Friday, July 12, 2024

A Rare Report from ‘The Blue Wedge’ – a Ukrainian Region in Russia Just North of Kazakhstan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 10 – The places in what is now the Russian Federation where Ukrainians resettled at the end of imperial times are referred to as “wedges” (kliny). The largest and most famous of these are in the Far East (“the green wedge”) and in the Kuban (“the almond wedge”). But those are far from the only such wedges of this kind.

(For more on the wedge issue in general, see jamestown.org/program/kyiv-raises-stakes-by-expanding-appeals-to-ukrainian-wedges-inside-russia/, jamestown.org/program/kremlin-worried-about-ukrainian-wedges-inside-russia/  and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/06/a-real-wedge-issue-ukrainian-regions-in.html and the sources cited therein.)

            Russian officials typically suggest that these regions are fully integrated and that those who were Ukrainian in the past have assimilated, but sometimes these officials express fears that Kyiv will exploit these communities against Moscow, comments that suggest that even Moscow doesn’t fully believe its own claims.

            But lest these claims be challenged, Russian officials have done what they can to restrict investigations and reports about the wedges. And thus any reporting about them is precious, especially when it concerns wedges other than the green in the Far East and the almost in the Kuban which remain far better on.

            One wedge that has suffered from a lack of coverage in particular in the Blue Wedge which is located in Omsk Oblast just north of the Russian border with Kazakhstan. Two years ago, a few articles appeared (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/06/kyiv-seeking-to-use-ukrainian-blue.html) and now a major one has opened a window on this region.

            Now, Marina-Maya Govzman, a journalist with the independent Ovdi information portal offers one of the most comprehensive portraits of that wedge where most people still speak Ukrainian and see themselves as part of Ukrainian culture but are divided by the war with some going off to fight and others are resisted despite police pressure (en.ovdinfo.org/gordienko).

            Among the many fascinating comments she collected from local residents, the following are especially instructive as to what is going on in the Blue Wedge:

·       “Welcome to Khokhland! That’s what we call it here.”

·       “In some villages, if you speak Russian, they immediately figure you aren’t from around here … In Blagodarivka, children couldn’t understand the young Russian-speaking teachers from the city, so retired teachers had to go back to work.”

·       Many in the Blue Wedge nonetheless have accepted Moscow propaganda and say, in Ukrainian, that they are fighting Nazis there. But there are also anti-war activists who have been subject to official persecution.

·       «Our grandchildren speak mostly Russian, but our children can also speak Ukrainian! As for us, we love both languages».

·       The head of the local village government says that “half of the people here speak Ukrainian. Just go to the store and listen. And they also speak Kazakh. We have many ethnicities here. Speak whatever you want. No one prohibits it, unlike in Ukraine.”

Both Russians and the West Fail to Understand How Three Distinct Russias Interact, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 10 – Three Russias – the Russian idea, the idea of Russia and Russia as an idea – coexist and interact, but their relationships are so complex that they get in the way of understanding both by Russians themselves and by outsiders as to what is really going on and what is possible, Vladimir Pastukhov says.

            The first Russia, the London-based Russian analyst says, is “Putin’s fictional Russia, today’s façade, a country hooked on an ideological drug … with a craving for unlimited expansion and which has turned into a global exporter of chaos” (t.me/v_pastukhov/1148 reposted at kasparov.ru/material.php?id=668E3BEDCD17C).

            The second Russia, Pastukhov continues, is “the real Russia hidden behind the façade, the country ‘as it is,’ closed in on itself and indifference to everything, suffering from complexes and devastations, tired of a century of revolutions and terror, with a poor demography and an even worse elite, slowing dying.”

            And the third Russia is “a virtual one that never existed, Russia as an idea,” something invisible to prying eyes that exists only in the imagination,” a Kitezh that never drowned but “never really floated to the surface either, hidden deep in the subconscious of the people and manifesting itself in phobias, addictions and stable behavioral stereotypes.”

            According to Pastukhov, “the problem is that in Russia, it seems, everything imaginary is ultimately real, and everything real as a rule exists mainly in the imagination.” As a result, “the interactions among these three Russias are complex and poorly understood both by the Russians themselves and even more so by foreigners.”

            “Why,” he asks, “does the West constantly underestimate the Putin regime? Because behind the Kremlin leader’s façade, the West sees only the actual Russia of today, an unhappy, broken-down country that in the view of the West doesn’t pose the strategic threat that China does.”

