Thursday, November 20, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Occupation Officials in Full Denial about Human Rights Watch Report on Abuses in Crimea

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 20 – Human Rights Watch has released an eight-page report on “Rights in Retreat” in Crimea since the Anschluss, and the occupation authorities have gone into full-denial mode in response, dismissing the report as lacking “objective confirmation” and containing only “empty talk.”


            In an interview with Moscow’s “Gazeta” yesterday, Sergey Aksyonov, prime minister of the occupation regime, said that the report (available at, not only was baseless but offensive because it called Russian power in Crimea an “occupation” regime (


            He said that the report’s statements about the disappearances of Crimean Tatar were simply wrong, noting that according to his information, one of those listed as “disappeared” had in fact committed suicide. Claiming otherwise, as HRW does, is thus nothing more than propaganda against Russia.


            Aksyonov said that international human rights groups should be paying attention to what he described as “the violation of human rights and mass murder” by Ukrainian forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” rather than focusing on Crimea where he said conditions are good and improving.


            His comments were seconded and expanded upon by Lyudmila Lubina, the human rights plenipotentiary in Crimea, in comments to the Russian news media.  She too said the HRW report “does not correspond to reality” and criticized in particular the report’s statement that the number of kidnappings of Crimean Tatars is going up (


            Lubina said that Ukrainian officials had not defended human rights in Crimea, but no one investigated them. Now that the peninsula is part of Russia, all of them are racing to do so, a pattern that she said called into question the purposes of those compiling and distributing such reports.


            In her efforts to dismiss the issue of disappearances among the Crimean Tatars, however, Lubina in fact provided information showing that that problem is even greater than HRW and other monitors have said.  “Only 18” of the “more than 800” missing in Ukraine are Crimean Tatars, she said.


            While that means that the Crimean Tatars are suffering this crime at a rate somewhat less than their share in the population, Lubin’s figures also mean that others, presumably ethnic Ukrainians or members of other minorities, are suffering disproportionately and at relatively high levels.

Window on Eurasia: Ending Gubernatorial Elections Seen Weakening Ethnic Autonomies in Remaining ‘Matryoshka’ Oblasts

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 20 – Legislators in the two autonomous districts in Tyumen oblast and the one in Arkhangelsk oblast, the three remaining “matryoshka” federal subjects, this week simultaneously asked for the elimination of direct elections of their governors in favor of one in which the local legislators themselves would make the decision.


            Moscow officials say this is not part of a trend, although four republics in the North Caucasus dispensed with such elections last year and none are planned in the two federal subjects in occupied Crimea, or a reflection of a drive by the Russian authorities to save money given the budgetary stringencies that sanctions are making necessary.


            But one analyst says that the elimination of direct gubernatorial elections “will lead to the weakening” of the influence of the three, although from the center’s point of view, taking this step now is “logical: the country is being drawn into an economic crisis and it is important htat Moscow establish tight control” over these “rich donor regions” (


            In a commentary on, Valery Vyzhutovich says that the simultaneous appeal by legislators in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District and the Khanty-Mansiisk AD in Tyumen oblast and by their colleagues in the Nenets AD in Arkhangelsk oblast has raised many questions, given Vladimir Putin’s interest in amalgamating non-Russian areas with larger and predominantly Russian ones.


            The legislators have asked the Federal Duma to revise the law so that the AD legislatures will select the governor from among a list of three approved by the president rather than having their governors elected directly by the people.  That will bring them into correspondence with the pattern in the oblasts within whose borders they exist.


            The AD lawmakers add, Vyzhutovich says, that this procedure will be “more democratic” because there will be more candidates and will “guarantee stability in these donor regions,” where much of the income from natural resources comes and goes into the coffers of Moscow and the oblast government.


            But those considering what this means, the commentator says, “should remember” that both the Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenets Ads have sought “divorces” from Tyumen oblast so that they will be treated just like any other federal subject and not have to coordinate things with the oblast leadership.


            These ADs, he points out, often feel that they are sending money to the oblast center without getting much in return, although the reality is quite different. Not only do they get many benefits from the infrastructure of the oblast, but they would not retain any more money from their natural resources than they do now if they were to separate.


