Staunton, VA, January 9, 2017 — Igor Eidman, a Russian sociologist and commentator based in Germany, says that “the greatest world threat” in the coming year is “the spread of Putinism” as a result of the cooperation of right-wing groups with the Kremlin dictator, a threat that will only grow if he manages to “remove German Chancellor Angela Merkel.”
Eidman’s comments came during an interview with Boris Reitschuler for the German publication Focus (see Russian and Ukrainian).
Putin is “actively interfering in the elections of various countries,” the Russian sociologist says; but his “chief tactical” target at present is Merkel because of her critical attitude toward Putin’s actions in Ukraine and elsewhere and her ability to influence other Europeans in support of those positions.
“If in the 2017 German elections” which are to take place in the fall, Putin “succeeds in ‘torpedoing’ Merkel, anti-Russian sanctions likely will be lifted, and the policy of the EU regrading Russia changed significantly.” Indeed, in that event, Putin would become the dominant player in Europe, making any concerted Western opposition to his policies almost impossible.
And together with the tectonic shift resulting from the victory of a pro-Moscow candidate in the United States, such a result would give substance to Putin’s desire to be the most important figure in international affairs, even neither his aggression nor the state of his own country justifies such an outcome.
Staunton, VA, January 9, 2017 — “Russians living in Moscow and St. Petersburg don’t acknowledge even to themselves that the distance between Moscow and Makhachkala is essentially greater” physically, psychologically and politically “than the distance between [the capital of Dagestan] and [the Syrian city of] Aleppo, according to Avraam Shmulyevich.
The Caucasus of which Dagestan is a part is in turn “part of the Greater Middle East,” the Israeli specialist on the region says, a geographic and cultural fact that Russian governments from tsarist times to the present have ignored as “inconvenient” and thus acted in ways that reinforce rather than reduce these ties.
Indeed, Shmulyevich says, “despite all the efforts of the Russians, geography wins” whether its opponent is the General Staff of the Russian Empire, the CPSU Central Committee, or the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation.”
As a result, “old ties are being restored,” and “what is taking place in the Islamic world … even for those parts still within the Russian Federation has no less significant for the Caucasus than what is occurring in Moscow.” Even more important in some ways, “what is occurring in the Caucasus is beginning to have an influence on the rest of the Middle East.”
As a result, Shmulyevich argues, all developments in that larger region are having an impact on the Caucasus, be they the rise of Islamist ideas and organizations or possible redrawing of borders as the world may be forced to do in Syria and Iraq and may have to watch elsewhere given “the artificiality” of borders in the region as a whole.
According to the Israeli researcher, “the population of Dagestan and the population of Chechnya is very carefully watching what is happening in Syria and Iraq. And this is not simple curiosity: [people they know] have gone there for jihad.” In that region now “live more Circassians, more Abkhazians, and more Crimean Tatars than inside the Russian Federation.”
In addition to these personal ties, ties reinforced by this latest trend, he says, there are economic, religious and political ones, some of which Moscow is unwittingly expanding as when Putin sends Kadyrov’s Chechens to fight in Syria. Once again, as so often in the past, “a colonial empire” – and Russia is very much one – is dying as a result of its own stupidity.”
In the coming year, Shmulyevich says, political Islam will certainly struggle and there are likely to be efforts to redraw Syria’s borders along ethnic lines, something that will produce “a chain reaction of collapse of other poly-ethnic and poly-confessional states in the region, [including] Turkey and Azerbaijan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan.”
And this “total redrawing of the political map” will have an impact on “other parts of the post-war world, including Europe and Russia.”
The Russians have only themselves to blame for opening “the Pandora’s box of political Islam” when as the result of “the stupidity of the communist leadership, the USSR invaded Afghanistan. The Russians destroyed the Afghan monarchy, they killed several million people but at the end were forced to leave Afghanistan and admit their defeat.”
“In the course of that war,” Shmulyevich says, the Rusisans “destroyed the Sufi tariqats, a very powerful structure which had existed for centuries and which fulfilled a most important institutional role in the Islamic world, including in Afghanistan.” As a result, “the genie of political Islam was released into the world.”
He continues: “Muslims for the first time in several centuries saw that they were in a position to defeat Europeans in war. Since the time of the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the gates of Vienna, a Muslim could pray, make the haj, and engage in trade, but he understood that the white man was stronger than he was.”
