Thursday, January 31, 2019

Russia Would Lose a Naval War with Japan over Kuriles, Col. Gen. Anatoly Zaytsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 30 – Were a naval conflict to break out between Russia and Japan over the Kuriles and were it to remain non-nuclear, Japan would have clear advantages in military equipment and could inflict a defeat on Moscow much as that country did to the Russian Empire in 1905, according to Col. Gen. Anatoly Zaytsev, a leading Russian military analyst.

            In an essay in the current issue of Voyenno-Promyshlenny kuryer, he points out that relative to its size, Japan ranks fifth in the world in military spending and has doubled that over the last decade, an indication that Tokyo does not intend to be outclassed in that regard and has not given up on plans for a land empire in Asia (

                Except for its lack of nuclear weapons, something some in Japan hope to remedy in the future, Tokyo has significant advantages over Russia in both air and sea weaponry and could if it decided to try to take the Kuriles by force, inflict serious losses on Russian forces and quite possibly succeed in doing so, the senior Russian military analyst says. 

            Many dismiss Japan as an opponent because its army and navy have so few effectives and because its constitution specifies that the country cannot engage in anything but defensive action, Zaytsev says; but those who do forget that Japan could easily raise a military many times its current size and that the constitution could be modified or ignored almost at will.

            The Japanese economy is geared to mobilize when required, and consequently, Tokyo could shift gears from more quickly than most countries.  And consequently, Moscow should not be so quick to write off Japan as a threat or as a capable military opponent. It is very much a threat given Japanese values, and it is an increasingly competent opponent, he continues.

                Zaytsev’s words, especially given where they appear, almost certainly are intended to cause the Kremlin to provide more funding for the Russian fleet and air forces in the Pacific region.  But they also constitute an obvious recognition by a senior general that the Russian military is not all it is sometimes cracked up to be in what for Vladimir Putin is a critical sphere.

Moscow Plan to Avoid Border Clashes among Republics Seen Provoking More of Them

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 30 – In the wake of the conflicts in Ingushetia that its leader’s border accord with Chechnya provoked, Moscow’s State Registry Service has called for precise borders to be established by 2021 in 25 other cases, most if not all in the North Caucasus and many of which are likely to lead to more conflicts, according to Russian experts.

            According to Akhmet Yarlykapov, an MGIMO specialist on the North Caucasus, says the State Registry appears to have taken this step because its officials hope thereby to “prevent possible conflicts over the border.” But that is unlikely especially as most of the borders that must be demarcated and registered are in the North Caucasus (

            That is especially so because this call to demarcate borders “contradicts the long-noted tendency in Russia of ‘a drift to unitarism,’” because “for a unitary state, internal administrative borders are not so important as they are for a state of full-blown federalism.”  That will not be missed by those involved int his process.

            Moscow hopes that regional and local officials will solve these problems by focusing on detailed description of existing borders and thus reduce or eliminate any need for the center to intervene, Yarlykapov says.  But that hope, almost certainly, is misplaced given that local officials have sharply contrasting ideas on where the borders should be. 

            A key example of this, the Moscow scholar says, is the issue of the Prigorodny district, “which is included within North Ossetia but which the constitution of Ingushetia declares the territory of this republic.”

            “Territorial disputes lead to an intensification of national movements as was the case with the Ingush protest against the establishment of a border with Chechnya.” Similar issues affect Daghestan as well. Thus, this effort to minimize conflicts is likely to have exactly the opposite effect and lead to more and more serious ones.

            Aleksey Gun of the Moscow Institute of Geography says that Moscow’s action is “the first stage of work for defining the borders of the regions of the North Caucasus” and creating a map that will be more peaceful. If borders are established by mutual consent, that may be true; but if they have to be imposed or are unbalanced, the reverse will be true.

            A third expert, Nikolay Petrov of the Higher School of Economics, says that existing borders in many cases reflect the actions of one side rather than the other and have long been an irritant in relations between the republics and have helped power national movements in many of them.

            Some borders can be dealt with easily, but some in the North Caucasus, including the borders of Chechnya and Ingushetia, Daghestan and Chechnya and Ingushetia, are going to require “a political decision,” Petrov says; and Moscow almost certainly will be dragged into that process either to draw the line or confirm a line that local leaders have agreed to.

            Finally, Natalya Zubarevich,  a specialist on regions at Moscow State University, says that at some point these borders are going to have to be defined but that the process will inevitably be politicized and exacerbate ethnic feelings and tensions on one or both sides of the old borders and the new.

            Forcing the regions to come up with borders makes good “bureaucratic and rational logic,” Zubarevich says. “But political consequences depend on the size of the disputes and how sharp they are viewed by people.” Moscow is acting now in its own interests, but things may develop in such a way that many will decide it would have been better not to touch the borders.

Do You Have What It Takes to Be Russian Metropolitan of Istanbul? A New Game will Tell

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 30 – More than 40 years ago, the author of these lines purchased a board game called “The Russian Civil War” because the display at a Detroit department store declared “In this game, the Russian Whites Can Win.”  That game was called to mind by a new Russian one in which contestants try to become the Russian metropolitan of Istanbul.

            At a session on gaming at this year’s Christmas Readings conference, the creators of a game about what they called “the Orthodox Quest” presented a game that takes its basic ideas from the headlines about the conflict between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople (

            The hero of the new computer game, Orthodox Metropolitan Nikolay, is charged by Moscow Patriarch Kirill to go to Istanbul and set up a metropolitanate of the Second Rome and Anatalya. He has to display “unusual diplomatic talents in negotiations with officials, “avoid death at the hands of the evil Gulen and Bozkurt,” and at the end defeat the chief evil doing Barmaley.

            And he must do so not by “liquidating” the latter but rather by winning him over and thus gaining the title of bishop of the Golden Horde,” according to Roman Silantyev, a specialist on Islam who works closely with the Moscow Patriarchate and serves as a professor at the Moscow State Literature University.

            Only those who can do all those things will win Constantinople back to true Orthodoxy and save the day.