Sunday, March 31, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Popular Front has East German Roots, Analyst Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 31 – Some Russian commentators suggest that the Popular Front Vladimir Putin addressed last week will replace the increasingly unpopular United Russia as the party of power. Others argue it will usher in a new era of Russian politics. And one says its format reflects Putin’s attachment to what he saw while a KGB officer in East Germany.

            The debate on this is just beginning, and it is far from clear who is right or whether any final decision has been made about how the Russian president may use the Popular Front format in the future. But two surveys, one in, and a second, on, provide some initial food for thought ( and

            Mariya Lippman of the Moscow Carnegie Center, told Kavkaz-uzel that given the declining popularity of United Russia, the All-Russian Popular Front “could replace ‘United Russia’ as the ruling force,” with its currently “amorphous organization” becoming “a significant structure.”

            Dmitry Oreshkin, a Moscow political scientist, in contrast, suggested to the same news service that the front will “become for Vladimir Putin an alternative not so much to ‘United Russia’as to all  institutions of public policy” including paties and parliamentarianism “which have been discredited.” 
            In his view, the Front will not become a political party for elections but means by which Putin can reach out to the majority of the population. In that event, “instead of administered or sovereign democracy,” Russia will have “all-people democracy,” one much less institutionalized than the current version.

            And Aleksey Makarkin, the general director of the Moscow Center of Political Technologies, said that the Front is something Putin now needs for the preservation of his own personal power.  “The voter will search for an alternative to the party of power,” the analyst says, “and one will be offered him – the popular” one of a front.

            According to Lippman, there are two scenarios for the transfer of power from United Russia to the Popular Front. The first would require snap elections so that everything could be calm and in place before the Sochi Olympiad. But the second is more likely and would have the Front “peacefully” take part in the scheduled 2016 vote.

            Oreshkin for his part suggests that the Front will be able to play such a role or bring the Kremlin significant dividends in that regard.  In his view, the Front reflects the Kremlin’s lack of alternatives.

            Another analyst, Aleksey Mukhin of the Center for Political Information told Kavkaz-Uzel that such predictions are “too simple and banal.” In fact, he says, Putin is “planning to create his own group of support at various ends of the Russian political field,” in order to have the opportunity for maneuver beyond the establishment views of United Russia.

            Writing in, Viktor Matynyuk argues that the Popular Front is first and foremost about giving the appearance of a renewal of the powers that be by suggesting that the top leader is open to new ideas from the bottom and allowing people to pose questions even if Putin and other leaders will not answer them directly in such choreographed shows.

            But perhaps the most interesting and certainly the most intriguing idea is offered by Pavel Salin, the director of the Center for Political Research at Moscow’s Financial University.  He argues that the future of the Popular Front is as “an umbrella brand and structure” which will include United Russia and help the authorities “imitate” political renewal.

            Because this new brand entirely depends on Putin, it “will disappear sooner than [his] brand.”  But the form of a popular front itself is clearly a reflection, Salin says, of “the sympathy of our president for the model which existed in the German Democratic Republic where he served in the 1980s and had the chance to become acquainted with the party system there.

            In the GDR, he continues, there “really was something similar” to the All-Russian Popular Front, when under the aegis of one social movement were united” all kinds of political and social trends. At the same time, as Putin certainly knows but Salin doesn’t note, the GDR was swept away a few years later, a fate the Russian president certainly does not want to share.


Window on Eurasia: Arbitrariness and Corruption vs. Terrorism and Extremism -- The Real Culture Clash in the North Caucasus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 31 – There are “two worlds” in the North Caucasus with distinctive cultures, one consisting of “the people of the force structures” whose arbitrariness, corruption and criminality are promoting the rise of the other, one often characterized by terrorism and extremism, according to a longtime commentator on that region.

            And the only way out, Maksim Shevchenko, the chief editor of “Kavkazskaya politika,” argues, is for the federal center to reach out over the heads of the first world to members of the second who are acting as they are only because the force structures leave them with no other choice and who have, perhaps surprisingly, a reservoir of sympathy for Moscow.