“After Afghanistan, [the Muslim] for the first time in 500 years felt the taste of Victory.” Indeed, an event in 1988 which is now largely forgotten may turn out to be a major turning point in the history of the world. In that year, Afghan mujahidin “crossed the border of the Soviet Union into Turkmenistan and raided its territory.”
“Several border units were destroyed as were several rural soviets and militia outposts,” an amazing if largely ignored action because “for the first time in several hundred years, Muslims invaded a European empire and won a victory over it,” Shmulyevich argues. Russia’s invasion of Chechnya had similar consequences.
“Formally, the Rusisans won having destroyed, having destroyed open armed resistance, but in reality, the Chechen war led only to the explosive growth of Islamic self-consciousness in its most radical jihadist forms. And one has to be very naïve to think that the Caucasians have forgotten and forgiven the Russians for their bloody actions.”
Compared to Syria, the Caucasus “may seem quiet, but this is not entirely so. The ‘quiescence’ in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria … is maintained by the harshest military-police methods” that not only resemble but are viewed as part and parcel of a Russian “occupation” of the region.
But “terror and repression in general and in the Caucasus in particular work only for a definite period. Then they produce exactly the opposite effect,” Shmulyevich says, arguing that now the Caucasus is like a pot of boiling water that the Russians have put a lid on; but the longer that lid is held down, the more likely an explosion becomes.
Staunton, January 9, 2017 – With yet another sports competition just moved out of Russia and attention to former sports minister Vitaly Mutko’s role in the doping scandal intensifying, many in Moscow now fear that Russia could be stripped of the 2018 World Cup.
That would be a both a major personal and public relations disaster for Vladimir Putin who has long insisted that hosting the World Cup was just as important an indication that Russia under his leadership was again “standing on its feet” as was the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, now so tarnished by the Russian government’s doping program.
As a result, some in Moscow are considering how best to play defense, including radical steps like firing Mutko, in an effort to save the situation. And it is likely although certainly not the subject of public discussion that the Kremlin will try to save its right to host the competition by trying to corrupt any decision-making process about it.
At Versiya, Irina Gritsinskaya says that FIFA [International Federation of Football Associations] has begun an investigation into the role of Mutko in the doping scandal and that if it determines that he was involved, he will be banned from soccer in the future and the 2018 World Cup may be shifted from Russia.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had pointed to Mutko in its report of some six months ago, the sports commentator says. It appears to be coming up again because of the spate of decisions by various sports groups to shift international athletic competitions out of Russia to other countries.
And now it is soccer’s turn, she says. At the end of December, FIFA dropped Russia from 55th to 56th in its world rankings even though the Russian team had not taken part in any matches earlier in the month, an indication, she suggests, that the soccer world is now taking a closer look at all things connected to Russia.
Indeed, when the FIFA report was released, Grinitskaya says, “it became know that among those suspected of using drugs were [11 current Russian] soccer players,” in addition to four who had been identified as doing so earlier. That creates a new situation with which Moscow must cope.
According to Grinitskaya, the smallest loss Russia is likely to have to absorb is the retirement of Mutko. More serious but still not fatal would be a ban on the 11 new players who reportedly have taken performance-enhancing drugs. But the most serious would be for FIFA to decide to strip Russia of the right to host the competition in 2018.
Vladimir Putin has pledged Moscow’s full cooperation with the investigation, although he has continued to insist as have all other Russian officials that there never has been and is not now a state-organized program of doping and its cover up, despite what FIFA’s earlier research showed.
The question in Moscow now is whether Russia will be allowed to host the 2018 competition or not, Grinitskaya says. Some experts like the observer for the Russian sports paper Chempionat, say that FIFA will try to avoid taking the games away from Russia because of the complications that would introduce so close to their scheduled starting date.
But he and others acknowledge that pressure from various countries and athletic federations may increase to the point that FIFA will have no choice, whatever its preferences are.
Grinitskaya quotes an Italian sports writer from Il Giornale about what the latter says are US attempts to take the World Cup away from Russia. But he adds, in what may be Moscow’s last hope to save the situation, “I do not think that Mr. Trump will have the audacity to do so.”