Thursday, October 23, 2014

Window on Eurasia: New Russian Film about Northern Peoples’ Rising against Soviet Power in the 1930s Wins Prize in Rome

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 23 – Aleksey Fedorchenko, a Yekaterinburg director, was awarded the Marcus Aurelius of the Future prize by the Rome Film Festival today for his new move, “Angels of the Revolution,” which tells the story of the rising in the early 1930s  of two numerically small peoples of the North, the Khanty and Nentsy, against Soviet power.


            The director said that the movie, entirely filmed in Khanty-Mansiisk and based on actual events documented at the Institute of Finno-Ugric Studies, has “no negative heroes: they are all positive,” but it is simply the case that they found themselves in a struggle between two civilizations,” that of the traditional peoples of the North and that of Soviet power ( and


            Fedorchenko earlier attracted international attention for his 2011 film, “The Heavenly Wives of the Luga Mari,” about another Finno-Ugric people in the Middle Volga region. Like that movie, his current film attempts to move beyond ideological stereotypes and present the conflict in strictly human terms.


            Peasant resistance to Stalin’s collectivization campaign has been widely documented, but the violent response of the Northern peoples of the Russian Federation has attracted less attention, although there have been a few scholarly studied prepared in Russia and in Estonia over the last two decades.


            The revolt of the Khanty and Nentsy, which is usually called the Kazym rebelleion, began in the early 1930s when Soviet officials attempted to bring these peoples out of their traditional forest homes into urban places where they could be more easily controlled and to stamp out many of their national traditions, including their cult of the bear.


            That sparked violence in 1932-33 which was suppressed by units of the Red Army in 1933-34. These events are still part of the national memories of the peoples of that region and this film undoubtedly will attract still more attention there and elsewhere to one of the lesser known acts of genocide by the Soviet authorities.


Window on Eurasia: Will Kremlin’s Next Wave of ‘Little Green Men’ be Outsourced to ‘Private’ Firms?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 23 – Yesterday, Just Russia Duma deputies tabled a draft bill that would allow private firms to create under license from the FSB their own military units, something that some Russian corporations have already done and that others appear to want to do and that could create new possibilities for deception and denial for Moscow.


            According to the measure, such private firms could “provide military and guard services to the state, other companies or individual citizens, including foreign ones,” and assist Moscow in “the alternative resolution of military conflicts beyond the borders of the Russian Federation” (


            Although this bill was proposed by a nominally opposition party, the idea of creating such units enjoys support from within the pro-government United Russia Party.  Last summer, Frants Klintsevich, a United Russia deputy who chairs the Duma defense committee, said he was working with the defense ministry on a similar measure.


            Such privatization or outsourcing of military functions is already a major business around the world. According to the authors of the new bill, 110 countries already have some form of private militaries.  Their activities a 350 billion US dollar business in which Russian firms would then have a chance to participate, backers of the plan say.


             But there is a more worrisome aspect of this project if it goes forward: it could give Moscow yet another way to invade neighboring countries as it has in Ukraine with even greater plausible deniability, allowing Putin and Lavrov to say that such actions are the work of private firms and not the Russian government.


            The willingness of some Western analysts and governments to accept such duplicity has been very much on display in the case of Ukraine. The former of nominally private Russian military units would only make it even easier for them to ignore reality in the future. Consequently, any formation of private armies in Russia must be watched with great care.



Window on Eurasia: 5,000 Yanukovich Supporters Who Fled with Him to Russia Await Return

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 23 – Most people in Ukraine and elsewhere have focused either on the flight of former president Viktor Yanukovich or on the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the violence in southeastern Ukraine, but a more important “emigration” from Ukraine may be the nearly 5,000 Yanukovich backers who have gone with him to Russia.


            On the one hand, these people who include many who were senior officials in Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine before the Maidan constitute a veritable government in exile awaiting a return to power. And on the other, the size of that number calls attention to just large pro-Moscow factions are within not only the Ukrainian government but elsewhere as well.


