Sunday, January 31, 2016

Just How Bad is Putin? Ever More People Are Counting the Ways

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 31 – As the number of Vladimir Putin’s violations of international law and normal morality grows, ever more people are offering lists of the actions for which he must be held accountable.  Three particularly interesting examples of that trend have been offered over the last several days.

            Russian journalist Oleg Kashin offers a list of 11 Putin actions which show just how bad the Kremlin leader is (

·         “Putin is a usurper” who destroyed Russia’s parliament, courts, regional power and so on.

·         “Putin is an enemy of progress and an enemy of culture,” who has driven society back toward medievalism promoted “pseudo-Orthodox traditions, caricature-like puritanism and homophobia,” and opposition to so many features of modernity including the Internet.

·         “Putin stole May 9,” the only holiday that truly unites all Russians in order to build his power.

·         “Putin is a man of the past,” who has implemented in Russia everything bad that he and others like him believed about the West in their youth: militarism, police rule, the cult of geopolitics, and a belief in conspiracies.

·         “Putin is a revanchist,” who is restoring those parts of the Soviet past that no one wants back including the nomenklatura, ideological diktat, and a fencing off the rest of the world.

·         “Putin is a builder of a state that is hostile to its own population,” as shown by Chechnya.

·         “Putin is the president of unrealized hopes and marching in place.” 

·         “Putin is the president of the lie.”

·         “Putin is a cynic” who believes htat everyone can be bought or intimidated.

·         “Putin has deprived Russia of its faith in itself.”

·         And “Putin is corrupt.”

Commentator Konstantin Borovoy has a similar list of things he says Putin should be held responsible for (

·         “Usurpation of power and illegal revision of the Constitution.”

·         Blowing Up the Apartment Buildings in 1999 to restart the Chechen war.

·         Blocking the resolution of frozen conflicts in Abkhazia and Transdniestria.

·         “Unleashing and conducting aggressive wars of conquest in Georgia and Ukraine,” during which he ignored international law and agreements.

·         Corrupt and illegal actions while he was in St. Petersburg.

·         The Magnitsky case, for which he bears responsibility for blocking a genuine investigation if not more.

·         Illegal seize of property and use of the legal system against Yukos and Khordokovsky.

·         The murder of Litvinenko.

·         Crimes against humanity in Syria.

·         Laundering criminally obtained moneys and corruption.

·         “The hero-ization of Stalin (‘an effective manager’), the USSR (‘he who does not regret the disintegration of the USSR doesn’t have a heart’), and the CPSU (‘Unlike many former members of the CPSU, I haven’t burned but rather preserved my party card’).”

·         “Ineffective and unprofessional administration of the Russian economy,” leading to its current “catastrophic state.”

And finally, a group of Ukrainian officials have put together a 40-page listing of the crimes the Kremlin leader has been behind in his invasion of Ukraine. The presentation of the book to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has sparked a furor.  An online copy is available at;

Moscow Both Violates Minsk Accords and Shows Why Kyiv Can’t Accept Them, Analysts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 31 – Western governments and Moscow continue to press Kyiv to meet the provisions of the Minsk Accords, but the Russian side continues to violate them and even more to demonstrate in its demands for change in Ukraine itself why no Ukrainian government could possibly accept them in their current form, Kyiv analysts say.

            Mikhail Samus, the director of Kyiv’s Center for Research on the Army, Conversion and Disarmament, tells Kseniya Kirillova for RFE/RL that it should be obvious to all on the basis of Putin’s January 11 statement that the Kremlin leader’s goal is “not an end of the armed conflict but rather political changes in Ukraine” (

            If one examines Putin’s statement to “Bild,” he continues, then it is clear that from Putin’s perspective, “if constitutional reform will be carried out in Ukraine, then Russia will end the occupation of Ukrainian territories.”  That is “very interesting logic” from someone who presents himself as a peacemaker.

            It shows that “the end of military actions is not a condition for the realization of the Minsk Accords,” at least as far as Putin is concerned, Samus says. “First he demands constitutional reform and political processes and then on the basis of that supposedly will be created an atmosphere of trust and the completion of all processes including closing the border.”

            That suggests, the Kyiv analyst continues, that “Russia has all the possibilities to close the border right now and is using this factor exclusively to blackmail Ukraine.”

            And as far as the specific points of the Minsk Accords are concerned, Russia has not fulfilled any of them.  Points 1 and 2 which call for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons hasn’t happened.  Point 3 regarding OSCE monitoring has “also been violated. Points 9 and 10 about withdrawal of forces and weapons haven’t happened either.

            “More than that,” he says, “the Russian side doesn’t even intend to consider them” because it argues that this can happen “only after constitutional reform in Ukraine and the carrying out of elections on the occupied territories.” Meanwhile, Russian forces and Russian-backed forces continue their activities unrestrained.

            “If Russia maintains its present approach,” the Kyiv analyst says, “Ukraine shoud reject the Minsk Accords and present at an international level an initiative for the creation of a new form of resolving the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.”

            Given the centrality of Ukrainian constitutional reforms in Russian thinking, it is important to recognize just what Moscow wants – and to see that if Kyiv accepted them, it would be condemning Ukraine to a rickety instability that Moscow could use to prevent it from achieving stability or pursuing its foreign policy goals.

