Sunday, September 30, 2018

Chechen-Ingush Border Accord Angers Ingush Society, Frightens Other North Caucasians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 30 – One of Ingushetia’s most influential taips has circulated a video to all other clans in the republic that calls for annulling the border agreement signed by Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov and Ingushetia’s Yunus-Bek Kadyrov four days ago and demanding a referendum on the issue and on the way in which the republic leader is chosen.

            The Archak taip says that the accord was the result of a secret “conspiracy” by the two leaders, that the Russian constitution requires a referendum on all border changes, and that residents of the republic can’t sit quietly given the threat to their republic this agreement represents (

            The earlier use of force against those protesting the accord, Yevkurov’s order to bloggers not criticize the agreement, and his defensiveness about suggestions he has given away too much are likely to add to the problems within his republics (,, and

                But looming behind these immediate problems are two larger ones. On the one hand, there appear to be fears among some Ingush that Chechnya’s Kadyrov, possibly with Moscow’s support, is preparing to assume control over Ingushetia as part of a regional amalgamation plan based on the notion that economics rather than ethnicity should determine borders.

            And on the other, there are concerns that Kadyrov may not limit himself to that but may demand territorial changes and political concessions from Daghestan, again possibly with Moscow’s support, to build up his own authority by offering to pacify that republic for Moscow, something the Kremlin appears to want.

            Moscow political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin suggests both, pointing out that Kadyrov “can permit himself what for example Yevkurov cannot.” The Chechen leader is very effective in advancing his interests, including expanding his influence in and over neighboring republics and doing so “not without Moscow’s support (

            But a fuller and more explicit discussion of these two possibilities is provided today by Ukrainian commentator Ruslan Vesel in an article entitled “The Chechen Empire. How Russia is Losing the Caucasus” in Kyiv’s Delovaya stolitsa (

                He argues that the border accord won’t calm he situation but rather lead to a new outbreak of conflict with greater force “after a certain time,” especially if Kadyrov presses his case and is not reined in either in Ingushetia or in Daghestan where there is a significant and often embattled Chechen ethnic community.

            If Kadyrov were just speaking for himself, far fewer people in Ingushetia or Daghestan would be worried, Vesel says. But the Chechen leader appears to have Moscow’s backing to continue to push his own agenda and therefore undoubtedly feels that no on in the region can stop him from achieving his goals.

            “The Kremlin needs to reward Kadyrov for his past” services in Chechnya and Ukraine “and his possible future ones” in neighboring Daghestan “where the Kremlin over the past year has been purging local elites” and where it may need Kadyrov’s help to prevent an explosion, Vesel continues.

            “Ho this will end for the North Caucasus and for Russia as a whole,” the Ukrainian commentator says, “is difficult to say.”  But the accord that was supposed to solve problems hasn’t, and “the Ingush, earlier considered a much more peaceful people than the Chechens hass learned a great deal from its neighbors.”

            Those lessons are not ones that Moscow wants anyone to learn, and so more conflicts are certain to be ahead, possibly at a level of intensity not seen in the North Caucasus for more than a decade. 

‘Odvukon’ Not Just a Russian Phenomenon

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – Nearly a half century ago, Roman Goul, a First Emigration Russian writer and critic and editor of Novy zhurnal, published two volumes of literary criticism under the title Odvukon, a Cossack term used to describe someone who rides two horses at once while standing up.

            Goul used the term to refer to what he saw as a Russian phenomenon that emerged following the Bolshevik revolution, one that led some of Russia’s finest writers and poets to go into emigration where they continued to work while others remained inside the Soviet Union and attempted to do what they could within the limits of communist restrictions.

            According to the √©migr√© writer, Russian culture in the 20th century had been forced into the position of someone who was riding two horses at once, odvukon, as Cossacks put it, a difficult task but one that eventually, Goul hoped, would allow it to survive with the two streams coming together.

            Many scholars and commentators in both Russia and the West have picked up that idea as far as Russian culture is concerned, especially since 1991 when the collapse of the Soviet system allowed the two streams to flow back together.  But few of them have extended this metaphor to the other nations which lived under Soviet power; and that is a profound mistake.

            In almost all cases, the cultures and even the political lives of nations living under communism proceeded odvukon, with some of its representatives living beyond the borders of the Soviet Union and developing their national cultures and ideas while others remained inside doing what they could to do the same thing.

            Examples from the Baltic nations, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Armenians, and Georgians instantly spring to mind, but there were other and perhaps even more important examples of this phenomenon elsewhere, especially among the Turkic peoples who seldom have attracted as much attention.

