150 tents in the main square of the
city, fed and otherwise supported by residents of the capital.
Many but far from all of the
demonstrators were and are pro-European, Arkady Barbaroshie, the director of
Chisinau’s Institute of Public Politics, says. Many are simply disappointed with
the current government, including some ethnic Russians and other Russian
speakers.
Many of the participants are calling
on the organizers of the protests, the Civic Platform Dignity and Truth, to
form a political party to compete in new elections. Its leadership supports
integration with the EU and is consulting about its further moves with “ambassadors
of ‘civilized countries,’” that is, Western ones, Gamova writes.
After those meetings, one of the leaders
of the group told the crowd that the EU is calling on the Moldovan authorities
to enter into dialogue with the protesters, another step that undoubtedly is
setting off alarm bells in Moscow and leading officials there to consider how
they might stop what they undoubtedly see as another “color” revolution in the
offing.
So far, Gamova writes, the
demonstrators have advanced the following demands: “the resignation of the
president, head of parliament and prime minister, the holding of immediate
elections for parliament, direct election of the president, the formation of a
government of national salvation, the retirement of the head of
Teleradio-Moldova and of the law enforcement organs, and bringing to justice those
officials who are guilty of corruption.
In addition, she says, “the
activists called upon the West not to give new loans to the existing
authorities and to declare them persona non grate in the EU and the US.” If the
authorities do not meet their demands, the protesters said their next step
would be to declare a general strike.
Moldova’s prime minister, Vladimir Strelets,
said he was ready to meet with the protesters and to offer “’a road map’” for
overcoming the crisis but suggested that outside forces were behind efforts to
force the government from office. “On its own initiative,” he said, “the government
will not go into retirement. That would be an act of cowardice and
irresponsibility.”
President Nicolae Timofti also said
he would not resign because he is “convinced that such a decision would bring
instability to the Republic of Moldova. The vacuum of power would cause a new political
crisis” that would be used by internal and external “forces” against the
Moldovan people.
“I recognize,” he declared, “that my
positions for Europe, for NATO and regarding the illegal creation on our
territory of a Russian military base have made me into a target for revanchist,
neo-Soviet, anti-Western and anti-national forces.” But such attacks will not turn him from his European
path.

To judge from Gamova’s article, some
in Moscow must be thinking that they could only gain if they set Transdniestria
and Gagauzia against him.

— Paul Goble

Kremlin Now Wants Russians to See Sanctions as Having Nothing to Do with Ukraine, ‘Nezavisimaya Gazeta’ Says

Staunton, September 11, 2015

Moscow has “shifted
from the logic of a dispute to the logic of isolation” and is seeking to
convince Russians that Western sanctions imposed following the Crimean
Anschluss and Russian invasion of the Donbas have nothing to do with those
events but rather reflect permanent Western hostility to Russia, Nezavisimaya
gazeta
says.

In a lead article today, the editors
of that Moscow paper draws that conclusion on the basis of a recent declaration
by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov that sanctions will remain in place
for a long time because they are intended to limit Russia’s ability to act
independently.
Ryabkov’s words,
the paper says, “reflect a transition to the completely isolationist logic in
which the Russian authorities act today;” and that in turn reflects the
conclusions of Presidential advisor Sergey Glazyev that Russia must move in the
direction of “still greater economic isolation from the West.”
“Initially, immediately after the
flight of Viktor Yanukovych, the annexation of Crimea, and the beginning of the
conflict in the Donbass,” the editors say, “the logic of the Russian authorities
was somewhat different.” Then, it stressed Russia’s “right to defend its ‘own,’
that is the Russian speakers” and drew parallels between Crimea and Kosovo.
No one spoke then, the paper
continues, about sanctions remaining in force for any length of time apparently
because the Kremlin believed that the West would “recognize their senselessness
and cancel them not being able to live without Russia.” Now, the worsening of
the economic situation has led to “a change in logic.”
For the Kremlin now, “citizens must
be convinced that sanctions are not the result of Crimea or the Donbass.”
Instead, a new “’correct’” interpretation is being offered: “the West and
especially the United States cannot deal with our stormy growth, wants to slow
it, and Ukraine is the occasion for doing so.”
In the former interpretation, there
is great room for diplomacy; in the new one, there is little room left because
Russian diplomats must soon follow politicians and television commentators in
insisting that “’the West always hates us, it wants to ruin us, there is
nothing to talk about with it.”
But such a shift raises some
questions, the paper’s editors say. “For example, if the Russian authorities
always knew that the West would not allow the strengthening of Russia, then why
did they so poorly prepare the country for the present and as they assert
inevitable pressure on it?”
Other questions also arise: Why didn’t
the Russian authorities try to make the ruble less dependent on the price of
oil? Why didn’t they try to find alternative sources of credit? And perhaps
most important, because of the enormous support they enjoy from the population,
why didn’t they use “this resource to carry out systemic reforms?”
If the authorities were not willing
to do that in the “fat” years, they certainly will not do so in the “lean” ones
now, Nezavisimaya gazeta concludes.
Of course, there are at least two
other explanations for Ryabkov’s statement, one domestic and one foreign
political. Domestically, the Kremlin may fear that ever more Russians will draw
a direct line between what Putin has been doing in Ukraine and their current
suffering. Such a shift in opinion could threaten the regime.

