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.”




Window on Eurasia: Russians Need a History of the Russian People and Not Just of the Russian State, Butakov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 22 – From the oldest manuscripts to the latest textbooks, “the entire history of Russia has been invariably presented  as the history of the state” rather than the history of the people, a situation that has kept Russians from viewing themselves as a nation apart of the state and thus retarded national development, according to Yaroslav Butakov.


            The Russian historian argues that by reducing the complex history of Russia to “’a genealogy’” of its leaders, Russian rulers have advanced their claim over places and peoples which were never Russian in any national sense and which have little in common with that nation (


            But at least as significantly, this approach to the history of Russia has deprived Russians of an understanding of their origins and development as a nation, Butakov says. “A significant part of the Russian people has simply been thrown beyond the limits of the official ‘fatherland’ history.”


            The Old Believers, the Dukhobors, the Cossack-Nekrasovites, and so on were simply cast out of the nation because they were  not willing to subordinate themselves to the state as a result of their religious convictions and thus have been deprived by Russian historical “’science’” of “the right to be considered as part of the Russian people.”


Moreover, Butakov continues, as far as the Pomor region, the Middle Volga, the North Caucasus, the Urals, Siberia and the Far East are concerned, their history “officially begins from the moment at which these territories were included within the Russian state, even though they had proud and rich histories before that time.


Such “an ignoring of their histories is a typical approach of colonizers.”


Russian historians have largely neglected and the official version of history has ignored the pre-Russian periods of the enormous territories over which the Russian state has spread and even more the fact that “today’s ‘Russians by passport’” are not so much “a people of a single origin” as “a conglomerate of various ethnoses, unified only by a single state language.”


The official history has also failed to investigate how the Russian people lived as opposed to how the Russian state behaved, Butakov says, and that has meant that Russians do now know as much about their own nation and its past and present as they need to in order to be able to construct a genuinely national future.


An adequate history of the Russian people must include in itself attention to anthropology, ethnography, regional groups, family patterns, forms of territorial administration, religious faith and practice, including all the varieties of those things, and many other topics as well, he says – even though the supporters of the official version may not like the results.


Historical studies which focus on this “human dimension” have “already for a long time become the norm for European historical science,” Butakov says, but they have only just begun in Russia. Many had hoped that glasnost would allow many questions to be answered, but that hope has proven an illusion with the imposition of a new official history on many issues.


            “In general,” he concludes, “the real history of the Russian people and particularly its most recent period has still to be clarified. The capacity of Russian historical science to formulate these questions, to raise them, and to require from the state conditions for that to happen are a barometer of the maturity of this science.”


            And until Russian historians are able to pursue such investigations and communicate their findings to the entire Russian population through textbooks and other means, one will not even be able to speak of a genuine “Russian nation, because there is no nation without an interest to the truth about its history, however shocking at times this truth turns out to be.”



Window on Eurasia: 70 Percent of Ukrainians but Only 26 Percent of Russians Say There is a War Between Their Countries

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 22 – Seventy percent of Ukrainians say that there is a war going on between Russia and Ukraine, while only 26 percent of Russians agree with that, a remarkable testimonial to Moscow media’s power to distort the situation -- and one that also has had a impact in the West where many governments are unwilling to describe the situation accurately.


            In an article in today’s “Vedomosti,” Elena Mukhametshina reports on the findings of new polls by the Levada Center in Russia and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology in Ukraine ( and


            The two polls show that Ukrainians and Russians are divided on other aspects of the current situation as well. Seventy-four percent of Ukrainians but only 50 percent of Russians agree with the statement that “Russia is supporting pro-Russian forces in the east of Ukraine,” the Moscow paper reported.


            The two nations also divide on who is to blame. Sixty-three percent of Ukrainians say Russia is to blame, while only 27 percent of Russians agree with that. Instead, in Russia, three out of every four respondents say Russia was not to blame, and only 17 percent of Russians say their country is responsible.


            And the polls show that Ukrainians and Russians are also deeply split about the future of the so-called Donetsk Peoples Republic and the Luhansk Peoples Republic. Seventy-seven percent of Ukrainians say that these territories must remain part of Ukraine, but 40 percent of Russians support their independence from Kyiv.


            Aleksey Makarkin, a Russian commentator, told the paper that Kyiv is using the conflict to deflect public attention from the shortcomings of Ukrainian state policy, a statement that could be applied with equal or even greater force to the Kremlin, which has invoked the notion that “Crimea is Ours” as a kind of universal moral solvent against any criticism.


            The Moscow commentator added however that the events in eastern Ukraine has had one major effect: “If earlier, Crimea was a political-psychological complex for Russia, then now, this is a complex for Ukraine,” a reflection of the fact that “many Russians do not even know that citizens of Russia are fighting in Ukraine.”


            And he added that the two nations remain deeply divided on the nature of their relationship.  “Russians,” he said, “view Ukrainians as a fraternal people that has taken the wrong path and must be put on the true one,” but Ukrainians feel themselves to be in the right and view Russia’s actions as those of an imperial aggressor.


            Makarkin concluded that Russians have always had the view that when they get involved in the affairs of other countries, they are not engaged in aggression but rather are making an effort to help. That was also the case, for example, when the Soviet Union sent forces into Czechoslovakia in 1968