Friday, June 22, 2018

Circassians Denounce Kremlin’s Language Bill as ‘Purely Imperial Policy’


Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 22 – The Duma’s passage on first reading of the Kremlin’s language bill that would make the study of all languages in Russia except Russian purely voluntary by a vote of 373 to 3 with one abstention has sparked outrage in the non-Russian republics generally and the Circassian  ones in particular as an appalling case of the center’s “purely imperial policy.”

            Even before the vote, Kavkazr journalist Larisa Cherkes reports, deputies in the regional parliaments of Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia and  Adygeya had spoken out against the measure even though they recognized that Moscow doesn’t care what they think (kavkazr.com/a/chisto-imperskaya-politika/29313613.html ‘purely imperial policy’

            Aslan Beshto, the head of the Kabardin Congress, says he wasn’t surprised by Moscow’s actions because “they have made it clear that the opinion of society does not affect the deputies much.” He said that now he and other Circassian leaders plan to appeal to the Constitutional Court.

Martin Kochesoko, a Circassian activist from Kabardino-Balkaria says that “Russia has always conducted a policy of assimilating numerically small peoples.” The only thing that has changed, he adds, is that “now it is doing so openly. Today, in the Russian Federation, all the indigenous peoples except for the Russians are losing their languages and uniqueness.”

The Russian federation exists “only on paper,” he continues, but “we Circassians will do everything we can so that our people will live.”

A third Circassian activist, Zaur Zhemukha, says that the Circassians plan, if the Kremlin bill is approved on the third reading, to demand consistency from Moscow and call for the elimination of the requirement for the obligatory study of Russian” given that “Russian is not native for us.”

Despite these words, the Circassian activists both those and others have little hope that they will be able to stop this train.  But they will continue to work, and it appears that one of the most important consequences of this resistance will be continuing meetings among Circassian activists who now live in different republics as a result of Moscow’s divide and rule strategy.

The next such meeting is planned four days from now in Nalchik. 

Three Telling Statistics and Three Telling Signs of the Times from Today's Russia


Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 22 – Sometimes the flood of stories from the Russian Federation is so large that one is at a loss to decide which ones must be reported and which ones neglected. Today is such a day, and so here is a listing of three new statistics from Russian polls and three new developments in Russia that constitute at the very least telling signs of the times.

            The three poll results are:

1.      Support for Russian Government and Vladimir Putin Both Falling. The VTsIOM polling agency, which is known to have close ties with the Kremlin, nonetheless reports that as a result of gasoline price increases and the threat of a rise in retirement ages, Russian support for both the Russian government and Vladimir Putin has fallen over the last month, with Putin suffering a decline of over eight percent (politsovet.ru/59359-reyting-putina-za-mesyac-upal-na-8.html and rbc.ru/politics/22/06/2018/5b2ca83d9a79476fe6076750?from=main).

2.      Only 24 Percent of Russians Say They have Suffered from Western Sanctions.  According to another VTsIOM survey, 24 percent of Russians say they have personally suffered as a result of Western sanctions, but 67 percent say the sanctions have not had any effect, the preferred answer as far as the Kremlin is concerned (the-village.ru/village/city/news-city/316413-vliyanie-sanktsiy).

3.      Russians Significantly Less Likely Now than in 1991 to Blame Stalin for War Losses.  The share of Russians who blame Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin for the enormous losses the USSR suffered at the start of the war has fallen from 36 percent in 1991 to only nine percent now, as a result of consistent Putin efforts to shift the blame away from the Soviet leader (ng.ru/editorial/2018-06-22/2_7250_red.html).

And the three new developments are:

1.      Russian Soldiers Directed to Kiss Putin Icon and Children to View Him as a Saint.  A picture of Russian soldiers kissing an icon of Vladimir Putin has appeared in numerous publications and websites today (publizist.ru/blogs/4796/25580/), and a school in Tula has put up a picture showing Putin and Dmitry Medvedev as saints (znak.com/2018-06-22/v_tulskoy_detskoy_biblioteke_povestili_kartinu_so_svyatym_putinym_na_kolesnice).

2.      Graffiti Warns Kremlin: ‘We are the Revolution,’ signed ‘The People.’ Russians are increasingly angry about the proposed boost in the pension age and have come up with any number of slogans against the idea. Perhaps the most radical appears on the walls of a village in Sverdlovsk oblast that has gone viral on the Runet. It reads simply: “You are of the reforms. We are of the Revolution. The People” (rusmonitor.com/zhiteli-revdy-sverdlovskojj-oblasti-pridumali-svojj-lozung-pensionnojj-reformy.html).

