Friday, May 27, 2022

Angry about FSB Predictions, Putin has Put a Brutal GRU Officer in Charge of Russian Intelligence in Ukraine, Soldatov and Borogan Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – Furious at the FSB for its optimistic assessments of Ukraine in advance of his invasion, Vladimir Putin has briefly arrested the head of the FSB’s fifth directorate that had been responsible and has now put a GRU officer notorious for brutality in charge of intelligence on the war, Andrey Soldatov and Irina Borogan say.

            Pro-Kremlin news outlets have reported that General Aleksey Dvornikov will now exercise overall command of Russian intelligence operations in Ukraine, the two independent experts on Russia’s intelligence services report (cepa.org/the-shadow-war-putin-strips-spies-of-ukraine-role/).

That news, they say, marks “a significant shift. Until now, Ukraine had been the responsibility of the Fifth Service of the FSB, the department which provided Putin with intelligence on Ukraine before the invasion.” Its incorrect assessments and leaks about the Kremlin’s plans have infuriated Putin.

Consequently, he has turned to Alekseyev, “a very particular type of Russian military intelligence officer. He started his career in the special forces, or Spetsnaz, rather than … at some embassy in the West. His job in the GRU was to supervise the 14th directorate – leading the Spetsnaz … — and in 2011 he became first deputy head of the GRU.”

This happened because Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, in his effort to boost military intelligence “raided the ranks of the special forces. They might not have the softer skills of other intelligence officers but they were tough guys and ready to kill,” Soldatov and Borovan argue. Alekseyev is clearly of their ilk.

He “saw military action in Syria, and he was involved in the conflict in Donbas. Fellow officers regard him as brutal and self-confident to the point of recklessness,” the analysts say. Alekseyev is likely to provide intelligence which will suggest that to be effective in Ukraine, Russian forces must be even more brutal.

The fate of Sergey Beseda, the disgraced head of the FSB’s fifth chief directorate, is also indicative of how Moscow is proceeding. He was arrested and then released because Putin feels he can’t afford to keep him in prison lest that ever more members of the Russian elite conclude the Kremlin leader’s actions in Ukraine have been disastrous.

As a result, Beseda presumably humbled and certainly having lost the confidence of his superior, has returned to work. “To throw a general into prison and then return him to office,” Soldatov and Borogan say, recalls the kind of maneuvers that up to now, “only Stalin was capable of playing with his generals.”

Kremlin Now Playing Down Contribution of Non-Russians during World War II and Playing Up Their Role in Crimes in Ukraine, Buryat Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – Increasingly catering to his ethnic Russian base, Vladimir Putin is now playing down the real contribution non-Russians made to the Soviet victory in World War II and playing up the supposed role of the non-Russians in war crimes in Ukraine, according to √©migr√© Buryat activist Radjana Dugar-DePonte.

            That not only violates the historical record – non-Russians made a significant contribution to the triumph of the Red Army and have not been uniquely to blame for crimes in Ukraine – but is highly offensive to the non-Russians within Russia, deepening the divide which separates them from Moscow.

            Those conclusions are suggested by Dugar-DePonte’s remarkable discussion of “The Buryats and the Russian World” that first appeared in Russian on the SibReal portal and now has been translated and disseminated online in English (sibreal.org/a/buryaty-i-russkij-mir-/31844184.html andtherussianreader.com/2022/05/23/buryats-russian-world).

            While she talks about how offensive Putin’s revisionism on World War II is to her nation, she focuses most of her attention on what he is doing in the case of Buryats and other non-Russians in Ukraine. “It is convenient,” she writes, “to encourage Ukrainians to think that their enemies are not ethnic Russians” but other “nations Russia has colonized.”

            Moscow propagandists have tried to pin the blame for atrocities in Bucha and other Ukrainian locations on the Buryats if not on the Ukrainians themselves. But preliminary investigations have concluded that these crimes were in fact “committed by ‘burly Slavic guys’” and not Buryats or other non-Russians.

“I am sure there will be a new Nuremberg trial after the war,” she continues; “and if it transpires that there were Buryats among the war criminals, they will have to be punished. But I hope that there will also be room in the dock for warmongering propagandists, and for the Kremlin’s disinformation agents in Ukraine.”