             Vladimir Churov, the head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, sought to put what the three AD legislatures have asked for in context. He argued that it does not constitute a new trend against elections, pointing out that there will be “no fewer than 13” regional head elections next September (


                Moreover, he rejected suggestions that eliminating elections was a sanctions-driven measure to save money, although he said that in the country’s large northern areas, the cost of holding elections was quite high: In central Russia, each voter costs the state about 60-80 rubles (1.30 – 1.90 US dollars) while in the north, the cost rises to 100,000 rubles (2,000 US dollars) per voter given travel expenses for election officials.


            Those differences can be handled, he said, by introducing “distance voting” rather than by scrapping elections altogether.


Window on Eurasia: Urals Club Extremely Influential in Moscow Circles

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 20 – Given the low level of formal institutionalization of Russian social and political life, those who seek to understand it regularly discuss it in terms of bands or clans, typically analytic constructs in which the individuals involved are linked together by personal ties based on economic interests, past service in particular organizations and the like.


            But there is a category of organizations between such analytic abstractions and formal political organizations that is a significant part of Russian life and deserves more attention than it normally does. This involves so-called “zemlyachestvas” or organizations made up of people from a particular region.


            The national-cultural organizations of non-Russians in places outside of their traditional homelands are well-known if only in a few cases extremely influential. (The Kazan Tatar group in Moscow is a notable exception.) But those consisting of people from predominantly ethnic Russian regions are less often the subject of study, even though they are more significant.


            One of the most important of these groups is the Urals Zemlyachestvo Society of Moscow, a group that includes some of the most important movers and shakers in the Russian capital and that is now receiving more attention than usual because it is in the process of electing a new leader (


            (The new head is likely to be Vladimir Strashko, the vice president of the Trade-Industrial Chamber, who earlier worked as deputy interior minister of the USSR.)


            The Urals Zemlyachestvo was formed in 1992 by former party and government officials from Svedlovsk oblast by the former permanent representative of that region to Moscow, Vladimir Melentyev, who headed it for many years and whose death earlier this year has made the election of a successor necessary.


            The club has approximately 1500 dues-paying members and about 200 who regularly take part in its meetings, which include monthly sessions and an annual general assembly.  According to its members, “the Moscow Sverdlovians actively help one another and use the organization as a communications hub for contacts” political, economic and personal.


             Dues are 1000 rubles (22 US dollars) a year for those who are working, and 100 rubles (2.2 US dollars) for retirees. According to its officers, the club’s members represent the top of the estimated 300,000 Sverdlovsk oblast residents in the Russian capital and are active in helping not only each other but their “compatriots” more generally.


Window on Eurasia: Civic and Ethnic Identities Can Co-Exist as Long as Times Remain Good, Drobizheva Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 20 – Russian civic identity “does not contradict” ethnic identities either of ethnic Russians or non-Russians, Leokadiya Drobizheva says, as long as economic and social conditions are good. But when they are deteriorating as now, ever more people in Russia connect that development with ethnic factors and the two identities begin to split apart.


            At a Moscow forum on “Multi-National Russia” earlier this week, Drobizheva, who heads the Center for Research on Inter-Ethnic Relations at the Institute of Sociology and who is perhaps Russia’s most distinguished scholar on that issue, argued that “civic identity is becoming ever more significant for Russia’s peoples” (


            That identity has co-existed with ethnic identities, except when the latter grow into nationalism, she said, noting that in recent times, her researchers have found that most Russian citizens see ethnic tensions as declining as a result of the social self-confidence they have gained from a rising standard of living.


            But that positive development is now at risk, Drobizheva suggested. “Ever more people now connect what is happening in their lives and in the country with the ethnic factor,” and “that means that when the social status of people will worsen, [Russia] will encounter a worsening in inter-ethnic relations” as well.


            Because the risk of that is real, “preventive measures” by the government and society “will have great importance” in blocking the rise of ethnic nationalisms that would lead to the growth of nationalisms of various kinds and thus undermine the progress that has been made toward a civic identity in the Russian Federation.