3.      An Invitation to Suicide? Moscow Urged to Pay for Funerals of Those Who Die Just Before Reaching Pension Age.  A St. Petersburg legislative assembly deputy has proposed that the Russian government take responsibility for paying for the funerals of any Russians who die just before reaching pension age, an appeal that has already been denounced as “an invitation to suicide” that would save the government money (rusmonitor.com/lyudejj-ne-dozhivshikh-do-pensii-budut-khoronit-besplatno.html and censoru.net/27694-kreml-poobeschal-za-svoy-schet-pohoronit-vseh-rossiyan-kotorye-otkazhutsya-ot-pensii.html).

Putin-Trump Meeting Won’t Result in Dramatic Changes on Ukraine Many Fear and Some Hope, Shevtsova Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 22 – Vladimir Putin has achieved a major goal with plans for a summit between him and US President Donald Trump in Europe sometime in July now going forward. That meeting effectively ends the international isolation the Kremlin leader has experienced since he invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea.

            Putin goes into the meeting, Liliya Shevtsova says, with great expectations given the willingness of many European leaders to come to him, their anger at Trump over trade and the Iran agreement, and the apparently increasing fatigue many in the West feel about the current hard line against Russian aggression (svoboda.org/a/29308048.html).

            That has led to hopes among Putin and his supporters for some kind of “grand bargain” or “big deal” with Trump that will involve forcing Ukraine to accept Russian conditions and ending Western sanctions on Russia, steps that not surprisingly many in Ukraine and in the West clearly fear, the Russian analyst continues.

            But both these hopes and these fears are almost certainly misplaced, Shevtsova says. “The readiness of the West for dialogue with Moscow does not meet retreat.” Some governments like those of Hungary and the Czech Republic have cozied up to Putin, but nonetheless, they continue to observe the sanctions regime against Russia.”

            “Trump can call as often as he likes for the return of Russia to the Seven and call Crimea Russian because they speak Russian there,” Shevtsova argues, “but his administration is creating around Russia a cordon sanitaire. More than that, the American elite has consolidated on an anti-Russian basis, largely because it has not found any other basis for doing so.”

            European leaders like Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron may trade “compliments” with Putin, “but both reaffirm for those who may not understand: Europe will not lift the sanctions on Russia until there is progress on fulfilling the Minsk agreement son Ukraine.” And the G-7 has even agreed to create a rapid reaction force to be able to counter Moscow.

            At the same time, she says, it is the height of naivete to think that Trump will make a final break with Europe and seek friendship only with Russia. That isn’t going to happen: the Transatlantic “family” has had many disputes, but the community “has survived all the storms.” It is implausible to think that will change, however unpredictable Trump likes to be.

            And the US president who prides himself as a deal maker would have to be offered something tangible to agree to any major change on his part. Putin has little to offer, and while some might be satisfied with promises of future action as was the case after Trump’s Singapore meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, that won’t cut it in this case.

            “In a word,” Shevtsova says, “the Ukrainian issue remains for the West a kind of ‘red line’” which isn’t going to be crossed. This isn’t because of Western sympathy for Ukraine but because “the surrender of Ukraine would be a recognition by Europe of its own powerlessness” and its leaders won’t allow “the American leviathan to do so either.

            “By attempting to keep Ukraine from flight to Europe,” she continues, “Russia has buried the European vector of its development. How could one be a European country if one tried to keep one’s neighbor from making a European choice?”” That is the underlying reality; and no one summit is going to change it.

            Shevtsova continues: “However much the Kremlin wants to force the world to forget about Ukraine, that isn’t going to happen because the West isn’t going to give anyone the right to break windows in its neighborhood, because the Kremlin constantly talks about Ukraine and makes it a domestic factor, and because restraining Russia has become not only a key element of Ukrainian identity but a key principle of European security.”

            Putin thought that by using force against Ukraine to prevent it from realizing its European choice, he could restore Russia’s greatness and “imperial power.”  But by “a bitter irony” for him, his efforts to “preserve this Great Power quality” have brought and will continue to bring “crushing” consequences – including at the upcoming summit.