Monday, September 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Kaliningrad Separatism Now a Foreign Policy and Domestic Issue

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 22 – Statements by Lithuanian and Polish commentators about Kaliningrad and actions by the Russian authorities against activists in that non-contiguous Russian Federation exclave suggest that the issue of separatism there is an increasingly lively one even if the prospects for any change in its status are not great.


            Last week, Laurynas Kasciunas, an analyst at the Vilnius Center for Research on Eastern Europe, said that “having seized Crimea and attacked the territory of Eastern Ukraine, Russia is violating international agreements about the inviolability of state borders, and this provides a basis for reminding it that in 1945 at the Potsdam conference, Karalaucius [the Lithuanian name for Koenigsberg] was given to it for 50 years” (


            That 50 year period “ran out long ago,” he continued, but despite there being a legal and political basis for raising the issue, neither Great Britain nor the United States currently has the political will to do so.  “Most likely,” Kasciunas said, “this case will simply be forgotten as was forgotten the Budapest Memorandum” about the territorial integrity of Ukraine.


            The only way that the status of Kaliningrad could be changed, he suggested, is by the actions of residents of the exclave who could demand a referendum on their status and by a change in Moscow’s attitude. The former is possible, of course, but there is little prospect for the latter.


            Thomas Janeliunas, a political scientist at the University of Vilnius, responded that the West has good reason not to raise this issue: If it did, he told, that would open a Pandora’s box of border issues going back not only to the period of World War II but much earlier. 


            Meanwhile, in Poland, Mariusz Cielma, the editor of the portal “Dziennik Zbroyny,” suggested that Warsaw should respond to Putin’s threats to occupy the Baltic capitals, Warsaw and others by pointing out that the Polish army could take Kaliningrad in the course of 48 hours (,10,51,7959,komentarze,1,w-48-godzin-mozemy-byc-pod-kaliningradem).


            The ability of Poland’s forces to do just that, Cielma argued, is greater than Putin’s ability to carry out his threat, and that possibility is something the Kremlin leader ought to be taking into account before he makes any more threats.


Meanwhile, inside Kaliningrad itself, activists are calling Oleg Savvin, Mikhail Feldman and Dmitry Fonaryov political prisoners and arguing that the Russian authorities are making the situation worse by charging them with attempting to break Kaliningrad off from Russia and have it join the European Union (


Russian prosecutors have brought charges of that against the four because they raised the German flag on the top of a garage opposite FSB headquarters in Kaliningrad, an action the portal says did not last very long or attract much attention at the time.  But by bringing charges of separatism against the four, Moscow is doing more than they could to promote such ideas.

Window on Eurasia: Iran’s Water Shortages have Domestic and Foreign Policy Consequences

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 22 – Iran is now facing such severe water shortages in the capital city that it has been forced to raise prices and limit the use of water by industries, thus restricting their expansion and ability to provide jobs for Iranians flooding in from the countryside in search of work, a trend that could affect that country’s domestic stability.


            And at the same time, Lake Urmia in the Azerbaijani-majority region in northwestern Iran is drying up so quickly – like the Aral Sea in Central Asia -- that pressures are again building on Tehran to seek to divert water from the Arax River which passes between Iran and Azerbaijan and has been the subject of disputes before, especially in 2011.


            Yesterday, Iranian Vice President Ishah Jahangiri said on Tehran’s Press TV channel that he had visited a number of the reservoirs around the capital and determined that their reserves had fallen to the point that they could supply water at current rates only for a few more days ( is running out of water


            The energy ministry which oversees these reservoirs, he said, was raising prices and restricting industrial use of water in an effort to cope. But few think that will be enough.  Jahangiri himself said that the Iranian government is going to be forced to restrict the influx of migrants to Tehran because there simply isn’t enough water. It is “exhausted,” he said.


Tehran’s water problems reflect rapid population growth, but the drying up of Lake Urmia have more to do with drought and a decline in the amount of water flowing into that body of water.  Iranian experts have suggested that Tehran should consider diverting water from the Arax to refresh the lake, but Baku is very much opposed.


The Azerbaijani government does not want to put its own water supply at risk, but the issue may not go away is not going away. If Iran does not find more water for Lake Urmia, it is certain to face more protests from ethnic Azerbaijanis in northwestern Iran who have already taken to the streets in the past over water shortages.