            But “if the West better understood the depth, potential and true meaning of the Russian idea, at least in the way in which Richard Pipes did when he was advisor to Reagan, then it would set its priorities differently and the much-ballyhooed Chinese threat would fade into the background,” Pastukhov argues.

            “Behind the façade of modern Russia, which out of its hidden weakness gave rise to Putin’s Russia, frightening everyone with either real or imaginary power, lies the outlines of a Russia which exists outside of time and space as an idea, a ‘virtual Russia,’ invisible and intangible by conventional means” but one that provides it with “’dark social energy.’”

            This virtual Russia, the analyst continues, “makes the Putin regime both extremely dangerous for all humanity and much more resistance to any pressure, including military and especially economic than it seems to those who are accustomed to coming up with scenarios guided solely by Euclidean geometry and positivist thinking.”       

            Pastukhov then says that while he isn’t ready to “subscribe to the formula that ‘you can’t understand Russia with your mind,’” he doe believe that “it is really difficult to understand it only with your mind based solely on the historical experience of Europe. People there drink different wines there.”

            And that has led him to focus on the question “why is this ‘wine of Russian history’ almost always dark? Why shouldn’t it be filled with ‘light energy’?” Mikhail Epstein gives an accurate but incomplete answer when he says that this wine has been “bottled in moments of ‘cultural default.’”

            But Russia is not experiencing its first such default, and some European countries have experienced defaults of their own without giving up the possibility of the restoration of light, the analyst continues, who insists that the fate of modern Russia will depend on whether it can be “reformatted” so that it emits not dark energy but some other kind.

            “Unfortunately,” Pastukhov says in conclusion, “there is no clear answer; and any answer appears likely to lie more in the area of faith than in that of knowledge,” something that makes it particularly inaccessible to many in both Russia and the West.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Norway to Boost Its and NATO’S Strategic Presence on Jan Mayen Island to Ward Off Any Move against Spitsbergen

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 8 – The Norwegian Defense Estates Agency, the part of that country’s defense ministry that develops real estate for its military, has announced an 80 million US dollar modernization of defense ministry facilities on Jan Mayen Island, an otherwise uninhabited island near the Spitzbergen archipelago.

            The announcement (in Norwegian) is available at forsvaretsforum.no/forsvarsbygg-jan-mayen-langtidsplanen/har-signert-jan-mayen-kontrakt-verdt-820-millioner-kroner/386427. It is discussed in detail at thebarentsobserver.com/en/security/2024/07/investments-jan-mayen-strengthen-norways-strategic-presence-north-atlantic.

            This announcement is especially significant now because Jan Mayen Island, while often grouped with the Spitzbergen archipelago, is not subject to the 1920 Svalbard treaty that reaffirmed Norway’s sovereignty over those islands but declared that Oslo could not establish a military base there. There are no such limitations on Jan Mayen Island.

            Moreover, it comes on the heels of Oslo’s decision to cancel the sale of the last large privately held parcel of land in Spitzbergen to the Chinese to prevent that land from being used against Norway’s national interests, a decision that is still being challenged (thebarentsobserver.com/en/2024/07/legal-experts-norways-decision-block-sales-svalbard-property-goes-against-svalbard-treaty).

            And the announcement comes as Norwegian security experts and others warn Moscow might exploit the provisions of the Svalbard Treaty to make a move against Norway and thus NATO (jamestown.org/program/moscows-first-move-against-nato-could-take-place-in-norways-svalbard-archipelago/ and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2024/05/norwegian-security-expert-alarmed-by.html).

Russians who have Fled Putinism Should Buy an Island and Create a New Russian-Speaking Nation, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 8 -- All too many of the million Russians who have fled Putin’s regime believe that it will soon collapse and that they will be able to return to a beautiful new Russia. Such optimism is likely “premature,” Vadim Shtepa says; and they need to consider alternatives rather than fall into despair.

            One of those options is to purchase an island somewhere in the world, one in which they could create a genuine alternative to the Russia Putin rules, the editor of the Tallinn-based regionalist portal, Region.Expert says (svoboda.org/a/russkiy-tayvanj-vadim-shtepa-o-postrossiyskoy-pragmatike/33021658.html, reposted at  region.expert/ru-island/).

