Thursday, October 24, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Kremlin’s Use of ‘Internal Enemies’ Hurting Moscow’s Ties with Neighbors, ‘Vedomosti’ Warns

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 24 – The Kremlin’s continuing propaganda effort to portray Central Asian and Caucasian immigrants has not been effective within the Russian Federation, but it has had a serious and negative impact on Moscow’s relations with countries in those regions with which it would like to have good relations, according to the editors of “Vedomosti.”

            In strikingly blunt language, the editors of that paper say today that “the poor internal situation of the stat,e” – and particularly its handling of immigration issues – “is leading to a situation in which Russia’s relations with its foreign partners are getting worse” (

                Indeed, the editors say, it now appears that “Russia is doing everything in order to become the image of the enemy for an ever greater number of countries.”

            After the Biryulevo clashes, Moscow’s handling of the immigration issue led to some of the sharpest exchanges ever between the Russian capital and Baku, compromising President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to promote better bilateral ties. On that clash, see,,,,,, and

            But the “Vedomosti” editors focus on another part of the foreign fall out from Biryulevo.  The Kyrgyzstan foreign ministry has officially expressed concern about Moscow’s violation of consular procedure regarding those of its citizens who were detained there at the time of the recent clashes.

            According to the Moscow newspaper, “the Central Asian allies of Russia” may become even more angry because of suggestions that immigrants from that region are uniquely criminal and should be excluded from the Russian Federation, either by the imposition of visas or other means.

            President Vladimir Putin, the paper notes, has opposed such steps even as he has insisted that Russian laws be equally enforced, but his words have been largely drowned out by other Russian politicians and commentators who have adopted a harshly anti-Central Asian and anti-Caucasian attitude.

            While the center may be right that “local authorities” are guilty of the rise of ethnic tensions in Russian cities, “Vedomosti” continues, “senior bureaucrats and federal politicians for the last six months have been using the migration issue politically,” both because of the Moscow mayoral election and the worsening economic situation in the country.

            “For a long time,” the paper says, the government has presented as “the image of the enemy either abstract Americans” or those from neighboring countries who are sending their milk or wine into Russia.  “But in this year, the theme of ‘harmful immigrants’ has become the centerpiece of the public rhetoric of the authorities.”

            Such rhetoric may win dividends at home, although it has not done much in that regard so far, the editors say.  But it is having a serious and negative impact on Russia’s relations with countries that it hopes will remain its partners and participate in its broader integration efforts. Indeed, they say, Russia’s “anti-immigrant policies” are undermining those possibilities.

             And unfortunately, “Vedomosti” concludes, there are other steps that Moscow is taking, including its “struggle with homosexuals, ecological activists, and foreign agents among NGOs” that are having similarly negative consequences on prospects for Russia’s relations with Europe and the United States.

            Such a lead article is not unprecedented, and some may read it as little more than an effort to support Putin in his opposition to the introduction of visas for Central Asian gastarbeiters, something Russian oligarchs and other business interests are very much opposed to as well.

            But the “Vedomosti” commentary goes far beyond that specific case and suggests that Moscow’s current domestic policies are having deleterious consequences for the country internationally, something that is certainly true but not something that an unsigned editorial in a central Moscow paper is often prepared to point out.

            That this article has appeared at all thus suggests that there is an intense debate about this within the Russian leadership or that there will soon be one, as many Russian nationalists may now see that the ways in which they are pursuing domestic goals are undercutting any chance that they can achieve foreign ones.

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