But if it does take water from the Arax, that will increase tensions with Baku, especially since the headwaters of many other rivers that provide water to Azerbaijan are in areas occupied by Armenian forces and whose flow could be blocked or limited to put pressure on the Azerbaijani government.  

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Blocks Numerically Small Peoples from Attending UN Meeting

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 22 – In a break with recent practice but a return to harsher Soviet traditions, Moscow has blocked several representatives of its numerically small nationalities from travelling to New York to attend a United Nations conference of such peoples from around the world which opens today.


            FSB officers confiscated the Russian passport of Rodion Sulyandziga, one of the leaders of the numerically small peoples of the North, at Sheremetyevo airport thus preventing him from attending the New York meeting where he was to be a co-chair of the Roundtable on Lands, Territories and Resources (


            Two days earlier, he reported, the FSB did the same thing to Anna Naykachina, a senior leader of this community, and Russian officials appear to be behind delays that have prevented Valentina Sovkina, the chairman of the Saami parliament of the Kola Peninsula, from attending the New York meeting as well.


            And Russian officials have also blocked several Crimean Tatars from travelling to New York.  On September 18, they seized the passport of Nadir Bekirova, the director of the International Foundation for Research and Support of the Indigenous Peoples of Crimea, in order to prevent her from attending.


            The meeting will be addressed by the leader of one numerically small people that Moscow is no longer in a position to prevent from taking part: Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves whose country has played a key role in developing cooperative relations among the Finno-Ugric nations inside and outside the borders of the Russian Federation.




Window on Eurasia: West’s Realpolitik has Convinced Putin He Can Do What He Likes, Khodorkovsky Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 22 – The West bears part of the blame for the crisis in Ukraine, Mikhail Khodorkovsky says, because its pursuit of “so-called ‘Realpolitik’” has convinced Vladimir Putin that “he and his entourage can do anything they want” and thus made the situation worse rather than better by encouraging Putin to become even more aggressive.


            In an interview published in “Der Spiegel,” the former Yukos head and longtime political prisoner said, however, that most of the blame for what has happened falls on what he calls “the irresponsible policy” of the Kremlin leader who refuses to accept that Ukraine has a right to make its own choices (


            In a second interview, given to Madrid’s “El Pais,” Khodorkovsky said that in his view, the Putin regime is nearing its end. He said that he was nonetheless “a pessimist” about the exact time because it could be “between two years if he makes mistake and 20” if he doesn’t.  Khodorkovsky said he hopes Putin will make mistakes and thus be removed.


            He added that civil society in Russia “has not disappeared although Putin has done everything he can to repress and divide those who are oriented toward Europe.” At the same time, the exiled leader said that he doesn’t feel any personal hostility to Putin: “for me, he is an opponent, with whom it will be interesting to compete,” Khodorkovsky continued.


            And in a third interview, this one with the French newspaper “Le Monde” on Saturday, he indicated that he just might do that: he said he did “not exclude” the possibility that he will become president of Russia if “this will be needed to overcome the crisis and to carry out constitutional reform.


Window on Eurasia: How Putin Broke the Overton Window in Russia and Made the Unthinkable Acceptable

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 22 – In every country at all times, there is a range of views which are considered politically acceptable and ones which are beyond that range.  American analyst Joseph P. Overton called the first the Overton Window and argued that political figures straying too far from these are doomed to fail.


            But some leaders are able to break the Overton Window and change the range of positions which are acceptable to include something that earlier were unthinkable. That, St. Petersburg commentator Mikhail Komin argues, is exactly what Vladimir Putin and his propaganda machine have accomplished in the last six months.


            Indeed, he argues, the sophisticated new political technology Putin has employed has “attacked the defenseless [Russian] television viewer and gradually led him to the thought that freedom is slavery and black is white,” a technology that goes beyond that of the totalitarian past (


            Most analysts have focused on what Russians now believe and asked themselves whether the country has “gone mad,” but a more useful investigation, Komin argues, focuses on “how this is being done.”


            He begins with rational choice theory which assumes that individuals are clever and egocentric and that their “basic interest” is to maximize that which is useful to them while minimizing the amount of effort they have to exert in order to achieve that. That affects their consumption of information as well.


