Staunton, September 17 – Sergey Aksyonov, the head of the Russian occupation government in Crimea has called on Moscow to help create “a powerful Crimean lobby” in the US by mobilizing Russian citizens living there against Washington and its support for the Ukrainian government.
But as of now, he says, “no one is working with them” toward that end, and as a result both Crimea and the Russian Federation are failing to avail themselves of a potential ally in the current struggle, journalist Aleksey Polubota of the Svobodnaya pressa portal reports today (svpressa.ru/society/article/156638/).
Some Russians living abroad do so because of differences with Moscow, Polubota says, but many Russians in Europe have taken part in demonstrations in support of Russia’s position on Crimea. As a result, he says, it is time to raise the possibility of mobilizing them “in those countries which now conduct toward Russia not the most friendly policy.”
The Svobodnaya pressa journalist spoke with two Moscow experts Aleksandr Shatilov, a sociologist at the Finance University in the Russian capital, and Aleksandr Domrin, a specialist on law at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, about whether Aksyonov’s call has any chance of being realized.
Shatilov says that “the level of patriotism of our emigres in the US leaves much to be desired,” especially if one compares their attitudes toward Russia with those of Chinese immigrants in the US who invariably support Beijing and lobby for “the economic and also political interests” of China.
The situation with regard to Russian emigres in the US is slowly getting better, however. “In the 1990s,” he says, “all those who left Russia considered it a God-forgotten countries and attempted to distance themselves from their former Motherland, sought to be part of the Western way of life and to distinguish themselves as little as possible from 100 percent Americans.”
Now, however, he continues, “Russia has strengthened its positions and is no longer viewed as a poor and dying state. Therefore, certain emigrants from Russian in their new motherland maintain a definite pro-Russian orientation.” That is especially true in Germany, and that presents “a definite problem for the German authorities.”
“But on the whole, Russian diasporas in various countries aren’t focused on Russia. Therefore,” Shatilov says, “Aksyonov somewhat optimistically assesses the prospects of influencing the émigré communities from Russia, especially in the US, where under the conditions of a de facto cold war, all attempts of Russia to influence the consciousness of Americans whatever nationality they are will be blocked.”
That will be especially true, he suggests, if anyone tries to establish “influential pro-Russian organizations. Activists who lobby for Russian interests could be called ‘agents of the bloody Putin regime,’ in the best case, politically neutralized and in the worst put behind bars” by the American authorities.
Moscow’s playing with those Americans who call for the independence of Texas or other states is a path to nowhere, Shatilov continues. Those Americans who are making such appeals are “marginal” without any “serious public support.” They are thus “not dangerous for the authorities.” If they ever were, the US government would deal with them without “ceremony.”
Washington doesn’t care about the promotion of cultural and even economic ties between émigré groups and their historical motherlands, but when things turn to politics – “and one cannot talk about Crimea without politics” – then the US authorities will crack down hard to ensure that such groups can’t effectively operate.
Although Moscow has had to deal with US-backed groups in Russia that support pro-American positions for many years, Shatilov concludes, any foundation in the US which promoted the notion that “Russia had done the right thing by absorbing Crimea wouldn’t exist for a month.”
Domrin for his part notes that there are approximately three million Russian immigrants in the US now and that “700,000 of them according to the last census consider Russian to be their native language.” There are a few groups that unite them, but these are quite “formal organizations” with little funding or clout.
They cannot be compared with Jewish and Armenian organizations which are well-funded, including from abroad, and which actively promote Israeli and Armenian positions. That simply isn’t the case with Russian groups in the US now, the Higher School of Economics professor says.
Consequently, it isn’t likely that “the Russians could somehow lobby the interests of Crimeans in the US and force Washington to revise its position on this issue.” To be sure, he says, Moscow has an organization that is supposed to work with Russian diasporas, but it has far too little money to do much.