Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Moscow ‘Elder Brother’ to Non-Russians, Razubayev Says -- and Maybe to Russians Outside the Capital as Well

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 29 – One of the aspects of Soviet ideology that was most humiliating to the non-Russian peoples of the USSR was Moscow’s insistence that Russia was “the elder brother” to all the other peoples of that country. Now that term is making a comeback, and one commentator says this is entirely appropriate.

            Writing on the Rhythm of Eurasia portal, Nikolay Razubayev says that without Moscow, the situation in many places in the former Soviet republics would be much worse than it is and that many conflicts would grow out of control even to the point of threatening the survival of these countries (

            And thus, the commentator continues, “as a result of its international-political, economic, and military potential, Moscow [stress supplied] remains ‘the elder brother,’ not out of some ‘mania for imperial greatness’ but for entirely objective reasons.”  And he asks rhetorically “who is worse off as a result?”

            There are at least two answers to that, although Razumbayev naturally doesn’t mention either. On the one hand, many non-Russians will object to being treated once again in ways that they consider demeaning especially given that they are now independent countries and have cultures as old or older than the Russians.

            And on the other – and this may be even more interesting for the future – many Russians are likely to object to the notion that it isn’t their nation and republic which are “the elder brothers” to other nations in the region but rather Moscow alone, a more hyper-centric definition of these ideological tropes than even the Soviets employed.

            Indeed, at least some Russians beyond the ring road may conclude that from Moscow’s point of view, they too are “younger brothers” who some in the capital think need to be controlled just as Moscow seems to think the former Soviet republics do, a perspective that may lead some Russians to think about following the earlier course of the non-Russians.

            For all of their failures, Soviet ideologists were far more careful than their Muscovite successors in avoiding taking positions undercutting the close relationship between Russians and Moscow.  But by reviving Soviet terms with this kind of modification, Moscow is setting the stage for a very different arrangement, something it may come to regret. 

Circassian Activist Denounces Moscow for ‘Discriminating Against Compatriots on Ethnic Lines’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 29 – In advance of the Day of the Repatriant in the Adygey Republic on August 1, Circassian activist Asker Sokht has condemned Moscow for double standards on immigration and argued that discriminating against potential immigrations on ethnic lines does not contribute to a positive image of Russia in the world.

            His toughly-worded article appears on the Regnum news agency portal, a place which most often reflects Russian nationalist views rather than the defense of non-Russian peoples in general or the nations of the North Caucasus in particular. For that reason if no other, it deserves attention (

            The approaching August 1 Adygey holiday was created at the end of the 1990s to mark the successful return to their homeland of 49 families from war-Yugoslavia, an action that Moscow played up at the time as a humanitarian gesture but has been increasingly reluctant to repeat for Circassians seeking to return to the North Caucasus from Syria or Iraq.

            Moscow officials have repeatedly insisted that Russian law does not allow for the mass repatriation of these Circassians, a clear example of “double standards,” the Circassian activist says, given that these same officials saw no problem in allowing two million Ukrainians to enter Russia after 2014 and even acquire Russian citizenship in an expedited fashion.

            Despite Moscow’s efforts, approximately 6,000 Circassians have come back to their homeland since 2012, supported by local Circassian activists and to a lesser extent by the governments of the Circassian republics but not by Moscow. As a result, only about half of them have remained in the Russian Federation.

            The other half, Sokht says, have moved on to Abkhazia, Turkey, Jordan, Sweden, Norway, and Germany, or even “returned back to Syria.” They did so because of the absence of government programs in support of their integration into Russian life and the opposition of Russian officials to their coming at all.

            A significant share of those who have remained in the Russian Federation have taken Russian citizenship. Many have gone on to Russian schools and universities, and some of them have served in the Russian armed forces, “which also is an important mechanism for integration into Russian society.”

            But at present, there are approximately 300 Circassian families, mostly older, who need legal help and language training to become Russian citizens. They should have been treated the same way Ukrainians were, Sokht says; but instead, Vladimir Putin has issued orders that make no exceptions for the Circassians.

            “Beyond doubt,” he continues, “this is an obvious case of discrimination against Circassian repatriants from Syria who have been in Russia for more than seven years. Such dividing up of compatriots abroad along ethnic lines,” he says, “doesn’t make the government look good.”

            Although the Circassian activist doesn’t mention them here, there are two sets of reasons why Moscow has acted in this way. On the one hand, it doesn’t want an influx of Circassians to change the delicate ethnic balance in the North Caucasus and possibly intensify demands for the unification of all the Circassians there into a single republic.

            And on the other, in contrast to the Ukrainians who are viewed as culturally similar and even a friendly nation, the Circassians are seen by Moscow officials as culturally alien and a nation whose history since the 1864 expulsion of their ancestors by the Russian army to the Ottoman Empire as hostile to Russia and Russians.

            Given that, why did Regnum choose to publish this article now.  Three reasons suggest themselves. First, that Russian news agency like many others occasionally publishes things at odds with the official line so that it can claim an objectivity which in fact its normal practice suggests isn’t there.

            Second, many editors at Regnum undoubtedly believe that taking in Circassians from Yugoslavia was a positive development, one directed in their view against NATO actions in that country.  By focusing on that history, Sokht likely succeeded in getting approval for his article as a whole.

            And third, given Russia’s demographic problems, it is not entirely implausible that at least some of Regnum’s editors there feel that it is worth taking in “even Circassians” if that will help slow the further decline in the number of Russian citizens.

Siberian Tatars to Challenge in Court Erection of Statue to Yermak

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 29 – The National Cultural Autonomy of the Siberian Tatars is going to court to challenge the decision by the Omsk Oblast authorities without any public hearings to erect a 30-ton statue of Yermak, the Cossack conqueror of Siberia. It went up three days ago. The Siberian Tatars say he carried out mass murder in their land.

            This statue, paid for by a local businessman and approved in closed meetings of the regional government, not only has occurred in violation of the law, the Siberian Tatars say, but will do nothing to promote inter-ethnic harmony in the region ( and

            According to the Siberian Tatars, “the mythologization and heroization of Yermak by certain regional specialists and scholars” is thus dangerous and must not be encouraged by officials with statues like the current one. This is the second time the Siberian Tatars have fought the erection of a statue of him there.

            The first occurred in the summer of 2016. At that time, the Siberian Tatars protested but did not go to court ( Now they are seeking to use the mechanisms of the government itself against the government.

            That is a sign of a new political maturity among the Siberian Tatars, a group Moscow counted in recent censuses as being no more than 10,000 but one whose activists believe there may be as many as 200,000. This court action could lead more Siberian Tatars to declare themselves as such in the upcoming census.

            That could have two consequences, one of which Moscow would welcome and a second which it would very much oppose. The first would be that if more Siberian Tatars declare themselves as such, that will cut into the number of Tatars more generally and thus reduce the number of the second largest national group in the Russian Federation.

            But the second would be that some people in Siberia who have been counted as Russians in the past may now declare themselves to be Siberian Tatars, increasing the non-Russian share of the population beyond the Urals and cutting in still further to the total number of ethnic Russians in the country as a whole.