            That in turn, far more than Yanukovich’s departure or the refugees from violence, constitutes a problem for all the former Soviet republics because the existence of such people represents the basis of Moscow’s assumption that it has the levers to keep these countries under its thumb – or at the very least represents a continuing temptation for Russia to try to do so.


            Among these 5,000 from Ukraine are former interior minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, former defense minister Pavel Lebedev, former justice minister Elena Lukash, former procurator general Viktor Pshonka, former head of the national security service Grigory Ilyashov, and former vice prime minister Sergey Tabachnik (


            They, their allies in the banking and business communities and others have fled to Moscow where they have purchased expensive properties in the city or land nearby. As a result of this emigration, Ukrainian citizens now occupy “two-thirds of the market for elite Moscow housing.” In short, they took a lot of the wealth they had acquired in Ukraine to Russia.


            Some of these former officials may plan to remain in the Russian capital forever, happily living among others who share their views about geopolitical arrangements in Eurasia. But at least some of them and not just Yanukovich whose plans in this regard have been discussed are likely plotting their return to power in Kyiv.



Window on Eurasia: If Moscow Returned Crimea to Ukraine, What Else Might It Have to Give Back – and to Whom?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 23 – In the course of a discussion of why he argues Moscow will have to reverse the Anschluss of Crimea at the end of Russia’s war with Ukraine, Andrey Illarionov says that the Russian government could lose many other disputed territories to neighboring countries.


            The Russian commentator lists the following territories which Russia might lose in that event: a portion of Pskov oblast to Latvia, a portion of Leningrad oblast to Estonia, parts of Karelia and Leningrad oblast to Finland, Smolensk and Bryansk oblasts to Belarus, Voronezh and Rostov oblasts and Krasnodar kray to Ukraine, a significant portion of Western Siberia to Kazakhstan, “not less than 1.5 million square kilometers of Siberia and the Far East to China, and the Kurile islands and Sakhalin to Japan (

            And that list only concerns transfers of territory from the existing Russian Federation to internationally recognized states around its borders and not the question of the ceding of what Moscow now claims as immemorially part of Russia to states from which it seized land in the past by destroying and absorbing them within its borders.

            On the one hand, these lists underscore both how tendentious many of the borders established in Soviet times are given that they were drawn and imposed by Moscow and how many of these remain matters of dispute.  In short, they show that it is not a question of whether there will be more “Crimeas” in the future but how many of them there have been already.


But on the other hand and far more fatefully, they highlight something else: the unlikelihood that Moscow will ever agree except under duress to reverse its violation of international law in the case of Crimea because of fears among Russians that doing so would open the floodgates to a process that would lead to the dismemberment of their country.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: New Kyiv Center Aims to Consolidate Pro-Ukrainian Muslims and Pro-Islamic Ukrainians

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 22 – A new group appeared in Ukraine’s already complicated religious environment this week: the Ukrainian Muslim Center which its organizers say will link various groups of Ukrainians who have converted to Islam with other Muslim groups in order to “consolidate pro-Ukrainian Muslims and pro-Muslim Ukrainians.”


            Discussions about the possibility of forming such an umbrella organization began in 2007, but personality clashes among some of the people involved and suspicions of outsiders about what such a group would in fact do – many feared it would be a Trojan horse for Islamist radicalism – prevented agreement on such a body.


            Now, its organizers, Aleksandr Bondarenko, editor of the Ukrainian pages of the Slavic-Islamic League, Ali Nuriyev, an Istanbul blogger, and Alexandr Ogorodnikov of Odessa’s Slavic Jamaat, have announced the formation of the Ukrainian Muslim Center, a group they describe as “a necessary but insufficient step on the path” toward unity (


            The Maidan which Ukrainian converts to Islam overwhelmingly supported and the ongoing defense of Ukraine against Russian aggression, the three say, provided the impetus for announcing the formation of the new group, one that they hope will bring Ukrainian Muslims together and help them promote the causes of both Ukraine and Islam.


            While some ethnic Ukrainian Muslims have been very active in public life, they note that “the basic mass of Muslims occupy passive positions.” And they point to the ongoing efforts of some “ideologized groups” to “alienate the Muslims of Ukraine both from one another and from their country.