And in foreign policy terms, Rybkov’s
statement may have a double purpose. On the one hand, it may lead some in the
West to call for a reduction in sanctions in order to show Russia that the West
doesn’t “always” hate it. And on the other, if sanctions are loosened or cut
back, the new logic now on offer in Moscow will allow the Kremlin to take
credit.

— Paul Goble

Putin Seeking to Destabilize Ukraine While ‘Imitating’ a Russian Pullback in Donbass, Portnikov Says

Staunton, September 11, 2015

In an
effort to get the West to end its sanctions on Russia, Vladimir Putin will continue
to sharply reduce pro-Moscow military actions in the Donbass over the next
month, Vitaly Portnikov says; but even as he does so, the Kremlin leader will
do everything he can to destabilize and thus discredit Ukraine from the inside.

This combination, Portnikov argues,
suggests that Putin is preparing for a “Minsk 3” agreement when he meets with the
leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine in Paris on October 3, an agreement that
will require “joint guarantees.” Otherwise, the four could have met on the sidelines
of the UN General Assembly.
It appears, the
Ukrainian analyst says, that “if it isn’t seeking a way out of the dead end it
finds itself in the Donbass, Russia will attempt to imitate this exit” in order
to extract as much as possible from the West. Indeed, since August 29 when Hollande, Merkel and Putin spoke on the telephone,
“the intensity of fire from the side of Russian forces … has fallen sharply.”
That fall-off, Portnikov continues,
has prompted the French president to speak “even about the possibility of
lifting sanctions against Russia” if the Minsk accords are fulfilled. It is unlikely that Holland would have said
that “if he did not feel that the Kremlin beast was not really close to
withdrawal and needed support from the civilized world.”
Putin “really is in a very
complicated situation, perhaps the most complex from the moment power was
transferred to him by Yeltsin,” Portnikov says. The Russian economy is
collapsing, and even his advisors are talking about the lack of sufficient gold
reserves to support the ruble.
The Kremlin leader may soon not have
the money needed to pay its social security obligations, and Putin and his
entourage “remember what happens with Russians when bravura television hysterics
are not accompanied by the payment of their accustomed subsidies, pensions and
salaries.”
This means, he suggests, that “Russia
is again in the customary fog of revolt and destabilization” itself. Putin has
to do what he can to avoid that, and one important step in that direction is to
eliminate sanctions or at least ensure that there won’t be new and more serious
ones imposed.
Putin always faces a serious problem
in the Middle East, Portnikov argues, primarily because he wants to show that
he can support a totalitarian regime that has loyally supported Moscow. If he
doesn’t back Syria’s Asad, he will have shown that he won’t or can’t support
even his allies, not a message the Kremlin leader wants to send.
“But the resources of the Kremlin
adventurist are really limited, and for sending forces to Syria, Putin needs relief
in the Donbas,” and hence the current reduction in violence there. In this
situation, what concessions is Putin prepared to make, given his own goals and
given the attitudes of the West?
According to Portnikov, it is quite
likely that even Putin hasn’t decided yet and that he realizes that what will
happen in Paris on October 2 will depend to a large extent on what happens over
the next three weeks.
Putin may very well keep violence in
the Donbass at a low level: that will help him with his Western interlocutors.
But he will beyond any doubt “rock the boat” of Ukraine “because it is
important to him that [Ukrainian President] Poroshenko will arrive in Paris
without any sense of prospects and be ready for new concessions” of his own.”
Moreover, over this period, the
Ukrainian analyst suggests, Putin may also take actions in the Middle East
designed to drive up the price of oil, something that will give him more
leverage and reduce that of the West on Russian behavior.
With regard to Ukraine, it seems
clear that Putin will now “throw all his reserves into the destabilization of
the situation” there, making use of everyone from “the most anti-Ukrainian
chauvinists to the most patriotic patriots” to embarrass and weaken Ukraine
both in reality and even more in the eyes of the West.
Thus, Portnikov says, the next few
weeks are critical because “the stakes in October are really high.”

