Graffiti: "Evil Time." Photo by Vladimir Zhabrikov/Ura.ru
Turkey Can Create Real Problems for Moscow in North Caucasus — But Not the Ones Russians Expect, Kazenin Says
Staunton, VA, December 10, 2015 – In the current crisis, Turkey has the ability to create problems for Moscow in the North Caucasus but not the ones many Russian analysts have been predicting on the basis of Ankara’s involvement in the region in the first decade after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, according to Kontantin Kazenin.
Then, many of the Turkic nations of the region looked to Ankara and even played with the idea of pan-Turkic groupings, but now the situation has changed; and few if any of these groups are interested in taking the kind of risks that such actions would entail, the Regnum commentator says.
Instead, Turkey can and will work in different directions, Kazenin argues; and if Moscow is to be in a position to counter Ankara effectively, it must recognize what those are rather than continuing, as many are now urging, to focus on groups no longer being targeted and thus ignore the new ones that are.
Under current conditions, he suggests, “the likelihood that the Turkic communities of the North Caucasus will somehow orient themselves toward Ankara is most likely equal to zero.” And that is true not only of those groups which have integrated themselves well the current powers that be but also of those who define themselves as the regional “’opposition.’”
There are two main reasons for that conclusions, Kazenin suggests. On the one hand, most Turkic groups in the North Caucasus Kumyks in Daghestan and the Balkars in Kabardino-Balkaria are focused on issues like land redistribution that have little if anything to do with pan-Turkic aspirations of any kind. Raising that issue would preclude the solution of the other.
The Karachays in Karachayevo-Cherkessia are in a somewhat different position, but just now, Kazenin points out, they are focused on the upcoming decision of Moscow about who will be the next head of that republic. They know very well that any mention of pan-Turkic notions would lead the center to go against them.
Indeed, so much aware are the Turkic peoples of the way in which Moscow would react to pan-Turkic ideas, the Regnum commentator continues, that in recent years they have avoided cooperating with one another lest such cooperation appear to be the basis for someone to charge them with “pan-Turkism.”
As far as the Circassians are concerned, a group that is not Turkic but that has a sizeable community in Turkey that Ankara might be expected to use, it is unclear, Kazenin says, whether the Circassians in Turkey are all that united and whether Turkey has any real resources with the Circassians in the North Caucasus.
And on the other hand, he continues, ethnicity as a mobilizing factor is far less important than religion. “Ethnic ideology as such now is not nearly as popular in the North Caucasus then it was 20 years ago. The language of social protest there now has become in a large degree religious rather than ethnic,” and Turkey can’t change that quickly.
“However,” the Regnum commentator continues, “all this does not mean that the current conflict with Turkey is not capable of creating serious problems in the North Caucasus,” only that those problems are different than many think. They involve the dependence of many firms in these areas on imports from Turkey and the failure of Moscow to focus on how to provide alternative supplies.
If supplies stop, firms contract and unemployment grows as appears likely in several cases, the Turkic origin of the workers involved “will not have any importance;” but the anger of these people will nonetheless be very real. And if they begin discussing this in terms of their economic interests, that could ultimately lead them back to nationalist concerns.
“The deterioration of relations with Turkey is hitting precisely that part of the local economy in the North Caucasus which exists outside of all possible federal programs and doesn’t receive any support from the state,” Kazenin says. The peoples there can see that, and unless something changes, they will draw conclusions unfavorable to Russia.
Revolution in Russia ‘Inevitable and Necessary,’ Khodorkovsky Says
Staunton, VA, December 10, 2015 – On December 9, exiled Russian oligarch and opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky gave an online press conference in which he said that a revolution in Russia is both “inevitable and necessary, a declaration that has attracted broad attention in the Russian segment of the Internet.
But he said a number of other important things as well, and these have been summarized by Yevgeny Babushkin at Snob.ru December 10 as “The Eight Theses of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.” Taken together, they form both a cri de coeur and a political program.
· On the powers that be: “The decorative role of the government is clear to all. The president and his entourage can use the means of the state without any control to buy loyalty, make war and engage in various mega-projects or simply to line their own pockets.” That pattern, he suggests, shows that Russia today has suffered “a full-scale anti-constitutional turnover.”
· On revolution: Given the lack of honest elections, “the only means of changing power is revolution … the issue is how to make this a peaceful one … Revolution is inevitable; it can and must be peaceful.”
