Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Even Lukashenka is Worried about What Putin May Do

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 22 – It is a measure of just how worried the leaders of countries bordering Russia are about the possibility that Vladimir Putin will build on his Crimean Anschluss by moving against their states that even Alyaksandr Lukashenka feels the need to deny that Mensk is oppressing ethnic Russians and to call on Belarusians to unite.

            In a message to the Belarusian parliament and people today, Lukashenka said that no one is mistreating ethnic Russians in Belarus, long viewed as Moscow’s closest ally among the former Soviet republics, and declared that Belarusians must unite as never before to maintain their statehood (itar-tass.com/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/1138372).

            The Belarusian president noted at the outset that he was issuing this appeal at a time when “the countries surrounding [Belarusians] were in motion: Ukraine is bubbling, the Russian Federation is trying to rise to its full historical height [and] borders are being destroyed before our eyes.”

            He said it was impossible to separate out “Belarusian blood” from Russian and that all “talk about ‘Russianness’ or ‘Belarussianness’ is a step toward a time of troubles.”  Consequently, he continued, one could not think of anything “more stupid” than the idea of any oppression of ethnic Russians by Belarusians or in Belarus.

            Indeed, Lukashenka said, “there is no other country in the world where the government and people are so supportive of “the great Russian culture” and “the great Russian language.” The Russian language, he said, is the “common” property of all three “fraternal peoples” and rejected the idea of “those who want to privatize Russian.  It is ours,” he said.

            “If we lose the Russian language,” he continued, “we will lose our mind,” but at the same time “if we stop speaking Belarusian, then we will cease to be a nation.”

Window on Eurasia: Crimean Tatars under Russian Threat Even as Putin ‘Rehabilitates’ Them

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 22 – In what is becoming a defining feature of the Putin regime, the Russian authorities are saying things that many people want to hear at exactly the same moment that they are doing things that directly contradict what they say. Today, the victims of that are the Crimean Tatars, a Moscow commentator says.

            In a blog post on Ekho Moskvy, Arkady Dubnov calls attention to the fact that “on the very same day” that Vladimir Putin signed a decree on the rehabilitation of the Crimean Tatars, masked men in camouflage broke into that nation’s Mejlis in order to take down the Ukrainian flag (echo.msk.ru/blog/dubnov/1305458-echo/).

            The Putin regime will likely disown this action, saying it is the work of local people over whom Moscow does not exercise control, the kind of “plausible deniability” that Moscow has used but that has been shown to be a lie concerning Russian forces elsewhere in the eastern portions of Ukraine.

            The links between the masked men in the Mejlis and the Russian authorities Putin has installed in occupied Crimea is obvious.  Sergey Aksyonov, the head of that regime, recently accused the Crimean Tatars of “provoking” inter-ethnic tensions and suggested on his Twitter account that “if they don’t like [that 97 percent of those taking part in the referendum voted to join Russia], then they should leave!”

            The Russian authorities have now banned Mustafa Cemilev, the irreplaceable leader of the Crimean Tatar national movement, from entering Crimea until 2019, Dubnov says, and by so doing, those powers have put under themselves a “delayed action” mine that could “explode at any moment” as the Russians seek to impose their order there.

            Moreover, according to employees of the Tatar service of the Crimean television channel, the Russian authorities have directed them not to mention Cemilev or show a picture of him or any other Crimean Tatar leaders.  This shows, Dubnov points out, that “the Russian powers are acting according to the typical Soviet method of ‘closing their eyes to a problem.’”

            “If something isn’t shown, then [for them], it doesn’t exist.” But that only makes the problem more serious with time.

            The Tatars will remain on the territory of Ukraine unless they are expelled. They will not forget what was done to them in 1944 by Stalin or by the current Russian regime on the peninsula, Dubnov continues.  And “the current decree of Putin ... will not promote an easing of this.”

            As a result, “it is difficult not to agree with Cemilev when he declares that ‘we do not need rehabilitation from Russia. Russia must itself rehabilitate itself before us for the crimes that were committed in 1944.”

            Given what Dubnov calls the “stupidity” of the Russian authorities, the journalist says, the situation is likely to deteriorate and some small incident that might otherwise pass without consequence could trigger serious problems on the peninsula. What that might be and whether it might be a provocation “can only be guessed at.”

            A day on which such an incident might occur is May25th when Ukraine will hold its presidential elections.  Because “tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars who have refused to take Russian citizenship” are likely to try to vote by crossing the Russian lines into areas under Kyiv’s control, all kinds of problems are possible.

            And Moscow should remember, Dubnov concludes, that Muslims around the world “will support the Crimean Tatars,” including believers in Tatarstan and the North Caucasus within the borders of the Russian Federation and in Turkey and the Arab world abroad.  That, Dubnov says, could present Moscow with “a new and [more serious] headache.”