            Before such a possibility is dismissed out of hand, he continues, those who have left Putin’s Russia need to remember that such an island could really be created much as English speakers did when they broke away from the United Kingdom and Spanish speakers did when they broke from Spain.

            Such an island state could become “a new small Russian-language country which would correspond to all the norms of international law and be a democratic parliamentary republic,” Shtepa says. It would likely be admitted to the EU and “by the very fact of its existence would demolish the Kremlin’s doctrine of ‘a Russian world.’”

            While such an island state would speak the same language as the country centered on Moscow, it would be significantly different as far as politics, economics and “the main thing psychology” are concerned. If it remained committed to imperial great-power chauvinism, “there would be no sense” for it to exist and it would be absorbed by the Muscovite state.

            Some will object that “we don’t need another country while Russia exists,” but that challenge can be dispensed with by recalling the multitude of English- and Spanish-speaking countries far from their ‘historical motherlands” and by pointing out that those who form such a Russian island state, one like Taiwan or Singapore, must pass an important psychological test.

            They must recognize and act on the proposition that, although they are Russian speakers, “the Muscovite kingdom and the Petersburg empire are not ‘our country’” and that those willing to take this step will be engaged in creating “an entirely different civilization,” just as the Americans have done.

 

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Record Number of Russians Now Suffering from Mental Disorders, Largely Because of War in Ukraine, Medical Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 7 – Following declines over the last decade, the number of Russians now suffering from mental disorders has set a new record, with 460,000 new cases in 2023 bringing the total to more than four million over all, according to Russian government data and Moscow medical experts.

            Some of this increase reflects mental health problems that were not diagnosed during the covid pandemic, but much of it, Moscow psychologists and psychiatrists say, is the direct result of stress from the war in Ukraine. And they say that the upsurge in such problems as a result of that conflict has only begun (istories.media/news/2024/0 7/05/mental-issues-in-2023/).

            The full impact of the war will be felt in this sector, the medical specialists say, only five to ten years after the conflict is over. Until that date, the number of Russians diagnosed with mental problems will continue to rise and the number choosing to self-medicate with alcohol and anti-depressants will go up.

Some Officials in Russian Regions Resisting Kremlin Efforts to Promote Veterans into Political Life

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 9 – Despite Putin’s call to promote veterans of his war in Ukraine into city councils and regional assemblies, the leaders of some Russian federal subjects are resisting and even sabotaging such Kremlin efforts apparently in order to keep control of the situaiton, according to Vitaly Ivanov of the Club of the Regions portal.

            Commenting on the results of the United Russia primaries, the political scientist who specializes on regional issues says that resistance to Putin’s call appears to be centered in deputy governors who are responsible for organizing the elections to regional and local offices rather than with governors themselves (club-rf.ru/interview/508).

            Ivanov says he met one deputy governor who even “argued in all seriousness” that Putin did not say “directly” that veterans should be integrated into the power elite. Apparently that man has some kind of prejudice against veterans. But he is far from alone, the political scientist says; and thus there are fewer veterans running for office than there should be.

            To overcome such resistance, he continues, Moscow is going to have to establish quotas and monitor the situation closely; or regional officials will likely continue to resist. 

Russian Officials have Put Up Memorials to More than 400 Convicts who Died Fighting in Ukraine, ‘Vyorstka’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 9 – Vladimir Putin has said that veterans of his military operation in Ukraine must be the new elite of the Russian Federation; and so it is not surprising that Russian officials have put up memorials to those who have died fighting in that war of aggression and destruction.

            But because Moscow recruited so many convicts being held in Russian prisons, jails and camps, there are a large number of such people earlier convicted of such serious crimes as murder, rape, burglary and theft who have died and are now being memorialized throughout the country.

            The Vyorstka news agency has surveyed this trend and concludes that officials have put up more than 400 memorials to convicts who served in the Russian military in Ukraine. Many of these memorials are for individuals; others for groups; and the news agency stresses that its list almost certainly is incomplete (verstka.media/novosti-memorialnii-zeki-geroi-svo).

            Such memorials in homes, parks, alleys of glory, and schools are to be found in 58 regions of the Russian Federation; and enough is known about those being memorialized that it is possible to say that at least 128 of them were earlier convicted of murder and attempted murder, 110 for drug crimes, and 132 for theft.

            Not everyone is pleased with this trend, the news agency continues, especially parents who are uncertain that schools should be putting up memorials to criminals whatever they may have subsequently done in Ukraine.