            In a blog post, Kirill Sazonov lists the three things Moscow and its forces in the Donbas are demanding. First, they want the Donbas to have a fixed “quota of seats in the Verkhovna Rada,” thus giving the region a veto not only over actions with regard to itself but over actions for Ukraine as a whole (

            Second, they want a total amnesty for all the militants in the Donbas, something that would allow those people to continue to function and undermine the Ukrainian state. And third, they want autonomy for this region so broad that it and not Kyiv could decide on relations with Russia, have its own independent police and security services, and even border guards.

            “In general,” Sazonov writes, “all the militants would find work in the siloviki structures over which Kyiv would not have any influence. All power in the region would be independent of the Center but would have the possibility of controlling the Verkhovna Rada,” conditions that would give the Donbas something more than “full independence.”

            Moscow and its minions, he continues, “want full independence plus free access to the territory of Ukraine plus the right of a veto in the Verkhovna Rada as well as an open corridor for the Russian army and contraband” given that the siloviki and border guards would not be subordinate to Kyiv.

             “This is more than Chechnya received after its de facto victory over Russia” as Grozny “doesn’t have a veto in the State Duma.” Kyiv has rejected these demands; but pressure from Moscow and the West for it to fulfill the Minsk Accords continues, even though the fulfillment of such provisions in the Russian understanding would mean the end of the Ukrainian state.

The Nogays – Another Turkic People in Russia at Risk

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 31 – The Nogays, who number just over 100,000 in the Russian Federation, are now at risk of disappearing as an ethno-cultural group there because of the absence of government support, a stark contrast with the situation in Turkey where this Turkic people is being actively supported by Ankara.

            Because they do not have an ethnic territory of their own and because they live dispersed in a number of federal subjects in the North Caucasus and elsewhere in the Russian Federation, the Nogays only rarely attract even scholarly attention, let alone examination in the media.  But that may be changing because of the deteriorating relationship between Russia and Turkey.

            And it is not impossible that the increasing national self-confidence of Nogays in Turkey may lead some of their co-ethnics within the borders of the Russian Federation to demand that their linguistic and cultural rights be respected and even to repeat earlier calls for the formation of a Nogay Republic.

            On the Kavkazoved portal today, political analyst Anton Chablin provides a useful survey of the history of the Nogays in Russia, their current situation and complaints about it, and references to some recent studies of the Nogays published in Russia, Turkey and the West (

            The Nogays, a Muslim Turkic people who historically developed along the western borderlands of the Golden Horde, Chablin points out, were incorporated into the Russian Empire during the reign of Catherine the Great. Before then and indeed until 1860, they governed themselves via adat and shariat law.

            Their historic homeland was known as the Nogay Steppe, but since their incorporation first in the Russian Empire and then in the USSR, the Nogays were divided up among several administrative units rather than given one of their own. As a result, they have had few defenses against Russian or North Caucasian officials who have refused to support their language.

            Their current problems began in 1944 when Moscow created the Grozny oblast in place of the suppressed Chechen-Ingush ASSR. Then in 1957, the Soviet government restored that autonomy but continued to include Nogay territories within it. Other Nogay areas were given to Stavropol kray and Daghestan.

            The authorities in Stavropol kray and Checheno-Ingushetia “closed Nogay schools and stopped the publication of newspapers in the Nogay language.” In response, the Nogays repeatedly demanded the creation of their own autonomous oblast within the USSR and the RSFSR.

            The Daghestani authorities adopted the same approach with the Nogays, but there the situation was made even worse by the fact that Makhachkala transferred members of other ethnic groups into the valleys where the Nogays had traditionally lived. Something similar occurred in Stavropol as well, Chablin says.

            He continues: “In 1990, at the third kurultai, a Nogay Republic was formally proclaimed within the Russian Federation.” But not surprisingly, it proved stillborn because it was opposed by the leadership of Daghestan, Checheno-Ingushetia, and Stavropol kray.  But if it failed, it clearly has not been forgotten.

            Nogay activists have united in the Birlik inter-regional movement which has its primary goal the return to the Nogays of areas which were resettled by Avars and Dargins “within the borders of five subjects (Astrakhan oblast, Daghestan, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Stavropol kray, and Chechnya.)”

            The success of the movement has been limited by the extreme dispersal of the Nogays and by the fact that economic problems in their traditional area of settlement as now so bad that increasingly young people are moving to the Urals or Siberia to find work.  Only in Karachayevo-Cherkessia where another Turkic group dominates has the situation been slightly better.

            Only recently did the Chechen republic reopen Nogay-language schools, something Stavropol kray officials have not done. And there is a serious shortage of textbooks and literary works in Nogay. Where the language is taught, the schools have to use very old textbooks published in Soviet times; and there are no Nogay dictionaries.

            Many nations near extinction nonetheless have an active group of specialists investigating them, but the Nogay situation in Russia is different. Few academic specialists are tracking them, something that stands in sharp contrast to the situation in Turkey where at least this people’s language and history are being investigated and reported. 

            Indeed, what is happening with the Nogays in Turkey may play an important role in their future inside the Russian Federation. On the one hand, they are likely to look to Turkey as a model; but on the other, Moscow is likely to view such glances as a threat and do even less for them than it has in the past.