Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Russian Soldiers Sow Panic in Panik and Concerns Far Beyond that Armenian Village

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – As part of an exercise that was not announced in advance, soldiers of the 102nd Russian military base in Armenia today came into Panik, a village adjoining the base, fired blanks and terrified local residents. The commander has apologized and promised an investigation, but that is hardly likely to be the end of the matter.

            At a time when Moscow is increasingly uneasy about the efforts of the new government of Nikol Pashinyan to move closer to the West, this is not the kind of event that is in any way reassuring about how Russia and Russians will behave. Instead, it is likely to alienate many in that Caucasian republic and reduce Yerevan’s willingness to defer to Moscow in all things.

            Undoubtedly, both Russian commanders and Russian diplomats on the scene will do what they can to try to calm the situation; but it is things like this that tend to cast a far larger shadow over future events than even intensive efforts by both will be able to dispel completely. Armenians are going to remember this.

Russian Officials Face Changes as Unwelcome to Themselves as Pension Age Plans are to Population, Solovey Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – Having voted to retain Vladimir Putin for another term, ordinary Russians have already experienced a “post-election surprise” in the form of the Russian government’s plan to boost the pension age. What is clear, Valery Solovey tells Rosbalt’s Vasily Yurovsky, is that officials also will be facing some unwelcome changes as well.

                “Two key factors influence the system,” the MGIMO professor says. “The first is the contraction in resources, in part as the result of intensifying pressure from the West. The second is the approaching ‘transition,’ that is, all elite groups have the sense that the Putin era is ending, but they still have no idea what will follow” (

                Officials may take various political positions, he says; but their chief concern is “to try to preserve the material possessions.”  They aren’t going to be able to keep the current system going forever because “as soon as the guarantor who created the system leaves the scene, the system will fall apart.”
            “This may take months or perhaps a year or two,” but the process will leave those who have learned how to fit into this system in the extremely challenging position of having to learn how to fit into another – or finding themselves on the outside looking in because many of them won’t be able to do so.

             According to Solovey, Russian officials at present “live according to their instincts. If we speak about influence groups, everything in Russia now is arranged so that one need not do anything. One simply strengthens one’s position, and all challenges, risks and threats tend to dissipate.”

            “Before 2014,” he says, “politicians were followers of a different strategy. The entire world lay at their feet. They started from the notion that the increase in the price of oil would be eternal and that their resources would grow in an infinite way, allowing them to become part of the global elite, of those who run the world.”

            And from that perspective, they viewed Putin and the siloviki as a force that could “destroy all obstacles so that they could achieve this goal for themselves.  What happened in 2014, even for Putin’s closest friends, was a catastrophic unexpected development. They are trying to adapt, [but] their instincts in general aren’t changing.”

            As a result, the changes in their environment in the coming months and years are going to be even harder for them to cope with. Adaption for many won’t be an option. And it is entirely possible that some of them will begin to recognize that.    

Moscow’s Integration of Donbass from Below via Russian Regions Picks Up Speed

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – Earlier this month, the governor of Orel Oblast, a Russian region adjoining Ukraine, called for a commission to promote the integration of the self-proclaimed Donbass republics, the LNR and the DNR, into the Russian Federation (

            Then, a Moscow commentator picked up on the idea and urged other federal subjects of the Russian Federation to work to set the stage, first, for their recognition by the Kremlin as independent and, then, their inclusion as subjects of the Russian Federation (

            Now, a candidate running for the governorship of Voronezh has called for his own region to take similar steps to promote those outcomes and organizing a new ideologically based campaign for other predominantly ethnic Russian regions to do the same to hasten the process (

            It is of course possible that these various moves are arising spontaneously; but it is far more likely that they reflect a concerted effort by the Kremlin to promote the integration of the Donbass into the Russian Federation in ways that will remain below the radar screen of most Western governments. 

            Once these efforts get going and become too big to ignore, Moscow is likely to have created a sufficient number of what diplomats like to call “facts on the ground’ to prompt some in the West to conclude that they have no option but to support what Vladimir Putin is doing, however angry they may be about it.

            However that may be, the latest move on this chessboard in Voronezh this week merits attention.  Arkady Minakov, a professor at Voronezh State University who is running for governor as a Rodina Party candidate, declared that his region and many others are ready to “deepen mutual cooperation” with the Donbass “republics.”

            “We consider the population of the LNR and DNR as friends and partners,” Minakov says; “they must not be left in isolation.”  They are culturally, linguistically, historically, and economically closely tied with the Russian regions along their borders that are part of the Russian Federation.

            There is even a European precedent for this, he says. In 2010, Luhansk and Rostov-na-Donu agreed to be part of the Euroregion Donbass; and two years later, Donetsk and Voronezh joined that cooperative region.  Minakov says that “the events of 2014” changed things but in the direction of “stronger and more confident” relations among the four. 

            “Since 2014, Voronezh residents, including public and political organizations and business structures have expressed solidarity with the residents of the LDNR in various forms.  They have begun not simply to work actively on the preservation and strengthening of the longstanding ties between Voronezh oblast and the Donbass but to actively develop them.”

            Minakov says that “Voronezh at a minimum is ready for complex integration cooperation with the republics of Novorossiya. Such work must be carried out in a serious and systemic way with the support of social and political organizations, business structures and it would seem the powers that be.”

            According to the Rodina gubernatorial candidate, the integration of these regions requires the dev elopement of “a new ideology which will be able to overcome the split of the Russian people. The LNR and DNR, like a large part of Ukraine … does not have any relationship even to what is called Malorossiya.”

            “These corresponding territories have traditionally been viewed as part of the Russian Empire; they are part of the imperial state construction.” They are dominated by ethnic Russians, Russian culture and Russian self-consciousness, he says. And they should be viewed therefore as a single whole.

            That requires dispensing with the Russophobic lines the Bolsheviks drew on the map and going back to the traditions of the Russian Empire. The ideology of that time was summed in Count Uvarov’s trinity – Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality.  “Translated into present-day language one is speaking about the ideology of a strong, centralized and sovereign state.”

            The Russians of the Donbass should be part of that state, and Voronezh can help, Minakov concludes.