Many are asking why so many Buryats and other non-Russians are fighting in Ukraine as members of the Russian army. There may be as many as 10,000 Buryats there, most attracted to military service because of national traditions and increasing poverty rather than because they view Ukrainians as their enemies.

And the Buryat nation is suffering because of this: even though Buryats make up only 0.3 percent of the population of the Russian Federation, they form 2.8 percent of the official war dead, a figure that means the war is costing Buryats their future as a nation just as Putin is trying to take away the future of Ukraine.

“I understand perfectly well,”  Dugar-DePonte continues, “that many readers will now accuse me of trying to whitewash my own people. There is most likely some truth to this. But I repeat that if it transpires that there are war criminals among Buryats, I will be the first to demand that they be punished.”

And she adds that “it is possible to understand on a personal level Ukrainians who believe that the majority of war crimes have been committed by Buryats. They are under stress, they are distraught and grief-stricken, and in many cases, they are not up to rational arguments now.”

What is not understandable and forgivable, however, is something else, she says. “Some Russians comport themselves much worse in this situation, and I’m not talking about Putinists and my completely brainwashed fellow citizens. Rather I am referring to the so-called ‘cultured’ liberal crowd.

Alexander Nevzorov is typical of far too many. “A Russian imperialist and erstwhile champion of Russian armed force in Chechnya,” he has become an idol of the Russian opposition crowd” for his opposition to Putin’s latest war. But he has repeatedly made statements suggesting that “the Buryats don’t care who they rape.”

“The views of the flip-flopping hybrid democrat are especially congenial to those who, wrapped in the redesigned flag of “the other Russia, the good Russia,” want to shift the collective blame for all crimes onto the country’s minorities. But the shame of this war will have to be shared equally by our whole country which has gone off the rails.”

25 Years Ago, Moscow Recognized Chechen Independence De Facto, an Action that May Grow in Importance after Putin’s War in Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – Many last year marked the 25th anniversary of the Khasavyurt Accords which ended the first post-Soviet Chechen war, but there is a danger that far fewer will recall today the 25th anniversary of Russia’s de facto recognition of Chechen independence, a recognition that Moscow soon violated but may become more important in the future.

            Indeed, two Chechen participants involved in negotiations with the Russian side over that document now say that they are convinced that the May 1997 agreement will ultimately become the basis of relations between Russia and Chechnya in the wake of Putin’s war in Ukraine (kavkazr.com/a/uteryannaya-pobeda-25-let-mirnomu-doovoru-mezhdu-ichkeriey-i-rossiey/31844731.html).

            Following the Khasavyurt agreement, Moscow and Grozny began a slow process of negotiation about the future of relations between them. On May 12, 1997, Boris Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov met in the Kremlin and signed a Treaty on Peace and the Principles of Relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic Ichkeria.

            That document marked the first time in which Russia recognized the existence of Ichkeria. Moreover, on the same day, Maskhadov and the Russian prime minister signed an inter-governmental agreement. Those actions, Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois law school said, constituted de facto recognition of Chechen independence by the Russian state (hartford-hwp.com/archives/63/082.html).

            This remarkable development received a mixed reaction in Chechnya itself, where many of Maskhadov’s opponents rejected this Russian move as too little too late. And in any event, Moscow soon violated the provisions of the agreements Russian leaders had signed and ultimately launched the second and even more destructive Chechen war.

            Nevertheless, those Chechen leaders who were involved in the 1997 talks now look back on the agreement as the basis for what they hope will be the future normalization of relations between the two countries. Among them is Akhmed Zakayev who heads the Chechen government in exile.

            He sees the agreement as the only possible legal basis for resolving disputes between Chechens and Russians, something he believes may be possible after Putin’s war in Ukraine. Another Chechen participant in the 1997 talks, Ruslan Kutayev who now heads the Assembly of Peoples of the Caucasus, agrees.

            Kutayev says that if earlier the world closed its eyes to Russian criminality in Chechnya, it has now had its eyes opened by similar Russian crimes in Ukraine. That gives hope for the future, and the 1997 agreement can serve as the foundation for the development of new relations between Chechnya and Moscow.

