Thursday, July 19, 2018

Stalin Frequently Modified Russia’s Borders, Adding and Subtracting Territory, Butakov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 19 – One of the most widely held misconceptions about the USSR was that borders among the various republics were both natural and fixed, neither of which was the case, and that as a result borders among the post-Soviet states are not only legitimated by international law and agreement but by the widespread acceptance that they are eternal.

            In fact, republic borders were changed frequently, more than 200 times affecting areas large enough to be minuted in the central Soviet legal journals and far more than that involving small adjustments among the republics. (See the current author’s “Can Republic Borders be Changed?” RFE/RL Report on the USSR, September 28, 1990.)

            Now, Russian regionalist Yaroslav Butakov has made an important contribution to an understanding of this issue in an article detailing which territories Stalin joined to the RSFSR and which ones he gave up to other republics between the 1917 revolution and his death in 1953 (

            The RSFSR was officially proclaimed with the adoption of its first constitution in July 1918, with its borders being those under the control of the Soviet government. In the course of the Russian Civil War as a result of changing military fortunes, those borders changed frequently, Butakov says.

            Among the borders that changed the most between 1918 and 1925 were those between the RSFSR and Ukraine initially as a result of military developments but then by the decision of Moscow which split the Don region between the two republics and then included the eastern part of the Donbass in what is now Rostov Oblast.

            “Initially,” the regional specialist writes, “all of Central Asia with the exception of the former Khivan khanate and the Bukhran emirate … were included in the RSFSR; and there were created two soviet socialist republics (ASSRs), the Turkestan and the Kyrgyz.” As the latter eventually became the Kazakh SSR, the RSFSR’s borders with it were set in the 1920s.

            Orenburg became the first capital of the Kyrgyz Autonomous republic which also included all of Orenburg gubernia.  “In June 1925, the Kyrgyz ASSR was renamed the Kazakh ASSR and its capital moved to Ak-Mechet, which since that time has been called Kzyl-Orda,” Butakov says.  

            Many mistakenly believe, he continues, that “the present northern oblasts of Kazakhstan were transferred out of the RSFSR to the Kazakh SSR by Nikita Khrushchev during the virgin lands campaign of 1954. This is not so.”  Instead, the borders between the two were set after some movement back and forth between 1921 and 1924. After that, they remained stable.

            Other areas which Stalin moved to include within the RSFSR or at least the USSR were the Far Eastern Republic which was absorbed into the RSFSR in November 1922, northern Sakhalin which was annexed in May 1925 after Japanese forces were driven out and Wrangel Island which was included within the RSFSR borders in August 1924.

            During World War II, Stalin annexed Tannu-Tuva and transformed it into the Tuvin Autonomous Oblast within Krasnodar kray in October 1944. Later in 1961, it became an ASSR. And at the end of the war, Stalin annexed the southern half of Sakhalin and the Kurile islands, what the Japanese still refer to as the Northern Territories.

            At the end of the Winter War with Finland, Stalin oversaw the annexation of the southern part of the Karelian isthmus. In 1944, it was transferred from the Karelo-Finnish SSR.  In 1944, after the absorption of the three Baltic countries, Moscow took regions of Estonia and Latvia and included them in the RSFSR.

            In 1945, on the basis of decisions of the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, the RSFSR was expanded to include the former German East Prussia as the non-contiguous Kaliningrad Oblast. And in 1947, the Finnish city of Pecheneg was included in the RSFSR’s Murmansk Oblast on the basis of the Moscow-Helsinki peace treaty.

            Stalin also gave up RSFSR territory to others, primarily in the course of forming union republics in Central Asia, but also part of the North Caucasus which was transferred to the Georgian SSR after Stalin deported many of the nations from this and adjoining territories.

            But “the most significant land gift from the RSFSR under Stalin” was the one he gave to Belarus. In 1924-1926, Belarus received almost all of Vitebsk, Mogilev and Gomel oblasts, thereby increasing the territory of the Belarusian SSR “by a factor of three.”