            Drobizheva’s words parallel those of Joseph Stalin in his 1913 “Prosveshcheniye” article which became the basis for Soviet nationality policy. In that article, written at Lenin’s request, the future dictator wrote that “when times are good, common interests are first and foremost, but when times are bad, everyone retires to his own individual national tent.”




Window on Eurasia: West has Means Short of War to Stop Putin in Ukraine, Eidman Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 20 – Sectoral sanctions are not enough to stop Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, and no one in the West wants to fight a war against Russia. But because of the nature of the Russian elite, including Putin, the West has a means of stopping Putin in his tracks, a means it has not yet deployed, according to Igor Eidman.


            The Russian analyst, who now lives in Germany, says that “the entire Russian political elite consists of criminals in terms not only of Russian law but even more that of Western countries.”  Thus, he says, “the West could declare them criminals and seize [their] holdings” and those of their families and advertise the names.”


            “For representatives of the Russian elite, this would be a real catastrophe,” Eidman continues, something that they would see as permanently damaging; and they would unite against Putin and his policies in Ukraine, forcing him to change course or if necessary carryikng him out of the Kremlin “feet first” (


            Taking this step, however, will not be easy for many in the West although for everyone it should be preferable, the analyst says.  Seizing Russian holdings abroad, he points out, will lead to a decline in property values in places like London, and it would violate “the piety” Western countries show to “stolen private property if the thieves are aliens.”


            But any who oppose this idea need to recognize that “if a war begins, then all this will be seized. Why wait for war if it is possible to take this step already now? Peace after all is more important,” Eidman argues.


            And the world needs to recognize that Putin will continue his aggression until he comes up against forces he can’t overcome.  His “new national idea” is nothing but “the very old idea of ordinary fascism.”  His Russia “is still not Nazi Germany,” but it is very much like “early fascist Italy” or Spain under Franco, a regime based on nationalist ideology, aggression and xenophobia.


            Given the West’s reluctance to stand up to him in the past, Putin has grown “ever more self-confident and now he has decided that his time has come.”  He is thus prepared to confront the West with real violence, given that the West has “a pathological fear of cataclysms” and does not want anything to interfere with its peaceful life.


            Indeed, if “God forbid,” Putin “seizes Kyiv, the West would react with nothing more than a new round of sanctions,” fearful that otherwise it would have to go to war. But as Eidman points out, there are other means to bring pressure on Putin. And some, such as the isolation of him at the G-20 meeting, have already been employed.


            But the West cannot wait to see what Putin will do next, Eidman says. Putin today “feels himself a superman for whom everything is permitted. He does not respect his Western partners because he considers them weaklings to the extent that they follow the rules,” something he as a Chekist does not consider necessary.


            Eidman cites the words of Lenin about Stalin: “he has concentrated in his hands unlimited power.’ That is what Putin has done. None of his entourage is able to propose anything … [And] Putinis proud that what is happening is his personal initiative.” What he may do next is “impossible to predict” given that he is someone “with nuclear weapons in his hands.”


            In thinking about him, however, “one must keep in mind that the foreign policy of Russia is based on those same criminal methods as its domestic policy: lies, force, intimidation and provocation. Putin is a criminalized Chekist who has fully accepted the traditions of the criminal world.” And he and his entourage act like criminals when they deal with anyone else.


            But because they only care about their own personal well-being and because so many of them have put the results of their theft abroad, the West has a very real chance to influence some of them by declaring them criminals and seizing their property and thus making it clear that if they stay with the chief criminal, they will lose everything.


            In the course of his interview, Eidman makes a number of other observations. Two are particularly important. On the one hand, he points out, the situation in southeastern Ukraine is very different from that in Georgia because in the former case, Moscow manufactured the conflicts on its own rather than exploiting conflicts that had long existed.


            And on the other, he argues that the pro-Moscow militants in the Donbas are effectively “Russian jihadists,” that Putin is prepared to use them and then dispose of them, and that they are not very popular among Russians as a whole, although they do have a constituency in Moscow among former Chekists and others “raised on anti-Western demagogy.”