            Shevchenko made that provocative argument in a March 14 speech to the Social Council of the North Caucasus Federal District, the text of which was posted on Friday evening, the logic of which deserves careful consideration even if both of the “worlds” he is talking about are likely to reject it at least on first reading (

            He argues that “in the Caucasus today, two societies exist in parallel – the so-called people of force, who mask themselves under the term ‘state,’ and all the rest who are resolving the social, economic, and confessional questions” on their own to the best of their ability and understanding, sometimes forming Cossack societies and at other times mountain jamaats.

            Such a situation, Shevchenko suggests, is of course true for “all of Russia.”  But “in the Caucasus, with its natural democratic traditions of popular governance” – traditions Russians had but largely lost in the 20th century – “this situation leads to the most serious and tragic consequences.”

            The “strong people” are those which form “the triad of the bureaucracy, the force structures, and the so-called financial institutions.” They are supplemented by the criminal world whose members have ties “with all three heads of the neo-imperial eagle” which for some reasons it is considered appropriate to call the authorities.”

            “The system of relations of the overwhelming majority of these people are based on personal ties which must not be called simply corruption” because they form a system of administration “which in principle excludes any forms of the democratic development of society” as a threat to itself and its members.

            To be sure, Shevchenko continues, not everyone who is a part of these institutions wants to behave in this way, “but they are forced to support the rules of the game” or face the most serious, even deadly consequences.

            All the rest of the population in the North Caucasus, he argues, consists of individuals and groups who are simply trying to arrange their own life “in part not thanks to but in spite of the so-called organs of state power (the triad and the criminal world).” These individuals do not oppose the state as such so much as those who rule in its name.

            The inability of these members of the second world to achieve their goals because of the actions of the people of force” leads “not simply to distrust in the effectiveness of the institutions of power but also to their direct denial” or “in the best case” to the ignoring of what the authorities are trying to do.

            North Caucasians, he writes, “are seeking an alternative to the social and political schemas which have been discredited by the corrupt power of the triad and the criminal world.” And in many cases, they are finding these alternative models of social organization in ethnic or religious traditions.

            If one considers the problem from this perspective, Shevchenko insists, “there is no difference between the attempts at self-organization of life in the Cossack stanitsas and that of the mountaineer jamaats” – except that the Cossack leadership is prepared to cooperate with the triad at the expense of the communities in whose name they profess to speak.

            The jamaats in contrast view the authorities as illegitimate in principle, but in both cases, “this situation offers great opportunities to radicals and terrorists of all masks and nationalities,” from jihadism among the Islamic groups and “radical nationalism” among the ethnic Russian ones.  And that is dangerous not only ideologically but practically.

            Each of the two worlds in the North Caucasus justifies its existence by pointing to the shortcomings of the other, Shevchenko says; but there is a way out.  It requires the intervention of the Russian president and his plenipotentiary representative in the region who must recognize that their “many ally” is not those who masquerade as the state “but the people who are attempting to establish their own parallel structures of administration.”

            That may not be easy for Putin and his aide because some of those seeking to establish these structures have ideologies entirely foreign to the two of them, but it is at least possible, Shevchenko says, because of the still high level of trust in the federal authorities among a population that has little good to say about local ones.

            Journalists are constantly reporting on this reality, Shevchenko says, but tragically, “they are being killed and will continue to be killed” because “the profession of journalist in the Caucasus is one of the most dangerous.” If Moscow is clever, it will provide protection to journalists there, even to those who criticize it.

            That is because these journalists and the people they are reporting on are “the allies of those who want the advancement of the norms of democracy, justice and freedom as written in the Constitution but neither heard nor seen in the Caucasus.” To the extent the Kremlin wants those values too, it should look beyond the triad to the people.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Tajikistan – Where the Russians are a ‘Disappearing Nation’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 30 – The ethnic Russian community in Tajikistan has declined in size from more than 400,000 in Gorbachev’s time to about 40,000 now, the smallest number of ethnic Russians in any CIS country except Armenia, a trend that has had a major impact on the internal life of that Central Asian country and on its relations with Moscow.