Tatar Experts Distribute Tough Resolution Against Moscow’s Language Policy

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 19 – Last week, scholars, experts and activists from Tatarstan met in Kazan to discuss the sad state of Tatar-language instruction at present and the threats to it that will arise if Vladimir Putin’s proposal to make the study of all non-Russian languages voluntary while keeping instruction in Tatar mandatory.

            (For discussions of that meeting, see  and

            The meeting, called by its organizers the Inter-Regional Scientific-Practical Conference on Principles of Teaching Native Languages and State Languages of the Republics of the Russian Federation, has now distributed its resolution to other non-Russians, Moscow officials, and to interested experts abroad.

            Its key provisions are as follows:

“At the present time, the training of pedagogical staff who speak their native language has been stopped even in Tatarstan itself, and only 7% of Tatar children study their mother tongue at schools in other regions of the Russian Federation, where more than two-thirds of the Tatars of Russia live.

“Training of pedagogical staff for the ethnic schools and teachers of the Tatar language in the regions of Russia was ended in 2000. Under these conditions, the actions of the federal authorities … deprives the peoples of Russia … of the opportunity to receive higher education in their native languages, and the absence of training of pedagogical personnel who speak their native language leads to the elimination of education in the local native languages.

“Participants of the Interregional Scientific-Practical Conference condemn attempts to introduce unconstitutional principles in the spheres of education in the native languages and teaching of native languages based on the ranking of languages and peoples.”

To prevent the situation from deteriorating further, they call on the Duma to amend the draft law on languages so that all legal documents will be published in the non-Russian languages as well as in Russian, that all children who want to do so can study in it through the secondary level, and to require residents in the republics to learn the language of the titular nation.

The participants at the meeting urge the Russian education ministry to restore the Department of Regional Education in the ministry, to develop programs and prefer textbooks for instruction in non-Russian languages, to support the training of teachers who know these languages and can carry out instruction of and in them, and to abolish rules requiring final examinations in secondary schools be conducted only in Russian.

The meeting also called on the Tatarstan government to establish a Tatar National University, to restore the Institute of Regional Education, and to resume the training of Tatar-language teachers for all levels of the educational system.

Trump and Putin May have Agreed to Fight Liberals in Both Countries, Some Russians Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 19 – Given that Russian liberals have joined American ones in condemning Donald Trump’s deference to Vladimir Putin (, Russian analyst Mikhail Khazin has suggested that the two leaders may have agreed to a common attack on the liberals in both countries.

            Khazin made that suggestion (, and the Rex News Agency editors have now generalized his remarks to suggest that Putin and Trump “may have come to a personal agreement about joint actions against liberal ‘financiers’ who in the US are leading the attack on Trump and in Russia control all economic policy” (

            The editors cite the conclusion of retired Russian colonel Andrey Devyatov that it was “precisely the resolution of the issue about the ties of William Browder with Trump’s enemies in the US and not the discussion of Syria, nuclear arms or gas that was the key sign that an informal ‘deal’ between the leaders had been concluded” (

            Browder of course is not an American citizen, but these suggestions may also be finding confirmation in the interest Moscow has in interviewing former American officials like Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Moscow, something that the White House has now said it is willing to consider.

            The potential impact of such an arrangement in the United States has already sparked significant dissent. To allow Moscow such access and even to assist it would violate longstanding practice and almost certainly would lead to massive resignations at the State Department and elsewhere.

            But the possible impact of such “a deal” if in fact it happened on Russia has not yet attracted much attention. However, that could be equally serious. In effect, it could mean that Trump would not raise any objections to a wholesale cleaning out of liberal advisors in the Russian government and their replacement with hardline statists.

            And more seriously still it could mean that Washington at Trump’s direction would reduce still further its support for Russian liberals in the broadest sense, seeing them as enemies of Putin and hence enemies of himself. 

            The Russian commentators offer no direct evidence for the existence of such an arrangement, but there is one aspect of Trump’s approach that makes it not beyond the realm of the possible.  As the current US president has demonstrated time and again, everything he is involved in is all about him – and Putin could have exploited this for his own purposes.