Patriarch Kirill is a Fascist But He’s Been Careful in Discussing Putin’s War in Ukraine, Mitrokhin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, is by personal conviction a Russian nationalist who “professes that kind of Russian fascism which was close to part of the Russian emigration in the 1920s and 1930s and is reflected in the works of Ivan Ilin,” Nikolay Mitrokhin says.

            But despite that, the specialist on Russian Orthodoxy at Bremen University says, he and his church have been remarkably careful in their words about Putin’s war in Ukraine. Neither he nor the ROC MP’s Synod has spoken “direct words of support for the war or given it their official blessing” as such (graniru.org/Society/Religion/m.285145.html).

            During the first month of the conflict, Kirill and his church leadership kept silent about the conflict, apparently because in the patriarch’s view, this was “the best way to avoid getting into a dispute with the authorities of the Russian Federation and Ukraine,” both of whom are important to the Russian church.

            It was not until May 4, during a telephone conversation with Pope Francis that Kirill spoke in support of the Kremlin’s position on the Donbass and “partially justified Putin’s rhetoric about the causes of the war. But even in this case, it is incorrect to say that he ‘blessed the war in the Donbass,’” as many have asserted.

            And even if he had, that by itself would not have represented the official position of the ROC MP. Only the Holy Synod or an assembly of the highest church leaders can do that; and those bodies have remained silent although individual churchmen have spoken out in support of the Russian side.

            This needs to be remembered, Mitrokhin says, in evaluating calls to bring Kirill to trial for violating his religious affiliation or to ban the Russian church in Ukraine. The situation is at a minimum more complicated than his opponents and those who are against the UOC MP typically present the case.

To Avoid More Propaganda Defeats on Ukraine, Moscow Must Mobilize Academic Experts, Two Military Specialists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – Russia is losing the propaganda war against Ukrainian provocations because Moscow has failed to mobilize its academic expertise to prepare serious studies of what Ukraine is doing, studies of the kind that the Soviet Union prepared in great number at the time of the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi leaders, Oleg Falichev and Sergey Pershutkin say.

            Instead of using such powerful means, Moscow has responded to what they say are Ukrainian propaganda efforts with only statements and short media pieces, an approach that has allowed Kyiv to seize control of the agenda and get far more support than it should receive (nvo.ng.ru/gpolit/2022-05-12/10_1188_russia.html).

            They give as an example of this the events in Bucha, which the world has condemned as an act of Russian genocide against Ukrainians rather than what they argue is the reality, that this was an event staged by the Ukrainians as another Srebrenica and given Kyiv the chance to make charges not just against those directly involved but against Russia and Putin in general.

            Moscow’s reaction to this extremely effective Ukrainian effort has been limited to statements and media articles, but that is insufficient to keep the West from following Ukraine’s lead. What is needed, Falichev and Pershutkin say, is a revival of the system of studies that lay behind “the extremely effective work of the Russian delegation at the Nuremberg tribunal.”

            They call for the Russian government to again “go over to a counterattack” against Ukrainian statements in exactly the same way as it did then by having Putin issue “a presidential degree creating a special commission headed by one of Russia’s authoritative political scientists or legal specialists.”

            “Such a commission could be established on the basis of the Academy of Sciences Institute of State and Law;” and that, in turn, could serve as “the coordinating center for major long-term work,” work that could influence Western decision makers more than the reactive statements of Russian officials and media spokesmen.

            Three aspects of this article make it noteworthy. First, it is one of the clearest signs that members of the Russian elite recognize that Moscow has suffered a serious even fatal blow from the attention the world has devoted to the war crimes and crimes against humanity by Russian forces in Bucha and elsewhere.

            Second, it is a demonstration that the Putin line of denying everything and offering a fake narrative of its own about those crimes is going into high gear with even academic specialists now being required to mouth it despite all the evidence that shows what the Kremlin is saying to be completely false.

            And third, it is a warning that Moscow is now planning to further muddy the waters about events in Ukraine with ostensibly "scholarly” studies presenting that line by flooding the field with books and “serious” academic articles based on the Kremlin’s claims in much the same way Soviet propagandists did in Stalin’s times as well as before and after.