            But according to Arkady Dubnov, a Moscow commentator, the situation with regard to Russian language knowledge there is somewhat better, largely because of the continuing impact of Soviet-era patterns and the more than 700,000 Tajiks who have gone to work in the Russian Federation (

            The Russian community of Tajikistan began shortly after the Russian conquest of the region in the 1860s. It expanded in the 1920s when Moscow sent Russians to build dams and train Tajiks. And it exploded in size during World War II when many Russians and Russian enterprises were evacuated from the European portion of the USSR.

            After the war, many did not return to the devastated areas of the Soviet Union, and their number was increased by Russians and Russian speakers involved in economic construction projects.  “By the end of the 1980s,” there were approximately a half million” members of Russian-speaking nationalities, “more than 80 percent” of whom were ethnic Russians.

But the upward trend of Soviet times began to be reversed as a result of Tajik violence against Russian speakers over the course of three days in mid-February 1990. To this day, “no one can say exactly how many people died in those terrible days,” Dubnov says, but the number was certainly in the hundreds.

Some sources say that these events were a provocation “organized by the Tajik KGB” in order to generate fear and thus support for the Soviet leadership against any nationalist challenges. But however it was, this violence led to the rapid departure of many ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Tatars, Jews and members of other nationalities.

Indeed, Dubnov writes, the February 1990 events in Dushanbe which came only a month after Black January in Baku and the introduction of Soviet forces there “led to even more bloodshed than among the Azerbaijani population.”

Over the next decade and at an accelerating rate after 1991, the percentage of Slavic ethnoses in the Tajikistan population fell from 3.7 percent to 0.4 percent, a development that was “almost a national catastrophe for the young republic” because among those departing were many of the Tajikistan’s doctors, teachers and other professionals.

Russian language use in Tajikistan has declined as well, but neither as fast or as far, he continues. On the one hand, the government there still makes provision of the use of Russian in official life. And on the other, many Tajiks have worked in the Russian Federation or studied in Russian-language institutions in their own country and abroad.

Other factors which have contributed to the retention of Russian language among Tajiks is the presence of the Russian base, whose units are dislocated in Dushanbe, Kulyab and Kurgan-Tyube and a 1997 agreement between Moscow and Dushanbe on dual citizenship, making Tajikistan only the third post-Soviet state to do that (Armenia and Turkmenistan are the others.)

But the exodus of Russians does matter, Dubnov says. Two weeks ago, Tajikistan President Emomali Rakhmon invited representatives of the Tajik intelligentsia to a meeting. “There was not a single (?) Russian language one among them or more precisely not a single representative of the Russian ethnos.”

Russia is now taught as a foreign language in Tajikistan, but there are several Russian language schools in Dushanbe and one lycee and there are Russian sections in Tajik higher educational institutions and representations of Russian universities in which Tajiks currently enroll.

There is a limited amount of Russian-language media, with Russian versions of the five major weeklies and Russian sections in other newspapers. There are also three Russian-language radio stations, and some Russian language programming on Tajik television.

Many Tajiks turn to television stations in Russia, but this is a very mixed blessing, Dubnov says. While it allows them to keep up their Russian, it also brings them face to face with the xenophobia against Tajiks that is often found among Russians in the major cities of the Russian Federation.

Today, there are no major Russian businessmen in Tajikistan, and there is only one organization which assists the Russian community, the Council of Russian Compatriots of Tajikistan which was set up in 2004.  It helps the needy and the few surviving veterans of World War II.

What is somewhat surprising, Dubnov says, is that Tajiks remain generally well disposed to ethnic Russians despite what they see on Russian television and experience in Russian streets. There is “perhaps” an explanation: some Tajiks may view this as “payment for the tragedy which was experienced by ethnic Russians in Tajikistan almost a quarter of a century ago.”