            The new center “does not aspire to the role of an all-Ukrainian Muslim organization.” It is open to all and will primarily devote itself to media work, including “the identification and union of those sharing these views and the carrying out of projects” for Ukrainian Muslims, other Muslims in Ukraine and Ukrainians more generally.


            Whether anything will come from this announcement remains to be seen, but the group faces some serious challenges. Many Muslims from traditionally Islamic communities and many non-Muslims believe that converts from non-“ethnically Muslim” nations like the Ukrainians are likely to be radical.


            Sometimes that is the case – converts of all kinds are typically more radical than longtime believers – but the perception that this is especially true in the case of those from nations which have a Christian tradition, a perception Moscow media have long sought to promote, is quite widespread.


            Moreover, even in those cases where this perception is not true – and that is likely to be the case with the Ukrainian Muslims – those who think this way are likely to react in ways that may make the development of such a group far more problematic than would otherwise be the case.


            But a much greater danger is the following: The Ukrainian Muslims now having announced this existence in this way open the door to those who are not Muslims and who are not pro-Ukrainian to engage in provocations designed to undermine both groups. That is something both Muslims and Ukrainians will have to be on guard against.

Window on Eurasia: Russian Government Destroying Moscow’s Medical System in the Name of Saving It

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 22 – Perhaps the most notorious comment by a US commander in Vietnam was his suggestion that his units had to “destroy the village in order to save it.”  Now, a Russian commentator is suggesting that Moscow officials are pursuing much the same strategy with regard to the health care delivery system in the Russian capital.


            In an article on yesterday, Mikhail Belyayev says that health care in Moscow, which is historically much better than in any other place in Russia, is being destroyed “under the guise of ‘reorganization’” and that the health of Russians will suffer as a result (


            According to the Moscow city government, it will be closing 28 medical institutions, including 15 hospitals, dismissing or demoting 1263 doctors and 2990 nurses as well as support personnel, all, Belyayev says, to free up the valuable real estate these facilities occupy and make it available for sale.


            In the process, he says, “unique specialists which any normal country would be proud of and value are being dismissed as mere bureaucrats” who can be fired whenever it suits their bosses or their bosses’ bosses. And this process, Belyayev continues, is so immoral that even the bureaucrats carrying it out recognize that fact.


            These officials are employing a technology “as old as the world: if you have to do something very bad but you don’t want to disturb society, then you call it by some other superficially neutral term which doesn’t have in the mass consciousness such negative connotations.”


            The Nazis were past masters of this, the Moscow commentator says, “they did not say ‘we are killing,’ but rather preferred to use the more neutral term ‘we are liquidating.’”  Moscow bureaucrats are doing the same thing now, preferring to avoid talking “directly” about what they are doing and what it means.


            Here is just one aspect of this, Belyayev says. Half of the hospitals being closed are devoted to birthing and gynecology.  Russia has demographic problems and its officials are always talking about the need to increase the birthrate, “if we of course do not intend to send the entire people to the cemetery.”


            The name of the official responsible for this horrific plan, the commentator continues, is Aleksey Kripun.  He advises his readers to remember this well in case they have problems with their health and can’t find a hospital or doctors to treat them. Then they will know exactly whom to say “’an enormous thank you.’”


            The plan shows that officials are evaluating hospitals by the amount of money they bring in and the value of the land on which they sit rather than on the share of people who are cured or prevented from suffering premature deaths. “But a hospital is not a trade center. It is a place where lives are saved and to evaluate it in terms of money is insanity.”


            If one reads the actual government plan and not just government press releases, Belyayev says, one finds that the main criterion for closing hospitals in Moscow is whether the land on which they sit is so valuable that it could be sold to bring in even more money to the government. Thus most of the hospitals to be closed are in the highest rent districts.


            “Judging from everything,” he says, “what money remains in the country is only for the dachas of the Rotenbergs.” Politicians are ready and even eager to give such people compensation for the loss of their second homes, but they do not share a similar desire to ensure the health of their own citizens.