            “The less time” people have to spend searching for information, the more pleased they are with what they receive, he argues.  That in turn leads to two conclusions. On the one hand, people will seek to obtain as little information as they can and process it as little as possible. And on the other, they will “not diversify their sources” or will do so only to reinforce what they already believe.


            Sociologist Irving Goffman calls this “flaming,” and his work suggests that a massive information attack by the most easily accessible media “leads to the domination in society of a single point of view,” Komin says. That in turn allows the formation of “an administered majority,” but it creates certain problems when the elite wants to move in new directions.


            That constitutes “the drama of authoritarianism,” he continues, and he gives as an example of an elite’s need for change the formation by Moscow of what was in the past not an idea widely accepted by the population, “the conception of ‘fascist Ukraine.’”  Getting Russians who have relatives in Ukraine and who have been told Ukrainians are a fraternal people is not something that could be done in one day.


            According to Overton’s theory, Komin says, “it is possible to broaden the limits of the permissible and normal for a given society during a crisis or threat.” But “this threat must not be direct … we must not really suffer from it or otherwise for the reduction of risks our need for analysis will grow,” something authoritarian elites do not want populations to do.


            According to Komin, “any absurd idea must pass through four stages in order to become generally accepted.” In the first, media people begin talking about things that they had never talked about before. In the second, experts or “pseudo-experts” are brought in to suggest that the idea is not as absurd as it may appear.


            In the third, the media offers what it says are precedents for concluding that the absurd idea was always true but unrecognized.  And in the fourth, Komin continues, political leaders take up the issue and raise it to the level of state policy. In the Ukrainian case, that occurred when Putin and Lavrov began talking about fascism in Ukraine.


            By breaking open the Overton Window, the St. Petersburg analyst continues, it is possible to transform almost any idea from the absurd to a commonplace and unquestioned one be it “the eternal Third Rome, the return of Alaska, or the anti-Russian conspiracy of the Anglo-Saxons and Atlanticists,” and to distract and divert attention as needed.


            But there is a problem here too for those who shatter the window, Komin says.  “In order to maintain control over the situation, they face a growing need” to come up with various “enemies” and thus they unintentionally unleash “activists of a new type,” people like Col. Strelkov, “for whom the only acceptable form of civic life is the unleashing of World War III.”


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Evangelical Protestants in Ukraine and Their Émigré Churches Often Pro-Russian, Ukrainian Religious Expert Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 21 – Many Evangelical Protestants in Ukraine and who emigrated to the United States at the end of the Soviet period are critical of the aspirations of most Ukrainians to join Europe and opposed to Ukrainian efforts to oppose Russian expansionism, according to Elena Panich, a Ukrainian specialist on religion.


            On, Panich says that this reflects a great deal more than just “the impact of Russian propaganda,” although that is clearly involved. Instead, she says, it is part of an effort by Evangelical leaders in Ukraine to remain “’above’ the conflict” and to insist that “’this is not our war’” (


            And that in turn, she suggests, reflects some even deeper experiences and trends.  “The émigré community is a kind of ‘extension’ of [Ukraine’s] evangelical brotherhood abroad.”  It includes some Ukrainian patriots,” but on the whole this community is better called post-Soviet” because it takes its values from its origins.


            “For the majority of believers who emigrated from eastern Slavic lands at the end of the 1980s and in the 1990s,” Panich says, “the USSR remains that fatherland to which today are retained warm feelings,” even though the Soviet state was hostile to Christianity and Evangelicals in particular.


            The Evangelical emigration remembers that period as one of great struggle and thus tends to be “nostalgic” about both those times and “the great power in the borders of which they first felt their attachment to global politics.” And “the sacralization of the Soviet Union took place in their consciousness in an unnoticed fashion even as they were struggle with it.”


            “Having been a religious minority,” Panich says, “they felt themselves big in the framework of a great empire. [That] empire guaranteed them mobility, a language of ‘inter-ethnic communication, and even in its own way great power pride” because both in Soviet and post-Soviet times, they viewed that country as the target of their Evangelical effort.


            “Of course,” the religious specialist continues, “the ‘old’ motherland no longer exists; it is preserved only in memory. But today it is embodied by Russia which presents itself as the natural extension of the Soviet state,” the supporter of the Russian language as a lingua franca, and thus an object of pride for some.