            The danger is that some in the Western media will at a minimum report these studies in the name of balance especially if they appear to be conducted by those many will describe as scholars rather than propagandists. That is what the Kremlin is counting on; but in the fight over Russian crimesin Ukraine, it must not be allowed to occur.

Russia and US at Odds Elsewhere Both Trying to Strengthen Tajikistan against Threat from Afghanistan

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 13 – Tajikistan is descending into chaos because of continuing protests in Gorno-Badakhshan and the threat that one Afghan group will cross the border and spark a civil war in that Central Asian country. (On these possibilities, see this author’s article at jamestown.org/program/chaos-on-tajik-afghan-border-could-make-russian-intervention-more-likely/).

            In this situation, Russia and the United States despite being opponents in Ukraine and elsewhere find themselves on the same side. Russia is promising to send 100 million US dollars and the US 60 million to Dushanbe to beef up its defenses, Viktoriya Panfilova of Nezavisimaya gazeta reports (ng.ru/cis/2022-05-12/5_8434_tajikistan.html).

            These actions are taking place in parallel rather than in a cooperative way as Moscow has made it clear that it does not want to see any US military infrastructure in that Central Asian country or indeed anywhere else on the territory of the former Soviet space, a position that means what looks like a cooperative effort could end by sparking new conflicts between them.

            And further complicating this situation is the fact that China already has a serious military presence in Tajikistan – see this author’s article on that at jamestown.org/program/russia-china-dividing-responsibilities-in-tajikistan-is-conflict-possible/ -- something that risks sparking multiple conflicts on this site of the 19th century’s Great Game.

US Non-Recognition of the Forcible Annexation of the Baltic Countries by the Soviet Union Remains as Important as Ever

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – Many in the West believe that however valuable US non-recognition of the forcible annexation and occupation of the Baltic countries was in the past and may be in the present as a model for how the West should respond to Russia’s Anschluss of Crimea, it is no longer the case for the Baltic countries.

            In this, the centenary year of US recognition of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, they could not be more wrong because Russian propagandists are now seeking to deny that non-recognition policy meant what it clearly did, that Moscow’s occupation of the three Baltic states was illegal and had to be ended.

            They are insisting instead that the basis of the claim that the Soviet Union occupied Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania was either statements by Nazi leaders or the product of Cold War propaganda and had no standing in international law. Such claims are simply wrong and must be dismissed. Otherwise, some in the Russian capital may use them as a new basis for aggression.

            The most recent example of this comes in an article by Russian propagandist Viktor Gushchin who ways that Hitler’s Germany and then the West during the Cold War talked about the occupation but that “at the level of international law,” this was never recognized (ritmeurasia.org/news--2022-05-14--latvija-nikogda-ne-byla-tak-blizka-k-gorjachej-faze-mezhetnicheskogo-konflikta-59848).

            That statement is false because it is based on a false conception of international law, which exists not somewhere in a code like the laws of individual countries but as a summary of the practices and declarations of members of the international community that gain general if not universal approbation.

            And it is dangerous because Gushchin and others like him now invoke this argument to insist that the current regime in Latvia is based on an illegitimate principle and that as a result “Latvia has never been as close to a hot phase of inter-ethnic conflict” as it is today, the kind of threatening language from Moscow that in the wake of Ukraine no one can afford to ignore.

            In 1991, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania recovered their de facto independence – they had been in the view of the US and most of the West, they had been de jure independent countries since the 1920s – some in Washington spoke about the triumph of non-recognition policy, implying that it had done its duty and that everyone should look to the future.

            The author of these lines at that time argued that this was a mistake, that non-recognition policy in fact was a kind of “birth certificate” for the three countries that had recovered their de facto independence, a declaration that made possible their decisions on citizenship and much else, including their inclusion in the Western alliance.

            This policy remains important. Indeed, with statements like Gushchin’s, it may now be more important than ever for the international community to affirm it lest their failure to do so lead Moscow to conclude that it can engage in militaristic revisionism in the Baltic region as it has in Georgia and Ukraine.