Saturday, February 29, 2020

Kremlin ‘Resigned’ to Being China’s ‘Younger Brother,’ Warsaw Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 24 – Many have argued that relations between Moscow and Beijing will always be limited by the fact that neither country wants to be “the younger brother” of the other. But Adam Waltser a scholar at Warsaw’s East European Research Center, says that the Kremlin is now “resigned” to that status.   

            Given the sensitivities involved, many Russians are likely to view this suggestion as the latest indication of anti-Russian attitudes among Poles; but it is worth noting because the objective circumstances now give Russia relatively few chances to play the dominant role vis-à-vis China it has in the past and would like to in the future.

            In a commentary for Polish Radio, Walters says that China’s importance economic and political is growing not only in Russia but in areas of the former Soviet space and Eastern Europe where Moscow was once dominant, thus reducing Russia’s role further (,Эксперт-«Россия-смирилась-со-своим-статусом-младшего-брата-Китая»).

            That will only increase as China expands its infrastructure projects to link itself with Europe and the West, the specialist on the region says.  And it means that “economic ties between Russia and China will become ever more asymmetrical.” Russia’s GDP relative to China’s is falling rapidly; and China’s share of foreign trade with Russia is rising dramatically.

            Twenty years ago, China’s GDP was a little more than two times higher than Russia’s. Today it is 7.5 times greater. And China’s trade with Russia, which amounted to only two percent then has now risen to 17 percent at the present time, a trend that the researcher says shows no sign of changing, especially as Russian trade with the West continues to decline.

            Walters points out that the way statistics are gathered understates the decline in Russian trade with the EU as a large part of that trade is in oil and gas and the EU is only a transit area for petroleum that is then sent on. If statistics are corrected to take that into account, the EU’s share of Russian trade has fallen even further than anyone now thinks.

            As a result, Walters continues, “Russia is ever more tightly connected to China economically,” and that has political consequences because it gives Beijing “ever greater opportunities to exert pressure on Moscow.”  And that reality has already had an impact on Russian thinking.

            “At the present moment,” the Polish researcher says, “I am convinced that Russia has become resigned to its status as the younger brother” of China, something that has become easier for Moscow because its increasing authoritarianism brings it more into line with Beijing’s methods of rule.

For First Time Ever, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan Reportedly Agree to Swap Territories to Ease Border Dispute

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 24 – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have agreed to swap 23 hectares of land in the hopes that this will ease border tensions and end the violence that has marred their relations in recent months (

            At a meeting last weekend in the Kyrgyz city of Batken, Tajikistan’s Asia-Plus news agency reports, the two sides agreed “for the first time in the history of their bilateral relations” to swap territories, something that happened numerous times before 1991 but that neither has been willing to do since, given the sensitivity of borders in the region and internationally.

            No formal announcement has been made, but the Tajik news agency says that its source is “close to the Tajik delegation.” The source said, however, that he could not specify exactly which parcels of land would be exchanged, an indication of just how potentially explosive such an arrangement will be. 

            The reported agreement is likely to be confirmed or denied at the next session of the bilateral border commission, now scheduled for the end of March.  Many in both countries and elsewhere in the former Soviet space will be watching because any such exchange of territory could provide a precedent for solving border disputes elsewhere. 

Moscow Still Fighting UNPO, the Unrecognized Nations and Peoples Organization

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 24 – The Unrecognized Nations and Peoples Organization, which was founded by among others the late Estonian scholar Linnart Mäll and played a key role in the national movements within the USSR at the end of that empire’s existence, continues to be a thorn in the side of the Russian government.

            On the one hand, Moscow has worked very hard and, in many cases, successfully to force activists from territories under its control to leave the group, IdelReal’s Ramazan Alpaut says. But on the other, the group continues to issue damning reports on Russian government actions in occupied Crimea and against the non-Russians in Russia (

            The group was formally established in the Hague in February 1991 by representatives of Australian aborigines, Armenia, the Crimean Tatars, Eastern Turkestan Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Tibet, Taiwan, Tatarstan, Abkhazia, Assyria, and other groups without their own statehood who are oppressed by others.

            While it remains committed to representing the unrepresented and to the defense of the rights of such groups, its membership has changed over time as some have gained independence and others have been subject to even more intense pressure from the states within whose borders they exist.

            At present, Alpaut reports, there are approximately 40 members, including Abkhazia, Eastern Turkestan, Southern Azerbaijan, Catalonia, the Lezgins and the Crimean Tatars. Significantly, none of the peoples of the Middle Volga are represented, “although this was not always the case,” the journalist and commentator says.

            The Tatars and Maris were represented in it from 1991 to 2008, the Udmurts from 1993 to 2013, the Chuvash from 1993 to 2008, and the Bashkirs from 1996 to 1998.  Other peoples within the current borders were also represented but no longer are, either because they can’t afford the dues or in most cases because Moscow doesn’t want them in.

            The Buryats were members from 1996 to 2010, the Chechens from 1991 to 2010 the Circassians from 1994 to 2015, the Ingush from 1994 to 2008, the Tuvans from 1996 to 2009, the Sakha from 1993 to 1998, and the Kumyks from 1997 to 2008. Of peoples within Russia, only the Lezgins of Daghestan are still members.

            But if Moscow has been successful in forcing the non-Russians out of UNPO, it has not been able to block the organization from issuing statements decrying its repression. Among those were UNPO’s findings that Russia was behind the death of Crimean Tatar activist Vedzhe Kashka ( and that Moscow’s language policy violates international norms (