Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Moscow Must Focus on Recovering Its Influence Across Post-Soviet Space, Military Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – “Instead of spending money on overcoming its isolation in the West,” Moscow military commentator Vyacheslav Tetekin says, Moscow should be focusing on strengthening its relations with the Baltic countries and the peoples of the Commonwealth of Independent States.”

            They are the key to Russian national security, he writes in the current issue of the influential Voyenno-Promyshlenny kuryer; and if Moscow does not recover its influence there now, it may see ever of these countries join the West and form a hostile, even threatening band around Russia (

            Wherever one looks in the former Soviet republics, Tetekin says, Moscow not only has lost its former influence but is rapidly losing what it now has, even in places like Armenia and Belarus where the Russian government has assumed its position is unassailable, not to speak of the Baltic countries which are in NATO, Ukraine and Georgia.

            It is of course possible to blame Russian diplomacy for this, he continues, “but the term ‘foreign policy’ is much broader than just the activity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And therefore the preservation and restoration of the position of Russia in the post-Soviet countries must have a complex character.”

            So far, Tetekin argues, there is nothing “irreversible” about Russia’s losses. “Shared history, culture and traditions have exceptionally great importance, but only if these processes are not spontaneous but administered, targeted and coordinated” and only if declarations that the CIS is “the highest priority” of Moscow’s foreign policy become real rather than pro forma.

                “Our embassies” in the former Soviet republics “must be filled with the best diplomatic cadres,” he says. Trade must be encouraged, and all forms of soft power, including the promotion of the Russian language, must be used. Other countries like Britain, France and the US do this; and Russia must learn how to do the same. 

            But that requires something Russia no longer has but very much needs: an institution in Moscow that will coordinate all these various activities rather than letting each proceed according to its own limited interests. “"In the Soviet Union we were able to do this,” Tetekin says; now, not so much.

            In Soviet times, “there was a powerful coordinating organ, the CPSU Central Committee. Now, foreign policy is conducted according on the principle of the swan, the crab and the fish. Government agencies have one set of interests, social organizations another, and businessmen their own, often far from the state’s. As a result, a complete lack of balance.”,

            “If one doesn’t like the example of the USSR,” he continues, “one could recall that in the US with its democracy the State Department tightly controls and directs the actions of all organs and persons, including business which are connected with the outside world. Such coordination allows it to achieve impressive results. Ukraine is a convincing and for us sad example.”

            Tetekin concludes: “When such a mechanism for the coordination of foreign policy will be set up in Russia and directed in the first instance to ‘the near abroad,’ we will be able to overcome the extremely dangerous tendency to the destruction of the commonwealth of peoples which formed around us over the course of many centuries.”

Mari El – Now ‘a National Republic in Name Only’ -- Shows Where Putin is Heading, Theater Director Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – Many people assume that the situation with non-Russian languages in the non-Russian republics was just fine before Vladimir Putin began his campaign to make the study of non-Russian languages there voluntary while insisting that the study of Russian be compulsory.

            But in fact, in none of them were the non-Russian languages being adequately supported by the authorities; and in some, the language of the titular nationality was being actively suppressed by those in power.  Perhaps the worst case of all was in Mari El, a republic where Putin’s proposed policy in fact was put in place already 18 years ago.

            In 2000, Vasily Pekteyev, the director of the Mari National Theater, recalls, Leonid Markelov became republic head. He “simply hated the Maris” and did everything he could to destroy the language and culture of its people. Now, he is in prison but not for this greatest of crimes (

            Regions where there were no ethnic Russians but only Mari nonetheless were compelled to drop the Mari language as a compulsory subject and use Russian instead from kindergartens on up. And the republic government over the last 18 years has further threatened the survival of the Mari language and people by not supporting the study of the language at all.

            There is now no agreed-upon method of teaching it, Pekhteyev says; and in the courses where pupils do study it, they are given good grades even when they do not deserve them so that the authorities can argue that there is no need for instruction because as Putin’s supporters like to insist, they are learning the language at home.  That is unfortunately not the case.

            “In Mari villages, instruction in kindergartens takes place in Russian, in part because of the lack of foresight and passivity of parents. There can’t be a single Russian in these villages, but instruction in the kindergartens and schools is in that language,” the Mari theater director continues.

            “It seems to me,” he says, that there is no countrywide nationality policy. In some republics, such as Chuvashia or Tatarstan, things have not gone this far. They still have kindergartens, schools and media in the language of the titular nationality. But Mari El, since the arrival of Markelov, shows where things are heading.