Window on Eurasia: To Save its Revolution, Ukraine Must Conclude a ‘Brest Peace,’ Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 22 – Vladimir Pastukhov suggests that Ukraine now faces the choice of concluding a humiliating “Brest peace” with Moscow in which it would yield an enormous portion of its territory and population to preserve itself and in the hopes of recovering its losses in the future or risking the possibility that it was disappear altogether.

            In an essay on Polit.ru on Sunday, the St. Antony’s Russian scholar argues that just as the Bolsheviks signed the original humiliating treaty with Germany at the start of Soviet times not to betray their country but to save it, so too the Ukrainians may have to go through the same process now (polit.ru/article/2014/04/20/ukraine/).

            Many Russians and many Bolsheviks objected to Lenin’s decision to sign the Brest Peace accords, viewing them as a betrayal not only of the country but of the revolution.  But Pastukhov argues that Lenin’s decision reflected great intuition and greater political courage than what was being shown by his opponents.

            Under the circumstances given the power of the German army and the weakness of the Soviet state, he says, “any peace treaty was a good thing” because it preserved Lenin’s regime and gave it the opportunity to build up its forces, bide its time, and ultimately restore much of the territory it had yielded.

            Ukraine today, Pastukhov says, “is experiencing the most difficult times.”  In many ways, however, these times are not much more difficult than those Lenin faced at the start of Soviet times. He had to choose between fighting on and losing or making a peace and trying to hold on to something on which to build.

            According to the St. Antony’s scholar, as was true in 1918 for the Bolshevik state, so too now “war is death for revolutionary Ukraine.”  He says that “everyone understands this but will not say so aloud.” It has “no army, no resources, no state organization, not anything” needed to carry out a war.

            Moreover, Pastukhov argues, “it is perfectly obvious that the people does not want to fight.”  But some Ukrainian leaders are talking about war not because their country could win it but either because of emotional feelings or because such a conflict represents the only possibility for one or another of them to return to political power.

            Yulia Timoshenko is one of these, he says, and if she did not exist in Ukraine, “the Kremlin would have to invent her” because she is contributing to what is for Moscow “the optimal political reality: a situation of unending civil war which will not allow the government to concentrate on overcoming the economic crisis and engaging in state construction.”

                “That does not mean,” he hastens to add, that she is working for Moscow as “its agent.” Rather it is that “objectively” she is making it easier for the Kremlin to achieve its goal of transforming Ukraine into a burning buffer between Russia and the West.”

            Moscow “least of all” today wants to “’conquer’ Ukraine or unite it with Russia,” except for Crimea.  All it needs is to create conditions under which no one else will “’conquer’” that country.” Thus, Moscow’s policies: the introduction of enough force to destabilize Ukraine but not enough to conquer it or provoke a violent reaction.

            Timoshenko supports the Ukrainian revolution, Pastukhov says, but she clearly has not mastered “the Leninist lessons, the most important of which is that it is necessary to defend the revolution at any price, even at the price” of such a humiliating accord as a Brest-style peace lest the revolution be destroyed.

            Trying to fight on was impossible for the Bolsheviks in 1918 although it was emotionally important to many of Lenin’s comrades, so important that they actively opposed his policy and almost succeeded. Trying to fight on now is impossible for Ukraine on its own, however emotionally satisfying it may be.

            The goals Timoshenko has declared cannot be achieved, Pastukhov says. “The maximum she can achieve by her activity is the formation of non-governmental militarized formations consisting of radical nationalists and sending them on targeted punitive operations against the territories that are in revolt.”

            “After that,” he continues, “Ukraine will descend into a night of the long knives which will never end,” and “this, of course, will create problems for Russia in the long-term ... but it will not save Ukrainian statehood.”

            Unfortunately, he continues, Timoshenko is not alone either in Ukraine or in Russia where many liberals would like Ukraine to act in ways that will lead to “the liberation of Russia from dictatorship.”  They too are calling on Ukrainians to resist, something they themselves have proven incapable of doing. 

            “In order to survive, Ukraine needs peace on any conditions,” Pastukhov says. It will be under those now in place “an unjust and humiliating” one dictated under the guns of others and involve “possibly very significant territorial losses.”  But “the main thing is to preserve national statehood and lead the country through default.”

            “The best response of Ukraine” to the Anschluss of Crimea, he suggests, should be “the restoration out of the ashes of such a state that the residents of the peninsula ten years of now will seek to get their Ukrainian passports back,” even if that Ukraine for some of the intervening period is smaller in territory than it is today.

            “Even the loss of the entire south east would not be fatal if a nucleus around which this new statehood can be built is preserved,” Pastukhov says. And if the Russian Federation does annex them, it will quickly find that they are a burden and a problem rather than a trophy and a triumph.

            To that end, Kyiv should allow referenda in these regions. If they vote for independence or to join the Russian Federation, that will ultimately work out better for Ukraine than would an attempt to hold them by force, Pastukhov says.  It would be humiliating but it would not extinguish the Ukrainian state.  Resisting could have the opposite effect.