· On the future: Russia needs new centers of growth, better transportation, contemporary infrastructure and modern industry. “All this is impossible without escaping from the isolation which the authorities have driven us in order to keep themselves in power forever.”
· On the opposition: “The Russian opposition undoubtedly must unite, but this will not be sufficient” until the dictator goes.
· On the Stockholm syndrome: As far as the love for Putin is concerned, a love which 90 percent of the population of Russia feels, then this is the kind of love that the residents of many countries in the world suffer from as do hostages seized by terrorists. This is an ordinary situation.”
· On love and politics: “Since my mother passed away in August,” Khodorkovsky says, he has “no obligations before Putin.” But he isn’t interested in getting involved in politics. “Unfortunately, the situation has assumed a form in which the professional people who are involved in politics in the opposition now cannot fulfill this function.”
· On science and Africa: Russia cannot modernize or even hold its own if it doesn’t integrate with technologically advanced countries, something the current Kremlin opposes. “The main problem in the middle distance is the loss of technological schools, the loss of cadres, the loss of science, and the loss of talented young people. Will be able to exist by selling natural resources? Yes, we will be able: there are not a few countries which live that way, most of them are in Africa.”
· On security: Despite his travails in the past, Khodorkovsky says, his “current situation seems [to him] secure.”
Moscow Fears Kaliningrad Might Face a Crimea-Style Blockade
Staunton, VA, December 10, 2015 – The Crimean blackout has forced Moscow officials to begin to think about how much of a threat of a similar energy blockade to Kaliningrad there may be and what the authorities in Moscow and those in the Russian exclave should do to prepare for the worst, according to Regnum’s Andrey Vypolzov.
He reports that not only have senior Moscow officials gone to Kaliningrad to discuss what should be done but also members of the Duma have begun to speak about the need for “rapid technical decisions” concerning Kaliningrad in the wake of the Crimean events.
At one level, Vypolzov says, the situation of the two “islands” is similar: Both are sites of major Russian military bases and both are surrounded by hostile states. However, he suggests, Kaliningrad has certain advantages that could prove decisive if anyone began to think about a blockade of the exclave.
On the other hand, he continues, Moscow does not have some of the options in Kaliningrad that it has in Crimea. There is no possibility of building a bridge from Russia proper to the region. And consequently, the Russian government needs to ensure that Kaliningrad’s energy needs are met in Kaliningrad.
At present, “up to 98 percent” of Kaliningrad’s electricity needs are provided by the Kaliningrad thermal power plant, which is powered by natural gas. That gas comes via a pipeline which goes from Minsk to Vilnius to Kaunas to Kaliningrad, a route in which there are two NATO country cities and one unreliable ally capital.
Last summer, Vypolzov says, Kaliningrad’s governor told him that “thank God” Vilnius has had sense enough not to block this gas line. But relying on God in this instance is clearly not enough.
Kaliningrad also relies on coal, and that fuel comes via train, again through Lithuania or by sea through an area which “Poland theoretically controls.” Thus, there is a need to find new and more independent sources of power because the US and NATO decide to put pressure on Moscow by a blockade of Lithuania, the Regnum writer says.
There are essentially two ways Russia could do so, he suggests. Either it could extend a branch of the Nordstream pipeline to the exclave, or it could build a Baltic nuclear power plant there.
“For the absolute energy security of Kaliningrad Region,” Vypolzov says, Kaliningrad needs the nuclear plant – but only on the condition that it will be dedicated to supplying the region rather than selling its power to foreign countries. At present, discussions about such a plant are based on exactly the opposite assumption; and Moscow has not intervened.
“There is yet another similarity of Crimea and Kaliningrad,” Vypolzov says, and that involves “problems with transportation access to mainland Russia.” A Kerch bridge will “quickly solve this issue” for Crimea, but “there is no [equivalent] solution for Kaliningrad” on offer.
There has been talk about Russia renting a 60 kilometer corridor along the Polish-Lithuanian border, but agreement on that now is “unrealistic,” although the journalist says, “it isn’t harmful of course to dream.”
That makes air communications even more important, but in that sector there are problems. Even though Moscow subsidizes the Kaliningrad-Moscow route, it operates fully only part of the year (from May to October) and costs more than twice as much as flights to Europe. Not surprisingly, many Kaliningraders now look west rather than east.
And nothing is being done to modernize the Kaliningrad airport. It was privatized, but the new owner hasn’t seen a way to make a profit and hasn’t done what is needed as even Vladimir Putin complained at a recent meeting in Moscow. Unless something is, Kaliningrad could be increasingly cut off from Russia.