            “Before his appointment, the names of villages and towns in the republic were written in two languages. Now, all names are only in Russian. You go into any school in a Mari village, where Russian is not a native language for any child and find that all information in the school from ‘welcome’ at the entrance to everything else is in Russia

            According to Pekhteyev, “some schools have dropped Mari altogether. This happened 15 years ago.” That creates “an unhealthy situation: many Maris would like their children to study Mari from kindergarten on.” They aren’t happy that the children now can’t. “This is always a precursor of future conflicts.”

            “The national idea cannot be that everyone will become an [ethnic] Russian,” he says. (emphasis supplied) “It seems to me that there must be a respectful interaction among people and that we must remember the full name of our country: the Russian Federation, a federative state.” It should be one in which conditions will exist for all peoples to keep their language and culture.”

            Neither the Maris nor the ethnic Russians in the republic parliament will speak up. Both want to keep their jobs. The Maris fear they will lose their positions if they do, and the Russians are mostly happy to go along with what the powers that be want so they can keep getting their salaries, he says.

            What this means is that “Mari El is already not a national republic. It is just called that. Instead, it is one of the oblasts, a region like others. We are the 12th region. [All Russian regions are numbered by Moscow.] We have no national television; there is only Russian TV of ‘the 12th region.’”

            The people Moscow sends to run the non-Russian republics have never worked there. “They perhaps are good administrators, but they are from a Russian milieu having worked in Russian oblasts. They’ve never encountered the problems of the national republics.” And there is no one who can honestly advise them.

                Those Maris who do cooperate with the regime are “more accustomed to fulfill directives from above than to ever have their own point of view. These are completely unprincipled but very good executors. As they say, command people.” If they ever spoke out, they know they would be fired or otherwise placed on “’black lists.’” 

            As for the Mari people, it is “unorganized. Everyone is focused on his own immediate tasks. Now people are focused on issues of survival.” And they keep quiet as the bosses want. For the latter, “the most important thing is that there be no problems. And if with us, everything is quiet, that means that everything is fine.”

Russia Experiencing Its Own ‘End of History’ Moment with Return of Stalinism, Pavlova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 19 – Ever more frequently, Irina Pavlova says, it is becoming obvious that Russia is experiencing its own “end of history” moment, not in the form of the triumph of liberal democracy and free market capitalism as the West expected but in actions that show “the organic quality of Stalinism for contemporary Russia.”

            In Russia today, the US-based Russian historian argues on her blog, “nothing remains from that brief historical moment at the end of the 1980s when in the public space [of Russia] appeared the term ‘Stalinism’ which expressed the essence of the Soviet system” (

                “In the atmosphere of those discussions for an instant the organize development of Russia not ‘from above’ but ‘from below’ seemed possible” and with it, “the appearance of ‘a state’ instead of ‘the powers,’ ‘a society’ instead of ‘the population,’ ‘an economy’ instead of ‘state production,’ [and] ‘an opposition’ instead of ‘progressive society.’”

            In short, Pavlova says, it appeared that there could appear “a genuine history of the country at least instead of its repeatedly falsified version.”

            But developments since then have dispelled those hopes, she continues. “Everything is just the same. Modernization in Russia proceeds in the same fashion as before,” and this isn’t about “the development of independent government institutions, civil society with independent public organizations … and business free from the powers with real private property rights.”

            Instead, the Putin regime engages in “gigantic projects of the Stalinist type – the Crimean bridge, the beautification of Moscow, enormous stadiums, ‘floating atomic power stations,’ ‘ports on the Baltic,’ international forums, championships, and competitions. And above all, modernization of military industry and the armed forces.”

            Two new legislative proposals only confirm that return of Stalinism: a plan to allow state corporations to more easily use the labor of prisoners and a second to steal from the population for the benefit of the regime by increasing the retirement age to the point where many will not live to receive pensions.

            Every day now, Pavlova argues, brings “new evidence that Stalinism is organic to present-day Russia” and “today the system isn’t frightened” by suggestions in the Internet that the regime is about to fall or by “spontaneous protests” or by “marginal public actions devoted to the memory of its harshest opponents.”

            All those things can continue and can confuse those who want to be confused, she suggests; but they do nothing to change the fundamental reality that Stalinism is back in the form of Putinism.