            “Today, Ukrainian statehood and the Ukrainian revolution are in danger,” he says, and consequently Ukraine faces a terrible choice, but one choice is ultimately less horrific than the other, and unfortunately, there is no third one.

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Program of ‘Empire and Dictatorship Rather than Nation State and Democracy’ will End in Catastrophe, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

                Staunton, April 22 – Vladimir Putin’s “Russian world” project of “empire instead of a nation state and dictatorship instead of democracy” is far more popular his country than calls for the development of a civic nation, Mariya Snegova says, but it will end, as all other such projects in Russian history have, with “a catastrophe” for the Russians themselves.

            In “Vedomosti” yesterday, Snegova, a political scientist at Columbia University, says that Russian reaction to Crimea shows that “a significant part of society supports the imperial aspirations of the Russian elite” because such aspirations correspond to the Russian search for national identity (vedomosti.ru/opinion/news/25602951/russkie-v-poiskah-nacii?full#cut).

            Indeed, citing the work of Bruce Kapferer (“Legends of People, Myths of State,” Washington, 1988), she insists that what Putin has done is less to brainwash or otherwise manipulate the Russians than to “formulate, verbalize and structure” what many of them already sense or feel.

            When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russians found themselves in an “ideological vacuum,” one that meant that they “couldn’t find an answer to the question ‘who are we?’” Snegova says, and thus could not address the problem of how to deal with an empire that had not completely fallen apart and a democratic system that had not been institutionalized.

            As many have pointed out, “Russia was always an empire rather than a nation state built on the foundation of popular sovereignty with a metropolitan center which united around itself conquered peoples.”  The non-Russians in this situation could base themselves in democratic values, but the Russians could not, lest they lose even more of the imperial patrimony.

            Russian rulers have understood this very well. Aleksandr II, the reformist tsar, said that “if he were to give Russia a constitution, it would fall apart; therefore,” he said, he “would not give it one.” Soviet leaders were the same. And many Russians to this day continue to believe that their primary task is holding on to the “’fraternal peoples.’”

            But that has enormous consequences, Snegova says, because “the imperial orientation has been indivisibly connected with an authoritarian system of governance.” In short, Russians have been confronted with the choice of empire or democracy, and they have repeatedly chosen empire even though it makes the achievement of democracy difficult if not impossible.

            This situation has been complicated and exacerbated by another Soviet arrangement that was not overcome in 1991.  In Soviet times, the Russian analyst notes, the Russians were not “a titular nationality” like all the other union republic nations. That is, they were never recognized as a nation that had a particular territory.

            That led many Russians to feel that they have been discriminated against, even though that arrangement gave Russians a predominant even overwhelming position in all-union institutions and was the only way that the USSR could have been kept from falling apart except at such high levels of coercion that no economic development would have been possible.

            The Russian Federation under Boris Yeltsin “did not become either a national (Russian) state or an empire holding the ‘fraternal peoples’ with an iron fist in a single state,” Snegova says.  And she argues that the 1994 Chechen war only underscored “the unresolved contradictions between democracy and empire.”

            In its search for a compromise or way out, the Yeltsin regime pushed the idea of non-ethnic Russians, “Rossiyane,” but that term and the policies it reflected did not address two serious problems: any democracy “stimulated separatist tendencies in the super-national federation,” and “the restoration of authoritarianism was a much more consistent” response.

            And these pressures, Snegova continues, were further exacerbated by the influx of migrants from Central Asia and the growing number of calls of “Russia for the Russians” among the ethnic majority in the Russian Federation.

            Aleksey Navalny suggested a way out by urging a combination of democracy and civic nationalism, but that combination did not resonate with many Russians. And consequently, the analyst says, “by the beginning of 2014, the Kremlin which was carefully listening to the attitudes of Russians formulated its competing project of the ‘Russian world.’”

            That project, “the archaic response of Putin” to Navalny’s ideas, explicitly favored “the empire instead of the nation state and dictatorship instead of democracy.” Beyond doubt, Snegova says, “for the majority of Russians, the Putin project was undoubtedly more attractive than that of ‘a civic nation.’”

            On the one hand, Russian liberals were generally unwilling to be as nationalist as Navalny was.  And on the other – and this is much more important, the Russian analyst says, the long tradition of “Russian imperial nationalism” ties together “the special role of the titular Russian nation with an imperial one.”

            “The ‘Russian world’ project appeals to the post-imperial syndrome of Russians” and s based on the idea of the shared cultures of the various indigenous peoples of the country, but “at the same time,” it “integrates in itself the idea of ‘Russia for the Russians’ and provides an answer” to the longstanding desire of Russians to be a titular nation.

            This idea is thus certain to enjoy widespread support for a time, Snegova says, but like its various precedents from Russian history, this latest attempt at combining several ideas “will inevitably end in a catastrophe for [Russians],” one, although she does not say so, of authoritarian decay or territorial disintegration.