            That makes a new book by Jeffrey B. Lilley, Have the Mountains Fallen? Two Journeys of Loss and Redemption in the Cold War (Indiana University Press, 2018).  In a sympathetic and detailed way, he traces the complicated careers of two distinguished representatives of the Kyrgyz nation, Chingiz Aitmatov and Azamat Altay.

            Aitmatov, of course, remained in the Soviet Union and distinguished himself both by pushing the limits of the permissible in his novels about the life of his people and by bringing to the attention of an international audience a nation many would never have heard of had it not been for his remarkable works.

            More than that, however, he talked about the legend of the mankurts, people who were reduced to subhuman slaves by regimes that stole their memory from them, a legend that has become a fundamental key to the understanding not only of the Kyrgyz but of all the peoples who were forced to live under sovietism.

            If Aitmatov is internationally known, Altay is not; but as Lilley makes clear, he certainly deserves to be. From the start at odds with the Soviet system and finding himself in the West as a result of World War II, he made a distinguished contribution to the study of Central Asia as a researcher at Columbia University and as a broadcaster for Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz Service.

            In the last years of their lives, the two men, one a distinguished Soviet writer and the other someone who was usually denounced by Soviet propagandists as a traitor edged closer together because ultimately they were informed by a deep and profound appreciation of their nation’s culture and history.

            James Lilley shows how that happened.  For his efforts, he deserves the thanks of all those who study the former Soviet space. More than that, however, his book provides a model for what representatives of other nations with that experience can and should do.  Everyone will benefit if such works appear.   

Putin Didn’t Annex Crimea to Boost His Ratings, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – Many commentators are suggesting that Vladimir Putin may seek “a new Crimea” to salvage his ratings with the Russian people, but Vitaly Portnikov says that he “doesn’t think that anyone in the Kremlin was thinking about ratings when the annexation of Crimea occurred.”

            That idea has been circulating in the West, the Ukrainian writer says; but “this was an effect which no one in the Russian Federation nor in the Wet counted on.” Indeed, he says, “I think that Moscow was very surprised by the effect” that it produced (

            “The meaning of the annexation of Crimea was completely different,” Portnikov continues. “It consisted in the need [the Kremlin saw] to send a signal to the West that the so-called kidnapping of Ukraine would not remain without consequences” from the Russian side given that Moscow viewed what occurred in Kyiv in 2013-2014 as a US “special operation.”

            After Yanukovich was forced to flee Ukraine as a result of the Maidan, the Ukrainian commentator says, Moscow “took the decision to carry out its long-prepared operation to annex Crimea.” And “when this Putin signal was not heard, [Moscow] proceeded to the next phase of this operation by launching the war in eastern Ukraine.”

            These events “did not have anything to do with ratings,” Portnikov argues. They were a side benefit “of special operations of a completely different character.”  That must be remembered now given all the talk that Putin may launch an invasion of yet another country in order to boost his standing at home.

            Portnikov says that he doesn’t know whether anyone in Moscow has set this task given the consequences of the Crimean Anschluss. But one thing is clear: currently there are no territories identified by Russian propaganda and ideology “in general” or in nature which correspond to the position of Crimea.  Even the Donbass isn’t in the same category.

            Belarus too “is not exactly a part of the imperial myth” either, the Ukrainian commentator says. “It is part of the Eurasian Union and the Union State. We have always said that integration with Belarus will not lead to these consequences because Belarus is not part of the imperial myth and doesn’t interest Russians from the point of view of mass consciousness.”

            That is a sharp contrast to Russian attitudes about Ukraine. Until the war, Russians shared Putin’s view that Ukrainians were not a separate nation.  But because of Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression, they now understand that it is a separate nation. Consequently, were Putin to try to annex more, it wouldn’t pay him the same dividends at home.

            Consequently, Portnikov says, “I do not see any sense in any special operation of this type.” And one must remember that Putin approaches such issues as “special operations” rather than as wars.”  He will use Russian military force openly only when he doesn’t have any other option.

            For a special operation to be appropriate requires its own specific goals, Portnikov argues. And it requires that those who launch it consider the environment in which they are doing so. When Putin seized Crimea and invaded the Donbass, Russians “weren’t thinking about their standard of living.” But now they are. No war will solve their problems: instead, given the certainty of sanctions, it will make them worse.

            For those reasons, the Ukrainian analyst continues, he does not think “that there will be a military conflict.” There will be further efforts to disorganize and destabilize Ukraine and perhaps other of Russia’s neighbors as well; but not a war. Putin’s range of possibilities is increasingly “not very large.”