— Paul Goble

Weapons from the Donbass Bleeding into Ukraine as Well as Back into Russia

Staunton, September 11, 2015

The
enormous number of weapons in the Donbas as a result of the actions of
pro-Moscow forces in that Ukraine region are already casting a shadow on the
rest of Ukraine, something Vladimir Putin probably welcomes, as well as on
adjoining areas of the Russian Federation, something he certainly does not.

Today, Kyiv’s Segodnya newspaper
reports that “Ukraine is filling up with illegal weapons from the zone of
military actions” both because individuals bring in weapons for their personal
use or because of organized contraband networks.
This influx of weapons not only
makes possible the political use of weapons such as the grenade tossed in front
of the Verkhovna Rada on August 31 but also allows for the spread of
increasingly violent crime and numerous weapons-related accidents across the
entire country, the paper continues.
The paper offers numerous examples
and then suggests that the authorities must improve the monitoring of weapons
in the Donbass, control any that are taken out, and increase penalties for those
who illegally bring in or keep weapons.
Dmitry Tymchuk, a military experts
and Verkhovna Rada deputy, says that are present “no one can say precisely how
many weapons are already on the territory of Ukraine.” But it is clear that the
largest source of them comes from contraband networks rather than from the
decisions of individuals to take guns or grenades home with them.
Officials have to do more to track
how weapons found got into the country, he argues, and he also suggests that
the situation could be improved if Kyiv adopted a law legalizing the possession
of guns for self-defense but requiring that all such weapons be registered with
the police.
Vladimir Fesenko, a Ukrainian
political scientist, disagrees. Adopting such a law would make the situation
worse, increasing the number of gunds and leading to a rise in violent crime.
If more people have more guns, they will certainly use them, he argues. Thus
adopting such a law would be “a most enormous mistake.”
He urges tighter control at the borders
of the combat zone and also the establishment of a “buy back” program in which
the government would pay people who would agree to turn over the weapons in
their possession voluntarily.”

Meanwhile, illegal weapons are
flowing into the Russian Federation. (For background, see “Returning Donbass Veterans Bring War Home to Russia With Them“).

In today’s Yezhednevny zhurnal, commentator Dmitry Oreshkin suggests it poses
a serious problem for the Russian authorities.

As a result of this influx of guns,
the political analyst says, “the Kremlin is now encountering an obvious
problem: people accustomed to living for a year and a half under conditions of
complete illegality to solving their problems with the help of guns are leaving
Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts” are bringing their weapons and their values with
them.
Now that Putin is wrapping up his
adventure there, Oreshkin says, these people have no future or any willingness
to return to a peaceful life. As a result, there is “an obvioius threat of the
growth of banditism and an obvious problem for the FSB: how is it to struggle
with these militants who were thrown into the Donbas when they come here?”
Almost certainly, he continues, the
FSB and the Russian police will deal with such people “decisively” just as they
did after the Afghan war. The FSB will say: “we didn’t send you there, and that
means we don’t owe you anything. Go and live in a camp for refugees but don’t
steal” or the consequences will be extremely severe.

— Paul Goble

A Russian Court Decision isn’t a Precedent Unless Kremlin Says So –and Often Not Even Then

Staunton, September 11, 2015

Ramzan
Kadyrov vitriolic reaction to a decision by a Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk court to
declare a book containing verses from the Koran extremist has sparked
widespread anger and debate about the reach of Russia’s anti-extremism law, but
it has also highlighted the fact that in Russian jurisprudence, there is no
system of precedent.