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Muslims’ Ignorance of Islam Leading to Radicalization, Moscow Writer Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 19 – The extremely low level of knowledge about traditional Islam among immigrants to Russia from Central Asia is leading to the growth of radicalism in Russia, Moscow experts say, a finding that applies not only to gastarbeiters but also to indigenous Muslims in the Russian Federation as well.


            Both Russian researchers and Western observers have been reluctant to point out one of the major reasons for the rise of radicalism among Muslims in the post-Soviet space: Soviet policies which eliminated most of the transmission mechanisms for Islam along with those for other religions and left many with the status of “ethnic Muslim.”


            Such people identify as Muslims because they are members of nationalities which historically were Muslim, but they know little or nothing about the faith, something that opens them to radicalization by missionaries or others who claim to provide them with the way to become “true” Muslims once again.


            On the one hand, students of these groups have been unwilling to focus on just how destructive of religious life among the Muslims Soviet power was. And on the other, they haven’t been willing to do so because that would appear to mean that the best way to fight radicalism is with the promotion of genuine Islamic training.


            Given the preference in Russia and the West to blame Islam as such rather than to consider the specific circumstances in which this or that group of Muslims find themselves, few except for Islamic leaders themselves have been willing to focus on such linkages and such possibilities.


            But now an issue has arisen that has opened the way for Russian specialists to talk more directly about both: the increasing radicalization of Central Asian gastarbeiters living in Moscow and other major Russian cities. Discussion of their situation opens the way for discussion of the larger problem as well.


            In the current issue of “NG-Religii” which was released today, Vladislav Kondratyev calls attention to the radicalization of an increasing number of migrant workers and explicitly links that to the absence of religious education in the Central Asian countries from which they come (


            The Russian journalist surveys the sad state of religious knowledge among imams, mullahs and even muftis in Central Asia and suggests that the governments in that region have done little or nothing to facilitate an improvement in the situation, something that together with violence in neighboring Afghanistan and other problems is leading to radicalization.


            “The quality of Islamic education in [Russia’s] southern neighbors” and the ability of radical Islamist missionaries to make inroads in their populations “cannot fail to be a matter of interest to Russian society,” Kondratyev says, given how many immigrants from there now live and work in Russia.


The “NG-Religii” journalist could easily have said the same thing about Muslims in Russia, where the quality of theological education is low and where many Muslims, who because of Soviet policies, had no idea as to what that identity means, have been all too willing to listen to radicals who provide simple and easily understandable if dangerous answers to their questions.





Window on Eurasia: Crimean Tatars Launch Online Petition for Recognition as ‘Indigenous People of Crimea’

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 19 – The Crimean Tatar Resistance Organization has launched an online petition drive to gain international recognition as the indigenous people of the peninsula, a step that Ukraine did not take earlier and that Russia has not taken since the Anschluss and one that the organizers say is necessary to preserve their national identity.



            Some may be put off by the fact that the petition criticizes Ukraine’s earlier failure to act, but the measure which is to be sent to the United Nations and world leaders clearly is directed primarily against the behavior of the Russian occupation forces, a group that has proven itself to be hostile to the Crimean Tatars.


            Indeed, today brings news of yet another action by the authorities there so appalling that even Russian Orthodox nationalists are upset: The Russian occupiers plan to put up a statue of Stalin along with Roosevelt and Church in Yalta as part of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the summit there which divided Europe.


            In the words of the editors of “Russkaya liniya,” it seems that now “the ‘Sovietization’ of Crimea can begin with its ‘Stalinization’” (


            As the site points out, Stalin was “perhaps the bloodiest tyrant in human history.” But as it doesn’t, although others should, he was especially “bloody” with regard to the Crimean Tatars, deporting and murdering them en masse in 1944 and doing what he could to wipe off the map of Crimea any memory of them.


            For Crimean Tatars then in particular, the erection of a statue in honor of the Soviet dictator sends a signal about what is ahead, a signal that many of them are certain to view as an indication that their future is anything but assured as long as the Russian occupation of their homeland continues.