Saturday, October 1, 2016

Can West Use Russia’s Border Regions against Moscow?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 1 – An article in a German newspaper suggesting that residents of Russia’s Pskov oblast want good relations with Estonia and Latvia and do not support Moscow’s “’aggressive tone’” has raised the hackles of a Russian commentator who argues that the West will fail if it tries to set the border regions of the country against the center.

            On the RuBaltic portal which often serves as Moscow’s mouthpiece about the Baltic countries, Aleksandr Nosovich takes offense at an article by Klaus-Helge Donath in Berlin’s “Tageszeitung” about the situation in Pskov oblast and both pro-Western and anti-Moscow sentiments there.

            (Nosovich’s article which appeared yesterday can be found at Donath’s, which was originally published on September 16 is available in German at!5335817/ and in Russian translation at

            According to Nosovich, the West has “decided to use the residents of border regions” of the Russian Federation against Moscow. He draws that conclusion on the basis of the Donath article and predicts that the West will expand such efforts in other regions of Russia, including Kaliningrad.

            The Russian commentator quotes Donath’s observation that “on the whole, the situation in Pskov with its 200,000 residents does not look especially good. Many homeless people follow tourists from one church to another in the hopes of receiving some money from them. More than that, every fifth resident of Pskov lives ‘below the established minimum’” income.

            According to the German journalist, Nosovich continues, “industrial enterprises have left the city and over the last six years, the population has fallen by six percent which as the local press writes, ‘exceeds the figures from the period” of World War II.  As a result, “in the city, the situation in fact is tense” because residents compare their fate with that of the wealthier Baltic countries and St. Petersburg.

            Nosovich says that Donath’s comment about population losses is “only the most obvious” of his mistaken claims.  Between 1940 and 1945, Pskov oblast’s population fell from 1.6 million to 500,000, while between 1989 and 2010, it declined only from 870,000 to 650,000. The Russian commentator implies but doesn’t show that Donath’s other arguments are wrong.

            He does say that the German journalist “manipulates the good-neighborly attitudes of Pskov residents to their Baltic neighbors and pushes his readers to the conclusion that the residents of the Russian border region are oriented in their development to Estonia and Latvia and do not support the foreign policy of Russia.”

            Pskov residents, Donath says, aren’t hostile to Estonia and Latvia and they do not understand Moscow’s militaristic tone. Moreover, “20 percent of the residents of [Pskov’s] border regions are citizens both of Russia and of the EU,” that is, they are citizens of Estonia and Latvia, two EU member states, and thus are within the Shengen zone.

            Nosovich says that such comments raise “several questions.” First, according to him, no one in Pskov could have heard Moscow’s “’militant tone’” toward the Baltic countries because Moscow has never displayed that.  Second, Donath insults the Balts by comparing them with a region in Russia rather than with Russia as a whole.

            And third, according to Nosovich, Donath is wrong to suggest any problems Pskov residents have are the result of Moscow’s policies. According to him, many of their problems have arisen because Estonia hasn’t been willing to allow a special visa regime for border area residents even though as many as 33,000 Pskovites have Estonian passports.

            Thus, the Russian commentator says, Donath’s article represents not some accidental publication but the manifestation of a new anti-Moscow policy in the West based on an attempt to use “the friendly and good-neighborly attitudes of residents of the border regions of Russia toward EU countries” against Moscow.

            “It remains to be seen,” Nosovich says, “how this will develop in the future.  We now can expect Western reports that the residents of Kaliningrad oblast feel themselves as Little Lithuania and do not support Putin’s plans, already proven and not subject to doubt, to occupy Vilnius.”

            No such articles have yet appeared, but today, a RUSSIAN news agency reported that the situation in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad is now so dire that stevedores working in the port there are saying “we will not survive if we don’t reach agreements with Lithuania and Belarus (

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