            Moscow’s vice mayor, Leonid Pechatnikov, confessed to this when he said that he and his colleagues didn’t want to publish the plan because its terms had left them “quietly crying in [their] offices.” Now that the plan is out, the vice mayor said, “we will cry altogether.” But what kind of a leader can say that? Real ones should be struggling against such plans.


            The government’s plan to shutter hospitals and fire medical staff in Moscow is “a real crime against our fellow citizens,” Belyayev says.  These actions will “shorten life expectancy and their quality of life” so that the government can get more money, an indication that officials view citizens as entirely disposable if they are not profitable to the regime.




Window on Eurasia: Russia Today Lacks Resources to Use ‘Crimean Scenario’ Everywhere It Might Like, Moscow Analysts Say

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October, 22 – The scenario Moscow used in Crimea “could be repeated in various places in the post-Soviet space,” Russian analysts say, but at present, Moscow lacks the resources to do everywhere it might like, thus limiting the number of such cases to Transdniestria and a few others.


            On the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal today, Andrey Ivanov says that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent statements about Moldova and Transdniestria show that Chisinau’s moves in a Ukrainian-like direction mean that Moscow is ready to pursue “a Crimean scenario” in the latter (


             But several experts with whom the journalist spoke said that Moscow is unlikely to use that strategy in other places where it might primarily because it currently lacks the resources to do so but also because it remains unclear whether the West intends to launch a major effort to try to pull these countries “out of the zone of Russian influence.”


            Aleksandr Karavayev of the Moscow Center for the Study of the Post-Soviet Space told Ivanov that there is instability in various parts of that space in large measure because “the social-political conflict over the disintegration of the Soviet Union passed along the entire line of the continental borders of a former unified country.”


            In some places, the West has intervened to try to pull these countries away from Russia and Russia has responded, but there have been major changes within these countries and also in the West whose leaders are very much divided concerning how far to challenge Moscow for control in the region.


            “Up to now,” he continued, “we do not see a clearly expressed passionate impulse for assembling the lands in the spirit of a neo-imperial paradigm. I still do not see the presence of resources for such a neo-imperial breakout. Russia must be prepared in advance [for that and not just financially] in the Reserve Fund.


            “We must build up human resources, a high technological potential and a fully-reformed military,” Karavayev said.  At that point, we will be able to say that Russia has not simply ‘risen from its knees’ but is looking at the world in a new way and is offering it a new model of integration.” That will mark the end of disintegration and the beginning of reintegration.


             Ivanov also spoke with Yury Solozobov, the director of international projects at the Moscow Institute of National Strategy.  He said that the question of the future application of a Crimean strategy to Russia’s neighbors depends not only on what the West does but how those countries react.


            If Russia’s neighbors try to turn away from Moscow as Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova have done, they will be punished as they have been, Solozobov says. If they don’t, they will not face problems from Moscow although they may in some cases face problems created by the West which may use color revolutions against them.


             The country which faces the greatest risk of such Western actions now is Azerbaijan because of oil and logistical concerns. Indeed, the Moscow expert says, there are already clear indications that the West is seeking to provoke a color revolution there. The risks that the West will do so in Central Asia are small, but countries there face threats from the south.

            After 1991, Moscow deferred to the West rather than sought to protect the interests of what Solozobov says are the interests of “25 million of our compatriots, not all of whom live well.”  But now Moscow is focusing on their interests and is prepared to combat discrimination against them in many ways.


            According to Solozobov, “the new states were formed along the administrative borders of the union republics,” borders that were drawn in Moscow for various reasons. Sometimes that divided peoples, including the Russians. “Real borders,” he insisted, “pass where people have shed blood by defending the land of their ancestors.”


            Eurasia, he continued, is now entering “a second period of the disintegration of the Soviet empire,” one in which the two major geopolitical unions, the Eurasian and European one, cannot coexist “without buffer states.” Those countries which do not want to remain neutral “will inevitably fall victim to economic and territorial disintegration.”