For many in the émigré churches and some in the Evangelical community in Ukraine, “the imperial character of Russia is understood as something natural, customary and even approved by God because God in the final analysis creates states.”   As a result, one can say that “the Evangelical movement formed on the territory of the USSR became an imperial church.”


            At present, Panich continues, some “post-Soviet Evangelicals in the US and also in Russia and even in Ukraine have without noticing it found themselves in the position of hostages of ‘the Russian world’ in the sense in which this ‘world’ can be considered a project of Russian cultural imperialism.”


            For such people, “the national struggle of the Ukrainians and their desire to escape from the imperial influence of Russia is conceived as a revolt against a customary and on the whole legitimate order.” And that attitude is reinforced as various investigators have found by the negative attitude many of these Evangelicals have toward Western culture.


            (On this point, Panich cites the research of Esther Grace Long, the daughter of an American missionary, as presented in her doctoral dissertation at the University of Kentucky in 2005, “Identity in Evangelical Ukraine: Negotiating Regionalism, Nationalism and Transnationalism.”)


            “It is no secret that Evangelical Protestants in Ukraine, not all but a significant portion were among the biggest opponents of European integration.” Panic reports that she even heard Evangelicals pray that the EU association agreement would not be signed, and when Russia invaded Ukraine, many remained prisoners of their old “stereotypes.”


            Few of them expected the invasion and they proved unable to analyze what had happened.  And now, it appears that any calls for an agreement which come from this community “in fact are calls for [a subconscious and unacknowledged] acceptance of Russia’s right to seize the territory of former republics and the right of the strong to use force.”


            Such attitudes, Panich concludes, show that it is possible to be “an oppressed minority but not see oneself as separate from the geopolitical and cultural space of the empire.” And when that is the case, “any efforts to destroy this space will be seen … as a violation of a sacramental unity which underlies the unity of the church itself.”




Window on Eurasia: Can a Pensioner Revive One of Russia’s Smallest Dying Languages?

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 21 – Many of the smaller languages in the Russian Federation are dying, with the United Nations and other institutions saying that they will die out in a generation or less. But one pensioner who grew up speaking Entsy is fighting the trend and seeking to revive a language now spoken by only 150 people.


            The Entsy  now number fewer than 300 people and live near the mouth of the Yenisey River in northern Siberia are close to the Nentsy and Nganasans in language and culture. Indeed, they were not treated as a separate nationality until the 1930s when Soviet ethnogrqpaher G.N. Prokofyev identified them as such, using the word for human being in the Ents dialect to do so.


            But even after they received that status, they were treated as part of the Nentsy nationality and counted as members of that group or of the Nganasans. The Entsy language is subdivided into two dialects, the Madu and Bay, reflecting the division between those who live on the tundra and those who live in the taiga.


            The future of the group as a distinct nationality and language community is not bright, but one Entsy pensioner, Zoya Bolina, is fighting back. The 64-year-old former teacher has prepared a picture book to help teach young Entsy to take pride in and thus speak their native language (


            The child of nomadic herders in the Taymyr, she spoke Entsy at home, but when she was enrolled in the local internat school, she spoke Russian and only Russian and rapidly forgot many of the words she had known, Bolina says. She then became a teacher in the first classes where she was not able to use her language as much as she would like.


            Entsy, she says, despite having been spoken for a millennium or more, is in danger of disappearing.  The first Entsy dictionary appeared only two years ago, and her new picture book, prepared jointly with an Entsy Ivan Sikin and a Dolgan Vasily Batagay, is intended to keep the language alive.


            Bolina says that when she was growing up, she spoke only Entsy, although she says she understood without difficulty Nentsy. In school, however, the teachers taught “only Russian.” The children weren’t prohibited from speaking their native languages, but few of them did so because “this simply didn’t come into their heads.”


            Now, at least, Entsy pupils have the chance to study their native language but only as an elective. But Bolina is encouraged by the formation of Entsy language groups in kindergartens, and her new picture book is directed primarily at them. She believes that if they retain Entsy, then the language and the nation will survive.


            Even “if Entsy isn’t particularly needed by anyone,” she says, “we can speak our native language among ourselves.”  And in support of that idea and the possibility that it will lead to the revival of one of Russia’s smallest languages, she invokes the Event saying that “Togo dugeye achin!” – “fire doesn’t have an end.”