Consequently, as Rustam Dzhalilov
points out in a commentary on this controversy
, if one court finds something
extremist, a dozen others may disagree, and vice versa, if this decision is
reversed on appeal, “everything may remain as it was before” such a step might
be taken.
But there is an
important exception: if a book, pamphlet or article is declared extremist by a
court and then that publication is included in the justice ministry’s list of
extremist materials, it typically is treated as extremist throughout the Russian
Federation even if the decision of the court of first instance is overruled on
appeal.
The Kavkazskaya
politika
journalist spoke with Aslambek Ezhayev, a longtime publisher of
Islamic books in Russia, about a practice that makes Russia a crazy quilt of
legal situations despite Vladimir Putin’s claim to have restored “a single
legal space” across the Russian Federation.
Ezhayev notes that the first book
with Islamic texts to be prohibited in Russia was al-Tamimi’s Book of the Single
God
, which was declared extremist by a Moscow district court in 2004 and
became the second book to be included in the Russian justice ministry’s list of
extremist materials.
The first “mass prohibition of
Muslim books,” he continues, occurred after law enforcement officers raided a
medrassah in Orenburg Region. The authorities confiscated all Russian-language
books on Islam and a court then declared them to be extremist. Of the 68 books involved,
only 18 were found to be “extremist” on appeal, but all 68 are still on the justice
ministry list.
Subsequently, Ezhayev points out,
the authorities have engaged in similar mass bans on the basis of the name of
the author, the title of the book, the publishing house involved and so on with
little or no concern about evaluating the content. Unfortunately, he says, divisions among
Muslims have helped the authorities with one group denouncing another as
extremist.
Almost all of these mass bans have
started in obscure local courts and the decisions of these courts are
selectively taken up by the justice ministry, with some of the decisions
becoming “precedents” for others in this way and others simply irrelevant for
behavior in any place but the territory of the original court’s jurisdiction.
The current case about which Kadyrov
has complained is for those who keep track of this trend “nothing new.” The
only reason it is attracting attention is because Kadyrov is saying something.
If anyone else did, neither journalists nor investigators would be paying any
attention, Ezhayev says.
There is only one way out of this “absurd”
situation, the Islamic publisher says. The authorities must find the will and
wisdom to do away with such “black lists” as the one maintained by the justice
ministry so that books ultimately not found to be extremist aren’t treated as
if they are.

Until that happens, one or more of
the hundreds of courts like that in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk will find books extremist
on the flimsiest of pretexts not because they have received a telephone call or
telegraph from the Kremlin but because declaring materials extremist allows the
authorities in the easiest possible to look good in the eyes of those above
them, Evzhayev says.

— Paul Goble

A Baker’s Dozen of Neglected Russian Stories This Week

Staunton, September 11, 2015

The flood of news stories from a country as large, diverse and often strange as the Russian Federation often appears to be is far too large for anyone to keep up with. But there needs to be a way to mark those which can’t be discussed in detail but which are too indicative of broader developments to ignore.

Consequently, Windows on Eurasia will
present a selection of 13 of these other and typically neglected stories at the
end of each week. This is the first such weekly list. It is only suggestive and
far from complete, but perhaps one or more of these stories will prove of
broader interest.

3. Some
Russians are saying
that pensions are now “a survival of the past,” something
that will soon pass away completely.
4. Ten
percent of residents of one district in Bashkortostan plan to vote against all
candidates by not voting at all.
5. Russia
as a whole is not yet a monarchy but some regions, cities and districts are
already acting as mini-monarchies
with positions being passed from father to
son..
6. Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy appears to come
from various dystopian novels
rather than from the writings of foreign policy
experts.
7. Trophy
wives, long a phenomenon in some Western countries, have now arrived in Russia.
8. Trusts
now being used to transfer wealth from one generation of Russians to another,
with all the consequences that Western experience suggests this will have.
9. A
Duginist writer argues that no one who has been trained abroad should be
allowed to teach
in Russian educational institutions.
10. A
rising tide of violence by one person against another
is the whirlwind Russia
is reaping because of Putin’s hate campaign.
11. Even
the dead aren’t being left in peace
as conflict intensifies over construction
of new housing block near a Russian cemetery in the Daghestani capital.
12. At
commemoration of Beslan tragedy, sign declaring “Putin is an executioner” goes
up and then is quickly taken down.

13. International
travelers say
Moscow is the most unfriendly city in the world.

— Paul Goble