Window on Eurasia: Could an Ethnic Russia Republic be Established?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 30 – Russian nationalists today often call for the formation of a genuinely ethnic Russian Republic but, because they do not have a vision of how it might be created, most of them are insisting on the destruction of the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation in order to increase the status of their nation, according to a Moscow commentator.

            But despite the obvious problems with creating a Russian Republic – the attitudes of ethnic Russians about their territory, their state-centered ideology, and the intermixture of ethnic groups across the country – Maksim Sobesky suggests that at some point the creation of that new state could be possible (

            In an essay entitled “A Russian Republic – Myths and Reality,” Sobesky surveys the current thinking about this possibility and argues that so far Russians have not advanced very far toward defining it and thus are increasingly committed to “liquidating the other national autonomies” because they do not have one of their own.

            Before the Bolshevik revolution, the commentator argues, “the small peoples” – and he lists the Finns and the Poles – “used their rights for the preservation of cultural distinctions.” And he suggests, although much evidence points in an alternative direction, that there was little “separatism” among them or others.

            After 1917, however, the Bolsheviks for “populist” reasons “created dozens of autonomous republics and designated their borders in an extremely arbitrary manner.” These republics included significant numbers of ethnic Russians and large portions of purely ethnically Russian lands.

            That allowed Moscow to control these entities, especially through the CPSU organization.  But with the end of party rule and the departure of many ethnic Russians from these republics, Moscow no longer has this “administrative lever,” and Russian is therefore confronted by “separatist attitudes” and other “’ethnic’ problems.”

            In 1991, in 14 of the non-Russian republics of the RSFSR, the titular nationality formed less than half of the population, and in others, only slightly more. But now, “two decades later, “the number of ethnic Russians has fallen sharply in all Caucasus republics and in Tuva.” And “experts do not exclude that soon these republics will become mono-ethnic.”

            That pattern and that prospect has sparked a discussion among ethnic Russian nationalists about the need for “reforms” of the existing system, reforms that they believe are entirely justified because few foreign states offer their minorities ethno-territorial autonomies but instead expect them to assimilate or at least acculturate.

            Such discussion has been intensified because Moscow refuses to recognize the ethnic Russians as the state-forming nation and continues to disperse Russian nationalist meetings even as separatist attitudes among non-Russians grow. In fact, Sobesky adds, “foreigners are beginning to conceive of the national republics as independent states.”

            He then proceeds to survey the opinions of various Russian nationalist groupings on this issue. The state-oriented right, such as Velikay Rossiya and Russkiye, want to maintain control over the minorities but reduce their status.  The NDP argues that “it is time to stop ‘feeding the Caucasus’ and let the Caucasus republics survive,” if they can, on their own.

            Left-of-center nationalists in Volnitsa call for a referendum on autonomy. Drugaya Rossiya, says the North Caucasians should have the right “to live by the laws of traditional adat.”  And Eduard Limonov, Sobesky continues, has proposed stripping Chechnya and Daghestan of Cossack lands, while the Cossacks seek the restoration of tsarist-era divisions.

            In addition, he says, there are “nationalist-regionalists” who talk about independence for Leningrad oblast or Siberia.  Such attitudes in recent years have gone from being little more than “ordinary Internet gabbing” to “an entire cultural movement.” They can be dismissed only at Moscow’s peril.

            To date, Russian nationalists have not united on the issue of an ethnic Russian Republic any more than they have on a variety of other issues. The most specific programs have come from the RNE and Pamyat groups who respectively call for the formation of a purely Russian republic and the unification to Russia of ethnic Russian regions in neighboring countries.

            The National Democratic Party speaks in its program about ensuring equal rights for predominantly ethnic Russian regions and the non-Russian republics, but some of its members “deny the presence of an [ethnic] Russian nation and propagandize for the splitting apart of the country into independent states.”

            Velikaya Rossiya, Sobesky notes in concluding his survey, urges the creation of “a unitary Russian state” and the re-unification of ethnic Russian lands” now in neighboring states.  Russkiye calls for a revision of internal borders, the liquidation of some non-Russian republics, and limits on internal migration into Russian areas from non-Russian ones.