Staunton, January 31 – Even as Moscow has compared any discussion of a change in the status of Kaliningrad as a “revision of the results” of World War II and the return of “the Third Reich,” a Russian Duma deputy has casually said that Moscow must get back from Kazakhstan what he describes as “immemorial Russian lands” – and there has been little or no comment.
The Lithuanian government disowned the comment of the Seimas deputy about Kaliningrad and articles in both the Russian and European press made it clear that any change in the status of the Russian exclave was something that could never be discussed, just as Vladimir Putin has said that his Anschluss of Ukraine’s Crimea must never be questioned.
But this latest case of double standards not only in Moscow but in the West where Russian statements about revising borders are dismissed as the work of marginals even though Moscow and no one else has “revised” the borders in Europe recently whereas any such comments by anyone from another country become the subject of attack is dangerous.
That is not only because it encourages the Putin regime to believe that the world accepts its version of Russian “exceptionalism,” that the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to it, but because the failure of Western governments to denounce such things only encourages the Kremlin to think that it can get away with more such violations of international law.
Last Thursday, Pavel Shperov, an LDPR deputy who represents Russian-occupied Crimea in the Russian Duma, made the following declaration at a roundtable there on the issue of ethnic Russians living outside the borers of the Russian Federation (exclusive.kz/deputat_gosdumy_pretenduet_na_territoriyu_kazakhstana).
He declared: “We are a great country and must defend our interests throughout the world by all available means. Not everything has been lost in the so-called countries of the near abroad. For example, one can label as a political mistake calling ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan a diaspora for these are out lands which have been temporarily torn away” from Russia.
“Borders are not eternal,” Shperov continued, “and we will return to the borders of the Russian state. This will happen in the near future.”
In reporting this, Kazakhstan journalist Emil Khazin notes that “this is far from the first provocative declaration of representatives of the Russian authorities concerning the territorial integrity of Kazakhstan.” LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky has often made them, just as he often spoke about taking back “Russian” areas in Ukraine before Moscow moved there.
After the Crimean Anschluss, the flamboyant Zhirinovsky suggested that Moscow should then “seize all of Central Asia and transform it into the Central Asian district of Russia.” Eduard Limonov has made similar comments; he has insisted that after the death of Nazarbayev, Russia should “seize all the territory of Northern Kazakhstan.”
But it is not just figures like Zhirinovsky and Limonov who are making such comments, Khazin points out. Vladimir Shtygashev, head of the Khakas Republic parliament, said that much of eastern Kazakhstan should be shifted back into Russia given that they only became part of Kazakhstan relatively recently.
How can one explain all this? Khazin asks rhetorically. Russia has a law banning the promotion of separatism, but it appears that law only is in force regarding Russia. Separatism in other countries remains something Russians in general and Russian officials in particular are free to promote.
Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry has reacted to some but not all such statements, and it has not yet said anything about Shperov’s remarks last week, even though in a sense the Russian politician has raised the stakes by making these comments in an official session of Russian Duma deputies.
Khazin cites the conclusion of Ukrainian commentator Vitaly Portnikov that “for Putin’s Russia, territory is a fetish,” a reflection of the Kremlin’s belief that size matters and the larger one’s country is the more important it is. Consequently, it is quite likely, the Kazakhstan journalist says, that “the Kremlin will play this card for a long time to come.”
But he says there is one reassuring fact: “experts doubt Russia has the capacity to open a new front of conflict with its neighbors,” after what has happened in Ukraine. But even if it doesn’t, Khazin says, Moscow “considers that it needs to constantly support in society a necessary level of imperial hysteria.”
Only one thing is unclear,” he remarks in conclusion. “Why is this being done regarding Kazakhstan a strategic partner of the Russian Federation? Or is it only that for achieving the necessary rating of the Russian powers that be, all means are good?”