Sunday, October 20, 2019

Zelensky Rapidly Losing Support among Ukrainians, Poll Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 17 – The share of Ukrainians approving the actions of President Vladimir Zelensky has fallen from 73 percent in September to 66 percent this month, and the rating of his prime minister has fallen as well, according to polls taken by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (

            At the same time, support for Zelensky’s opponents has risen, a shift that may help to explain the Ukrainian president’s increasingly tough line on Russia, a line that US-based commentator Andrey PIontkovsky says more closely reflects Ukrainian national interests than did Zelensky’s earlier position (

            At the very least, these results mean three things: First, anger at Zelensky is broader and deeper than just the protesters in Kyiv and some other Ukrainian cities; second, the Ukrainian president has less room to maneuver than he did; and third, his opponents are likely to be energized by these findings and take a harder line against him.

Could Daghestan Dissolve into Two New National Republics and a Caspian Oblast?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 17 – The Russian policy of promoting inter-ethnic compromises and the balance of interests among the various nationalities of Daghestan has “completely discredited itself;” and that has sparked discussions in Makhachkala about the possibility of the republic’s division into three parts, Andrey Chumakov says.

            These would be a Nakh Confederation, including 14 numerically small peoples each of which would have a national autonomy, a Kumykh Republic including the Kumyks and Azerbaijanis, and a Caspian Oblast including the cities of Makhachkala and Kaspiisk (

            This may seem fanciful in the extreme, especially given Putin’s preference for reducing rather than increasing the number of federal subjects.  But there are three compelling reasons for thinking it isn’t but rather a trial balloon to see how people in Daghestan and in the two bi-national republics (Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria) would react.

            From Moscow’s perspective, it would give the Russians far more effective control over the Caspian coast where it recently relocated the main base of the Caspian Flotilla and isolate the mountainous portions of the republic from the sea, thus limiting their ability to make contact with others.

            From the perspective of the smaller nationalities who would become part of a Nakh confederation, it would offer a chance to get out from under the dominance of the Avars and Kumyks (and the Russians) and gain their own republican institutions, something they don’t have now.

            From the point of view of the Kumyks, this would be a big victory, not only because it would allow that Turkic nation to escape from the control of the Avars and Russians but also because it would give them the chance to link up with their fellow Turks, the Azerbaijanis, in a far larger unit.

            The big loser, of course, would be the Avar nation, historically the dominant non-Russian nation in the region and the source of many of the militants who have fought against Moscow there.  Some Avars would likely contest any change, possibly violently, something that may be enough to put on hold any change.

            But the fact that such possibilities are being discussed at least behind the scenes suggests that the North Caucasus is far less stable and its future far more open than almost anyone thinks possible.  And such talks in Daghestan almost certainly are occurring in the two bi-national republics where Turkic peoples and Circassians, each for their own reasons, want change.

Syria Could Become ‘a Second Afghanistan’ for Russia, Mukhin Says

Paul Goble
            Staunton, October 17 – Many Russian commentators are celebrating US President Donald Trump’s announcement of the withdrawal of American forces from Syria as a triumph for Vladimir Putin and Russia; but Vladimir Mukhin of Nezavisimaya gazeta says that their conclusion ignores the real danger that Syria will become “a second Afghanistan” for Moscow.

            They should have paid more attention to Trump’s statement about the American withdrawal which explicitly raised that danger and to conditions on the ground in Syria which suggest there are compelling reasons to take such parallels very seriously indeed (

            In justifying his decision to pull US troops, Trump drew the comparison between Syria and Afghanistan and noted that Moscow suffered from its involvement in Afghanistan and could easily suffer again and potentially in the same way if it chooses to get more deeply involved in Syria.

            While one can debate “whether the Afghan war was the main cause of the collapse of the USSR,” Mukhin observes, “It is obvious that it was a serious burden on the Soviet Union” and that Moscow’s involvement did nothing to help that country survive. And Russia today has far fewer military resources than the Soviet Union did.

            Moreover the Nezavisimaya observer says, “the goals of the CPSU leadership which decided to send forces into Afghanistan are still not too clear. Now experts are asking why the leadership of the Russian Federation has sent a military contingent to Syria. Between the lines, that question is to be found in Trump’s comments about the role of Russia” there.

            Trump’s comments are hardly the views of a disinterested observer, Mukhin says. The Americans aren’t leaving Syria, and they have bigger goals in the Middle East than the immediate ones people are talking about: they want to counter any expansion of Russian influence in that region as a whole.

            And the Russian commentator suggests that those who view the American handing over of bases to Russian control in Syria as a Russian victory are missing the point: Washington doesn’t want them to fall int the hands of the radicals and is entirely happy t have Russia drawn more deeply into a conflict it cannot hope to win. 

            Thus, Mukhin concludes, “despite Moscow’s declaration abut the end f the military phase f the pertain in Syria, to speak about the transition of that country to a peaceful life is premature. Damascus with the support of Russia has achieved only local victories. But the resolution of political problems there has not yet begun.”
            And as a result, “the situation really recalls that of Afghanistan, when, having helped Kabul fight its opponents, Moscow ever far was drawn into the war which had broken out there,” a war that echoed across the Soviet Union far more loudly than anyone expected