Two Russian Businessmen Denounce Policies of Government and Call for It to Go
Staunton, VA, December 10, 2015 Speaking at a section of the Moscow Economic Forum December 10, two Russian businessmen issued stinging denunciations of the Russian government’s economic policies, arguing that Moscow was killing the business it couldn’t steal from, and demanded that the government be replaced.
Their protests reflect the anger many Russian businessmen feel about Moscow policies but have been largely unwilling to express. But now that two have broken this taboo, more businessmen may speak out and thus present, along with the truckers’ strike, a more serious threat to the regime than those activists who describe themselves as the political opposition.
But there is another possibility as well, one that cannot be discounted in the murky politics of Vladimir Putin’s Russia: these sharp criticisms may be exploited by the Kremlin leader to deflect all blame for shortcomings from himself to the government of Dmitry Medvedev and then replace the latter with a new command.
One of the businessmen, Pavel Grudinin, director of the Lenin State Farm, said that government policies were responsible for the current economic crisis and that they were keeping businesses from operating effectively.
The other, Dmitry Potapenko, the managing partner of the management Development Group, went even further. He said that the actions of the government, including “the criminal goods embargo,” restrictions and new taxes and fees, had delivered “a knockout blow” to Russian business.
Potapenko described the situation in blunt terms: “The dialogue of business and the authorities over the last 20 years has been one of a butcher with a cow in which the former sweetly looks into the eyes of the latter and holding a knife on its throat asks: ‘And what do you have to give today – meat or milk’”
Both supported the long-haul truckers’ action and said that it was now clear that the government is incapable of dealing with the crisis. “I do not understand,” Grudinin said, why the government doesn’t go now as it is certainly going to have to go at some point in the future if Russia is to recover.
Their criticism generalizes on what others have said, including exiled businessman Igor Bitkov and most recently Sberbank head German Gref about the problems of business in Russia.
But what is most important is that the two have blamed not the system in general but rather focused on the government as such, thus politicizing the issue in a way that the Kremlin may have more problems responding to, according to various commentators reacting to the words of Grudinin and Potepenko.
Private Armies Said Reemerging in Russia
Staunton, VA, December 10, 2015 It sometimes seems that in today’s Russia, there is a race between the restoration of some of the worst features of Soviet times and some of the worst features of the 1990s. One of the latter – the formation of private armies businesses, governments, or parties might use – is now making a comeback, at least in Yekaterinburg.
In an article on the URA.ru portal, Viktor Dorofeyev says that as a result, “when they will be needed, hundreds of ‘strong fists’ will come out into the streets of the capital of the Urals. How [such forces] will be used is something that their masters,” not the government, “will decide.”
In the 1990s, he writes, everyone in Yekaterinburg knew about the Tsentr, Uralmash and Siniye militant groups but most had thought these private armies were safely in the past. But “they are returning,” the journalist says, being recruited and trained in “militant clubs” whose members are ready to use “crude physical force.”
And as the experience of the 1990s showed, Dorofeyev continues, such forces can quickly earn money for their masters by destroying competitors or intimidating sellers or “be transformed into a political” force that will allow this arm of private power to determine what the state can and cannot do.
Getting information about these groups is not easy: the authorities don’t want to admit they are a problem, and those who are part of them don’t like to talk about their semi-legal or even completely illegal arrangements – and the possibility that they will use them against the government.
But there are “three sources” of information about these groups, and Dorofeyev has drawn on all of them: officials in law-enforcement ministries themselves, former employees of law enforcement organizations, and persons in the business community “who often cooperate with semi-criminal elements.”
The largest of these groups in Yekaterinburg is under the control of businessman German Gardt. Himself a former participant in the private armies of the 1990s, Gardt has organized camps and training centers so that he has at hand as many as 400 militants he can call on to fight his competitors or prevent them or the state from challenging his position.
But there are a variety of other groups of various sizes under the control of various businesses in the city. Most of those in control know each other and have worked out a modus vivendi both among themselves and with the state, although this can and does break down when one decides to challenge the other, Dorofeyev says.
According to the journalist, there are approximately 1200 “well-prepared” people ready to do their masters’ bidding with their fists or weapons. What that bidding may be as the economic crisis deepens is the big question because as the economic pie becomes smaller, the owner of each will use what he has at hand to take a portion from another business or the state.